Immagini della pagina





[ocr errors]

of Lieutenant de , an officer of the from the landing ;” and I hurried off 2d. I found him looking over some to make immediate preparation. documents and mementos of his life in “Give way,” said the Lieutenant, as the Old World. How strange it seemed I took my seat in the stern-sheets of the in that far-off Florida wilderness, so

barge. There were eight oarsmen, secluded from the busy world and its picked men and tough, selected with cares and celebrities, to see familiar care from the Lieutenant's company, letters from men whose reputation was and as much at home upon the water world-wide, and yet whom most of us as on the land; for the trip might have know, and will know, only in books! its adventures, and at all events it The Lieutenant was a democrat, a would have to be a severe pull. The European democrat; not an enthusi- barge had belonged to the ill-fated San astic dreamer, who, secure in his own Jacinto, then recently wrecked. The study, builds from his fancy ideal re- night was dark, and two dim objects publics, but a man to whom democracy were sitting on a thwart, immediately meant something; a man beside whom before us, without oars, and whom I our halting and prudent enthusiasm could not immediately make out. seemed tempered and tame; a dians,” said the Lieutenant, squaws with a history, and who had suffered who wanted to go up to Fort Myers. for his principles.

We can save them a long walk." I took up a curious revolver which The river was smooth, and without lay upon the bed, elaborately finished, much current; the oars kept perfect and of the finest workmanship, though time, hardly making a ripple on the

a of a pattern unknown to me, and water as we rapidly and noiselessly searched it over in vain for the maker's skirted the low shore. For a few miles

we thus continued, until, getting further " Who made it?" said I.

from our own camp, we judged it more “ It was made in France."

prudent to put out into the stream, to “But why didn't the maker put his avoid any possible surprise from the namc on so good a piece of workman- bank. ship?"

Fort Myers, some twenty or thirty The Lieutenant answered with a smile miles up the river, had been, until and a shrug of the shoulders, which, recently, the only post held by our familiar as I was with a portion of his troops in this part of the country. It history, told me all I wanted to know; was built during the old Indian wars, and I could not help contrasting France and had been garrisoned during a part under the Emperor, with our own happy

wn happy of the rebellion, and until quite recently, country, where every free and enlight- by several companies of the 2d United ened citizen may make a walking arsenal States Colored Infantry and the Florida of himself, to his own deadly peril, if Cavalry. It afforded a convenient place not that of his loving neighbors. And from which to make raids, and a secure yet that revolver had a history, and a and provoking refuge for the flying startling one, though not to be related loyalists who wished to reach our lines. here.

In fact, it was an eyesore to the rebels “The boat is ready, sir,” said an of long standing and no common magorderly, respectfully, appearing at the nitude. A few weeks previously, with door of the tent.

pluck and endurance worthy of a better “Will you go with me?" said the cause, they had marched a long disLieutenant. “ We are to make a mid- tance through the wilderness, dragging night excursion to Fort Myers, and I their cannon with them, intending to shall be glad of your company."

reduce the Yankee stronghold, and “Nothing would delight me more." blot it out from the land. They arrived

"Well, then," said he, “if you are near the fort at noonday, and were ready, we will start in fifteen minutes wholly unexpected; and hail they

[ocr errors]


son, the


charged immediately, following the secret, as well they may; appearing at surprised pickets as they retired into long intervals with honey and skins, the fort, they would probably have and other articles of traffic with the been successful, and the world might whites, no one knowing whence they have been startled by another Fort come or whither they go. Poor people! Pillow massacre, or a worse one; for of I pity them, strangers in their own the two classes which formed the garri- land; skulking and hiding in their own “deserters," as they were

broad acres. Let us hope that sometermed, and the colored troops, it is where in this pleasant clime they still perhaps hard to say which would de- inhabit a favored spot, bright with flowserve the less mercy. But their bold- ers and plentiful with game, where the ness failed them here, and with it their sun ever shines and the cold winds are luck. Sending a white flag into the shut out, and where perchance the fort, they promised protection on sur- Fountain of Youth, eluding the search render, and threatened awful severities of Ponce de Leon and all his knightly if resistance were made to their superior race, may be theirs as a slight compenforce. The gallant officer who com- sation, if any it be, for many years of manded, thus forewarned, sent a spirit injustice and wrong. Indeed, on the ed defiance, and hastily made such authority of the veracious Dr. Heipreparation as he could. The rebels, degger, we may assert its existence after a spirited and brisk cannonade, near Lake Macaco ;” and he adds, were driven off, and the garrison re- with the particularity of exact informaliered. It was deemed best, however, tion, that "its source is overshadowed not long after, to retire to a more secure by several gigantic magnolias which, position, and Fort Myers was disman- though numberless centuries old, have tled and abandoned, the troops being been kept fresh as violets by the virtemporarily concentrated at Punta Rasa. tues of this wonderful water.” Taught Whether the enemy yet occupied Fort by dear experience, these Indians were Myers was unknown, and caution be- neutral during the war, coming to and came necessary in our movements. A going from the fort at will, and never, bright lookout was kept, the oars were so far as I know, betraying either side mufiled, and the guns placed where or mising in the contest. Of the two they could easily be reached.

in the boat, one was an old squaw of more confidence in the acuteness of the some consideration in the tribe, though Indians than on our own lookout,” said partly of African blood, and the other, the Lieutenant. “ They would hardly whom we subsequently had abundant have come with us if they had antici- opportunity to see in daylight, a pure pated danger."

Indian, of fair complexion and noble It is generally supposed that, since figure, and apparently about eighteen.

, . the termination of the Seminole war, Her face was pleasing, or at Icast dignihere are no Indians left in Florida, but fied, but of studied coldness and immothis is an error. It is true the Govern- bility. We had in the regiment a man ment has nominally removed them, but who was formerly a slave, and had esthere are a few still left, haunting, in a caped to the Indians, and who lived melancholy and ghostly way, some of years among them, though never, I betheir favorite spots. Away in the lieve, formally adopted into the tribe. interior, in some hidden place unknown He was a splendid rifle-shot, as indeed and unvisited by white men, a feeble he had need to be, and on the startling remnant of the race still linger in the phenomenon being brought to his knowlland which once was theirs. Tiger- edge of men of his own color bearing tail,” formerly a famous chief, is known arms, he had left the tribe and enlisted to be among them; he never would in the regiment. Through him the abandon the graves of his forefathers. Lieutenant had learned something of With jealous care they preserve their the history of the girl, and it was at

“ I place

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

his suggestion, and as a measure of battled against the tyranny and opsafety and precaution mainly, that he pression of crowned heads and their had taken the squaws into the boat, agents. Of a family whose antiquity already sufficiently full. The girl was stretched back in unnumbered generathe posthumous daughter of a chief of tions, through the proudest blood of the best blood and greatest considera- Venice to the patricians of the Eastern tion in the tribe. Her mother never Empire, and related to some of the would emigrate, and the child grew up most distinguished families in Europe, with her, inheriting little from her he and his father before him were refather except his good name and a full publicans. Holding at an early age a share of his pride and spirit, as we commission in the Austrian army, he subsequently saw. By some means she voluntarily relinquished it to fight for became attached to a brave a number his country under Charles Albert. Subof years her senior, who had emigrated sequently in the French army, then a westward with the rest of his tribe, wanderer in many lands, the friend of but had now returned over many weary Mazzini, Orsini, and other well-known miles to claim his bride. Both he and republicans, implicated in or knowing she had been about Punta Rasa for a of many dangerous things, traversing number of days, though she had held Italy upon his secret missions, imprisno intercourse with any, save to pur- oned in Cayenne and in Africa ; but chase some slight articles of finery from always through a thousand perils true the sutlers, and which alone betrayed to Freedom as he understood it, he, if the heart of a woman beneath her mar- any, could truly say, “where Liberty is, ble exterior. Neither her intended hus- there is my Country." Hour after hour band nor the old squaw who accompa- thus passed, and at length I grew weary nied her, and who seemed to be a sort of listening. Bolt upright before me of duenna, were above the blandish- sat the young girl, never changing her ments of whiskey; but not a drop position, or moving a muscle, seemingwould the girl take. The old squaw ly insensible to fatigue. Once the bothad the softest voice and most winning tle passed to the crew, who still pulled manner of any old woman that I ever noiselessly and vigorously up the river, met. Her way was so gentle, yet so and was offered to her by the old womseductive and artistic, that she seldom an, who did not hesitate to recommend or never failed of extorting whiskey it by her example; but it was declined from the most conscientious or rigid without a word. In vain the squaw of those who had it. The doctor had placed the bottle to the girl's lips, kindly provided me with a flask of his urging and apparently expecting her to best old rye, not merely as a measure drink; thinly clad, and chilly as the of precaution against exposure to the night was, she refused. I began to feel night-air, but for any of the crew who an interest in this strange girl, full of might need it after their severe ex- life and vigor and passion as I knew ertion. This the aged enchantress she must be, and yet apparently so cold caught sight of, and in a voice so musi- and insensible. A princess, every inch cal that I could not resist, she at length of her, this “nut-brown maid," I prevailed upon me to share a little of it thought. No residence near king or with her.

kaiser could improve upon the dignity Then the Lieutenant and myself lay of this untaught child of nature. Fiback in the boat, carefully covering the nally, lulled by the steady, monotonous bowls of our pipes from observation on strokes of the oars, I fell asleep. Conshore, and I listened while he related fused images of courts and palaces, of to me some of the incidents of his life. dungeons and escapes, of Indians and Strange, eventful, romantic to the last rebels, suggested by the conversation, degree, was the history of this stern passed through my mind. At length I democrat, who, all his mature life, had seemed to be in Venice, then mistress


of the seas, and the most magnificent scurvy trick upon the Widow Wycherly city of the Christian world. It was a and her two friends, and that the Foungala-day indeed, for on that day the tain of Youth has yet to be sought for Emperor of the East, John Palæologus, through this weary world, to be found was to enter the city. I saw the gor- at last only in another. geous procession approach. Vessels However this may be, our old friend dressed in silk and gold crowded the the squaw began to grow hilarious. grand canal, banners flaunted, music She insisted on pulling an oar, which sounded, the lions of St. Mark and the she did so vigorously as to make the Roman eagles were everywhere dis- water boil, and seriously interfere with played. High upon a gilded throne sat the regular and noiseless stroke of the the successor of a hundred Constan- others; so we had to interfere, and for tines, while all that was venerable in a while she contented herself with singcharacter or illustrious in rank of the ing, or rather humming, a low, wild, Eastern world-the home still of letters and monotonous but not unmusical and the arts-followed in his train; the chant; for nothing could be unmusical despot Demetrius, patriarchs and pri- from her. mates and patricians of high degree. At length the stars faded in the misty Then the haughty Doge and reverend night, and the sky began to flush and senators, chiefs of an independent state, crimson with the dawn. The old bowed low in homage before him; squaw, finding nothing better to do, while from roof and balcony, from win- amused herself with removing some of dow and tower, all that was illustrious the outer drapery from her younger or beautiful in Venice applauded the companion, thereby disclosing, but not deed; for was not the Emperor bound immodestly, something of the queenly on a holy mission, and about to con- proportions of her form; but, as before, summate the union of the churches of our princess never moved a muscle, or the East and West? All, did I say? condescended to notice the admiration No; one proud girl, daughter of the with which we could not help regard Doge, betrothed as she was to a patri- her. Finally the sun threw his full and cian of the empire, shrunk from the level beams into the hazy air, lighting degrading spectacle; and as the pageant up the landscape, and making a cheerpassed away, she too changed, and be- ful picture of woods and waters. We came an Indian maid, unmoved and were approaching Fort Myers. We scornful. What other fancies, half landed, and one of the men climbed a memory half dreams, would have fol- tall pine, from which a view of the fort lowed, I know not, for a soft voice call- could be obtained. It was a weary and ing “ Whiskee !"—the only word of difficult task, but little rewarded his English I ever heard the old squaw utter, scrutinizing gaze. No rebel flag and though doubtless the artful jade knew no signs of life were seen about the more and a gentle pull at my coat, fort, and again we moved on.

Half an awakened me. During my sleep she hour brought us to a bend in the river, seemed to have forgotten her usual pru- from which the fort was plainly visible dence, and had emptied the bottle, and in the distance to the naked eye. We now, though needlessly, was calling for had intended, without exposing ourmore. Alas, poor woman! she could selves, to scrutinize carefully with a hardly have known of the waters of the glass the entire vicinity; but the young Fountain of Youth, to quaff so eagerly girl rose on her seat, and standing erect, of so poor a substitute; or are these intently scanned each side of the river favored ones in this too, as in other as far as the eye could reach. That joys, who may taste the cup denied to will do, thought I, and we moved formany, no matter how athirst? Let us ward, the girl still standing, her tall, hope not. Ah me! I very much fear fall figure, wrapped gracefully in her the worthy Dr. Heidegger played but a robe, being clearly marked against the sky. While the Lieutenant searched morning, as, seated on one of the blockthe field with the glass, I kept my eye houses, I traced the river winding on the girl. Her countenance was still through the landscape, and saw the immobile, and her eye, though fixed, interminable woods spread out green betrayed no intelligence; when sudden

before me. A portion of my regiment ly a momentary flash, perhaps of pleas- had been stationed here for many ure or surprise, which even she could months, and truly their experience must not conceal, animated her face for a have been a pleasant one. Countless moment. “Stop rowing,” said I to herds of cattle roam in the savannas the men, and made a hasty movement of Florida; and from them Lee's towards the Lieutenant for the glass. army was long supplied, after the “I see it,” said he, anticipating me, opening of the Mississippi had cut " there is certainly some one moving, off the supplies from Texas. Glorious but not a white man, I think.” A few were the raids under the skilful guidmore strokes of the oars brought into ance of the loyal Floridians; just view a solitary Indian standing in re- enough of excitement and peril were lief against one of the white-walled there in hunting these animals, wild buildings, and apparently the only ten- almost as the buffalo of the Western ant of the deserted fort. He never prairies, and in bringing them safely in, would allow himself to be used as a in spite of the vengeful pursuit of the decoy, and we knew it. Passively he enraged Johnnies; to say nothing of stood, until we were near the broken such other ready means of annoyance wharf, when he turned and disappeared as opportunity offered to inflict. The among the buildings. I was disap- garrison waxed fat on the spoils of the pointed, for I wished to witness the land. interview between the girl and her There is always something interestlover, as I felt it must be. Our guests ing in wandering about a place suddenleft us at the landing, the old squaw ly abandoned by its inhabitants, whether stumbling and crooning up the wharf, it be Pompeii of old, or more modern and the girl walking with a slow places which the fortunes of war have though stately step, and neither show- caused to be as suddenly depopulated. ing the slightest mark of gratitude or As we penetrate into places sacred to farewell.

the domestic gods, there is a feeling Lookouts were stationed, and one half of naughtiness that we are seeing · with a powerful glass occupied a block- sights not altogether proper to be seen; house which formed part of the de- that we are spying out the nakedness fences of the place, and the rest of the of the land which it were fitter to men dispersed in various directions in have left uncovered, and yet which is search of a number of articles for which not altogether unpleasant. So I wanthey had come, and which, in the haste dered through the various buildings of departure, had been left behind.

grouped together at the fort, unmindSituated on the left bank of the ful of the protecting deities, if indeed Caloosahatchie, here several hundred there were any, poking into this place yards broad, on land elevated from the and uncovering that, and bringing to river, but sloping here and there to the light many familiar articles of use or water's edge, dotted with shade-trees convenience which, in the haste of a which in places hung gracefully over sudden evacuation, had been left bethe bank; with long, low buildings, hind. and cool verandas, and gravelled walks, At noon the Lieutenant and myself and pleasant varieties of fruits and dined pleasantly in a little arbor flowers, a delicious climate, and an formed on the roots of an old tree, abundance of fish and game, Fort which, together with the trunk, bent Myers was truly a charming spot; and as if with age, projected far over the so it looked to me that pleasant Spring river. The branches were hung with


« IndietroContinua »