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- THE CRUSADE OF THE EXCELSIOR - 4/44 -
"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 eyes.
"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 restored.
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
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