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Down South or Yacht Adventure in Florida

 

CHAPTER XX.

DIFFICULTIES IN THE WAY OF DEPARTURE.

Except in Jacksonville, there was no market on the St. Johns River; and Mr. Peeks had been not a little disturbed in relation to the culinary department of the Sylvania. He could not go on shore at the villages on the river, and buy what he wanted; but with several steamers every day going up to Pilatka, and several every week going up the Ocklawaha, I assured him he would have no difficulty about feeding his passengers. He made an arrangement with the keeper of the stall where he had obtained his best meats to forward to him, on his order, such supplies as would be needed, including ice, which was a prime necessity, not so much to preserve the meats as to cool the water, and put various articles in condition for the table.

In spite of the general belief in the dampness of a Florida atmosphere, I learned that meats would keep longer than in Michigan. There are no cellars in Florida, and the dwelling-houses are usually set on posts planted in the ground. Meats are hung up in a shady place, where they will keep for a week or more; and even then they are dried up, instead of being tainted or putrefied. The steward had filled the ice-house with the best beef, mutton, and poultry he could find, most of which came from New York, though some of the Southern markets are supplied with beef from Tennessee and Kentucky. Most of the cattle of Florida range through the woods and pick up their living, so that they are not properly fatted for the market, and look like "Pharaoh's lean kine."

No particular hour had been fixed upon for starting on the up-river trip, but the passengers came on board at ten in the forenoon. At this time steam was up in the boilers, and everything ready for an immediate departure. But Mr. Cornwood had not put in an appearance. I had not seen him since he went on shore at the wharf, on Saturday evening. I was not much annoyed, for I knew where I could get a pilot at fifteen minutes' notice.

Chloe, Griffin Leeds's wife, had come off with the ladies. She remained perfectly neutral, though she knew all about the troubles with her husband. I looked at her with some interest when she came on deck; but she seemed to be as cheerful and pleasant as ever. If she had said anything to the ladies about Griffin, nothing had come to me. As her husband was not to be on board, I told the steward to give her one of the after-berths in the cabin. She was so polite, attentive, and kind, so wholly devoted to her duties, that the ladies had become very much attached to her, treating her more like a friend than a servant.

Chloe was not more than twenty-two years old. She had been a stewardess on a Charleston steamer, running up to Pilatka, at the time of her marriage to Griffin Leeds, who was second waiter in the same boat. She was entirely familiar with her duties, and when they were reduced to attendance upon three ladies, she discharged them with the most punctilious care.

"What are we waiting for, Alick?" asked Washburn, as I seated myself in the pilot-house when all the preparations for our departure were completed, and I could think of nothing more to be done, though I had left the port boat in the water in case it became necessary to go on shore for a pilot.

"Cornwood has not come off yet," I replied.

"Where is he?"

"I have no idea."

"Does he intend to play us a trick, and leave us in the lurch, now that we are all ready for a start?" asked the mate, with some anxiety on his face.

"I don't know, and I don't much care," I replied. "I don't know that I ought to blame him much, since no fixed hour was named for starting."

"He ought to be on board like the rest of us, so that whenever his services are required he may be ready to do his work," added Washburn, impatiently. "You say you don't much care whether or not he intends to play us a trick and leave us in the lurch. How are you to get on without a pilot?"

"I can have one on board in half an hour at the most. There are plenty of them, and I find they are glad to serve in such a nobby craft as the Sylvania, where they have easy work and the best of grub," I replied.

"There comes a boat. I see the Panama hat and light clothes in it," added Washburn, evidently relieved, for he was impatient for the voyage to begin.

In a minute more the pilot was on the deck of the steamer.

"I hope I have not delayed you," said he, when he saw that we were all ready to leave.

"Not long," I replied, wishing to make things as pleasant as possible with him for the trip of three weeks.

"I did not know at what hour you intended to leave, or I should have been on board before," pleaded Cornwood. "I have been very busy with some legal business this morning."

"If you are all ready, we will be off at once," I continued.

I hastened to the pilot-house, expecting him to follow me; but instead of doing so, he passed through the engine-room, and disappeared on the other side of the vessel. I concluded he had gone below for another coat he wore when at the wheel. I went into the pilot-house, thinking he would appear in a moment. The anchor was hove up to a short stay; but the wind was blowing quite fresh from the south-west, and I did not care to get under way in his absence from the wheel. I waited ten minutes; and then my patience began to give out. I left the pilot-house, with the intention of sending below for the pilot, when I was informed that a boat had just come alongside.

It contained Captain Boomsby and Griffin Leeds.

Though I had tried to make myself proof against harboring any suspicions, I thought the long delay of Cornwood was explained. He had been very busy with legal business that morning. Did it relate to the affairs of Griffin Leeds and my ancient enemy?

"Allow no one to come on board," I said to the mate, who had told me of the coming of the boat, and who were in it.

I went aft. The gangway steps had been taken in-board, and stowed away after Cornwood came. Captain Boomsby was rather more than half full of whiskey. I found there was a third person in the boat, who proved to be an officer. He had come to attach the steamer on the suit of Captain Boomsby, to obtain possession of her on his old claim, and to trustee Owen Garningham for any money that might be due to me. I allowed the officer to come on deck. He was a very gentlemanly man, and had applied to Colonel Ives when the writ was given to him. The colonel had filled out a bond as surety for the defendant, to be signed by Colonel Shepard; and that gentleman at once put his autograph on the document.

The officer was entirely satisfied, and was about to take his departure when Cornwood appeared; but he offered no objection, and the writ had not come from his office. Captain Boomsby was in a violent passion when he learned that the steamer was to be allowed to proceed on her voyage up the river. He swore at the officer, and declared that he had not done his duty. The steamer belonged to him, and he insisted on coming on board.

"I came off for my wife," said Griffin Leeds. "I want her to go on shore with me."

This demand seemed to me a more serious complication than that of Captain Boomsby's ridiculous suit. I did not know much about law, but I had an idea that a man had a right to his own wife. Colonel Shepard was a lawyer, though he did not practise his profession, and I was entirely willing to leave this matter to him, for he was more interested in it than any other person, as his wife was an invalid, and needed Chloe's attentions more than the other ladies.

"Don't let her go," said the Colonel; and so said all the ladies.

"You can't separate man and wife," said Cornwood.

"We don't propose to separate man and wife," replied Colonel Shepard, before I had time to say anything. "If his wife wants to go, she is at perfect liberty to do so. Ask Chloe to come on deck," he added, turning to the steward.

The stewardess appeared a minute later.

"Here, Chloe, I want you to come on shore with me," shouted Griffin Leeds, when he saw his wife. "I have got a room all furnished for you, and I've got a situation as second waiter at a hotel."

"No, I thank you!" replied Chloe, pertly. "I'm going to stay where I am."

I was not a little surprised to hear her make this answer, for I supposed she would follow the fortunes of her husband, whatever they were. I knew nothing in regard to their marital relations, whether they were pleasant or otherwise, though I had never seen anything to lead me to suppose they were unpleasant.

"I want you to come with me; you are my wife and you must come!" said Griffin, angrily. "I forbid your going in this steamer."

"You can forbid all day if you like; I'm going in the steamer!" answered Chloe, very decidedly. "I don't go with you any more, if I can help it."

"You are my wife, and you can't help it," retorted the husband.

"I haven't got anything more to say about it. I won't go with you; and that's the whole of it," said the stewardess, retreating to the cabin.

Griffin Leeds swore like a pirate, and declared he would be the death of his wife if she didn't come with him. He called upon the officer to arrest Chloe, and compel her to go on shore with him.

"Give me a proper warrant, and I will arrest her," replied the officer, laughing.

"I am her husband; and I tell you to take her out of that steamer," cried Griffin, foaming with wrath.

"I don't know that you are her husband; and if I did, I would not meddle with her," replied the officer, who seemed to enjoy the situation. "Our business is finished on board of this craft:" and he returned to the boat.

"This seems to be rather a hard case," interposed Cornwood. "I don't think we have any right to separate man and wife."

"The woman is a free citizen of Florida," added the officer; "and she can go where she pleases without any restraint."

"So far as the legal question is concerned, I suppose the woman cannot be put under any restraint," said Cornwood; "but the idea of carrying off the woman against the protest of her husband, is not, morally, the right thing to do. I think you had better discharge the woman, and then you will be free from the possibility of blame."

"I don't propose to meddle with the matter in any way," I replied promptly. "I don't know but you have a wife. If she should come here and protest against my carrying you off up the river, I don't think I should pay any attention to her."

"That's another question," replied Cornwood, smartly.

"I don't think it is: what is sauce for goose is sauce for gander. You will take the wheel, Mr. Cornwood. Forward, there! Heave up the anchor."

As soon as the anchor was atrip, I rang the bell to go ahead.


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