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Down South or Yacht Adventure in Florida

 

CHAPTER XIX.

THE ADVENTURES OF AN INVALID.

Mr. Cornwood had been very polite and pliable all day, and his skill as a pilot won my commendation. When he expressed a desire to remain on shore, at the wharf, I did not object. As soon as the anchor was let go, all hands were piped to supper; but I was in no condition to take another meal that day, after the dinner with the excursionists, from which I had risen an hour before. I was glad to be alone in my state-room, after the excitement of the day. In spite of what had transpired in the morning, and in spite of the evidence obtained by Washburn in regard to the snake, I could not help wondering if, after all, the pilot was not innocent of any evil intentions.

It seemed to me that a man of his education, having a profession, could not take part in any small conspiracy, such as Captain Boomsby would be likely to get up. If either Cornwood or Griffin Leeds, his agent, intended to do me any harm, it seemed to me they had had abundant opportunity to do it already. The pilot might have wrecked the vessel, and the waiter might have poisoned the food I ate. I resolved to be very careful how I charged Cornwood with any evil, unless it was capable of being proved.

"I should like to go on shore, Alick, if you have nothing better for me to do," said Washburn, coming into my room when he had finished his supper.

"I have nothing for you to do," I replied. "What's up now?"

"I have some curiosity to know what has become of Cobbington; and I think I shall call upon his landlord," replied the mate, laughing.

"I will go with you, if you have no objection," I added.

"I should be glad of your company," said he, leading the way to the gangway. "Hold on a minute, captain," he added, when I began to order my boat. "There is the boatman that carried off Cornwood's letter. He is looking for a job: suppose we give him one?"

I did not object, and the mate hailed the boatman. We seated ourselves in his boat, and he pulled for the shore. Our uniforms gave us great distinction among the colored people. Very likely some of them thought we were United States naval officers: at any rate, they all treated us with "distinguished consideration."

"What's your name, boatman?" asked Washburn.

"Moses Dripple," replied the man.

"Well, Moses Dripple, were you alongside our steamer last evening?" continued the mate.

"Yes, sar; made a quarter taking a letter ashore," answered Moses, showing teeth enough for a full-grown alligator.

"Put it in the post-office, did you?" inquired Washburn, indifferently, as he looked behind him at the steamer.

"No, sar; didn't put it into the post-office; car'ed it to a saloon-keeper, and he gave me a drink of apple-jack, as soon as he had read it, for bringin' de letter."

"Is it possible that you drink apple-jack?" asked the mate, with some observations on the folly of drinking liquor.

"Drink it when I git it, sar."

"Where did you get your apple-jack?"

"At de saloon; where else would I get it, sar?"

"I suppose it made you so boozy you don't know where the saloon was," added the mate, keeping up his indifference, as though his talk was mere banter.

"It was de new saloon, sar; not boozy at all, sar; Captain Boomsby keeps dat saloon. Mighty mean man, Captain Boomsby. As soon as he done read de letter, he put on his coat, and left de saloon."

That was all that Washburn cared to know--that the letter from Cornwood had gone to Captain Boomsby; and he bestowed a look of triumph upon me. I paid the boatman a quarter, and we walked up to Bay Street. We had hardly turned the corner before we came plump upon a man who seemed to be very anxious to meet my friend and companion. I had never seen him before.

"Mr. Cobbington, this is Captain Garningham, of the steamer Sylvania," said Washburn, chuckling.

"How do you do, Mr. Cobbington," I replied.

"How are you, captain: I'm glad to see both of you," replied Cobbington. "One of you has got me into a bad scrape, for this morning, Gavett, the man I boarded with, turned me out of his house because I had a moccasin snake in a box in my room."

"Rough on you, was he?" added the mate.

"Mighty rough! I have been looking for another room all day, and I can't get one. I've got to sleep out-doors to-night," replied Cobbington, with a very long face.

"You shouldn't keep poisonous snakes in your room," I added.

"He never would have known it if this man hadn't told him," said the snake-man, turning to the mate. "I don't know your name, but you got me into a very bad scrape for an invalid; and that's the reason why I am down in Florida, instead of at home where I could earn a decent living," whined Cobbington. "I shall die in a week, if I have to sleep out in the night-air: and I don't know of even a shed to get under."

"It was no more than right to tell a man you had a poisonous reptile in his house," added Washburn. "The snake might have got out, and bitten his wife and children."

"Early this morning I paid Gavett the last dollar I had for the rent of the room; and I haven't had a mouthful to eat since I had my breakfast. How long can an invalid live, sleeping out-doors, with nothing to eat?" added Cobbington.

I saw the tears roll down the thin cheeks of the man, and my sympathies were excited. I saw it was the same with Washburn.

"I have been in to see Captain Boomsby; I had a room in his house for a while, and always paid for it. He wouldn't let me sleep on the floor in one of his empty chambers, nor give me anything to eat," continued the poor wretch.

"You shall have something to eat, and a place to sleep," I said.

We went over the way to Lyman's restaurant with him, and I ordered a sirloin steak and fried potatoes for him, with other food. When it came, he devoured it like a starving man. Whatever other lies he had told, it was the truth that he was very hungry.

"That is the best meal I have eaten since I came into Florida," said he with emphasis, when he had drained his coffee-cup. "Gentlemen, I am more than grateful to you. I have struggled hard to keep my soul and body together, and I've done it so far, though there isn't much left of my body. I could live here, if I could earn enough to live on. You have been kind to me; and now I'm going to tell you something: I have no moccasin-snake, and I never had one, say nothing of two. I know I'm a liar; but I told that lie for a dollar Boomsby gave me for telling it, so that I need not be turned out of my room. If I had that Judas dollar, I would send it back to Boomsby, and die with a clean conscience."

"It never pays to do wrong," I added, deeply moved by the invalid's story.

"I told Gavett I had no snake; but he turned me out, all the same. I showed him everything I had; and he could find no box for the snake: only a lot of baby alligators, that won't hurt anybody. I make a quarter now and then by selling them to the children at the hotels. I had to sell my gun I used to shoot alligators with for their teeth; my best clothes are pawned; and my trunk is about as empty as my stomach was half an hour ago. I have got about to the end of my rope; and I don't know what will become of me."

"We will see what we can do for you, Mr. Cobbington," I added. "What was your business at home?"

"I have done almost everything. I was brought up on a farm, and had a pretty good education. My father and mother both died, and my brother followed them, all in consumption. I went to teaching school, for we lost the farm, and I had to take care of myself before I was twenty. My health gave out, and I tried to work on a farm, but I wasn't strong enough. Then I went to tending table at a summer hotel, and saved about a hundred dollars. A man told me I should get well if I came to Florida. I thought I could make my living here, and I came. I brought a gun with me, and went into the woods. I shot deer, wild turkeys, and alligators. I sold the game and the teeth, and got along pretty well in the winter. Last summer I spent all the money I had left in coming down here. My health was pretty good then. I sold my gun for sixty dollars, half what it was worth, and did jobbing enough to keep me alive. I worked as a waiter on a steamer, in place of a sick man, for a month, and left the boat at Silver Spring, where the man took his place. I hired a gun, and tried to get a living by shooting again; but I couldn't find a market for the game. I had to give it up.

"I had a lot of alligators' teeth, a rattlesnake, which a gentleman on a steamer offered to give me ten dollars for in Jacksonville, and I worked my way down here. I sold the teeth; but the man that wanted the rattlesnake was at St. Augustine, and I had to wait till he came back, on his way north. Boomsby's wife turned me out when she found she didn't like me, and they killed the snake at the St. Johns. I couldn't stay there any longer now I had lost the ten dollars for the snake. My money was all gone; but I picked up a little selling babies."

"Selling babies!" exclaimed Washburn.

"Baby alligators, I mean," added Cobbington, with a languid smile. "My health was good while I was in the woods; I don't have any cough now, but I've been running down lately."

Poor fellow! My heart was touched for him. It was hard to grub for a bare subsistence, with the immediate prospect of dying in the street. Washburn looked expressively at me, and I nodded to him. We rose from the table, and told Cobbington to come with us. We took him to a clothing-house, fitted him out with a new suit, yacht-club style, with a white canvas cap like my own, except the gold band. We supplied him with under-clothing, and with everything he needed, even to handkerchiefs, socks, and shoes. Having obtained these, one-half of the cost of which Washburn insisted upon paying, we next visited a bath-house, where the invalid "washed and was clean." He then clothed himself in the new clothes, and came out of the bath-room looking like another person.

We went to the wharf, where we obtained a boat, and in a few minutes we were on board. I formally engaged the man to take the place of Griffin Leeds, as the waiter at the mess in the forward cabin. He had served in this capacity in an hotel, and on steamers on the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers. I gave him a berth in the forward cabin. I think he was happy when he turned into it.

On Sunday I went to church in St. James Square, and called upon Owen as I came out. Colonel Shepard informed me that he had chartered a steamer that plied on the Ocklawaha at times, to take us anywhere that a steamer could go. She was small, but large enough for our party.

I dined with the family and their guests, and went on board in the afternoon. The steward was entirely satisfied with the manner in which Cobbington had discharged his duties, and the invalid was the happiest man I had seen in the Land of Flowers.


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