Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page

 

 

 

Strange Sea Industries and Adventures by Will Wallace Harney

The wrecker on the Florida reefs, who steps from the Peninsula into the marine world, will tell you there is nothing so like the land as the water. The crystal atmosphere of this land of meridional spring, the masses of tawny green in forests of the pine, and the deeper foliage of the live-oak and wild-orange, even that fire of flower in phaenogamous plants peculiar to the Peninsula, have their fellowship and counterparts in the lustrous scenery of the submarine world. Even the beauty of moon-like lakes and river springs is realized in the salt envelope of the under-world. Washing the keel of the submerged vessel, or bursting with a sudden chill through the tepid waters of the Gulf, with a sensible difference to feeling and to sight, the diver recognizes a river in the strata, a wayside spring in the mid-sea fountain.

As the huge volume of many Florida springs, and their peculiar characteristic of sudden sinking, give them a distinguishable quality, so the like may be recognized in the fresh-water outbursts of the neighboring seas. Silver Spring in Marion county tosses out three hundred million gallons per day; Manatee Spring discharges a less volume, but is noted for the presence of the sea-cow (Trichecus muriatus); Santa Fé, Econfinna, Chipola and Oscilla are rivers which, like classic Acheron, descend and disappear with a full head—lost rivers, as they are aptly named. Pass to the marine world, and south-west of Bataban, in the Gulf of Xagua (Cuba), a river-fountain throws up a broad white disk like a flower of water on a liquid stem, visible on the violet phosphorescence of the Caribbean Sea. Its impetuous force makes it dangerous to unwary crafts; and, to add to its recognizable characteristics, in its pure waters is to be found the sea-cow—found there and in Manatee Bay and Spring alone. To the geologist such rivers are not mysteries. The lower strata of the limestone formation are hollowed out into vast cavernous channels and chambers, through which rolls for ever the hoarse murmur of multitudinous waters. It would require the conception of a Milton or the stern Florentine who pictured Malebolge to depict those hollow passages and lofty galleries, wrought into fantastic shapes by carbon chisels, and all pure snow-white, yet unrecognizable in the sublime horror of great darkness.

It is to the animal and vegetable coral the sea owes its arborescent and floriform scenery, the counterpart of the forest and phaenogamous beauty that adorns the land. The home of these wonderful creatures must be visited to realize the beauty of their dwellings and the wonderful structures they produce. A diver who explored the serene sea about the Hayti banks gives a beautiful description of the splendors of the under-world. The white, chalky bottom is visible from the surface at a depth of one hundred feet. Over that brilliant floor the filtered sunshine spreads a cloth of gold continually flecked with sailing shadows and fluctuating tints. The singular clearness of the medium removes that lovely violet drapery which surrounds like a pavilion the submarine palace, and allows a wider scope of vision. But the scene here is not the play of sunbeams or the magic glory of the prismal waters. Form adds its grace to the loveliness of color and the play of light and shadow. The structures, the work of astraea, madrepores, andreas and meandrinas, bear a singular resemblance to fabrications of the architect. One massive dome or archway, a hundred feet in diameter, rises to the surface. Its front is carved in elaborate tracery and crusted with serpulae, looking like the fret-and flower-work that covers Saracenic architecture. Looking through this into the violet ambuscade, the eye falls upon colonnades, light slender shafts a foot in diameter, that seem to support the paly-golden, lustrous roof. It is curiously like a vast temple, spreading every way in vault and colonnade, on which religious enthusiasm or barbaric royalty has worked with a reckless waste of art and labor. Nor is it the cold and shapely beauty of the stone: it seems to be a temple built of many-colored glass. To understand the magnificence of the wonderful structure, the reader must have in mind the laws affecting light in transmission through water—the frangibility of the rays, the frequent alternations in dispersion, reflection, interference and accidental and complementary color. He must recollect that every indentation, every twist of stony serpulae or fluting of the zoophyte catches the light and divides and splinters it into radiance, burning with a fringe of silver fire or flashing steel. When the mind has conceived of that, there is to add the vivid beauty of the living coral, its hue of molten colored glass spreading a radiant mucus over the stony skeleton.

But he has not yet entered into an entire conception of its loveliness. The arborescent and phaenogamous forms of the coral are to be noticed. Here is a plant: it has a pale, gray-blue stalk, and all over it are delicate green leaves, fronds or tentacles, as you please to call them. There is a fan-shaped shrub whose starry fronds recall the Chaemerops serrulata of the adjacent shore. The ament, so to speak, of the Parasmilia centralis, the catkin of the sea, recalls its terrene counterpart. There are other flowers in fascicles and corymbs. The rose is not lacking, but glows with the radiant beauty of its petaliferous sister; the columnar trunks of stony trees, covered with green, flossy mosses, are scattered about; and fresh fountains gush from the rocks, the white water as clearly distinguishable from the ultramarine as in the upper atmosphere.1

But some varieties of beauty in the coral belong to calmer seas: among others, the Red Sea is noticed for the exquisite loveliness of its coralline formations. An American explorer, well known in submarine diving, once visited that gulf sacred in history, and for a purpose certainly as singular as anything he found there. It was, to use his own words, "to fish for Pharaoh's golden chariot-wheels," lost in that famous pursuit. Is it possible, in the nature of things, for such an expedition to be made by any but an American? It takes a strong Bible faith, allied to a simple but strong self-confidence, to start a man on such an adventure. The curious transforming magic of the sea had its effect on the Arab dragoman he had engaged to assist him. Having settled on the exact spot, the swart Arabian descended, but signaled to return almost immediately, and was brought to the surface in open-eyed wonder. With all the hyperbole of Oriental imagination he swore positively to the finding of the chariot-wheels, and added the jewelry of Pharaoh's household. He was so earnest and so exact in the matter of the golden wheel, set with precious stones, that, though the captain dryly asked if he did not meet King Pharaoh himself, taking a moist throne and keeping court with the fishes, he none the less had the line attached and drew up—the rude wheel of a Tartar wagon, transformed under water, but plain and ugly enough above.

"The djin did it," explained the Arab. "It is a palace of the djins, howadji."

Though the adventurous explorer failed in his design on the defunct Egyptian, he was rewarded by some compensating views and discoveries. He saw there the Xenia elongata, a shrub-like coral distinguished for the beauty of its colors, having stellar tentacles, rose-colored, blue and lilac, an inch in diameter, and looking like flowers of living jewelry; another with a long cue, like a tress of hair, and others of allied beauty.

The coral-stone is seen and admired on centre-tables and in jewelry, but this is really the least pleasing beauty in the organism. The animal, subjected to exposure, is a brown mucus that dissipates in the sun and air, but clothed in its native element this glutinous substance is instinct with radiant life, the bodies being rose-color and the arms a pure white. Sometimes they grow in clusters and corymbs, gleaming with a pure, translucent color that fluctuates and changes in the light

Like colors of a shell,

That keep the hue and polish of the wave.

Our searcher found one unexpected verification of the story in Exodus. The passage in the Bible does not leave altogether in mystery the natural means by which the transit was effected. We are told of the strong east wind and the wall of waters. At the point near Suez a shoal extends quite across the sea. For several days this wind had borne back the shallow waters, descending as it did from the rugged mountain-slopes, and opening or sweeping back the deep as it were. Then the tide came, thrust forward in accumulated volume, until it made a real wall of waters that stood up in a huge crested, angry foam. It was sufficiently like to cause the explorer to apprehend the possibility of finding Pharaoh by traveling the same watery road. Another question that has puzzled scholars found a solution in the American's observation. Smith's Bible Dictionary discusses learnedly the name of this curious gulf, written [Greek: ae eruthra thalassa] in the Septuagint. The Dictionary surmises that the name was derived from the red western mountains, red coral zoophytes, etc., and appears to give little weight to the real and natural reason which came under our American's notice. On one occasion the diver observed, while under sea, that the curious wavering shadows, which cross the lustrous golden floor like Frauenhofer's lines on the spectrum, began to change and lose themselves. A purple glory of intermingled colors darkened the violet curtains of the sea-chambers, reddening all glints and tinges with an angry fire. Instead of that lustrous, golden firmament, the thallassphere darkened to crimson and opal. The walls grew purple, the floor as red as blood: the deep itself was purpled with the venous hue of deoxidized life-currents.

The view on the surface was even more magnificent. The sea at first assumed the light tawny or yellowish red of sherry wine. Anon this wine-color grew instinct with richer radiance: as far as eye could see, and flashing in the crystalline splendor of the Arabian sun, was a glorious sea of rose. The dusky red sandstone hills, with a border of white sand and green and flowered foliage, like an elaborately wrought cup of Bohemian glass enameled with brilliant flowers, held the sparkling liquid petals of that rosy sea. The surface, on examination, proved to be covered with a thin brickdust layer of infusoriae slightly tinged with orange. Placed in a white glass bottle, this changed to a deep violet, but the wide surface of the external sea was of that magnificent and brilliant rose-color. It was a new and pleasing example of the lustrous, ever-varying beauty of the ocean world. It was caused by diatomaceae, minute algae, which under the microscope revealed delicate threads gathered in tiny bundles, and containing rings, like blood-disks, of that curious coloring-matter in tiny tubes.

This miracle of beauty is not without its analogies in other seas. The medusae of the Arctic seas, an allied existence, people the ultramarine blue of the cold, pure sea with vivid patches of living green thirty miles in diameter. These minute organisms are doubly curious from their power of astonishing reproduction and the strange electric fire they display. Minute as these microscopic creatures are, every motion and flash is the result of volition, and not a mere chemic or mechanic phosphorescence. The Photocaris lights a flashing cirrus, on being irritated, in brilliant kindling sparks, increasing in intensity until the whole organism is illuminated. The living fire washes over its back, and pencils in greenish-yellow light its microscopic outline. Nor do these little creatures lack a beauty of their own. Their minute shields of pure translucent silex are elaborately wrought in microscopic symbols of mimic heraldry. They are the chivalry of the deep, the tiny knights with lance and cuirass, and oval bossy shield carved in quaint conceits and ornamental fashion. Nor must we despise them when we reflect upon their power of accretion. The Gallionellae, invisible to the naked eye, can, of their heraldic shields and flinty armor, make two cubic feet of Bilin polishing slate in four days. By straining sea-water, a web of greenish cloth of gold, illuminated by their play of self-generated electric light, has been collected. Humboldt and Ehrenberg speak of their voracity, their power of discharging electricity at will, and their sporting about, exhibiting an intelligent enjoyment of the life God has given to them. Man and his works perish, but the monuments of the infusoriae are the flinty ribs of the sea, the giant bones of huge continents, heaped into mountain-ranges over which the granite and porphyry have set their stony seal for ever. Man thrives in his little zone: the populous infusoriae crowd every nook of earth from the remote poles to the burning equatorial belt.

As the coral, in its soft, milky chalk, gives a name to tropical seas, so also it is a question to my simplicity if the Yellow Sea, Black Sea and White Sea do not owe their color and name, in part at least, to microscopic infusoriae. One of these, the Yellow Sea, is very similar in many characteristics to our beautiful southern gulf, and there is connected with it an incident or two illustrative of submarine adventure which is the partial purpose of this desultory sketch.

About the time our American was investing in Pharaoh's golden chariot-wheels an East Indiaman was trading its way from the English docks, eighteen weary weeks' sail by seamen's law, and more tedious by delays. They exchanged for bullion on the Gold Coast; for bullion and bad Cape brandy at Good Hope to sell to the Mohammedans, who are forbidden to drink it. At Bombay and Calcutta they exchanged bullion and brandy for opium to sell to the Chinese, who are forbidden to buy or use it. Whether the coolie trade was included in its iniquities or not, I cannot say. Very possibly that was the return cargo. From Ceylon they proceed to Siam, and thence to Hong-Kong, where they drop anchor in the offing, and by a special custom the cargo is sold and paid for in sycee silver before disfreighting, and the bullion is in the safe of the huge smuggler, although the opium has not yet been removed. The Chinese restrictive laws are very severe; but when we note that ninety thousand gallons of confiscated whisky were seized in godly Massachusetts in one year, we can infer the difficulties in the Maine law of the Celestials. The custom is for a hong, a smuggler in a Chinese junk, to draw up beside the English contrabandist and transfer the cargo in the outer harbor.

It is afternoon, and the great slumbering ocean breathes, but not with the quick, palpitating tide of the Atlantic. The smuggler sits on the oleaginous sea, tinged to ochreous yellow, waiting for evening and the confederate junk. The tropic twilight comes on swift red-golden wings that fan the vivid stars to brightness, and the rising tide breaks the surface into wrinkles of phosphorescent fire. High over head is the wide, unbroken canopy of the Pacific sky, and the gush of a larger moon than ours fills all the sphere with splendor as the huge ship stirs lazily in its Narcissus poise over its own reflection. There is a reddish glow in the western horizon over Hong-Kong, a fainter glimmer west by south over Macao, and farther west and north the reflected glories of the sacred city of Canton. The three make a semicircular crescent, like a great floating moon, on the horizon. A coral islet juts out between the cities under which the huge smuggler affects to play "I spy"—only affects, for she does not care for the authorities she bribes nor the laws she despises.

But the wind draws up the curtain of cloud by strands of rainy cordage, and men aloft are loosing the reefed topsail, bracing the after-yards and setting them for a run in on the larboard tack. They handle gaskets, bunt-lines, leech-lines, fix her best bib and spencer, like a country girl for a run up to town. Men are swarming about the yards and rigging. That is not all: Lascars, stevedores, supercargoes, the hong merchants, agents, are all busy breaking bulk. The India opium is covered with petals of the plant and stowed in chests lined with hides and covered with gunny; and these cases are locked in by stays, spars and bulkheads to prevent jamming. Helter-skelter and confusion alow and aloft, on the yards, rigging, deck, between decks and under hatches. The captain and purser are gloating over the sycee silver, for the Chinese government is as jealous of its exportation as of the importation of opium; and the sky and the sea are dark and angry. In a slovenly way the sails are trimmed, and she edges clumsily around the point with the bullion and opium, the full freight and gains of a year's voyaging and trading. Half an hour or an hour hence she will be free, and the junk dropping down to sea with the drugs in her. All at once a shriek or yell of "Hard aport!" and a great iron outward-bound steamer from Hong-Kong bursts into the unwieldy Chinaman, goes crunching through her like ripping pasteboard; tears her open; snarls through steamy nostrils and cindery fiery mouth, and growls over her wreck. And the sodden, stupefied merchantman, as if drunk with opium, goes yelling and staggering with her sleepy drugs to the bottom, and stays there, sycee silver and all.

From pricking his way across the Tartar plains, and probing in the Dead Sea and eating its fruits, just to know that living crustaceae could be found in one and pulpy flesh in the other, our Launfal, looking for the Sangreal in chariot-wheels, wound his devious way to the Flowery Kingdom, having tried a stroke or two at pearl-diving, and given some valuable hints, that were wasted, in Red Sea fishing and the Suez Canal. The sleepy Celestial seasons had gone flowering their way to paradise, and the opium-smuggler and her sycee silver lay safe and swallowed in ribs and jowl of quicksand. Our American proposed to have it up by the locks. Two things said Nay—the coral insect, which was using it in its architectural designs, and the hungry quicksand. Worst of all, the American could not find it. They hid the bulky vessel in hills of sand, and after two months' labor in submarine armor the speculator was beaten. "Get a coolie," said a resident China merchant, and he did.

Every seaport city of China is a twin. It is two cities—one inland, narrow-streeted, paved with rubble stones; the other at sea, floating on bamboo reeds. The amphibious inmates of the marine town never go ashore, but are a species of otter or seal. Besides, they are first-class thieves, as well as cowardly, cruel pirates and wreckers. They will steal the sheathing from a copper-bottomed vessel in broad daylight, and at night a guard-boat is necessary for protection. They will defy a sentry on shipboard—steal his ship from under him while he is wondering what he is set to guard. They are all expert divers, as familiar with the sea-bottom as with their own ugly little hovels. Such a native was found, and for a dollar spotted the submerged vessel in her matrix of sand and coral.

"Now set a guard-boat," said the Englishman, "or he will steal the line, to get another dollar for finding the smuggler again."

But the want of experts defeated the plan, after all. It was necessary to use a petard to lay bare the treasure, and no one had the necessary skill. When the American consented to lost time and defeat the cyclone threw another spoil in his way. The East like the West Indies is the brooding-place of storms, which in gyratory coils, like a lasso thrown wide and large, go twisting north by west. It caught a French frigate in the loop, and flung her poor bones on the coral reefs, and the hungry sand absorbed her. It is a peculiarity of those seas. But she was found, and the petard, like a huge axe wielded by a giant's arms, cut into her treasure-house and rescued it. The American's expenses for a journey round the world were paid.

I have heard a sufficiently incredible story of a man submerged in a Chinese junk and under water twelve hours, yet taken out alive. A Chinese junk is the nightmare of marine architecture. It is owned in partnership by a company, but there is this difference from an ordinary charter-party. Each man owns his share or allotment of the vessel, and it is divided off into actual compartments or boxes made water-proof; and each one of these pigeon-holes the hong or merchant owns and stocks to suit himself. All open out upon the upper deck, and are battened down—sometimes with a glass skylight if used as a chamber. The structure in junk form is the thing's proper registry, since any departure from the ancient model would subject her to heavy taxation as an alien vessel.2 It is a very effectual mode of preventing any improvement in shipbuilding among the Chinese.

One of these clumsy arks went on the rocks in a typhoon, and was covered over her deck, leaving, however, the projecting skylight on or near a level with the surface. The hong was in this cuddy-hole, frantic between personal loss and personal peril. Suddenly there was a jar and a crash, and the sea beat over her. Fortunately, the skylight was closed water-tight, but, unfortunately, some of the spars and rigging blocked up the exit, even if he had dared the venture. The bolts of the sea barred him in.

But Chinese wreckers and Chinese thieves are on the alert. Wattai, or some such queer piratical Celestial with devilish propensities, went for the spoil, settling the salvage by arithmetic of his own. The wreck was removed from the skylight, and under the water, in that dense chamber, stagnant with mephitic air, the bruised, stupefied hong was found.

As is apparent from a previous example, the tendency of the sea-sand to absorb and conceal a sunken vessel is one of those difficulties that beset the explorer. But for that the recovery of treasure would be more frequent, the profession or business more lucrative. The number of vessels sunk annually, we learn from Lloyd's statistics, is one hundred thousand tons to the English commercial marine; and out of 551 vessels lost to the royal navy, 391 were sunk. Sir Charles Lyell estimates that there might be collected in the sea more evidences of man's art and industry than exist at any one time on the surface of the earth. But while the sea preserves, it hides. An example of the kind occurred in the wreck of the Golden Gate, a California steamer heavy with bullion. It occurred during the war, and the only expert diver within reach was an expatriated rebel. He had been a man of fortune, but, venturing too rashly in the Confederacy, he lost by confiscation and perhaps persecution. However, he was the man for the insurance companies, and a treaty was concluded, allowing him sixty per cent. salvage.

The vessel had gone down in tide water. The persistent sea had rocked and rocked it, and washed the tenacious quicksands about it, and finally concealed it. The search for it was long and tedious, and once given up or nearly given up. But as the disappointed diver was preparing to ascend his foot touched something firm, which proved to be a part of the wooden frame of the ship.

But even when found the difficulties had only begun. The tenacious, elastic sand defied all tools or leverage: no petard could blast so fickle and treacherous a substance. Wit and ingenuity can devise where ordinary art or engineering has failed. The diver took a lesson from the neighboring gold-miner, whose hydrostatic pump chisels away the mountain-side to lay bare the mother quartz. Fitted with such an engine, he swept the silted sand from the deck of the prize, and dug it out of the elastic matrix after the fashion of Macduff's birth.

By a great misfortune, incipient jealousies and the eager spirit of covetousness now showed themselves. It was at first whispered, and then asseverated, that if the bullion was once recovered the rebel might whistle for his sixty per cent. salvage. It was a bitter, bad time—a time of mistrust and suspicion—and the plan of defrauding the diver was only too feasible. He would be involved in a suit with a wealthy company at a time when prejudice, if not the form of law, regarded him as having forfeited a citizen's right. It placed him in a difficult position—more difficult because he could get no safe assurance, and was evidently suspected and watched. The diver concluded that his only way to secure his sixty per cent. salvage was to take it.

So it was that, with something of the feelings of the resurrectionists, a bold, dark party went to rob the charnel-house of the sea, to spoil it of its golden bones and wedgy ingots of silver. They chose a mirky night, when the thick air seemed too clotted and moist to break into hurly-burly of storm, and yet too heavy and dank to throw off the black envelope of fog and cloud. The black, oleaginous water seemed to slope from the muffled oar in a gluey, shining wave, and the heavy ripple at the bow of their boat parted in a long, adhesive roll, sloping away, but not breaking into froth or glisten of electric fire. The air and the sea seemed brooding in a heavy, hopeless misery, and the strange sense of plundering, not the living, but the dead, as if the sunken vessel was a huge coffin, was upon them. With that cautious sense of superstitious dread choking their muttered whispers, they reached the spot and prepared to descend. The task of sinking through that pitchy consistence, into the intricacy of that black, coffin-like hold, among the drowned corpses, to do a deed of doubtful right, must have intensified the horror of great darkness and that sublimity of silence that in the under-sea peoples the void shadows with horrible existences and fills the concave with voices. But it was done; and with trembling eagerness the weighty ingots, the unalloyed bars, were safely shipped, loading down the boat. Then louder and louder came the dash of oars. For a few moments they felt the way with muffled stroke into the shrouding shadows. But practiced ears caught the softened roll in the rollocks, and keen eyes marked the shadowy boat in the deepening gloom. It must be the skilled oar and adroit steering that saves them now, but not far away lie the long shadows of the shelving coast and its black-bearded forest. The swing of the oars became bold, open and exciting, and angry challenges passed. But the burden of the heavy gold fought against them, like the giant's harp calling Master! Master! on the shoulders of flying Jack of the Bean-stalk. The light, trim craft of the pursuers edged upon them, and the shadow of an angry struggle in the pitchy, reeking night gloomed over them. "No, no," said the leader: "no bloodshed for the cursed stuff! Here, give me a lift;" and with a heave and plunge the massy rouleaux splashed into the water, and the boat rose lighter with an easier conscience. The sea shut close-fisted over its own, while the pursuing boat paused and eddied about it, as if held to the treasure by invisible, impalpable strands. The pursuit was abandoned, and the betrayed or treacherous diver escaped. But busy rumor reports that he returned at leisure to the spot, and that the bullion of the Golden Gate went to replenish the forfeited fortune of the bold ex-rebel. Believe as you like, good reader.

The sea-sand, in its industrious zeal in covering up memorials of man's art and industry, is often curiously assisted by the zoophytes and vegetation of the ocean, as well as guarded in its labor by abnormal monsters of piscine creation. An example of this occurred in an amusing venture after Lafitte's gold. While the Gulf coast of Western Louisiana is fortified, in its immature terre tremblante, by the coral reefs and islets, it has the appearance of having been torn into ragged edges by the hydrostatic pressure of the Gulf Stream. On one of these little islets or keys, hard by Caillon Bay, the rumor went that the buccaneer had sunk a Spanish galleon laden with pieces of eight and ingots of despoiled Mexico. The people thereabout are a simple, credulous race of Spanish Creoles, speaking no English, keeping the saints' days, and watching the salt-pans of the more energetic but scarcely more thrifty Americans with curious wonder. They chanced in their broken tongue to commit the story of the treasure to a diver of an equally simple faith, who set about putting it to more practical use than to gild an hour with an old legend. They told how the spook of the Spanish captain haunted the wreck, and that the gold was guarded by a dragon in the shape of a monstrous horned and mottled frog, or some other devil of the sea, to which the diver did seriously incline, but not to make him give up the undertaking. He prudently, however, consulted with an old Indian witch, and so received the devil's good word, and piously got a bottle of holy water from the priest, and thus was well fenced in above and below.

But his coadjutors were inexperienced, and perhaps his own courage was of that saccharine character that gets oozy and slushy in moist perils. When descending with his leaded boots on the dark green outline of sea mosses that in the clear Gulf invested the vessel in a verdurous coat, by some mistake he was let down with a slip, and went hurtling through the rotten planks, losing his holy water and sending his witch's wand—well, to its original owner. He crushed through, and the infinite dust of infusoriae and diatomaceae choked his vision. The Teredo navalis, whose labors are so destructive in southern seas, had perforated the old hulk, and converted the vessel into a spongy mass of wood, clay and lime. Innumerable algae and curious fungi of the sea, hydroids, delicate-frost formed emerald plumuluria and campanuluna, bryozoa, mollusks, barnacles and varieties of coral had used it as a builder's quarry and granary. As the geologist finds atom by atom of an organism converted into a stony counterfeit, these busy existences had preserved the vessel's shape, but converted the woody fibre to their own uses. He could see nothing at first but a mixture of green and ochreous dust, through which tiny electric fires went quivering and shaking. In the confusion he lost the signal line, and had no way of making his condition known. Plunging about as the sea dust began to settle, and already more intent on finding the life-line and getting out of that than of securing Lafitte's gold, he observed some spectators not pleasant to look upon. A lobster or a crab is much pleasanter upon the table than in the sea, and there were other things he knew, and some he believed, might not take his hasty visit pleasantly. There was the horseshoe-fish with ugly strings hanging from his base, disagreeable arachnides, strange star fish and their parasites, and, curiously, a large wolfish fish that had built a nest and was watching it and him—watching him with no agreeable or timid expression in its angry eyes. He was just expecting Victor Hugo's devil fish to complete his horror when a sudden, sharp, bone-breaking shock struck him from an electrical eel or marine torpedo. This was a real and sensible danger, and as he struggled to ascend the hulk to the rotten half-deck, the spongy substance gave way, the treacherous quicksand, with its smooth, tenacious throat-clutch, slid down and caught him. The danger was real and imminent, when his companions above, observing the slide, drew him up. And that, I believe, was the first and last attempt to levv on Lafitte's gold.

But the experience of Pharaoh and the danger of our rambling wrecker are not the only instances of the wall of waters or the destruction it causes. Nine days after a storm in the Gulf, a traveler, finding his way from the salt-pans of Western Louisiana, took a little fishing-craft. There was that fresh purity in the air and the sea which follows the bursting of the elements. The numerous "bays" and keys that indent the shore looked fresher and brighter, and there was that repentant beauty in Nature which aims to soothe us into forgetfulness of its recent angry passions. The white-winged sea-birds flew about, and tall water-fowl stood silently over their shadows like a picture above and below. The water sparkled with salt freshness, and the roving winds sat in the shoulder of the sail, resting and riding to port.

The little bark slipped along the shores and shallows, and in and out by key and inlet, seeing its shadow on the pure white sand that seemed so near its keel. The last vestige of the storm was gone, and the little Gulf-world seemed fresher and gladder for it. The tropical green grasses and water-plants hung their long, linear, hairlike sheaths in graceful curves, and patches of willow-palm and palmetto, in many an intricate curve and involution, made a labyrinth of verdure. The wild loveliness of the numerous slips and channels, where never a boat seemed to have sailed since the Indian's water-logged canoe was tossed on the shadowy banks, was enhanced by the vision of distant ships, their sails even with the water, or broken by the white buildings of a sleepy plantation in its bower of fig and olive and tall moss-clustered pines.

Suddenly the traveler fancied he heard a cry, but the fishermen said No—it was the scream of water-fowl or the shrill call of an eagle far above dropping down from the blue zenith; and they sailed on. Again he heard the distant cry, and was told of the panther in the bush and wild birds that drummed and called with almost human intonation; and they sailed on again. But again the mysterious, troubled cry arose from the labyrinth of green, and the traveler entreated them to go in quest of it. The fishers had their freight for the market—delay would deteriorate its value; but the anxious traveler bade them put about and he would bear the loss.

It was well they did. There, in the dense coverts of the sea-swamps, amid the brackish water-growths and grasses, they found a man and woman, ragged, torn, starved. For nine days they had had no food but the soft pith of the palmetto, coarse mussels or scant poison-berries, their bed the damp morass, and their drink the brackish water; and they told the wild and terrible story of Last Island.

Last Island was the Saratoga and Long Branch of the South, the southern-most watering-place in the Gulf. Situated on a fertile coral island enriched by innumerable flocks of wild-fowl, art had brought its wealth of fruit and flower to perfection. The cocoanut-palm, date-palm and orange orchards contrasted their rich foliage in the sunshine with the pineapple, banana and the rich soft turf of the mesquit-grass. The air was fragrant with magnolia and orange bloom, the gardens glittering with the burning beauty of tropical flower, jessamine thickets and voluptuous grape arbors, the golden wine-like sun pouring an intoxicating balm over it; graceful white cottages festooned with vines, with curving chalet or Chinese roofs colored red; pinnacled arbors and shadowy retreats of espaliers pretty as a coral grove; and a fair shining hotel in the midst, with arcades and porches and galleries--the very dream of ease and luxury, as delicate and trim as if made of cut paper in many forms of prettiness. Here was the nabob's retreat; in this balmy garden of delight all that luxury, art and voluptuous desire could hint or hope for was collected; and nothing harsh or poor or rugged jarred the fullness of its luxurious ease.

Ten nights before its fragrant atmosphere was broken into beautiful ripples by the clang and harmony of dancing music. It was the night of the "hop." The hotel was crowded. Yachts and pleasure-vessels pretty as the petals of a flower tossed on the water, or as graceful shells banked the shores; and the steamer at twilight came breathing short, excited breaths with the last relay, for it was the height of the summer season. In their light, airy dresses, as the music swam and sung, bright-eyed girls floated in graceful waltzes down the voluptuous waves of sound, and the gleam of light and color was like a butterflies' ball. The queenly, luscious night sank deeper, and lovers strolled in lamp-lighted arcades, and dreamed and hoped of life like that, the fairy existence of love and peace; and so till, tired of play, sleep and rest came in the small hours.

Hush! All at once came the storm, not, as in northern latitudes, with premonitory murmur and fretting, lashing itself by slow degrees into white heat and rain, but the storm of the tropics, carrying the sea on its broad, angry shoulders, till, reaching the verdurous, love-clustered little isle, it flung the bulk of waters with all its huge, brawny force right upon the cut-paper prettinesses, and broke them into sand and splinters. Of all those pretty children with blue and with opalescent eyes, arrayed like flowers of the field; of all those lovers dreaming of love in summer dalliance, and of cottages among figs and olives; of all the vigorous manhood and ripe womanhood, with all the skill and courage of successful life in them,—not a tithe was saved. The ghastly maw of the waters covered them and swallowed them. A few sprang, among crashing timbers, on a floor laden with impetuous water—the many perhaps never waked at all, or woke to but one short prayer. The few who were saved hardly knew how they were saved—the many who died never knew how they were slain or drowned.

It has twice been my fortune in life to see such a storm, and to know its sudden destruction: once, to see a low, broad, shelving farm-house disappear to the ground timbers before my eyes, as if its substance had vanished into air, while great globes of electric fire burst down and sunk into the ground; once, to see a pine forest of centuries' growth cut down as grass by the mower's scythe. I do not think it possible to see a third and survive, and I do not wish my soul to be whirled away in the vortex of such a storm.

At noon or later, after the ruin of Last Island, a gentleman of a name renowned in South-western story found himself clinging to a bush in the wild waters, lashed by the long whips of branches, half dead with fatigue and fear. For a time the hurly-burly blinded and hid everything, and the long roll rocked and tore at him in desperate endeavor to wrench loose his bleeding fingers. The impulse of the wind and storm at such a time is as of a solid body, and there is a look of solidity in the very appearance of the magnificent force. But as it abated he thought he heard a faint cry, and looking around he saw a poor girl in the ribbons of her night-dress clinging to a branch, and slipping from her feeble hold. Tired as he was, and wild and dangerous as the attempt might be, he did not dare to leave her to perish. Choosing his time in a lull, he struck out to the bush, and reached it just as her ebbing strength gave way. He took her in his sturdy arms, and, clinging with tooth and nail, stayed them both to their strange anchorage. Faint, half conscious, disrobed as she was, in the sweet, delicate features, the curve of the lip, and the raven tresses clothed in seaweed, he recognized the Creole belle of last night's hop. He cheered and encouraged her, pointing out that the storm was abating, had abated. It could not be long until search-boats came, and while he had strength to live she should share it. It proved true. Generous and hardy fishers and ships had come at once to the scene of disaster, and were busy picking up the few spared by wind and wave. They found the two clinging together and to that slight bush, and took them off, wrapping them in ready, rough fishermen's coats. The reader can see the end of that story. A meeting so appointed had its predestined end in a love-match. So we leave it and them: the rest of their lives belongs to them, not to us.

The pair found by our fishing-smack were a wealthy planter and his wife. For nine days of starvation and danger they had clung together. When I think of the husband's manly care in thus abiding by the wife, I find it hard to reconcile it with the fact that he only valued his life and hers at a few dollars—not enough to compensate the traveler for the loss incurred as demurrage to the fishermen.

Now Last Island is but a low sandy reef, on which a few straggling fruit trees try to keep the remembrance of its bygone beauty. It is as bare and desolate as the bones of those who filled its halls in the cataclysm of that dreadful night—bones which now waste to whiteness on sterile shores or are wrought into coral in the under-sea.

Footnote 1: (return) The difficulty, I am aware, in venturing on a description is, that it will appear rather a fever of fancy than an accurate chromoscope. I can only point to the fact that the revelation of the intense beauty of the sea has in recent years fallen rather to the naturalist than the poet, the accurate and scientific prose of the former surpassing the idealization of the latter.
Footnote 2: (return) By recent provision the Chinese are allowed to buy foreign vessels.