The crusade of the excel.., p.1
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Crusade of the Excelsior, p.1

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
The Crusade of the Excelsior

  Produced by Donald Lainson


  by Bret Harte




























  It was the 4th of August, 1854, off Cape Corrientes. Morning wasbreaking over a heavy sea, and the closely-reefed topsails of a barquethat ran before it bearing down upon the faint outline of the Mexicancoast. Already the white peak of Colima showed, ghost-like, in the east;already the long sweep of the Pacific was gathering strength and volumeas it swept uninterruptedly into the opening Gulf of California.

  As the cold light increased, it could be seen that the vessel showedevidence of a long voyage and stress of weather. She had lost one ofher spars, and her starboard davits rolled emptily. Nevertheless, herrigging was taut and ship-shape, and her decks scrupulously clean.Indeed, in that uncertain light, the only moving figure besides thetwo motionless shadows at the wheel was engaged in scrubbing thequarter-deck--which, with its grated settees and stacked camp-chairs,seemed to indicate the presence of cabin passengers. For the barqueExcelsior, from New York to San Francisco, had discharged the bulk ofher cargo at Callao, and had extended her liberal cabin accommodation toswell the feverish Californian immigration, still in its height.

  Suddenly there was a slight commotion on deck. An order, issued fromsome invisible depth of the cabin, was so unexpected that it had to berepeated sternly and peremptorily. A bustle forward ensued, two or threeother shadows sprang up by the bulwarks, then the two men bent over thewheel, the Excelsior slowly swung round on her heel, and, with a partingsalutation to the coast, bore away to the northwest and the open seaagain.

  "What's up now?" growled one of the men at the wheel to his companion,as they slowly eased up on the helm.

  "'Tain't the skipper's, for he's drunk as a biled owl, and ain't stirredout of his bunk since eight bells," said the other. "It's the firstmate's orders; but, I reckon, it's the Senor's idea."

  "Then we ain't goin' on to Mazatlan?"

  "Not this trip, I reckon," said the third mate, joining them.


  The third mate turned and pointed to leeward. The line of coast hadalready sunk enough to permit the faint silhouette of a trail of smoketo define the horizon line of sky.

  "Steamer goin' in, eh?"

  "Yes. D'ye see--it might be too hot, in there!"

  "Then the jig's up?"

  "No. Suthin's to be done--north of St. Lucas. Hush!"

  He made a gesture of silence, although the conversation, since he hadjoined them, had been carried on in a continuous whisper. A figure,evidently a passenger, had appeared on deck. One or two of theforeign-looking crew who had drawn near the group, with a certain undueand irregular familiarity, now slunk away again.

  The passenger was a shrewd, exact, rectangular-looking man, who hadevidently never entirely succumbed to the freedom of the sea either inhis appearance or habits. He had not even his sea legs yet; and as thebarque, with the full swell of the Pacific now on her weather bow, wasplunging uncomfortably, he was fain to cling to the stanchions. This didnot, however, prevent him from noticing the change in her position, andcaptiously resenting it.

  "Look here--you; I say! What have we turned round for? We're going awayfrom the land! Ain't we going on to Mazatlan?"

  The two men at the wheel looked silently forward, with that exasperatingunconcern of any landsman's interest peculiar to marine officials. Thepassenger turned impatiently to the third mate.

  "But this ain't right, you know. It was understood that we were goinginto Mazatlan. I've got business there."

  "My orders, sir," said the mate curtly, turning away.

  The practical passenger had been observant enough of sea-going rules torecognize that this reason was final, and that it was equally futile todemand an interview with the captain when that gentleman was not visiblyon duty. He turned angrily to the cabin again.

  "You look disturbed, my dear Banks. I trust you haven't slept badly,"said a very gentle voice from the quarter-rail near him; "or, perhaps,the ship's going about has upset you. It's a little rougher on thistack."

  "That's just it," returned Banks sharply. "We HAVE gone about, andwe're not going into Mazatlan at all. It's scandalous! I'll speak tothe captain--I'll complain to the consignees--I've got business atMazatlan--I expect letters--I"--

  "Business, my dear fellow?" continued the voice, in gentle protest."You'll have time for business when you get to San Francisco. And as forletters--they'll follow you there soon enough. Come over here, my boy,and say hail and farewell to the Mexican coast--to the land of Montezumaand Pizarro. Come here and see the mountain range from which Balboafeasted his eyes on the broad Pacific. Come!"

  The speaker, though apparently more at his ease at sea, was in dress andappearance fully as unnautical as Banks. As he leaned over the railing,his white, close-fitting trousers and small patent-leather boots gavehim a jaunty, half-military air, which continued up to the second buttonof his black frock-coat, and then so utterly changed its characterthat it was doubtful if a greater contrast could be conceived than thatoffered by the widely spread lapels of his coat, his low turned-downcollar, loosely knotted silk handkerchief, and the round, smooth-shaven,gentle, pacific face above them. His straight long black hair, shiningas if from recent immersion, was tucked carefully behind his ears, andhung in a heavy, even, semicircular fringe around the back of his neckwhere his tall hat usually rested, as if to leave his forehead meeklyexposed to celestial criticism. When he had joined the ship at Callao,his fellow-passengers, rashly trusting to the momentary suggestion ofhis legs on the gang-plank, had pronounced him military; meeting himlater at dinner, they had regarded the mild Methodistic contour of hisbreast and shoulders above the table, and entertained the wild ideaof asking him to evoke a blessing. To complete the confusion ofhis appearance, he was called "Senor" Perkins, for no other reason,apparently, than his occasional, but masterful, use of the Spanishvernacular.

  Steadying himself by one of the quarter stanchions, he waved his righthand oratorically towards the sinking coast.

  "Look at it, sir. One of the finest countries that ever came from thehand of the Creator; a land overflowing with milk and honey; containing,sir, in that one mountain range, the products of the three zones--andyet the abode of the oppressed and down-trodden; the land of faction,superstition, tyranny, and political revolution."

  "That's all very well," said Banks irritably, "but Mazatlan is awell-known commercial port, and has English and American correspondents.There's a branch of that Boston firm--Potter, Potts & Potter--there. Thenew line of steamers is going to stop there regularly."

  Senor Perkins' soft black eyes fell for an instant, as if accidentally,on the third mate, but the next moment he laughed, and, throwing backhis head, inhaled, with evident relish, a long breath of the sharp, saltair.

  "Ah!" he said enthusiastically, "THAT'S better than all the business youcan pick up along a malarious coast. Open your mouth and try to take inthe free breath of the glorious North Pacific. Ah! isn't it glorious?"

  "Where's the captain?" said Banks, with despairing irritation. "I wantto see him."

  "The captain," said Senor Perkins, with a bland, forgiving smile and aslight lowering of his voice, "is, I fear, suffering from an accidentof hospitality, and keeps his state-room. The captain is a good fellow,"continued Perkins, with gentle enthusiasm; "a good sailor and carefulnavigator, and exceedingly attentive to his passengers. I shallcertainly propose getting up some testimonial for him."

  "But if he's shut up in his state-room, who's giving the orders?" beganBanks angrily.

  Senor Perkins put up a small, well-kept hand deprecatingly.

  "Really, my dear boy, I suppose the captain cannot be omnipresent. Somediscretion must be left to the other officers. They probably know hisideas and what is to be done better than we do. You business men troubleyourselves too much about these things. You should take them morephilosophically. For my part I always confide myself trustingly to thesepeople. I enter a ship or railroad car with perfect faith. I say tomyself, 'This captain, or this conductor, is a responsible man, selectedwith a view to my safety and comfort; he understands how to procure thatsafety and that comfort better than I do. He worries himself; hespends hours and nights of vigil to look after me and carry me to mydestination. Why should I worry myself, who can only assist him bypassive obedience? Why'--" But here he was interrupted by a headlongplunge of the Excelsior, a feminine shriek that was half a laugh, therapid patter of small feet and sweep of flying skirts down the slantingdeck, and the sudden and violent contact of a pretty figure.

  The next moment he had forgotten his philosophy, and his companion hisbusiness. Both flew to the assistance of the fair intruder, who, albeitthe least injured of the trio, clung breathlessly to the bulwarks.

  "Miss Keene!" ejaculated both gentlemen.

  "Oh dear! I beg your pardon," said the young lady, reddening, with anaive mingling of hilarity and embarrassment. "But it seemed so stuffyin the cabin, and it seemed so easy to get out on deck and pull myselfup by the railings; and just as I got up here, I suddenly seemed to besliding down the roof of a house."

  "And now that you're here, your courage should be rewarded," said theSenor, gallantly assisting
her to a settee, which he lashed securely."You are perfectly safe now," he added, holding the end of the rope inhis hand to allow a slight sliding movement of the seat as the vesselrolled. "And here is a glorious spectacle for you. Look! the sun is justrising."

  The young girl glanced over the vast expanse before her with sparklingeyes and a suddenly awakened fancy that checked her embarrassed smile,and fixed her pretty, parted lips with wonder. The level rays of therising sun striking the white crests of the lifted waves had suffusedthe whole ocean with a pinkish opal color: the darker parts of each waveseemed broken into facets instead of curves, and glittered sharply. Thesea seemed to have lost its fluidity, and become vitreous; so much so,that it was difficult to believe that the waves which splinteredacross the Excelsior's bow did not fall upon her deck with the ring ofshattered glass.

  "Sindbad's Valley of Diamonds!" said the young girl, in an awed whisper.

  "It's a cross sea in the Gulf of California, so the mate says," saidBanks practically; "but I don't see why we" . . .

  "The Gulf of California?" repeated the young girl, while a slight shadeof disappointment passed over her bright face; "are we then so near"--

  "Not the California you mean, my dear young lady," broke in SenorPerkins, "but the old peninsula of California, which is still a part ofMexico. It terminates in Cape St. Lucas, a hundred miles from here, butit's still a far cry to San Francisco, which is in Upper California. ButI fancy you don't seem as anxious as our friend Mr. Banks to get to yourjourney's end," he added, with paternal blandness.

  The look of relief which had passed over Miss Keene's truthful face gaveway to one of slight embarrassment.

  "It hasn't seemed long," she said hastily; and then added, as if to turnthe conversation, "What is this peninsula? I remember it on our map atschool."

  "It's not of much account," interrupted Banks positively. "There ain't aplace on it you ever heard of. It's a kind of wilderness."

  "I differ from you," said Senor Perkins gravely. "There are, I havebeen told, some old Mexican settlements along the coast, and there is noreason why the country shouldn't be fruitful. But you may have a chanceto judge for yourself," he continued beamingly. "Since we are not goinginto Mazatlan, we may drop in at some of those places for water. It'sall on our way, and we shall save the three days we would have losthad we touched Mazatlan. That," he added, answering an impatientinterrogation in Banks' eye, "at least, is the captain's idea, Ireckon." He laughed, and went on still gayly,--"But what's the use ofanticipating? Why should we spoil any little surprise that our gallantcaptain may have in store for us? I've been trying to convert thisbusiness man to my easy philosophy, Miss Keene, but he is incorrigible;he is actually lamenting his lost chance of hearing the latest news atMazatlan, and getting the latest market quotations, instead of offeringa thanksgiving for another uninterrupted day of freedom in this gloriousair."

  With a half humorous extravagance he unloosed his already loosenecktie, turned his Byron collar still lower, and squared his shouldersostentatiously to the sea breeze. Accustomed as his two companions wereto his habitually extravagant speech, it did not at that moment seeminconsistent with the intoxicating morning air and the exhilaration ofsky and wave. A breath of awakening and resurrection moved over the faceof the waters; recreation and new-born life sparkled everywhere; thepast night seemed forever buried in the vast and exundating sea. Thereefs had been shaken out, and every sail set to catch the steadierbreeze of the day; and as the quickening sun shone upon the dazzlingcanvas that seemed to envelop them, they felt as if wrapped in thepurity of a baptismal robe.

  Nevertheless, Miss Keene's eyes occasionally wandered from the charmingprospect towards the companion-ladder. Presently she became ominouslyand ostentatiously interested in the view again, and at the same momenta young man's head and shoulders appeared above the companionway. Witha bound he was on the slanting deck, moving with the agility andadaptability of youth, and approached the group. He was quite surprisedto find Miss Keene there so early, and Miss Keene was equally surprisedat his appearance, notwithstanding the phenomenon had occurred withsingular regularity for the last three weeks. The two spectators of thisgentle comedy received it as they had often received it before, with amixture of apparent astonishment and patronizing unconsciousness, and,after a decent interval, moved away together, leaving the young peoplealone.

  The hesitancy and awkwardness which usually followed the first momentsof their charming isolation were this morning more than usuallyprolonged.

  "It seems we are not going into Mazatlan, after all," said Miss Keene atlast, without lifting her conscious eyes from the sea.

  "No," returned the young fellow quickly. "I heard all about it downbelow, and we had quite an indignation meeting over it. I believe Mrs.Markham wanted to head a deputation to wait upon the captain in hisberth. It seems that the first officer, or whosoever is running theship, has concluded we've lost too much time already, and we're going tostrike a bee-line for Cape St. Lucas, and give Mazatlan the go-by. We'llsave four days by it. I suppose it don't make any difference to you,Miss Keene, does it?"

  "I? Oh, no!" said the girl hastily.

  "I'M rather sorry," he said hesitatingly.

  "Indeed. Are you tired of the ship?" she asked saucily.

  "No," he replied bluntly; "but it would have given us four more daystogether--four more days before we separated."

  He stopped, with a heightened color. There was a moment of silence, andthe voices of Senor Perkins and Mr. Banks in political discussion on theother side of the deck came faintly. Miss Keene laughed.

  "We are a long way from San Francisco yet, and you may thinkdifferently."

  "Never!" he said, impulsively.

  He had drawn closer to her, as if to emphasize his speech. She casta quick glance across the deck towards the two disputants, and drewherself gently away.

  "Do you know," she said suddenly, with a charming smile which robbedthe act of its sting, "I sometimes wonder if I am REALLY going to SanFrancisco. I don't know how it is; but, somehow, I never can SEE myselfthere."

  "I wish you did, for I'M going there," he replied boldly.

  Without appearing to notice the significance of his speech, shecontinued gravely:

  "I have been so strongly impressed with this feeling at times that itmakes me quite superstitious. When we had that terrible storm after weleft Callao, I thought it meant that--that we were all going down, andwe should never be heard of again."

  "As long as we all went together," he said, "I don't know that it wouldbe the worst thing that could happen. I remember that storm, Miss Keene.And I remember"--He stopped timidly.

  "What?" she replied, raising her smiling eyes for the first time to hisearnest face.

  "I remember sitting up all night near your state-room, with a corkjacket and lots of things I'd fixed up for you, and thinking I'd diebefore I trusted you alone in the boat to those rascally Lascars of thecrew."

  "But how would you have prevented it?" asked Miss Keene, with acompassionate and half-maternal amusement.

  "I don't know exactly," he said, coloring; "but I'd have lashed you tosome spar, or made a raft, and got you ashore on some island."

  "And poor Mrs. Markham and Mrs. Brimmer--you'd have left them to theboats and the Lascars, I suppose?" smiled Miss Keene.

  "Oh, somebody would have looked after Mrs. Markham; and Mrs. Brimmerwouldn't have gone with anybody that wasn't well connected. But what'sthe use of talking?" he added ruefully. "Nothing has happened, andnothing is going to happen. You will see yourself in San Francisco, evenif you don't see ME there. You're going to a rich brother, Miss Keene,who has friends of his own, and who won't care to know a poor fellowwhom you tolerated on the passage, but who don't move in Mrs. Brimmer'sset, and whom Mr. Banks wouldn't indorse commercially."

  "Ah, you don't know my brother, Mr. Brace."

  "Nor do you, very well, Miss Keene. You were saying, only last night,you hardly remembered him."

  The young girl sighed.

  "I was very young when he went West," she said explanatorily; "but Idare say I shall recall him. What I meant is, that he will be very gladto know that I have been so happy here, and he will like all those whohave made me so."

  "Then you have been happy?"

  "Yes; very." She had withdrawn her eyes, and was looking vaguely towardsthe companion-way. "Everybody has been so kind to me."

  "And you are grateful to all?"



  The ship gave a sudden forward plunge. Miss Keene involuntarily clutchedthe air with her little hand, that had been resting on the setteebetween them, and the young man caught it in his own.

  "Equally?" he repeated, with an assumed playfulness that half veiled hisanxiety. "Equally--from the beaming Senor Perkins, who smiles on all, tothe gloomy Mr. Hurlstone, who smiles on no one?"

  She quickly withdrew her hand, and rose. "I smell the breakfast," shesaid laughingly. "Don't be horrified, Mr. Brace, but I'm very hungry."She laid the hand she had withdrawn lightly on his arm. "Now help medown to the cabin."

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Add comment

Add comment