The Mourners At San Francisco





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."





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