DICK HAMPTON, swinging along the frozen snowy road, came to the crossing of the little-used hill road from Lynn, and paused. He was four miles from home. One way lay South Salem and Marblehead, while on ahead lay Salem and Beverly. At this last fork, Hampton stood still and gazed a long while, and at last decided heavily that he must turn to the left for his father's farm and Peabody; and there was no joy in him at the decision.
So he turned—then he paused and stood motionless again, with dark premonitions stirring bitterly in his heart as he stared. For, coming from South Salem way, a loaded wagon was hard upon him, with two figures perched atop of the barrels and boxes; and Hampton recognized those figures at once. One of them had been heavily in his mind, the other joyously, this long while, and he did not know whether to bless or curse the fortune of this meeting. He knew the fine Havana shawl which was about the shoulders of Nelly Barnes as the gift he had brought her, his last voyage from the south. And, seeing that these twain were on their way to Beverly, he knew that James Day had spoken truth.
Jed Barnes was a hard, ruthless, utterly honest attorney who had never prospered at his profession. Fortunately he had farms outside Salem which paid him good money. Between him and Dick Hampton was no lost love. Barnes regarded all seamen as roaring runagates certain of eternal damnation, and Hampton in particular as a bucko mate, a killer of men; for this jaundiced regard there was a reason, though it lay not in Hampton's keeping. Years ago Jed Barnes had lost his only son at sea, murdered by the brutality of one yet unknown to fame—one “Bully” Martin who was to be infamous enough in later years. This loss made Jed Barnes curse all seamen impartially.
“Back, are ye? Back again, eh?”
Barnes had perceived Hampton, and pulled up his team as the wagon reached the crossroads. His stooped figure, his thin and lined features, loomed up above his daughter. Nelly gave Hampton a smile that was half-frightened, tremulous, wholly sad. Something terrible and unuttered lay in that smile, comprehending both greeting and farewell.
“Aye, back,” said Hampton. “I stopped in Boston to see some of those poor —— starting for California. Well, Nelly, how are you? Where bound?”
Before the girl could reply, her father broke in sharply.
“What d'ye mean by that?” he demanded nasally. “Poor ——, huh?”
“Just that,” said Hampton, meeting his bleak gaze. “Oh, it's pitiful enough! They're going out to face conditions they know nothing about——”
“How d'ye know so much about them, huh?”
“I've heard direct. They all dream of gold, and it's little they'll ever see. And if I knew any one going by the Panama route, I'd beg them on my knees to stay home.”
“Why?” snapped old Jed angrily.
Hampton hesitated. Well he knew that his words were all hopeless, yet the sight of Nelly's eyes drew an ache into his heart. He had to say what he could to stop this folly, even though it were futile.
“Why? Because of lies told 'em, and what they don't know. The rotten food, the awful trip over the isthmus, the robbery and extortion, the impossibility of getting beyond Panama even if they get that far—they don't know these things! The fever that runs like fire through second-growth, the scores and hundreds living in tents, camped about the blue bay, waiting for ships that don't come—or, if they come, are full already——”
“Yah!” Jed Barnes drawled out the word nasally, scornfully. “Well, we're goin', and we got no time to waste yammering neither. Ye'd better git on home, Dick. Eli's gone, and I hear a letter has come from him. Might int'rest ye some. Gid'ap, there—gid'ap!”
He shook the lines, and the horses heaved at the traces.
“Goodby, Nelly,” said Hampton, and the words stuck in his throat. For a long moment he met the eyes of the girl as he looked up at her—met her brave, clear, fine-hearted eyes which were fastened upon him so wistfully and longingly, sending him a tacit message which made the heart leap in him for sheer astounded wonder.
“Goodby, Dick,” she said simply, and her voice drooped.
Then the horses were dragging the load forward, and the wagon creaked on. Dick Hampton stood gazing after it, but Nelly did not turn again.
His hammering pulses ached. A younger man would have leaped after that wagon, would have uttered madly impulsive things; but Hampton stood silent, chilling his inner eagerness, cruelly master of himself and his emotions. After all, there was nothing between them! He read love in her eyes now, this minute, as he had wakened to love in his own heart, but it had not been uttered.
Presently he turned and trudged along toward home; not that he wanted to go there in the least. His will drove him onward, while his emotions flayed him without mercy. The adventurer and lover in him was crying out for Beverly, thirsting for that brig bound south to Chagres, and now more than ever in this terrible moment when he knew definitely that Nelly Barnes would be aboard her. Hampton knew only too well to what a hell the Beverly Panama Gold Company was departing, and in James Day he had singularly little faith—for some very obscure reason. It meant nothing to Hampton that the stooped man on the wagon hated him; he felt curiously above Jed Barnes. It was of Nelly that he thought. He might be of service on that voyage, he would surely be of service on the journey across the isthmus and beyond!
Nonetheless, there burned in his brain the words of Jed Barnes, forcing him to his duty. He must get news of Eli—that was imperative. A certain duty had come up. It drove him on, and would not be denied. Twice he had heard of Eli, and his heart was heavy. Nor had he missed the acerbity in Jed Barnes' tone at mention of that letter. And what now awaited him, with Eli gone, at the place he called home? His mother dead, his father a hard, bitter hard man, stern and cold as granite, narrow of vision and biting of tongue. Only too well did Dick Hampton feel that his own destiny lay well away; conflict with the cruel green meadows of the sea was sweeter to him than conflict with the implacable stony meadows of this land. He looked around at the snow-clad fields, the bleak stone fences, and cursed—yet he went on and on. Beverly must wait. Nelly must wait. First of all came duty, hard though it might be.
As he strode on along the road, a sudden laugh twisted his lips mirthlessly. What would Jed Barnes say, did he know of the invitation from James Day? Enough and to spare, no doubt. Barnes was like all the other greenhorns, taking a wagon filled with flour-barrels and other truck to ship to Eldorado. Flour! Why, there was a street in 'Frisco town paved with that useless stuff—spoiled and laid to fill the sand. Hampton had met a man in Havana, just back from Chagres and the other side, who had cursed the golden land most horribly, telling bare tales of its realities. Here, however, no man would believe these things, at least until another year or two; until letters came back and the broken tide of men began to straggle home once more to the New England hills—broken seamen and gentlemen, farmers and merchants, lure of gold gone glimmering from their hearts.
As he strode along, thus thinking, Hampton came suddenly to a halt; he stood listening, head cocked to one side, nostrils sniffing the cold air. No house was near at hand, yet he caught the sweet odor of wood-smoke, and with it the scent of meat at broil. Then he made out a thin thread of gray smoke, ascending from the heart of a bare and leafless thicket which stood close to the road; and, next moment, the voice of a singing man came from that same thicket, causing Hampton's eyes to widen in astounded recognition. It was a song that he knew, and a song he had heard many a time under grayer and sunnier skies, in long watches of the night or when men were clawing aloft and fighting the wind to reef the struggling canvas. He had never heard it except on the lips of one man—and now it came cheerily, like a ghost-song to numb his astonished senses:
“A little black bull came down from the mountain,
Ri tura lingtum, ri tura lay!
A little black bull came down from the mountain,
Ri tura lingtum, diddle diddle aye!”
Hampton wakened to life and action. He went crashing forward through the thicket, until he came upon an opening and stood there staring. Over the tiny fire was set a plucked fowl on a spit, and above the fire, gaping amazed at the intruder, was Job Warlock. Broad and squat and dark was Job Warlock, a man with Ojibway Indian blood in his veins, a man who had sailed the seven seas and bore the marks of them all; his face flat and heavy, his light blue eyes all alive and glowing like jewels, his reefer jacket and trousers of fine cloth, with flat gold hoops dangling from his ear lobes.
“You!” cried Hampton.
“You!” echoed Job Warlock in equal astonishment, then leaped forward, yelled joyously, and struck hands.
Dick Hampton was taken back by this meeting, back across a year's time to that terrible winter's voyage from Bristol to Rio—an ice-sheeted ship, hammering through gales on gales with storm jib and to'gallant close-reefed barely keeping her but from under the roaring seas, and green water rolling waist-high across the decks. There men suffered or died, worked, sang, kept the ship going, saved each other, laughed or whimpered. Those tremendous arms of Job Warlock had saved Dick Hampton more than once, and more than once had Hampton's wide shoulders and lightning agility repaid the debt. Somehow the two men had grown close in those days, talking often of home and what lay behind them; the powerful half-Indian from Michigan forests, the keenly efficient New Englander from his rocky hillsides, found between them singular bonds of liking and friendship. Bosun and mate, they were both far above the forecastle level, holding glimpses of higher things than grog and women; they comprehended each other's barely hinted dreams and found strange, queer tales in the stars by night.
“You, by the crooked tree!” exclaimed Job Warlock, though only a Michigan 'Jibway could have told what that expression meant. “You, Dick!”
“You here, of all places!” cried Hampton, astounded. “What does it mean, Job? I thought you'd gone into the Melbourne packets——”
Warlock grinned widely. He had a wide, toothful grin, not reserved for mirth alone.
“Sit ye down, Dick—the world's a good place, so hurray! Bird's done and I'm hungry. Why, it means that I came to get news of ye, what else? I've waited for the day I could come to the home ye told me of, lad, and ask word of ye.”
“But—here in this thicket?” Hampton sat down on some spread evergreens, and glanced around. “Why in these trees, Job Warlock? The farm's not far away——”
“Not far is far enough, as the Injun said when he rubbed his belly.” Warlock, stooping over the fire, looked up and chuckled. “Your daddy, bless his soul, wanted no heathen foreign man wi' hoops in ears to be hanging about his door, and said so. Bless him, what a tongue! Well, I went away and sneaked back again, stole one of his hens, and here I be. And luck brought ye to me, lad—the world's a good place, so hurray! All's well and lights burning.”
Dick Hampton compressed his lips. Yes, he might have known what reception his father would give this man—a dour and bitter one! Astonishment at their meeting died out, giving place to harsh anger. He could imagine what long travail it had cost Job Warlock to reach this spot on friendship's errand—only to get a sanctimonious curse and a godly reprimand!
But now Warlock took the fowl from the fire, slipped out his knife and placed half the bird in Hampton's lap.
“Injun does it!” said he cheerfully. “Have a bite of your own meat, lad! Injun does it, and a bit o' salt might help, but here's rum to wash it down. Come now, come now, ain't the world a good place? Hurray!”
From beside the fire he took a half-filled bottle of warm rum. Hampton bit into the meat, warmed himself with liquor, began to enjoy life. Here was a friend, here was a man never at a loss in any emergency—Injun blood indeed, true blood, true man!
Job Warlock ate ravenously, tearing at the meat, gulping it, washing it down with swigs of rum, until his share was gone and Hampton not half-finished. Then he leaned back and stuffed a pipe.
“Little black bull came down from the mountain,”
chanted he, and grinned. “Ho, lad! Jumped ship at New York—came over in her to get here, and a wonder ship she was, with Bully Forbes drivin' her! One o' them new Bluenose ships, and a holy ——, I can tell you. Bless me, how we did go! Never seen such a ship before. All stays and backstays of eleven-inch Russian hemp, tawps'ls roped from clew to earing, Bluenose ship and Glascow gear—and lokee, lad! Dry as a bone, yet running fifteen knots on a bowline with yards braced sharp! Ye hear that! And sail—bless me, but ye should ha' seen Bully Forbes crack on! Going into the Melbourne trade, he is, next v'yage. Running west'ard, we'd sight 'em with double-reefed tawps'ls, and we'd be doin' our fourteen close-hauled, wi' three royals and main-skysail booming! I came to bring ye the news o' them new ships, lad. You and me, we'll work back to England and ship wi' the Blackwall frigates, eh?”
Hampton lighted his pipe, smiling at Warlock's wild enthusiasm over these new ships and even sharing it in a measure.
“What about California?” he asked.
“Hey?” The other gaped at him for a moment, open-mouthed, then made a grimace. “Arrh! D'ye mean to say ye've bit that bait? Should h' known better, Dick Hampton! I was there three year back—d'ye mind me telling you about it? Aye, gold there may be, but it's a bleak, drear land, and heaven help the poor rogues ashore there!”
Hampton shook his head. “No gold bait on the hook, matey. All ye say is true, and more; by what I hear, there's many a man there wishing himself back home again. Ye remember I told ye of my younger brother, Eli?”
“Eli, eh?” Warlock nodded, his queer light-gray eyes glittering. “I seen nothing of him about the farm, Dick.”
“He's gone to California, I hear, and word has come back from him. I'm going home to see what's to be done. Somehow, there's a feeling on me that I must go there, and 't's pulling cursed hard at me. Not that I want to go, mind! If I had my own way about it, I'd go on past the farm with never a word, on past Salem, and over to Beverly. There's a brig waiting, bound for Chagres.”
Warlock groaned. “Chagres and hell is the same place—but ye know that, matey. I'spose you've been offered command of her, eh? What's the likes of you doin' as cap'n aboard a dirty little Chagres brig, when ye might be walkin' the deck of a fine packet wi' skysails and studdin's'ls blowing her over, a hundred days to Mel bourne? Arrh! I'd sooner be a Blackwall packet-rat than skipper o' the best Chagres brig afloat! And so you would, too.”
“I'm not offered any command—it's fourth mate's berth.” Hampton pulled at his pipe. “There's more things in life than fine ships, Job.”
“Hm!” Job Warlock studied him reflectively, then his swart features puckered up in shrewd surmise. “Ye've gone the way of all men, then; that's clear. There's a girl in it somewhere. —— the women! Aye, there's a lass in it. Ye've too much sense to ship for Chagres, otherwise, for ye know that hell-hole well enough. Still, the west coast's not so bad. I was drogin' hides up there in the Californias, as I've told ye before, under the San Juan cliffs and beyond, and I know it. Down below there it's a queer land, that west coast—Baja California they call it—all desert and Injuns and lost old missions and the bones o' white men. So it's a woman, eh? Well, the world's a good place——”
Hampton puffed at his pipe, sat silent for a little space, tempted sorely. A mile or so distant was the place he called home, with a jeer in his heart at the word. He had no affection for it, or for the man who lived there; none received, none given. If he went on, he anticipated biting words, harsh words, a flame of anger rising in him against the dour and godly man who lived by the letter of the Scriptures and knew not the spirit which lay behind them.
Of his own will, Hampton would have avoided all this. He would have gone on to Beverly, where he knew that, welcome or not, certain work awaited him. Yet duty impelled him home. He had money, and his father might have need of it; then Eli was gone, and this hurt him sorely. He must find out about it all. If he did so, he might never get to Beverly—this same duty to his younger brother might well turn his steps into a far different path. The thought brought sore hurt into his soul, yet he could not deny what must be done.
“Woman? More than that,” he responded at length. “You were on the west coast three years ago, eh? Did ye ever hear of a man named James Day out that way, Job?”
“Day?” Warlock bit at his pipe-stem, shaggy brows down-drawn, and finally his ear-hoops shook in slow negation. “No. And yet, somehow, I mind the name——”
“He has two schooners running north from Panama, or says that he has.”
“Bless me, here we are—aye, there it is! The world's a good place, so hurray! Day's the name—a privateer out o' the Argentine, they said, but more like a pirate, and had a fast schooner, heavy-armed. He looted here and there along the southern coasts. I heard talk of him, but that was back during the war. It was him helped our troops conquer Baja California, and the —— politicians gave it back to Mexico afterward. Aye, some said a scoundrel, some said a proper seaman and a good chap. I mind the talk now. Long time ago, as the Injun said when he rubbed his belly.”
Hampton frowned. This might be the same man, and certainly fitted the personality of his recent acquaintance. It was no disgrace; in those waters odd things were done, and if Day were now in honest business, so much the better. Perhaps the man could keep his promises to the Beverly Panama Gold Company—it was a good way to make money, since he could charge high and give good value.
“Let's go home. Then I'll know what I have to do——”
“Nay, nay!” Job Warlock came to his feet. “I see breakers ahead for ye wi' that man, and I'll not stand by and hear the row. No pleasure in it. Set a meeting place and I'll be there, when and where ye will.”
“Beverly is a town north o' Salem. You can find Foster & Levett's wharf easy enough. Meet me on that wharf tomorrow night—say, eight o'clock.”
“You have money?”
“Plenty. The world's a good place, so hurray! See you later.”
Hampton turned toward the road. Even if his worst fears were true, even if duty led him by the hard path, even if one had gone out of his life for ever—here another had come back into it with warmth of friendship. He was not minded to lose Job Warlock, as he had probably lost Nelly Barnes.