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The Mourners At Todos Santos








From: The Crusade Of The Excelsior

There was a breath of spring in the soft morning air of Todos Santos--a
breath so subtle and odorous that it penetrated the veil of fog beyond
the bay, and for a moment lingered on the deck of a passing steamer like
an arresting memory. But only for an instant; the Ometepe, bound from
San Francisco to San Juan del Norte, with its four seekers of the
Excelsior, rolled and plunged on its way unconsciously.

Within the bay and over the restful pueblo still dwelt the golden haze
of its perpetual summer; the two towers of the old Mission church seemed
to dissolve softly into the mellow upper twilight, and the undulating
valleys rolled their green waves up to the wooded heights of San
Antonio, that still smiled down upon the arid, pallid desert. But
although Nature had not changed in the months that had passed since the
advent of the Excelsior, there appeared some strange mutations in
the town and its inhabitants. On the beach below the Presidio was the
unfinished skeleton of a small sea-going vessel on rude stocks; on the
plaza rose the framed walls and roofless rafters of a wooden building;
near the Embarcadero was the tall adobe chimney of some inchoate
manufactory whose walls had half risen from their foundations; but all
of these objects had evidently succumbed to the drowsy influence of
the climate, and already had taken the appearances of later and less
picturesque ruins of the past. There were singular innovations in the
costumes: one or two umbrellas, used as sunshades, were seen upon
the square; a few small chip hats had taken the place of the stiff
sombreros, with an occasional tall white beaver; while linen coat and
nankeen trousers had, at times, usurped the short velvet jacket and
loose calzas of the national costume.

At San Antonio the change was still more perceptible. Beside the yawning
pit of the abandoned silver mine a straggling building arose, filled
with rude machinery, bearing the legend, painted in glowing letters,
"Excelsior Silver Mining Co., J. Crosby, Superintendent;" and in the
midst of certain excavations assailing the integrity of the cliff itself
was another small building, scarcely larger than a sentry-box, with the
inscription, "Office: Eleanor Quicksilver Smelting Works."

Basking in that yellow morning sunlight, with his back against his
office, Mr. Brace was seated on the ground, rolling a cigarette. A few
feet from him Crosby, extended on his back on the ground, was lazily
puffing rings of smoke into the still air. Both of these young gentlemen
were dressed in exaggerated Mexican costumes; the silver buttons
fringing the edge of Crosby's calza, open from the knee down to show a
glimpse of the snowy under-trouser, were richer and heavier than those
usually worn; while Brace, in addition to the crimson silk sash round
his waist, wore a crimson handkerchief around his head, under his
sombrero.

"Pepe's falling off in his tobacco," said Brace. "I think I'll have to
try some other Fonda."

"How's Banks getting on with his crop?" asked Crosby. "You know he was
going to revolutionize the business, and cut out Cuba on that hillside."

"Oh, the usual luck! He couldn't get proper cultivators, and the
Injins wouldn't work regular. I must try and get hold of some of the
Comandante's stock; but I'm out of favor with the old man since Winslow
and I wrecked that fishing-boat on the rocks off yonder. He always
believed we were trying to run off, like Captain Bunker. That's why he
stopped our shipbuilding, I really believe."

"All the same, we might have had it built and ready now but for our
laziness. We might have worked on it nights without their knowing it,
and slipped off some morning in the fog."

"And we wouldn't have got one of the women to go with us! If we are
getting shiftless here--and I don't say we're not--these women have just
planted themselves and have taken root. But that ain't all: there's
the influence of that infernal sneak Hurlstone! He's set the Comandante
against us, you know; he, and the priest, the Comandante, and Nelly
Keene make up the real Council of Todos Santos. Between them they've
shoved out the poor little Alcalde, who's ready to give up everything to
dance attendance on Mrs. Brimmer. They run the whole concern, and they
give out that it's owing to them that we're given parole of the town,
and the privilege of spending our money and working these mines. Who'd
have thought that sneak Hurlstone would have played his cards so well?
It makes me regularly sick to hear him called 'Don Diego.'"

"Yet you're mightily tickled when that black-eyed sister of the Alcalde
calls you 'Don Carlos,'" said Crosby, yawning.

"Dona Isabel," said Brace, with some empressement, "is a lady of
position, and these are only her national courtesies."

"She just worships Miss Keene, and I reckon she knows by this time
all about your old attentions to her friend," said Crosby, with lazy
mischief.

"My attentions to Miss Keene were simply those of an ordinary
acquaintance, and were never as strongly marked as yours to Mrs.
Brimmer."

"Who has deserted ME as Miss Keene did YOU," rejoined Crosby.

Brace's quick color had risen again, and he would have made some sharp
retort, but the jingling of spurs caught his ear. They both turned
quickly, and saw Banks approaching. He was dressed as a vaquero, but
with his companions' like exaggeration of detail; yet, while his spurs
were enormous, and his sombrero unusually expansive, he still clung to
his high shirt-collars and accurately tied check cravat.

"Well?" he said, approaching them.

"Well?" said Crosby.

"Well?" repeated Brace.

After this national salutation, the three Americans regarded each other
silently.

"Knocked off cultivating to-day?" queried Crosby, lighting a fresh
cigarette.

"The peons have," said Banks; "it's another saint's day. That's the
fourth in two weeks. Leaves about two clear working days in each week,
counting for the days off, when they're getting over the effects of the
others. I tell you what, sir, the Catholic religion is not suited to a
working civilization, or else the calendar ought to be overhauled and
a lot of these saints put on the retired list. It's hard enough to have
all the Apostles on your pay-roll, so to speak, but to have a lot of
fellows run in on you as saints, and some of them not even men or women,
but IDEAS, is piling up the agony! I don't wonder they call the place
'All Saints.' The only thing to do," continued Banks severely, "is
to open communication with the desert, and run in some of the heathen
tribes outside. I've made a proposition to the Council offering to take
five hundred of them in the raw, unregenerate state, and turn 'em
over after a year to the Church. If I could get Hurlstone to do some
log-rolling with that Padre, his friend, I might get the bill through.
But I'm always put off till to-morrow. Everything here is 'Hasta manana;
hasta manana,' always. I believe when the last trump is sounded, they'll
say, 'Hasta manana.' What are YOU doing?" he said, after a pause.

"Waiting for your ship," answered Crosby sarcastically.

"Well, you can laugh, gentlemen--but you won't have to wait long.
According to my calculations that Mexican ship is about due now. And I
ain't basing my figures on anything the Mexican Government is going
to do, or any commercial speculation. I'm reckoning on the Catholic
Church."

The two men languidly looked towards him. Banks continued gravely,--

"I made the proper inquiries, and I find that the stock of rosaries,
scapularies, blessed candles, and other ecclesiastical goods, is running
low. I find that just at the nick of time a fresh supply always comes
from the Bishop of Guadalajara, with instructions from the Church. Now,
gentlemen, my opinion is that the Church, and the Church only, knows the
secret of the passage through the foggy channel, and keeps it to itself.
I look at this commercially, as a question of demand and supply. Well,
sir; the only real trader here at Todos Santos is the Church."

"Then you don't take in account the interests of Brimmer, Markham, and
Keene," said Brace. "Do you suppose they're doing nothing?"

"I don't say they're not; but you're confounding interests with
INSTINCTS. They haven't got the instinct to find this place, and all
that they've done and are doing is blind calculation. Just look at the
facts. As the filibuster who captured the Excelsior of course changed
her name, her rig-out, and her flag, and even got up a false register
for her, she's as good as lost, as far as the world knows, until she
lands at Quinquinambo. Then supposing she's found out, and the whole
story is known--although everything's against such a proposition--the
news has got to go back to San Francisco before the real search will be
begun. As to any clue that might come from Captain Bunker, that's still
more remote. Allowing he crossed the bar and got out of the channel,
he wasn't at the right time for meeting a passing steamer; and the only
coasters are Mexican. If he didn't die of delirium tremens or exposure,
and was really picked up in his senses by some other means, he would
have been back with succor before this, if only to get our evidence to
prove the loss of the vessel. No, sir sooner or later, of course, the
San Francisco crowd are bound to find us here. And if it wasn't for my
crops and our mine, I wouldn't be in a hurry for them; but our FIRST
hold is the Church."

He stopped. Crosby was asleep. Brace arose lazily, lounged into his
office, and closed his desk.

"Going to shut for the day?" said Banks, yawning.

"I reckon," said Brace dubiously; "I don't know but I'd take a little
pasear into the town if I had my horse ready."

"Take mine, and I'll trapse over on foot to the Ranche with
Crosby--after a spell. You'll find him under that big madrono, if he has
not already wound himself up with his lariat by walking round it. Those
Mexican horses can't go straight even when they graze--they must feed in
a circle. He's a little fresh, so look out for him!"

"All the better. I'd like to get into town just after the siesta."

"Siesta!" echoed Banks, lying comfortably down in the shade just vacated
by Brace; "that's another of their shiftless practices. Two hours out of
every day--that's a day out of the week--spent in a hammock; and during
business hours too! It's disgraceful, sir, simply disgraceful."

He turned over and closed his eyes, as if to reflect on its enormity.

Brace had no difficulty in finding the mare, although some trouble
in mounting her. But, like his companions, having quickly adopted
the habits of the country, he had become a skillful and experienced
horseman, and the mustang, after a few springless jumps, which failed
to unseat him, submitted to his rider. The young man galloped rapidly
towards Todos Santos; but when within a few miles of the pueblo he
slackened his pace. From the smiles and greetings of wayfarers--among
whom were some pretty Indian girls and mestizas--it was evident that
the handsome young foreigner, who had paid them the compliment of
extravagantly adopting their national costume, was neither an unfamiliar
nor an unpleasing spectacle. When he reached the posada at the top of
the hilly street, he even carried his simulation of the local customs to
the point of charging the veranda at full speed, and pulling up suddenly
at the threshold, after the usual fashion of vaqueros. The impetuous
apparition brought a short stout man to the door, who, welcoming him
with effusive politeness, conducted him to an inner room that gave
upon a green grass courtyard. Seated before a rude table, sipping
aguardiente, was his countryman Winslow and two traders of the pueblo.
They were evidently of the number already indicated who had adopted
the American fashions. Senor Ruiz wore a linen "duster" in place of
his embroidered jacket, and Senor Martinez had an American beard, or
"goatee," in imitation of Mr. Banks. The air was yellow with the fumes
of tobacco, through which the shrewd eyes of Winslow gleamed murkily.

"This," he said to his countryman, in fluent if not elegant Spanish,
indicating the gentleman who had imitated Banks, "is a man of ideas, and
a power in Todos Santos. He would control all the votes in his district
if there were anything like popular suffrage here, and he understands
the American policy."

Senor Martinez here hastened to inform Mr. Brace that he had long
cherished a secret and enthusiastic admiration for that grand and
magnanimous nation of which his friend was such a noble representative;
that, indeed, he might say it was an inherited taste, for had not his
grandfather once talked with the American whaling Capitano Coffino and
partaken of a subtle spirit known as "er-r-rum" on his ship at Acapulco?

"There's nothing mean about Martinez," said Winslow to Brace
confidentially, in English. "He's up to anything, and ready from the
word 'Go.' Don't you think he's a little like Banks, you know--a sort of
Mexican edition. And there is Ruiz, he's a cattle dealer; he'd be a good
friend of Banks if Banks wasn't so infernally self-opinionated. But Ruiz
ain't a fool, either. He's picked up a little English--good American, I
mean--from me already."

Senor Ruiz here smiled affably, to show his comprehension; and added
slowly, with great gravity,--

"It is of twenty-four year I have first time the Amencano of your
beautiful country known. He have buy the hides and horns of the
cattle--for his ship--here."

"Here?" echoed Brace. "I thought no American ship--no ship at all--had
been in here for fifty years."

Ruiz shrugged his shoulders, and cast a glance at his friend Martinez,
lowered his voice and lifted his eyelashes at the same moment, and,
jerking his yellow, tobacco-stained thumb over his arm, said,--

"Ah--of a verity--on the beach--two leagues away."

"Do you hear that?" said Winslow, turning complacently to Brace and
rising to his feet. "Don't you see now what hogwash the Commander,
Alcalde, and the priest have been cramming down our throats about this
place being sealed up for fifty years. What he says is all Gospel truth.
That's what I wanted you fellows to hear, and you might have heard
before, only you were afraid of compromising yourselves by talking with
the people. You get it into your heads--and the Comandante helped you to
get it there--that Todos Santos was a sort of Sleepy Hollow, and that
no one knew anything of the political changes for the last fifty years.
Well, what's the fact? Ask Ruiz there, and Martinez, and they'll both
tell you they know that Mexico got her independence in 1826, and that
the Council keep it dark that they may perpetuate themselves. They
know," he continued, lowering his voice, "that the Commander's
commission from the old Viceroy isn't worth the paper it is stamped
upon."

"But what about the Church?" asked Brace hesitatingly, remembering
Banks' theory.

"The Church--caramba! the priests were ever with the Escossas, the
aristocrats, and against the Yorkenos, the men of the Republic--the
people," interrupted Martinez vehemently; "they will not accept, they
will not proclaim the Republic to the people. They shut their eyes,
so--. They fold their hands, so--. They say, 'Sicut era principio et
nunc et semper in secula seculorum!' Look you, Senor, I am not of the
Church--no, caramba! I snap my fingers at the priests. Ah! what
they give one is food for the bull's horns, believe me--I have read
'Tompano,' the American 'Tompano.'"

"Who's he?" asked Brace.

"He means Tom Paine! 'The Age of Reason'--you know," said Winslow,
gazing with a mixture of delight and patronizing pride at the Radicals
of Todos Santos. "Oh! he's no fool--is Martinez, nor Ruiz either! And
while you've been flirting with Dona Isabel, and Banks has been trying
to log-roll the Padre, and Crosby going in for siestas, I'VE found them
out. And there are a few more--aren't there, Ruiz?"

Ruiz darted a mysterious glance at Brace, and apparently not trusting
himself to speak, checked off his ten fingers dramatically in the air
thrice.

"As many of a surety! God and liberty!"

"But, if this is so, why haven't they DONE something?"

Senor Martinez glanced at Senor Ruiz.

"Hasta manana!" he said slowly.

"Oh, this is a case of 'Hasta manana!'" said Brace, somewhat relieved.

"They can wait," returned Winslow hurriedly. "It's too big a thing to
rush into without looking round. You know what it means? Either Todos
Santos is in rebellion against the present Government of Mexico, or
she is independent of any. Her present Government, in any event,
don't represent either the Republic of Mexico or the people of Todos
Santos--don't you see? And in that case WE'VE got as good a right here
as any one."

"He speaks the truth," said Ruiz, grasping a hand of Brace and Winslow
each; "in this we are--as brothers."

"God and liberty!" ejaculated Martinez, in turn seizing the other
disengaged hands of the Americans, and completing the mystic circle.

"God and liberty!" echoed a thin chorus from their host and a few
loungers who had entered unperceived.

Brace felt uneasy. He was not wanting in the courage or daring of youth,
but it struck him that his attitude was by no means consistent with his
attentions to Dona Isabel. He managed to get Winslow aside.

"This is all very well as a 'free lunch' conspiracy; but you're
forgetting your parole," he said, in a low voice.

"We gave our parole to the present Government. When it no longer exists,
there will be no parole--don't you see?"

"Then these fellows prefer waiting"--

"Until we can get OUTSIDE help, you understand. The first American ship
that comes in here--eh?"

Brace felt relieved. After all, his position in regard to the Alcalde's
sister would not be compromised; he might even be able to extend some
protection over her; and it would be a magnanimous revenge if he could
even offer it to Miss Keene.

"I see you don't swear anybody to secrecy," he said, with a laugh;
"shall I speak to Crosby, or will you?"

"Not yet; he'll only see something to laugh at. And Banks and Martinez
would quarrel at once, and go back on each other. No; my idea is to let
some outsider do for Todos Santos what Perkins did for Quinquinambo. Do
you take?"

His long, thin, dyspeptic face lit up with a certain small political
cunning and shrewdness that struck Brace with a half-respect.

"I say, Winslow; you'd have made a first-class caucus leader in San
Francisco."

Winslow smiled complacently. "There's something better to play on here
than ward politics," he replied. "There's a material here that--like
the mine and the soil--ain't half developed. I reckon I can show Banks
something that beats lobbying and log-rolling for contracts. I've let
you into this thing to show you a sample of my prospecting. Keep it to
yourself if you want it to pay. Dat's me, George! Good-by! I'll be out
to the office to-morrow!"

He turned back towards his brother politicians with an expression
of satisfied conceit that Brace for a moment envied. The latter even
lingered on the veranda, as if he would have asked Winslow another
question; but, looking at his watch, he suddenly recollected himself,
and, mounting his horse, cantered down towards the plaza.

The hour of siesta was not yet over, and the streets were still
deserted--probably the reason why the politicians of Todos Santos had
chosen that hour for their half secret meeting. At the corner of the
plaza he dismounted and led his horse to the public hitching-post--gnawn
and nibbled by the teeth of generations of mustangs--and turned into the
narrow lane flanked by the walls of the Alcalde's garden. Halfway
down he stopped before a slight breach in the upper part of the adobe
barrier, and looked cautiously around. The long, shadowed vista of the
lane was unobstructed by any moving figure as far as the yellow light of
the empty square beyond. With a quick leap he gained the top of the wall
and disappeared on the other aide.





Next: International Courtesies

Previous: The Mourners At San Francisco



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