How different were the feelings that filled the minds of Mark and Ruth now, from those with which they had sailed down the Penobscot in this same schooner Nancy Bell eleven months before. Then they were leaving the only home they had ever known, and going in search of a new one in which their father could recover his shattered health. Even they had realized that it was a desperate venture, and that its success was very doubtful. Now they were going to that home, already well established and prosperous. They knew that their father was again a strong and well man, and they were taking with them friends and material that were to insure increased happiness and prosperity to those whom they loved most.
The first of October was a charming season of the year for a Southern voyage, and with favoring winds the Nancy Bell made a quick run down the coast. In one week after leaving Bangor she had rounded the western end of the Florida Reef, and was headed northward across the green waters of the Gulf. Here she moved but slowly before the light winds that prevailed, but at last the distant light-house at the mouth of the St. Mark’s River was sighted. Almost at the same time a slender column of smoke was seen rising to the east of the light, and apparently at some distance inland. As the lamp in the light-house shed forth its cheerful gleam at sunset the column of smoke changed to a deep red, as though it were a pillar of fire. While they were wondering what it could be, a pilot came on board, and in answer to their questions told them that it was the light from the Wakulla volcano. He said that no living soul had ever been nearer than five miles to it, on account of the horrible and impenetrable swamps surrounding it.
Hearing this, Uncle Christopher declared that, before leaving that country, he meant to go in there and see how nigh he could get to it, and Mark said he would go with him.
As the breeze and tide were both in their favor, it was decided to run up to St. Mark’s that night. When, about nine o’clock, this point was reached, it was suggested that all hands should take to the boats, and tow the schooner the rest of the way up to Wakulla that same night, so as to surprise the folks in the morning. The children were wild to have this plan carried out, and finally Captain May and Uncle Christopher consented that it should be tried.
All night long the schooner moved slowly up the solemn river through the dense shadows of the overhanging forests. The boats’ crews were relieved every hour, and shortly before sunrise the children, who had been forced by sleepiness to take naps in their state-rooms, were wakened by Uncle Christopher, who said,
“Come, children, hurry up on deck. The schooner has just been made fast to the ‘Go Bang’ pier, and we’re going to fire a gun to wake up the folks—a sort of a ‘Go Bang’ good-morning, you know.”