Herr H. V. Hilprecht is Professor of Assyriology in the University of Pennsylvania. That university had despatched an expedition to explore the ruins of Babylon, and sketches of the objects discovered had been sent home. Among these were draw... Read more of The Assyrian Priest at Scary Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational
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Todos Santos








From: The Crusade Of The Excelsior

It was evident that the two strangers represented some exalted
military and ecclesiastical authority. This was shown in their dress--a
long-forgotten, half mediaeval costume, that to the imaginative
spectator was perfectly in keeping with their mysterious advent, and
to the more practical as startling as a masquerade. The foremost figure
wore a broad-brimmed hat of soft felt, with tarnished gold lace, and a
dark feather tucked in its recurved flap; a short cloak of fine black
cloth thrown over one shoulder left a buff leathern jacket and breeches,
ornamented with large round silver buttons, exposed until they were met
by high boots of untanned yellow buckskin that reached halfway up the
thigh. A broad baldric of green silk hung from his shoulder across his
breast, and supported at his side a long sword with an enormous
basket hilt, through which somewhat coquettishly peeped a white
lace handkerchief. Tall and erect, in spite of the grizzled hair and
iron-gray moustaches and wrinkled face of a man of sixty, he suddenly
halted on the deck with a military precision that made the jingling
chains and bits of silver on his enormous spurs ring again. He was
followed by an ecclesiastic of apparently his own age, but smoothly
shaven, clad in a black silk sotana and sash, and wearing the
old-fashioned oblong, curl-brimmed hat sacred to "Don Basilo," of the
modern opera. Behind him appeared the genial face of Senor Perkins,
shining with the benignant courtesy of a master of ceremonies.

"If this is a fair sample of the circus ashore, I'll take two tickets,"
whispered Crosby, who had recovered his audacity.

"I have the inexpressible honor," said Senor Perkins to Captain Bunker,
with a gracious wave of his hand towards the extraordinary figures, "to
present you to the illustrious Don Miguel Briones, Comandante of the
Presidio of Todos Santos, at present hidden in the fog, and the very
reverend and pious Padre Esteban, of the Mission of Todos Santos,
likewise invisible. When I state to you," he continued, with a slight
lifting of his voice, so as to include the curious passengers in
his explanation, "that, with very few exceptions, this is the usual
condition of the atmosphere at the entrance to the Mission and Presidio
of Todos Santos, and that the last exception took place thirty-five
years ago, when a ship entered the harbor, you will understand why these
distinguished gentlemen have been willing to waive the formality of your
waiting upon them first, and have taken the initiative. The illustrious
Comandante has been generous to exempt you from the usual port
regulations, and to permit you to wood and to water"--

"What port regulation is he talking of?" asked Captain Bunker testily.

"The Mexican regulations forbidding any foreign vessel to communicate
with the shore," returned Senor Perkins deprecatingly.

"Never heard of 'em. When were they given?"

The Senor turned and addressed a few words to the commander, who stood
apart in silent dignity.

"In 1792."

"In what?--Is he mad?" said Bunker. "Does he know what year this is?"

"The illustrious commander believes it to be the year of grace 1854,"
answered Senor Perkins quietly. "In the case of the only two vessels who
have touched here since 1792 the order was not carried out because they
were Mexican coasters. The illustrious Comandante explains that
the order he speaks of as on record distinctly referred to the ship
'Columbia, which belonged to the General Washington.'"

"General Washington!" echoed Bunker, angrily staring at the Senor.
"What's this stuff? Do you mean to say they don't know any history later
than our old Revolutionary War? Haven't they heard of the United States
among them? Nor California--that we took from them during the late war?"

"Nor how we licked 'em out of their boots, and that's saying a good
deal," whispered Crosby, glancing at the Comandante's feet.

Senor Perkins raised a gentle, deprecating hand.

"For fifty years the Presidio and the Mission of Todos Santos have had
but this communication with the outer world," he said blandly. "Hidden
by impenetrable fogs from the ocean pathway at their door, cut off by
burning and sterile deserts from the surrounding country, they have
preserved a trust and propagated a faith in enforced but not unhappy
seclusion. The wars that have shaken mankind, the dissensions that have
even disturbed the serenity of their own nation on the mainland,
have never reached them here. Left to themselves, they have created
a blameless Arcadia and an ideal community within an extent of twenty
square leagues. Why should we disturb their innocent complacency and
tranquil enjoyment by information which cannot increase and might impair
their present felicity? Why should we dwell upon a late political and
international episode which, while it has been a benefit to us, has been
a humiliation to them as a nation, and which might not only imperil our
position as guests, but interrupt our practical relations to the wood
and water, with which the country abounds?"

He paused, and before the captain could speak, turned to the silent
Commander, addressed him in a dozen phrases of fluent and courteous
Spanish, and once more turned to Captain Bunker.

"I have told him you are touched to the heart with his courtesy, which
you recognize as coming from the fit representative of the great Mexican
nation. He reciprocates your fraternal emotion, and begs you to consider
the Presidio and all that it contains, at your disposition and the
disposition of your friends--the passengers, particularly those fair
ladies," said Senor Perkins, turning with graceful promptitude towards
the group of lady passengers, and slightly elevating himself on the tips
of his neat boots, "whose white hands he kisses, and at whose feet he
lays the devotion of a Mexican caballero and officer."

He waved his hand towards the Comandante, who, stepping forward,
swept the deck with his plumed hat before each of the ladies in solemn
succession. Recovering himself, he bowed more stiffly to the male
passengers, picked his handkerchief out of the hilt of his sword,
gracefully wiped his lips, pulled the end of his long gray moustache,
and became again rigid.

"The reverend father," continued Senor Perkins, turning towards the
priest, "regrets that the rules of his order prevent his extending the
same courtesy to these ladies at the Mission. But he hopes to meet them
at the Presidio, and they will avail themselves of his aid and counsel
there and everywhere."

Father Esteban, following the speaker's words with a gracious and ready
smile, at once moved forward among the passengers, offering an antique
snuff-box to the gentlemen, or passing before the ladies with slightly
uplifted benedictory palms and a caressing paternal gesture. Mrs.
Brimmer, having essayed a French sentence, was delighted and half
frightened to receive a response from the ecclesiastic, and speedily
monopolized him until he was summoned by the Commander to the returning
boat.

"A most accomplished man, my dear," said Mrs. Brimmer, as the
Excelsior's cannon again thundered after the retiring oars, "like all of
his order. He says, although Don Miguel does not speak French, that
his secretary does; and we shall have no difficulty in making ourselves
understood."

"Then you really intend to go ashore?" said Miss Keene timidly.

"Decidedly," returned Mrs. Brimmer potentially. "It would be most
unpolite, not to say insulting, if we did not accept the invitation.
You have no idea of the strictness of Spanish etiquette. Besides, he may
have heard of Mr. Brimmer."

"As his last information was only up to 1792, he might have forgotten
it," said Crosby gravely. "So perhaps it would be safer to go on the
general invitation."

"As Mr. Brimmer's ancestors came over on the Mayflower, long before
1792, it doesn't seem so very impossible, if it comes to that," said
Mrs. Brimmer, with her usual unanswerable naivete; "provided always that
you are not joking, Mr. Crosby. One never knows when you are serious."

"Mrs. Brimmer is quite right; we must all go. This is no mere
formality," said Senor Perkins, who had returned to the ladies. "Indeed,
I have myself promised the Comandante to bring YOU," he turned towards
Miss Keene, "if you will permit Mrs. Markham and myself to act as your
escort. It was Don Miguel's express request."

A slight flush of pride suffused the cheek of the young girl, but the
next moment she turned diffidently towards Mrs. Brimmer.

"We must all go together," she said; "shall we not?"

"You see your triumphs have begun already," said Brace, with a nervous
smile. "You need no longer laugh at me for predicting your fate in San
Francisco."

Miss Keene cast a hurried glance around her, in the faint hope--she
scarcely knew why--that Mr. Hurlstone had overheard the Senor's
invitation; nor could she tell why she was disappointed at not seeing
him. But he had not appeared on deck during the presence of their
strange visitors; nor was he in the boat which half an hour later
conveyed her to the shore. He must have either gone in one of the other
boats, or fulfilled his strange threat of remaining on the ship.

The boats pulled away together towards the invisible shore, piloted by
Captain Bunker, the first officer, and Senor Perkins in the foremost
boat. It had grown warmer, and the fog that stole softly over them
touched their faces with the tenderness of caressing fingers. Miss
Keene, wrapped up in the stern sheets of the boat, gave way to the
dreamy influence of this weird procession through the water, retaining
only perception enough to be conscious of the singular illusions of the
mist that alternately thickened and lightened before their bow. At times
it seemed as if they were driving full upon a vast pier or breakwater of
cold gray granite, that, opening to let the foremost boat pass, closed
again before them; at times it seemed as if they had diverged from their
course, and were once more upon the open sea, the horizon a far-off
line of vanishing color; at times, faint lights seemed to pierce the
gathering darkness, or to move like will-o'-wisps across the smooth
surface, when suddenly the keel grated on the sand. A narrow but
perfectly well defined strip of palpable strand appeared before them;
they could faintly discern the moving lower limbs of figures whose
bodies were still hidden in the mist; then they were lifted from the
boats; the first few steps on dry land carried them out of the fog that
seemed to rise like a sloping roof from the water's edge, leaving them
under its canopy in the full light of actual torches held by a group of
picturesquely dressed people before the vista of a faintly lit, narrow,
ascending street. The dim twilight of the closing day lingered under
this roof of fog, which seemed to hang scarcely a hundred feet above
them, and showed a wall or rampart of brown adobe on their right that
extended nearly to the water; to the left, at the distance of a few
hundred yards, another low brown wall appeared; above it rose a fringe
of foliage, and, more distant and indistinct, two white towers, that
were lost in the nebulous gray.

One of the figures dressed in green jackets, who seemed to be in
authority, now advanced, and, after a moment's parley with Senor Perkins
while the Excelsior's passengers were being collected from the different
boats, courteously led the way along the wall of the fortification.
Presently a low opening or gateway appeared, followed by the challenge
of a green-jacketed sentry, and the sentence, "Dios y Libertad" It
was repeated in the interior of a dusky courtyard, surrounded by a
low corridor, where a dozen green-jacketed men of aboriginal type and
complexion, carrying antique flintlocks, were drawn up as a guard of
honor.

"The Comandante," said Senor Perkins, "directs me to extend his
apologies to the Senor Capitano Bunker for withholding the salute which
is due alike to his country, himself, and his fair company; but fifty
years of uninterrupted peace and fog have left his cannon inadequate to
polite emergencies, and firmly fixed the tampion of his saluting gun.
But he places the Presidio at your disposition; you will be pleased to
make its acquaintance while it is still light; and he will await you in
the guard-room."

Left to themselves, the party dispersed like dismissed school-children
through the courtyard and corridors, and in the enjoyment of their
release from a month's confinement on shipboard stretched their cramped
limbs over the ditches, walls, and parapets, to the edge of the glacis.

Everywhere a ruin that was picturesque, a decay that was refined and
gentle, a neglect that was graceful, met the eye; the sharp exterior and
reentering angles were softly rounded and obliterated by overgrowths
of semitropical creepers; the abatis was filled by a natural brake of
scrub-oak and manzanita; the clematis flung its long scaling ladders
over the escarpment, until Nature, slowly but securely investing
the doomed fortress, had lifted a victorious banner of palm from the
conquered summit of the citadel! Some strange convulsions of the earth
had completed the victory; the barbette guns of carved and antique
bronze commemorating fruitless and long-forgotten triumphs were
dismounted; one turned in the cheeks of its carriage had a trunnion
raised piteously in the air like an amputated stump; another, sinking
through its rotting chassis, had buried itself to its chase in the
crumbling adobe wall. But above and beyond this gentle chaos of defense
stretched the real ramparts and escarpments of Todos Santos--the
impenetrable and unassailable fog! Corroding its brass and iron with
saline breath, rotting its wood with unending shadow, sapping its
adobe walls with perpetual moisture, and nourishing the obliterating
vegetation with its quickening blood, as if laughing to scorn the puny
embattlements of men--it still bent around the crumbling ruins the
tender grace of an invisible but all-encompassing arm.

Senor Perkins, who had acted as cicerone to the party, pointed out these
various mutations with no change from his usual optimism.

"Protected by their peculiar isolation during the late war, there was
no necessity for any real fortification of the place. Nevertheless, it
affords some occupation and position for our kind friend, Don Miguel,
and so serves a beneficial purpose. This little gun," he continued,
stopping to attentively examine a small but beautifully carved bronze
six-pounder, which showed indications of better care than the others,
"seems to be the saluting-gun Don Miguel spoke of. For the last fifty
years it has spoken only the language of politeness and courtesy, and
yet through want of care the tampion, as you see, has become swollen and
choked in its mouth."

"How true in a larger sense," murmured Mrs. Markham, "the habit of
courtesy alone preserves the fluency of the heart."

"I know you two are saying something very clever," said Mrs. Brimmer,
whose small French slippers and silk stockings were beginning to show
their inadequacy to a twilight ramble in the fog; "but I am so slow, and
I never catch the point. Do repeat it slowly."

"The Senor was only showing us how they managed to shut up a smooth bore
in this country," said Crosby gravely. "I wonder when we're going
to have dinner. I suppose old Don Quixote will trot out some of his
Senoritas. I want to see those choir girls that sang so stunningly a
while ago."

"I suppose you mean the boys--for they're all boys in the Catholic
choirs--but then, perhaps you are joking again. Do tell me if you are,
for this is really amusing. I may laugh--mayn't I?" As the discomfited
humorist fell again to the rear amidst the laughter of the others, Mrs.
Brimmer continued naively to Senor Perkins,--"Of course, as Don Miguel
is a widower, there must be daughters or sisters-in-law who will meet
us. Why, the priest, you know--even he--must have nieces. Really, it's
a serious question--if we are to accept his hospitality in a social
way. Why don't you ask HIM?" she said, pointing to the green-jacketed
subaltern who was accompanying them.

Senor Perkins looked half embarrassed.

"Repeat your question, my dear lady, and I will translate it."

"Ask him if there are any women at the Presidio."

Senor Perkins drew the subaltern aside. Presently he turned to Mrs.
Brimmer.

"He says there are four: the wife of the baker, the wife of the saddler,
the daughter of the trumpeter, and the niece of the cook."

"Good heavens! we can't meet THEM," said Mrs. Brimmer.

Senor Perkins hesitated.

"Perhaps I ought to have told you," he said blandly, "that the old
Spanish notions of etiquette are very strict. The wives of the officials
and higher classes do not meet strangers on a first visit, unless they
are well known."

"That isn't it," said Winslow, joining them excitedly. "I've heard the
whole story. It's a good joke. Banks has been bragging about us all, and
saying that these ladies had husbands who were great merchants, and, as
these chaps consider that all trade is vulgar, you know, they believe
we are not fit to associate with their women, don't you see? All, except
one--Miss Keene. She's considered all right. She's to be introduced to
the Commander's women, and to the sister of the Alcalde."

"She will do nothing of the kind," said Miss Keene indignantly. "If
these ladies are not to be received with me, we'll all go back to the
ship together."

She spoke with a quick and perfectly unexpected resolution and
independence, so foreign to her usual childlike half dependent
character, that her hearers were astounded. Senor Perkins gazed at
her thoughtfully; Brace, Crosby, and Winslow admiringly; her sister
passengers with doubt and apprehension.

"There must be some mistake," said Senor Perkins gently. "I will
inquire."

He was absent but a few moments. When he returned, his face was beaming.

"It's a ridiculous misapprehension. Our practical friend Banks, in his
zealous attempts to impress the Comandante's secretary, who knows a
little English, with the importance of Mr. Brimmer's position as a large
commission merchant, has, I fear, conveyed only the idea that he was a
kind of pawnbroker; while Mr. Markham's trade in hides has established
him as a tanner; and Mr. Banks' own flour speculations, of which he
is justly proud, have been misinterpreted by him as the work of a
successful baker!"

"And what idea did he convey about YOU?" asked Crosby audaciously; "it
might be interesting to us to know, for our own satisfaction."

"I fear they did not do me the honor to inquire," replied Senor Perkins,
with imperturbable good-humor; "there are some persons, you know, who
carry all their worldly possessions palpably about with them. I am one
of them. Call me a citizen of the world, with a strong leniency towards
young and struggling nationalities; a traveler, at home anywhere; a
delighted observer of all things, an admirer of brave men, the devoted
slave of charming women--and you have, in one word, a passenger of the
good ship Excelsior."

For the first time, Miss Keene noticed a slight irony in Senor Perkins'
superabundant fluency, and that he did not conceal his preoccupation
over the silent saluting gun he was still admiring. The approach of Don
Miguel and Padre Esteban with a small bevy of ladies, however, quickly
changed her thoughts, and detached the Senor from her side. Her first
swift feminine impression of the fair strangers was that they were plain
and dowdy, an impression fully shared by the other lady passengers.
But her second observation, that they were more gentle, fascinating,
child-like, and feminine than her own countrywomen, was purely her own.
Their loose, undulating figures, guiltless of stays; their extravagance
of short, white, heavily flounced skirt, which looked like a petticoat;
their lightly wrapped, formless, and hooded shoulders and heads, lent a
suggestion of dishabille that Mrs. Brimmer at once resented.

"They might, at least, have dressed themselves," she whispered to Mrs.
Markham.

"I really believe," returned Mrs. Markham, "they've got no bodices on!"

The introductions over, a polyglot conversation ensued in French by the
Padre and Mrs. Brimmer, and in broken English by Miss Chubb, Miss Keene,
and the other passengers with the Commander's secretary, varied by
occasional scraps of college Latin from Mr. Crosby, the whole aided by
occasional appeals to Senor Perkins. The darkness increasing, the
party reentered the courtyard, and, passing through the low-studded
guard-room, entered another corridor, which looked upon a second
court, enclosed on three sides, the fourth opening upon a broad plaza,
evidently the public resort of the little town. Encompassing this open
space, a few red-tiled roofs could be faintly seen in the gathering
gloom. Chocolate and thin spiced cakes were served in the veranda,
pending the preparations for a more formal banquet. Already Miss Keene
had been singled out from her companions for the special attentions of
her hosts, male and female, to her embarrassment and confusion. Already
Dona Isabel, the sister of the Alcalde, had drawn her aside, and, with
caressing frankness, had begun to question her in broken English,--

"But Miss Keene is no name. The Dona Keene is of nothing."

"Well, you may call me Eleanor, if you like," said Miss Keene, smiling.

"Dona Leonor--so; that is good," said Dona Isabel, clapping her hands
like a child. "But how are you?"

"I beg your pardon," said Miss Keene, greatly amused, "but I don't
understand."

"Ah, Caramba! What are you, little one?" Seeing that her guest still
looked puzzled, she continued,--"Ah! Mother of God! Why are your friends
so polite to you? Why does every one love you so?"

"Do they? Well," stammered Miss Keene, with one of her rare, dazzling
smiles, and her cheeks girlishly rosy with naive embarrassment, "I
suppose they think I am pretty."

"Pretty! Ah, yes, you are!" said Dona Isabel, gazing at her curiously.
"But it is not all that."

"What is it, then?" asked Miss Keene demurely.

"You are a--a--Dama de Grandeza!"





Next: Hail And Farewell

Previous: In The Fog



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