He had hardly finished speaking, when an attractive young woman in a ranger’s uniform unlocked the gate. She admitted the visitors and led them around the lighthouse toward the water. They went up to a small porch and gathered around her as she talked about the building’s history.
“This lighthouse hasn’t been used for years,” she said, “because others have been built farther out in the bay. However, it has an interesting background. This building is not the original one.”
“What happened to that one?” a scout asked.
“It was burned.”
“Was anyone in it?”
“Unfortunately, yes. The lighthouse keeper John Thompson and his black assistant. It was dangerous living out here at that time because the Indians who occupied this territory were not friendly. Many of the Seminoles had had their wives and children taken away by white people, who made them slaves. Naturally they were furious and did everything they could to retaliate.
“One night a crowd of Indians came here. A circular stairway led to the top, where the great lantern was. The Seminoles set the old wooden building on fire to prevent the keeper and his assistant from escaping. The two men hid in the tower, but bullets whizzed at them continuously. The black man was shot and died, and the keeper was wounded. But the fire attracted the attention of two ships offshore.”
“Did anyone come to rescue them?” Bess asked anxiously.
“Yes, but meanwhile John Thompson rolled a keg of powder down the stairway. When it hit the fire below, the powder exploded and the Indians ran for their lives!”
“Good!” a boy scout exclaimed. “But did Mr. Thompson get saved?”
“Yes, but the rescuers almost failed. When the ships got closer to the lighthouse, they sent out a lifeboat, but the crew realized that it would be impossible to climb to the top of the tower. Instead, they tried sending out a kite from which there was a stout cord for Mr. Thompson to grab. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to, so they tied the twine to a ramrod and fired it from a musket. This time Thompson grabbed the cord and used it to haul up heavier rope. On it two men climbed to the tower room to take care of him. He reached the ground safely.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Bess said.
“The black man was buried,” the ranger went on, “but I’ve never seen his grave. It was unmarked so the Indians couldn’t find it.”
She let the visitors inside the lighthouse, which had been modernized and had an upstairs bedroom. After they had inspected the sparse but comfortable furnishings, they went down again and walked outside.
“I want to show you some of the bushes around here,” the ranger said, pointing to a shrub. “This is called an inkberry bush. It was used by the Indians and the early settlers of the area to write letters with.”
“How?” one of the boy scouts wanted to know.
“The liquid from its berries is just like ink,” the ranger replied. From a little basket that she carried on her wrist, she took a number of small plastic bags. Each contained an inkberry. She handed them out to the visitors as souvenirs.
“These berries were also used to make a dye,” she explained. “When you get home, try to write with the ink.”
The boy scouts giggled. “On regular paper?”
“Sure. White paper, yellow paper. You can even use a paper bag.”
Next the young woman pointed out a bush called sea grape. “This yields fruit to make jelly,” she said. “But notice the leaves. They are very thick, and you can write on them.” She took one off the bush, picked up a small stick from the ground, and wrote:
Thank you for coming.
I hope you had a good time.
Then she handed the leaf to the scoutmaster. He passed it on to his charges and thanked her for the interesting tour. Now she opened the gate and the visitors said good-by.
When the girls were back in their car, George grinned. “I’ll remember that sea-grape bush. If I’m ever in a tight spot out on the water, I’ll write a message on one of them and let it float ashore.”