The Return Of The Excelsior





Amazed and disconcerted, Hurlstone, nevertheless, retained his presence

of mind.



"There must be some mistake," he said coolly; "I am certainly not the

person you seem to be expecting."



"Were you not sent here by Winslow?" demanded Perkins.



"No. The person you are looking for is probably one I saw on the shore.

He no doubt became alarmed at my approach, and has allowed me quite

unwittingly to take his place in the boat."



Perkins examined Hurlstone keenly for a moment, stepped to the door,

gave a brief order, and returned.



"Then, if you did not intend the honor of this visit for me," he

resumed, with a smile, "may I ask, my dear fellow, whom you expected

to meet, and on what ship? There are not so many at Todos Santos, if my

memory serves me right, as to create confusion."



"I must decline to answer that question," said Hurlstone curtly.



The Senor smiled, with an accession of his old gentleness.



"My dear young friend," he said, "have you forgotten that on a far more

important occasion to YOU, I showed no desire to pry into your secret?"

Hurlstone made a movement of deprecation. "Nor have I any such desire

now. But for the sake of our coming to an understanding as friends,

let me answer the question for you. You are here, my dear fellow, as

a messenger from the Mission of Todos Santos to the Ecclesiastical

Commission from Guadalajara, whose ship touches here every three years.

It is now due. You have mistaken this vessel for theirs."



Hurlstone remained silent.



"It is no secret," continued Senor Perkins blandly; "nor shall I pretend

to conceal MY purpose here, which is on the invitation of certain

distressed patriots of Todos Santos, to assist them in their deliverance

from the effete tyranny of the Church and its Government. I have been

fortunate enough to anticipate the arrival of your vessel, as you were

fortunate enough to anticipate the arrival of my messenger. I am doubly

fortunate, as it gives me the pleasure of your company this evening,

and necessitates no further trouble than the return of the boat for the

other gentleman--which has already gone. Doubtless you may know him."



"I must warn you again, Senor Perkins," said Hurlstone sternly, "that

I have no connection with any political party; nor have I any sympathy

with your purpose against the constituted authorities."



"I am willing to believe that you have no political affinities at all,

my dear Mr. Hurlstone," returned Perkins, with unruffled composure,

"and, consequently, we will not argue as to what is the constituted

authority of Todos Santos. Perhaps to-morrow it may be on board THIS

SHIP, and I may still have the pleasure of making you at home here!"



"Until then," said Hurlstone dryly, "at least you will allow me to

repair my error by returning to the shore."



"For the moment I hardly think it would be wise," replied Perkins

gently. "Allowing that you escaped the vigilance of my friends on the

shore, whose suspicions you have aroused, and who might do you some

injury, you would feel it your duty to inform those who sent you of the

presence of my ship, and thus precipitate a collision between my

friends and yours, which would be promotive of ill-feeling, and perhaps

bloodshed. You know my peaceful disposition, Mr. Hurlstone; you can

hardly expect me to countenance an act of folly that would be in

violation of it."



"In other words, having decoyed me here on board your ship, you intend

to detain me," said Hurlstone insultingly.



"'Decoy,'" said Perkins, in gentle deprecation, "'decoy' is hardly the

word I expected from a gentleman who has been so unfortunate as to take,

unsolicited and of his own free will, another person's place in a boat.

But," he continued, assuming an easy argumentative attitude, "let us

look at it from your view-point. Let us imagine that YOUR ship had

anticipated mine, and that MY messenger had unwittingly gone on board of

HER. What do you think they would have done to him?"



"They would have hung him at the yard-arm, as he deserved," said

Hurlstone unflinchingly.



"You are wrong," said Perkins gently. "They would have given him the

alternative of betraying his trust, and confessing everything--which he

would probably have accepted. Pardon me!--this is no insinuation against

you," he interrupted,--"but I regret to say that my experience with the

effete Latin races of this continent has not inspired me with confidence

in their loyalty to trust. Let me give you an instance," he continued,

smiling: "the ship you are expecting is supposed to be an inviolable

secret of the Church, but it is known to me--to my friends ashore--and

even to you, my poor friend, a heretic! More than that, I am told that

the Comandante, the Padre, and Alcalde are actually arranging to deport

some of the American women by this vessel, which has been hitherto

sacred to the emissaries of the Church alone. But you probably know

this--it is doubtless part of your errand. I only mention it to convince

you that I have certainly no need either to know your secrets, to hang

you from the yard-arm if you refused to give them up, or to hold you

as hostage for my messenger, who, as I have shown you, can take care of

himself. I shall not ask you for that secret despatch you undoubtedly

carry next your heart, because I don't want it. You are at liberty to

keep it until you can deliver it, or drop it out of that port-hole

into the sea--as you choose. But I hear the boat returning," continued

Perkins, rising gently from his seat as the sound of oars came faintly

alongside, "and no doubt with Winslow's messenger. I am sorry you won't

let me bring you together. I dare say he knows all about you, and it

really need not alter your opinions."



"One moment," said Hurlstone, stunned, yet incredulous of Perkins's

revelations. "You said that both the Comandante and Alcalde had arranged

to send away certain ladies--are you not mistaken?"



"I think not," said Perkins quietly, looking over a pile of papers on

the table before him. "Yes, here it is," he continued, reading from

a memorandum: "'Don Ramon Ramirez arranged with Pepe for the secret

carrying off of Dona Barbara Brimmer.' Why, that was six weeks ago, and

here we have the Comandante suborning one Marcia, a dragoon, to abduct

Mrs. Markham--by Jove, my old friend!--and Dona Leonor--our beauty, was

she not? Yes, here it is: in black and white. Read it, if you like,--and

pardon me for one moment, while I receive this unlucky messenger."



Left to himself, Hurlstone barely glanced at the memorandum, which

seemed to be the rough minutes of some society. He believed Perkins; but

was it possible that the Padre could be ignorant of the designs of his

fellow-councilors? And if he were not--if he had long before been in

complicity with them for the removal of Eleanor, might he not also have

duped him, Hurlstone, and sent him on this mission as a mere blind;

and--more infamously--perhaps even thus decoyed him on board the wrong

ship? No--it was impossible! His honest blood quickly flew to his cheek

at that momentary disloyal suspicion.



Nevertheless, the Senor's bland revelations filled him with vague

uneasiness. SHE was safe with her brother now; but what if he and

the other Americans were engaged in this ridiculous conspiracy, this

pot-house rebellion that Father Esteban had spoken of, and which he had

always treated with such contempt? It seemed strange that Perkins had

said nothing of the arrival of the relieving party from the Gulf, and

its probable effect on the malcontents. Did he know it? or was the news

now being brought by this messenger whom he, Hurlstone, had supplanted?

If so, when and how had Perkins received the intelligence that brought

him to Todos Santos? The young man could scarcely repress a bitter smile

as he remembered the accepted idea of Todos Santos' inviolability--that

inaccessible port that had within six weeks secretly summoned Perkins

to its assistance! And it was there he believed himself secure!

What security had he at all? Might not this strange, unimpassioned,

omniscient man already know HIS secret as he had known the others'?



The interview of Perkins with the messenger in the next cabin was a long

one, and apparently a stormy one on the part of the newcomer. Hurlstone

could hear his excited foreign voice, shrill with the small vehemence of

a shallow character; but there was no change in the slow, measured tones

of the Senor. He listlessly began to turn over the papers on the table.

Presently he paused. He had taken up a sheet of paper on which Senor

Perkins had evidently been essaying some composition in verse. It seemed

to have been of a lugubrious character. The titular line at the top

of the page, "Dirge," had been crossed out for the substituted "In

Memoriam." He read carelessly:



"O Muse unmet--but not unwept--

I seek thy sacred haunt in vain.

Too late, alas! the tryst is kept--

We may not meet again!



"I sought thee 'midst the orange bloom,

To find that thou hadst grasped the palm

Of martyr, and the silent tomb

Had hid thee in its calm.



"By fever racked, thou languishest

On Nicaragua's"--



Hurlstone threw the paper aside. Although he had not forgotten the

Senor's reputation for sentimental extravagance, and on another occasion

might have laughed at it, there was something so monstrous in

this hysterical, morbid composition of the man who was even then

contemplating bloodshed and crime, that he was disgusted. Like most

sentimental egotists, Hurlstone was exceedingly intolerant of that

quality in others, and he turned for relief to his own thoughts of

Eleanor Keene and his own unfortunate passion. HE could not have written

poetry at such a moment!



But the cabin-door opened, and Senor Perkins appeared. Whatever might

have been the excited condition of his unknown visitor, the Senor's

round, clean-shaven face was smiling and undisturbed by emotion. As

his eye fell on the page of manuscript Hurlstone had just cast down, a

slight shadow crossed his beneficent expanse of forehead, and deepened

in his soft dark eyes; but the next moment it was chased away by his

quick recurring smile. Even thus transient and superficial was his

feeling, thought Hurlstone.



"I have some news for you," said Perkins affably, "which may alter your

decision about returning. My friends ashore," he continued, "judging

from the ingenuous specimen which has just visited me, are more

remarkable for their temporary zeal and spasmodic devotion than for

prudent reserve or lasting discretion. They have submitted a list to me

of those whom they consider dangerous to Mexican liberty, and whom they

are desirous of hanging. I regret to say that the list is illogical, and

the request inopportune. Our friend Mr. Banks is put down as an ally

of the Government and an objectionable business rival of that eminent

patriot and well-known drover, Senor Martinez, who just called upon me.

Mr. Crosby's humor is considered subversive of a proper respect for all

patriotism; but I cannot understand why they have added YOUR name as

especially 'dangerous.'"



Hurlstone made a gesture of contempt.



"I suppose they pay me the respect of considering me a friend of the

old priest. So be it! I hope they will let the responsibility fall on me

alone."



"The Padre is already proscribed as one of the Council," said Senor

Perkins quietly.



"Do you mean to say," said Hurlstone impetuously, "that you will permit

a hair of that innocent old man's head to be harmed by those wretches?"



"You are generous but hasty, my friend," said Senor Perkins, in gentle

deprecation. "Allow me to put your question in another way. Ask me if

I intend to perpetuate the Catholic Church in Todos Santos by adding

another martyr to its roll, and I will tell you--No! I need not say

that I am equally opposed to any proceedings against Banks, Crosby, and

yourself, for diplomatic reasons, apart from the kindly memories of our

old associations on this ship. I have therefore been obliged to return

to the excellent Martinez his little list, with the remark that I should

hold HIM personally responsible if any of you are molested. There

is, however, no danger. Messrs. Banks and Crosby are with the other

Americans, whom we have guaranteed to protect, at the Mission, in the

care of your friend the Padre. You are surprised! Equally so was the

Padre. Had you delayed your departure an hour you would have met them,

and I should have been debarred the pleasure of your company.



"By to-morrow," continued Perkins, placing the tips of his fingers

together reflectively, "the Government of Todos Santos will have changed

hands, and without bloodshed. You look incredulous! My dear young

friend, it has been a part of my professional pride to show the world

that these revolutions can be accomplished as peacefully as our own

changes of administration. But for a few infelicitous accidents, this

would have been the case of the late liberation of Quinquinambo. The

only risk run is to myself--the leader, and that is as it should be. But

all this personal explanation is, doubtless, uninteresting to you, my

young friend. I meant only to say that, if you prefer not to remain

here, you can accompany me when I leave the ship at nine o'clock with a

small reconnoitring party, and I will give you safe escort back to your

friends at the Mission."



This amicable proposition produced a sudden revulsion of feeling in

Hurlstone. To return to those people from whom he was fleeing, in what

was scarcely yet a serious emergency, was not to be thought of! Yet,

where could he go? How could he be near enough to assist HER without

again openly casting his lot among them? And would they not consider

his return an act of cowardice? He could not restrain a gesture of

irritation as he rose impatiently to his feet.



"You are agitated, my dear fellow. It is not unworthy of your youth;

but, believe me, it is unnecessary," said Perkins, in his most soothing

manner. "Sit down. You have an hour yet to make your decision. If you

prefer to remain, you will accompany the ship to Todos Santos and join

me."



"I don't comprehend you," interrupted Hurlstone suspiciously.



"I forgot," said Perkins, with a bland smile, "that you are unaware of

our plan of campaign. After communicating with the insurgents, I land

here with a small force to assist them. I do this to anticipate any

action and prevent the interference of the Mexican coaster, now due,

which always touches here through ignorance of the channel leading to

the Bay of Todos Santos and the Presidio. I then send the Excelsior,

that does know the channel, to Todos Santos, to appear before the

Presidio, take the enemy in flank, and cooperate with us. The arrival

of the Excelsior there is the last move of this little game, if I may so

call it: it is 'checkmate to the King,' the clerical Government of Todos

Santos."



A little impressed, in spite of himself, with the calm forethought and

masterful security of the Senor, Hurlstone thanked him with a greater

show of respect than he had hitherto evinced. The Senor looked

gratified, but unfortunately placed that respect the next moment in

peril.



"You were possibly glancing over these verses," he said, with a

hesitating and almost awkward diffidence, indicating the manuscript

Hurlstone had just thrown aside. "It is merely the first rough draft

of a little tribute I had begun to a charming friend. I sometimes," he

interpolated, with an apologetic smile, "trifle with the Muse. Perhaps I

ought not to use the word 'trifle' in connection with a composition of

a threnodial and dirge-like character," he continued deprecatingly.

"Certainly not in the presence of a gentleman as accomplished and

educated as yourself, to whom recreation of this kind is undoubtedly

familiar. My occupations have been, unfortunately, of a nature not

favorable to the indulgence of verse. As a college man yourself, my dear

sir, you will probably forgive the lucubrations of an old graduate of

William and Mary's, who has forgotten his 'ars poetica.' The verses you

have possibly glanced at are crude, I am aware, and perhaps show the

difficulty of expressing at once the dictates of the heart and the

brain. They refer to a dear friend now at peace. You have perhaps,

in happier and more careless hours, heard me speak of Mrs. Euphemia

M'Corkle, of Illinois?"



Hurlstone remembered indistinctly to have heard, even in his reserved

exclusiveness on the Excelsior, the current badinage of the passengers

concerning Senor Perkins' extravagant adulation of this unknown poetess.

As a part of the staple monotonous humor of the voyage, it had only

disgusted him. With a feeling that he was unconsciously sharing the

burlesque relief of the passengers, he said, with a polite attempt at

interest,



"Then the lady is--no more?"



"If that term can be applied to one whose work is immortal," corrected

Senor Perkins gently. "All that was finite of this gifted woman was

lately forwarded by Adams's Express Company from San Juan, to receive

sepulture among her kindred at Keokuk, Iowa."



"Did she say she was from that place?" asked Hurlstone, with half

automatic interest.



"The Consul says she gave that request to the priest."



"Then you were not with her when she died?" said Hurlstone absently.



"I was NEVER with her, neither then nor before," returned Senor Perkins

gravely. Seeing Hurlstone's momentary surprise, he went on, "The late

Mrs. M'Corkle and I never met--we were personally unknown to each other.

You may have observed the epithet 'unmet' in the first line of the first

stanza; you will then understand that the privation of actual contact

with this magnetic soul would naturally impart more difficulty into

elegiac expression."



"Then you never really saw the lady you admire?" said Hurlstone

vacantly.



"Never. The story is a romantic one," said Perkins, with a smile that

was half complacent and yet half embarrassed. "May I tell it to you?

Thanks. Some three years ago I contributed some verses to the columns

of a Western paper edited by a friend of mine. The subject chosen was my

favorite one, 'The Liberation of Mankind,' in which I may possibly have

expressed myself with some poetic fervor on a theme so dear to my heart.

I may remark without vanity, that it received high encomiums--perhaps at

some more opportune moment you may be induced to cast your eyes over a

copy I still retain--but no praise touched me as deeply as a tribute

in verse in another journal from a gifted unknown, who signed herself

'Euphemia.' The subject of the poem, which was dedicated to myself,

was on the liberation of women--from--er--I may say certain domestic

shackles; treated perhaps vaguely, but with grace and vigor. I replied

a week later in a larger poem, recording more fully my theories and

aspirations regarding a struggling Central American confederacy,

addressed to 'Euphemia.' She rejoined with equal elaboration and

detail, referring to a more definite form of tyranny in the relations of

marriage, and alluding with some feeling to uncongenial experiences of

her own. An instinct of natural delicacy, veiled under the hyperbole

of 'want of space,' prevented my editorial friend from encouraging the

repetition of this charming interchange of thought and feeling. But I

procured the fair stranger's address; we began a correspondence, at once

imaginative and sympathetic in expression, if not always poetical

in form. I was called to South America by the Macedonian cry of

'Quinquinambo!' I still corresponded with her. When I returned to

Quinquinambo I received letters from her, dated from San Francisco. I

feel that my words could only fail, my dear Hurlstone, to convey to you

the strength and support I derived from those impassioned breathings

of aid and sympathy at that time. Enough for me to confess that it was

mainly due to the deep womanly interest that SHE took in the fortunes

of the passengers of the Excelsior that I gave the Mexican authorities

early notice of their whereabouts. But, pardon me,"--he stopped

hesitatingly, with a slight flush, as he noticed the utterly inattentive

face and attitude of Hurlstone,--"I am boring you. I am forgetting

that this is only important to myself," he added, with a sigh. "I only

intended to ask your advice in regard to the disposition of certain

manuscripts and effects of hers, which are unconnected with our

acquaintance. I thought, perhaps, I might entrust them to your delicacy

and consideration. They are here, if you choose to look them over; and

here is also what I believe to be a daguerreotype of the lady herself,

but in which I fail to recognize her soul and genius."



He laid a bundle of letters and a morocco case on the table with a

carelessness that was intended to hide a slight shade of disappointment

in his face--and rose.



"I beg your pardon," said Hurlstone, in confused and remorseful apology;

"but I frankly confess that my thoughts WERE preoccupied. Pray forgive

me. If you will leave these papers with me, I promise to devote myself

to them another time."



"As you please," said the Senor, with a slight return of his old

affability. "But don't bore yourself now. Let us go on deck."



He passed out of the cabin as Hurlstone glanced, half mechanically, at

the package before him. Suddenly his cheek reddened; he stopped, looked

hurriedly at the retreating form of Perkins, and picked up a manuscript

from the packet. It was in his wife's handwriting. A sudden idea flashed

across his mind, and seemed to illuminate the obscure monotony of the

story he had just heard. He turned hurriedly to the morocco case, and

opened it with trembling fingers. It was a daguerreotype, faded and

silvered; but the features were those of his wife!





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