In South Florida, a region that offers some of life’s richest beauty as well as some of its harshest conditions, a city is rising. Eve and Max Harjo moved to Miami after the great freeze of 1894 wiped out their citrus grove. Eve is busy writing for the Miami Metropolis, Miami’s first newspaper, while Max salvages the ships that fall victim to Florida’s dangerous reefs and violent storms.
Their nineteen-year-old daughter Eliza dives to bring up the salvaged treasures, uncaring that it is hardly woman’s work. And her stubborn determination to educate local Seminoles—male and female—draws the ire of the tribe’s chief. But Eliza’s greatest conflict will be choosing between two men: a brilliant inventor working on the prototype for a new motorboat, and a handsome lighthouse keeper from the northwest. When a massive storm unleashes its fury on South Florida, it reveals people’s truest characters and deepest secrets, changing lives as drastically as it changes the coastal landscape . . .
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The Price of Paradise
Miami, Florida April, 1906
The Biscayne Bay House of Refuge sat glistening in the noonday sun, patiently waiting for the next group of shipwrecked survivors who would need the safety of its shelter and the meager but life-sustaining supplies stocked within. Numerous houses of refuge sat scattered along Florida's eastern coastline, but the Biscayne Bay house was the one nearest to our home on the Miami River. My twenty-year-old brother, Dylan, helped to maintain the shelter whenever the usual keeper needed a break, and he'd been out at the house for the last month. My parents were bringing fresh supplies to him and I accompanied them in our single-mast sailboat. We knew that as much as he needed supplies, he needed company, too, for boredom and loneliness plagued refuge keepers. The curse of isolation was a constant with them, and lighthouse keepers as well. In many ways, those keepers at the offshore lights had to endure the worst of it for they could go days without seeing anyone other than the occasional fisherman.
After dropping off the supplies, the four of us would try our luck at some surf fishing. Mama was hoping to catch red snapper, and she'd been optimistic enough that she'd brought along a head of cabbage to make slaw, and corn meal for hushpuppies. The day was brilliantly bright and hot, and since it was Sunday, we would take full advantage of the opportunity to spend some time together.
"Eliza, throw me the stern line when I'm done tying up the bow," Papa said, startling me. We'd arrived at the refuge house's dock. Quickly jumping out of the boat, my father tied the bow line to the wooden piling as I hurried to the back of the boat for the stern rope. As I waited to toss it to him, I pushed the blowing strands of my hair away from my eyes and looked out at the bay. It was a beautiful, deep bluish-green, but there was a stiff breeze coming out of the northwest, creating white foam that topped the waves like a froth of meringue. Hurricane season was nearly upon us, and it was anyone's guess each summer which town would be struck down, or how many folks would still be alive the following day to tell about it, much less have homes to gather in for the telling.
The majority of winter tourists had boarded the train at Miami's Fort Dallas Station just the week before to return north for Easter. With the large exodus of wealthy people, our population had shrunk considerably. It would become bloated with visitors again once hurricane season was over at the end of November, taking the dense humidity and heat with it. Then the full-pocketed, well-dressed Yankee tourists would return to the place the Seminoles called "Myaamia," meaning friends, so they could bask in the warmth of the winter sun. And many of the northerners had become friends during the ten years we'd lived on the Miami River, but there were others who treated the year 'rounders as nothing more than "ignorant crackers," who were simply put on God's green Earth to make their lives as comfortable as possible.
"Rip currents today," Papa said, drawing my attention back toward the beach. I saw that my brother had posted a sign: No Swimming. Rip Currents. Just the month before, two tourists from Boston had drowned off the beach near Cape Florida, when they'd been caught up in one of the deadly currents. Instead of swimming parallel to the shore until they were out of it, they'd tried swimming through it. The current had won. It always did. There was hell to pay for living in paradise, and a wide variety of ways to make payment.
Dylan came out of the house and hurried across the sand to help us unload the boat. The wind whipped his shoulder-length chestnut-colored hair across his face. "I started to wonder if y'all would end up not coming," he said as he reached down from the dock to take a box of supplies Mama held up to him.
"It'd take more than five-foot seas to keep us in port," she said.
"No," Papa clarified, "to keep you in port." Laughing, he directed his attention back to my brother. "How are things goin' here, son?"
"It's been pretty quiet lately," he said as he grabbed a basket from me. "Those stronger light bulbs out at Fowey Rocks have made a huge difference in preventing wrecks. I know that's good news and bad news for you, Pa," he added, smiling.
Our father had started salvaging wrecks soon after we'd moved down to Miami, and it had been a far more lucrative way of earning a living than his other job, taking tourists into the Glades to kill gators. And my father preferred it. Though he'd always hunted, he'd hunted for a reason: to put food on the table, or to sell the meat and skins to folks who couldn't go hunting. But my father had a bad taste in his mouth about taking some over-privileged, under-worked tourist into the back country for the sake of mounting some poor animal's head on the wall and boasting about the danger he'd put himself in to capture it.
"Naw." Papa shook his head. "I'm glad for the stronger beams." He finished securing the boat's lines to the pilings, then jumped back in to help us unload. "There are already enough wrecks to work. No need to add any more to that list. Too many lives have been lost to those old reefs and sandbars. But stronger bulbs or not, those jagged rocks are still gonna create plenty of casualties. It doesn't matter whether the crews can see the reefs or not. When the winds are strong enough, they're gonna toss boats and ships around any which way they choose."
We finished unloading and started up toward the house with the supplies, but a clap of thunder sounded off in the distance, startling us, and we looked up to see ominous charcoal-colored clouds billowing up in the west.
"Weather's comin' in," Dylan said. "But Lord knows we need the rain. It's been so dry."
"Yeah," Papa agreed, taking one last look toward the sky before climbing the porch steps and seeking sanctuary in the well-made refuge house. "But you know how that goes: What Mother Nature withholds from us now, she will more than make up for in the future."
Looking off to the west just in time to see lightning backlight the rapidly building storm clouds, I wondered if the future might have just arrived.CHAPTER 2
Life is Calling
I slid another stack of pancakes onto Dylan's plate, and then sat back down at the kitchen table.
"So you'll be at Fowey for just a week, you think?" Papa asked before taking another sip of coffee. We'd been forced to eat breakfast for supper since we'd been unable to fish that afternoon. The skies had opened up, chasing every living creature into shelter, including us. Now, with the wood-burning stove going, the room was cozy. It was late April, so there was still a little coolness to the air, especially on the beach in a storm, but we wouldn't have that luxury for too much longer. Within another month, heat and humidity would force us to get out of the kitchen as soon as a meal was over, and the choice of meals would be contingent on how long one would have to stand over the stove to cook them.
Once, during a dinner that was being prepared by the ladies of the First Presbyterian Church for a fourth of July celebration, I heard Elotta Aims remark that she wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that a woman who was condemned to spend eternity in hell wasn't sent to some lake of fire but banished, instead, to a kitchen in Miami, in August, with a fully fired-up wood-burning stove. "Now that," she'd emphasized, "is what I'd consider hell." We'd all laughed, heartily agreeing as we wiped the perspiration from our faces with our already-soaked handkerchiefs and continued frying chicken. The heavy cotton or linen blouses and wool shirts we were expected to wear in social settings nearly gave us heat stroke during the summer. As soon as I returned home, I always shed the miserable clothing for either a lighter cotton dress or a pair of canvas pants and a cotton or denim shirt, just as Mama did. As far as we were concerned, living in South Florida's oppressive heat meant throwing the old rules of etiquette out the window and wearing clothes that wouldn't kill us.
"Pass me the sugar, Ma, would ya, please?" Dylan asked before answering Papa's question about his expected length of stay out at Fowey Rocks lighthouse. I assessed my brother across the table from me, and thought about how kind he was and how he'd make some lucky girl a fine husband. He was a good-looking man. Though he was fairer than me, we had the same angular facial structure, and his eyes were an exact copy of Papa's. They were dark blue, penetrating eyes, and when Dylan looked at you, it seemed as though he could look right through you. Truly like father, like son, I thought.
"I'll be at Fowey Light at least a week," Dylan said, stirring sugar into his coffee. "I'll man it with Striker until Adam Wilson gets back from shore leave. I appreciate y'all taking me out tomorrow. There's got to be at least two men there at all times. Adam was just getting ready to leave for the mainland when Jim Altman fell off the oil tank's ladder and broke his ribs. Lucky for Jim, Adam hadn't left yet, or Jim would have been stuck there until the next boat came by to haul him back to shore. It's tough--there's no way to send a message for help other than to hang the flag upside down and wait for a passing ship to notice it. Crews are good about keeping an eye out for it, though, and stopping when they see a distress signal. They know somethin's goin' on. But it sure would be nice to have a telegraph machine or phone line out there. Anyway, I'll stay when Adam gets back so Striker can get some shore leave, especially if Jim isn't back by then. Apparently, he got banged up pretty badly."
"Listen, Dylan, how's Striker doin' these days? And how long is he plannin' on stayin' out at the light?" Mama asked as she gathered up some of our dishes and took them over to the sink. Paul Strickland, or Striker, had become a friend of Dylan's soon after we moved to Miami. People who didn't know Striker well thought his name was just a shorter version of his surname. But he'd actually gotten the moniker because of his uncanny luck getting a "strike" almost every time he threw a fishing line into the water. He was a couple of years older than Dylan, and had lived with his parents just downriver from us to the west.
Mae and Jerry Strickland, Striker's parents, had also been citrus growers who were ruined by the freeze that had wiped us out. But their enormous groves had been south of us, in Leesburg, Florida. Just as my parents had decided that running an enormous grove was a thing of the past, so had they, and the Stricklands became involved in boat building. They mainly built glade skiffs, the flat-bottomed boats used to navigate through the marshes of sawgrass in the Everglades, but they built some small sailboats, as well. Paul, their only child, had shown a real affinity for building the boats, and before too long, he'd gone to work at the Merrill-Stevens boatyard in Jacksonville, which was considered one of the best builders in the state.
Striker was gone for about a year, and returned home with all kinds of designs and dreams sailing around in his head. He had some money in his pocket, too, for the good folks at Merrill-Stevens felt that it was a wise investment to put their money in the hands of young boat designers, and Striker opened a small boatyard on the Miami River. All had gone well the first year until Striker designed and built a beautiful small sloop as a twenty-fifth wedding anniversary gift for his parents. The couple had sailed the newly-christened Strike One up toward the Jupiter Inlet area, with plans to anchor overnight. But, right at dusk, they'd hit a reef and gone down. Neither Jerry nor Mae had survived.
"I guess he's okay," Dylan shrugged. "Honestly, I haven't seen much of him either — not since he went out to the light, and that's been ... what ... maybe eight or nine months ago?"
"He can't hide out there forever, you know," Mama said over her shoulder as she began washing dishes.
"I don't think he's hiding out," Papa said. "He's not the kind of man to do that. No, I think he's just tryin' to get some things worked out. Losing his folks the way he did — well, hell, that's enough to mess with anyone's mind. Even though it wasn't his fault, and everyone tells him that, still ... I know he feels responsible for the accident. Anyway, he's got to sort through it, and he needs some time alone to do that. And where better a place to find solitude than in a lighthouse seven miles out to sea? Least he's not drownin' his sorrows in the bottle like some men would. No, he's gotta be in a place where a man can hear himself think. I hope he can put this behind him at some point and move on. He's too talented and too good a person not to."
"Has Striker ever been out to the place the Strike One went down?" Mama asked.
"Not that I know of," Dylan said. Papa said he didn't think so either.
"Maybe he could find some closure if he did," Mama said. "Lord, what a tragedy," she added, while drying the skillet.
"I have some news!" I volunteered, hoping to steer us away from the subject of Striker and his parents.
"What'd you go and do now?" my brother teased as he leaned back comfortably in his chair and folded his arms across his chest, as if preparing himself for a long story.
"Make light of it all you want to, but I have figured out my life's calling!"
"Lord, here we go," Dylan muttered under his breath. I chose to ignore him.
I took a deep breath and dove in. "Well, a Seminole couple came into the trading post at the end of the day last week. I'd seen 'em out on the lawn all day trading their what-nots for other what-nots. They came in right before we closed up for the day wantin' five yards of pink lace ribbon. After I'd cut the piece from a spool, I rang it up and told them it was a dollar thirty, and the Seminole woman handed her change purse over to the man so that he could count out the proper amount.
"I asked him if the woman knew how to speak English. I knew I'd seen 'em before, and I'd seen them do the same thing — she'd hand over her purse to him, letting him take what he wanted from it.
"'She speak the English a little,' the man said, 'but she not know numbers too good.'
"'Your name is Willie Factor, isn't it?' I asked him, even though I knew it was, but we'd never been formally introduced and I was just trying to be polite. He looked at me suspiciously, like I was about to make a point that he wasn't sure he wanted to be a part of. Well, he gives me this quick little nod, confirming that he was Willie Factor, and I said, 'Mr. Factor, why don't you let me help your wife with her English, and I'll teach her a little math, too — adding and subtracting? That way, if you're not around, she'll understand what's being asked of her, and she won't be taken advantage of.'
"Well, you'd think I'd just asked that man to sneak off to a thicket with me! Lord, he looked downright offended! Drew back from me like I'd just spit at him. 'She know English good enough. Plenty good enough! Don't need white lady to learn Lina nothing. White ways bad for her. Very bad'
"'Is it bad for Lina or for you, Mr. Factor?' I said. Well, that was it! The man latched on to poor ol' Lina's arm and practically dragged her out of the store. Then Mrs. Brickell comes up and asks me what that was all about, and was I causing her to lose good customers. And I told her, 'No, Mrs. Brickell, just ignorant ones.' Well, she didn't like that too much and told me I better watch myself. I calmly told her I would while telling myself that pretty soon I'd be watching myself walk out her store's front door for the last time. And that's when I decided!"
"Decided what?" my brother asked as though he was a little afraid to hear my answer.
"I'm gonna teach the Seminole children — all the children, the girls too! And their women!"
"Lord, Eliza." Dylan rolled his eyes and laughed, while Mama just shook her head. Papa, on the other hand, watched me with a twinkle in his wonderful eyes and an amused smile on his face.
Papa was part Creek Indian and I had his thick, jet-black hair, though mine was long and wavy like Mama's. My eyes were brown like hers, too, though not as dark, and both Dylan and I had inherited our parents' considerable height.
"Those people aren't going to let you teach any of their females," Mama said, just as she had the first time I'd told her. "They'll think you're gonna poison their brains. You know they think a Seminole woman educated by a white person is totally immoral."
"Maybe they do," I said. "But who's to stop the girls from overhearing what the boys are learning? I'm gonna teach those girls one way or another! And if Papa will let me help with salvaging some more wrecks, teaching those girls will be a much easier thing to accomplish."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Rising of Glory Land"
Copyright © 2018 Janie DeVos.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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