Down South or Yacht Adventure in Florida




After a very good dinner, we were invited to take a ride in an Orange Park carriage. The vehicle was a platform wagon, with stakes, such as is called a "hay rigging" in some parts of the North, drawn by a pair of mules. I found that a mule in this locality cost more than a house for the ordinary settler. On the platform were placed chairs enough to seat all the party, including Cornwood, Washburn, and myself. The proprietor was the driver, and as we proceeded on the excursion, he explained everything of interest. He drove to an old orange-tree that had borne four thousand oranges that year. Near it was a tangled grove of fig-trees, the first I had ever seen.

From this point we struck into the woods. We crossed a clear brook which was never dry; and Miss Margie asked if there were any snakes on the place. Mr. Benedict thought there might be, though he had never seen any.

"Oh, isn't that magnificent! Perfectly lovely!" cried Miss Edith in ecstasies.

"Beautiful!" added Miss Margie. "Did you ever see anything like it?"

I had not, for one. The sight which had called forth these enthusiastic exclamations was a perfect forest of jasmine in full blossom. The trees that grew near the brook were of a young growth, and for half an acre in extent they were loaded with jasmine vines so thickly covered with flowers that the green leaves could hardly be seen. The ladies were all delighted. Washburn and I got out, and gathered half a cord or so of the vines, thus loaded with blossoms, and the wagon was as fragrant as a perfume shop.

We entered a forest of pines, where we found a house built by a couple of young men who had been several years in Cuba, and intended to cultivate the sugar-cane. In the midst of the woods we came to an old church, without a house within a mile of it, and which had been three or four miles from any dwelling in the days when it was used. It was a rather large log-house, now in a ruinous condition, in which the planters and their families had once attended divine services. Not far from it the proprietor stopped his team, and we all got off the wagon. We were conducted to the "Roaring Magnetic Spring," which was one of the features of the place. Florida is a great place for springs of various kinds. We were all arranged on a wooden platform over the spring, which was a tunnel-shaped cavity in the blue sand of the earth, about ten feet deep.

"Now keep still a moment," said Mr. Benedict.

We listened, and the roaring of the spring was easily heard when the voices of the party did not drown it.

"Isn't it beautiful!" exclaimed Miss Margie, as she bent over and gazed into the spring, the waters of which, for six feet down, were as clear as crystal. "Aren't those sand clouds pretty?"

As the water boiled up from the bottom of the spring, it carried the sand up in clearly-curved clouds until their own gravity caused the particles to sink, and again be thrown up by the force of the water. The party watched this phenomenon with interest for some time, for not one of them had ever seen anything like it, with the exception of Mr. Cornwood.

"Now, I want to show you something still more remarkable," continued the proprietor, as he produced two long, narrow strips of board. "You have heard the roaring of the spring, and now I want to convince you that it is magnetic."

He placed the ends of the strips at the bottom of the spring, and then disposed of each of the other ends on the sides of Colonel Shepard's head. The same experiment was then tried upon Mr. Tiffany, and all the other members of the party. The roaring seemed to penetrate, and pass through one's head. Owen declared that the process had cured him of a headache he had had all day; but Mr. Tiffany, while he was much interested in the phenomenon, was somewhat skeptical in regard to the magnetic properties of the spring.

We resumed our seats on the Orange Park carriage, and rode to Doctor's Lake. It was said to be a dozen miles long, and from one to three miles wide. We were told there were plenty of fish in this lake, and we were disposed to verify the truth of the assertion. We returned to the hotel, delighted with our drive, and Mrs. Shepard declared that she should like to live at Orange Park. Before we left, the Colonel had bargained for two lots on the St. Johns, and to have them covered with orange-trees. We started for the end of the pier where the steamer lay, for the shallow water did not permit a near approach to the land.

As we approached the Sylvania, we heard a scream from a woman on board. I was not a little startled by the sound, and Washburn and I broke into a run. On the quarter-deck we found Griffin Leeds and Chloe. Her husband had seized her by the arm, and was dragging her towards the gangway. Already Ben Bowman and the two deck-hands were rushing to her assistance, and before we could reach the scene of action they had grappled with Leeds, and released Chloe.

The stewardess retreated to the farthest part of the deck, and appeared to be in mortal terror of her husband. Griffin Leeds drew a knife,--not the one he had used before, for that was in the possession of the city marshal of Jacksonville,--and threatened to take the life of any one that interfered with him. It was evident that he had seen the party coming from the hotel, and had made a desperate effort to secure possession of his wife before we could defeat his purpose. I was afraid some of the ship's company would get hurt when I saw the knife. Griffin's wrath seemed to be especially kindled against the assistant engineer, on account of the affair on Saturday.

"You white-livered villain!" said he, gnashing his teeth, with a savage oath, "I will teach you to meddle with me!"

He rushed at Ben, with the knife gleaming in the air; but Ben, who was as cool as when on duty in the engine-room, grasped his uplifted arm with the left hand, while he placed his right on the throat of the assassin. Though the engineer was no taller or heavier than I was, he was very athletic and very active. He did not move or make any demonstration till the assailant was within reach of him, and then he grappled with him. In vain Griffin Leeds struggled to release his hand from the grasp of the engineer, who held it as firmly as though it had been screwed up in the vise in the engine-room.

Buck Lingley was not an instant behind Ben in taking prompt action. He seized the other hand of the furious octoroon, while Hop Tossford laid both hands on his coat-collar behind. In another instant Griffin Leeds was borne down upon the deck. The young ladies of our party began to scream and run up the pier; and Mrs. Shepard was so agitated that her husband feared for the consequences.

"Tie his hands behind him, and put him ashore!" I shouted.

My order was promptly obeyed, and Ben and Buck began to march the desperate husband up the pier.

"There is no more danger of him, ladies," said Ben, as he approached the young ladies.

Miss Margie and Miss Edith halted, and when the men with their prisoner had passed them, they scampered to the steamer as fast as they could run. Mrs. Shepard was assisted on board, and the danger seemed to be passed. Chloe was herself again, and flew to the assistance of the invalid lady. But Mrs. Shepard recovered from her agitation in a few minutes.

"I say, Alick, how much more of this sort of thing are we to have," asked Owen, when the excitement had subsided. "Are we to have a scene like this every day in the week?"

"I hope not," I replied.

"We had better let the man's wife go than have him following us in this sort of fashion. How came the fellow up here, when we left him at Jacksonville this forenoon?"

"I suppose he came up in that steamer," I answered, pointing to a boat a couple of miles up the river. "The hands ought not to have let the fellow come on board."

"The rascal is a regular butcher, and we must all follow the American fashion of carrying a revolver."

"I see just how it was: we had to run in at the side of this pier, so that a steamer that had occasion to stop here could make a landing at the end of the wharf."

"Is that the reason why that villain wanted to stab somebody?" asked Owen, with a wondering stare.

"Well, not exactly. The crew of the Sylvania were on the forecastle, under the awning, for I saw them rushing aft when I heard the woman scream," I continued.

"Then it was because the crew were on the forecastle?" inquired my cousin, with open mouth.

"When Griffin landed from that steamer, he probably saw Chloe on the quarter-deck, or if he did not, he went into the cabin and found her. The crew being forward of the deck-house did not see him. She refused to leave the steamer with him, and he undertook to take her away by force," I explained.

"And you think that makes it all right, Alick?" asked Owen.

"I think not. If I had thought of such a thing as Griffin's coming on board, I should have set a watch to prevent him from doing so. I shall take this precaution in future."

"Does that mean that you will set a watch in the future?" asked Owen, seriously.

"That is just what it means: and one is lucky when the dull brain of a Briton catches the idea," I replied.

The appearance of the young ladies called Owen away, and I announced to the passengers that they would want their fishing-gear in the course of half an hour. I had plenty of fishing-tackle of all sorts which I kept on board; and I knew that all the gentlemen in the cabin, unless it was Mr. Tiffany, were supplied with all the implements for fishing and shooting. Cornwood had procured a supply of bait while we were at dinner. The fasts were cast off, and we backed out into the river. Ben and Buck had returned, having made their prisoner fast to the railing of the pier, at the suggestion of Mr. Benedict, who said he would look out for him.

The steamer stopped when she was clear of the pier, and then went ahead. The pilot said he was perfectly familiar with the navigation of Doctor's Lake, having surveyed it in the service of the State. The water was very shallow near the shore, where we had broken through the bushes to its brink; but it was said to be very deep in many parts. I had read that the frequent passage of steamers over the waters of the St. Johns had driven the frightened fish into such places as Doctor's Lake. We entered its waters, and steamed several miles up the lake. Then the pilot rang the gong, and the vessel was soon at rest.

We baited our hooks, and dropped the lines into the lake. Miss Margie was the first to hook a fish. After a hard pull she got him to the top of the water. It was a catfish weighing twelve pounds. The Colonel and Owen were disgusted. A catfish is an exaggerated hornpout, or "bullhead." None but negroes eat them at the South.

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