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TODOS SANTOS SOLVES THE MYSTERY.
Notwithstanding his promise, and the summons of the Council, Father Esteban, on parting with the Excelsior prisoners in the San Antonio Road, did not proceed immediately to the presence of the Comandante. Partly anxious to inform himself more thoroughly regarding Hurlstone's antecedents before entering upon legislative functions that might concern him, partly uneasy at Brace's allusion to any possible ungentleness in the treatment of the fair Americanas, and partly apprehensive that Mrs. Brimmer might seek him at the Mission in the present emergency, the good Father turned his steps towards the Alcalde's house.
Mrs. Brimmer, in a becoming morning wrapper, half reclining in an Indian hammock in the corridor, supported by Miss Chubb, started at his approach. So did the young Alcalde, sympathetically seated at her side. Padre Esteban for an instant was himself embarrassed; Mrs. Brimmer quickly recovered her usual bewildering naivete.
"I knew you would come; but if you hadn't, I should have mustered courage enough to go with Miss Chubb to find you at the Mission," she said, half coquettishly. "Not but that Don Ramon has been all kindness and consideration, but you know one always clings to one's spiritual adviser in such an emergency; and although there are differences of opinion between us, I think I may speak to you as freely as I would speak to my dear friend Dr. Potts, of Trinity Chapel. Of course you don't know HIM; but you couldn't have helped liking him, he's so gentle, so tactful, so refined! But do tell me the fullest particulars of this terrible calamity that has happened so awkwardly. Tell me all! I fear that Don Ramon, out of kindness, has not told me everything. I have been perfectly frank, I told him everything--who I am, who Mr. Brimmer is, and given him even the connections of my friend Miss Chubb. I can do no more; but you will surely have no difficulty in finding some one in Todos Santos who has heard of the Quincys and Brimmers. I've no doubt that there are books in your library that mention them. Of course I can say nothing of the other passengers, except that Mr. Brimmer would not have probably permitted me to associate with any notorious persons. I confess now--I think I told you once before, Clarissa--that I greatly doubted Captain Bunker's ability"--
"Ah," murmured Don Ramon.
"--To make a social selection," continued Mrs. Brimmer. "He may have been a good sailor, and boxed his compass, but he lacked a knowledge of the world. Of the other passengers I can truly say I know nothing; I cannot think that Mr. Crosby's sense of humor led him into bad associations, or that he ever went beyond verbal impropriety. Certainly nothing in Miss Keene's character has led me to believe she could so far forget what was due to herself and to us as to address a lawless mob in the streets as she did just now; although her friend Mrs. Markham, as I just told Don Ramon, is an advocate of Women's Rights and Female Suffrage, and I believe she contemplates addressing the public from the lecturer's platform."
"It isn't possible!" interrupted Don Ramon excitedly, in mingled horror of the masculinely rampant Mrs. Markham and admiration of the fascinatingly feminine Mrs. Brimmer; "a lady cannot be an orator--a haranguer of men!"
"Not in society," responded Mrs. Brimmer, with a sigh, "and I do not remember to have met the lady before. The fact is, she does not move in our circle--in the upper classes."
The Alcalde exchanged a glance with the Padre.
"Ah! you have classes? and she is of a distinct class, perhaps?"
"Decidedly," said Mrs. Brimmer promptly.
"Pardon me," said Padre Esteban, with gentle persuasiveness, "but you are speaking of your fellow-passengers. Know you not, then, of one Hurlstone, who is believed to be still in the ship Excelsior, and perhaps of the party who seized it?"
"Mr. Hurlstone?--it is possible; but I know really nothing of him," said Mrs. Brimmer carelessly. "I don't think Clarissa did, either--did you, dear? Even in our enforced companionship we had to use some reserve, and we may have drawn the line at him! He was a friend of Miss Keene's; indeed, she was the only one who seemed to know him."
"And she is now here?" asked the Padre eagerly.
"No. She is with her friend the Senora Markham, at the Presidio. The Comandante has given her the disposition of his house," said Don Ramon, with a glance of grave archness at Mrs. Brimmer; "it is not known which is the most favored, the eloquent orator or the beautiful and daring leader!"
"Mrs. Markham is a married woman," said Mrs. Brimmer severely, "and, of course, she can do as she pleases; but it is far different with Miss Keene. I should scarcely consider it proper to expose Miss Chubb to the hospitality of a single man, without other women, and I cannot understand how she could leave the companionship and protection of your lovely sisters."
The priest here rose, and, with formal politeness, excused himself, urging the peremptory summons of the Council.
"I scarcely expected, indeed, to have had the pleasure of seeing my colleague here," he added with quiet suavity, turning to the Alcalde.
"I have already expressed my views to the Comandante," said the official, with some embarrassment, "and my attendance will hardly be required."
The occasional misleading phosphorescence of Mrs. Brimmer's quiet eyes, early alluded to in these pages, did not escape Father Esteban's quick perception at that moment; however, he preferred to leave his companion to follow its aberrations rather than to permit that fair ignis fatuus to light him on his way by it.
"But my visit to you, Father Esteban," she began sweetly, "is only postponed."
"Until I have the pleasure of anticipating it here," said the priest, with paternal politeness bending before the two ladies; "but for the present, au revoir!"
"It would be an easy victory to win this discreetly emotional Americana to the Church," said Father Esteban to himself, as he crossed the plaza; "but, if I mistake not, she would not cease to be a disturbing element even there. However, she is not such as would give this Hurlstone any trouble. It seems I must look elsewhere for the brains of this party, and to find a solution of this young man's mystery; and, if I judge correctly, it is with this beautiful young agitator of revolutions and her oratorical duenna I must deal."
He entered the low gateway of the Presidio unchallenged, and even traversed the courtyard without meeting a soul. The guard and sentries had evidently withdrawn to their habitual peaceful vocations, and the former mediaeval repose of the venerable building had returned. There was no one in the guard-room; but as the priest turned back to the corridor, his quick ear was suddenly startled by the unhallowed and inconsistent sounds of a guitar. A monotonous voice also--the Comandante's evidently--was raised in a thin, high recitative.
The Padre passed hastily through the guard-room, and opened the door of the passage leading to the garden slope. Here an extraordinary group presented itself to his astonished eyes. In the shadow of a palm-tree, Mrs. Markham, seated on her Saratoga trunk as on a throne, was gazing blandly down upon the earnest features of the Commander, who, at her feet, guitar in hand, was evidently repeating some musical composition. His subaltern sat near him, divided in admiration of his chief and the guest. Miss Keene, at a little distance, aided by the secretary, was holding an animated conversation with a short, stout, Sancho Panza-looking man, whom the Padre recognized as the doctor of Todos Santos.
At the apparition of the reverend Father, the Commander started, the subaltern stared, and even the secretary and the doctor looked discomposed.
"I am decidedly de trop this morning," soliloquized the ecclesiastic; but Miss Keene cut short his reflection by running to him frankly, with outstretched hand.
"I am so glad that you have come," she said, with a youthful, unrestrained earnestness that was as convincing as it was fascinating, "for you will help me to persuade this gentleman that poor Captain Bunker is suffering more from excitement of mind than body, and that bleeding him is more than folly."
"The man's veins are in a burning fever and delirium from aguardiente," said the little doctor excitedly, "and the fire must first be put out by the lancet."
"He is only crazy with remorse for having lost his ship through his own carelessness and the treachery of others," said Miss Keene doughtily.
"He is a maniac and will kill himself, unless his fever is subdued," persisted the doctor.
"And you would surely kill him by your way of subduing it," said the young girl boldly. "Better for him, a disgraced man of honor, to die by his own hand, than to be bled like a calf into a feeble and helpless dissolution. I would, if I were in his place--if I had to do it by tearing off the bandages."
She made a swift, half unconscious gesture of her little hand, and stopped, her beautiful eyes sparkling, her thin pink nostrils dilated, her red lips parted, her round throat lifted in the air, and one small foot advanced before her. The men glanced hurriedly at each other, and then fixed their eyes upon her with a rapt yet frightened admiration. To their simple minds it was Anarchy and Revolution personified, beautiful, and victorious.
"Ah!" said the secretary to Padre Esteban, in Spanish, "it is true! she knows not fear! She was in the room alone with the madman; he would let none approach but her! She took a knife from him--else the medico had suffered!"
"He recognized her, you see! Ah! they know her power," said the Comandante, joining the group.
"You will help me, Father Esteban?" said the young girl, letting the fire of her dark eyes soften to a look of almost childish appeal--"you will help me to intercede for him? It is the restraint only that is killing him--that is goading him to madness! Think of him, Father--think of him: ruined and disgraced, dying to retrieve himself by any reckless action, any desperate chance of recovery, and yet locked up where he can do nothing--attempt nothing--not even lift a hand to pursue the man who has helped to bring him to this!"
"But he CAN do nothing! The ship is gone!" remonstrated the Comandante.
"Yes, the ship is gone; but the ocean is still there," said Miss Keene.
"But he has no boat."
"He will find or make one."
"And the fog conceals the channel."
"He can go where THEY have gone, or meet their fate. You do not know my countrymen, Senor Comandante," she said proudly.
"Ah, yes--pardon! They are at San Antonio--the baker, the buffoon, the two young men who dig. They are already baking and digging and joking. We have it from my officer, who has just returned."
Miss Keene bit her pretty lips.
"They think it is a mistake; they cannot believe that any intentional indignity is offered them," she said quietly. "Perhaps it is well they do not."
"They desired me to express their condolences to the Senora," said the Padre, with exasperating gentleness, "and were relieved to be assured by me of your perfect security in the hands of these gentlemen."
Miss Keene raised her clear eyes to the ecclesiastic. That accomplished diplomat of Todos Santos absolutely felt confused under the cool scrutiny of this girl's unbiased and unsophisticated intelligence.
"Then you HAVE seen them," she said, "and you know their innocence, and the utter absurdity of this surveillance?"
"I have not seen them ALL," said the priest softly. "There is still another--a Senor Hurlstone--who is missing? Is he not?"
It was not in the possibility of Eleanor Keene's truthful blood to do other than respond with a slight color to this question. She had already concealed from every one the fact of having seen the missing man in the Mission garden the evening before. It did not, however, prevent her the next moment from calmly meeting the glance of the priest as she answered gravely,--
"I believe so. But I cannot see what that has to do with the detention of the others."
"Much, perhaps. It has been said that you alone, my child, were in the confidence of this man."
"Who dared say that?" exclaimed Miss Keene in English, forgetting herself in her indignation.
"If it's anything mean--it's Mrs. Brimmer, I'll bet a cooky," said Mrs. Markham, whose linguistic deficiencies had debarred her from the previous conversation.
"You have only," continued the priest, without noticing the interruption, "to tell us what you know of this Hurlstone's plans,--of his complicity with Senor Perkins, or," he added significantly, "his opposition to them--to insure that perfect justice shall be done to all."
Relieved that the question involved no disclosure of her only secret regarding Hurlstone, Miss Keene was about to repeat the truth that she had no confidential knowledge of him, or of his absurd alleged connection with Senor Perkins, when, with an instinct of tact, she hesitated. Might she not serve them all--even Hurlstone himself--by saying nothing, and leaving the burden of proof to their idiotic accusers? Was she altogether sure that Hurlstone was entirely ignorant of Senor Perkins' plans, or might he not have refused, at the last moment, to join in the conspiracy, and so left the ship?
"I will not press you for your answer now," said the priest gently. "But you will not, I know, keep back anything that may throw a light on this sad affair, and perhaps help to reinstate your friend Mr. Hurlstone in his REAL position."
"If you ask me if I believe that Mr. Hurlstone had anything to do with this conspiracy, I should say, unhesitatingly, that I do NOT. And more, I believe that he would have jumped overboard rather than assent to so infamous an act," said the young girl boldly.
"Then you think he had no other motive for leaving the ship?" said the priest slowly.
"Decidedly not." She stopped; a curious anxious look in the Padre's persistent eyes both annoyed and frightened her. "What other motive could he have?" she said coldly.
Father Esteban's face lightened.
"I only ask because I think you would have known it. Thank you for the assurance all the same, and in return I promise you I will use my best endeavors with the Comandante for your friend the Captain Bunker. Adieu, my daughter. Adieu, Madame Markham," he said, as, taking the arm of Don Miguel, he turned with him and the doctor towards the guard-room. The secretary lingered behind for a moment.
"Fear nothing," he said, in whispered English to Miss Keene. "I, Ruy Sanchez, shall make you free of Capitano Bunker's cell," and passed on.
"Well," said Mrs. Markham, when the two women were alone again. "I don't pretend to fathom the befogged brains of Todos Santos; but as far as I can understand their grown-up child's play, they are making believe this unfortunate Mr. Hurlstone, who may be dead for all we know, is in revolt against the United States Government, which is supposed to be represented by Senor Perkins and the Excelsior--think of that!"
"But Perkins signed himself of the Quinquinambo navy!" said Miss Keene wonderingly.
"That is firmly believed by those idiots to be one of OUR States. Remember they know nothing of what has happened anywhere in the last fifty years. I dare say they never heard of filibusters like Perkins, and they couldn't comprehend him if they had. I've given up trying to enlighten them, and I think they're grateful for it. It makes their poor dear heads ache."
"And it is turning mine! But, for Heaven's sake, tell me what part I am supposed to act in this farce!" said Miss Keene.
"You are the friend and colleague of Hurlstone, don't you see?" said Mrs. Markham. "You are two beautiful young patriots--don't blush, my dear!--endeared to each other and a common cause, and ready to die for your country in opposition to Perkins, and the faint-heartedness of such neutrals as Mrs. Brimmer, Miss Chubb, the poor Captain, and all the men whom they have packed off to San Antonio."
"Impossible!" said Miss Keene, yet with an uneasy feeling that it not only was possible, but that she herself had contributed something to the delusion. "But how do they account for my friendship with YOU--you, who are supposed to be a correspondent--an accomplice of Perkins?"
"No, no," returned Mrs. Markham, with a half serious smile, "I am not allowed that honor. I am presumed to be only the disconsolate Dulcinea of Perkins, abandoned by HIM, pitied by you, and converted to the true faith--at least, that is what I make out from the broken English of that little secretary of the Commander."
Miss Keene winced.
"That's all my fault, dear," she said, suddenly entwining her arms round Mrs. Markham, and hiding her half embarrassed smile on the shoulder of her strong-minded friend; "they suggested it to me, and I half assented, to save you. Please forgive me."
"Don't think I am blaming you, my dear Eleanor," said Mrs. Markham. "For Heaven's sake assent to the wildest and most extravagant hypothesis they can offer, if it will leave us free to arrange our own plans for getting away. I begin to think we were not a very harmonious party on the Excelsior, and most of our troubles here are owing to that. We forget we have fallen among a lot of original saints, as guileless and as unsophisticated as our first parents, who know nothing of our customs and antecedents. They have accepted us on what they believe to be our own showing. From first to last we've underrated them, forgetting they are in the majority. We can't expect to correct the ignorance of fifty years in twenty-four hours, and I, for one, sha'n't attempt it. I'd much rather trust to the character those people would conceive of me from their own consciousness than to one Mrs. Brimmer or Mr. Winslow would give of me. From this moment I've taken a firm resolve to leave my reputation and the reputation of my friends entirely in their hands. If you are wise you will do the same. They are inclined to worship you--don't hinder them. My belief is, if we only take things quietly, we might find worse places to be stranded on than Todos Santos. If Mrs. Brimmer and those men of ours, who, I dare say, have acted as silly as the Mexicans themselves, will only be quiet, we can have our own way here yet."
"And poor Captain Bunker?" said Miss Keene.
"It seems hard to say it, but, in my opinion, he is better under lock and key, for everybody's good, at present. He'd be a firebrand in the town if he got away. Meantime, let us go to our room. It is about the time when everybody is taking a siesta, and for two hours, thank Heaven! we're certain nothing more can happen."
"I'll join you in a moment," said Miss Keene.
Her quick ear had caught the sound of voices approaching. As Mrs. Markham disappeared in the passage, the Commander and his party reappeared from the guard-room, taking leave of Padre Esteban. The secretary, as he passed Miss Keene, managed to add to his formal salutation the whispered words,--"When the Angelus rings I will await you before the grating of his prison."
Padre Esteban was too preoccupied to observe this incident. As soon as he quitted the Presidio, he hastened to the Mission with a disquieting fear that his strange guest might have vanished. But, crossing the silent refectory, and opening the door of the little apartment, he was relieved to find him stretched on the pallet in a profound slumber. The peacefulness of the venerable walls had laid a gentle finger on his weary eyelids.
The Padre glanced round the little cell, and back again at the handsome suffering face that seemed to have found surcease and rest in the narrow walls, with a stirring of regret. But the next moment he awakened the sleeper, and in the briefest, almost frigid, sentences, related the events of the morning.
The young man rose to his feet with a bitter laugh.
"You see," he said, "God is against me! And yet a few hours ago I dared to think that He had guided me to a haven of rest and forgetfulness!
"Have you told the truth to him and to me?" said the priest sternly, "or have you--a mere political refugee--taken advantage of an old man's weakness to forge a foolish lie of sentimental passion?"
"What do you mean?" said Hurlstone, turning upon him almost fiercely.
The priest rose, and drawing a folded paper from his bosom, opened it before the eyes of his indignant guest.
"Remember what you told me last night in the sacred confidences of yonder holy church, and hear what you really are from the lips of the Council of Todos Santos."
Smoothing out the paper, he read slowly as follows:--
"Whereas, it being presented to an Emergency Council, held at the Presidio of Todos Santos, that the foreign barque Excelsior had mutinied, discharged her captain and passengers, and escaped from the waters of the bay, it was, on examination, found and decreed that the said barque was a vessel primarily owned by a foreign Power, then and there confessed and admitted to be at war with Mexico and equipped to invade one of her northern provinces. But that the God of Liberty and Justice awakening in the breasts of certain patriots--to wit, the heroic Senor Diego Hurlstone and the invincible Dona Leonor--the courage and discretion to resist the tyranny and injustice of their oppressors, caused them to mutiny and abandon the vessel rather than become accomplices, in the company of certain neutral and non-combatant traders and artisans, severally known as Brace, Banks, Winslow, and Crosby; and certain aristocrats, known as Senoras Brimmer and Chubb. In consideration thereof, it is decreed by the Council of Todos Santos that asylum, refuge, hospitality, protection, amity, and alliance be offered and extended to the patriots, Senor Diego Hurlstone, Dona Leonor, and a certain Duenna Susana Markham, particularly attached to Dona Leonor's person; and that war, reprisal, banishment, and death be declared against Senor Perkins, his unknown aiders and abettors. And that for the purposes of probation, and in the interests of clemency, provisional parole shall be extended to the alleged neutrals--Brace, Banks, Crosby, and Winslow--within the limits and boundaries of the lazaretto of San Antonio, until their neutrality shall be established, and pending the further pleasure of the Council. And it is further decreed and declared that one Capitano Bunker, formerly of the Excelsior, but now a maniac and lunatic--being irresponsible and visited of God, shall be exempted from the ordinances of this decree until his reason shall be restored; and during that interval subjected to the ordinary remedial and beneficent restraint of civilization and humanity. By order of the Council,--
"The signatures and rubrics of--
"DON MIGUEL BRIONES,
of the Order of San Francisco d'Assisis.
"DON RAMON RAMIREZ,
Alcalde of the Pueblo of Todos Santos."
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