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The Gentle Castaways








From: The Crusade Of The Excelsior

Miss Keene was awakened from a heavy sleep by a hurried shake of her
shoulder and an indefinite feeling of alarm. Opening her eyes, she was
momentarily dazed by the broad light of day, and the spectacle of Mrs.
Brimmer, pale and agitated, in a half-Spanish dishabille, standing at
her bedside.

"Get up and dress yourself, my dear, at once," she said hurriedly, but
at the same time attentively examining Miss Keene's clothes, that were
lying on the chair: "and thank Heaven you came here in an afternoon
dress, and not in an evening costume like mine! For something awful has
happened, and Heaven only knows whether we'll ever see a stitch of our
clothes again."

"WHAT has happened?" asked Miss Keene impatiently, sitting up in bed,
more alarmed at the unusual circumstance of Mrs. Brimmer's unfinished
toilet than at her incomplete speech.

"What, indeed! Nobody knows; but it's something awful--a mutiny, or
shipwreck, or piracy. But there's your friend, the Commander, calling
out the troops; and such a set of Christy Minstrels you never saw
before! There's the Alcalde summoning the Council; there's Mr. Banks
raving, and running round for a steamboat--as if these people ever heard
of such a thing!--and Captain Bunker, what with rage and drink, gone
off in a fit of delirium tremens, and locked up in his room! And the
Excelsior gone--the Lord knows where!"

"Gone!" repeated Miss Keene, hurrying on her clothes. "Impossible! What
does Father Esteban tell you? What does Dona Isabel say?"

"That's the most horrible part of it! Do you know those wretched idiots
believe it's some political revolution among ourselves, like their own
miserable government. I believe that baby Isabel thinks that King
George and Washington have something to do with it; at any rate, they're
anxious to know to what side you belong! So; for goodness' sake! if you
have to humor them, say we're all on the same side--I mean, don't you
and Mrs. Markham go against Miss Chubb and me."

Scarcely knowing whether to laugh or cry at Mrs. Brimmer's incoherent
statement, Miss Keene hastily finished dressing as the door flew open to
admit the impulsive Dona Isabel and her sister Juanita. The two Mexican
girls threw themselves in Miss Keene's arms, and then suddenly drew back
with a movement of bashful and diffident respect.

"Do, pray, ask them, for I daren't," whispered Mrs. Brimmer, trying
to clasp a mantilla around her, "how this thing is worn, and if they
haven't got something like a decent bonnet to lend me for a day or two?"

"The Senora has not then heard that her goods, and all the goods of
the Senores and Senoras, have been discovered safely put ashore at the
Embarcadero?"

"No?" said Mrs. Brimmer eagerly.

"Ah, yes!" responded Dona Isabel. "Since the Senora is not of the
revolutionary party."

Mrs. Brimmer cast a supplicatory look at Miss Keene, and hastily quitted
the room. Miss Keene would have as quickly followed her, but the young
Ramirez girls threw themselves again tragically upon her breast, and,
with a mysterious gesture of silence, whispered,--

"Fear nothing, Excellencia! We are yours--we will die for you, no matter
what Don Ramon, or the Comandante, or the Ayuntamiento, shall decide.
Trust us, little one!--pardon--Excellencia, we mean."

"What IS the matter?" said Miss Keene, now thoroughly alarmed, and
releasing herself from the twining arms about her. "For Heaven's sake
let me go! I must see somebody! Where is--where is Mrs. Markham?"

"The Markham? Is it the severe one?--as thus,"--said Dona Isabel,
striking an attitude of infantine portentousness.

"Yes," said Miss Keene, smiling in spite of her alarm.

"She is arrested."

"Arrested!" said Eleanor Keene, her cheeks aflame with indignation. "For
what? Who dare do this thing?"

"The Comandante. She has a missive--a despatch from the
insurrectionaries."

Without another word, and feeling that she could stand the suspense no
longer, Miss Keene forced her way past the young girls, unheeding their
cries of consternation and apology, and quickly reached the patio.
A single glance showed her that Mrs. Brimmer was gone. With eyes and
cheeks still burning, she swept past the astounded peons, through the
gateway, into the open plaza. Only one idea filled her mind--to see the
Commander, and demand the release of her friend. How she should do it,
with what arguments she should enforce her demand, never occurred to
her. She did not even think of asking the assistance of Mr. Brace, Mr.
Crosby, or any of her fellow-passengers. The consciousness of some vague
crisis that she alone could meet possessed her completely.

The plaza was swarming with a strange rabble of peons and soldiery; of
dark, lowering faces, odd-looking weapons and costumes, mules, mustangs,
and cattle--a heterogeneous mass, swayed by some fierce excitement. That
she saw none of the Excelsior party among them did not surprise her;
an instinct of some catastrophe more serious than Mrs. Brimmer's vague
imaginings frightened but exalted her. With head erect, leveled brows,
and bright, determined eyes she walked deliberately into the square.
The crowd parted and gave way before this beautiful girl, with her bared
head and its invincible crest of chestnut curls. Presently they began
to follow her, with a compressed murmur of admiration, until, before
she was halfway across the plaza, the sentries beside the gateway of the
Presidio were astonished at the vision of a fair-haired and triumphant
Pallas, who appeared to be leading the entire population of Todos Santos
to victorious attack. In vain a solitary bugle blew, in vain the rolling
drum beat an alarm, the sympathetic guard only presented arms as Miss
Keene, flushed and excited, her eyes darkly humid with gratified pride,
swept past them into the actual presence of the bewildered and indignant
Comandante.

The only feminine consciousness she retained was that she was more
relieved at her deliverance from the wild cattle and unbroken horses of
her progress than from the Indians and soldiers.

"I want to see Mrs. Markham, and to know by what authority she is
arrested," said Miss Keene boldly.

"The Senor Comandante can hold no conference with you until you disperse
your party," interpreted the secretary.

She was about to hurriedly reply that she knew nothing of the crowd that
had accompanied her; but she was withheld by a newly-born instinct of
tact.

"How do I know that I shall not be arrested, like my friend?" she said
quickly. "She is as innocent as myself."

"The Comandante pledges himself, as a hidalgo, that you shall not be
harmed."

Her first impulse was to advance to the nearest intruders at the gate
and say, "Do go away, please;" but she was doubtful of its efficiency,
and was already too exalted by the situation to be satisfied with its
prosaic weakness. But her newly developed diplomacy again came to her
aid. "You may tell them so, if you choose, I cannot answer for them,"
she said, with apparent dark significance.

The secretary advanced on the corridor and exchanged a few words with
her more impulsive followers. Miss Keene, goddess-like and beautiful,
remained erect behind him, and sent them a dazzling smile and ravishing
wave of her little hand. The crowd roared with an effusive and bovine
delight that half frightened her, and with a dozen "Viva la Reyna
Americanas!" she was hurried by the Comandante into the guard-room.

"You ask to know of what the Senora Markham is accused," said the
Commander, more gently. "She has received correspondence from the
pirate--Perkins!"

"The pirate--Perkins?" said Miss Keene, with indignant incredulity.

"The buccaneer who wrote that letter. Read it to her, Manuel."

The secretary took his eyes from the young girl's glowing face, coughed
slightly, and then read as follows:--


"ON BOARD THE EXCELSIOR, of the Quinquinambo Independent States Navy,
August 8, 1854.

"To Captain Bunker.--Sir," . . .

"But this is not addressed to YOU!" interrupted Miss Keene indignantly.

"The Captain Bunker is a raving madman," said the Commander gravely.
"Read on!"

The color gradually faded from the young girl's cheek as the secretary
continued, in a monotonous voice:--

"I have the honor to inform you that the barque Excelsior was, on the
8th of July, 1854, and the first year of the Quinquinambo Independence,
formally condemned by the Federal Council of Quinquinambo, for having
aided and assisted the enemy with munitions of war and supplies, against
the law of nations, and the tacit and implied good-will between the
Republic of the United States and the struggling Confederacies of South
America; and that, in pursuance thereof, and under the law of reprisals
and letters of marque, was taken possession of by me yesterday. The
goods and personal effects belonging to the passengers and yourself
have been safely landed at the Embarcadero of Todos Santos--a neutral
port--by my directions; my interpretation of the orders of the Federal
Council excepting innocent non-combatants and their official protector
from confiscation or amercement.

"I take the liberty of requesting you to hand the inclosed order on the
Treasury of the Quinquinambo Confederate States to Don Miguel Briones,
in payment of certain stores and provisions, and of a piece of
ordnance known as the saluting cannon of the Presidio of Todos Santos.
Vigilancia!

"Your obedient servant,

"LEONIDAS BOLIVAR PERKINS,

"Generalissimo Commanding Land and Sea Forces, Quinquinambo Independent
States."


In her consternation at this fuller realization of the vague
catastrophe, Miss Keene still clung to the idea that had brought her
there.

"But Mrs. Markham has nothing to do with all this?"

"Then why does she refuse to give up her secret correspondence with the
pirate Perkins?" returned the secretary.

Miss Keene hesitated. Had Mrs. Markham any previous knowledge of the
Senor's real character?

"Why don't you arrest the men?" she said scornfully. "There is Mr.
Banks, Mr. Crosby, Mr. Winslow, and Mr. Brace." She uttered the last
name more contemptuously, as she thought of that young gentleman's
protestations and her present unprotected isolation.

"They are already arrested and removed to San Antonio, a league hence,"
returned the secretary. "It is fact enough that they have confessed that
their Government has seized the Mexican province of California, and that
they were on their way to take possession of it."

Miss Keene's heart sank.

"But you knew all this yesterday," she faltered; "and our war with
Mexico is all over years ago."

"We did not know it last night at the banquet, Senora; nor would we have
known it but for this treason and division in your own party."

A sudden light flashed upon Miss Keene's mind. She now comprehended the
advances of Dona Isabel. Extravagant and monstrous as it seemed, these
people evidently believed that a revolution had taken place in the
United States; that the two opposing parties had been represented by the
passengers of the Excelsior; and that one party had succeeded, headed by
the indomitable Perkins. If she could be able to convince them of
their blunder, would it be wise to do so? She thought of Mrs. Brimmer's
supplication to be ranged "on her side," and realized with feminine
quickness that the situation might be turned to her countrymen's
advantage. But which side had Todos Santos favored? It was left to her
woman's wit to discover this, and conceive a plan to rescue her helpless
companions.

Her suspense was quickly relieved. The Commander and his secretary
exchanged a few words.

"The Comandante will grant Dona Leonora's request," said the secretary,
"if she will answer a question."

"What is it?" responded Miss Keene, with inward trepidation.

"The Senora Markham is perhaps beloved by the Pirate Perkins?"

In spite of her danger, in spite of the uncertain fate hanging over
her party, Miss Keene could with difficulty repress a half hysterical
inclination to laugh. Even then, it escaped in a sudden twinkle of her
eye, which both the Commander and his subordinate were quick to notice,
as she replied demurely, "Perhaps."

It was enough for the Commander. A gleam of antique archness and
venerable raillery lit up his murky, tobacco-colored pupils; a spasm of
gallantry crossed the face of the secretary.

"Ah--what would you?--it is the way of the world," said the Commander.
"We comprehend. Come!"

He led the way across the corridor, and suddenly opened a small
barred door. Whatever preconceived idea Miss Keene may have had of her
unfortunate country-woman immured in a noisome cell, and guarded by
a stern jailer, was quite dissipated by the soft misty sunshine that
flowed in through the open door. The prison of Mrs. Markham was a part
of the old glacis which had been allowed to lapse into a wild garden
that stretched to the edge of the sea. There was a summer-house built
on--and partly from--a crumbling bastion, and here, under the shade of
tropical creepers, the melancholy captive was comfortably writing,
with her portable desk on her knee, and a traveling-bag at her feet.
A Saratoga trunk of obtrusive proportions stood in the centre of the
peaceful vegetation, like a newly raised altar to an unknown deity. The
only suggestion of martial surveillance was an Indian soldier, whose
musket, reposing on the ground near Mrs. Markham, he had exchanged for
the rude mattock with which he was quietly digging.

The two women, with a cry of relief, flew into each other's arms. The
Commander and his secretary discreetly retired to an angle of the wall.

"I find everything as I left it, my dear, even to my slipper-bag," said
Mrs. Markham. "They've forgotten nothing."

"But you are a captive!" said Eleanor. "What does it mean?"

"Nothing, my dear. I gave them a piece of my mind," said Mrs. Markham,
looking, however, as if that mental offering had by no means exhausted
her capital, "and I have written six pages to the Governor at Mazatlan,
and a full account to Mr. Markham."

"And they won't get them in thirty years!" said Miss Keene impetuously.
"But where is this letter from Senor Perkins. And, for Heaven's sake,
tell me if you had the least suspicion before of anything that has
happened."

"Not in the least. The man is mad, my dear, and I really believe driven
so by that absurd Illinois woman's poetry. Did you ever see anything
so ridiculous--and shameful, too--as the 'Ulricardo' business? I don't
wonder he colored so."

Miss Keene winced with annoyance. Was everybody going crazy, or was
there anything more in this catastrophe that had only enfeebled the
minds of her countrywomen! For here was the severe, strong-minded Mrs.
Markham actually preoccupied, like Mrs. Brimmer, with utterly irrelevant
particulars, and apparently powerless to grasp the fact that they were
abandoned on a half hostile strand, and cut off by half a century from
the rest of the world.

"As to the letter," said Mrs. Markham, quietly, "there it is. There's
nothing in it that might not have been written by a friend."

Miss Keene took the letter. It was written in a delicate, almost
feminine hand. She could not help noticing that in one or two instances
corrections had been made and blots carefully removed with an eraser.


"Midnight, on the Excelsior.

"MY FRIEND: When you receive this I shall probably be once more on the
bosom of that mysterious and mighty element whose majesty has impressed
us, whose poetry we have loved, and whose moral lessons, I trust, have
not been entirely thrown away upon us. I go to the deliverance of one of
those oppressed nations whose history I have often recited to you,
and in whose destiny you have from time to time expressed a womanly
sympathy. While it is probable, therefore, that my MOTIVES may not be
misunderstood by you, or even other dear friends of the Excelsior, it is
by no means impossible that the celerity and unexpectedness of my ACTION
may not be perfectly appreciated by the careless mind, and may seem
to require some explanation. Let me then briefly say that the idea of
debarking your goods and chattels, and parting from your delightful
company at Todos Santos, only occurred to me on our unexpected--shall I
say PROVIDENTIAL?--arrival at that spot; and the necessity of expedition
forbade me either inviting your cooperation or soliciting your
confidence. Human intelligence is variously constituted--or, to use a
more homely phrase, 'many men have many minds'--and it is not impossible
that a premature disclosure of my plans might have jeopardized that
harmony which you know it has been my desire to promote. It was my
original intention to have landed you at Mazatlan, a place really
inferior in climate and natural attractions to Todo Santos, although,
perhaps, more easy of access and egress; but the presence of an American
steamer in the offing would have invested my enterprise with a certain
publicity foreign, I think, to all our tastes. Taking advantage,
therefore, of my knowledge of the peninsular coast, and the pardonable
ignorance of Captain Bunker, I endeavored, through my faithful
subordinates, to reach a less known port, and a coast rarely
frequented by reason of its prevailing fog. Here occurred one of those
dispensations of an overruling power which, dear friend, we have so
often discussed. We fell in with an unknown current, and were guided by
a mysterious hand into the bay of Todos Santos!

"You know of my belief in the infinite wisdom and benignity of events;
you have, dear friend, with certain feminine limitations, shared it with
me. Could there have been a more perfect illustration of it than the
power that led us here? On a shore, historic in interest, beautiful
in climate, hospitable in its people, utterly freed from external
influences, and absolutely without a compromising future, you are
landed, my dear friend, with your youthful companions. From the
crumbling ruins of a decaying Past you are called to construct an
Arcadia of your own; the rudiments of a new civilization are within your
grasp; the cost of existence is comparatively trifling; the various
sums you have with you, which even in the chaos of revolution I have
succeeded in keeping intact, will more than suffice to your natural
wants for years to come. Were I not already devoted to the task of
freeing Quinquinambo, I should willingly share this Elysium with you
all. But, to use the glowing words of Mrs. M'Corkle, slightly altering
the refrain--

'Ah, stay me not! With flying feet
O'er desert sands, I rush to greet
My fate, my love, my life, my sweet
Quinquinambo!'

"I venture to intrust to your care two unpublished manuscripts of that
gifted woman. The dangers that may environ my present mission, the
vicissitudes of battle by sea or land, forbid my imperiling their
natural descent to posterity. You, my dear friend, will preserve them
for the ages to come, occasionally refreshing yourself, from time to
time, from that Parnassian spring.

"Adieu! my friend. I look around the familiar cabin, and miss your
gentle faces. I feel as Jason might have felt, alone on the deck of the
Argo when his companions were ashore, except that I know of no Circean
influences to mar their destiny. In examining the state-rooms to see if
my orders for the complete restoration of passengers' property had been
carried out, I allowed myself to look into yours. Lying alone, forgotten
and overlooked, I saw a peculiar jet hair-pin which I think I have
observed in the coils of your tresses. May I venture to keep this gentle
instrument as a reminder of the superior intellect it has so often
crowned? Adieu, my friend.

"Ever yours, LEONIDAS BOLIVAR PERKINS."


"Well?" said Mrs. Markham impatiently, as Miss Keene remained motionless
with the letter in her hand.

"It seems like a ridiculous nightmare! I can't understand it at all. The
man that wrote this letter may be mad--but he is neither a pirate nor a
thief--and yet"--

"He a pirate?" echoed Mrs. Markham indignantly; "He's nothing of the
kind! It's not even his FAULT!"

"Not his fault?" repeated Miss Keene; "are you mad, too?"

"No--nor a fool, my dear! Don't you see? It's all the fault of Banks and
Brimmer for compromising the vessel: of that stupid, drunken captain for
permitting it. Senor Perkins is a liberator, a patriot, who has periled
himself and his country to treat us magnanimously. Don't you see it?
It's like that Banks and that Mrs. Brimmer to call HIM a pirate! I've a
good mind to give the Commander my opinion of THEM."

"Hush!" said Miss Keene, with a sudden recollection of the Commander's
suspicions, "for Heaven's sake; you do not know what you are saying.
Look! they were talking with that strange man, and now they are coming
this way."

The Commander and his secretary approached them. They were both more
than usually grave; but the look of inquiry and suspicion with which
they regarded the two women was gone from their eyes.

"The Senor Comandante says you are free, Senoras, and begs you will only
decide whether you will remain his guests or the guests of the Alcalde.
But for the present he cannot allow you any communication with the
prisoners of San Antonio."

"There is further news?" said Miss Keene faintly, with a presentiment of
worse complications.

"There is! A body from the Excelsior has been washed on shore."

The two women turned pale.

"In the pocket of the murdered man is an accusation against one Senor
Hurlstone, who was concealed on the ship; who came not ashore openly
with the other passengers, but who escaped in secret, and is now hiding
somewhere in Todos Santos."

"And you suspect him of this infamous act?" said Eleanor, forgetting
all prudence in her indignation. "You are deceiving yourself. He is as
innocent as I am!"

The Commander and the secretary smiled sapiently, but gently.

"The Senor Comandante believes you, Dona Leonora: the Senor Hurlstone
is innocent of the piracy. He is, of a surety, the leader of the
Opposition."





Next: In Sanctuary

Previous: Hail And Farewell



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