Breakfast was soon eaten; it did not take long to eat breakfast in Mr. Scraper’s house. The chores were a more serious matter, for every spoon and plate had to be washed to the tune of a lashing tongue, and under an eye that withered all it lighted on. But at last,—at last the happy hour came when the tyrant’s back was turned, and the tyrant’s feet tottered off in the direction of the post-office. The daily purchases, the daily gossip at the “store,” would fill the rest of the morning, as John well knew. He listened in silence to the charges to “keep stiddy to work, and git that p’tater-patch wed by noon;” he watched the departure of his tormentor, and went straight to the potato-patch, duty and fear leading him by either hand. The weeds had no safety of their lives that day; he was in too great a hurry to dally, as he loved to do, over the bigger stalks of pigweed, the giants which he, with his trusty sword—only it was a hoe—would presently dash to the earth and behead, and tear in pieces. Even the sprawling pusley-stems, which generally played the part of devil-fish and tarantulas and various other monsters, suffered no amputation of limb by limb, but were torn up with merciful haste, and flung in heaps together.
Was the potato-patch thoroughly “wed?” I hardly know. But I know that in less than an hour after Mr. Endymion Scraper started for the village the boy John was on his way to the wharf.
As he drew near the river he found that something was the matter with his breath. It would not come regularly, but in gasps and sighs; his heart beat so hard, and was so high up in his throat he was almost choked. Would he see anything when he turned the corner that led down to the wharf? And if anything,—what? Then he shut his eyes and turned the corner.
The schooner was there. No longer spectral or shadowy, she lay in plain sight by the wharf, her trim lines pleasant to look at, her decks shining with neatness, her canvas all spread out to dry, for the night dew had been heavy. Lifting his fearful eyes, the child saw the bronze figure standing in the bow, but now it was plainly seen to be a man, a swarthy man, with close-curled black hair, and bright, dark eyes. Two other men were lounging about the deck, but John took little heed of them. This man, the strangest he had ever seen, claimed his whole thought. He was as dark as the people in the geography book, where the pictures of the different races were; not an Ethiopian, evidently (John loved the long words in the geography book), because his nose was straight and his lips thin; perhaps a Malay or an Arab. If one could see a real Arab, one could ask him about the horses, and whether the dates were always sticky, and what he did in a sandstorm, and lots of interesting things. And then a Malay,—why, you could ask him how he felt when he ran amuck,—only, perhaps, that would not be polite.
These meditations were interrupted by a hail from the schooner. It was the dark man himself who spoke, in a quiet voice that sounded kind.