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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Crusade Of The Excelsior: A Novel - Part 2. Freed - Chapter 2. The Mourners At Todos Santos
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The Crusade Of The Excelsior: A Novel - Part 2. Freed - Chapter 2. The Mourners At Todos Santos Post by :Shawn_Mason Category :Long Stories Author :Bret Harte Date :May 2012 Read :3014

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The Crusade Of The Excelsior: A Novel - Part 2. Freed - Chapter 2. The Mourners At Todos Santos

PART II. FREED
CHAPTER II. THE MOURNERS AT TODOS SANTOS

There was a breath of spring in the soft morning air of Todos Santos--a breath so subtle and odorous that it penetrated the veil of fog beyond the bay, and for a moment lingered on the deck of a passing steamer like an arresting memory. But only for an instant; the Ometepe, bound from San Francisco to San Juan del Norte, with its four seekers of the Excelsior, rolled and plunged on its way unconsciously.

Within the bay and over the restful pueblo still dwelt the golden haze of its perpetual summer; the two towers of the old Mission church seemed to dissolve softly into the mellow upper twilight, and the undulating valleys rolled their green waves up to the wooded heights of San Antonio, that still smiled down upon the arid, pallid desert. But although Nature had not changed in the months that had passed since the advent of the Excelsior, there appeared some strange mutations in the town and its inhabitants. On the beach below the Presidio was the unfinished skeleton of a small sea-going vessel on rude stocks; on the plaza rose the framed walls and roofless rafters of a wooden building; near the Embarcadero was the tall adobe chimney of some inchoate manufactory whose walls had half risen from their foundations; but all of these objects had evidently succumbed to the drowsy influence of the climate, and already had taken the appearances of later and less picturesque ruins of the past. There were singular innovations in the costumes: one or two umbrellas, used as sunshades, were seen upon the square; a few small chip hats had taken the place of the stiff sombreros, with an occasional tall white beaver; while linen coat and nankeen trousers had, at times, usurped the short velvet jacket and loose calzas of the national costume.

At San Antonio the change was still more perceptible. Beside the yawning pit of the abandoned silver mine a straggling building arose, filled with rude machinery, bearing the legend, painted in glowing letters, "Excelsior Silver Mining Co., J. Crosby, Superintendent;" and in the midst of certain excavations assailing the integrity of the cliff itself was another small building, scarcely larger than a sentry-box, with the inscription, "Office: Eleanor Quicksilver Smelting Works."

Basking in that yellow morning sunlight, with his back against his office, Mr. Brace was seated on the ground, rolling a cigarette. A few feet from him Crosby, extended on his back on the ground, was lazily puffing rings of smoke into the still air. Both of these young gentlemen were dressed in exaggerated Mexican costumes; the silver buttons fringing the edge of Crosby's calza, open from the knee down to show a glimpse of the snowy under-trouser, were richer and heavier than those usually worn; while Brace, in addition to the crimson silk sash round his waist, wore a crimson handkerchief around his head, under his sombrero.

"Pepe's falling off in his tobacco," said Brace. "I think I'll have to try some other Fonda."

"How's Banks getting on with his crop?" asked Crosby. "You know he was going to revolutionize the business, and cut out Cuba on that hillside."

"Oh, the usual luck! He couldn't get proper cultivators, and the Injins wouldn't work regular. I must try and get hold of some of the Comandante's stock; but I'm out of favor with the old man since Winslow and I wrecked that fishing-boat on the rocks off yonder. He always believed we were trying to run off, like Captain Bunker. That's why he stopped our shipbuilding, I really believe."

"All the same, we might have had it built and ready now but for our laziness. We might have worked on it nights without their knowing it, and slipped off some morning in the fog."

"And we wouldn't have got one of the women to go with us! If we are getting shiftless here--and I don't say we're not--these women have just planted themselves and have taken root. But that ain't all: there's the influence of that infernal sneak Hurlstone! He's set the Comandante against us, you know; he, and the priest, the Comandante, and Nelly Keene make up the real Council of Todos Santos. Between them they've shoved out the poor little Alcalde, who's ready to give up everything to dance attendance on Mrs. Brimmer. They run the whole concern, and they give out that it's owing to them that we're given parole of the town, and the privilege of spending our money and working these mines. Who'd have thought that sneak Hurlstone would have played his cards so well? It makes me regularly sick to hear him called 'Don Diego.'"

"Yet you're mightily tickled when that black-eyed sister of the Alcalde calls you 'Don Carlos,'" said Crosby, yawning.

"Dona Isabel," said Brace, with some empressement, "is a lady of position, and these are only her national courtesies."

"She just worships Miss Keene, and I reckon she knows by this time all about your old attentions to her friend," said Crosby, with lazy mischief.

"My attentions to Miss Keene were simply those of an ordinary acquaintance, and were never as strongly marked as yours to Mrs. Brimmer."

"Who has deserted ME as Miss Keene did YOU," rejoined Crosby.

Brace's quick color had risen again, and he would have made some sharp retort, but the jingling of spurs caught his ear. They both turned quickly, and saw Banks approaching. He was dressed as a vaquero, but with his companions' like exaggeration of detail; yet, while his spurs were enormous, and his sombrero unusually expansive, he still clung to his high shirt-collars and accurately tied check cravat.

"Well?" he said, approaching them.

"Well?" said Crosby.

"Well?" repeated Brace.

After this national salutation, the three Americans regarded each other silently.

"Knocked off cultivating to-day?" queried Crosby, lighting a fresh cigarette.

"The peons have," said Banks; "it's another saint's day. That's the fourth in two weeks. Leaves about two clear working days in each week, counting for the days off, when they're getting over the effects of the others. I tell you what, sir, the Catholic religion is not suited to a working civilization, or else the calendar ought to be overhauled and a lot of these saints put on the retired list. It's hard enough to have all the Apostles on your pay-roll, so to speak, but to have a lot of fellows run in on you as saints, and some of them not even men or women, but IDEAS, is piling up the agony! I don't wonder they call the place 'All Saints.' The only thing to do," continued Banks severely, "is to open communication with the desert, and run in some of the heathen tribes outside. I've made a proposition to the Council offering to take five hundred of them in the raw, unregenerate state, and turn 'em over after a year to the Church. If I could get Hurlstone to do some log-rolling with that Padre, his friend, I might get the bill through. But I'm always put off till to-morrow. Everything here is 'Hasta manana; hasta manana,' always. I believe when the last trump is sounded, they'll say, 'Hasta manana.' What are YOU doing?" he said, after a pause.

"Waiting for your ship," answered Crosby sarcastically.

"Well, you can laugh, gentlemen--but you won't have to wait long. According to my calculations that Mexican ship is about due now. And I ain't basing my figures on anything the Mexican Government is going to do, or any commercial speculation. I'm reckoning on the Catholic Church."

The two men languidly looked towards him. Banks continued gravely,--

"I made the proper inquiries, and I find that the stock of rosaries, scapularies, blessed candles, and other ecclesiastical goods, is running low. I find that just at the nick of time a fresh supply always comes from the Bishop of Guadalajara, with instructions from the Church. Now, gentlemen, my opinion is that the Church, and the Church only, knows the secret of the passage through the foggy channel, and keeps it to itself. I look at this commercially, as a question of demand and supply. Well, sir; the only real trader here at Todos Santos is the Church."

"Then you don't take in account the interests of Brimmer, Markham, and Keene," said Brace. "Do you suppose they're doing nothing?"

"I don't say they're not; but you're confounding interests with INSTINCTS. They haven't got the instinct to find this place, and all that they've done and are doing is blind calculation. Just look at the facts. As the filibuster who captured the Excelsior of course changed her name, her rig-out, and her flag, and even got up a false register for her, she's as good as lost, as far as the world knows, until she lands at Quinquinambo. Then supposing she's found out, and the whole story is known--although everything's against such a proposition--the news has got to go back to San Francisco before the real search will be begun. As to any clue that might come from Captain Bunker, that's still more remote. Allowing he crossed the bar and got out of the channel, he wasn't at the right time for meeting a passing steamer; and the only coasters are Mexican. If he didn't die of delirium tremens or exposure, and was really picked up in his senses by some other means, he would have been back with succor before this, if only to get our evidence to prove the loss of the vessel. No, sir sooner or later, of course, the San Francisco crowd are bound to find us here. And if it wasn't for my crops and our mine, I wouldn't be in a hurry for them; but our FIRST hold is the Church."

He stopped. Crosby was asleep. Brace arose lazily, lounged into his office, and closed his desk.

"Going to shut for the day?" said Banks, yawning.

"I reckon," said Brace dubiously; "I don't know but I'd take a little pasear into the town if I had my horse ready."

"Take mine, and I'll trapse over on foot to the Ranche with Crosby--after a spell. You'll find him under that big madrono, if he has not already wound himself up with his lariat by walking round it. Those Mexican horses can't go straight even when they graze--they must feed in a circle. He's a little fresh, so look out for him!"

"All the better. I'd like to get into town just after the siesta."

"Siesta!" echoed Banks, lying comfortably down in the shade just vacated by Brace; "that's another of their shiftless practices. Two hours out of every day--that's a day out of the week--spent in a hammock; and during business hours too! It's disgraceful, sir, simply disgraceful."

He turned over and closed his eyes, as if to reflect on its enormity.

Brace had no difficulty in finding the mare, although some trouble in mounting her. But, like his companions, having quickly adopted the habits of the country, he had become a skillful and experienced horseman, and the mustang, after a few springless jumps, which failed to unseat him, submitted to his rider. The young man galloped rapidly towards Todos Santos; but when within a few miles of the pueblo he slackened his pace. From the smiles and greetings of wayfarers--among whom were some pretty Indian girls and mestizas--it was evident that the handsome young foreigner, who had paid them the compliment of extravagantly adopting their national costume, was neither an unfamiliar nor an unpleasing spectacle. When he reached the posada at the top of the hilly street, he even carried his simulation of the local customs to the point of charging the veranda at full speed, and pulling up suddenly at the threshold, after the usual fashion of vaqueros. The impetuous apparition brought a short stout man to the door, who, welcoming him with effusive politeness, conducted him to an inner room that gave upon a green grass courtyard. Seated before a rude table, sipping aguardiente, was his countryman Winslow and two traders of the pueblo. They were evidently of the number already indicated who had adopted the American fashions. Senor Ruiz wore a linen "duster" in place of his embroidered jacket, and Senor Martinez had an American beard, or "goatee," in imitation of Mr. Banks. The air was yellow with the fumes of tobacco, through which the shrewd eyes of Winslow gleamed murkily.

"This," he said to his countryman, in fluent if not elegant Spanish, indicating the gentleman who had imitated Banks, "is a man of ideas, and a power in Todos Santos. He would control all the votes in his district if there were anything like popular suffrage here, and he understands the American policy."

Senor Martinez here hastened to inform Mr. Brace that he had long cherished a secret and enthusiastic admiration for that grand and magnanimous nation of which his friend was such a noble representative; that, indeed, he might say it was an inherited taste, for had not his grandfather once talked with the American whaling Capitano Coffino and partaken of a subtle spirit known as "er-r-rum" on his ship at Acapulco?

"There's nothing mean about Martinez," said Winslow to Brace confidentially, in English. "He's up to anything, and ready from the word 'Go.' Don't you think he's a little like Banks, you know--a sort of Mexican edition. And there is Ruiz, he's a cattle dealer; he'd be a good friend of Banks if Banks wasn't so infernally self-opinionated. But Ruiz ain't a fool, either. He's picked up a little English--good American, I mean--from me already."

Senor Ruiz here smiled affably, to show his comprehension; and added slowly, with great gravity,--

"It is of twenty-four year I have first time the Amencano of your beautiful country known. He have buy the hides and horns of the cattle--for his ship--here."

"Here?" echoed Brace. "I thought no American ship--no ship at all--had been in here for fifty years."

Ruiz shrugged his shoulders, and cast a glance at his friend Martinez, lowered his voice and lifted his eyelashes at the same moment, and, jerking his yellow, tobacco-stained thumb over his arm, said,--

"Ah--of a verity--on the beach--two leagues away."

"Do you hear that?" said Winslow, turning complacently to Brace and rising to his feet. "Don't you see now what hogwash the Commander, Alcalde, and the priest have been cramming down our throats about this place being sealed up for fifty years. What he says is all Gospel truth. That's what I wanted you fellows to hear, and you might have heard before, only you were afraid of compromising yourselves by talking with the people. You get it into your heads--and the Comandante helped you to get it there--that Todos Santos was a sort of Sleepy Hollow, and that no one knew anything of the political changes for the last fifty years. Well, what's the fact? Ask Ruiz there, and Martinez, and they'll both tell you they know that Mexico got her independence in 1826, and that the Council keep it dark that they may perpetuate themselves. They know," he continued, lowering his voice, "that the Commander's commission from the old Viceroy isn't worth the paper it is stamped upon."

"But what about the Church?" asked Brace hesitatingly, remembering Banks' theory.

"The Church--caramba! the priests were ever with the Escossas, the aristocrats, and against the Yorkenos, the men of the Republic--the people," interrupted Martinez vehemently; "they will not accept, they will not proclaim the Republic to the people. They shut their eyes, so--. They fold their hands, so--. They say, 'Sicut era principio et nunc et semper in secula seculorum!' Look you, Senor, I am not of the Church--no, caramba! I snap my fingers at the priests. Ah! what they give one is food for the bull's horns, believe me--I have read 'Tompano,' the American 'Tompano.'"

"Who's he?" asked Brace.

"He means Tom Paine! 'The Age of Reason'--you know," said Winslow, gazing with a mixture of delight and patronizing pride at the Radicals of Todos Santos. "Oh! he's no fool--is Martinez, nor Ruiz either! And while you've been flirting with Dona Isabel, and Banks has been trying to log-roll the Padre, and Crosby going in for siestas, I'VE found them out. And there are a few more--aren't there, Ruiz?"

Ruiz darted a mysterious glance at Brace, and apparently not trusting himself to speak, checked off his ten fingers dramatically in the air thrice.

"As many of a surety! God and liberty!"

"But, if this is so, why haven't they DONE something?"

Senor Martinez glanced at Senor Ruiz.

"Hasta manana!" he said slowly.

"Oh, this is a case of 'Hasta manana!'" said Brace, somewhat relieved.

"They can wait," returned Winslow hurriedly. "It's too big a thing to rush into without looking round. You know what it means? Either Todos Santos is in rebellion against the present Government of Mexico, or she is independent of any. Her present Government, in any event, don't represent either the Republic of Mexico or the people of Todos Santos--don't you see? And in that case WE'VE got as good a right here as any one."

"He speaks the truth," said Ruiz, grasping a hand of Brace and Winslow each; "in this we are--as brothers."

"God and liberty!" ejaculated Martinez, in turn seizing the other disengaged hands of the Americans, and completing the mystic circle.

"God and liberty!" echoed a thin chorus from their host and a few loungers who had entered unperceived.

Brace felt uneasy. He was not wanting in the courage or daring of youth, but it struck him that his attitude was by no means consistent with his attentions to Dona Isabel. He managed to get Winslow aside.

"This is all very well as a 'free lunch' conspiracy; but you're forgetting your parole," he said, in a low voice.

"We gave our parole to the present Government. When it no longer exists, there will be no parole--don't you see?"

"Then these fellows prefer waiting"--

"Until we can get OUTSIDE help, you understand. The first American ship that comes in here--eh?"

Brace felt relieved. After all, his position in regard to the Alcalde's sister would not be compromised; he might even be able to extend some protection over her; and it would be a magnanimous revenge if he could even offer it to Miss Keene.

"I see you don't swear anybody to secrecy," he said, with a laugh; "shall I speak to Crosby, or will you?"

"Not yet; he'll only see something to laugh at. And Banks and Martinez would quarrel at once, and go back on each other. No; my idea is to let some outsider do for Todos Santos what Perkins did for Quinquinambo. Do you take?"

His long, thin, dyspeptic face lit up with a certain small political cunning and shrewdness that struck Brace with a half-respect.

"I say, Winslow; you'd have made a first-class caucus leader in San Francisco."

Winslow smiled complacently. "There's something better to play on here than ward politics," he replied. "There's a material here that--like the mine and the soil--ain't half developed. I reckon I can show Banks something that beats lobbying and log-rolling for contracts. I've let you into this thing to show you a sample of my prospecting. Keep it to yourself if you want it to pay. Dat's me, George! Good-by! I'll be out to the office to-morrow!"

He turned back towards his brother politicians with an expression of satisfied conceit that Brace for a moment envied. The latter even lingered on the veranda, as if he would have asked Winslow another question; but, looking at his watch, he suddenly recollected himself, and, mounting his horse, cantered down towards the plaza.

The hour of siesta was not yet over, and the streets were still deserted--probably the reason why the politicians of Todos Santos had chosen that hour for their half secret meeting. At the corner of the plaza he dismounted and led his horse to the public hitching-post--gnawn and nibbled by the teeth of generations of mustangs--and turned into the narrow lane flanked by the walls of the Alcalde's garden. Halfway down he stopped before a slight breach in the upper part of the adobe barrier, and looked cautiously around. The long, shadowed vista of the lane was unobstructed by any moving figure as far as the yellow light of the empty square beyond. With a quick leap he gained the top of the wall and disappeared on the other aide.

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