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- THE CRUSADE OF THE EXCELSIOR - 3/44 -


companions were to his habitually extravagant speech, it did not at that moment seem inconsistent with the intoxicating morning air and the exhilaration of sky and wave. A breath of awakening and resurrection moved over the face of the waters; recreation and new- born life sparkled everywhere; the past night seemed forever buried in the vast and exundating sea. The reefs had been shaken out, and every sail set to catch the steadier breeze of the day; and as the quickening sun shone upon the dazzling canvas that seemed to envelop them, they felt as if wrapped in the purity of a baptismal robe.

Nevertheless, Miss Keene's eyes occasionally wandered from the charming prospect towards the companion-ladder. Presently she became ominously and ostentatiously interested in the view again, and at the same moment a young man's head and shoulders appeared above the companionway. With a bound he was on the slanting deck, moving with the agility and adaptability of youth, and approached the group. He was quite surprised to find Miss Keene there so early, and Miss Keene was equally surprised at his appearance, notwithstanding the phenomenon had occurred with singular regularity for the last three weeks. The two spectators of this gentle comedy received it as they had often received it before, with a mixture of apparent astonishment and patronizing unconsciousness, and, after a decent interval, moved away together, leaving the young people alone.

The hesitancy and awkwardness which usually followed the first moments of their charming isolation were this morning more than usually prolonged.

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

"No," returned the young fellow quickly. "I heard all about it down below, and we had quite an indignation meeting over it. I believe Mrs. Markham wanted to head a deputation to wait upon the captain in his berth. It seems that the first officer, or whosoever is running the ship, has concluded we've lost too much time already, and we're going to strike a bee-line for Cape St. Lucas, and give Mazatlan the go-by. We'll save 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 days together--four more days before we separated."

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

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

"Never!" he said, impulsively.

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

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

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

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

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

"As long as we all went together," he said, "I don't know that it would be 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 his earnest face.

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

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

"I don't know exactly," he said, coloring; "but I'd have lashed you to some 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 the boats and the Lascars, I suppose?" smiled Miss Keene.

"Oh, somebody would have looked after Mrs. Markham; and Mrs. Brimmer wouldn't have gone with anybody that wasn't well connected. But what's the use of talking?" he added ruefully. "Nothing has happened, and nothing is going to happen. You will see yourself in San Francisco, even if 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 fellow whom you tolerated on the passage, but who don't move in Mrs. Brimmer's set, 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 I dare say I shall recall him. What I meant is, that he will be very glad to know that I have been so happy here, and he will like all those who have made me so."

"Then you have been happy?"

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

"And you are grateful to all?"

"Yes."

"Equally?"

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

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

She quickly withdrew her hand, and rose. "I smell the breakfast," she said 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 me down to the cabin."

CHAPTER II.

ANOTHER PORTENT.

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 self-reproach.

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. Markham.

"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.


THE CRUSADE OF THE EXCELSIOR - 3/44

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