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Down South or Yacht Adventure in Florida

 

CHAPTER XXX.

SHOOTING IN THE FOREST AND BEING SHOT.

Before supper-time, the mule team came in with a load of game. Washburn had gone out with the sportsmen this time, for during my absence he would not leave the steamer for a moment. I counted seventeen deer, the smallest kind I had ever seen, and twenty-one wild turkeys. The next day the sport was resumed, and I joined the party. At the suggestion of Colonel Shepard, we took a couple of landing-nets, though what for I could not imagine. But we had not gone half a mile before I discovered the use of them.

The woods were full of young quails, which in the South are called partridges, the latter taking the name of pheasants. These quails ran in flocks of a dozen or less, and with the landing-nets we could cover the whole brood. We gathered them up, and put them into a large basket, with a cover, which we had brought with us for the purpose.

We went several miles farther south than the party of the day before had gone; and the shooting was so abundant as to be "rather too much of a good thing." Before noon we had all we wanted, and it seemed to be wicked to shoot any more. The sportsmen from Enterprise had not been up as far as this, and the game had hardly ever been disturbed in its haunts.

I was tired of the sport before the others, and I started back for the mule team about eleven. I was within two miles of the landing, as I judged, for we had to estimate all our distances, when I heard the crack of a revolver or a rifle. At the same instant I felt a burning sensation in the back of the neck. I placed my hand upon the place, and found that a ball had just grazed it. My hand was covered with blood when I removed it.

I expected another shot would follow immediately, and I raised my gun, which was loaded with ball, and looked about me. I deemed it prudent to dodge behind a magnolia, of which there was an occasional one in the forest. I could judge from the situation of the wound on my neck from what direction the ball had come. My getting behind the tree had deranged the calculations of the intended assassin. He stood at a distance of not more than sixty feet from me, pointing a rifle towards me.

It was Griffin Leeds.

Though I could have shot him, I preferred to be killed rather than to kill. But before I could do anything, or even consider what to do, another actor appeared on the stage. I saw Griffin Leeds look behind him once, as though he feared an interruption, and doubtless he heard the step of the third person. Until the stranger was close upon the octoroon, I had not seen him. In the soft sand that formed the soil of the forest, one could hardly hear the sounds of approaching footsteps.

The stranger stepped from behind a large pine-tree, and before I had recovered from my surprise at his appearance, he fell upon Griffin Leeds, handling him with an ease that astonished me. He flung him on the ground like an unclean bird, and then pointed his own rifle at his head.

It was entirely safe for me under these circumstances to leave my hiding-place, and I walked towards the scene of the last encounter. I kept my gun in position for use, though I was not at all inclined to fire upon a human being. I wondered who had thus interfered to save me from the bullet of Griffin Leeds. Then I wondered how Griffin Leeds happened to be in the woods, miles above the head of ordinary navigation. I thought of my wound, and placed my hand upon it. It was beginning to feel very sore, and the blood was still flowing very freely from it. I bound my handkerchief around my neck, but I found it difficult to cover the place.

I had been shot at the day before. Was it not probable that the same person had fired both shots? Then I thought of the noise I had heard while I was measuring the depth of the river. There was some hiding-place in the after part of the Wetumpka which we had not yet discovered. In that place Griffin Leeds had been concealed, perhaps from the time we left Welaka, on our trip up the Ocklawaha. This seemed to me to be a satisfactory solution of this part of the mystery. I was so well satisfied that I did not care to hear any evidence on the subject. I could not have understood it any better if all the details had been given to me under oath.

But it was plain enough to me that Griffin Leeds could not have existed in his hiding-place for nearly two weeks, or even one, without the connivance of some person on board. Of course that person was Cornwood.

Who was the stranger that interfered to save me? I concluded he was some hunter, who had taken a hand in the affair simply from the love of fair play. I walked towards him, and soon came near enough to note his appearance. He wore a long beard, and was dressed in a common travelling suit.

"Get up, you villain!" said the stranger, as I approached.

Griffin Leeds did not wait for a second command, but sprang to his feet. He looked at me, and he saw that I had a gun in my hand. I aimed at him.

"Take your hand from your pocket!" I called to him.

He did so; but the stranger sprang upon him again. Putting his hand into the side-pocket of his sack-coat, he drew from it a small revolver. Not satisfied with this, he continued the search, and took from another pocket a knife like that the wretch had attempted to use on board of the Sylvania. He was then satisfied that the fellow was entirely disarmed.

"I am exceedingly obliged to you for the service you have rendered me," I began. "This is not the first trouble I have had with this----"

"Never mind that, my dear Alick," interposed my deliverer.

Before I had an opportunity to look at him again, he had folded me in his arms as though I were a little girl, instead of a strapping big boy, weighing one hundred and fifty. I had no need to conjecture any longer who my deliverer was. It was my father.

The tears rolled down his cheeks, as they did down mine when I saw them. But he was hardly changed since I last saw him. I was so happy at this reunion that I forgot everything else. I dare say we both indulged in exclamations. While we were using them, Griffin Leeds began to move off. I pointed my gun at him.

"Go to that magnolia, and stand on this side of it: and if you attempt to run away, I will shoot you!" I added; but I don't think I meant half of it.

The octoroon doggedly obeyed. I looked at my father, whom I had supposed to be dead for months of the period that had separated us. He had been to England and to India since we parted. I had roamed thousands of miles, believing all the time that I was earning my daily bread.

"We meet at last!" exclaimed my father. "I find you in deadly peril, and come at the moment when I may save you!"

"I was shot at before to-day; and I am afraid I have a traitor on either hand wherever I go;" and I explained in as few words as possible about Cornwood and Griffin Leeds, expressing my belief that the pilot was the agent of Captain Boomsby.

"That old villain still believes I am dead," replied my father. "I went into his saloon in Jacksonville, but he did not know me. I talked about you; and he said you had a steamer that belonged to him, and he should have possession of her in a couple of weeks. He insisted that he was your guardian. I did not undeceive him."

"We had better walk back to the steamer, father,"--how dear the name sounded to me! "What shall we do with that fellow?" I pointed at Griffin Leeds.

"Let him march ahead of us."

We started Griffin Leeds, and followed him back to the river. On the way I told my father all that happened since I came to Florida in March, including my suspicions in regard to Cornwood, and the evidence I had against him.

"Don't think any more about him, or the wretch ahead of us. I shall take command of this expedition from this time; and you know I have been a major in the English army," said my father, smiling.

"Why didn't you write to me, father? It is a long time since I heard a word from you," I asked.

"I did not write to you in January because you were away, and could not get my letters. I did not write to you in February, because I expected to see you before any letter could reach you. I expected to be in Jacksonville the last of February; but when I was half-way to New York the steamer broke her shaft, and had to return under sail. It was the 8th of March when I sailed the second time from Liverpool. When I got to Jacksonville, I heard that you had gone on a trip up the river. I followed to Pilatka, and was told that you had gone up the Ocklawaha. I took the next boat for that river, but seeing the Sylvania at Welaka, I made further inquiries, and learned that you had gone up the St. Johns. I followed you till I found your steamer. I saw no one on board that I knew, but a man told me you were in the woods hunting, and had gone south of the landing.

"I started to find you; and went along till I came to that fellow skulking through the woods. I supposed he was going to join your party, and I followed him. I heard the crack of rifles in the distance, about the time I first saw that villain. I concluded it was the firing of the hunters. Suddenly this man raised his rifle and fired. I had not seen you before. You know what happened then. I have only to say, Alick, that I shall not let you out of my sight again."

"I hope you won't, father."

I sent Hop Tossford with the mules, for I did not care to leave my father again. We went on board of the Wetumpka. I called out Moses, and Ben, who knew my father. They were glad to see him for my sake, if not for their own. Buck tied Griffin Leeds to a stanchion on the steamer, for we had driven him on board ahead of us. I was more curious than ever to know where the "ghost" that haunted the lower deck of the Wetumpka had been concealed.

"Where did you hide on board, Griffin?" I asked.

"I don't answer any questions," he replied, in a surly tone.

"All right," I replied, and taking Ben with me, I went aft.

The paddle-box extended almost the whole width of the boat; and under a pile of rubbish, which had evidently been placed there to conceal it, was a scuttle, leading into the hold of the port twin boat. Raising this, we found a mattress from one of the berths, a blanket, and some dishes. We had not thought of the holds of the twin boats before, for there were two openings near the great gangway into them. We had thrown lightwood down into them, and filled them up. We had not therefore supposed it possible for any one to get into these holds. Here Griffin Leeds had lived, and Cornwood had carried him his meals.

"I think that is the best place for him," said my father, after he had looked into the port hold. "Send him back again, and set a watch over the man Cornwood."

We went up into the saloon after this had been done, and Miss Margie was delighted to see my father. He was introduced to the other ladies as Sir Bent Garningham. About one o'clock, the hunters came in with a bigger load of game than on the day before. They were just in time to escape a tremendous thunder-shower, for the rain began to fall in torrents about the time they entered the cabin. Owen was rather embarrassed when he saw my father, who however extended to him a cordial greeting. Nothing was said about the occurrences of the past.

Our dinner that day was composed entirely of the fish and game procured by our sportsmen. We had venison in various dishes, and roast turkey of the finest quality. While we were eating, the rain beat down in sheets upon the deck over our heads. The lightning was terrific, and we heard it strike several times in the forest. For two hours it poured, and then the sun came out, and brightened up the dripping scene.

"I found this rifle in the woods," said Washburn, taking the piece from his state-room, where he had put it when he came in.

"That was the one with which Griffin Leeds fired at me," I replied. "I forgot all about it, and left it on the ground. Whose is it?"

He showed it to several, and at last to Cornwood. He hesitated; but finally said it was his, and he had left it in the woods when the team came. Inquiry proved that he had taken no rifle with him. He had no doubt lent it to Griffin Leeds.

We were to have stayed at this landing one day longer, but when I told Owen and Colonel Shepard that the river had fallen two inches in the morning, they decided that it would not be safe to remain any longer. The shower must have raised the river a little; and if we went at once, we might get over. I ordered the mules to be taken on board; and as soon as they and the wagons were shipped, I intimated to Cornwood that we were ready to resume our trip. To my astonishment he protested against going, and declared there would be no difficulty about the water. We had no idea, he insisted, of the game in the woods.

"Cast off the fasts!" I shouted to the deckhands, from my place on the saloon deck.

Cornwood looked in the direction of the woods, and seemed to be greatly troubled. He evidently thought his agent was still in the woods, and I was not disposed to undeceive him. The deckhands hauled the fasts on board, and the boat began to drift down the river. Very reluctantly the pilot went to the wheel, and after some manœuvring got the Wetumpka headed down the river. He still kept one eye on the shore.

My father had dressed my wound as soon as we got on board. It was not much more than a scratch, though it made my neck so stiff for a couple of days that I could hardly turn it. I had it bound up, and just as the boat was approaching the shoal place, Cornwood asked me what ailed my neck. It was clear enough that he did not know what had transpired in the woods.

"In accordance with the plan you arranged with Captain Boomsby before you came on board of the Sylvania, I have been shot," I replied. "The ball, instead of going through my head, only grazed my neck. Your man is a very bad shot."

"My man! Who is my man?" demanded Cornwood. But I saw that he was pale under the charge.

"Griffin Leeds, of course," I answered. "But you have managed it very clumsily, from the moccasin down to the shooting. You ought to have employed a man that could hit the side of a house at sixty feet."

"I don't understand you," gasped he.

"Yes, you do. But the game is up. The gentleman who came to-day is my father, and Captain Boomsby will give up the chase as soon as he sees and knows him."

"I am sure I don't know what you are talking about."

"Then we won't talk any more," I added, retiring from the pilot-house after the boat had passed over the doubtful shoal, which the rain had rendered harmless.

At seven in the evening we reached Enterprise, where we remained overnight. At daylight the next morning, before any of our passengers were stirring, we started down the river again. At two in the afternoon we were alongside the Sylvania. We merely put Washburn, Ben Bowman, Landy Perkins, and Hop Tossford on board of her, to run her down to Jacksonville, and kept on our way. But it was midnight when we made the wharf of the company that owned the Wetumpka. Except those in charge of the steamer, all were asleep. About daylight, the Sylvania anchored in the berth she had occupied before.

Our fish and game which had been kept in the extra ice-house were in excellent condition. I sent my share to the Carlton Hotel, whose proprietors had been polite to me. I had handed Griffin Leeds over to the police on our arrival. On Monday morning we were all back again on board of the Sylvania, and were glad enough of the change into her. But we had had a magnificent time up the river; all hands were satisfied, and ready for another cruise.

Monday was the first day of April, and Owen came on board to settle his accounts. He insisted upon paying me seven hundred dollars for the month; but my father resented the proposition. He allowed me to take the amount I had received the month before, and no more.

"Owen, you have behaved very badly," said my father seriously.

"I know I have, uncle; but I have repented it, and I hope you will forgive me," replied Owen. "The nobleness of Alick conquered me, and I am a better fellow than I ever was before in my life."

"I have heard what Alick has to say about it; and so far as the past is concerned, I freely forgive you for his sake," added my father.

"I was led away by Mr. Carrington," pleaded Owen.

"No man has any right to be led away by another. It is the devil in his own heart that leads him away, and not another man. Owen, you made a contract with my son when he thought he had nothing in the world but this steamer."

"I did; and I have paid all I agreed to pay."

"And been extremely liberal, father," I added.

"I find no fault; but I annul the contract," said my father. "My son shall be in no one's employ, not even in yours, Owen."

"I should be glad to continue the arrangement to the end of the year," replied Owen.

"No; Alick can go where he pleases with his yacht from this day. He may invite whom he pleases to go with him. But he shall be under nobody's authority but mine."

I was as much astonished at the decision of my father as Owen could be; but I said nothing, and my cousin soon went on shore, for he was staying at the house of Colonel Shepard. We had landed the Garbrooks at Green Cove Springs, where their yacht was waiting for them.

On Tuesday came the trial of Griffin Leeds. Cornwood's defence was weak, and he seemed to have no pluck. His client was convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon, and sentenced to five years; and I suppose he is now serving in some convict gang. Chloe found a permanent place with the Shepards. Cornwood left for St. Augustine as soon as the trial of Griffin Leeds was finished. My father and I called at the saloon of Captain Boomsby, merely to satisfy him that I was not an orphan, and that it would be useless for him to enter into any more conspiracies. I paid Cornwood one hundred and fifty dollars; and I don't know what the captain paid him, but I think nothing. If he had obtained possession of the Sylvania, he might have collected a heavy fee. As a pilot and guide he was a greater success than as a lawyer.

My story is told, so far as Florida is concerned, for the present, though I did not believe I should be able to pass Indian River Inlet without running in and catching a few of those redfish. With my newly-acquired liberty I was considering where to go next, and whom to invite to go with me. My father spent much of his time with the Hon. Mr. Tiffany, at the Carlton, where I was glad to meet Miss Margie as often, at least, as once a day.

The future was still an open question, though I liked my cousin Owen so well that I did not wish to think of parting with him. I was certainly indebted to him for the pleasure of being "Down South" during the winter, and the magnificent time I had enjoyed during our "Yacht Adventures in Florida."



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