The Captain Follows His Ship





When Padre Esteban had finished reading the document he laid it down and

fixed his eyes on the young man. Hurlstone met his look with a glance of

impatient disdain.



"What have you to say to this?" asked the ecclesiastic, a little

impressed by his manner.



"That as far as it concerns myself it is a farrago of absurdity. If I

were the person described there, why should I have sought you with

what you call a lie of 'sentimental passion,' when I could have claimed

protection openly with my SISTER PATRIOT," he added, with a bitter

laugh.



"Because you did not know THEN the sympathy of the people nor the

decision of the Council," said the priest.



"But I know it NOW, and I refuse to accept it."



"You refuse--to--to accept it?" echoed the priest.



"I do." He walked towards the door. "Before I go, let me thank you for

the few hours' rest and security that you have given to one who may be a

cursed man, yet is no impostor. But I do not blame you for doubting one

who talks like a desperate man, yet lacks the courage of desperation.

Good-by!"



"Where are you going?"



"What matters? There is a safer protection and security to be found than

even that offered by the Council of Todos Santos."



His eyes were averted, but not before the priest had seen them glaze

again with the same gloomy absorption that had horrified him in the

church the evening before. Father Esteban stepped forward and placed his

soft hand on Hurlstone's shoulder.



"Look at me. Don't turn your face aside, but hear me; for I believe your

story."



Without raising his eyes, the young man lifted Father Esteban's hand

from his shoulder, pressed it lightly, and put it quietly aside.



"I thank you," he said, "for keeping at least that unstained memory of

me. But it matters little now. Good-by!"



He had his hand upon the door, but the priest again withheld him.



"When I tell you I believe your story, it is only to tell you more. I

believe that God has directed your wayward, wandering feet here to

His house, that you may lay down the burden of your weak and suffering

manhood before His altar, and become once more a child of His. I stand

here to offer you, not a refuge of a day or a night, but for all

time; not a hiding-place from man or woman, but from yourself, my

son--yourself, your weak and mortal self, more fatal to you than all.

I stand here to open for you not only the door of this humble cell, but

that of His yonder blessed mansion. You shall share my life with me; you

shall be one of my disciples; you shall help me strive for other souls

as I have striven for yours; the protection of the Church, which is

all-powerful, shall be around you if you wish to be known; you shall

hide yourself in its mysteries if you wish to be forgotten. You shall be

my child, my companion, my friend; all that my age can give you shall

be yours while I live, and it shall be your place one day to take up my

unfinished work when it falls from these palsied hands forever."



"You are mistaken," said the young man coldly. "I came to you for

human aid, and thank you for what you have granted me: I have not been

presumptuous enough to ask more, nor to believe myself a fitting subject

for conversion. I am weak, but not weak enough to take advantage of the

mistaken kindness of either the temporal Council of Todos Santos or its

spiritual head." He opened the door leading into the garden. "Forget and

forgive me, Father Esteban, and let me say farewell."



"Stop!" said the ecclesiastic, raising himself to his full height and

stepping before Hurlstone. "Then if you will not hear me in the name of

your Father who lives, in the name of your father who is dead I command

you to stay! I stand here to-day in the place of that man I never

knew--to hold back his son from madness and crime. Think of me as of him

whom you loved, and grant to an old man who might have had a son as old

as you the right of throwing a father's protecting arm around you."



There was a moment's silence.



"What do you want me to do?" said Hurlstone, suddenly lifting his now

moist and glistening eyes upon the old man.



"Give me your word of honor that for twenty-four hours you will remain

as you are--pledging yourself to nothing--only promising to commit no

act, take no step, without consulting me. You will not be sought here,

nor yet need you keep yourself a prisoner in these gloomy walls--except

that, by exposing yourself to the people now, you might be compromised

to some course that you are not ready to take."



"I promise," said Hurlstone.



He turned and held out both his hands; but Father Esteban anticipated

him with a paternal gesture of uplifted and opened arms, and for an

instant the young man's forehead was bowed on the priest's shoulder.



Father Esteban gently raised the young man's head.



"You will take a pasear in the garden until the Angelus rings, my son,

while the air is sweet and wholesome, and think this over. Remember that

you may accept the hospitality of the Council without sin of deception.

You were not in sympathy with either the captors of the Excelsior or

their defeated party; for you would have flown from both. You, of all

your party now in Todos Santos, are most in sympathy with us. You have

no cause to love your own people; you have abandoned them for us. Go, my

son; and meditate upon my words. I will fetch you from yonder slope in

time for the evening refection."



Hurlstone bowed his head and turned his irresolute feet towards the

upper extremity of the garden, indicated by the priest, which seemed to

offer more seclusion and security than the avenue of pear-trees. He was

dazed and benumbed. The old dogged impulses of self-destruction--revived

by the priest's reproaches, but checked by the vision of his dead and

forgotten father, which the priest's words had called up--gave way, in

turn, to his former despair. With it came a craving for peace and rest

so insidious that in some vague fear of yielding to it he quickened his

pace, as if to increase his distance from the church and its apostle. He

was almost out of breath when he reached the summit, and turned to look

back upon the Mission buildings and the straggling street of the pueblo,

which now for the first time he saw skirted the wall of the garden in

its descent towards the sea. He had not known the full extent of Todos

Santos before; when he swam ashore he had landed under a crumbling

outwork of the fort; he gazed now with curious interest over the hamlet

that might have been his home. He looked over the red-tiled roofs, and

further on to the shining bay, shut in by the impenetrable rampart of

fog. He might have found rest and oblivion here but for the intrusion of

those fellow-passengers to share his exile and make it intolerable.

How he hated and loathed them all! Yet the next moment he found himself

scrutinizing the street and plaza below him for a glimpse of his

countrywomen, whom he knew were still in the town or vainly endeavoring

to locate their habitation among the red-tiled roofs. And that frank,

clear-eyed girl--Miss Keene!--she who had seemed to vaguely pity

him--she was somewhere here too--selected by the irony of fate to be his

confederate! He could not help thinking of her beauty and kindness now,

with a vague curiosity that was half an uneasiness. It had not struck

him before, but if he were to accept the ridiculous attitude forced upon

him by Todos Santos, its absurdity, as well as its responsibility, would

become less odious by sharing it with another. Perhaps it might be

to HER advantage--and if so, would he be justified in exposing its

absurdity? He would have to see her first--and if he did, how would he

explain his real position? A returning wave of bitterness threw him back

into his old despair.



The twilight had slowly gathered over the view as he gazed--or, rather

a luminous concentration above the pueblo and bay had left the outer

circle of fog denser and darker. Emboldened by the apparent desertion of

the Embarcadero, he began to retrace his steps down the slope, keeping

close to the wall so as to avoid passing before the church again, or a

closer contact with the gardener among the vines. In this way he reached

the path he had skirted the night before, and stopped almost under

the shadow of the Alcalde's house. It was here he had rested and

hidden,--here he had tasted the first sweets of isolation and oblivion

in the dreamy garden,--here he had looked forward to peace with the

passing of the ship,--and now? The sound of voices and laughter

suddenly grated upon his ear. He had heard those voices before. Their

distinctness startled him until he became aware that he was standing

before a broken, half-rotting door that permitted a glimpse of the

courtyard of the neighboring house. He glided quickly past it without

pausing, but in that glimpse beheld Mrs. Brimmer and Miss Chubb half

reclining in the corridor--in the attitude he had often seen them on the

deck of the ship--talking and laughing with a group of Mexican gallants.

A feeling of inconceivable loathing and aversion took possession of

him. Was it to THIS he was returning after his despairing search for

oblivion? Their empty, idle laughter seemed to ring mockingly in his

ears as he hurried on, scarce knowing whither, until he paused before

the broken cactus hedge and crumbling wall that faced the Embarcadero.

A glance over the hedge showed him that the strip of beach was deserted.

He looked up the narrow street; it was empty. A few rapid strides across

it gained him the shadow of the sea-wall of the Presidio, unchecked and

unhindered. The ebbing tide had left a foot or two of narrow shingle

between the sea and the wall. He crept along this until, a hundred yards

distant, the sea-wall reentered inland around a bastion at the entrance

of a moat half filled at high tide by the waters of the bay, but now a

ditch of shallow pools, sand, and debris. He leaned against the bastion,

and looked over the softly darkening water.



How quiet it looked, and, under that vaporous veil, how profound and

inscrutable! How easy to slip into its all-embracing arms, and sink into

its yielding bosom, leaving behind no stain, trace, or record! A

surer oblivion than the Church, which could not absolve memory, grant

forgetfulness, nor even hide the ghastly footprints of its occupants.

Here was obliteration. But was he sure of that? He thought of the body

of the murdered Peruvian, laid out at the feet of the Council by this

same fickle and uncertain sea; he thought of his own distorted face

subjected to the cold curiosity of these aliens or the contemptuous pity

of his countrymen. But that could be avoided. It was easy for him--a

good swimmer--to reach a point far enough out in the channel for the

ebbing tides to carry him past that barrier of fog into the open and

obliterating ocean. And then, at least, it might seem as if he had

attempted to ESCAPE--indeed, if he cared, he might be able to keep

afloat until he was picked up by some passing vessel, bound to a distant

land! The self-delusion pleased him, and seemed to add the clinching

argument to his resolution. It was not suicide; it was escape--certainly

no more than escape--he intended! And this miserable sophism of

self-apology, the last flashes of expiring conscience, helped to light

up his pale, determined face with satisfaction. He began coolly to

divest himself of his coat.



What was that?--the sound of some dislodged stones splashing in one

of the pools further up! He glanced hurriedly round the wall of the

bastion. A figure crouching against the side of the ditch, as if

concealing itself from observation on the glacis above, was slowly

approaching the sea. Suddenly, when within a hundred yards of Hurlstone,

it turned, crossed the ditch, rapidly mounted its crumbling sides,

and disappeared over the crest. But in that hurried glimpse he had

recognized Captain Bunker!



The sudden and mysterious apparition of this man produced on Hurlstone

an effect that the most violent opposition could not have created.

Without a thought of the terrible purpose it had interrupted, and

obeying some stronger instinct that had seized him, he dashed down into

the ditch and up to the crest again after Captain Bunker. But he had

completely disappeared. A little lagoon, making in from the bay, on

which a small fishing-boat was riding, and a solitary fisherman mending

his nets on the muddy shore a few feet from it, were all that was to be

seen.



He was turning back, when he saw the object of his search creeping from

some reeds, on all fours, with a stealthy, panther-like movement towards

the unconscious fisherman. Before Hurlstone could utter a cry, Bunker

had sprung upon the unfortunate man, thrown him to the earth, rapidly

rolled him over and over, enwrapping him hand and foot in his own

net, and involving him hopelessly in its meshes. Tossing the helpless

victim--who was apparently too stupefied to call out--to one side,

he was rushing towards the boat when, with a single bound, Hurlstone

reached his side and laid his hand upon his shoulder.



"Captain Bunker, for God's sake! what are you doing?"



Captain Bunker turned slowly and without apparent concern towards his

captor. Hurlstone fell back before the vacant, lack-lustre eyes that

were fixed upon him.



"Captain Bunker's my name," said the madman, in a whisper. "Lemuel

Bunker, of Nantucket! Hush! don't waken him," pointing to the prostrate

fisherman; "I've put him to sleep. I'm Captain Bunker--old drunken

Bunker--who stole one ship from her owners, and disgraced himself, and

now is going to steal another--ha, ha! Let me go."



"Captain Bunker," said Hurlstone, recovering himself in time to prevent

the maniac from dashing into the water. "Look at me. Don't you know me?"



"Yes, yes; you're one of old Bunker's dogs kicked overboard by Perkins.

I'm one of Perkins' dogs gone mad, and locked up by Perkins! Ha, ha! But

I got out! Hush! SHE let me out. SHE thought I was going to see the boys

at San Antonio. But I'm going off to see the old barque out there in the

fog. I'm going to chuck Perkins overboard and the two mates. Let me go."



He struggled violently. Hurlstone, fearful of quitting his hold to

release the fisherman, whom Captain Bunker no longer noticed, and not

daring to increase the Captain's fury by openly calling to him, beckoned

the pinioned man to make an effort. But, paralyzed by fear, the wretched

captive remained immovable, staring at the struggling men. With the

strength of desperation Hurlstone at last forced the Captain down upon

his knees.



"Listen, Captain! We'll go together--you understand. I'll help you--but

we must get a larger boat first--you know."



"But they won't give it," said Captain Bunker mysteriously. "Didn't you

hear the Council--the owners--the underwriters say: 'He lost his ship,

he's ruined and disgraced, for rum, all for rum!' And we want rum, you

know, and it's all over there, in the Excelsior's locker!"



"Yes, yes," said Hurlstone soothingly; "but there's more in the bigger

boat. Come with me. We'll let the man loose, and we'll make him show us

his bigger boat."



It was an unfortunate suggestion; for the Captain, who had listened with

an insane chuckle, and allowed himself to be taken lightly by the

hand, again caught sight of the prostrate fisherman. A yell broke from

him--his former frenzy returned. With a cry of "Treachery! all hands on

deck!" he threw off Hurlstone and rushed into the water.



"Help!" cried the young man, springing after him, "It is madness. He

will kill himself!"



The water was shallow, they were both wading, they both reached the boat

at the same time; but the Captain had scrambled into the stern-sheets,

and cast loose the painter, as Hurlstone once more threw his arms about

him.



"Hear me, Captain. I'll go with you. Listen! I know the way through the

fog. You understand: I'll pilot you!" He was desperate, but no longer

from despair of himself, but of another; he was reckless, but only to

save a madman from the fate that but a moment before he had chosen for

himself.



Captain Bunker seemed to soften. "Get in for'ard," he said, in a lower

voice. Hurlstone released his grasp, but still clinging to the boat,

which had now drifted into deeper water, made his way to the bow. He was

climbing over the thwarts when a horrified cry from the fisherman ashore

and a jarring laugh in his ear caused him to look up. But not in time to

save himself! The treacherous maniac had suddenly launched a blow from

an oar at the unsuspecting man as he was rising to his knees. It

missed his head, but fell upon his arm and shoulder, precipitating him

violently into the sea.



Stunned by the shock, he sank at first like lead to the bottom. When he

rose again, with his returning consciousness, he could see that Captain

Bunker had already hoisted sail, and, with the assistance of his oars,

was rapidly increasing his distance from the shore. With his returning

desperation he turned to strike out after him, but groaned as his one

arm sank powerless to his side. A few strokes showed him the madness

of the attempt; a few more convinced him that he himself could barely

return to the shore. A sudden torpor had taken possession of him--he was

sinking!



With this thought, a struggle for life began; and this man who had just

now sought death so eagerly--with no feeling of inconsistency, with

no physical fear of dissolution, with only a vague, blind, dogged

determination to live for some unknown purpose--a determination as vague

and dogged as his former ideas of self-destruction--summoned all his

energies to reach the shore. He struck out wildly, desperately; once or

twice he thought he felt his feet touch the bottom, only to find himself

powerlessly dragged back towards the sea. With a final superhuman effort

he gained at last a foothold on the muddy strand, and, half scrambling,

half crawling, sank exhaustedly beside the fisherman's net. But the

fisherman was gone! He attempted again to rise to his feet, but a

strange dizziness attacked him. The darkening landscape, with its

contracting wall of fog; the gloomy flat; the still, pale sea, as yet

unruffled by the faint land breeze that was slowly wafting the escaping

boat into the shadowy offing--all swam round him! Through the roaring

in his ears he thought he heard drumbeats, and the fanfare of a trumpet,

and voices. The next moment he had lost all consciousness.



When he came to, he was lying in the guard-room of the Presidio. Among

the group of people who surrounded him he recognized the gaunt features

of the Commander, the sympathetic eyes of Father Esteban, and the

fisherman who had disappeared. When he rose on his elbow, and attempted

to lift himself feebly, the fisherman, with a cry of gratitude, threw

himself on his knees, and kissed his helpless hand.



"He lives, he lives! your Excellencies! Saints be praised, he lives! The

hero--the brave Americano--the noble caballero who delivered me from the

madman."



"Who are you? and whence come you?" demanded the Commander of Hurlstone,

with grave austerity.



Hurlstone hesitated; the priest leaned forward with a half anxious, half

warning gesture. There was a sudden rustle in the passage; the crowd

gave way as Miss Keene, followed by Mrs. Markham, entered. The young

girl's eyes caught those of the prostrate man. With an impulsive cry she

ran towards him.



"Mr. Hurlstone!"



"Hurlstone," echoed the group, pressing nearer the astonished man.



The Comandante lifted his hand gravely with a gesture of silence, and

then slowly removed his plumed hat. Every head was instantly uncovered.



"Long live our brave and noble ally, Don Diego! Long live the beautiful

Dona Leonor!"



A faint shade of sadness passed over the priest's face. He glanced from

Hurlstone to Miss Keene.



"Then you have consented?" he whispered.



Hurlstone cast a rapid glance at Eleanor Keene.



"I consent!"









PART II. FREED.





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