Roy Glashan's Library
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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

HIGH WATER

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RGL e-Book Cover
Based on a painting by Frederic Edwin Church (1828-1900)

Ex Libris

First published in The Children's Newspaper, 22 and 29 January 1938

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-08-15

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

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TABLE OF CONTENTS


CHAPTER 1
Galleon Gold

DON GLASCOTT pulled his leaky old boat out of the blaze of the Florida sun into the welcome shade of an enormous magnolia which overhung the clear depths of Crystal Lake. He put a fresh bait on his hook and cast out.

Bob was fishing not for sport but for supper. His income from his pineapple patch averaged about a pound a week, and he had not yet finished paying Jord Crockett for the five acres of rather barren land which that tight-fisted Yankee had sold him.

The float swam idly on the surface and a mocking-bird sang delightfully somewhere overhead. Bob paid little attention to either, and his keen young face, burned brown by the Florida sun, had a worried look. He was thinking how little two years of desperately hard work had brought him and wondering whether it was worth while to carry on.

Now Crockett was worrying him for the 50 he still owed. And Bob had less than twenty pounds left.

A deep, hollow groan which came from somewhere behind him cut short his gloomy reflections. Bob dropped his rod and turned. He could see nothing; but that was not wonderful, for the swamp growth on the bank was thick as a hedge. He scrambled ashore, forcing his way through the tangled bushes, and in a few yards came to an open space. Here he stopped and listened, and again came the groan.

"Who are you? Where are you?" Bob demanded.

There was no answer, and he began to hunt round. But it was not until he heard the groan for a third time that he discovered the spot from which it came, and, pushing aside the stiff fronds of a clump of saw palmetto, saw, huddled beneath it, the body of a black man.

Stooping, he lifted the man out into the open and knelt beside him. The unfortunate Negro was a mere bag of bones and his face a livid grey. His eyes were closed, and the only sign of life about him was a faint rise and fall of his chest as he breathed heavily and raspingly. There was a bad wound on the top of his head and his black wool was matted with dried blood.

Bob's lips tightened as he saw this dreadful injury, then he got up and went quickly back to the boat. He filled the baler with water, came back, and poured a few drops between the injured man's blackened lips. The man's breathing was better, but his eyes did not open, so Bob picked him up. The unfortunate man weighed so little that Bob had no trouble in carrying him to the boat. He shipped his oars and pulled quickly back to his shanty on the far side of the little lake. He carried the injured man into the house and set to work.

There was no doctor within miles. Bob's only neighbours were the unpleasant Jord Crockett and a middle-aged Englishman named Alan Mellor. Mellor was a queer chap whose hobby was orchid-growing. He was a hermit and Bob had hardly ever set eyes on him. But Bob had not spent two years in the wilds without learning something of medicine. He cleaned and bandaged the wound, got the man's filthy rags off him, and put him in a suit of his own pyjamas. Then he made some soup and got some down the poor fellow's throat.

Later, he was going to burn the Negro's old clothes when something fell out and rolled on the floor. He picked it up. It seemed to be a copper medal, but it was curiously heavy. Bob examined it, and rubbed it, and his eyes widened when he discovered that this was a gold coin of about three times the weight of an English sovereign! He put it away carefully, then cooked and ate his own supper.

When he went back to his patient the man's eyes were open. Bob gave him more soup, and the way in which he revived was marvellous. He took a whole cup of soup and went sound asleep. In the morning he was wonderfully better.

"Ah don't know who you is, boss," he said, "but yo' been mighty kind to me."

Bob made him eat some breakfast before he allowed him to talk. The food put new life into him and he declared he was ready to get up.

"Not you," said Bob. "Stay where you are."

Bob went across to the box where he had put the coin and took it out. "I found this in your clothes," he said.

"Cicero must have missed dat one," said the man, with a chuckle.

"Who is Cicero?" And as the other hesitated, "If it was Cicero who gave you that clout on the head I should think you would want to get on his track."

"Ah don't reckon ah'll ebber see him again," the Negro answered. "He's got de gold, and ah guess he's far enough off by dis time."

Bob was burning with curiosity about the gold but too wise to show it. Presently the other spoke again.

"Ah would have been dead sure nuff ef yo' hadn't found me and took care of me, boss. Ah'll surely tell yo' all about it, den. If you help me get squar' wid dat skunk Cicero ah'll show yo' whar de gold is. Dere's plenty left for dem as can take it out."

Bob's heart beat so hard it almost choked him. So there was treasure. He had heard plenty such stories since he came to live in Florida, but paid little attention. Yet this coin—this great gold coin! The Negro was speaking again.

"Mah name's Ki Johnson. Me and Cicero Mark was working down on de big drainage canal in de Glades when we heard ob de ole ship. A Injun done told us. He said it laid right up in de Glades, but Cicero he said it were a lie cos no ship could come up out ob de sea into de swamps."

Bob broke in sharply. "Almeida's galleon! That's it. The one that was driven up in the great cyclone in 1621."

"Ah don't know nothing about galleons, boss," said Ki, "but dis was a ship sure nuff, for de Injun showed it us."

"You found it?"

"Sure, we found it. A big ship, bigger dan one of dem dredgers on de canal. She'd been dere a mighty long time for she was plumb rotten and all covered up wid vines and brush. Wasn't till we dug in and clared de brush dat we seed what she was. Den we made a hole through de side, and sure nuff dere was all kinds ob old boxes and muss. Snakes too. Reckon we killed a dozen moccasins and swamp rattlers in all."

"And the gold?" breathed Bob.

"Dere was jest heaps ob it, all fell out oh dem old broken chests. De Injun, he thought it was brass and laughed at us when we filled our pockets wid de stuff. But we knowed it was gold and took all we could carry."

"You didn't get it all?"

Ki laughed. "It would have took a big boat to carry it all, and we hadn't no boat. We was just walking on our feet."

"Can you get a boat near it?"

"Yo' can dat, specially now de rains has started."

Bob nodded. "Go on."

"Dere ain't a lot to tell. Cicero, he said we better go to Wekiva to sell dem gold pieces. So he and me come walking back. Den ah reckon he thought he'd rather have two shares than one. So de skunk got behind me and hit me ober de head wid a pine knot. Yo' knows de rest, boss."


CHAPTER 2
The Last Chance

BOB walked up and down the room. He was too excited to sit still. Here was a marvellous chance to see the end of his troubles. He turned to Ki. "Do you know where Cicero lives?"

"No, sah. He nebber told me dat."

"If we are to find him we must have money," Bob said. "See here, Ki. I'll fit out a boat and you show me the way to the old ship. We go halves in all we can fetch away, then I'll help you to find Cicero and have him jailed."

Ki showed his white teeth in a broad grin. "Dat goes, sah. When do we start?"

"Just as soon as I can get the boat and you are fit to travel." Bob stopped short, for a terrifying idea had flashed through his mind. "Suppose the Indian takes someone else there? he said sharply.

"Dat ain't likely," Ki answered. "Dey don't come out ob de Glades in de rains."

"But there's Cicero. He might go back for more."

Ki frowned. "Dat's true, boss. But I reckon he won't go till he's spent what he got."

"He may gamble it away in a night. There's no time to be lost. I shall go to Juno tomorrow and see if I can get a boat."

Ki slept well that night, but not Bob. Bob had only eighty dollars—that is, 16—left in the world. If he spent that and failed to get the galleon gold he was done for. Jord Crockett would seize his place and he would be left penniless. Yet he had firmly made up his mind to make the effort. Ki, he felt certain, was honest. The gold was there, and if he could find it before anyone else all his troubles were ended.

Next morning Ki was well enough to be left and Bob went off to Juno. He was in luck. He met a man he knew, a collector for northern naturalists, who was just back from a trip into the Everglades, and was glad to rent his craft. This was a stout centre-board cat-boat which drew very little water and was provided with a good sail and a small outboard engine which would push her along at about five miles an hour when the wind failed.

When Bob had paid the charter fee, bought petrol and provisions, he had just seven dollars left. He sailed the boat back up the creek to Lake Crystal and got home just before dark.

"Dat you, boss?" were the first words he heard as he opened the door.

Ki's voice had a terrified note. "What's the matter?" Bob asked.

"Cicero, he been here. And a white man wid him. Dey come in a boat. De white man come to de door and call for you. But ah lay low, and arter a while he jest went away again."

"What was the man like?"

"Tall, boss, and kind o' lanky. He had a long thin face and a big nose."

"Crockett," snapped Bob. "Ki, if Cicero has told him about the galleon he'll be off south quick as he can get there."

Ki stared at his white friend. "You got de boat, boss?"

"It's down at the landing with all the stores aboard."

"Den ah tell yo' what. We start at daylight. Ah can't do much yet, but ah can show yo' whar to go."

"But now you've found Cicero perhaps you won't want to go."

Ki grinned broadly. "Dat's jes what I does want to do. Bless my soul, I'd give my share ob de gold to see Cicero's face when he finds dere ain't nothin' left for him to get his black paws on."

Bob sighed with relief. "All right, Ki. We start at dawn. Now I'll get you some supper. You'll need all your strength for the trip."

Before turning in that night Bob got everything ready for an early start, and when at last he turned in he slept soundly.

It was still dark when his cheap alarum whirred. He sprang up in a hurry. He put a match to the fire, set the kettle to boil and went to rouse Ki. The Negro was up already. It was wonderful how he had come round. He was putting on an old suit that Bob had given him.

Grey dawn was breaking over the black line of pines to the east, the tree frogs had ceased their croaking, and the breathless hush that heralds day in the tropics brooded over the smooth lake and the broad creek running out of it.

Bob had nearly reached the landing before he noticed something amiss. He stopped, stared, rubbed his eyes. The boat was gone! Not only the cat-boat but his own punt.

With a horrible sinking at his heart he ran forward. The mooring ropes were there, but both had been cut. The ends lay loose in the water. The shock was so great, he felt stunned. Next thing he knew was Ki's voice. "Dat Cicero, he done this. He stole dem boats."

"He or Jord Crockett," Bob said, "And by this time they are both on their way to the Glades."

"Ain't dere no way ob stopping dem?" Ki asked.

"Not a chance," Bob answered, and fell silent. The case was hopeless. He had lost not only all chance of finding Almeida's treasure, but the last of his own savings as well. Worse—for he would have to pay for the lost boat.

"Ain't dere no one else got a boat?" Suddenly Bob remembered Mellor. He had two boats. Was it possible that he would lend one? The man was a crank, but he was English. Surely he would help.

"There's just a chance," he said, and quickly explained. "I'll go to see Mr Mellor."

Mellor's house was nearly a mile away and Bob ran. He knocked and waited.

A fine-looking old Negress came out. Her coal-black face contrasted with snow-white hair. Bob asked for Mr Mellor.

"He don't see nobody, sah," she told him.

"But I'm in trouble. And I'm his neighbour," Bob said.

At that moment a man stepped out behind the old woman. He was gaunt and stooped slightly. His face was lined, his hair grizzled. He had extraordinarily keen grey eyes.

"What do you want?" he asked harshly. Bob told him the whole story.

Mr Mellor's face did not change.

"Galleon gold," he repeated sarcastically. "How often have I heard that foolish story? No, Mr Glascott, I will not lend you a boat. If I did I should never see it again. Good morning."


CHAPTER 3
Racing South

BOB was turning away when the old Negress spoke. "Dis hyah coloured boy, Marse Glascott," she asked anxiously. "Yo' say his name Johnson?"

Bob looked at her dully. "Yes. He calls himself Ki Johnson."

"Ki!" she cried. "What he look like, Marse Glascott?"

"He is small and quite young. There's nothing very special about him except that he has a long scar across the back of his left hand."

The old woman gave a scream. "Dat's my son, sah. Oh, Marse Mellor, dis white man he done found my boy."

Mr Mellor came back. "Is this true?"

"Do you think I'm inventing it?" Bob asked harshly.

To his surprise Mr Mellor took no offence.

"No, you could not have invented it. I am glad indeed that Rachel has found her son. She has not seen him for years."

"I'll send him along when he's fit to travel," said Bob briefly.

"We will fetch him at once," said the other. "We can go across to your place in one of my boats."

"Can I come, too, Marse Mellor?" begged the old woman.

"Yes. We start at once."

Two boats lay at the landing, one a cat-boat, the other a large and beautifully made Peterborough canoe. Mr Mellor took the cat-boat, raised the sail, and within a few minutes they were at Bob's landing. Ki was waiting. He saw his mother and stared as if he could not believe his eyes.

"Ki!" she screamed as she scrambled out, and, miserable as he was, it did Bob good to see the way those two hugged one another. Then Mr Mellor took Ki aside and spoke to him. Bob left them and walked up to the house. He would have to write home and tell his father that he had lost the place. Jord Crockett would claim it as soon as he got back. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to face Mr Mellor.

"You did not mention the gold coin that Ki had with him."

"Didn't I?" Bob answered.

"He has just shown it to me," said Mr Mellor. "It is a gold doubloon dated 1597. If there are even half a dozen of those to be found they are worth going for."

"But I told you," Bob said sharply. "You talked of Spanish treasure, and frankly I did not believe a word of it. But if Ki is anything like his mother he is reliable."

"More than I," Bob cut in.

"I'm sorry, Glascott. I thought you were just one of these remittance men. I am free to admit I was mistaken. I shall be pleased to lend you a boat. I will even go with you if you care to have me."

Bob gasped. "Of course I'd have you, sir. But we shall have to go at once, Crockett and Cicero have a long start and that cat-boat I chartered has an engine."

Mr Mellor looked serious. "That's bad—for us. But never mind. We will start at once, and I think we may be able to steal a march on these fellows."

After that things began to move. As soon as they got back to Mr Mellor's place Mrs Johnson prepared food and her master collected bedding and kit. To Bob's surprise these things were loaded into the canoe, not the cat-boat.

"She draws less water," Mr Mellor explained.

Bob was puzzled. There was plenty of water in the Bacoochee Creek to float the cat-boat and she was larger and more comfortable than the canoe. Also she had a sail. But he did not say anything for it was plain that this hard-bitten elderly man knew exactly what he was about. One proof was that they were away within an hour. Mr Mellor sat in the stern, Bob in the bow, and Ki amidships with the dunnage piled on each side of him.

"You can paddle?" asked Mr Mellor.

"A bit, sir." Bob answered.

Secretly Bob was rather proud of his paddling, but he soon found that he was not a patch on the elder man, and long before midday his back was aching and his arms feeling as if they were loose in their sockets. He was very glad when Mr Mellor turned in toward the bank.

"Not too bad," said Bob's new friend. "We have covered 15 miles. Lie down flat, Glascott," he ordered, "and relax for ten minutes."

They started again at one and all that afternoon pushed on steadily. Just before dark they went ashore in a clearing where there had been an old shingle camp. Ki cooked supper while Mr Mellor and Bob had a swim. Mr Mellor fixed up a tent and mosquito nets, and that made all the difference, for about midnight a storm broke and it rained hard for an hour. After that mosquitoes swarmed, but in spite of it all Bob slept comfortably.

Next day was still and sultry. Perspiration dripped from Bob's lean body as he swung the paddle, but he was consoled by the thought, that there was no wind to help Jord Crockett on his way.

Bob began to wonder what would happen if they caught up with Crockett. And while he was thinking they drove out of the creek into a long, narrow lake which lay black and gloomy under gathering storm clouds. Ki pointed to a dot far away down the lake.

"Dat's dem," he said; and instantly Mr Mellor turned the canoe in under the trees by the bank.

"They mustn't see us," he said.

Just then there was a vivid flash, a crash, of thunder, and with a rattle of huge raindrops and rush of wind the storm broke.


CHAPTER 4
The Short Cut

WITHIN a couple of minutes the lake was a mass of whitecaps in which no canoe could live. Half an hour went by and it grew worse. The thunder and lightning had gone over but the wind blew harder than ever, raising a dangerous sea.

"We're losing a lot of time, sir," Bob said.

"And going to lose more," was the reply. "This gale won't drop before sunset."

Bob's face fell. "Crockett's safe out of the lake. He'll be 20 miles ahead by night."

"Quite that," was the calm answer.

Bob bit his lip and Mr Mellor laughed. "I still have a trick up my sleeve, Glascott. Remember, I have been down here before."

Bob wondered what he meant, then, as it was no use sitting in the canoe, they went ashore and camped. All afternoon it blew a gale, and at sunset the waves were still white-capped.

"We may as well spend the night here," Mr Mellor said, and Bob wondered again how he could take things so quietly.

Next morning the wind had dropped a good deal, but there was still a stiff breeze dead ahead.

"We'll keep under the shore," Mr Mellor said as they started.

Huge cypress trees, hung with long trails of grey Spanish moss, stretched their branches over the water. Limpkins fluttered from stump to stump and serpent birds swam with only their long necks above the surface.

Suddenly Mr Mellor swung the canoe straight into the bank. They drove in under the heavy foliage, and to Bob's amazement found themselves in a deep, narrow creek.

Mr Mellor laughed. "Our short cut," he said. "Saves nearly thirty miles. Feeling better, Glascott?"

"Heaps," agreed Bob, and then they began to paddle in earnest. With no wind to bother them they did forty miles that day. Bob slept well that night, and before nine next morning they were in the vast swamp which fills the whole toe of Florida and is called the Everglades.

"Which way in?" Bob asked.

Ki looked round. "Ah don't know, boss. Yo' see, dis all water now. It look different."

Bob was dismayed. "Can't you help us at all?" he demanded.

"Dere was an island wid pine trees, boss. Dis old ship was about a mile west ob dat."

"Take my glasses and climb that big cypress," Mr Mellor said, and Bob did so.

From his lofty perch he could see an immense distance in all directions, but first he looked south-east. His heart thumped, for only about two miles away was a clump of dark green, long-leafed pine trees. It was the only one in sight, and he felt certain it was the right place. Before coming down he swept the horizon with his glasses, and to the north he spotted something which did not please him at all. It was a boat sailing leisurely down the main creek.

He came down with all speed and told the others. Mr Mellor kept quite calm.

"We can beat them to it," he said. "Let's go."

Go they did, and within a quarter of an hour had reached the island.

"Now ah knows ma way," Ki cried, pointing to a small flat island not far away. The others paddled hard across the shallow water, and presently drove into a little opening in tall grey saw grass. They struck marshy ground, pulled up the canoe and hid it carefully.

"Dis way," said Ki, and the other two, carrying axe and spade, forced their way after him through a tangle of bay trees laced together with wild grape vines. "Ah found him," came Ki's voice, and Bob stumbled out into a little opening in the centre of which was a hillock of peaty earth covered with palmettoes and tangled growth.

"That's not a ship," said Bob flatly.

"Yo's wrong, Marse Bob. Ah been inside and ah knows," returned Ki, and Bob saw him scrambling through a small hole in the side of the mound. Bob and Mr Mellor followed, and suddenly Bob found himself inside what appeared to be a cave. He switched on a torch, and a cry of amazement burst from his lips as he gazed round.

On each side and overhead were great ribs of solid oak which had withstood the tooth of Time. The ship lay on her side just as she had been left by the tidal wave which had swept her so far inland. Long roots trailed down like ghostly cordage and strange fungus growths gleamed white in the light of the torch. The place had a sour, unwholesome smell. The ground was covered with litter, in which the explorers sank above their ankles. Bob stooped and snatched up something. It was a tarnished gold piece. He turned to Mr Mellor. "Ki was right," he said in a shaking voice.

"He was right," said the other. He spoke to Ki. "Go back to the canoe and watch. If you see Crockett give the cat bird call.

"And now," said Mr Mellor, "we've a busy hour before us."

Busy it was, but very profitable. Gold was everywhere scattered in the dust. Between them they collected more than 700 pieces. There was other treasure too. At one side were bars of silver, each weighing about twenty pounds. They lifted these and passed them out.

An hour went by, two hours—still no sign of Crockett. By this time they had half a ton of silver outside.

"Crockett has stopped for lunch," Mr Mellor said.

Bob looked at the pile of tarnished silver.

"But what are we going to do with this?"

Mr Mellor smiled. "Dig a hole and bury it, my lad," said the other. "We can come back for it any time we like."

Bob gasped, then chuckled. "Of course. I only hope we have time."

"Plenty," said the other. "Here's the place." He pointed to a spot where the ground was soft and sandy, and Bob set to work with the spade. Mr Mellor brought the silver to the hole and dumped it in, bar by bar. They were filling in the hole when they heard the cat bird call. Mr Mellor scattered dust and leaves over the surface.

"Tell Ki to come back," he said to Bob.

Bob fetched Ki. The coloured boy was wildly excited. "Dey's real close," he said.

"That's all right," replied Mr Mellor. "Now we will hide."

There was plenty of cover, and they crouched in the bushes close to the galleon. In about five minutes they heard a crashing, and the long, lank form of Jord Crockett, followed by a chunky, thick-lipped Negro, appeared in the little glade. Crockett's small, hard eyes were alight with greed.

"Here's de ole ship," said Cicero. "Yo' mind, I hab half, Marse Crockett."

Crockett did not answer. He saw the hole and dived into it. Cicero followed.

Mr Mellor touched Bob on the shoulder. "This is our chance to get back your boat, Glascott. They'll be busy for some time."

Bob stared. "What—and leave them marooned!" he asked.

"No. They can have the canoe. A little paddling won't hurt them."

Ki chuckled softly. "Do dat fat Cicero good," he agreed. Then all three left their hiding-place and stole quietly to the landing-place. The cat-boat was tied to a tree. Into her they loaded their tent, tools, bedding, and most of the food from the canoe. They left just enough for two men for three days. Within a very few minutes they were afloat. Bob started up the engine and they steered north. Bob spoke to Mr Mellor.

"I can't thank you enough," he said.

"No need to thank me at all, Glascott. I have enjoyed it. What's more, I'll go back with you to fetch the silver."

"Then you'll have to take half, sir."

"Not I. I have plenty. But I will take a few of the gold coins for my collection. If you sell those carefully you should get 4 a piece for them."

"Why, I shall be rich!" cried Bob. "You, too, Ki."

But Ki wasn't looking a bit pleased.

"Ah never seed Cicero's face when he found dere wasn't no gold and dat de boat was gone," he said sadly.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.