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A More Important Arrival








From: The Crusade Of The Excelsior

The Commander was the first to recover his presence of mind. Taking
the despatch from the hands of the unlooked-for husband of the woman he
loved, he opened it with an immovable face and habitual precision. Then,
turning with a military salute to the strangers, he bade them join him
in half an hour at the Presidio; and, bowing gravely to the assembled
company, stepped from the corridor. But Mrs. Markham was before him,
stopped him with a gesture, and turned to her husband.

"James Markham--where's your hand?"

Markham, embarrassed but subjugated, disengaged it timidly from his
wife's waist.

"Give it to that gentleman--for a gentleman he is, from the crown of
his head to the soles of his boots! There! Shake his hand! You don't get
such a chance every day. You can thank him again, later."

As the two men's hands parted, after this perfunctory grasp, and the
Commander passed on, she turned again to her husband.

"Now, James, I am ready to hear all about it. Perhaps you'll tell me
where you HAVE been?"

There was a moment of embarrassing silence. The Doctor and Secretary
had discreetly withdrawn; the Alcalde, after a brief introduction to Mr.
Brimmer, and an incomprehensible glance from the wife, had retired with
a colorless face. Dona Isabel had lingered last to blow a kiss across
her fan to Eleanor Keene that half mischievously included her brother.
The Americans were alone.

Thus appealed to, Mr. Markham hastily began his story. But, as he
progressed, a slight incoherency was noticeable: he occasionally
contradicted himself, and was obliged to be sustained, supplemented,
and, at times, corrected, by Keene and Brimmer. Substantially, it
appeared that they had come from San Francisco to Mazatlan, and, through
the influence of Mr. Brimmer on the Mexican authorities, their party,
with an escort of dragoons, had been transported across the gulf and
landed on the opposite shore, where they had made a forced march across
the desert to Todos Santos. Literally interpreted, however, by the
nervous Markham, it would seem that they had conceived this expedition
long ago, and yet had difficulties because they only thought of it the
day before the steamer sailed; that they had embarked for the isthmus of
Nicaragua, and yet had stopped at Mazatlan; that their information
was complete in San Francisco, and only picked up at Mazatlan; that
"friends"--sometimes contradictorily known as "he" and "she"--had
overpowering influence with the Mexican Government, and alone had helped
them, and yet that they were utterly dependent upon the efforts of Senor
Perkins, who had compromised matters with the Mexican Government and
everybody.

"Do you mean to say, James Markham, that you've seen Perkins, and it was
he who told you we were here?"

"No--not HIM exactly."

"Let me explain," said Mr. Brimmer hastily. "It appears," he corrected
his haste with practical businesslike precision, "that the filibuster
Perkins, after debarking you here, and taking the Excelsior to
Quinquinambo, actually established the Quinquinambo Government, and
got Mexico and the other confederacies to recognize its independence.
Quinquinambo behaved very handsomely, and not only allowed the Mexican
Government indemnity for breaking the neutrality of Todos Santos by the
seizure, but even compromised with our own Government their claim to
confiscate the Excelsior for treaty violation, and paid half the value
of the vessel, besides giving information to Mexico and Washington of
your whereabouts. We consequently represent a joint commission from both
countries to settle the matter and arrange for your return."

"But what I want to know is this: Is it to Senor Perkins that we
ought to be thankful for seeing you here at all?" asked Mrs. Markham
impatiently.

"No, no--not that, exactly," stammered Markham. "Oh, come now,
Susannah"--

"No," said Richard Keene earnestly; "by Jove! some thanks ought to go to
Belle Montgomery"--He checked himself in sudden consternation.

There was a chilly silence. Even Miss Keene looked anxiously at her
brother, as the voice of Mrs. Brimmer for the first time broke the
silence.

"May we be permitted to know who is this person to whom we owe so great
an obligation?"

"Certainly," said Brimmer, "She was--as I have already intimated--a
friend; possibly, you know," he added, turning lightly to his
companions, as if to corroborate an impression that had just struck him,
"perhaps a--a--a sweetheart of the Senor Perkins."

"And how was she so interested in us, pray?" said Mrs. Markham.

"Well, you see, she had an idea that a former husband was on board of
the Excelsior."

He stopped suddenly, remembering from the astonished faces of Keene and
Markham that the secret was not known to them, while they, impressed
with the belief that the story was a sudden invention of Brimmer's, with
difficulty preserved their composure. But the women were quick to notice
their confusion, and promptly disbelieved Brimmer's explanation.

"Well, as there's no Mister Montgomery here, she's probably mistaken,"
said Mrs. Markham, with decision, "though it strikes ME that she's very
likely had the same delusion on board of some other ship. Come along,
James; perhaps after you've had a bath and some clean clothes, you may
come out a little more like the man I once knew. I don't know how Mrs.
Brimmer feels, but I feel more as if I required to be introduced to
you--than your friend's friend, Mrs. Montgomery. At any rate, try and
look and behave a little more decent when you go over to the Presidio."

With these words she dragged him away. Mr. Brimmer, after a futile
attempt to appear at his ease, promptly effected the usual marital
diversion of carrying the war into the enemy's camp.

"For heaven's sake, Barbara," he said, with ostentatious indignation,
"go and dress yourself properly. Had you neither money nor credit to
purchase clothes? I declare I didn't know you at first; and when I did,
I was shocked; before Mrs. Markham, too!"

"Mrs. Markham, I fear, has quite enough to occupy her now," said Mrs.
Brimmer shortly, as she turned away, with hysterically moist eyes,
leaving her husband to follow her.

Oblivious of this comedy, Richard Keene and Eleanor had already wandered
back, hand in hand, to their days of childhood. But even in the joy that
filled the young girl's heart in the presence of her only kinsman, there
was a strange reservation. The meeting that she had looked forward to
with eager longing had brought all she expected; more than that, it
seemed to have been providentially anticipated at the moment of her
greatest need, and yet it was incomplete. She was ashamed that after the
first recognition, a wild desire to run to Hurlstone and tell HIM her
happiness was her only thought. She was shocked that the bright joyous
face of this handsome lovable boy could not shut out the melancholy
austere features of Hurlstone, which seemed to rise reproachfully
between them. When, for the third and fourth time, they had recounted
their past history, exchanged their confidences and feelings, Dick,
passing his arm around his sister's waist, looked down smilingly in her
eyes.

"And so, after all, little Nell, everybody has been good to you, and you
have been happy!"

"Everybody has been kind to me, Dick, far kinder than I deserved. Even
if I had really been the great lady that little Dona Isabel thought I
was, or the important person the Commander believed me to be, I couldn't
have been treated more kindly. I have met with nothing but respect and
attention. I have been very happy, Dick, very happy."

And with a little cry she threw herself on her brother's neck and burst
into a childlike flood of inconsistent tears.

Meantime the news of the arrival of the relief-party had penetrated
even the peaceful cloisters of the Mission, and Father Esteban had been
summoned in haste to the Council. He returned with an eager face to
Hurlstone, who had been anxiously awaiting him. When the Padre had
imparted the full particulars of the event to his companion, he added
gravely,--

"You see, my son, how Providence, which has protected you since you
first claimed the Church's sanctuary, has again interfered to spare
me the sacrifice of using the power of the Church in purely mundane
passions. I weekly accept the rebuke of His better-ordained ways, and
you, Diego, may comfort yourself that this girl is restored directly
to her brother's care, without any deviousness of plan or human
responsibility. You do not speak, my son!" continued the priest
anxiously; "can it be possible that, in the face of this gracious
approval of Providence to your resolution, you are regretting it?"

The young man replied, with a half reproachful gesture:

"Do you, then, think me still so weak? No, Father Esteban; I have
steeled myself against my selfishness for her sake. I could have
resigned her to the escape you had planned, believing her happier
for it, and ignorant of the real condition of the man she had learnt
to--to--pity. But," he added, turning suddenly and almost rudely upon
the priest, "do you know the meaning of this irruption of the outer
world to ME? Do you reflect that these men probably know my miserable
story?--that, as one of the passengers of the Excelsior, they will be
obliged to seek me and to restore me," he added, with a bitter laugh,
"to MY home, MY kindred--to the world I loathe?"

"But you need not follow them. Remain here."

"Here!--with the door thrown open to any talebearer OR PERHAPS TO MY
WIFE HERSELF? Never! Hear me, Father," he went on hurriedly: "these men
have come from San Francisco--have been to Mazatlan. Can you believe
that it is possible that they have never heard of this woman's search
for me? No! The quest of hate is as strong as the quest of love, and
more merciless to the hunted."

"But if that were so, foolish boy, she would have accompanied them."

"You are wrong! It would have been enough for her to have sent my
exposure by them--to have driven me from this refuge."

"This is but futile fancy, Diego," said Father Esteban, with a simulated
assurance he was far from feeling. "Nothing has yet been said--nothing
may be said. Wait, my child."

"Wait!" he echoed bitterly. "Ay, wait until the poor girl shall
hear--perhaps from her brother's lips--the story of my marriage as
bandied about by others; wait for her to know that the man who would
have made her love him was another's, and unworthy of her respect? No!
it is I who must leave this place, and at once."

"YOU?" echoed the Padre. "How?"

"By the same means you would have used for her departure. I must take
her place in that ship you are expecting. You will give ME letters
to your friends. Perhaps, when this is over, I may return--if I still
live."

Padre Esteban became thoughtful.

"You will not refuse me?" said the young man, taking the Padre's hand.
"It is for the best, believe me. I will remain secret here until then.
You will invent some excuse--illness, or what you like--to keep them
from penetrating here. Above all, to spare me from the misery of ever
reading my secret in her face."

Father Esteban remained still absorbed in thought.

"You will take a letter from me to the Archbishop, and put yourself
under his care?" he asked at last, after a long pause. "You will promise
me that?"

"I do!"

"Then we shall see what can be done. They talk, those Americanos,"
continued the priest, "of making their way up the coast to Punta St.
Jago, where the ship they have already sent for to take them away can

approach the shore; and the Comandante has orders to furnish them
escort and transport to that point. It is a foolish indiscretion of the
Government, and I warrant without the sanction of the Church. Already
there is curiosity, discontent, and wild talk among the people. Ah! thou
sayest truly, my son," said the old man, gloomily; "the doors of Todos
Santos are open. The Comandante will speed these heretics quickly on
their way; but the doors by which they came and whence they go will
never close again. But God's will be done! And if the open doors bring
thee back, my son, I shall not question His will!"

It would seem, however, as if Hurlstone's fears had been groundless. For
in the excitement of the succeeding days, and the mingling of the party
from San Antonio with the new-comers, the recluse had been forgotten. So
habitual, had been his isolation from the others, that, except for the
words of praise and gratitude hesitatingly dropped by Miss Keene to her
brother, his name was not mentioned, and it might have been possible for
the relieving party to have left him behind--unnoticed. Mr. Brimmer,
for domestic reasons, was quite willing to allow the episode of Miss
Montgomery's connection with their expedition to drop for the present.
Her name was only recalled once by Miss Keene. When Dick had professed
a sudden and violent admiration for the coquettish Dona Isabel, Eleanor
had looked up in her brother's face with a half troubled air.

"Who was this queer Montgomery woman, Dick?" she said.

Dick laughed--a frank, reassuring, heart-free laugh.

"Perfectly stunning, Nell. Such a figure in tights! You ought to have
seen her dance--my!"

"Hush! I dare say she was horrid!"

"Not at all! She wasn't such a bad fellow, if you left out her poetry
and gush, which I didn't go in for much,--though the other fellows"--he
stopped, from a sudden sense of loyalty to Brimmer and Markham. "No;
you see, Nell, she was regularly ridiculously struck after that man
Perkins,--whom she'd never seen,--a kind of schoolgirl worship for a
pirate. You know how you women go in for those fellows with a mystery
about 'em."

"No, I don't!" said Miss Keene sharply, with a slight rise of color;
"and I don't see what that's got to do with you and her."

"Everything! She was in correspondence with Perkins, and knows about the
Excelsior affair, and wants to help him get out of it with clean hands,
don't you see! That's why she made up to us. There, Nell; she ain't your
style, of course; but you owe a heap to her for giving us points as to
where you were. But that's all over now; she left us at Mazatlan, and
went on to Nicaragua to meet Perkins somewhere there--for the fellow has
always got some Central American revolution on hand, it appears. Until
they garrote or shoot him some day, he'll go on in the liberating
business forever."

"Then there wasn't any Mr. Montgomery, of course?" said Eleanor.

"Oh, Mr. Montgomery," said Dick, hesitating. "Well, you see, Nell, I
think that, knowing how correct and all that sort of thing Brimmer is,
she sort of invented the husband to make her interest look more proper."

"It's shameful!" said Miss Keene indignantly.

"Come, Nell; one would think you had a personal dislike to her. Let her
go; she won't trouble you--nor, I reckon, ANYBODY, much longer."

"What do you mean, Dick?"

"I mean she has regularly exhausted and burnt herself out with her
hysterics and excitements, and the drugs she's taken to subdue them--to
say nothing of the Panama fever she got last spring. If she don't go
regularly crazy at last she'll have another attack of fever, hanging
round the isthmus waiting for Perkins."

Meanwhile, undisturbed by excitement or intrusion of the outer world,
the days had passed quietly at the Mission. But one evening, at
twilight, a swift-footed, lightly-clad Indian glided into the sacristy
as if he had slipped from the outlying fog, and almost immediately
as quietly glided away again and disappeared. The next moment Father
Esteban's gaunt and agitated face appeared at Hurlstone's door.

"My son, God has been merciful, and cut short your probation. The signal
of the ship has just been made. Her boat will be waiting on the beach
two leagues from here an hour hence. Are you ready? and are you still
resolved?"

"I am," said Hurlstone, rising. "I have been prepared since you first
assented."

The old man's lips quivered slightly, and the great brown hand laid upon
the table trembled for an instant; with a strong effort he recovered
himself, and said hurriedly,--

"Concho's mule is saddled and ready for you at the foot of the garden.
You will follow the beach a league beyond the Indians' cross. In the
boat will await you the trusty messenger of the Church. You will say to
him, 'Guadalajara,' and give him these letters. One is to the captain.
You will require no other introduction." He laid the papers on the
table, and, turning to Hurlstone, lifted his tremulous hands in the air.
"And now, my son, may the grace of God"--

He faltered and stopped, his uplifted arms falling helplessly on
Hurlstone's shoulders. For an instant the young man supported him in his
arms, then placed him gently in the chair he had just quitted, and for
the first time in their intimacy dropped upon his knee before him. The
old man, with a faint smile, placed his hand upon his companion's head.
A breathless pause followed; Father Esteban's lips moved silently.
Suddenly the young man rose, pressed his lips hurriedly to the Father's
hand, and passed out into the night.

The moon was already suffusing the dropping veil of fog above him with
that nebulous, mysterious radiance he had noticed the first night he
had approached the Mission. When he reached the cross he dismounted,
and gathering a few of the sweet-scented blossoms that crept around its
base, placed them in his breast. Then, remounting, he continued his way
until he came to the spot designated by Concho as a fitting place to
leave his tethered mule. This done, he proceeded on foot about a mile
further along the hard, wet sand, his eyes fixed on the narrow strip of
water and shore before him that was yet uninvaded by the fog on either
side.

The misty, nebulous light, the strange silence, broken only by the
occasional low hurried whisper of some spent wave that sent its film of
spume across his path, or filled his footprints behind him, possessed
him with vague presentiments and imaginings. At times he fancied he
heard voices at his side; at times indistinct figures loomed through
the mist before him. At last what seemed to be his own shadow faintly
impinged upon the mist at one side impressed him so strongly that he
stopped; the apparition stopped too. Continuing a few hundred paces
further, he stopped again; but this time the ghostly figure passed on,
and convinced him that it was no shadow, but some one actually following
him. With an angry challenge he advanced towards it. It quickly
retreated inland, and was lost. Irritated and suspicious he turned back
towards the water, and was amazed to see before him, not twenty yards
away, the object of his quest--a boat, with two men in it, kept in
position by the occasional lazy dip of an oar. In the pursuit of his
mysterious shadow he had evidently overlooked it. As his own figure
emerged from the fog, the boat pulled towards him. The priest's password
was upon his lips, when he perceived that the TWO men were common
foreign sailors; the messenger of the Church was evidently not there.
Could it have been he who had haunted him? He paused irresolutely. "Is
there none other coming?" he asked. The two men looked at each other.
One said, "Quien sabe!" and shrugged his shoulders. Hurlstone without
further hesitation leaped aboard.

The same dull wall of vapor--at times thickening to an almost
impenetrable barrier, and again half suffocating him in its soft
embrace--which he had breasted on the night he swam ashore, carried back
his thoughts to that time, now so remote and unreal. And when, after a
few moments' silent rowing, the boat approached a black hulk that
seemed to have started forward out of the gloom to meet them, his vague
recollection began to take a more definite form. As he climbed up the
companion-ladder and boarded the vessel, an inexplicable memory came
over him. A petty officer on the gangway advanced silently and ushered
him, half dazed and bewildered, into the cabin. He glanced hurriedly
around: the door of a state-room opened, and disclosed the indomitable
and affable Senor Perkins! A slight expression of surprise, however,
crossed the features of the Liberator of Quinquinambo as he advanced
with outstretched hand.

"This is really a surprise, my dear fellow! I had no idea that YOU
were in this affair. But I am delighted to welcome you once more to the
Excelsior!"





Next: The Return Of The Excelsior

Previous: Clouds And Change



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