Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
Privacy
 
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


Liberated








From: The Crusade Of The Excelsior

The revolution was, indeed, ended. The unexpected arrival of a relieving
garrison in the bay of Todos Santos had completed what the dissensions
in the insurgents' councils had begun; the discontents, led by Brace and
Winslow, had united with the Government against Perkins and his aliens;
but a compromise had been effected by the treacherous giving up of the
Liberator himself in return for an amnesty granted to his followers.
The part that Bunker had played in bringing about this moral catastrophe
was, however, purely adventitious. When he had recovered his health, and
subsequent events had corroborated the truth of his story, the Mexican
Government, who had compromised with Quinquinambo, was obliged to
recognize his claims by offering him command of the missionary ship, and
permission to rediscover the channel, the secret of which had been lost
for half a century to the Government. He had arrived at the crucial
moment when Perkins' command were scattered along the seashore, and the
dragoons had invested Todos Santos without opposition.

Such was the story substantially told to Hurlstone and confirmed on his
debarkation with the ladies at Todos Santos, the Excelsior being now in
the hands of the authorities. Hurlstone did not hesitate to express to
Padre Esteban his disgust at the treachery which had made a scapegoat of
Senor Perkins. But to his surprise the cautious priest only shrugged his
shoulders as he took a complacent pinch of snuff.

"Have a care, Diego! You are of necessity grateful to this man for
the news he has brought--nay, more, for possibly being the instrument
elected by Providence to precipitate the denouement of that miserable
woman's life--but let it not close your eyes to his infamous political
career. I admit that he was opposed to the revolt of the heathen against
us, but it was his emissaries and his doctrines that poisoned with
heresy the fountains from which they drank. Enough! Be grateful! but do
not expect ME to intercede for Baal and Ashtaroth!"

"Intercede!" echoed Hurlstone, alarmed at the sudden sacerdotal hardness
that had overspread the old priest's face. "Surely the Council will
not be severe with the man who was betrayed into their power by others
equally guilty?"

Padre Esteban avoided Hurlstone's eyes as he answered with affected
coolness,--"Quien sabe? There will be expulsados, no doubt. The
Excelsior, which is confiscated, will be sent to Mexico with them."

"I must see Senor Perkins," said Hurlstone suddenly.

The priest hesitated.

"When?" he asked cautiously.

"At once."

"Good." He wrote a hurried line on a piece of paper, folded it, sealed
it, and gave it to Hurlstone. "You will hand that to the Comandante. He
will give you access to the prisoner."

In less than half an hour Hurlstone presented himself before the
Commander. The events of the last twenty-four hours had evidently
affected Don Miguel, for although he received Hurlstone courteously,
there was a singular reflection of the priest's harshness in his face as
he glanced over the missive. He took out his watch.

"I give you ten minutes with the prisoner, Don Diego. More, I cannot."

A little awed by the manner of the Commander, Hurlstone bowed and
followed him across the courtyard. It was filled with soldiers, and
near the gateway a double file of dragoons, with loaded carbines, were
standing at ease. Two sentries were ranged on each side of an open door
which gave upon the courtyard. The Commander paused before it, and with
a gesture invited him to enter. It was a large square apartment, lighted
only by the open door and a grated enclosure above it. Seated in his
shirtsleeves, before a rude table, Senor Perkins was quietly writing.
The shadow of Hurlstone's figure falling across his paper caused him to
look up.

Whatever anxiety Hurlstone had begun to feel, it was quickly dissipated
by the hearty, affable, and even happy greeting of the prisoner.

"Ah! what! my young friend Hurlstone! Again an unexpected pleasure," he
said, extending his white hands. "And again you find me wooing the Muse,
in, I fear, hesitating numbers." He pointed to the sheet of paper before
him, which showed some attempts at versification. "But I confess to a
singular fascination in the exercise of poetic composition, in instants
of leisure like this--a fascination which, as a man of imagination
yourself, you can appreciate."

"And I am sorry to find you here, Senor Perkins," began Hurlstone
frankly; "but I believe it will not be for long."

"My opinion," said the Senor, with a glance of gentle contemplation at
the distant Comandante, "as far as I may express it, coincides with your
own."

"I have come," continued Hurlstone earnestly, "to offer you my services.
I am ready," he raised his voice, with a view of being overheard, "to
bear testimony that you had no complicity in the baser part of the late
conspiracy,--the revolt of the savages, and that you did your best to
counteract the evil, although in doing so you have sacrificed yourself.
I shall claim the right to speak from my own knowledge of the Indians
and from their admission to me that they were led away by the vague
representations of Martinez, Brace, and Winslow."

"Pardon--pardon me," said Senor Perkins deprecatingly, "you are
mistaken. My general instructions, no doubt, justified these young
gentlemen in taking, I shall not say extreme, but injudicious measures."
He glanced meaningly in the direction of the Commander, as if to
warn Hurlstone from continuing, and said gently, "But let us talk
of something else. I thank you for your gracious intentions, but
you remember that we agreed only yesterday that you knew nothing of
politics, and did not concern yourself with them. I do not know but you
are wise. Politics and the science of self-government, although dealing
with general principles, are apt to be defined by the individual
limitations of the enthusiast. What is good for HIMSELF he too
often deems is applicable to the general public, instead of wisely
understanding that what is good for THEM must be good for himself. But,"
said the Senor lightly, "we are again transgressing. We were to choose
another topic. Let it be yourself, Mr. Hurlstone. You are looking
well, sir; indeed, I may say I never saw you looking so well! Let me
congratulate you. Health is the right of youth. May you keep both!"

He shook Hurlstone's hand again with singular fervor.

There was a slight bustle and commotion at the door of the guard-room,
and the Commander's attention was called in that direction. Hurlstone
profited by the opportunity to say in a hurried whisper:

"Tell me what I can do for you;" and he hesitated to voice his renewed
uneasiness--"tell me if--if--if your case is--urgent!"

Senor Perkins lifted his shoulders and smiled with grateful benevolence.

"You have already promised me to deliver those papers and manuscripts
of my deceased friend, and to endeavor to find her relations. I do not
think it is urgent, however."

"I do not mean that," said Hurlstone eagerly. "I"--but Perkins stopped
him with a sign that the Commander was returning.

Don Miguel approached them with disturbed and anxious looks.

"I have yielded to the persuasions of two ladies, Dona Leonor and the
Senora Markham, to ask you to see them for a moment," he said to Senor
Perkins. "Shall it be so? I have told them the hour is nearly spent."

"You have told them--NOTHING MORE?" asked the Senor, in a whisper
unheard by Hurlstone.

"No."

"Let them come, then."

The Commander made a gesture to the sentries at the guard-room, who drew
back to allow Mrs. Markham and Eleanor to pass. A little child, one of
Eleanor's old Presidio pupils, who, recognizing her, had followed her
into the guard-room, now emerged with her, and momentarily disconcerted
at the presence of the Commander, ran, with the unerring instinct of
childhood, to the Senor for protection. The filibuster smiled, and
lifting the child with a paternal gesture to his shoulder by one hand,
he extended the other to the ladies.

"The Commander," said Mrs. Markham briskly, "says it's against the
rules; that visiting time is up; and you've already got a friend with
you, and all that sort of thing; but I told him that I was bound to see
you, if only to say that if there's any meanness going on, Susannah and
James Markham ain't in it! No! But we're going to see you put right and
square in the matter; and if we can't do it here, we'll do it, if we
have to follow you to Mexico!--that's all!"

"And I," said Eleanor, grasping the Senor's hand, and half blushing as
she glanced at Hurlstone, "see that I have already a friend here who
will help me to put in action all the sympathy I feel."

Senor Perkins drew himself up, and cast a faint look of pride towards
the Commander.

"To HEAR such assurances from beautiful and eloquent lips like those
before me," he said, with his old oratorical wave of the hand, but a
passing shadow across his mild eyes, "is more than sufficient. In my
experience of life I have been favored, at various emergencies, by the
sympathy and outspoken counsel of your noble sex; the last time by Mrs.
Euphemia M'Corkle, of Peoria, Illinois, a lady of whom you have heard me
speak--alas! now lately deceased. A few lines at present lying on yonder
table--a tribute to her genius--will be forwarded to you, dear Mrs.
Markham. But let us change the theme. You are looking well--and you,
too, Miss Keene. From the roses that bloom on your cheeks--nourished
by the humid air of Todos Santos--I am gratified in thinking you have
forgiven me your enforced detention here."

At a gesture from the Commander he ceased, stepped back, bowed gravely,
and the ladies recognized that their brief audience had terminated. As
they passed through the gateway, looking back they saw Perkins still
standing with the child on his shoulder and smiling affably upon them.
Then the two massive doors of the gateway swung to with a crash, the
bolts were shot, and the courtyard was impenetrable.

* * * * *

A few moments later, the three friends had passed the outermost angle of
the fortifications, and were descending towards the beach. By the time
they had reached the sands they had fallen into a vague silence.

A noise like the cracking and fall of some slight scaffolding behind
them arrested their attention. Hurlstone turned quickly. A light smoke,
drifting from the courtyard, was mingling with the fog. A faint cry of
"Dios y Libertad!" rose with it.

With a hurried excuse to his companions, Hurlstone ran rapidly back, and
reached the gate as it slowly rolled upon its hinges to a file of men
that issued from the courtyard. The first object that met his eyes
was the hat of Senor Perkins lying on the ground near the wall, with a
terrible suggestion in its helpless and pathetic vacuity. A few paces
further lay its late owner, with twenty Mexican bullets in his breast,
his benevolent forehead bared meekly to the sky, as if even then mutely
appealing to the higher judgment. He was dead! The soul of the Liberator
of Quinquinambo, and of various other peoples more or less distressed
and more or less ungrateful, was itself liberated!

* * * * *

With the death of Senor Perkins ended the Crusade of the Excelsior.
Under charge of Captain Bunker the vessel was sent to Mazatlan by the
authorities, bearing the banished and proscribed Americans, Banks,
Brace, Winslow, and Crosby; and, by permission of the Council, also
their friends, Markham and Brimmer, and the ladies, Mrs. Brimmer, Chubb,
and Markham. Hurlstone and Miss Keene alone were invited to remain, but,
on later representations, the Council graciously included Richard Keene
in the invitation, with the concession of the right to work the mines
and control the ranches he and Hurlstone had purchased from their
proscribed countrymen. The complacency of the Council of Todos Santos
may be accounted for when it is understood that on the day the firm
of Hurlstone & Keene was really begun under the title of Mr. and Mrs.
Hurlstone, Richard had prevailed upon the Alcalde to allow him to add
the piquant Dona Isabel also to the firm under the title of Mrs. Keene.
Although the port of Todos Santos was henceforth open to all commerce,
the firm of Hurlstone & Keene long retained the monopoly of trade, and
was a recognized power of intelligent civilization and honest progress
on the Pacific coast. And none contributed more to that result than the
clever and beautiful hostess of Excelsior Lodge, the charming country
home of James Hurlstone, Esq., senior partner of the firm. Under the
truly catholic shelter of its veranda Padre Esteban and the heretic
stranger mingled harmoniously, and the dissensions of local and central
Government were forgotten.

"I said that you were a dama de grandeza, you remember," said the
youthful Mrs. Keene to Mrs. Hurlstone, "and, you see, you are!"





Next: The Luck Of Roaring Camp

Previous: Hostage



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 536