Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories

Another Portent

From: The Crusade Of The Excelsior

The saloon of the Excelsior was spacious for the size of the vessel, and
was furnished in a style superior to most passenger-ships of that epoch.
The sun was shining through the sliding windows upon the fresh and
neatly arranged breakfast-table, but the presence of the ominous
"storm-racks," and partitions for glass and china, and the absence of
the more delicate passengers, still testified to the potency of the Gulf
of California. Even those present wore an air of fatigued discontent,
and the conversation had that jerky interjectional quality which
belonged to people with a common grievance, but a different individual
experience. Mr. Winslow had been unable to shave. Mrs. Markham,
incautiously and surreptitiously opening a port-hole in her state-room
for a whiff of fresh air while dressing, had been shocked by the
intrusion of the Pacific Ocean, and was obliged to summon assistance
and change her dress. Jack Crosby, who had attired himself for tropical
shore-going in white ducks and patent leathers, shivered in the keen
northwest Trades, and bewailed the cheap cigars he had expected to buy
at Mazatlan. The entrance of Miss Keene, who seemed to bring with her
the freshness and purity of the dazzling outer air, stirred the younger
men into some gallant attention, embarrassed, however, by a sense of

Senor Perkins alone retained his normal serenity. Already seated at
the table between the two fair-headed children of Mrs. Brimmer, he
was benevolently performing parental duties in her absence, and gently
supervising and preparing their victuals even while he carried on an
ethnological and political discussion with Mrs. Markham.

"Ah, my dear lady," continued the Senor, as he spread a hot biscuit with
butter and currant jelly for the youngest Miss Brimmer, "I am afraid
that, with the fastidiousness of your sex, you allow your refined
instincts against a race who only mix with ours in a menial capacity to
prejudice your views of their ability for enlightened self-government.
That may be true of the aborigines of the Old World--like our friends
the Lascars among the crew"--

"They're so snaky, dark, and deceitful-looking," interrupted Mrs.

"I might differ from you there, and say that the higher blonde types
like the Anglo-Saxon--to say nothing of the wily Greeks--were the
deceitful races: it might be difficult for any of us to say what a sly
and deceitful man should be like"--

"Oor not detheitful--oor a dood man," interpolated the youngest Miss
Brimmer, fondly regarding the biscuit.

"Thank you, Missie," beamed the Senor; "but to return: our Lascar
friends, Mrs. Markham, belong to an earlier Asiatic type of civilization
already decayed or relapsed to barbarism, while the aborigines of the
New World now existing have never known it--or, like the Aztecs, have
perished with it. The modern North American aborigine has not yet got
beyond the tribal condition; mingled with Caucasian blood as he is in
Mexico and Central America, he is perfectly capable of self-government."

"Then why has he never obtained it?" asked Mrs. Markham.

"He has always been oppressed and kept down by colonists of the Latin
races; he has been little better than a slave to his oppressor for the
last two centuries," said Senor Perkins, with a slight darkening of his
soft eyes.

"Injins is pizen," whispered Mr. Winslow to Miss Keene.

"Who would be free, you know, the poet says, ought themselves to light
out from the shoulder, and all that sort of thing," suggested Crosby,
with cheerful vagueness.

"True; but a little assistance and encouragement from mankind generally
would help them," continued the Senor. "Ah! my dear Mrs. Markham,
if they could even count on the intelligent sympathy of women like
yourself, their independence would be assured. And think what a proud
privilege to have contributed to such a result, to have assisted at the
birth of the ideal American Republic, for such it would be--a Republic
of one blood, one faith, one history."

"What on earth, or sea, ever set the old man off again?" inquired
Crosby, in an aggrieved whisper. "It's two weeks since he's given us any
Central American independent flapdoodle--long enough for those nigger
injins to have had half a dozen revolutions. You know that the vessels
that put into San Juan have saluted one flag in the morning, and have
been fired at under another in the afternoon."

"Hush!" said Miss Keene. "He's so kind! Look at him now, taking off the
pinafores of those children and tidying them. He is kinder to them than
their nurse, and more judicious than their mother. And half his talk
with Mrs. Markham now is only to please her, because she thinks she
knows politics. He's always trying to do good to somebody."

"That's so," exclaimed Brace, eager to share Miss Keene's sentiments;
"and he's so good to those outlandish niggers in the crew. I don't see
how the captain could get on with the crew without him; he's the only
one who can talk their gibberish and keep them quiet. I've seen him
myself quietly drop down among them when they were wrangling. In my
opinion," continued the young fellow, lowering his voice somewhat
ostentatiously, "you'll find out when we get to port that he's stopped
the beginning of many a mutiny among them."

"I reckon they'd make short work of a man like him," said Winslow, whose
superciliousness was by no means lessened by the community of sentiment
between Miss Keene and Brace. "I reckon, his political reforms, and his
poetical high-falutin' wouldn't go as far in the forecastle among live
men as it does in the cabin with a lot of women. You'll more likely
find that he's been some sort of steward on a steamer, and he's
working his passage with us. That's where he gets that smooth,
equally-attentive-to-anybody sort of style. The way he skirmished around
Mrs. Brimmer and Mrs. Markham with a basin the other day when it was so
rough convinced ME. It was a little too professional to suit my style."

"I suppose that was the reason why you went below so suddenly," rejoined
Brace, whose too sensitive blood was beginning to burn in his cheeks and

"It's a shame to stay below this morning," said Miss Keene,
instinctively recognizing the cause of the discord and its remedy. "I'm
going on deck again--if I can manage to get there."

The three gentlemen sprang to accompany her; and, in their efforts to
keep their physical balance and hers equally, the social equilibrium was

By noon, however, the heavy cross-sea had abated, and the Excelsior bore
west. When she once more rose and fell regularly on the long rhythmical
swell of the Pacific, most of the passengers regained the deck. Even
Mrs. Brimmer and Miss Chubb ventured from their staterooms, and were
conveyed to and installed in some state on a temporary divan of cushions
and shawls on the lee side. For even in this small republic of equal
cabin passengers the undemocratic and distinction-loving sex had managed
to create a sham exclusiveness. Mrs. Brimmer, as the daughter of a
rich Bostonian, the sister of a prominent lawyer, and the wife of a
successful San Francisco merchant, who was popularly supposed to be
part-owner of the Excelsior, was recognized, and alternately caressed
and hated as their superior. A majority of the male passengers, owning
no actual or prospective matrimonial subjection to those charming
toad-eaters, I am afraid continued to enjoy a mild and debasing equality
among themselves, mitigated only by the concessions of occasional
gallantry. To them, Mrs. Brimmer was a rather pretty, refined,
well-dressed woman, whose languid pallor, aristocratic spareness,
and utter fastidiousness did not, however, preclude a certain nervous
intensity which occasionally lit up her weary eyes with a dangerous
phosphorescence, under their brown fringes. Equally acceptable was Miss
Chubb, her friend and traveling companion; a tall, well-bred girl, with
faint salmon-pink hair and complexion, that darkened to a fiery brown in
her shortsighted eyes.

Between these ladies and Mrs. Markham and Miss Keene existed an
enthusiastic tolerance, which, however, could never be mistaken for
a generous rivalry. Of the greater popularity of Miss Keene as the
recognized belle of the Excelsior there could be no question; nor was
there any from Mrs. Brimmer and her friend. The intellectual preeminence
of Mrs. Markham was equally, and no less ostentatiously, granted. "Mrs.
Markham is so clever; I delight to hear you converse together," Mrs.
Brimmer would say to Senor Perkins, "though I'm sure I hardly dare talk
to her myself. She might easily go into the lecture-field--perhaps she
expects to do so in California. My dear Clarissa"--to Miss Chubb--"don't
she remind you a little of Aunt Jane Winthrop's governess, whom we
came so near taking to Paris with us, but couldn't on account of her
defective French?"

When "The Excelsior Banner and South Sea Bubble" was published in lat.
15 N. and long. 105 W., to which Mrs. Markham contributed the editorials
and essays, and Senor Perkins three columns of sentimental poetry,
Mrs. Brimmer did not withhold her praise of the fair editor. When the
Excelsior "Recrossed the Line," with a suitable tableau vivant and
pageant, and Miss Keene as California, in white and blue, welcomed from
the hands of Neptune (Senor Perkins) and Amphitrite (Mrs. Markham) her
fair sister, Massachusetts (Mrs. Brimmer), and New York (Miss Chubb),
Mrs. Brimmer was most enthusiastic of the beauty of Miss Keene.

On the present morning Mr. Banks found his disappointment at not going
into Mazatlan languidly shared by Mrs. Brimmer. That lady even made a
place for him on the cushions beside her, as she pensively expressed her
belief that her husband would be still more disappointed.

"Mr. Brimmer, you know, has correspondents at Mazatlan, and no doubt
he has made particular arrangements for our reception and entertainment
while there. I should not wonder if he was very indignant. And if, as I
fear, the officials of the place, knowing Mr. Brimmer's position--and my
own connections--have prepared to show us social courtesies, it may be
a graver affair. I shouldn't be surprised if our Government were obliged
to take notice of it. There is a Captain-General of port--isn't there? I
think my husband spoke of him."

"Oh, he's probably been shot long ago," broke in Mr. Crosby cheerfully.
"They put in a new man every revolution. If the wrong party's got in,
they've likely shipped your husband's correspondent too, and might
be waiting to get a reception for you with nigger soldiers and ball
cartridges. Shouldn't wonder if the skipper got wind of something of the
kind, and that's why he didn't put in. If your husband hadn't been so
well known, you see, we might have slipped in all right."

Mrs. Brimmer received this speech with the languid obliviousness of
perception she usually meted out to this chartered jester.

"Do you really think so, Mr. Crosby? And would you have been afraid to
leave your cabin--or are you joking? You know I never know when you are.
It is very dreadful, either way."

But here Miss Chubb, with ready tact, interrupted any possible retort
from Mr. Crosby.

"Look," she said, pointing to some of the other passengers, who, at
a little distance, had grouped about the first mate in animated
discussion. "I wonder what those gentlemen are so interested about. Do
go and see."

Before he could reply, Mr. Winslow, detaching himself from the group,
hurried towards them.

"Here's a row: Hurlstone is missing! Can't be found anywhere! They think
he's fallen overboard!"

The two frightened exclamations from Miss Chubb and Mrs. Brimmer
diverted attention from the sudden paleness of Miss Keene, who had
impulsively approached them.

"Impossible!" she said hurriedly.

"I fear it is so," said Brace, who had followed Winslow; "although," he
added in a lower tone, with an angry glance at the latter, "that brute
need not have blustered it out to frighten everybody. They're searching
the ship again, but there seems no hope. He hasn't been seen since last
night. He was supposed to be in his state-room--but as nobody missed
him--you know how odd and reserved he was--it was only when the steward
couldn't find him, and began to inquire, that everybody remembered they
hadn't seen him all day. You are frightened, Miss Keene; pray sit down.
That fellow Winslow ought to have had more sense."

"It seems so horrible that nobody knew it," said the young girl,
shuddering; "that we sat here laughing and talking, while perhaps he
was--Good heavens! what's that?"

A gruff order had been given: in the bustle that ensued the ship began
to fall off to leeward; a number of the crew had sprung to the davits of
the quarter boat.

"We're going about, and they're lowering a boat, that's all; but it's as
good as hopeless," said Brace. "The accident must have happened before
daylight, or it would have been seen by the watch. It was probably long
before we came on deck," he added gently; "so comfort yourself, Miss
Keene, you could have seen nothing."

"It seems so dreadful," murmured the young girl, "that he wasn't even
missed. Why," she said, suddenly raising her soft eyes to Brace, "YOU
must have noticed his absence; why, even I"--She stopped with a slight
confusion, that was, however, luckily diverted by the irrepressible

"The skipper's been routed out at last, and is giving orders. He don't
look as if his hat fitted him any too comfortably this morning, does
he?" he laughed, as a stout, grizzled man, with congested face and
eyes, and a peremptory voice husky with alcoholic irritation, suddenly
appeared among the group by the wheel. "I reckon he's cursing his luck
at having to heave-to and lose this wind."

"But for a human creature's life!" exclaimed Mrs. Markham in horror.

"That's just it. Laying-to now ain't going to save anybody's life, and
he knows it. He's doin' it for show, just for a clean record in the log,
and to satisfy you people here, who'd kick up a row if he didn't."

"Then you believe he's lost?" said Miss Keene, with glistening eyes.

"There ain't a doubt of it," returned Winslow shortly.

"I don't agree with you," said a gentle voice.

They turned quickly towards the benevolent face of Senor Perkins, who
had just joined them.

"I differ from my young friend," continued the Senor courteously,
"because the accident must have happened at about daybreak, when we were
close inshore. It would not be impossible for a good swimmer to reach
the land, or even," continued Senor Perkins, in answer to the ray of
hope that gleamed in Miss Keene's soft eyes, "for him to have been
picked up by some passing vessel. The smoke of a large steamer was
sighted between us and the land at about that time."

"A steamer!" ejaculated Banks eagerly; "that was one of the new line
with the mails. How provoking!"

He was thinking of his lost letters. Miss Keene turned, heart-sick,
away. Worse than the ghastly interruption to their easy idyllic life
was this grim revelation of selfishness. She began to doubt if even the
hysterical excitement of her sister passengers was not merely a pleasant
titillation of their bored and inactive nerves.

"I believe the Senor is right, Miss Keene," said Brace, taking her
aside, "and I'll tell you why." He stopped, looked around him, and went
on in a lower voice, "There are some circumstances about the affair
which look more like deliberation than an accident. He has left nothing
behind him of any value or that gives any clue. If it was a suicide he
would have left some letter behind for somebody--people always do, you
know, at such times--and he would have chosen the open sea. It seems
more probable that he threw himself overboard with the intention of
reaching the shore."

"But why should he want to leave the ship?" echoed the young girl

"Perhaps he found out that we were NOT going to Mazatlan, and this was
his only chance; it must have happened just as the ship went about and
stood off from shore again."

"But I don't understand," continued Miss Keene, with a pretty knitting
of her brows, "why he should be so dreadfully anxious to get ashore

The young fellow looked at her with the superior smile of youthful

"Suppose he had particular reasons for not going to San Francisco, where
our laws could reach him! Suppose he had committed some offense! Suppose
he was afraid of being questioned or recognized!"

The young girl rose indignantly.

"This is really too shameful! Who dare talk like that?"

Brace colored quickly.

"Who? Why, everybody," he stammered, for a moment abandoning his
attitude of individual acumen; "it's the talk of the ship."

"Is it? And before they know whether he's alive or dead--perhaps even
while he is still struggling with death--all they can do is to take his
character away!" she repeated, with flashing eyes.

"And I'm even worse than they are," he returned, his temper rising with
his color. "I ought to have known I was talking to one of HIS friends,
instead of one whom I thought was MINE. I beg your pardon."

He turned away as Miss Keene, apparently not heeding his pique, crossed
the deck, and entered into conversation with Mrs. Markham.

It is to be feared that she found little consolation among the other
passengers, or even those of her own sex, whom this profound event
had united in a certain freemasonry of sympathy and interest--to the
exclusion of their former cliques. She soon learned, as the return of
the boats to the ship and the ship to her course might have clearly told
her, that there was no chance of recovering the missing passenger. She
learned that the theory advanced by Brace was the one generally held by
them; but with an added romance of detail, that excited at once their
commiseration and admiration. Mrs. Brimmer remembered to have heard him,
the second or third night out from Callao, groaning in his state-room;
but having mistakenly referred the emotion to ordinary seasickness,
she had no doubt lost an opportunity for confidential disclosure. "I am
sure," she added, "that had somebody as resolute and practical as you,
dear Mrs. Markham, approached him the next day, he would have revealed
his sorrow." Miss Chubb was quite certain that she had seen him one
night, in tears, by the quarter railing. "I saw his eyes glistening
under his slouched hat as I passed. I remember thinking, at the time,
that he oughtn't to have been left alone with such a dreadful temptation
before him to slip overboard and end his sorrow or his crime." Mrs.
Markham also remembered that it was about five o'clock--or was it
six?--that morning when she distinctly thought she had heard a splash,
and she was almost impelled to get up and look out of the bull's-eye.
She should never forgive herself for resisting that impulse, for she
was positive now that she would have seen his ghastly face in the water.
Some indignation was felt that the captain, after a cursory survey
of his stateroom, had ordered it to be locked until his fate was more
positively known, and the usual seals placed on his effects for their
delivery to the authorities at San Francisco. It was believed that some
clue to his secret would be found among his personal chattels, if only
in the form of a keepsake, a locket, or a bit of jewelry. Miss Chubb had
noticed that he wore a seal ring, but not on the engagement-finger. In
some vague feminine way it was admitted without discussion that one of
their own sex was mixed up in the affair, and, with the exception of
Miss Keene, general credence was given to the theory that Mazatlan
contained his loadstar--the fatal partner and accomplice of his crime,
the siren that allured him to his watery grave. I regret to say that the
facts gathered by the gentlemen were equally ineffective. The steward
who had attended the missing man was obliged to confess that their most
protracted and confidential conversation had been on the comparative
efficiency of ship biscuits and soda crackers. Mr. Banks, who was known
to have spoken to him, could only remember that one warm evening, in
reply to a casual remark about the weather, the missing man, burying his
ears further in the turned-up collar of his pea-jacket, had stated, "'It
was cold enough to freeze the ears off a brass monkey,'--a remark, no
doubt, sir, intended to convey a reason for his hiding his own." Only
Senor Perkins retained his serene optimism unimpaired.

"Take my word for it, we shall yet hear good news of our missing friend.
Let us at least believe it until we know otherwise. Ah! my dear Mrs.
Markham, why should the Unknown always fill us with apprehension? Its
surprises are equally often agreeable."

"But we have all been so happy before this; and this seems such an
unnecessary and cruel awakening," said Miss Keene, lifting her sad eyes
to the speaker, "that I can't help thinking it's the beginning of the
end. Good heavens! what's that?"

She had started at the dark figure of one of the foreign-looking
sailors, who seemed to have suddenly risen out of the deck beside them.

"The Senor Perkins," he said, with an apologetic gesture of his hand to
his hatless head.

"You want ME, my good man?" asked Senor Perkins paternally.

"Si, Senor; the mate wishes to see the Patrono," he said in Spanish.

"I will come presently."

The sailor hesitated. Senor Perkins took a step nearer to him
benignantly. The man raised his eyes to Senor Perkins, and said,--


"Bueno!" returned the Senor gently. "Excuse me, ladies, for a moment."

"Perhaps it is some news of poor Mr. Hurlstone?" said Miss Keene, with
an instinctive girlish movement of hope.

"Who knows?" returned Senor Perkins, waving his hand as he gayly tripped
after his guide. "Let us believe in the best, dear young lady, the

Next: Vigilancia

Previous: A Crusader And A Sign

Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 526