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The Mourners At San Francisco








From: The Crusade Of The Excelsior

The telegraph operator at the Golden Gate of San Francisco had long
since given up hope of the Excelsior. During the months of September
and October, 1854, stimulated by the promised reward, and often by
the actual presence of her owners, he had shown zeal and hope in his
scrutiny of the incoming ships. The gaunt arms of the semaphore at
Fort Point, turned against the sunset sky, had regularly recorded the
smallest vessel of the white-winged fleet which sought the portal of the
bay during that eventful year of immigration; but the Excelsior was not
amongst them. At the close of the year 1854 she was a tradition; by the
end of January, 1855, she was forgotten. Had she been engulfed in her
own element she could not have been more completely swallowed up than in
the changes of that shore she never reached. Whatever interest or hope
was still kept alive in solitary breasts the world never knew. By the
significant irony of Fate, even the old-time semaphore that should have
signaled her was abandoned and forgotten.

The mention of her name--albeit in a quiet, unconcerned voice--in the
dress-circle of a San Francisco theatre, during the performance of a
popular female star, was therefore so peculiar that it could only have
come from the lips of some one personally interested in the lost vessel.
Yet the speaker was a youngish, feminine-looking man of about thirty,
notable for his beardlessness, in the crowded circle of bearded and
moustachioed Californians, and had been one of the most absorbed of
the enthusiastic audience. A weak smile of vacillating satisfaction
and uneasiness played on his face during the plaudits of his
fellow-admirers, as if he were alternately gratified and annoyed. It
might have passed for a discriminating and truthful criticism of the
performance, which was a classical burlesque, wherein the star displayed
an unconventional frankness of shapely limbs and unrestrained gestures
and glances; but he applauded the more dubious parts equally with the
audience. He was evidently familiar with the performance, for a look of
eager expectation greeted most of the "business." Either he had not come
for the entire evening, or he did not wish to appear as if he had, as he
sat on one of the back benches near the passage, and frequently changed
his place. He was well, even foppishly, dressed for the period, and
appeared to be familiarly known to the loungers in the passage as a man
of some social popularity.

He had just been recognized by a man of apparently equal importance and
distinction, who had quietly and unconsciously taken a seat by his
side, and the recognition appeared equally unexpected and awkward.
The new-comer was the older and more decorous-looking, with an added
formality of manner and self-assertion that did not, however, conceal
a certain habitual shrewdness of eye and lip. He wore a full beard,
but the absence of a moustache left the upper half of his handsome and
rather satirical mouth uncovered. His dress was less pronounced than his
companion's, but of a type of older and more established gentility.

"I was a little late coming from the office to-night," said the younger
man, with an embarrassed laugh, "and I thought I'd drop in here on my
way home. Pretty rough outside, ain't it?"

"Yes, it's raining and blowing; so I thought I wouldn't go up to the
plaza for a cab, but wait here for the first one that dropped a fare at
the door, and take it on to the hotel."

"Hold on, and I'll go with you," said the young man carelessly. "I say,
Brimmer," he added, after a pause, with a sudden assumption of larger
gayety, "there's nothing mean about Belle Montgomery, eh? She's a
whole team and the little dog under the wagon, ain't she? Deuced pretty
woman!--no make-up there, eh?"

"She certainly is a fine woman," said Brimmer gravely, borrowing his
companion's lorgnette. "By the way, Markham, do you usually keep an
opera-glass in your office in case of an emergency like this?"

"I reckon it was forgotten in my overcoat pocket," said Markham, with an
embarrassed smile.

"Left over from the last time," said Brimmer, rising from his seat.
"Well, I'm going now--I suppose I'll have to try the plaza."

"Hold on a moment. She's coming on now--there she is!" He stopped, his
anxious eyes fixed upon the stage. Brimmer turned at the same moment in
no less interested absorption. A quick hush ran through the theatre;
the men bent eagerly forward as the Queen of Olympus swept down to the
footlights, and, with a ravishing smile, seemed to envelop the whole
theatre in a gracious caress.

"You know, 'pon my word, Brimmer, she's a very superior woman," gasped
Markham excitedly, when the goddess had temporarily withdrawn. "These
fellows here," he said, indicating the audience contemptuously, "don't
know her,--think she's all that sort of thing, you know,--and come here
just to LOOK at her. But she's very accomplished--in fact, a kind of
literary woman. Writes devilish good poetry--only took up the stage
on account of domestic trouble: drunken husband that beat her--regular
affecting story, you know. These sap-headed fools don't, of course,
know THAT. No, sir; she's a remarkable woman! I say, Brimmer, look here!
I"--he hesitated, and then went on more boldly, as if he had formed a
sudden resolution. "What have you got to do to-night?"

Brimmer, who had been lost in abstraction, started slightly, and said,--

"I--oh! I've got an appointment with Keene. You know he's off by the
steamer--day after to-morrow?"

"What! He's not going off on that wild-goose chase, after all? Why, the
man's got Excelsior on the brain!" He stopped as he looked at Brimmer's
cold face, and suddenly colored. "I mean his plan--his idea's all
nonsense--you know that!"

"I certainly don't agree with him," began Brimmer gravely; "but"--

"The idea," interrupted Markham, encouraged by Brimmer's beginning, "of
his knocking around the Gulf of California, and getting up an expedition
to go inland, just because a mail-steamer saw a barque like the
Excelsior off Mazatlan last August. As if the Excelsior wouldn't have
gone into Mazatlan if it had been her! I tell you what it is, Brimmer:
it's mighty rough on you and me, and it ain't the square thing at
all--after all we've done, and the money we've spent, and the nights
we've sat up over the Excelsior--to have this young fellow Keene always
putting up the bluff of his lost sister on us! His lost sister, indeed!
as if WE hadn't any feelings."

The two men looked at each other, and each felt it incumbent to look
down and sigh deeply--not hypocritically, but perfunctorily, as over
a past grief, although anger had been the dominant expression of the
speaker.

"I was about to remark," said Brimmer practically, "that the insurance
on the Excelsior having been paid, her loss is a matter of commercial
record; and that, in a business point of view, this plan of Keene's
ain't worth looking at. As a private matter of our own feelings--purely
domestic--there's no question but that we must sympathize with him,
although he refuses to let us join in the expenses."

"Oh, as to that," said Markham hurriedly, "I told him to draw on me for
a thousand dollars last time I saw him. No, sir; it ain't that. What
gets me is this darned nagging and simpering around, and opening old
sores, and putting on sentimental style, and doing the bereaved
business generally. I reckon he'd be even horrified to see you and me
here--though it was just a chance with both of us."

"I think not," said Brimmer dryly. "He knows Miss Montgomery already.
They're going by the same steamer."

Markham looked up quickly.

"Impossible! She's going by the other line to Panama; that is"--he
hesitated--"I heard it from the agent."

"She's changed her mind, so Keene says," returned Brimmer. "She's going
by way of Nicaragua. He stops at San Juan to reconnoitre the coast up to
Mazatlan. Good-night. It's no use waiting here for a cab any longer, I'm
off."

"Hold on!" said Markham, struggling out of a sudden uneasy reflection.
"I say, Brimmer," he resumed, with an enforced smile, which he tried to
make playful, "your engagement with Keene won't keep you long. What do
you say to having a little supper with Miss Montgomery, eh?--perfectly
proper, you know--at our hotel? Just a few friends, eh?"

Brimmer's eyes and lips slightly contracted.

"I believe I am already invited," he said quietly. "Keene asked me. In
fact, that's the appointment. Strange he didn't speak of you," he added
dryly.

"I suppose it's some later arrangement," Markham replied, with feigned
carelessness. "Do you know her?"

"Slightly."

"You didn't say so!"

"You didn't ask me," said Brimmer. "She came to consult me about South
American affairs. It seems that filibuster General Leonidas, alias
Perkins, whose little game we stopped by that Peruvian contract,
actually landed in Quinquinambo and established a government. It seems
she knows him, has a great admiration for him as a Liberator, as she
calls him. I think they correspond!"

"She's a wonderful woman, by jingo, Brimmer! I'd like to hear whom she
don't know," said Markham, beaming with a patronizing vanity. "There's
you, and there's that filibuster, and old Governor Pico, that she's just
snatched bald-headed--I mean, you know, that he recognizes her worth,
don't you see? Not like this cattle you see here."

"Are you coming with me?" said Brimmer, gravely buttoning up his coat,
as if encasing himself in a panoply of impervious respectability.

"I'll join you at the hotel," said Markham hurriedly. "There's a man
over there in the parquet that I want to say a word to; don't wait for
me."

With a slight inclination of the head Mr. Brimmer passed out into
the lobby, erect, self-possessed, and impeccable. One or two of his
commercial colleagues of maturer age, who were loitering leisurely by
the wall, unwilling to compromise themselves by actually sitting down,
took heart of grace at this correct apparition. Brimmer nodded to them
coolly, as if on 'Change, and made his way out of the theatre. He had
scarcely taken a few steps before a furious onset of wind and rain drove
him into a doorway for shelter. At the same moment a slouching figure,
with a turned-up coat-collar, slipped past him and disappeared in a
passage at his right. Partly hidden by his lowered umbrella, Mr. Brimmer
himself escaped notice, but he instantly recognized his late companion,
Markham. As he resumed his way up the street he glanced into the
passage. Halfway down, a light flashed upon the legend "Stage Entrance."
Quincy Brimmer, with a faint smile, passed on to his hotel.

It was striking half-past eleven when Mr. Brimmer again issued from his
room in the Oriental and passed down a long corridor. Pausing a moment
before a side hall that opened from it, he cast a rapid look up and down
the corridor, and then knocked hastily at a door. It was opened sharply
by a lady's maid, who fell back respectfully before Mr. Brimmer's
all-correct presence.

Half reclining on a sofa in the parlor of an elaborate suite of
apartments was the woman whom Mr. Brimmer had a few hours before beheld
on the stage of the theatre. Lifting her eyes languidly from a book that
lay ostentatiously on her lap, she beckoned her visitor to approach.
She was a woman still young, whose statuesque beauty had but slightly
suffered from cosmetics, late hours, and the habitual indulgence of
certain hysterical emotions that were not only inconsistent with the
classical suggestions of her figure, but had left traces not unlike the
grosser excitement of alcoholic stimulation. She looked like a tinted
statue whose slight mutations through stress of time and weather had
been unwisely repaired by freshness of color.

"I am such a creature of nerves," she said, raising a superb neck and
extending a goddess-like arm, "that I am always perfectly exhausted
after the performance. I fly, as you see, to my first love--poetry--as
soon as Rosina has changed my dress. It is not generally known--but
I don't mind telling YOU--that I often nerve myself for the effort of
acting by reading some well-remembered passage from my favorite poets,
as I stand by the wings. I quaff, as one might say, a single draught of
the Pierian spring before I go on."

The exact relations between the humorous "walk round," in which Miss
Montgomery usually made her first entrance, and the volume of Byron she
held in her hand, did not trouble Mr. Brimmer so much as the beautiful
arm with which she emphasized it. Neither did it strike him that the
distinguishing indications of a poetic exaltation were at all unlike the
effects of a grosser stimulant known as "Champagne cocktail" on the less
sensitive organization of her colleagues. Touched by her melancholy but
fascinating smile, he said gallantly that he had observed no sign of
exhaustion, or want of power in her performance that evening.

"Then you were there!" she said, fixing her eyes upon him with an
expression of mournful gratitude. "You actually left your business and
the calls of public duty to see the poor mountebank perform her nightly
task."

"I was there with a friend of yours," answered Brimmer soberly, "who
actually asked me to the supper to which Mr. Keene had already invited
me, and which YOU had been kind enough to suggest to me a week ago."

"True, I had forgotten," said Miss Montgomery, with a large goddess-like
indifference that was more effective with the man before her than the
most elaborate explanation. "You don't mind them--do you?--for we are
all friends together. My position, you know," she added sadly, "prevents
my always following my own inclinations or preferences. Poor Markham, I
fear the world does not do justice to his gentle, impressible nature.
I sympathize with him deeply; we have both had our afflictions, we have
both--lost. Good heavens!" she exclaimed, with a sudden exaggerated
start of horror, "what have I done? Forgive my want of tact, dear
friend; I had forgotten, wretched being that I am, that YOU, too"--

She caught his hand in both hers, and bowed her head over it as if
unable to finish her sentence.

Brimmer, who had been utterly mystified and amazed at this picture of
Markham's disconsolate attitude to the world, and particularly to the
woman before him, was completely finished by this later tribute to his
own affliction. His usually composed features, however, easily took upon
themselves a graver cast as he kept, and pressed, the warm hands in his
own.

"Fool that I was," continued Miss Montgomery; "in thinking of poor
Markham's childlike, open grief, I forgot the deeper sorrow that the
more manly heart experiences under an exterior that seems cold and
impassible. Yes," she said, raising her languid eyes to Brimmer, "I
ought to have felt the throb of that volcano under its mask of snow. You
have taught me a lesson."

Withdrawing her hands hastily, as if the volcano had shown some signs of
activity, she leaned back on the sofa again.

"You are not yet reconciled to Mr. Keene's expedition, then?" she asked
languidly.

"I believe that everything has been already done," said Brimmer,
somewhat stiffly; "all sources of sensible inquiry have been exhausted
by me. But I envy Keene the eminently practical advantages his
impractical journey gives him," he added, arresting himself, gallantly;
"he goes with you."

"Truly!" said Miss Montgomery, with the melancholy abstraction of
a stage soliloquy. "Beyond obeying the dictates of his brotherly
affection, he gains no real advantage in learning whether his sister is
alive or dead. The surety of her death would not make him freer than he
is now--freer to absolutely follow the dictates of a new affection; free
to make his own life again. It is a sister, not a wife, he seeks."

Mr. Brimmer's forehead slightly contracted. He leaned back a little more
rigidly in his chair, and fixed a critical, half supercilious look upon
her. She did not seem to notice his almost impertinent scrutiny, but sat
silent, with her eyes bent on the carpet, in gloomy abstraction.

"Can you keep a secret?" she said, as if with a sudden resolution.

"Yes," said Brimmer briefly, without changing his look.

"You know I am a married woman. You have heard the story of my wrongs?"

"I have heard them," said Brimmer dryly.

"Well, the husband who abused and deserted me was, I have reason to
believe, a passenger on the Excelsior."

"M'Corkle!--impossible. There was no such name on the passenger list."

"M'Corkle!" repeated Miss Montgomery, with a dissonant tone in her voice
and a slight flash in her eyes. "What are you thinking of? There never
was a Mr. M'Corkle; it was one of my noms de plume. And where did YOU
hear it?"

"I beg your pardon, I must have got it from the press notices of your
book of poetry. I knew that Montgomery was only a stage name, and as
it was necessary that I should have another in making the business
investments you were good enough to charge me with, I used what
I thought was your real name. It can be changed, or you can sign
M'Corkle."

"Let it go," said Miss Montgomery, resuming her former manner. "What
matters? I wish there was no such thing as business. Well," she resumed,
after a pause, "my husband's name is Hurlstone."

"But there was no Hurlstone on the passenger list either," said Brimmer.
"I knew them all, and their friends."

"Not in the list from the States; but if he came on board at Callao, you
wouldn't have known it. I knew that he arrived there on the Osprey a few
days before the Excelsior sailed."

Mr. Brimmer's eyes changed their expression.

"And you want to find him?"

"No," she said, with an actress's gesture. "I want to know the truth. I
want to know if I am still tied to this man, or if I am free to
follow the dictates of my own conscience,--to make my life anew,--to
become--you see I am not ashamed to say it--to become the honest wife of
some honest man."

"A divorce would suit your purpose equally," said Brimmer coldly. "It
can be easily obtained."

"A divorce! Do you know what that means to a woman in my profession? It
is a badge of shame,--a certificate of disgrace,--an advertisement to
every miserable wretch who follows me with his advances that I have no
longer the sanctity of girlhood, nor the protection of a wife."

There was tragic emotion in her voice, there were tears in her eyes. Mr.
Brimmer, gazing at her with what he firmly thought to be absolute and
incisive penetration, did not believe either. But like most practical
analysts of the half-motived sex, he was only half right. The emotion
and the tears were as real as anything else in the woman under
criticism, notwithstanding that they were not as real as they would have
been in the man who criticised. He, however, did her full justice on
a point where most men and all women misjudged her: he believed that,
through instinct and calculation, she had been materially faithful
to her husband; that this large goddess-like physique had all the
impeccability of a goddess; that the hysterical dissipation in which
she indulged herself was purely mental, and usurped and preoccupied all
other emotions. In this public exposition of her beauty there was no
sense of shame, for there was no sense of the passion it evoked. And
he was right. But there he should have stopped. Unfortunately, his
masculine logic forced him to supply a reason for her coldness in the
existence of some more absorbing passion. He believed her ambitious and
calculating: she was neither. He believed she might have made him an
admirable copartner and practical helpmeet: he was wrong.

"You know my secret now," she continued. "You know why I am anxious to
know my fate. You understand now why I sympathize with"--she stopped,
and made a half contemptuous gesture--"with these men Markham and
Keene. THEY do not know it; perhaps they prefer to listen to their own
vanity--that's the way of most men; but you do know it, and you have no
excuse for misjudging me, or undeceiving them." She stopped and looked
at the clock. "They will be here in five minutes; do you wish them to
find you already here?"

"It is as YOU wish," stammered Brimmer, completely losing his
self-possession.

"I have no wish," she said, with a sublime gesture of indifference. "If
you wait you can entertain them here, while Rosina is dressing me in the
next room. We sup in the larger room across the hall."

As she disappeared, Quincy Brimmer rose irresolutely from his seat and
checked a half uttered exclamation. Then he turned nervously to the
parlor-door. What a senseless idiot he had become! He had never for an
instant conceived the idea of making this preliminary confidential visit
known to the others; he had no wish to suggest the appearance of an
assignation with the woman, who, rightly or wrongly, was notorious;
he had nothing to gain by this voluntary assumption of a compromising
attitude; yet here he was, he--Mr. Brimmer--with the appearance of being
installed in her parlor, receiving her visitors, and dispensing her
courtesies. Only a man recklessly in love would be guilty of such
an indiscretion--even Markham's feebleness had never reached this
absurdity. In the midst of his uneasiness there was a knock at the door;
he opened it himself nervously and sharply. Markham's self-satisfied
face drew back in alarm and embarrassment at the unexpected apparition.
The sight restored Brimmer's coolness and satirical self-possession.

"I--I--didn't know you were here," stammered Markham. "I left Keene in
your room."

"Then why didn't you bring him along with you?" said Brimmer
maliciously. "Go and fetch him."

"Yes; but he said you were to meet him there," continued Markham,
glancing around the empty room with a slight expression of relief.

"My watch was twenty minutes fast, and I had given him up," said
Brimmer, with mendacious effrontery. "Miss Montgomery is dressing. You
can bring him here before she returns."

Markham flew uneasily down the corridor and quickly returned with a
handsome young fellow of five-and-twenty, whose frank face was beaming
with excitement and youthful energy. The two elder men could not help
regarding him with a mingled feeling of envy and compassion.

"Did you tell Brimmer yet?" said Keene, with animation.

"I haven't had time," hesitated Markham. "The fact is, Brimmer, I think
of going with Keene on this expedition."

"Indeed!" said Brimmer superciliously.

"Yes," said Markham, coloring slightly. "You see, we've got news. Tell
him, Dick."

"The Storm Cloud got in yesterday from Valparaiso and Central American
ports," said Keene, with glowing cheeks. "I boarded her, as usual, last
night, for information. The mate says there is a story of a man picked
up crazy, in an open fishing-boat, somewhere off the peninsula, and
brought into hospital at San Juan last August. He recovered enough
lately to tell his story and claim to be Captain Bunker of the
Excelsior, whose crew mutinied and ran her ashore in a fog. But the
boat in which he was picked up was a Mexican fishing-boat, and there
was something revolutionary and political about the story, so that
the authorities detained him. The consul has just been informed of the
circumstances, and has taken the matter in hand."

"It's a queer story," said Brimmer, gazing from the one to the other,
"and I will look into it also to-morrow. If it is true," he added
slowly, "I will go with you."

Richard Keene extended his hand impulsively to his two elders.

"You'll excuse me for saying it, Brimmer--and you, too, Markham--but
this is just what I've been looking forward to. Not but what I'd have
found Nell without your assistance; but you see, boys, it DID look
mighty mean in me to make more fuss about a sister than you would for
your wives! But now that it's all settled"--

"We'll go to supper," said Miss Montgomery theatrically, appearing at
the door. "Dick will give me his arm."





Next: The Mourners At Todos Santos

Previous: The Captain Follows His Ship



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