It was nearly sunset when they returned to the schooner, with their boat well loaded with the shells and other curiosities that the children had gathered.
At high tide that night the strain on the cables proved sufficient to move the stranded ship, and, foot by foot, she was pulled off into deep water, much to the joy of Captain Gillis and those who had worked with him.
The next morning the entire fleet—ship, schooner, and wrecking boats—set sail for Key West, which port they reached during the afternoon, and where they found they would be obliged to spend a week or more while an Admiralty Court settled the claims for salvage.
Mark and Ruth attend an auction.
Although Mr. and Mrs. Elmer regretted the delay in Key West, being anxious to get settled in their new home as soon as possible, the children did not mind it a bit; indeed, they were rather glad of it. In the novelty of everything they saw in this queerest of American cities, they found plenty to occupy and amuse them.
The captain and their father were busy in the court-room nearly every day, and Mrs. Elmer did not care to go ashore except for a walk in the afternoon with her husband. So the children went off on long exploring expeditions by themselves, and the following letter, written during this time by Ruth to her dearest friend, Edna May, will give an idea of some of the things they saw:
“Key west, FLA., December 15, 188-.
“My dearest Edna,—It seems almost a year since I left you in dear old Norton, so much has happened since then. This is the very first chance I have had since I left to send you a letter, so I will make it a real long one, and try to tell you everything.
“I was not sea-sick a bit, but Mark was.
“In the Penobscot River we rescued a man from a floating cake of ice, and brought him with us. His name is Jan Jansen, but Mark calls him Jack Jackson. A few days before we got here we found a wreck, and helped get it off, and brought it here to Key West. Now we are waiting for a court to say how much it was worth to do it. I shouldn’t wonder if they allowed as much as a thousand dollars, for the wreck was a big ship, and it was real hard work.
“This is an awfully funny place, and I just wish you were here to walk round with Mark and me and see it. It is on an island, and that is the reason it is named ‘Key,’ because all the islands down here are called keys. The Spaniards call it ‘Cayo Hueso,’ which means bone key, or bone island; but I’m sure I don’t know why, for I haven’t seen any bones here. The island is all made of coral, and the streets are just hard white coral worn down. The island is almost flat, and ’Captain Li’—he’s our captain—says that the highest part is only sixteen feet above the ocean.