"How big do the fish run here?" he asked the boatman.
"'Bout a thousand pounds for the biggest game fishes, them's black sea-bass," the man answered; "leastways there was an eight-hundred pounder brought in, and lots of us have seen bigger ones."
"But how can they catch fishes that size on a little bit of a spindling rod and a line so fine you can hardly see it?"
"They don't," was the reply, "not that big. The record black sea-bass, rod and reel, that has been caught here was four hundred and thirty-six pounds in the season of 1905. The biggest tuna—they're the hardest fighters of any fish that swims—was two hundred and fifty-one pounds, caught in the season of 1900. I reckon Major Dare's fast to one that's just a good size for sport."
"You're getting him, Father!" cried Colin, who had been watching the contest with the fish, while listening to the boatman.
"He's a fair size," said the boatman critically, "but not one of the really big ones, probably only about eighty or ninety pounds."
The fight came to a close sooner than Colin expected. Dexterously, Major Dare reeled in his line during a moment's pause while the fish sulked, bringing him to the surface, and his boatman, quick as a flash of light, leaned over the side and slipped the long, slender hook, or gaff, into the gills. But the end was not yet, for the tuna, with a powerful shake of his head, nearly pulled the man overboard, shook out the gaff, and commenced another panic-stricken rush.
Colin's father, however, with thumb on the brake of the reel, gave him absolutely no leeway, and the tuna was stopped within twenty feet, to be reeled in again. In the meantime, the gaffer had recovered his weapon, and as the big fish was brought to the side of the boat, he struck again, this time succeeding in holding against the rush of the fish, though he was pulled elbow-deep into the water. Then, standing on the gunwale, the gaffer lifted the head of the tuna and tilted the boat over as far as was safe, sliding in the fish as he did so, accompanied by the cheers of Colin. As soon as the tuna was fairly secure, a big square of canvas was thrown over it to keep it from pounding and threshing in the bottom of the boat.
"That was bully, Father!" said Colin, reaching out and shaking hands; "I'm glad I got here in time."
His father looked at him with a twinkle in his eye.
"How the deuce did you know I was out here?" he asked; "I thought the steamer was only just about due."
"I saw you as we came into the harbor," Colin answered, "and I yelled loud enough to be heard 'way back in Los Angeles, but you didn't pay any attention."
"I thought I heard some one shouting a while back," his father said, "but I was busy then and didn't have time to see who it was."
"How big is the tuna, do you think?"
"Not big enough to be listed. About eighty-five, I should say. What about it, Vincente?"
"Little more," the boatman said; "I think perhaps ninety."
"Nothing of a record, you see, Colin," his father said, "just a good morning's sport. But I want to hear all about your doings. It seems to me that you're developing into quite a sensational person with your fights with whales, and your sea-serpents, and all the rest of it. You've been writing good letters, too, my boy. I'm glad to see that you make use of your eyes when you're in strange places. Tell me how you got to Astoria, I didn't quite follow that salmon business."
Colin started his yarn, but was only fairly launched into it when they arrived at the wharf. There quite a crowd had gathered to welcome the incoming boat, for a big tuna catch always arouses interest in Avalon, and one of its features is the manner in which it is regarded as a personal triumph for the angler. The promenaders gather to see the prize weighed by the officials of the club, and it is rare that the customary photograph of fish, angler, and gaffer is omitted. As for Colin, he was as proud over the fish he had seen caught as though he had held the rod himself.
"I had thought of going to the other side of the island for black sea-bass to-morrow, Colin," his father said, "and I purposed going with Colonel Roader. I suppose you would like to come instead, and from what I hear I think I'll put off that trip and try tuna again to-morrow. You want to come along?"
"I certainly should, Father," the boy said gratefully, "if it wouldn't be spoiling your fun."
"Not a bit, my boy," was the kindly reply, "I've been looking forward to teaching you something about real fishing. Beside which, I have an idea that you and I will have enough to talk about to keep us going for a good while. I'd like to take you up to the club-house now, but you'll probably want to get back home, and we'll go along together. I can get the boatman to look after notification at the club, and all that sort of thing."
"I'll wait, if you like."
"No; Vincente knows all the ropes as well as I do. I judge from your letters that you've enjoyed running around the way you have?"
"I wish you'd been along, Father," the boy replied. "I've had a bully time. I never expected anything like it when I got aboard the Gull."
"I didn't either," said Major Dare dryly; "if I had thought of the possibility of the ship being rammed by a whale, you'd never have put a foot on her deck. But Captain Murchison said that whales were entirely harmless, and so I let you go."
"But, Father, you should have seen the way the old whale charged"—and the lad plunged into the thick of the story. He was fairly out of breath when they reached the little cottage Major Dare had rented for a couple of months, but the boy was by no means out of material, and nothing short of an absolute command could keep him silent long enough to eat his lunch. In the afternoon he unpacked his trunk, revealing little quaint articles he had picked up on his travels as gifts for the various members of the family. But the excitement of home-coming had tired the boy, and quite early in the evening he found himself getting sleepy, so that not long after his little sister had been snugly tucked up, Colin announced his readiness to go to bed, on the ground that he was to get up early the next day, as he was going tuna-fishing.
The morning broke hot and hazy. The gray-green of the foliage on the mountains had a purple tinge in the early morning light, and the sea took on a mother-of-pearl gleam behind its amethyst, as it reflected the changing hues of the roseate sunrise. Over San Antonio and San Jacinto the sun rose gloriously, and in the freshness of the morning air the giant flying-fish of the Pacific leaped and gleamed across the mirror-smooth sea.
Colin drew a long breath and expanded his lungs to the full, as though he could breathe in the glow of color and the wonder of it all.
"It always feels good to be alive at this hour of the morning!" he said.
His father smiled appreciatively.
"You're generally asleep," he said. "But it's a good thing we did get up in time to-day, for unless my eyes are failing me, I think I can see in the distance the tunas coming in. Say, Vincente, doesn't that look like them over there?"
"Yes, sair, I t'ink dat's a school. I overheard a man on ze pier telling of a beeg one he caught yesterday," said the boatman.
"That was Mr. Retaner," was the answer, "one of the most famous anglers and authorities on fishing in America. That's why I came out this morning; he said he thought the school would arrive soon, and what Retaner doesn't know about fishing isn't worth knowing. He practically created deep-sea angling in America, so that as an industry it is worth millions of dollars annually to the country, and as a sport it has been put in the first rank."
Across the sea of glass with its rose reflections of the sunrise and the deep underglow of richly-colored life beneath the transparent water, there came a quick shiver of ripples. Then half a mile away, but advancing rapidly, appeared a strange turmoil, and in the sunlight, a stretch of sea, acres in extent, was churned into white foam, looking like some fairy ice- or snow-field. Above this, at a height of about ten feet, glittered a palpitating silver canopy, almost blinding in its sparkle and its sheen.
"What is that?" asked Colin, wondering.
"The tuna feeding and coming down the coast," was the reply.
As it drew nearer, Colin saw that the gleaming silver canopy was formed of thousands upon thousands of flying-fish, skimming through the air, dropping to the water every fifty yards or so, then, with a single twist of the screw-like tail, rising in the air for another soaring flight.
Below, from the surface of the water broken to foam by the tumult, would leap those tremendous jumpers of the sea, the tuna, plunging through the living cloud of flying-fish, and dropping to feed upon those which fell stunned under their impetuous charges. Occasionally, but very rarely, a tuna would seize its fish in midair, and it was marvelous to see a fish nearly as large as a man spring like a bolt from a cross-bow out of the sea, often until it was ten feet above the water, then turn and plunge back into the ocean.
"We'd better get out of here, I think," Major Dare said to the boatman; "this is getting to be too much of a good thing."
But, as he said the word, the school of flying-fish swerved right in the direction of the boat, and in a minute the anglers were surrounded. The silent, skimming flight of the long-finned flying-fish, the boiling of the sea, lashed to fury by the pursuing tuna, and these living projectiles, hurled as a silvered bolt into the air, frightened Colin not a little, although he was enjoying the experience thoroughly.
"Look out you don't get struck by a flying-fish," his father called to him, bending low in his seat. Colin, who had not thought of this possibility, followed suit rapidly, because the California flying-fish, unlike his Atlantic cousin, is a fish sometimes eighteen inches long, and he saw that if he were struck by one in the full speed of its skimming flight, he might easily be knocked overboard.
"Can't they see where they are going?" asked the boy.
"They can see well enough," his father answered, "but they have little or no control over their flight. They can't change the direction in which they are going until they touch water again. That's how the tuna catches them, it swims under in a straight line and grabs the fish as it comes down to get impetus for another flight."
"But I thought flying-fish went ever so much higher than that!" said the boy. "I'm sure I've read of their landing on the decks of vessels!"
"They do," was the answer; "they are attracted by the glare of the lights and fall on board. But that is generally on sailing vessels with a low freeboard. You don't often hear of flying-fish falling on the deck of a modern liner, and in the few cases in which they have, it has been because they happened to come out of the water with a rush against a slant of wind which carried them up twenty or thirty feet. They go with an awful force, and I knew an angler once who was pitched head first overboard by a flying-fish, and was nearly drowned before his boatman could get him aboard. He had been struck square between the shoulders and the blow had stunned him for the moment."
"Suppose a chap got hit by a tuna?" queried the boy.
"That's less likely," the father answered, "because, you see, the tuna comes nearly straight up and down; he leaps, he doesn't skim."
"Zere was one went t'rough a boat last season, Major Dare," the boatman interjected. "It was late in ze year, after you had gone, I t'ink, sair."
"Had it been hooked?" asked Colin.
"No, sair," the boatman answered; "tuna don't leap after zey are hooked. It was when zey were chasing a school, just like this."
"You're thinking of the tarpon, Colin," his father said; "it leaps wildly after it has been hooked. The tuna, although a wonderful leaper, hardly ever rises from the water after it is fast to the line. But the tarpon is a vicious fighter. A couple of years ago a boat was found drifting in the Galveston fishing-ground off Texas, with a dead angler and a dead tarpon. The fish had been hooked and had tried to leap over the boat, striking the angler and breaking his neck, then had fallen into the boat itself and had not been able to get out."
"There's some excitement to fishing when it's like that!" Colin commented.
"It's as good as big-game hunting any day, I think," his father answered; "and you don't have to travel for weeks out of civilization to find it. Well, now, we'll give you a chance to show how much of the angler you've got in you."
He handed Colin a rod and the boy looked at it. It was nearly seven feet long, and the whole weight of it, except for the short butt which held the reel, was not more than sixteen ounces. The line was thin enough to be threaded through a big darning-needle, it was known as '21 thread' as it had that number of strands, each strand being tested to a breaking strain of two pounds.
"Something will smash, sure," said Colin, examining the outfit carefully; "that looks as though it wouldn't hold a trout!"
"The rod is a split bamboo," his father said, "and if the line breaks it will be because you've allowed the fish to jerk. Anybody can catch fish with a heavy line, but the fish hasn't got any chance, and there's no sport in it. It's on a par with shooting quail sitting instead of flushing them. Good angling consists in landing the heaviest fish with the lightest tackle, not in securing the greatest amount of fish. Why, here in Avalon, there isn't a single boatman who would allow his boat to be used by a 'fish-hog' who wanted to use heavy tackle."
He had hardly finished speaking when there came a quiver on the line, and excitedly Colin jerked up his rod.
"Don't strike with a jerk!" his father cried, but Colin was in fortune, and the line did not break. The reel screamed "z-z-z-ee" with the speed of its revolutions as the tuna sped to the bottom, and the older angler, leaning forward, wetted thoroughly the leather brake that the boy was holding down with his right thumb.
"Easy on the brake," came the warning; "don't put too much strain on the line or she'll snap!"
But Colin had the makings of an angler in him and he was able instinctively to judge the amount of pressure that was needed. The tuna, followed by a sheet of spume-blue water churned by the rapidly-towed line, plunged on and on, until two hundred and fifty feet of line had been run out. Then, from the ice-cold bottom, rising as a meteor darts across the sky, the great fish clove the water to the surface.
"What will I do when he leaps?" asked Colin breathlessly, reeling for dear life as soon as he felt the upward dash of the tuna.
"He won't leap after he's hooked," his father said; "they very seldom do. I told you that before. It's the tarpon that plunges and leaps after being hooked."
The tuna reached the surface with a speed that seemed incredible to the boy, and though he had been reeling as rapidly as he could make his fingers fly, even the big multiplier on the reel had failed to bring in all the slack. The tuna, panic-stricken by the strange line that hissed behind him and which he could neither outrace nor shake off, tried to charge the loops of twine that the reel had not yet been able to bring in. The sea fairly seemed to boil as the fin of the tuna cut through the water at the surface.
"Look out now, Colin," the boy's father called. "He'll see the boat in a minute!"
He did. On the instant he saw the launch and the three men in it, and in the very midst of his charge, the body bent and shot into the depths again.
"Watch out for the jerk!" the older angler cried, and as the fish reached the end of the slack line there was a sudden tug which Colin felt sure meant a lost fish. But his father's warning had come in time, and by releasing the thumb-brake entirely when the tug came, the reel was free, and it rattled out another fifty feet, the boy gradually beginning to apply the pressure again and to feel the tuna at the end of the line.
One hundred, two hundred, three hundred feet of line reeled out at this second great rush, and the older man began to look grave as the big reel grew empty.
"Ought I to try and stop him with the brake, Father?" asked the boy.
"Better not try too hard," came the cautious answer, "the weight of the line that is out is a heavy pull on him. Unless he's a monster he'll have to stop soon."
Fifty feet more of line ran out before the rush stopped, and then a change of action at the other end of the line telegraphed the message to the boy's fingers that the tuna, for the first time in its life, had felt fatigue. From over four hundred feet away Colin felt the call and realized that now he might expect a victory if only he could keep up the fight to the end and never make a slip. One error, he knew, would be fatal; one jerk, and the line would snap, one strain too great, and the strands would give way.
He began to reel in. His back ached and his fingers became cramped, but still he reeled, every fifty feet or so having to let the line run out as the tuna made a rush, so that a quarter of an hour's careful bringing in would be spoiled in thirty seconds. In forty minutes of heartbreaking strain, the boy had gained not more than forty feet of line, but he was game and stuck to it manfully. Reeling in carefully, the fish either sulking or resting, in the next few minutes he won his greatest gain and pulled in until there was not more than one hundred feet of line out. His heart was beating high with hope, when the tuna sighted the boat again and darted away, apparently as fresh and full of fight as when he had at first been hooked.
At this last rush, when it appeared that there was no immediate slackening of the powers of the splendid fish, Major Dare said:
"Do you want me to finish him for you?"
In his inmost heart Colin feared that he would have to give up, but he did not want to admit it. He was utterly inexperienced in the sport and knew nothing of the many ways whereby older anglers relieve themselves of much of the strain, but the boy's nerve was untouched, and he set his teeth and answered:
"I want to bring him in all by myself, if I can, Father. I'm not done yet, not by a long shot. But if you think I ought to let you finish it, why, I suppose I'll have to."
"No, I want to see you bring him in," his father said; "only don't kill yourself at it. It's just as well not to overstrain yourself; it's easy to have too much energy without judgment."
The boy's grit was soon rewarded, for after this rush, the tuna changed his tactics, and sinking down to about thirty feet from the surface, began a steady powerful swim, not a rush, but a straightaway, having about two hundred feet of line out. To the boy's surprise the boat began to slip along at a fair rate of speed, and he saw that miracle of angling, a hundred-pound fish, frightened and angry, towing a heavy boat with three people in it at a rate of five miles an hour by a line no thicker than a hairpin. With constant watchfulness and deft management, the boy was able to gain a few inches at a time. But a few inches make but little difference when there is two hundred feet of line out!
For over twenty minutes the tuna towed the boat, and then his mood changed. Though not by any means exhausted, the first undaunted freshness had worn off and, sulky and savage, the fish charged back at the line again, that strange white thing in the water that he could not shake off and that followed him no matter where he went. But in charging back at the line, as before, he found the boat at the other end of it. The return charge had been slower than before, and the big multiplier on the reel had done its work, so that when the tuna came near the boat not more than seventy feet of line was out, and the boy determined to hold on to this.
Reaching the surface of the water, the tuna turned. But this time there was no slack and the fish could not begin a rush. He would not plunge in the direction of his captor, and Colin kept a steady strain upon the line, forcing the tuna to swim round and round the boat. This was fatal to the fish, for Colin was able to keep a sidewise drag upon the line, giving the tiring creature no chance to turn its head and dash away.
"You're playing very well!" the boy's father approvingly said, as he saw how, unconsciously, the lad was adopting tricks of angling some experienced fishermen never really learn.
Colin flushed at the praise, and kept closer watch of the constant strain on his line. The boatman, seizing every opportunity, ever and again thrust the boat forward, giving the lad a chance to take in more slack, so that the tuna swam in ever lessening circles. Suddenly he made a sharp flurry and tried to dive. But the line was tight and the brake held him closely, the lifting action curving the giant body in spite of itself and preventing the dive.
The attempt had cost the fish full thirty feet of liberty, and the boat was very near. With a little pumping—that is, raising the rod slowly, then dropping the point quickly and reeling in the foot or so gained, the boy's father showing him how this should be done—Colin brought the fish still nearer. Once more the tuna came up to the surface with a rush in order to get slack enough for a plunge. This might mean that the whole performance would have to be done over again, but again the fish was checked, Colin having the line reeled up almost to the wire leader, and with a quickness that was wonderful in its accuracy, the boatman neatly dropped the gaff under the jaws of the tuna. There was a short, sharp flurry, but Vincente knew every trick of the game and speedily brought the gallant fish on board.
"Two hours an' ten minutes, sair," said the boatman. "An' I t'ink, sair, zat it's over a hundred."
"You did splendidly, Colin," began his father. "Why, what's the matter?" he continued in alarm, as the boy sank back in his seat, looking pale and sick.
"I'm a bit done up, that's all," the boy answered, gasping. His hands were trembling so that he could not hold the rod, and his face was ashen.
"Buck fever, I suppose?"
"Yes, sair; he's all right in a minute," said the boatman. "It does zat every little sometimes, Major Dare. I've seen even ze old angler get very much tired out after ze strain."
"It's the reaction," said Colin's father, as he laved the boy's forehead, and just as Vincente had said, in a moment or two the color came back into the lad's cheeks and he straightened up.
"Silly to act like that," he said. Then, seeing his father's look of concern, he added, "I feel as though I'd like some grub."
Kindly refraining from increasing the boy's embarrassment by commenting on his exhaustion spell, the older man reached for the basket and handed out a package of sandwiches. Two hours of excitement and exertion in the hot sun, following a very early breakfast, had affected Colin sharply, but boy-like, he was always ready for eating.
"That was what I wanted," he said, as a few bites disposed of the first sandwich and he took another.
The boatman nodded approvingly.
"He's goin' to be fine angler, all right," he said. "Major Dare, if zat tuna's over a hundred, ze boy ought to get ze button. Zat's ze right rod an' line an' it was caught accordin' to ze rules of ze club."
"Could I really get a button?" asked Colin excitedly, the very thought driving away the last remnants of his attack of weakness. "Is it really a tuna? And is it over a hundred pounds?"
"It's a tuna without question," his father answered, "but I'm not so sure about the weight. If Vincente says it is, he's likely to be right."
"Near one hundred and ten, I t'ink," the boatman answered, "an' I'm sure over one hundred. 'Bout one hundred, six or seven, I should t'ink."
"Do you want to put out the line again, Colin?" his father asked.
"Thank you, I've had enough for one day," the boy replied. "Let's see you get one, Father!"
It was a great delight to lie back on the seat with the consciousness of a great feat achieved, to watch the gulls and sea-birds overhead and the flying-fish skimming the rippling sea. Major Dare had excellent sport with a couple of yellowtail—one of which was played fifty minutes and the other thirty-five—but the honors of the day rested with Colin. It was nearly noon as the little launch came up to the pier, and the sun was burning hot, but there were a score of loungers on the beach to welcome them.
"Any luck, Vincente?" called a friendly boatman, as the little craft sped by.
"Good luck," was the reply. "Boy got a hundred-pounder!"
"Did, eh?" exclaimed the other boatman, turning round to stare, and Colin felt that this really was fame. Word was sent to a member of the weighing committee of the club, and in his presence the fish was put on the scales. It proved not to be as large as Vincente had thought, being but one hundred and four pounds, but this was a clear margin over the hundred, and Colin was just as well pleased as if it had been a hundred and forty.
He was eager beyond words to know what would be the verdict of the club, but as the catch had been officially registered, was thoroughly within the rules, and Major Dare was a valued member of the club, it was unanimously agreed that a blue button should be awarded to Colin. He was accordingly elected to junior membership and so received it. The next two weeks passed all too quickly for the boy, for he got the fishing fever in his veins, and if he had not been held in check, he would have stayed on the water night and day. He made a very creditable record, getting a thirty-pound yellow-tail and several good-sized white sea-bass and bonito. But he never even got a bite from one of the big black sea-bass, though his father made a splendid four-hour fight, landing a two-hundred-pounder. The lad's tuna of a hundred and four pounds, also, was far outdone by one his father caught ten days later, which scaled exactly one hundred and seventy pounds.
Three times, in the next two weeks, Colin found himself again fast to a tuna, but was unable to land any of the three. His first he lost by jerking too quickly at the strike. The second walked away with his entire six hundred feet of line at the first rush, and probably was a fish beyond the rod and reel capacity, and the third broke the line suddenly in some unexplained way, possibly, the boatman said, because the tuna had been seized by a shark when down in thirty fathoms of water.
"Does the tuna live on flying-fish only, Vincente?" asked Colin of the boatman, a couple of days before he was going to leave.
"Mos'ly zey do, sair, I t'ink," was the reply, "zat is, when zey can get dem. But zey'll eat nearly any fish an' zey are quite fon' o' squid. Some fishermen use squid for tuna bait, but I don't t'ink much of ze idea."
"Let's see," said the boy thoughtfully, "a squid is something like an octopus, isn't it?"
"Well, no, sair, not exac'ly," the boatman answered. "Bot' of zem have arms wavin' around, but zey look quite diff'rent, I t'ink. An' a squid has ten arms, but an octopus has jus' eight."
"Eight's enough, it seems to me," said Colin. "And are there many of them here? I suppose there must be if they use them for bait."
"Yes, sair, zere is plenty of zem hidin' in ze kelp and ozzer seaweed."
"But how do you catch them?" asked the boy. "Isn't it dangerous?"
"Not a bit, sair," answered the boatman. "I t'ink a squid can't do any harm. In Newfoun'land, so some one tell me, zey run as big as sixty and seventy feet, but in Santa Cat'lina, four or five feet from ze tail to ze end of ze arms is as long a one as I have seen, I t'ink."
"I'd like to go catching squid, just to see how it's done," said the boy. "The squid I've seen on the Atlantic coast don't often grow bigger than twelve inches."
"Catch plenty of zem, any evening you say," the boatman answered; "ze easiest way is to spear zem."
"Bully!" the boy answered; "let's go to-night! I'll get leave, when I go back to lunch."
When Colin proposed a squid-hunt, at first his mother objected, saying she was sure such ugly-looking creatures must be poisonous, but the father knew that this was not the case, and having every confidence in Vincente, who was his regular boatman, he gave the desired permission. Accordingly, after an early supper, Colin started out with Vincente to a section of the shore. The tall, sharp cliffs jutted straight out of the water, and far upon the crest were the characteristic flock of goats browsing along paths impassable to any other animal. Below the water lay the forest of giant kelp.
"We s'all find some squid 'round here," the boatman said; "and sometimes zere are octopus, too, though ze mos' of zem are on ze rocks a little furzer along."
"We'd better get busy, I think," said Colin, "it won't be so very long before it begins to get dark."
"We'll see," was the reply, and picking up his gaffing-hook, Vincente prodded here and there amid the kelp. "T'ought so," he added a minute later, and pointed at the water.
"I don't see anything," said Colin, looking closely. "The water's too muddy."
"No mud," said the boatman, "zat's sepia ink ze squid has squirted so as to hide. Zey always do zat. Zere's probably a lot of zem zere, for zey always keep togezzer."
"Is that the real sepia ink, do you know, Vincente?" the boy asked.
"Ze squid, no; ze octopus, yes. Zere is two or t'ree people here zat catch ze octopus an' sen' ze ink bags to Frisco. See, zere's squid!"
As his eyes became a little accustomed to the reflections in the weed, Colin was able to see ghostlike brown forms that seemed to slide rather than swim through the water.
"Do they swim backwards?" he asked in surprise.
"Always, I t'ink," said the boatman. "Zey take in water at ze gills and zey shoot it out from a pipe near ze mout', an' zat way zey push zemselves along tail first. I'll bring ze boat closer to ze shore for zey'll back away from ze boat an' get into shoal water where we can spear zem."
Moving very slowly and beating the seaweed as they went, little by little the two drove the hosts of squid back through the kelp to a narrow bay, the water being turned to a muddy brownish-black by the discharge of the ink-bags. The squid were of fair size, ranging from one to four feet in length, of which the body was about one-third. Presently Vincente's hand shot back a little and, with a quick throw, he cast the 'grains,' as the small-barbed harpoon was called, into the midst of them. Colin's eyes were not quick enough to see the squid, but the boatman smiled.
"Got him zat time!" he said. "Pull him in."
Without a moment's hesitation Colin grasped the rope that was attached to the small harpoon.
"Don't jerk," the boatman warned him; "ze flesh isn't very tough an' unless you pull steady ze spear will draw right out."
Suddenly Colin felt the rope tauten.
"What's the matter?" he said. "I can't move it."
"Ze squid has got hold of ze bottom," said the boatman with a laugh. "No, you can't move him. Nozzing move a squid, after he's got hold of somet'ing. He'll hang on to ze bottom till ze end of ze world, an' he'd let himself be cut to pieces before he'd let go his hold. Better jerk ze spear out!"
Colin gave a quick yank and the barbed harpoon came up with the blade as clean as though it had never been plunged into anything.
"Zere!" the boatman cried, as Colin stood holding the 'grains,' "one great big one right under you!"
Colin had no time for aim, but seeing a vague shadow below the boat, he allowed for the refraction of the water, and threw the small barbed spear with all his might. His cast was as clean as though he were experienced, and as he grasped the rope he cried to the boatman with a laugh:
"Don't let him get to anyt'ing solid," the boatman warned him. "Jus' keep him from zat an' you're all right. Don't play him like a fish. Jus' pull him in."
This was child's play, for the squid's queer method of going through the water offered no resistance and he was pulled up to the boat. But no sooner had the cephalopod come within reach than the tables were turned. With the speed of light the creature swung over, threw two of its arms under the boat; one clasped the gunwale and others fixed themselves on the boy's bare arms, while two waved freely as though waiting a chance to twine around his neck and strangle him.
Colin yelled with fright. As the cold, clammy suckers crinkled themselves into his flesh, the skin all over his body seemed to creep in disgust. He had been bending over as he hauled up the rope and the squid's tentacles around his arms held him poised half out of the boat, his head not more than a foot and a half from the surface of the water, looking straight into the hypnotic, black, unwinking eyes of the sea-monster.
The instinct of fright arose. Using all his strength, he raised his right arm and grasped the tentacle that had been wound around his left arm. To his surprise he found that a moderate amount of force only was needed to pull the grasp of the tentacle free, and he released himself from the creature almost without difficulty. Nor, except for a slightly reddened spot on his arms, was there any outward evidence of the encounter.
Vincente reached down for the cephalopod, allowing it to wrap some of the tentacles about him, then pried its grasp from the boat with the handle of the gaff. He made no attempt to free himself from the squid, but as he stood still for a minute or two, the creature voluntarily released its hold, falling to the bottom of the boat.
"Zey haven't any strengt' at all out of ze water," the boatman said, "but while swimming zey have a good deal. See, ze whole body of zat squid isn't more zan two feet long, an' yet if he'd got a hold of you in ze water, specially with ze bigger suckers on ze t'ick part of ze arms, you might have had some trouble. Zose big fellows wit' bodies twenty feet long an' arms t'irty feet, mus' be one horrible t'ing to meet on a dark night."
"But would they attack you?"
"Never, I t'ink," said the boatman. "Ze biggest of zem hasn't a beak large enough to take in a herring."
"Well," Colin said, "I suppose that really wasn't as exciting as it seemed, but I tell you, for a while, I felt as if I was having all the thrill I wanted."
"You ought to try ze octopus, now," said the boatman with a chuckle; "zat is, if you've had enough of ze squids. It's early yet an' we might go after some of zose octopuses zat hunt crabs."
"I'm ready," said Colin. "They won't get me by surprise, like that squid did!"
The sun was near the horizon when Colin and the boatman landed on the rocky shore, and the sunset colors were gorgeous. But Colin did not want to run any chances of being caught napping, and he followed Vincente, watching every move. Presently the boatman stopped and pointed, like a dog flushing a covey of partridges.
About eight feet away was a crab of fair size, perhaps six inches across the shell. Half-way between where they stood and the crab, right on the edge of the water, was a small octopus with its large, glaring, green eyes fixed on the crab. This was at first the only sight Colin could get of the creature, but by looking into the water closely, he was able to make out the vague shape of the octopus. The cuttlefish had changed from its natural color to the exact hue of the sandy bottom on which it was crawling, and it was advancing so slowly that its progress could hardly be seen.
Suddenly, as a wave washed it within a few feet of the crab, two of the tentacles darted out so swiftly that Colin could scarcely follow the move until they were upon the crab, the rest of the body of the octopus flattening itself upon the sand as though to secure a greater purchase. The crab set both its claws into the soft flesh of the tentacles, whereupon, with a series of horrible convulsions, the cuttlefish lumbered entirely out of the sea and, with two or three repulsive and sinuous gyrations, it forced itself bodily over the crab. By this means the outstretched membranes at the base of the tentacles smothered the movements of the prey and prevented escape, while at the same time the mouth and biting beaks were brought into position where they could find a vital part.
"Do you want zat one as a specimen?" asked the boatman.
Colin was conscious inwardly that he would have preferred to have nothing at all to do with the repulsive object, but as he had come out in pursuit of an octopus, he would not, for the world, have shown the white feather before the boatman.
"Yes, unless we find a bigger," he said, with an overdone assumption of ease.
"I t'ink, sair," Vincente responded, "zat we'd better be satisfied wit' zis one. Shall I take it or will you?"
There was just a hint of irony in the boatman's tone, and remembering the timidity he had shown when clutched by the squid, Colin felt that this was the chance to redeem himself.
"I don't mind taking it," he said. "You say these things are quite harmless."
"Quite, sair, I t'ink," the boatman replied.
"All right," was the boy's rejoinder, and he walked forward boldly toward the octopus. The green eyes regarded him steadily, and just as the boy stooped to grasp the slimy body, it seemed to gather itself in a heap and started for the sea.
This was an unexpected move, but Colin, having stated that he wanted that octopus, did not propose to be cheated out of it. He was surprised that the cuttlefish could move so fast, and his repugnance gave way to excitement as he started running after the writhing eight-armed creature. He was just about to grab it when he tripped on a rock, covered with slippery seaweed, and fell headlong, the fall throwing him immediately upon the octopus. For a moment the boy was staggered, and he never knew whether he had grabbed the cephalopod or whether it had grasped him, all he knew was that he was lying on the ground with six of the eight arms of the octopus around him.
The boy was just in time to throw up his hands to protect his eyes, as a torrent of the inky fluid deluged him from head to foot. He struggled to get up, but the two tentacles of the cuttlefish held fast to adjacent rocks, and Colin might have found difficulty in freeing himself, owing to the awkward attitude in which he had been caught, but for Vincente, who wrenched the tentacles away from their hold.
"Are you all right, sair?" the boatman asked.
"All right," said Colin stoutly, as he got up.
Seldom had he been such a sight! He was black from head to foot with the sepia fluid, his clothes were torn where he had fallen on the rocks, and he was smothered in the nauseous embrace of the uncanny and diabolical eight-armed creature clinging to his shoulder. Once, on the way to the boat, the cuttlefish seemed ready to drop off, but, at Vincente's warning, Colin made believe to force apart the other tentacles, and the octopus renewed its hold. As soon as they reached the boat and the boy stood still a moment, the cuttlefish let go, and fell to the bottom of the boat.
Colin looked down at himself and laughed, then jumped overboard in all his clothes, threshing around in the water to remove as much of the sepia as he could, clambering in when he had washed off the worst of it.
Vincente looked at him.
"I t'ink, sair," he said, smiling, "you ought to be photograph' wit' ze catch!"
DEFEATED BY A SPOTTED MORAY
Colin's brilliant success at Santa Catalina, signalized by his receipt of the tuna button, had so increased Major Dare's pride in him that when the boy renewed his request that he be allowed to enter the Bureau of Fisheries, his appeal received attention. The inspiration that he had gained from the whole-hearted enthusiasm of the professor was evident in all that the boy said, and his father was surprised to find how much the lad really had learned about the work of the Government during his experiences in the Behring Sea and on the Columbia River.
"It doesn't appeal to me particularly," his father said quietly, when the boy closed a somewhat impassioned petition, "but we are each built upon a different pattern. To me, fish are of interest as a food and for sport. I couldn't be satisfied to take them up as a lifework. There's no money in it; of course, you can see that."
"There isn't in any government work, is there?"
"No," was the reply, "big fortunes are always made in individual ways. But when you're starting out in life, it is much more important to be able to do the work you like than it is to seek only for money. The principal thing I'm afraid of is that you will find it tiresome and monotonous after a while. It's very hard work with a good deal of manual labor involved, and there is nothing particularly attractive in a bushel of fish-eggs!"
"But it's only on the start that you have to do the steady grind," Colin objected, "and one has to do that in every line of work. I know you would very much rather I took to farming or lumbering, but I think a fish is a much more interesting thing to work with than a hill of corn or a jack-pine."
"But don't you think you would find it tame after a while?"
Colin leaned forward eagerly.
"I know I wouldn't," he said confidently. "I've heard you say, Father, that everything was interesting if you only went into it deeply enough. Now, there's more chance for real original work with fish than in any other line I've ever heard of. The professor gave me an idea of all the different problems the Bureau was trying to solve, and each of them was more interesting than the last. You've got to be a doctor to study fish diseases, an engineer to devise ways and means for stream conditions, a chemist to work on poisons in the water that comes from factories, and all sorts of other things beside. It looks to me as though it had the best of all the professions boiled down into one!"
"That's an exaggerated statement, of course," was the reply; "but you seem in earnest. No," he continued, as Colin prepared to burst forth again, "you've said enough."
The boy waited anxiously, for he felt that the answer would decide his career.
"If your heart is set on the Fisheries," his father rejoined thoughtfully, after a few minutes' reflection, "I presume it would be unwise to stop you. But remember what I have told you before—I'm perfectly willing to fit you for any profession in life you want to take up, but only for one. If you begin on anything you have got to go through with it. I'll have no quitting. As you know, I would rather you had taken up lumbering, but I don't want to force you into anything, and perhaps your brother Roderick may like the woods. You're sure, however, as to what you want?"
"I want fishes!" said Colin firmly.
"I've been looking up the question a little since you wrote to me from Valdez," Major Dare continued, "because I saw that your old desires had increased instead of dying out. You know, Colin, I want to help you as much as I can. You realize that there's no school of fisheries, like the forestry schools, don't you?"
"And that if you go into the Bureau the only way you can learn is by the actual work, hard work and dirty work, too, it will be often."
"Yes, sir," the boy answered, "I was told that, too."
"I wrote to the Commissioner," said Major Dare, "and explained the whole position to him. He answered my letter in a most friendly way, and showed me just what I've been telling you this morning. He pointed out frankly that the Bureau had so much to do and so little money appropriated to do it on, that such a thing as a 'soft job' wasn't known in the service."
"I'm not looking for that," said Colin, a trifle indignantly.
"I don't think you are, my boy, but you want to be sure before you take the plunge," was the warning answer. "You oughtn't to wait until you are in college before you make up your mind."
Colin looked across the table at his father and met his glance squarely.
"There's nothing else that I want to do," he said firmly, "and I do want that. Of course, I'll do whatever you say, but I feel that the Bureau of Fisheries is where I'm bound to land in the end."
"No going back?"
"No going back, Father!"
Major Dare reached out his hand, and the boy grasped it warmly.
"Very well, my boy, that's a compact. I'm not sure just what will need to be done to enter you in the Bureau, but whatever is necessary, we'll do. I think you have decided on a life that will be hard and sometimes thankless, but at least it is a man's job, and will have its own compensations. You couldn't possibly do anything more useful. We'll go home by way of Washington, visit the Fisheries Bureau together, and see what arrangements we can make."
"That's bully, Father," said Colin earnestly; "thank you ever so much."
"Make good, my boy," his father answered, "that's all you have to do. You'll only have yourself to thank, for it will be all your own fight."
It was fortunate for Colin that this was not decided until the day before they left Santa Catalina, for he became so impatient that the intervening hours before they started for the East seemed like weeks to the boy. His enthusiasm was so genuine that, although his mother was already very tired of the interminable 'angling' conversation in Santa Catalina, she succeeded nobly in evincing an intense interest in the whole fish tribe.
When they arrived in Washington, which chanced to be in the afternoon, Colin wanted to start off for the Bureau of Fisheries immediately, even before he went to the hotel, and he seemed to feel quite aggrieved when the visit was put off. Major Dare had some important business to look after and he purposed to leave the question of the boy's arrangements open for a couple of days, but he saw there would be no peace for any one until Colin's fate was settled, and at the boy's importunity he 'phoned to the Bureau and made an appointment with the Commissioner for the following day.
Next morning, accordingly, the two started off together for the Fisheries Building, an antiquated structure standing in the magnificent park behind the National Museum and but a short distance from the Smithsonian Institution. They entered on the ground-floor, seeing to the left a number of hatching troughs, to the right models of nets and fishing-vessels, at the far end a small aquarium, while in the center was a tank in which were the two fur seals that the boy had heard about in the Pribilof Islands.
He pulled his father's arm.
"Oh, Father!" he cried; "there are the fur seals. Come over and see them!"
But his father shook his head smilingly.
"They are not personal friends of mine, as they seem to be of yours," he said, "and I have no time to waste. Besides, we have an engagement with the Commissioner. You can come down and chat with your seal acquaintances after our talk."
The Commissioner greeted them cordially, and without waste of words.
"So this is the boy!" he said, after the customary greetings. "He'll need to grow a bit, eh?"
"So did both of us once," said Major Dare, looking at his own height and the Commissioner's burly frame. "We haven't done so badly."
"That's true. Well, boy, tell me just what you want to do."
"Everything that there is to do in the Bureau, Mr. Glades," answered Colin promptly.
The Commissioner rubbed his hand over his chin, with a short laugh.
"That's a big order," he said. "Willing to work?"
"Yes, sir," the boy replied; "I don't mind work."
"This is the place for it. There's just two kinds of people in the world," the Commissioner went on; "those who do just what they learn to do and nothing else, and those who do the work because they want to."
"Yes, sir," again responded the boy, wondering what was coming.
"The first lot keep things running and that's all. The others are the real men. The last are the men we've got in the Bureau and everybody has to be up to the standard. So, there you are."
"I don't know whether I can come up to the standard, but I'm one of those that want to!" the boy said emphatically, rightly judging that the Commissioner was not the sort of man who liked long speeches.
"Good! Going to college?"
The boy looked at his father.
"I had thought of sending him to Brown," he said, "since he got this Fisheries idea. One of my friends told me that it was an excellent university for biology."
"Do it!" said the Commissioner. "Send him to college in the winter, let him work with us in the vacation. That'll give him four summers' training with us. When he comes out of college he ought to be worth something to the Bureau. But don't start and then give up."
"Colin won't do that," his father said, then added pointedly, "I'll see to it that he doesn't."
"Very well," said the Commissioner, "that's settled." He rang a bell, and a messenger appeared at the door. "Ask Dr. Crafts to step here a minute if he is disengaged. Dr. Crafts," he continued, turning to Major Dare, "is perhaps one of the most valuable men we have on the Bureau. Oh, by the way, boy, when do you want to start?"
"Right away, sir, if possible," Colin replied.
"Is that novelty or enthusiasm?"
"Enthusiasm, I think," Major Dare answered, smiling.
In a moment the door opened again, and the Deputy Commissioner came in.
"Dr. Crafts," the Commissioner said, after introductions had been made, "here's an enthusiastic youngster who wants the Commissionership! Not right away, perhaps," he added as the newcomer smiled at the boy, "but perhaps in a couple of decades or so. And he thinks he ought to start this minute. Have we anything for him to do?"
"I don't know of anything especially," said the Deputy Commissioner thoughtfully; "it's so late in the season."
"Let him have something to work off his animal spirits," the Commissioner said; "it's a pity to let so much energy go to waste."
"Very well," the other said genially; "we'll see what we can do. Will you join us, Major Dare?"
"I think not," the boy's father answered; "I will leave him entirely in your hands, and he can tell me all about it afterwards. I want just a word or two more, Commissioner," he added, "and then I must be going."
"What's your name, lad?" asked his new chief, as they walked along the hall.
"Colin Dare, sir," the boy responded.
"Which is it to be," the official asked with a pleasant smile, "'Colin' or 'Dare'?"
The boy looked up at him and felt instantly the thorough kindliness and fine worth of his companion, and answered promptly:
"'Colin,' sir, if you don't mind. That is, at least, to you."
"All right, Colin," was the reply; "I suppose we must see what we can find for you to do. Tell me," he continued, as they entered his office, "how you came to think of entering the Fisheries Bureau?"
Thus adjured, Colin told briefly how his father had tried to interest him first in lumbering and then in engineering, but that neither had appealed to him. Then he told of his whaling adventures and of the few days he had spent on the Pribilof Islands, recounting the Japanese raid with great gusto. The Deputy Commissioner, who had heard nothing but the official account of the fracas was intensely interested and he questioned Colin closely, noting carefully the boy's clear understanding of the seal question.
"You have a head for facts, Colin," he said approvingly, when the whole adventure had been told, "because you really have noted the important points in that sealing business, and it is more complicated than it looks. Go on, now, and tell me how you came down from Valdez."
So Colin took up the story again, described his meeting with the lieutenant of the revenue cutter and the kindness he had received from him. The Deputy Commissioner smiled, for the officer in question was a close personal friend. Then Colin told of the salmon tagging and of his visit to the hatchery, not forgetting the capture of the sea-serpent.
"It seems to me," Dr. Crafts said jokingly, "that you have become a public personage in connection with Fisheries even before you come into the Bureau. To figure in a Japanese seal raid and to capture a sea-serpent in the same summer is enough fame for anybody!"
Colin laughed and answered:
"After that it would seem a little like boasting, but——" he reached into his pocket and pulled out the tuna button, safely stowed away in a tightly-closed box.
The Deputy Commissioner whistled softly in surprise.
"And did you win this, too?" he asked. "You went to Santa Catalina, then?"
"Yes, Dr. Crafts," the boy replied, and related his experiences while there. He told the story well, and the Deputy Commissioner—who was a master in that art—nodded appreciatively.
"So far as I can judge," he said, "the Bureau is the place for you. But I don't know where to fit you in. It is getting on towards the middle of August, and not only is the work all arranged for the summer, but most of it is done."
"I just want to be at work," pleaded the boy, "for the experience, not for what I can get out of it, of course."
"That sort of arrangement is impossible," answered the Deputy Commissioner; "there is plenty of volunteer work done in the Bureau, but such work is always along the line of special investigation, and it is given to those who are equipped for research, usually university professors. The assistants are always paid, and you see I couldn't very well create a precedent on your account!"
"No, Dr. Crafts," answered Colin, quite disheartened; "I suppose not."
The Deputy Commissioner tapped on the desk thoughtfully.
"It happens," he said, "that a friend of mine who is attached to the American Museum of Natural History—that's the New York museum, you know—sails for Bermuda next Saturday to get some material. He wants to take a helper along, and the Museum provides him with funds for engaging help on the island."
"Yes, sir," the boy said, wondering what was coming.
"Now," the Fisheries official continued, "if he has got to have help it might be a good experience for you to go with him, but you may have to pay your way across. What salary you receive over there would just about meet the expenses of the trip, so that you would break even. Would you like to do it?"
"I'd rather start in on the Bureau," Colin answered, but he was wise enough not to refuse an opportunity, and continued, "but if you think it would be a good thing for me to do, why, of course, I'm ready."
"I think it would be an excellent chance," the Deputy Commissioner said, "because we do very little work around the Bahamas, and none at all in Bermuda, so that it would give you an idea of the fish-life there which, otherwise, you might never get. And if you tried any Bureau work now, you would be handicapped by not having started with the other boys, and you'd be so far behind that you might feel badly about it. So the Bermuda opportunity seems to me the best chance."
"What is the purpose of the trip, sir?" asked the boy.
"To prepare a model for the Museum which will give people an idea of the sea-gardens as they really are. Part of the model will be of prepared specimens, I believe, and some will be copies made of spun glass. I understand that Mr. Collier wants to study especially the sea anemones, the corals, the sponges, and the sea-fans; also, to note the habits of the fish peculiar to the coral reefs, and show them in the model as though they were swimming about in their natural habitat."
"That would be awfully interesting!" said Colin.
"It will teach you a lot," rejoined the Deputy Commissioner, "and you can't ever know too much about sea-life. The real backboned fishes, with which the Bureau principally deals, are only a small part of the population of the ocean."
"Shall I go and call on this gentleman, then, Dr. Crafts?" the boy asked.
"You had better drop in and see me this afternoon," was the reply. "I'll telephone to Mr. Collier and ask him to take lunch with me and we'll talk it over then. Suppose you come in about half-past two o'clock, and if he takes kindly to the scheme I'll have him meet you here. If he has other plans, why, there's no harm done, and we'll try and think of something else."
Thanking his new-found friend heartily, but not quite sure whether he liked this way of shelving him from the Bureau for a season, Colin made his way to the lower story of the building, where he felt that the two young fur seals were old friends. As it happened, a couple of boys about his own age came along and, overhearing their remarks, Colin joined in, realizing that they had all sorts of wrong ideas about the seals. He waxed so enthusiastic that, as other people came in, they gathered around him and, before Colin was really conscious of it, he had quite an audience. Among them was an old attendant of the Bureau who, as it happened, had been on the Pribilof Islands with Dr. Brown Goode, in 1872. He listened for a while, then said:
"I beg your pardon, sir, but have you been in St. Paul recently?"
"I was there this spring," Colin replied.
"It's just forty years this summer, sir, since I was on the islands. They tell me there's been great changes." And, without further ado, he commenced to question Colin closely concerning the place, the boy having equal interest in learning what the rookeries were like when the first investigation was made. It was not until lunch-time that he could tear himself away.
Promptly, at the hour appointed, Colin presented himself at the Deputy Commissioner's office and was met by Dr. Crafts' secretary. His pulse was beating like a trip-hammer, and he probably looked nervous, for the secretary glanced once or twice in his direction. Then, wishing to give news that would be welcome, she said formally, of course, but betraying a sincere kindliness:
"I think Mr. Collier is with Dr. Crafts now."
On the instant Colin detected that the secretary knew something about the matter and wanted to reassure him, so he smiled back, saying:
"Thank you. I hope it will be all right, then."
The two men were chatting earnestly, and the wait seemed long to Colin, but after a while the Deputy Commissioner called him in.
"This is the boy, Robert," he said. "Colin," he continued, "let me present you to Mr. Collier."
"So you're coming along with me to Bermuda and Florida, I hear," the museum curator said, shaking hands.
Colin looked up at the tall, gaunt figure and caught a twinkle of good-humor in the deeply-sunk gray eyes.
"I was hoping to before, sir," he answered, "and I'm hoping to, even more now."
"That's the way to talk, never lose a chance for a happy phrase," was the reply. "Well, Dr. Crafts here seems willing to go bail for you—although I understand he never saw you before to-day—and I think we could get along all right, so if you're satisfied, I guess we'll call it a deal. There's one difficulty, though."
"What's that, sir?" asked the boy.
"I shall probably need to go to Florida as well, and I should like to have my assistant stay with me clear through."
"So much the better," the boy responded.
"But I understand you're going to start your freshman year in college?"
"Yes, sir," the boy answered, "I'm going to Brown."
"That's what I thought. But you see I don't expect to get back much before the tenth of October, and college will have started by then. I don't want," he continued, his eyes twinkling with fun, "to rob the other fellows of the fun of hazing you."
"I don't think there's much hazing at Brown, sir, and perhaps I shall miss some of the fun of the opening of the year," Colin replied, after thinking for a minute or two; "but I'd much rather take the trip with you, sir, and I can soon catch up with my class in any subject the first few lectures of which I may have missed."
"But aren't you supposed to be in attendance on a certain day?"
"Yes, Mr. Collier," the boy replied, "I believe I should be. But Father can fix that all right."
"You think your father can arrange anything, Colin," said the Deputy Commissioner, smiling.
"Well, he always has!" the boy declared.
"If the Florida trip is no barrier," the curator said, "I think that we can call the matter settled. Dr. Crafts told you that you would have to pay your own passage?"
"You'll like Bermuda, I think. Everything there's so much worth while."
"There you go again, Robert," said the Deputy Commissioner; "always in superlatives."
"Of course! Who would want to be otherwise?" said the curator. He turned to Colin. "Come and take dinner with me to-night, and we'll talk over the details. Here's my card," and he penciled his address on the pasteboard. "I'll give you some seaweed pudding, carrageen, you know."
Colin didn't know, but he thanked his host heartily, and then turned to the Deputy Commissioner.
"What is it, Colin?" he was asked.
"Please, sir," the boy replied, "you haven't said anything about my chances in the Bureau."
The Fisheries official looked straight at him with a long, level glance.
"We need high-grade, well-trained men," he said; "the more so because there are no really good ichthyological schools. And no matter how well-trained a man may be he's got to have the practical experience and the grit behind it. If you show in this trip that you're made of the right kind of stuff and if your college work is up to standard, I'll promise you a summer job for next year and for each year that you're at college. You'll be advanced just exactly as fast as you deserve, and not a bit faster. If you want to go into the Bureau your record will be watched, and you'll sink or swim by that!"
"Very well, sir," said Colin, a little taken aback by this straight-from-the-shoulder statement. "I'll do my best, anyhow." He shook hands heartily, and thanking his new chief, hurried excitedly to the hotel where his family was staying to tell of his success and of the unexpected addition of the Florida trip.
His father was quite well satisfied that the boy should have so pleasant an initiation into the life he had chosen, and was quite content that this semi-holiday opportunity had arisen instead of hard work in one of the hatchery stations. Major Dare felt that Colin had already had a strenuous summer and that it was advisable for him to do something a little less adventurous before beginning his college work.
The evening that the lad spent with the scientist-artist was a revelation to him, for his host not only knew the life of the bottom of the sea as though he had always lived there, but he was a marvelous designer in glass, and possessed some of the most exquisite models of fragile sea forms, all of which had been made under his direction. Several of these were magnified many times and were more beautiful even than any the boy had ever seen pictured.
There were no half-way measures in Colin's enthusiasm, and he begged Mr. Collier to lend him books, so that during the days that were to elapse before starting on the trip, he could get an idea of the life histories of sea anemones, jellyfish, and the like, with which he would be working. His friend was both amused and pleased by the lad's eagerness.
Mrs. Dare had visited friends in the Bermudas once or twice, so that she was able to give Colin many suggestions which he found went far to increase the pleasure of his stay. A meeting was arranged, and Major Dare liked his son's new friend immensely, quite a pleasant relationship being established between the two men, so that Colin's departure for Bermuda was under the happiest auspices. He soon learned that the museum curator was not only an authority on his own subject of marine invertebrates, but that he was interested to the utmost in all sorts of affairs, and he admitted confidentially to the boy that he was an inveterate baseball fan. Best of all, perhaps, Colin gained from him the feeling that science and scholarship were two windows whereby one might see how much good there is in the world.
"Enthusiasm," Mr. Collier said, "is one of the best forces I know. A boy without enthusiasm is like a firecracker without a fuse. The powder may be there all right, but it will never have a chance to make itself heard."
The lesser-known life of the sea, in which the boy's interest was centered for the especial purposes of this trip, seemed to Colin at first even more interesting than that of fishes and the voyage to Bermuda was practically a continuous revelation of wonders. The scientist realized that he had not only an assistant, but a disciple, and went to much trouble to teach the lad. This was one of Colin's great characteristics, his interest was always so genuine and so thorough that others would do everything they could to help him.
The Bermuda Islands were sighted for the first time under a cloudy sky, and Colin thought he had never seen a more disappointing sight. Compared to Santa Catalina, the islands lay low and without sharp contrast, no cliffs rising bluff upon the shore, no mountains looming purple in the distance. The land was parched—for it was late in the summer—and the scattered foliage looked small and spindling after the gigantic forests of California. The "beautiful Bermudas" seemed plain and uninviting as the steamer passed St. David's Head. Moreover, as they steamed down along the north shore, the same appearance was visible throughout, its low undulating sea-front of black, honeycombed rock lacking character, the rare patches of sandy beach and sparse sunburned vegetation seeming bare and dreary.
Reaching Grassy Bay, however, past the navy yard and rounding Hog-fish Beacon, the sun came out and swiftly the scene became transfigured. As the steamer drew nearer and began to run between the islands in the channel, the undulating shores showed themselves as hills and valleys in miniature. The bare, white spots were revealed as white coral houses set in masses of flowers, the foliage—sheltered from the north—gleamed dark and luxuriant, while the shallowing crystal water glinted from the white sand below as though the steamer were sailing through a translucent gem. Before the vessel had passed the length of the Great Sound and had warped into Hamilton, Colin had changed his mind, and was willing to admit that, after all, Bermuda might be quite a pretty place.
But he could not have believed the transformation scene through which he seemed to pass on landing. Freed from the glare of the waterfront of Hamilton and on the road to Fairyland Bay, he seemed to have entered a new world. It was a Paradise of Flowers, even the Golden State could not outdo it. Hedges of scarlet hibiscus flamed ten feet high, clusters of purple bougainvillea poured down from cottage-porches, while oleander in radiant bloom formed a hedge twenty feet high for as much as half a mile at a stretch. At one moment the road would pass a dense banana plantation with the strange tall poles of the pawpaw trees standing sentinel, the next it would pass the dark recesses of a mangrove bay, where the sea ebbs and flows amid an impenetrable thicket of interlacing roots. And at frequent intervals a slight rise of ground would show the emerald sea beyond, gleaming as though lit with living light.
"'The land where it is always afternoon,'" quoted Mr. Collier softly, as they drove up to the house where they were to stay, a small hotel overlooking a narrow fiord of rock, into which the translucent water rippled. Beyond, upon the gleaming bay rested three or four tiny islands.
"It's almost the loveliest place I ever saw," said Colin; "but it isn't as grand and wild as Santa Catalina."
"I never want to leave Bermuda," said the other; "every time I visit the islands I decide that some day I must come and live here. And even when I am away, its memories haunt me. Everything seems so much worth while here."
"What's the programme, Mr. Collier?" asked Colin, after lunch, when they were comfortably settled.
"You are at liberty this afternoon," was the reply, "as I have a number of small things to look after, so that if you want to get a glimpse of the islands, you had better make good use of your time. You ride a wheel, of course?"
"Then walk into Hamilton and rent one; bicycling is the only way to see Bermuda properly. And you'd better go to Devil's Hole this afternoon and see the fish there. Try and persuade the old keeper of the place to talk, and if you can get him started, he will tell you a good deal about Bermuda fishes. They're worth knowing about, too!"
Acting on this advice, Colin strolled into the little city and rented a bicycle. The roads, he found, were perfect for wheeling, there being only one hill too steep for riding, but in spite of all that he had heard about the absence of distances, it seemed incredible that an hour's easy wheeling should enable him to cover almost half the entire length of the main island. Everything was in miniature, and having a camera with him, he took snapshots recklessly everywhere, each turn in the road seeming to give a picture more attractive than the last. He was to find, however, that the charm of Bermuda is too subtle for the photographic plate.
On the way to Devil's Hole, taking the south-shore road, Colin had an opportunity of noticing its amazing contrast to the north shore, which had seemed so desolate and uninviting as the steamer came in. The conformation was widely different, marked by higher cliffs, rocks jutting out boldly into the sea, with the waves boiling over them and throwing up the spray, wide stretches of fine white sand, and as far as the eye could see, small circular atolls of coral level with the surface of the water. He paused for a little while at the house where the Irish poet, Thomas Moore, once dwelt while a government employee on the island, and—like every visitor—he sat for a while under the famous Calabash Tree, renowned in verse. Nor did he fail to visit the marvelous stalactite caves of which Bermuda has five beautiful examples, lighted with electricity to display their wonders. The boy was greatly interested in the most recently discovered one of all, where the stalactites branch like trees in a manner but little understood by geologists. But, greatly though he wished to investigate this problem, Colin's objective point was the Devil's Hole; and fish, not stalactites, were his first consideration.
Devil's Hole was a strange place. Lying inland, a little distance from Harrington Sound, and with no visible connection with the sea, it seemed a creation of its own. It was a pool, sunk in a bower of trees, almost exactly circular and over sixty feet deep. Silent and reflecting every detail of trees and sky above, the dark water was filled with fishes of many varieties, nearly a thousand fish living near the surface or in its depths. Underground channels connected it with the Sound, that great inland sea of Bermuda, and the water in the pool ebbed and flowed with the tide, changing in level, however, but a couple of inches. A tiny bridge spanned the water.
The old keeper of the place greeted Colin and proceeded to deliver himself of a humorous rigmarole, designed for the benefit of tourists. It was pure 'nature-faking,' since it ascribed human characteristics to some of the fish in the pool, the various specimens being called the "bride" and "groom" and so forth. The screed was rather wearisome to Colin, but when he tried to interrupt, the old keeper seemed so hurt and so confused that the boy let him go on to the end.
The feeding of the fish was a matter of more interest, and it was striking to observe that the angel-fish and groupers were able to recognize their respective summons to food, for when the keeper tapped one portion of the bridge it gave a sharp cracking sound to which the angel-fish came flocking, while in calling the groupers and other fish, he hit another portion of the bridge, which reverberated in a different tone, and the larger fish dashed through the water to the appointed places. After this performance was over the keeper was willing to talk less idly, and showed a very considerable knowledge of the species found in Bermuda waters.
"I noticed," Colin said, "that you fed the angel-fish with sea-urchin. I don't see how they can eat it with their tiny mouths, I should think the spines would get in the way."
"I crushes the spines before I throws 'em in," the keeper answered; "but they eats 'em in the nateral state. I don't know how they gets at 'em. They has lots of savvy, sir, angel-fish has, and for a small fish they can 'old their own. Why, even the big groupers lets 'em alone."
"Are the groupers fierce?" the boy asked, with his arms on the rail, looking over at the fish.
"Fierce enough, sir," said the old man. "I was tellin' a party once, just what I was tellin' you a while ago about the fish——"
"Yes," said Colin wearily, realizing that the same nonsense about the bride fish and the bridegroom fish and the "old bachelor" and all the rest of it had probably been given as a dose to every visitor for twenty years back, "and what then?"
"There was an officer in the party, sir," the keeper continued, "and when I spoke of the fish as bein' savage 'e laughed and said 'e didn't believe it. 'E said 'e'd swam around among sharks and never got hurt, but I told 'im 'e wouldn't be willin' to take a plunge in the pool."
Colin looked down at the fish.
"They don't look very bad," he said; "but I don't think I'd like to chance it."
"You're right, sir; I wouldn't go in, not for a thousand pound. Well, this officer—'e was a captain, I think—made some remark about it all bein' nonsense, and said that even 'is dog would scare the fish so that they wouldn't as much as come up from the bottom."
"That sounds reasonable enough," said Colin; "a fish wouldn't try to attack a dog."
"That's what 'e said," the keeper continued; "and 'e bet me a 'arf sovereign on it. I didn't want to see the dog 'urt, but a bet's a bet, and there weren't no ladies present, so I took 'im up."
"Well?" queried Colin, as the keeper stopped.
"'E threw the dog in," the keeper answered; "it was a spaniel and quite at 'ome in the water."
"In about ten seconds the water was just alive with fish, swimmin' round and round, comin' up by the 'undred from the deep water. Then they all turned black, like they do always before they're goin' to feed. Remember, I showed you that."
"Yes, I know; but go on."
"Then they all at once made a dash for the poor beast. I tried to pull 'im out, but there was a couple of 'undred of 'em there, and 'e 'ad no chance. 'E gave just one yelp and then was pulled under, and the groupers jolly well ate him clear down to the bones. We never saw 'ide nor 'air of 'im agen!"
Colin shuddered a little as he looked at the groupers swimming idly about and said:
"Don't you suppose it was just because there were so many of them in this small pool? I hardly think a grouper would attack anything as large as a dog out in the open sea. They're much the same sort of fish as bass, you know."
"No, sir," the keeper answered; "I never 'eard of a grouper bein' dangerous out at sea. But there is a fish that's very bad around the coral on the reef."
"You mean sharks?" Colin queried.
"No, sir," the keeper answered; "sharks ain't no fish."
Colin elevated his eyebrows a little at this somewhat surprising way of stating that the sharks belonged to a lower order of marine species than any other fish, but he let it pass unchallenged.
"What fish do you mean, then?" asked the boy.
"Not sharks," the keeper replied; "there ain't no sharks near Bermuda anyway, they can't get near enough. The reefs run ten mile out and they never come away inside 'ere. No, sir, it's the moray I'm talkin' of."
"The moray?" echoed Colin thoughtfully. "Seems to me I've heard about that fish somewhere. Isn't it green? It's called the green moray?"
"Yes, sir; that's the fish. But there's more spotted morays around than green ones."
"But that's hardly more a fish than a shark is," objected Colin. "Isn't a moray a kind of eel?"
"Yes, sir, but an eel's a fish. Leastways so I was always told, when I used to work over at the Aquarium on Agar's Island."
"All right," said Colin good-humoredly, "I guess you're in the right about it. Go ahead and tell me about the moray."
"I was just sayin', sir, that they were the only ugly things around Bermuda. And they stay quite a bit from shore out around the coral atolls. You see lots of 'em around the sea-gardens. They 'ides in 'oles of the rocks and strikes out at other fishes like a snake. I knew a diver once, who was goin' down after specimens from one of the sea-garden boats, and was nearly drowned."
"How?" queried Colin a little incredulously. "The moray couldn't bite through the diving-bell."
"No, sir,—no, sir,—not through the diving-bell. But the india-rubber tube that put air into the 'elmet came swingin' past a 'ole in a rock in which a six-foot moray was waitin' for anything that might come along, and 'e darted out at it."
"Did he bite it through?" cried Colin.
"No, sir; a moray's teeth ain't set that way. 'Is teeth set backwards so they 'old anything solid. 'E started to swallow the tube, the moray did, and jerked the diver on 'is back so that 'e couldn't pull the signal-cord. 'E would have been drowned sure, for 'e was forty feet down, but the water was so clear that some one on board the boat saw the fish attack 'im, and they pulled 'im up."
"How about the moray?"
"'E was 'angin' on," was the reply; "'e wouldn't let go, and by the time they 'ad the diver on board agen, the fish 'ad chewed up the air-tube pretty well. But that wasn't the worst, sir," said the talkative old man, growing garrulous, as he saw the boy look at his watch. "Did you ever 'ear 'ow a big moray 'ad a fight with two men, one of 'em a fisherman from New York, and jolly well beat 'em both?"
"No," Colin answered; "how could that be?"
"I didn't see it myself," the keeper began, "but from all I 'ear the story's straight enough. The fishin' party 'ad gone out on the reefs after rockfish, which is one of the gamiest fighters we 'ave 'ere, and some of 'em runs up to fifty and sixty pounds. They 'ad 'ooked several fine 'ogfish—you want to 'ave a look at some of 'em; crimson fish they are with long sweepin' spines—and the next bite turned out to be a chub. They could see 'im plainly enough through the clear water. When pretty nigh the surface, just near'a large dome of brain coral, a long spotted fish shot out and seized the chub, swallowin' the 'ook into the bargain."
"Did they have a strong line?" Colin asked. "A moray is a powerful fish, isn't he?"
"'E's all muscle and teeth," the keeper answered. "Yes, sir, it was 'andline fishin' and they 'ad a good strong line, so it was a sure thing that they could land 'im if 'e didn't wrap the line around a rock. Israel, the boatman, wanted to cut the line, but the New Yorker 'e said, no; 'ad never caught a moray before and 'e 'oped to get this one. So they got the boat out into deeper water, Israel keepin' it clear of the reefs and the fisherman tryin' to 'aul in the line."
"It must have been good fun!" exclaimed Colin. "I wish I'd been there!"
"Just you wait till you've 'eard what 'appened, young sir," the old man warned him, "and then p'r'aps you'll be glad you weren't."
"All right," the boy prompted him; "go ahead."
"'E was plucky, though, this chap, so Israel told me, for while 'is 'and was cut with the line two or three times when the moray made a vicious rush, still 'e 'ung on and that's not as easy as it sounds. But in about 'alf an hour the fish was seemin'ly done for and the New Yorker pulled 'im in, 'and over 'and, as easy as you please. Just as 'e got 'im to the gunwale, though, the moray gave an extra wriggle, and bein' afraid that 'e might get away agen, the fisherman gave a sudden pull and brought 'im on board without waitin' to stun 'im."
Colin grinned appreciatively.
"I've heard of a chap who got into trouble with a conger eel that way," he said. "But go ahead with the story."
"For about a minute or two, so Israel told me," the old man went on, "the moray stayed quiet at the bottom of the boat. Then 'e put up 'is 'ead, with its gleamin', wicked teeth, and looked first at Israel and then at the New Yorker. 'E next sort of shook 'imself all along the spine, to make sure 'e was all there, and began to squirm 'is way toward the stern."
"That was where the angler was?" queried Colin.
"Yes, sir; Israel was in the bow. 'E said the New Yorker didn't seem to take it in at first, but that 'e suddenly gave a yell, jumped on one of the thwarts, and grabbed the boat-'ook. The fish was an ugly-lookin' brute, from what I 'ear, and a spotted moray over six feet long is as nasty a thing to face as anything I know of."
"But he didn't deliberately attack the men, did he?"
"That's just what 'e did! There wasn't no threshin' around and flurryin', but the vicious brute acted just like some kind of a sea-snake. The fisherman brought down the boat-'ook with all 'is might, but the moray just twisted sidewise as the blow came down, and the blunt-pointed 'ead, with its rows of sharp teeth, darted forward for the New Yorker's leg.
"This was too much for 'is nerves and, with a 'owl that could have been 'eard a mile away, the fisherman jumped from the dingey into the sea, the teeth of the moray closin' on the thwart where the man's foot 'ad been a minute before. There was a sound of splinterin', and the eel bit an inch of wood clear out of the board."
"My word, there must have been power behind that jaw!" ejaculated Colin.
"For a minute or two the moray was quiet, and then 'e turned round. But in turnin' 'e got imself twisted, the line which was still fast to 'is lower jaw becomin' entangled around one of the rowlocks. But this gave 'im 'is chance: with a sudden pull, 'e broke the line and was free. Then, so Israel says, the fish just looked at 'im, and began to slide along the boat. But Israel didn't wait to find out what the moray was after, 'e just decided to take no chances, and jumped for the mast."
"Why for the mast?" queried Colin. "He couldn't hang on there very long."
"No," the old keeper answered; "but supposin' he went overboard with the New Yorker, what could they do with the boat? Ask the moray to sail it into 'Amilton? No, Israel climbed up the light mast 'igh enough for 'is weight to capsize the dingey. As soon as the boat turned over on its side and the water came in, the moray saw the way to freedom, and dashed back to 'is 'ome in the reefs, 'avin' beaten two good men and gotten away 'imself."
HARPOONING A GIANT SEA VAMPIRE
Colin wakened early the following morning and got up promptly, planning to show his alertness, but when he came downstairs and sauntered out between the oleander bushes toward the water he heard a hail and found that his chief was already up and was busy unpacking some large boxes which had been delivered the night before. The boy hurried to help him.
"What are these, Mr. Collier?" he asked, as some large square boxes with a window in the bottom came into view.
"These are water glasses," the scientist answered, "not the kind that is used by tourists, but some I have had made specially—lenses with reflecting mirrors; with them the bottom of the sea ought to show up clearly. As you notice, they are long enough to be usable from the deck of a fair-sized sailing boat. It's a shame only to half-see things as beautiful as the sea-gardens. When a thing's worth while, it is so much worth while."
"I thought you would probably have to dive," Colin said, "in order to see the submarine gardens thoroughly."
The curator shook his head.
"You'll find," he said, "that we can see almost as well with these as though you and I were a couple of angel fish, swimming in and out of the grottoes of the coral. The water—as you noticed when we were coming into the harbor—is as clear as crystal. There's nothing in coral sand to make it cloudy or muddy."
"Are we going out this morning?" the boy queried eagerly, as he helped in the unpacking of the various instruments that the museum expert had brought.
"The boat is to be here at half-past eight," was the reply, "and we're going to find the most beautiful spot that there is in the submarine Garden of Eden. Our darky boatman, 'Early Bird,' they call him, says he knows a place quite far out on the reef where there are wonderful groves and parterres unspoiled by tourists because they lie so distant that it is not worth while for the excursion boats to make the trip."
"I don't quite see," said Colin, "how the visit of tourists floating over a stretch of sea could harm the seaweeds and the coral growing on the bottom."
"But it does, because a number of the glass-bottomed boats carry a diver who goes down and breaks off specimens of coral at the tourists' request, selling them for a good sum. But the gardens to which we are going, I understand, are entirely out of the beaten track and are very much finer besides. Here is 'Early Bird' now."
As he spoke, a white sailboat with a large spread of sail came skimming into the little bay, heading for the private wharf of the hotel at a rapid clip. Colin held his breath as the craft came rushing in, for the inlet was not much wider than twice the length of the boat and it seemed certain that the vessel would crash full upon the rocks not twenty feet beyond the wharf. But at the very last second the tiller was put over, the sail jibed, and as gently as though she had crept up in a calm, the Early Bird glided up beside the wharf, her bowsprit narrowly missing the bushes on the bank as she turned.
"You sure can handle a boat!" cried Colin admiringly.
The owner of the vessel, a young colored man, of good address and with a clever face, showed his white teeth in a gratified smile as he replied:
"Yas, sah, Ah've sailed a boat roun' the harbor quite a good deal."
"It looked that time as though you were going to be smashed up, sure."
"Ah nevah even scraped the paint of a boat in ten yeahs o' sailin', sah," the colored boatman answered, "an' thar's lots o' shoals, too."
"It looks as if she were resting on the bottom now!" the boy said.
"No, sah," was the confident reply, "the tide's full in an' Ah knows this whahf right well. Thar's two feet of wateh under her, right now."
Early Bird—for both boatman and boat answered to the same name—deftly took aboard the glasses and other special material that had been prepared, not forgetting a large lunch basket that had been sent down from the hotel, and then he pushed off into the clear and shining water. The early morning breeze laid the little craft over on her side but she had a good pair of heels and in a few minutes the party was well on its way across Grassy Bay.
"Where are we going?" asked Colin.
Early Bird pointed beyond a group of small islands to where there seemed to be a depression in the land.
"Thar's a channel, sah," he said, "right in between those two islands. Thar's a swing bridge across, but the keepeh is always on the lookout and we can go right through."
A half hour's sail brought them to the gap between the islands. Though the bridge was shut Early Bird steered confidently straight for the center, and it swung just in time, the boat shooting by with undiminished speed and rounding a point to the open water beyond. Before them stretched an unbroken vista of ocean.
"The next land south of you, Colin," remarked the curator, "is Antarctica."
Colin thought for a moment, then said in a surprised voice:
"Why, yes. Bermuda is an isolated point, isn't it? I hadn't thought of that before. Nearly all islands are in chains, but this little bit of a place is set off all by itself. I wonder why that is?"
"Bermuda is the top of a submarine mountain," was the reply, "perhaps part of the lost Atlantis—who knows? This stupendous peak rises almost fifteen thousand feet sheer from the ocean bed and its rugged top forms the basis of the islands. Think what a magnificent sight it would be if we could see its whole height rising from the darkness of the ocean deep."
"But I thought Bermuda was a coral island!"
"The coral polyp has got to grow on something, hasn't it?" the scientist reminded him. "Don't forget that the little creatures can't live in deep water. And, you see, Bermuda has gradually been sinking, the coral builders keeping pace with the subsidence, so that although the island is only two miles across at the widest point the reefs are ten miles wide."
"It really is coral, then?"
"As much as any island is. The base of any coral island is limestone, being made of the skeletons of coral polypi which have been broken and crushed by wind and weather and beaten into stone. Just as chalk is made of thousands of tiny shells, so coral limestone is made of myriads of coral skeletons."
"Why, that's like sandstone," cried Colin, in a disappointed tone. "I had an idea that coral was a sort of insect that lived in a shell and that colonies of these grew up from the bottom of the water like trees and when they died—millions of them—they left the shells and these stone forests grew up and up until they reached the top of the water and then soil was formed and that was how coral islands began."
"I'm not surprised at your thinking that," his chief replied, "lots of people do. And though that theory is all wrong, still if it has given folks an idea of the beauty and wonder of the world, there's no great harm done. Plenty of people still talk about the coral 'insect.' It never occurs to them to call an anemone an 'insect,' but they don't know that the coral polyp is more like an anemone than anything else."
"But an anemone is a soft flabby thing that waves a lot of jelly-like fingers about in the water."
"So does coral," was the reply, "and it eats and lives just in the same way, only that the coral polyp has a stony skeleton and most of the sea anemones have not. But every different one has some sort of a story to tell and I believe they get joy out of life just as we do. Else why should some of these forms be so beautiful? You note them closely when we pass over some of the reefs, and I should judge we are coming to them now."
Certainly if the coloration was any clue, the boat was coming to the great sea-gardens. Above the white bottom the water shone a vivid emeraldine green, changing to sharply marked browns over the shoals, while beyond the inner reefs it varied from all shades of sapphire blue to radiant aquamarine. Nowhere was the water of the same color for a hundred yards together, while every ruffling of the surface, every slant of sunlight gave it a new hue. Colin was entranced and wished to see more closely, but the boat was going too swiftly to let down a water glass and he was forced to wait a few minutes.
"Ah b'lieve, sah," said Early Bird presently, hauling in the sheet, "we might let the sail down heah. We'll drift just about fast enough fo' you to watch the bottom."
Mr. Collier handed one of the water glasses to the boatman. It was formed like a deep square box with a glass window for a bottom, and a specially prepared crystal had been used.
"That's an improvement on the old kind, Early Bird," he said; "what do you think of it?"
The Bermudian darky looked through the glass critically.
"Yes, sah," he said, "thar's no compah'son 'tween the two. The bottom looks bettah through that glass than it does when yo' down theh yo'self. Ah used to do a little diving at one time, but the reefs nevah showed up that cleah. It would be a big thing fo' the boats that take tourists out if they could have glasses like that one there."
"It would be, perhaps," the scientist said, laughing, "but they could almost build a boat for what one of these would cost."
"Isn't that the most gorgeous thing you ever saw!" cried Colin, as he set his eye to the glass, which Early Bird handed him. "There's no garden on land with such colors as that."
"There are no flowers in the garden you're looking at, remember," his friend reminded him.
"Don't need them," said the boy. "Look at that tall purple plant waving to and fro. Isn't that a sea-fan?"
"Yes," his companion answered, "that's a sea-fan, but it isn't a plant. It's a kind of coral."
"Is it? I always thought it was a seaweed."
"You'll be calling a sponge a plant next. See those red lumps, near the bottom of that rock? Those are sponges."
"Now there's some real coral!" the boy cried.
"All coral is real coral. What you are looking at is probably a form of the stag's horn variety," the curator said, "and that does look more like the coral of commerce. But everything you are looking at, nearly, is coral. These great dome-like stones, do you see them?"
"The ones that look like the pictures of a brain?"
"Yes, those are called brain-stone or brain-coral. And those others, just the same shape only with little holes, instead of grooves, that's star coral."
"Then there seem to be some that look like a bouquet of flowers all stuck together."
"That's rose coral," was the reply, "and those are the three forms you see more generally."
"But where's the pink and red coral? If it's as easy to get at coral as this, I don't see why people don't come here and make a fortune."
"Fortunes aren't quite as easy to pick up as that. This coral has no market value; the variety that is used for jewelry comes mainly from Japan and from the Mediterranean, and the governments of the various countries keep it under constant watch."
"That's why. I see now. Oh!" exclaimed the boy as some fish swam under the glass suddenly. "Just look at those angel-fish. They seem twice as brilliant as the ones I saw in Devil's Hole."
"Of course," the curator said, "you would expect them to look dull in dull surroundings. That is color protection. Here, everything is gaily colored and striped and streaked and dotted, so the fish are, too. That helps them to hide and be unnoticed. A plain-colored open sea fish could be easily seen."
"Look, sah," said Early Bird, turning to the boy, "Ah've got a little sailoh's choice, Ah caught this morning; Ah'll throw him in and yo' can notice how plain yo' can see him."
He tossed the fish overboard. The silver scales shone and gleamed brilliantly in the transparent water but Colin had barely time to notice what a conspicuous object it was when in a swirl of water a score of small fish of all sorts surrounded the morsel. But the groupers followed hotfoot and the little fish fled. Then came retribution, for, from a crevice in a near-by rock, out shot the eel-like form of a green moray and disposed of one of the groupers in short order.
"Did I tell you about the moray?" Colin asked, and on receiving a reply in the negative, he recounted the story he had heard in Devil's Hole. The boy rather feared that Early Bird might make light of it even if the museum curator did not, but the darky remarked that he thought it was a good thing to let morays alone and that he had heard the story from other sources before. In the meantime the leader of the expedition had found a section of the reef which appealed to him and at his request Early Bird put out a small kedge anchor, holding the boat fast. The wind had dropped a good deal as the morning wore on and now the little sailing boat rocked gently over the gorgeous gardens of the sea.
"You told me," the museum official said, "that you were fond of drawing. Here's a sketch block and some pastel crayons; see what you can do with them."
Colin lifted his eyebrows in surprise, but he took the sketch block and pad, hooking his water glass to the side of the boat as directed. His companion took a large water glass of a different character. It was right-angled with a lens at the end. In the joint of the angle was a reflector which threw the image upon a mirror immediately under the eye-piece.