BEVERLY was like other seaport towns up and down the Atlantic seaboard; like seaport towns in Europe, from Vigo Bay to North Cape; like towns in Australia and China, Peru and Russia, in this marvelous winter and spring of 1849. All seaports were alike, those days, busily pouring men down to ships, and speeding ships forth for Eldorado; not for another year or more would the sickening realities be brought back to them by those few who struggled home.
Here in Beverly as elsewhere, the ebb tide of ships and men was now well under way, shipyards ringing, vessels building in the bare woods, on the naked rocky shores, wherever men could swing adze and plane to cut softwood timbers. At night the harbor was still and cold, star-blink glittering over snowy streets, houses agleam with lights where men packed and made ready. Tales of gold were carried from hearth to hearth, gaining fresh accretions with every telling, and the cold winter's night was all athrill with subtle vibrations from an excited populace, raw red gold lending a warm glow that softened the frosty air and brought a flame across the horizon as men looked westward over the bleak hills and visualized California.
Dick Hampton had timed his coming well and carefully, since he had particular reason for not wanting to be recognized at the present moment. He did not want Jed Barnes to know of his presence until Baker's Island was left behind and the pilot dropped; otherwise, he could scent trouble brewing. If he could find where Day's brig lay and get aboard her, he would be safe enough. The lading would be a thick job at the last and the other mates would be glad men to let him stick below and handle stowage.
It was just eight of the night when he came striding down Cabot Street, past the white cottages and the shuttered shops where men sat reckoning their books by tallow dips and sperm lamps, past the war houses and silent marts of trade, to the long reach of Foster & Lovett's wharf, black against the blacker water and the riding lights of ships. He saw that some ship hung there against the wharf, lined fast, a glow coming from her fo'csle hood and a glow from her cabin skylight, and aloft a yellow star that lacked the cold glitter of the white stars of heaven. Then he heard the hum of a voice, keeping time to the frosty crackle of his own steps on the cold boards:
“A little black bull came over the mountain,
Ri tura lingtum, ri tura lay!
Oh, a little black bull came over——”
“Bless me, it's you!” Job Warlock lounged forward from the shadows of a high freight pile. “And here's a swig o' rum to warm your bones, matey. The world's a good place, so hurray!”
Hampton took the proffered bottle gratefully, and a gulp of Jamaica drove the chill from him. Job Warlock chuckled.
“Well, what luck wi' the old man, lad? Ye still look alive and well.”
Hampton expelled a long and frosty breath.
“It won't bear talking of, Job. What news?”
“None.” Warlock grunted. “All the folk hereabouts are crazy for California. It's as much as your life's worth to tell 'em the truth o' that passage. News from your brother?”
“Ill news enough.” Hampton got his pipe alight. “He's in trouble—robbed and bound over to practical slavery. A man down there named Winslow or Diaz makes business of robbing greenhorns and binding them over to work for him as peons. No Glasgow packet for me, Job; our ways part here, I'm afraid. I'll have to take a berth in this Chagres brig, wherever she is, and see if I can find Eli.”
“Huh! Then you'll go across the damned isthmus to die o' fever.”
“That's as it may be. On to Acapulco if I can't get news of Winslow or Diaz at Panama. Ever hear of such a man down there? He has a Mexican wife.”
“Diaz? That's like askin' for a man named Jones in a Welsh port. Diaz! Millions of 'em. But hold on—there it is, aye! I mind such a name in Acapulco. Chap called—no, it wasn't Diaz neither, but a name like it. Spanish chap showed me the difference; one has a lisp, the other hasn't. Aye, here's the name! Dias.”
“That it. Eli said the name was Diaz or Dias.” Hampton drew a quick breath. “Ha! What d'ye know of him? He was in Acapulco, ye say?”
“No—heard of him there.” Warlock spoke thoughtfully. “What was it, now? Nothin' good—huh! Just a bit of it comes back. It was a wild story we heard, that's all. He had a place on the California coast, over near Loreto; pearl fisher, he was, who had looted some churches in Mexico. Nobody knew exactly; all sorts o' stories went around. Somebody wanted us to jump ship and go over there and shoot him up. That's all I remember. Just a story, it was.”
“Story enough, by gad!” exclaimed Hampton. “Now I've got something to go on, at least.”
“Hold up there! Me too, as the Injun said when he rubbed his belly.”
“You? I thought you wouldn't go to Chagres?”
“Who said so? Not me. I'm with you to Chagres or ——, matey! Injun does it. Now, then, what's the name o' this blessed Chagres bark?”
“I'm glad, Job—you don't know how glad I am!” said Hampton, and his voice showed the quick leap of friendship in him. “Her name? I don't know. She's a chartered bark and sails in a day or two. Easy enough to find her——”
Job Warlock grinned, and pointed with his finger to the ship lying at the wharf, her spars outlining a slim dark tracery against the star-studded carpet of the sky.
“There she is, then. The Hannah. Off tomorrow afternoon, with luck.”
The Salem man stared at the dark shape of the vessel, half-concealed behind the waiting piles of freight. He was thinking less of her than of his friend, however. He had not doubted that Job Warlock, despite protestations, would stick with him; yet it was a stern test of friendship, since Job knew well enough what awaited them in the south, and shrank from it. For the rest, one place was as good as another to the dark man, and no doubt the quest after the missing Eli fired his Indian blood.
“I've had my eye on her,” went on Warlock, “and there's going to be doin's——”
“Go slow,” said Hampton. “Talk Spanish.”
They both saw a figure crossing from ship to wharf—a large, dark figure, with the red glow-point of a cigar burning and dying; one of the officers going up to town, no doubt. Warlock continued in Spanish, which he spoke with Mexican purity, for in Mexico has survived the old gracious Castilian that has been lost among the lisping dialects of Spain.
“Doin's aboard her, I can tell ye! Terrible long royal yards and stiff wi' new canvas; an old softwood ship and hell to pump, and Yankee mates. Whew! But that's not the worst. All these here,” and Job swept his arm out to indicate the freight piles, “are stores goin' aboard, some for the voyage, some taken by the company. New York stores, and you know what that means.”
“The gulf sharks will eat full, eh?” said Hampton. The tall dark figure was coming past them, cigar point glowing, booted heels crackling on the frosty planks.
“Aye.” Warlock laughed harshly. “Old condemned army rations, old salvaged tinned stuff, full o' poison. Bless me, you'll hear the popping begin before we're off Hatteras! Still, she has good lines and a Yankee crew, and they'll drive her. I expect she'll see Chagres River in well under twenty days, barring bad luck.”
“May the saints grant it, señor!” said a voice in Spanish.
The dark figure halted, and now came around a pile of boxes toward them. Hampton, instantly recognizing that voice, turned.
“That you, Mr. Day?”
“Aye. Who's this, then?”
“Hampton and a friend. You recall our meeting in Boston?”
“Oh! Hampton from Salem—well met, sir, well met! I wondered who on earth could be speaking Spanish here; not a man aboard knows a word of it.”
Day put out his hand, a warmth of quick cordiality in voice and grip. Hampton, wondered whether Day had caught the disparaging comments about the ship and stores, but did not ask.
“You've come to ship with us?” said Day.
“I'd like to talk it over. I've run into an old friend, Job Warlock, bosun out of the Blackwall Line and a sound seaman. What are the chances for him to ship, too, as far as the isthmus? He doesn't care for California, but we're old friends and would like to ship south together if possible.”
Day laughed at that. “D'ye know we could ship ten men for every berth for'ard? But come aboard with me—I was only off for a stroll. Come aboard and have a drink and a smoke in warm comfort. So you both speak the Spanish, eh? That's good. We'll talk things over.”
“Right,” said Hampton. “Come along, Job.”
The three walked up the wharf and came to the ship, going aboard by a gangway of planks laid to aid the freight stowage. Even in the starlight Hampton could note the prim neatness of her decks, lines coiled and flaked, everything shipshape; her officers knew their business. Aft at the companionway, Day chuckled.
“Good thing you came along—this is my last bit of comfort. Tomorrow we turn over most of these cabins to the ladies, and the officers will berth in the for'ard house abaft the foremast. Cap'n and passengers take the cabins. Well, here we are!”
They descended into the cabin, where a gimbal-slung lamp dispensed light and warmth, and made themselves comfortable. Day appraised Job Warlock with one keen glance, and nodded without hesitation.
“You'll do; we'll make room for you, bosun. Some of our thrifty company members are working to Chagres as crew, and we'll need a good helmsman. Well, Mr. Hampton, you've decided to come?”
“I think so,” returned Hampton, puffing at his pipe and accepting the mug of grog that Day poured for him. “However, I don't understand what my position is to be—after Chagres. Do we go up the river by boat?”
“Aye, across try boat and trail to Panama.”
Day stretched out his long legs and doffed his hat. Bare-headed, he showed thin of hair, his skull knobby and with the ears set high; so high, indeed, that they gave him a singularly wolfish appearance. Hampton had ere this met men with high ears, and had found little good in them, so that this troubled him.
“Here's the lay. I've made all arrangements for boats and mules; and, as I told ye, for a schooner at Panama. If I could be there in person to fulfil my obligations by taking the company across in person, all well and good; but I've business interests, and at Chagres may be called aside. Then what? You to take charge. Those rascally natives will need the strong hand of authority. This man Warlock can speak Spanish, so let him come along. Both of you on wages to Panama, and there, Mr. Hampton, take your choice! Go your way if you like, or I'll make you captain of one of my schooners.”
“Hm! Then you're taking me along merely to run things in case you're called away?”
“Right—and because I like you.”
“Fair enough. It's agreed.” Hampton knocked out his pipe. “Now I'll tell you why I want to go. Did you ever happen to hear of a renegade Englishman or American down there, who uses the names of Winslow or Dias?”
The effect of this question was astounding. Day started, and his glassy eyes gripped on Hampton, while a queer pallor stole across his face; then, suddenly, there came a little click! and a cocked derringer showed in his hand.
“Explain those words!” he snapped harshly. “What do you know of that man?”
“I mean to find him,” said Hampton, astonished. “He is a rascal——”
“He's my bitterest enemy on this earth,” said Day, then drew a deep breath and relaxed. He thrust away his pistol, took out a fresh cigar, lighted it. “Your pardon, your pardon—the very mention of that man's name was a whiplash! He has injured me sorely. Why seek you him?”
“Then you know where I can find him?” demanded Hampton.
There was a momentary conflict of will, here in the cabin, while Job Warlock sat back and sucked his pipe, shaggy brows pulled down over steely eyes that looked from one man to the other. Day had asked a question, so had Hampton; for a moment it seemed that neither would yield to other in stubborn determination to be answered. In Day's powerful features those glassy eyes were glittering and flaming, betraying a savage exertion of the will, but Hampton met and answered the look with eyes cold as gray ice. He was, in fact, wondering why Day was so desperately intent upon being answered first, and a flashing, momentary warning was implanted in his mind by the glimmering dark gaze. Then Day shot up his brows and yielded.
“That is something no one knows,” he answered slowly. “The man is no better than a pirate. It is said that he is established somewhere in Baja California, on the gulf called the Vermilion Sea or Sea of Cortez; still, nothing is very certain down there. I have old scores against him, but lack the strength to cope with him openly. If this expedition goes through successfully, I shall have money enough to work against him. Then I shall hire men and go after the rascal.”
“Good,” said Hampton. “I got home yesterday to find a letter from my brother Eli, who went to California and got no farther than Panama. This man Winslow, or Dias, bound him into slavery. You and I might pursue our mutual end together, if it pleases you.”
Day started slightly.
“Oh!” said he. “So that's it, eh? Yes, Mr. Hampton, your proposal appeals to me. Hm! Well, we shall discuss the question later on. I am glad that you have decided to go with us. Our company numbers forty-three in all, and most of them come aboard in the morning, since we sail tomorrow afternoon. The officers and many of the crew are ashore, so I had better go and look up your quarters, if you'll excuse me.”
Then Day rose and left the cabin.
For a little, Hampton and Job Warlock sat together in silence, until at last Warlock cleared his throat and then grunted.
“A penny for your thoughts, matey,” he said in an odd voice.
Hampton looked up.
“Eh? I was thinking that Mr. Day will make money by this trip,” he said reflectively. “He'll charge them a flat five hundred dollars a head to Panama, and will clear a tidy sum by that alone; while the passage to 'Frisco will be as much more, on his own ships.”
“Hm!” Warlock grunted again. “Mighty queer that he'd need us, Dick. Aye, it has a queer look, and so has the man himself! He was mighty anxious to know why you wanted to find Dias. So the two are enemies, huh? Well, we'll see what we'll see. It's in my mind that our friend here will be a hard man in action, aye, a stiff 'un and no mistake!”
In a few minutes Day returned, calling Warlock, and motioned Hampton to remain. Job Warlock, who had left his duffle ashore, went to see his quarters and go after his things. Hampton sat over his pipe until Day returned to the cabin and carefully shut the door. He quite understood that the man wanted a private word with him, and looked up to meet the piercing gaze of those glassy eyes, and spoke first.
“One thing, Mr. Day! Arrange, if you can, that I take over the cargo stowage tomorrow. I'd like to keep out of sight until we're at sea; one of your company has no love for me.”
“So? And who is that?” asked Day, his brows lifting.
Day's eyes narrowed for an instant, and then it was Hampton glimpsed for the second time a swift vision of dark things in the man. When Day laughed, it was gone quickly.
“Oh! The little lass, eh? Right, right; I'll see to it. Now, a word with you! What aim in life have ye, Hampton?”
“Eh?” Hampton was puzzled by the sharp, direct question. “How mean you?”
“Aim, end, objective!” Day waved his hand. “D'ye want to get on, make money?”
“Aye. All men do.”
“I told ye I had interests down below. I know a number of men there—not good or godly men, mark you! If you and I go together and seek this man Winslow or Dias, if we combine against him, it's fight fire with fire. Are ye willing to join with these other friends o' mine, let me give you letters to them? There's little law down in Mexico, you understand. In a year you can make your fortune, gain your revenge, and all's clear.”
Hampton, astonished as he was, did not miss the dark hint. He understood perfectly that Day was allied with filibusters, privateers, pirates, smugglers; that these were the other interests of which the man had spoken. Here was a chance being offered him—a chance which would not come easily a second time. He hardly hesitated in his reply.
“No, Mr. Day. With all thanks to you, I say no. I comprehend your meaning, I think, but I can't fall in with it. Not that I love the law, but I don't care to go about things in just that way.”
Day regarded him steadily, his bronzed features quite expressionless; somehow, Hampton distinctly gained the impression that behind the man's words there had been many and deep things unuttered—that this proposal had been a feeler, as it were. There was no disgrace in being connected with privateers or filibusters or smugglers; to contravene the law, especially in Central American waters, was quite fashionable. Gringo and greaser were bitter enemies, both open and covert.
Hampton's refusal sprang, rather, from a growing distrust of James Day. Something in this man had begun to grate on him, though he could not account for the feeling. In that steady and inscrutable gaze he fancied that he could discern a singular impatience of control, a lack of all scruple, a stirring of dangerous things. Further, Job Warlock's swift judgment of the man lingered in his mind.
“You're quite sure?” asked Day slowly, and Hampton realized that in some sense the question was an ultimatum.
“Quite,” he responded cheerfully.
Day again waved his hand, and showed his teeth in a quick smile.
“Right! Every man must choose his own road. For your own sake, I'm sorry. Now, if you'll come with me I'll show you our quarters. Have you a chest?”
“No, I brought nothing,” and Hampton rose, with a feeling of relief. “I'll draw on the slop-chest for oilskins, or buy them.”
“Right,” approved Day, and they left the cabin together.