Chapter 8




HOSTAGE.


The revolution of Todos Santos had to all appearances been effected as peacefully as the gentle Liberator of Quinquinambo could have wished. Two pronunciamientos, rudely printed and posted in the Plaza, and saluted by the fickle garrison of one hundred men, who had, however, immediately reappointed their old commander as Generalissimo under the new regime, seemed to leave nothing to be desired. A surging mob of vacant and wondering peons, bearing a singular resemblance to the wild cattle and horses which intermingled with them in blind and unceasing movement across the Plaza and up the hilly street, and seemingly as incapable of self-government, were alternately dispersed and stampeded or allowed to gather again as occasion required. Some of these heterogeneous bands were afterwards found--the revolution accomplished--gazing stupidly on the sea, or ruminating in bovine wantonness on the glacis before the Presidio.

Eleanor Keene, who with her countrywomen had been hurried to the refuge of the Mission, was more disturbed and excited at the prospect of meeting Hurlstone again than by any terror of the insurrection. But Hurlstone was not there, and Father Esteban received her with a coldness she could not attribute entirely to her countrymen's supposed sympathy with the insurgents. When Richard Keene, who would not leave his sister until he had seen her safe under the Mission walls, ventured at her suggestion to ask after the American recluse, Father Esteban replied dryly that, being a Christian gentleman, Hurlstone was the only one who had the boldness to seek out the American filibuster Perkins, on his own ship, and remonstrate with him for his unholy crusade. For the old priest had already become aware of Hurlstone's blunder, and he hated Eleanor as the primary cause of the trouble. But for her, Diego would be still with him in this emergency.

"Never mind, Nell," said Dick, noticing the disappointed eyes of his sister as they parted, "you'll all be safe here until we return. Between you and me, Banks, Brimmer, and I think that Brace and Winslow have gone too far in this matter, and we're going to stop it, unless the whole thing is over now, as they say."

"Don't believe that," said Crosby. "It's like their infernal earthquakes; there's always a second shock, and a tidal wave to follow. I pity Brace, Winslow, and Perkins if they get caught in it."

There seemed to be some reason for his skepticism, for later the calm of the Mission Garden was broken upon by the monotonous tread of banded men on the shell-strewn walks, and the door of the refectory opened to the figure of Senor Perkins. A green silk sash across his breast, a gold-laced belt, supporting a light dress-sword and a pair of pistols, buckled around the jaunty waist of his ordinary black frock-coat, were his scant martial suggestions. But his hat, albeit exchanged for a soft felt one, still reposed on the back of his benevolent head, and seemed to accent more than ever the contrast between his peaceful shoulders and the military smartness of his lower figure. He bowed with easy politeness to the assembled fugitives; but before he could address them, Father Esteban had risen to his feet,--

"I thought that this house, at least, was free from the desecrating footsteps of lawlessness and impiety," said the priest sternly. "How dare YOU enter here?"

"Nothing but the desire to lend my assistance to the claims of beauty, innocence, helplessness, and--if you will allow me to add," with a low bow to the priest--"sanctity, caused this intrusion. For I regret to say that, through the ill-advised counsels of some of my fellow-patriots, the Indian tribes attached to this Mission are in revolt, and threaten even this sacred building."

"It is false!" said Father Esteban indignantly. "Even under the accursed manipulation of your emissaries, the miserable heathen would not dare to raise a parricidal hand against the Church that fostered him!"

Senor Perkins smiled gently, but sadly.

"Your belief, reverend sir, does you infinite credit. But, to save time, let me give way to a gentleman who, I believe, possesses your confidence. He will confirm my statement."

He drew aside, and allowed Hurlstone, who had been standing unperceived behind, to step forward. The Padre uttered an exclamation of pleasure. Miss Keene colored quickly. Hurlstone cast a long and lingering glance at her, which seemed to the embarrassed girl full of a new, strange meaning, and then advanced quickly with outstretched hands towards Father Esteban.

"He speaks truly," he said, hurriedly, "and in the interests of humanity alone. The Indians have been tampered with treacherously, against his knowledge and consent. He only seeks now to prevent the consequences of this folly by placing you and these ladies out of reach of harm aboard of the Excelsior."

"A very proper and excellent idea," broke in Mrs. Brimmer, with genteel precision. "You see these people evidently recognize the fact of Mr. Brimmer's previous ownership of the Excelsior, and the respect that is due to him. I, for one, shall accept the offer, and insist upon Miss Chubb accompanying me."

"I shall be charmed to extend the hospitality of the Excelsior to you on any pretext," said the Senor gallantly, "and, indeed, should insist upon personally accompanying you and my dear friends Mrs. Markham and Miss Keene; but, alas! I am required elsewhere. I leave," he continued, turning towards Hurlstone, who was already absorbed in a whispered consultation with Padre Esteban--"I leave a sufficient escort with you to protect your party to the boats which have brought us here. You will take them to the Excelsior, and join me with the ship off Todos Santos in the morning. Adieu, my friends! Good-night, and farewell!"

The priest made a vehement movement of protestation, but he was checked by Hurlstone, as, with a low bow, Senor Perkins passed out into the darkness. The next moment his voice was heard raised in command, and the measured tramp of his men gradually receded and was lost in the distance.

"Does he think," said the priest indignantly, "that I, Padre Esteban, would desert my sacred trust, and leave His Holy Temple a prey to sacrilegious trespass? Never, while I live, Diego! Call him back and tell him so!"

"Rather listen to me, Father Esteban," said the young man earnestly. "I have a plan by which this may be avoided. From my knowledge of these Indians, I am convinced that they have been basely tricked and cajoled by some one. I believe that they are still amenable to reason and argument, and I am so certain that I am ready to go down among them and make the attempt. The old Chief and part of his band are still encamped on the shore; we could hear them as we passed in the boats. I will go and meet them. If I succeed in bringing them to reason I will return; if I find them intractable, I will at least divert their attention from the Mission long enough for you to embark these ladies with their escort, which you will do at the end of two hours if I do not return."

"In two hours?" broke in Mrs. Brimmer, in sharp protest. "I positively object. I certainly understood that Senor Perkins' invitation, which, under the circumstances, I shall consider equal to a command from Mr. Brimmer, was to be accepted at once and without delay; and I certainly shall not leave Miss Chubb exposed to imminent danger for two hours to meet the caprice of an entire stranger to Mr. Brimmer."

"I am willing to stay with Father Esteban, if he will let me," said Eleanor Keene quietly, "for I have faith in Mr. Hurlstone's influence and courage, and believe he will be successful."

The young man thanked her with another demonstrative look that brought the warm blood to her cheek.

"Well," said Mrs. Markham promptly; "I suppose if Nell stays I must see the thing through and stay with her--even if I haven't orders from Jimmy."

"There is no necessity that either Mr. or Mrs. Brimmer should be disobeyed in their wishes," said Hurlstone grimly. "Luckily there are two boats; Mrs. Brimmer and Miss Chubb can take one of them with half the escort, and proceed at once to the Excelsior. I will ride with them as far as the boat. And now," he continued, turning to the old priest, with sparkling eyes, "I have only to ask your blessing, and the good wishes of these ladies, to go forth on my mission of peace. If I am successful," he added, with a light laugh, "confess that a layman and a heretic may do some service for the Church." As the old man laid his half detaining, half benedictory hands upon his shoulders, the young man seized the opportunity to whisper in his ear, "Remember your promise to tell her ALL I have told you," and, with an other glance at Miss Keene, he marshalled Mrs. Brimmer and Miss Chubb before him, and hurried them to the boat.

Miss Keene looked after him with a vague felicity in the change that seemed to have come on him, a change that she could as little account for as her own happiness. Was it the excitement of danger that had overcome his reserve, and set free his compressed will and energy? She longed for her brother to see him thus--alert, strong, and chivalrous. In her girlish faith, she had no fear for his safety; he would conquer, he would succeed; he would come back to them victorious! Looking up from her happy abstraction, at the side of Mrs. Markham, who had calmly gone to sleep in an arm-chair, she saw Father Esteban's eyes fixed upon her. With a warning gesture of the hand towards Mrs. Markham, he rose, and, going to the door of the sacristy, beckoned to her. The young girl noiselessly crossed the room and followed him into the sanctuary.

Half an hour later, and while Mrs. Markham was still asleep, Father Esteban appeared at the door of the sacristy ostentatiously taking snuff, and using a large red handkerchief to wipe his more than usually humid eyes. Eleanor Keene, with her chin resting on her hand, remained sitting as he had left her, with her abstracted eyes fixed vacantly on the lamp before the statue of the Virgin and the half-lit gloom of the nave.

Padre Esteban had told her ALL! She now knew Hurlstone's history even as he had hesitatingly imparted it to the old priest in this very church--perhaps upon the very seat where she sat. She knew the peace that he had sought for and found within these walls, broken only by his passion for her! She knew his struggles against the hopelessness of this new-born love, even the desperate remedy that had been adopted against herself, and the later voluntary exile of her lover. She knew the providential culmination of his trouble in the news brought unconsciously by Perkins, which, but a few hours ago, he had verified by the letters, records, and even the certificate of death that had thus strangely been placed in his hands! She knew all this so clearly now, that, with the instinct of a sympathetic nature, she even fancied she had heard it before. She knew that all the obstacles to an exchange of their affection had been removed; that her lover only waited his opportunity to hear from her own lips the answer that was even now struggling at her heart. And yet she hesitated and drew back, half frightened in the presence of her great happiness. How she longed, and yet dreaded, to meet him! What if anything should have happened to him?--what if he should be the victim of some treachery?--what if he did not come?--what if?--"Good heavens! what was that?"

She was near the door of the sacristy, gazing into the dim and shadowy church. Either she was going mad, or else the grotesque Indian hangings of the walls were certainly moving towards her. She rose in speechless terror, as what she had taken for an uncouthly swathed and draped barbaric pillar suddenly glided to the window. Crouching against the wall, she crept breathlessly towards the entrance to the garden. Casting a hurried glance above her, she saw the open belfry that was illuminated by the misty radiance of the moon, darkly shadowed by hideously gibbering faces that peered at her through the broken tracery. With a cry of horror she threw open the garden-door; but the next moment was swallowed up in the tumultuous tide of wild and half naked Indians who surged against the walls of the church, and felt herself lifted from her feet, with inarticulate cries, and borne along the garden. Even in her mortal terror, she could recognize that the cries were not those of rage, but of vacant satisfaction; that although she was lifted on lithe shoulders, the grasp of her limbs was gentle, and the few dark faces she could see around her were glistening in childlike curiosity. Presently she felt herself placed upon the back of a mule, that seemed to be swayed hither and thither in the shifting mass, and the next moment the misty, tossing cortege moved forward with a new and more definite purpose. She called aloud for Father Esteban and Mrs. Markham; her voice appeared to flow back upon her from the luminous wall of fog that closed around her. Then the inarticulate, irregular outcries took upon themselves a measured rhythm, the movement of the mass formed itself upon the monotonous chant, the intervals grew shorter, the mule broke into a trot, and then the whole vast multitude fell into a weird, rhythmical, jogging quick step at her side.

Whatever was the intent of this invasion of the Mission and her own strange abduction, she was relieved by noticing that they were going in the same direction as that taken by Hurlstone an hour before. Either he was cognizant of their movements, and, being powerless to prevent their attack on the church, had stipulated they were to bring her to him in safety, or else he was calculating to intercept them on the way. The fog prevented her from forming any estimation of the numbers that surrounded her, or if the Padre and Mrs. Markham were possibly preceding her as captives in the vanguard. She felt the breath of the sea, and knew they were traveling along the shore; the monotonous chant and jogging motion gradually dulled her active terror to an apathetic resignation, in which occasionally her senses seemed to swoon and swim in the dreamy radiance through which they passed; at times it seemed a dream or nightmare with which she was hopelessly struggling; at times she was taking part in an unhallowed pageant, or some heathen sacrificial procession of which she was the destined victim.

She had no consciousness of how long the hideous journey lasted. Her benumbed senses were suddenly awakened by a shock; the chant had ceased, the moving mass in which she was imbedded rolled forward once more as if by its own elasticity, and then receded again with a jar that almost unseated her. Then the inarticulate murmur was overborne by a voice. It was HIS! She turned blindly towards it; but before she could utter the cry that rose to her lips, she was again lifted from the saddle, carried forward, and gently placed upon what seemed to be a moss-grown bank. Opening her half swimming eyes she recognized the Indian cross. The crowd seemed to recede before her. Her eyes closed again as a strong arm passed around her waist.

"Speak to me, Miss Keene--Eleanor--my darling!" said Hurlstone's voice. "O my God! they have killed her!"

With an effort she moved her head and tried to smile. Their eyes, and then their lips met; she fainted.

When she struggled to her senses again, she was lying in the stern-sheets of the Excelsior's boat, supported on Mrs. Markham's shoulder. For an instant the floating veil of fog around her, and the rhythmical movement of the boat, seemed a part of her mysterious ride, and she raised her head with a faint cry for Hurlstone.

"It's all right, my dear," said Mrs. Markham, soothingly; "he's ashore with the Padre, and everything else is all right too. But it's rather ridiculous to think that those idiotic Indians believed the only way they could show Mr. Hurlstone that they meant us no harm was to drag us all up to THEIR Mission, as they call that half heathen cross of theirs--for safety against--who do you think, dear?--the dreadful AMERICANS! And imagine all the while the Padre and I were just behind you, bringing up the rear of the procession--only they wouldn't let us join you because they wanted to show you special honor as"--she sank her voice to a whisper in Eleanor's ear--"as the future Mrs. Hurlstone! It appears they must have noticed something about you two, the last time you were there, my dear. And--to think--YOU never told me anything about it!"

When they reached the Excelsior, they found that Mrs. Brimmer, having already settled herself in the best cabin, was inclined to extend the hospitalities of the ship with the air of a hostess. But the arrival of Hurlstone at midnight with some delegated authority from Senor Perkins, and the unexpected getting under way of the ship, disturbed her complacency.

"We are going through the channel into the bay of Todos Santos," was the brief reply vouchsafed her by Hurlstone.

"But why can't we remain here and wait for Mr. Brimmer?" she asked indignantly.

"Because," responded Hurlstone grimly, "the Excelsior is expected off the Presidio to-morrow morning to aid the insurgents."

"You don't mean to say that Miss Chubb and myself are to be put in the attitude of arraying ourselves against the constituted authorities--and, perhaps, Mr. Brimmer himself?" asked Mrs. Brimmer, in genuine alarm.

"It looks so," said Hurlstone, a little maliciously; "but, no doubt, your husband and the Senor will arrange it amicably."

To Mrs. Markham and Miss Keene he explained more satisfactorily that the unexpected disaffection of the Indians had obliged Perkins to so far change his plans as to disembark his entire force from the Excelsior, and leave her with only the complement of men necessary to navigate her through the channel of Todos Santos, where she would peacefully await his orders, or receive his men in case of defeat.

Nevertheless, as the night was nearly spent, Mrs. Markham and Eleanor preferred to await the coming day on deck, and watch the progress of the Excelsior through the mysterious channel. In a few moments the barque began to feel the combined influence of the tide and the slight morning breeze, and, after rounding an invisible point, she presently rose and fell on the larger ocean swell. The pilot, whom Hurlstone recognized as the former third mate of the Excelsior, appeared to understand the passage perfectly; and even Hurlstone and the ladies, who had through eight months' experience become accustomed to the luminous obscurity of Todos Santos, could detect the faint looming of the headland at the entrance. The same soothing silence, even the same lulling of the unseen surf, which broke in gentle undulations over the bar, and seemed to lift the barque in rocking buoyancy over the slight obstruction, came back to them as on the day of their fateful advent. The low orders of the pilot, the cry of the leadsman in the chains, were but a part of the restful past.

Under the combined influence of the hour and the climate, the conversation fell into monosyllables, and Mrs. Markham dozed. The lovers sat silently together, but the memory of a kiss was between them. It spanned the gulf of the past with an airy bridge, over which their secret thoughts and fancies passed and repassed with a delicious security; henceforth they could not flee from that memory, even if they wished; they read it in each other's lightest glance; they felt it in the passing touch of each other's hands; it lingered, with vague tenderness, on the most trivial interchange of thought. Yet they spoke a little of the future. Eleanor believed that her brother would not object to their union; he had spoken of entering into business at Todos Santos, and perhaps when peace and security were restored they might live together. Hurlstone did not tell her that a brief examination of his wife's papers had shown him that the property he had set aside for her maintenance, and from which she had regularly drawn an income, had increased in value, and left him a rich man. He only pressed her hand, and whispered that her wishes should be his. They had become tenderly silent again, as the Excelsior, now fairly in the bay, appeared to be slowly drifting, with listless sails and idle helm, in languid search of an anchorage. Suddenly they were startled by a cry from the lookout.

"Sail ho!"

There was an incredulous start on the deck. The mate sprang into the fore-rigging with an oath of protestation. But at the same moment the tall masts and spars of a vessel suddenly rose like a phantom out of the fog at their side. The half disciplined foreign crew uttered a cry of rage and trepidation, and huddled like sheep in the waist, with distracted gestures; even the two men at the wheel forsook their post to run in dazed terror to the taffrail. Before the mate could restore order to this chaos, the Excelsior had drifted, with a scarcely perceptible concussion, against the counter of the strange vessel. In an instant a dozen figures appeared on its bulwarks, and dropped unimpeded upon the Excelsior's deck. As the foremost one approached the mate, the latter shrank back in consternation.

"Captain Bunker!"

"Yes," said the figure, advancing with a mocking laugh; "Captain Bunker it is. Captain Bunker, formerly of this American barque Excelsior, and now of the Mexican ship La Trinidad. Captain Bunker ez larnt every foot of that passage in an open boat last August, and didn't forget it yesterday in a big ship! Captain Bunker ez has just landed a company of dragoons to relieve the Presidio. What d'ye say to that, Mr. M'Carthy--eh?"

"I say," answered M'Carthy, raising his voice with a desperate effort to recover his calmness, "I say that Perkins landed with double that number of men yesterday around that point, and that he'll be aboard here in half an hour to make you answer for this insult to his ship and his Government."

"His Government!" echoed Bunker, with a hoarser laugh; "hear him!--HIS Government! His Government died at four o'clock this morning, when his own ringleaders gave him up to the authorities. Ha! Why, this yer revolution is played out, old man; and Generalissimo Leonidas Perkins is locked up in the Presidio."




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