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   Chapter 6 THE GIRL ON THE BEACH.

A Jolly Fellowship By Frank R. Stockton Characters: 25249

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


I was not very well satisfied with our trip over the walls of San Marco. In the first place, when the sea-beans, the rope and the grapnel were all considered, it was a little too costly. In the second place, I was not sure that I had been carrying out my contract with Mr. Colbert in exactly the right spirit; for although he had said nothing about my duties, I knew that he expected me to take care of his son, and paid me for that. And I felt pretty sure that helping a fellow climb up a knotted rope into an old fort by night was not the best way of taking care of him. The third thing that troubled me in regard to this matter was the feeling I had that Rectus had led me into it; that he had been the leader and not I. Now, I did not intend that anything of that kind should happen again. I did not come out on this expedition to follow Rectus around; indeed, it was to be quite the other way. But, to tell the truth, I had not imagined that he would ever try to make people follow him. He never showed at school that such a thing was in him. So, for these three reasons, I determined that there were to be no more scrapes of that sort, which generally came to nothing, after all.

For the next two or three days we roved around the old town, and into two or three orange-groves, and went out sailing with Mr. Cholott, who owned a nice little yacht, or sail-boat, as we should call it up north.

The sailing here is just splendid, and, one morning, we thought we'd hire a boat for ourselves and go out fishing somewhere. So we went down to the yacht-club wharf to see about the boat that belonged to old Menendez-Rectus's Minorcan. There were lots of sail-boats there as well as row-boats, but we hunted up the craft we were after, and, by good luck, found Menendez in her, bailing her out.

So we engaged her, and he said he'd take us over to the North Beach to fish for bass. That suited us,-any beach and any kind of fish,-provided he'd hurry up and get his boat ready. While he was scooping away, and we were standing on the wharf watching him, along came Crowded Owl, the young Indian we had always liked-that is, ever since we had known any of them. He came up, said "How?" and shook hands, and then pulled out some sea-beans. The sight of these things seemed to make me sick, and as for Rectus, he sung out:

"Do' wan' 'em!" so suddenly that it seemed like one word, and a pretty savage one at that.

Crowded Owl looked at me, but I shook my head, and said, "No, no, no!" Then he drew himself up and just stood there. He seemed struck dumb; but that didn't matter, as he couldn't talk to us, anyway. But he didn't go away. When we walked farther up the wharf, he followed us, and again offered us some beans. I began to get angry, and said "No!" pretty violently. At this, he left us, but as we turned at the end of the wharf, we saw him near the club-house, standing and talking with Maiden's Heart.

"I think it's a shame to let those Indians wander about here in that way," said Rectus. "They ought to be kept within bounds."

I couldn't help laughing at this change of tune, but said that I supposed only a few of them got leave of absence at a time.

"Well," said Rectus, "there are some of them that ought never to come out."

"Hello!" said old Menendez, sticking his head up above the edge of the wharf. "We're ready now. Git aboard."

And so we scrambled down into the sail-boat, and Menendez pushed off, while the two Indians stood and watched us as we slowly moved away.

When we got fairly out, our sail filled, and we went scudding away on a good wind. Then said old Menendez, as he sat at the tiller:

"What were you hollerin' at them Injuns about?"

"I didn't know that we were hollerin'," said I, "but they were bothering us to buy their sea-beans."

"That's curious," he said. "They aint much given to that sort of thing. But there's no tellin' nothin' about an Injun. If I had my way, I'd hang every one of 'em."

"Rather a blood-thirsty sentiment," said I. "Perhaps some of them don't deserve hanging."

"Well, I've never seen one o' that kind," said he, "and I've seen lots of Injuns. I was in the Seminole war, in this State, and was fightin' Injuns from the beginnin' to the end of it. And I know all about how to treat the rascals. You must hang 'em, or shoot 'em, as soon as you get hold of 'em."

This aroused all the old sympathy for the oppressed red man that dwelt in the heart of young Rectus, and he exclaimed:

"That would be murder! There are always two kinds of every sort of people-all are not bad. It is wrong to condemn a whole division of the human race that way."

"You're right about there bein' two kinds of Injuns," said the old fellow. "There's bad ones and there's wuss ones. I know what I've seen for myself. I'd hang 'em all."

We debated this matter some time longer, but we could make no impression on the old Minorcan. For some reason or other, probably on account of his sufferings or hardships in the war, he was extremely bitter against all Indians. "You can't tell me," he replied to all of our arguments, and I think he completely destroyed all the sympathy which Rectus had had for the once down-trodden and deceived Minorcans, by this animosity toward members of another race who were yet in captivity and bondage. To be sure, there was a good deal of difference in the two cases, but Rectus wasn't in the habit of turning up every question to look at the bottom of it.

The North Beach is the seaward side of one of the islands that enclose the harbor, or the Matanzas River, as it is called. We landed on the inland side, and then walked over to the beach, which is very wide and smooth. Here we set to work to fish. Old Menendez baited our lines, and told us what to do. It was new sport to us.

First, we took off our shoes and stockings, and rolled up our trousers, so as to wade out in the shallow water. We each had a long line, one end of which we tied around our waists. Menendez had his tied to a button-hole of his coat, but he thought he had better make our lines very safe, as they belonged to him. There was a big hook and a heavy lead to the other end of the line, with a piece of fish for bait, and we swung the lead around our heads, and threw it out into the surf as far as we could. I thought I was pretty good on the throw, but I couldn't begin to send my line out as far as Menendez threw his. As for Rectus, he didn't pretend to do much in the throwing business. He whirled his line around in such a curious way that I was very much afraid he would hook himself in the ear. But Menendez put his line out for him. He didn't want me to do it.

Then we stood there in the sand, with the water nearly up to our knees every time the waves came in, and waited for a bite. There wasn't much biting. Menendez said that the tide was too low, but I've noticed that something is always too something, every time any one takes me out fishing, so I didn't mind that.

Menendez did hook one fellow, I think, for he gave a tremendous jerk at his line, and began to skip inshore as if he were but ten years old; but it was of no use. The fish changed his mind.

Then we stood and waited a while longer, until, all of a sudden, Rectus made a skip. But he went the wrong way. Instead of skipping out of the water, he skipped in. He went in so far that he got his trousers dripping wet.

"Hello!" I shouted. "What's up?"

He didn't say anything, but began to pull back, and dig his heels into the sand. Old Menendez and I saw, at the same moment, what was the matter, and we made a rush for him. I was nearest, and got there first. I seized Rectus by the shoulder, and pulled him back a little.

"Whew-w!" said he; "how this twine cuts!"

Then I took hold of the line in front of him, and there was no mistaking the fact-he had a big fish on the other end of it.

"Run out!" cried Menendez, who thought there was no good of three fellows hauling on the line; and out we ran.

When we had gone up the beach a good way, I looked back and saw a rousing big fish flopping about furiously in the shallow water.

"Go on!" shouted Menendez; and we ran on until we had pulled it high and dry up on the sand.

Then Menendez fell afoul of it to take out the hook, and we hurried back to see it. It was a whopping big bass, and by the powerful way it threw itself around on the sand, I didn't wonder that Rectus ran into the water when he got the first jerk.

Now, this was something like sport, and we all felt encouraged, and went to work again with a will, only Menendez untied the line from Rectus's waist and fastened it to his button-hole.

"It may pull out," he said; "but, on the whole, it's better to lose a fishin'-line than a boy."

We fished quietly and steadily for some time, but got no more bites, when suddenly I heard some one say, behind me:

"They don't ever pull in!"

I turned around, and it was a girl. She was standing there with a gentleman,-her father, I soon found out,-and I don't know how long they had been watching us. She was about thirteen years old, and came over with her father in a sail-boat. I remembered seeing them cruising around as we were sailing over.

"They haven't got bites," said her father; "that's the reason they don't pull in."

It was very disagreeable to me, and I know it was even more so to Rectus, to stand here and have those strangers watch us fishing. If we had not been barefooted and bare-legged, we should not have minded it so much. As for the old Minorcan, I don't suppose he cared at all. I began to think it was time to stop.

"As the tide's getting lower and lower," I said to Menendez, "I suppose our chances are getting less and less."

"Yes," said he; "I reckon we'd better shut up shop before long."

"Oh!" cried out the girl, "just look at that fish! Father! Father! Just look at it. Did any of you catch it? I didn't see it till this minute. I thought you hadn't caught any. If I only had a fishing-line now, I would like to catch just one fish. Oh, father! why didn't you bring a fishing-line?"

"I didn't think of it, my dear," said he. "Indeed, I didn't know there were any fish here."

Old Menendez turned around and grinned at this, and I thought there was a good chance to stop fishing; so I offered to let the girl try my line for a while, if she wanted to.

It was certain enough that she wanted to, for she was going to run right into the water to get it. But I came out, and as her father said she might fish if she didn't have to walk into the water, old Menendez took a spare piece of line from his pocket and tied it on to the end of mine, and he put on some fresh bait and gave it a tremendous send out into the surf. Then he put the other end around the girl and tied it. I suppose he thought that it didn't matter if a girl should be lost, but he may have considered that her father was there to seize her if she got jerked in.

She took hold of the line and stood on the edge of the dry sand, ready to pull in the biggest kind of a fish that might come along. I put on my shoes and stockings, and Rectus his; he'd had enough glory for one day. Old Menendez wound up his line, too, but that girl saw nothing of all this. She just kept her eyes and her whole mind centred on her line. At first, she talked right straight ahead, asking what she should do when it bit; how big we thought it would be; why we didn't have a cork, and fifty other things, but all without turning her head to the right or the left. Then said her father:

"My dear, you mustn't talk; you will frighten the fish. When persons fish, they always keep perfectly quiet. You never heard me talking while I was fishing. I fish a good deal when I am at home," said he, turning to us, "and I always remain perfectly quiet."

Menendez laughed a little at this, and said that he didn't believe the fish out there in the surf would mind a little quiet chat; but the gentleman said that he had always found it best to be just as still as possible. The girl now shut her mouth tight, and held herself more ready, if possible, than ever, and I believe that if she had got a bite she would have jerked the fish's head off. We all stood around her, and her father watched her as earnestly as if she was about to graduate at a normal school.

We stood and waited and waited, and she didn't move, and neither did the line. Menendez now said he thought she might as well give it up. The tide was too low, and it was pretty near dinner-time, and, besides this, there was a shower coming on.

"Oh, no!" said she; "not just

yet. I feel sure I'll get a bite in a minute or two now. Just wait a little longer."

And so it went on, every few minutes, until we had waited about half an hour, and then Menendez said he must go, but if the gentleman wanted to buy the line, and stay there until the tide came in again, he'd sell it to him. At this, the girl's father told her that she must stop, and so she very dolefully let Menendez untie the line.

"It's too bad!" she said, almost with tears in her eyes. "If they had only waited a few minutes longer!" And then she ran up to Rectus and me, and said:

"When are you coming out here again? Do you think you will come to-morrow, or next day?"

"I don't know," said I. "We haven't settled our plans for to-morrow."

"Oh, father! father!" she cried, "perhaps they will come out here to-morrow, and you must get me a fishing-line, and we will come and fish all day."

We didn't stay to hear what her father said, but posted off to our boat, for we were all beginning to feel pretty hungry. We took Rectus's fish along, to give to our landlady. The gentleman and the girl came close after us, as if they were afraid to be left alone on the island. Their boat was hauled up near ours, and we set off at pretty much the same time.

We went ahead a little, and Menendez turned around and called out to the gentleman that he'd better follow us, for there were some bad shoals in this part of the harbor, and the tide was pretty low.

"All right, my hearty!" called out the gentleman. "This isn't the first time I've sailed in this harbor. I guess I know where the shoals are," and just at that minute he ran his boat hard and fast on one of them.

He jumped up, and took an oar and pushed and pushed: but it was of no good-he was stuck fast. By this time we had left him pretty far behind; but we all had been watching, and Rectus asked if we couldn't go back and help him.

"Well, I s'pose so," said Menendez; "but it's a shame to keep three decent people out of their dinner for the sake of a man like that, who hasn't got sense enough to take good advice when it's give to him."

"We'd better go," said I, and Menendez, in no good humor, put his boat about. We found the other boat aground, in the very worst way. The old Minorcan said that he could see that sand-bar through the water, and that they might as well have run up on dry land. Better, for that matter, because then we could have pushed her off.

"There aint nuthin' to be done," he said, after we had worked at the thing for a while, "but to jist wait here till the tide turns. It's pretty near dead low now, an' you'll float off in an hour or two."

This was cold comfort for the gentleman, especially as it was beginning to rain; but he didn't seem a bit cast down. He laughed, and said:

"Well, I suppose it can't be helped: but I am used to being out in all weathers. I can wait, just as well as not. But I don't want my daughter here to get wet, and she has no umbrella. Would you mind taking her on your boat? When you get to the town, she can run up to our hotel by herself. She knows the way."

Of course we had no objection to this, and the girl was helped aboard. Then we sailed off, and the gentleman waved his hat to us. If I had been in his place, I don't think I should have felt much like waving my hat.

"THE GENTLEMAN WAVED HIS HAT TO US."

Menendez now said that he had an oil-skin coat stowed away forward, and I got it and put it around the girl. She snuggled herself up in it as comfortably as she could, and began to talk.

"The way of it was this," she said. "Father, he said we'd go out sailing, and mother and I went with him, and when we got down to the wharf, there were a lot of boats, but they all had men to them, and so father, he said he wanted to sail the boat himself, and mother, she said that if he did she wouldn't go; but he said pooh! he could do it as well as anybody, and wasn't going to have any man. So he got a boat without a man, and mother, she didn't want me to go; but I went, and he stuck fast coming back, because he never will listen to anything anybody tells him, as mother and I found out long ago. And here we are, almost at the wharf! I didn't think we were anywhere near it."

"Well, you see, sis, sich a steady gale o' talkin', right behind the sail, is bound to hurry the boat along. And now, s'pose you tell us your name," said Menendez.

"My name's Cornelia; but father, he calls me Corny, which mother hates to hear the very sound of," said she; "and the rest of it is Mary Chipperton. Father, he came down here because he had a weak lung, and I'm sure I don't see what good it's going to do him to sit out there in the rain. We'll take a man next time. And father and I'll be sure to be here early to-morrow to go out fishing with you. Good-bye!"

And with this, having mounted the steps to the pier, off ran Miss Corny.

"I wouldn't like to be the ole man o' that family," said Mr. Menendez.

That night, after we had gone to bed, Rectus began to talk. We generally went to sleep in pretty short order; but the moon did not shine in our windows now until quite late, and so we noticed for the first time the curious way in which the light-house-which stood almost opposite on Anastasia Island-brightened up the room, every minute or two. It is a revolving light, and when the light got on the landward side it gave us a flash, which produced a very queer effect on the furniture, and on Rectus's broad hat, which hung on the wall right opposite the window. It seemed exactly as if this hat was a sort of portable sun of a very mild power, which warmed up, every now and then, and lighted the room.

But Rectus did not talk long about this.

"I think," said he, "that we have had about enough of St. Augustine. There are too many Indians and girls here."

"And sea-beans, too, perhaps," said I. "But I don't think there's any reason for going so soon. I'm going to settle those Indians, and you've only seen one girl, and perhaps we'll never see her again."

"Don't you believe that," said Rectus, very solemnly, and he turned over, either to ponder on the matter, or to go to sleep. His remarks made me imagine that perhaps he was one of those fellows who soon get tired of a place and want to be moving on. But that wasn't my way, and I didn't intend to let him hurry me. I think the Indians worried him a good deal. He was afraid they would keep on troubling us. But, as I had said, I had made up my mind to settle the Indians. As for Corny, I know he hated her. I don't believe he spoke a word to her all the time we were with her.

The next morning, we talked over the Indian question, and then went down to the fort. We hadn't been there for three or four days, but now we had decided not to stand nagging by a couple of red-skinned savages, but to go and see the captain and tell him all about it. All except the proclamation-Rectus wouldn't agree to have that brought in at all. Mr. Cholott had introduced us to the captain, and he was a first-rate fellow, and when we told him how we had stormed his old fort, he laughed and said he wondered we didn't break our necks, and that the next time we did it he'd put us in the guard-house, sure.

"That would be cheaper for you than buying so many beans," he said.

As to the two Indians, he told us he would see to it that they let us alone. He didn't think that Maiden's Heart would ever harm us, for he was more of a blower than anything else; but he said that Crowded Owl was really one of the worst-tempered Indians in the fort, and he advised us to have nothing more to do with him, in any way.

All of this was very good of the captain, and we were very glad we had gone to see him.

"I tell you what it is," said Rectus, as we were coming away, "I don't believe that any of these Indians are as innocent as they try to make out. Did you ever see such a rascally set of faces?"

Somehow or other, I seldom felt sorry when Rectus changed his mind. I thought, indeed, that he ought to change it as much as he could. And yet, as I have said, he was a thoroughly good fellow. The trouble with him was that he wasn't used to making up his mind about things, and didn't make a very good beginning at it.

The next day, we set out to explore Anastasia Island, right opposite the town. It is a big island, but we took our lunch and determined to do what we could. We hired a boat and rowed over to the mouth of a creek in the island. We went up this creek quite a long way, and landed at a little pier, where we made the boat fast. The man who owned the boat told us just how to go. We first made a flying call at the coquina quarries, where they dig the curious stuff of which the town is built. This is formed of small shells, all conglomerated into one solid mass that becomes as hard as stone after it is exposed to the air. It must have taken thousands of years for so many little shell-fish to pile themselves up into a quarrying-ground. We now went over to the light-house, and climbed to the top of it, where we had a view that made Rectus feel even better than he felt in the cemetery at Savannah.

When we came down, we started for the beach and stopped a little while at the old Spanish light-house, which looked more like a cracker-bakery than anything else, but I suppose it was good enough for all the ships the Spaniards had to light up. We would have cared more for the old light-house if it had not had an inscription on it that said it had been destroyed, and rebuilt by some American. After that, we considered it merely in the light of a chromo.

We had a good time on the island, and stayed nearly all day. Toward the end of the afternoon, we started back for the creek and our boat. We had a long walk, for we had been exploring the island pretty well, and when, at last, we reached the creek, we saw that our boat was gone!

This was astounding. We could not make out how the thing could have happened. The boatman, from whom we had hired it, had said that it would be perfectly safe for us to leave the boat at the landing if we tied her up well and hid the oars. I had tied her up very well and we had hidden the oars so carefully, under some bushes, that we found them there when we went to look for them.

"Could the old thing have floated off of itself?" said Rectus.

"That couldn't have happened," I said. "I tied her hard and fast."

"But how could any one have taken her away without oars?" asked Rectus.

"Rectus," said I, "don't let us have any more riddles. Some one may have cut a pole and poled her away, up or down the creek, or--"

"I'll tell you," interrupted Rectus. "Crowded Owl!"

I didn't feel much like laughing, but I did laugh a little.

"Yes," I said. "He probably swam over with a pair of oars on purpose to steal our boat. But, whether he did it or not, it's very certain that somebody has taken the boat, and there isn't any way, that I see, of getting off this place to-night. There'll be nobody going over so late in the afternoon-except, to be sure, those men we saw at the other end of the island with a flat-boat."

"But that's away over at the upper end of the island," said Rectus.

"That's not so very far," said I. "I wonder if they have gone back yet? If one of us could run over there and ask them to send a boatman from the town after us, we might get back by supper-time."

"Why not both of us?" asked Rectus.

"One of us should stay here to see if our boat does come back. It must have been some one from the island who took it, because any one from the mainland would have brought his own boat."

"Very well," said Rectus. "Let's toss up to see who goes. The winner stays."

I pitched up a cent.

"Heads," said Rectus.

"Tails," said I.

Tails it was, and Rectus started off like a good fellow.

I sat down and waited. I waited a long, long time, and then I got up and walked up and down. In about an hour I began to get anxious. It was more than time for Rectus to return. The walk to the end of the island and back was not much over a mile-at least, I supposed it was not. Could anything have happened to the boy? It was not yet sunset, and I couldn't imagine what there was to happen.

After waiting about half an hour longer, I heard a distant sound of oars. I ran to the landing and looked down the creek. A boat with a man in it was approaching. When it came nearer, I saw plainly that it was our boat. When it had almost reached the landing, the man turned around, and I was very much surprised, indeed, to see that he was Mr. Chipperton.

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