Italicized text is bracketed by ~’s.
CABBAGES AND KINGS
by O Henry
The Lotus and the Bottle
Cupid’s Exile Number Two
The Phonograph and the Graft
The Flag Paramount
The Shamrock and the Palm
The Remnants of the Code
Masters of Arts
Rouge et Noir
CABBAGES AND KINGS
By the Carpenter
They will tell you in Anchuria, that President Miraflores, of that volatile republic, died by his own hand in the coast town of Coralio; that he had reached thus far in flight from the inconveniences of an imminent revolution; and that one hundred thousand dollars, government funds, which he carried with him in an American leather valise as a souvenir of his tempestuous administration, was never afterward recovered.
For a ~real~, a boy will show you his grave. It is back of the town near a little bridge that spans a mangrove swamp. A plain slab of wood stands at its head. Some one has burned upon the headstone with a hot iron this inscription:
RAMON ANGEL DE LAS CRUZES
PRESIDENTE DE LA REPUBLICA
QUE SEA SU JUEZ DIOS
It is characteristic of this buoyant people that they pursue no man beyond the grave. “Let God be his judge!”–Even with the hundred thousand unfound, though they greatly coveted, the hue and cry went no further than that.
To the stranger or the guest the people of Coralio will relate the story of the tragic end of their former president; how he strove to escape from the country with the publice funds and also with Dona Isabel Guilbert, the young American opera singer; and how, being apprehended by members of the opposing political party in Coralio, he shot himself through the head rather than give up the funds, and, in consequence, the Senorita Guilbert. They will relate further that Dona Isabel, her adventurous bark of fortune shoaled by the simultaneous loss of her distinguished admirer and the souvenir hundred thousand, dropped anchor on this stagnant coast, awaiting a rising tide.
They say, in Coralio, that she found a prompt and prosperous tide in the form of Frank Goodwin, an American resident of the town, an investor who had grown wealthy by dealing in the products of the country–a banana king, a rubber prince, a sarsaparilla, indigo and mahogany baron. The Senorita Guilbert, you will be told, married Senor Goodwin one month after the president’s death, thus, in the very moment when Fortune had ceased to smile, wresting from her a gift greater than the prize withdrawn.
Of the American, Don Frank Goodwin, and of his wife the natives have nothing but good to say. Don Frank has lived among them for years, and has compelled their respect. His lady is easily queen of what social life the sober coast affords. The wife of the governor of the district, herself, who was of the proud Castilian family of Monteleon y Dolorosa de los Santos y Mendez, feels honored to unfold her napkin with olive-hued, ringed hands at the table of Senora Goodwin. Were you to refer (with your northern prejudices) to the vivacious past of Mrs. Goodwin when her audacious and gleeful abandon in light opera captured the mature president’s fancy, or to her share in that statesman’s downfall and malfeasance, the Latin shrug of the shoulder would be your only answer and rebuttal. What prejudices there were in Coralio concerning Senora Goodwin seemed now to be in her favor, whatever they had been in the past.
It would seem that the story is ended, instead of begun; that the close of tragedy and the climax of a romance have covered the ground of interest; but, to the more curious reader it shall be some slight instruction to trace the close threads that underlie the ingenious web of circumstances.
The headpiece bearing the name of President Miraflores is daily scrubbed with soap-bark and sand. An old half-breed Indian tends the grave with fidelity and the dawdling minuteness of inherited sloth. He chops down the weeds and ever-springing grass with his machete, he plucks ants and scorpions and beetles from it with his horny fingers, and sprinkles its turf with water from the plaza fountain. There is no grave anywhere so well kept and ordered.
Only by following out the underlying threads will it be made clear why the old Indian, Galves, is secretly paid to keep green the grave of President Miraflores by one who never saw that unfortunate statesman in life or in death, and why that one was wont to walk in the twilight, casting from a distance looks of gentle sadness upon that unhonored mound.
Elsewhere than at Coralio one learns of the impetuous career of Isabel Guilbert. New Orleans gave her birth and the mingled French and Spanish creole nature that tinctured her life with such turbulence and warmth. She had little education, but a knowledge of men and motives that seemed to have come by instinct. Far beyond the common woman was she endowed with intrepid rashness, with a love for the pursuit of adventure to the brink of danger, and with desire for the pleasures of life. Her spirit was one to chafe under any curb; she was Eve after the fall, but before the bitterness of it was felt. She wore life as a rose in her bosom.
Of the legion of men who had been at her feet it was said that but one was so fortunate as to engage her fancy. To President Miraflores, the brilliant but unstable ruler of Anchuria, she yielded the key to her resolute heart. How, then, do we find her (as the Coralians would have told you) the wife of Frank Goodwin, and happily living a life of dull and dreamy inaction?
The underlying threads reach far, stretching across the sea. Following them out it will be made plain why “Shorty” O’Day, of the Columbia Detective Agency, resigned his position. And, for a lighter pastime, it shall be a duty and a pleasing sport to wander with Momus beneath the tropic stars where Melpomene once stalked austere. Now to cause laughter to echo from those lavish jungles and frowing crags where formerly rang the cries of pirate’s victims; to lay aside pike and cutlass and attack with quip and jollity; to draw one saving titter of mirth from the rusty casque of Romance–this were pleasant to do in the shade of the lemon-trees on that coast that is curved like lips set for smiling.
For there are yet tales of the Spanish Main. That segment of continent washed by the tempestuous Caribbean, and presenting to the sea a formidable border of tropicle jungle topped by the overweening Cordilleras, is still begirt by mystery and romance. In past times, buccaneers and revolutionists roused the echoes of its cliffs, and the condor wheeled perpetually above where, in the green groves, they made food for him with their matchlocks and toledos. Taken and retaken by sea rovers, by adverse powers and by sudden uprising of rebellious factions, the historic 300 miles of adventurous coast has scarcely known for hundreds of years whom rightly to call its master. Pizarro, Balboa, Sir Francis Drake, and Bolivar did what they could to make it a part of Christendom. Sir John Morgan, Lafitte and other eminent swashbucklers bombarded and pounded it in the name of Abaddon.
The game still goes on. The guns of the rovers are silenced; but the tintype man, the enlarged photograph brigand, the kodaking tourist and the scouts of the gentle brigade of fakirs have found it out, and carry on the work. The hucksters of Germany, France, and Sicily now bag in small change across their counters. Gentlemen adventurers throng the waiting-rooms of its rulers with proposals for railways and concessions. The little ~opera-bouffe~ nations play at government and intrigue until some day a big, silent gunboat glides into the offing and warns them not to break their toys. And with these changes comes also the small adventurer, with empty pockets to fill, light of heart, busy-brained–the modern fairy prince, bearing an alarm clock with which, more surely than by the sentimental kiss, to awaken the beautiful tropics from their centuries’ sleep. Generally he wears a shamrock, which he matches pridefully against the extravagant palms; and it is he who had driven Melpomene to the wings, and set Comedy to dancing before the footlights of the Southern Cross.
So, there is a little tale to tell of many things. Perhaps to the promiscuous ear of the Walrus it shall come with most avail; for in it there are indeed shoes and ships and sealing-wax and cabbage-palms and presidents instead of kings.
Add to these a little love and counterplotting, and scatter everywhere throughout the maze a trail of tropical dollars–dollars warmed no more by the torrid sun than by the hot palms of the scouts of Fortune–and, after all, here seems to be Life, itself, with talk enough to weary the most garrulous of Walruses.
Coralio reclined, in the mid-day heat, like some vacuous beauty lounging in a guarded harem. The town lay at the sea’s edge on a strip of alluvial coast. It was set like a little pearl in an emerald band. Behind it, and seeming almost to topple, imminent, above it, rose the sea-following range of the Cordilleras. In front the sea was spread, a smiling jailer, but even more incorruptible than the frowning mountains. The waves swished along the smooth beach; the parrots screamed in the orange and ceiba-trees; the palms waved their limber fronds foolishly like an awkward chorus at the prima donna’s cue to enter.
Suddenly the town was full of excitement. A native boy dashed down a grass-grown street, shrieking: “~Busca el Senor~ Goodwin. ~Ha venido un telegrafo por el!~”
The word passed quickly. Telegrams do not come to any one in Coralio. The cry for Senor Goodwin was taken up by a dozen officious voices. The main street running parallel to the beach became populated with those who desired to expedite the delivery of the dispatch. Knots of women with complexions varying from palest olive to deepest brown gathered at street corners and plaintively carolled: “~Un telegrafo por Senor~ Goodwin!” The ~comandante~, Don Senor el Coronel Encarnacion Rios, who was loyal to the Ins and suspected Goodwin’s devotion to the Outs, hissed: “Aha!” and wrote in his secret memorandum book the accusive fact that Senor Goodwin had on that momentous date received a telegram.
In the midst of the hullabaloo a man stepped to the door of a small wooden building and looked out. Above the door was a sign that read “Keogh and Clancy”–a nomenclature that seemed not to be indigenous to that tropical soil. The man in the door was Billy Keogh, scout of fortune and progress and latter-day rover of the Spanish Main. Tintypes and photographs were the weapons with which Keogh and Clancy were at that time assailing the hopeless shores. Outside the shop were set two large frames filled with specimens fo their art and skill.
Keogh leaned in the doorway, his bold and humorous countenance wearing a look of interest at the unusual influx of life and sound in the street. When the meaning of the disturbance became clear to him he placed a hand beside his mouth and shouted: “Hey! Frank!” in such a robustious voice that the feeble clamor of the natives was drowned and silenced.
Fifty yards away, on the seaward side of the street, stood the abode of the consul for the United States. Out from the door of this building tumbled Goodwin at the call. He had been smoking with Willard Geddie, the consul, on the back porch of the consulate, which was conceded to be the coolest spot in Coralio.
“Hurry up,” shouted Keogh. “There’s a riot in town on account of a telegram that’s come for you. You want to be careful about these things, my boy. It won’t do to trifle with the feelings of the public this way. You’ll be getting a pink note some day with violet scent on it; and then the country’ll be steeped in the throes of a revolution.”
Goodwin had strolled up the street and met the boy with the message. The ox-eyed women gazed at him with shy admiration, for his type drew them. He was big, blond, and jauntily dressed in white linen, with buckskin ~zapatos~. His manner was courtly, with a merciful eye. When the telegram had been delivered, and the bearer of it dismissed with a gratuity, the relieved populace returned to the contiguities of shade from which curiosity had drawn it–the women to their baking in the mud ovens under the orange-trees, or to the interminable combing of their long, straight hair; the men to their cigarettes and gossip in the cantinas.
Goodwin sat on Keogh’s doorstep, and read his telegram. It was from Bob Englehart, an American, who lived in San Mateo, the capital city of Anchuria, eighty miles in the interior. Englehart was a gold miner, an ardent revolutionist and “good people.” That he was a man of resource and imagination was proven by the telegram he had sent. It had had been his task to send a confidential message to his friend in Coralio. This could not have been accomplished in either Spanish or English, for the eye politic in Anchuria was an active one. But Englehart was a diplomatist. There existed but one code upon which he might make requisition with promise of safety–the great and potent code of Slang. So, here is the message that slipped, unconstrued, through the fingers of curious officials, and came to the eye of Goodwin:
“His Nibs skedaddled yesterday per jack-rabbit line with all the coin in the kitty and the bundle of muslin he’s spoony about. The boodle is six figures short. Our crowd in good shape, but we need the spondulicks. You collar it. The main guy and the dry goods are headed for the briny. You to know what to do.
This screed, remarkable as it was, had no mystery for Goodwin. He was the most successful of the small advance-guard of speculative Americans that had invaded Anchuria, and he had not reached that enviable pinnacle without having well exercised the arts of foresight and deduction. He had taken up political intrigue as a matter of business. He was acute enough to wield a certain influence among the leading schemers, and he was prosperous enough to be able to purchase the respect of the petty-officeholders. There was always a revolutionary party; and to it he had allied himself; for the adherents of a new administration received the rewards of their labors. There was now a Liberal party seeking to overturn President Miraflores. If the wheel successfully revolved, Goodwin stood to win a concession to 30,000 manzanas of the finest coffee lands in the interior. Certain incidents in the recent career of President Miraflores had excited a shrewd suspicion in Goodwin’s mind that the government was near a dissolution from another cause than that of a revolution, and now Englehart’s telegram had come as a corroboration of his wisdom.
The telegram, which had remained unintelligible to the Anchurian linguists who had applied to it in vain their knowledge of Spanish and elemental English, conveyed a stimulating piece of news to Goodwin’s understanding. It informed him that the president of the republic had decamped from the capital city with the contents of the treasury. Furthermore, that he was accompanied in his flight by that winning adventuress Isabel Guilbert, the opera singer, whose troupe of performers had been entertained by the president at San Mateo during the past month on a scale less modest than that with which royal visitors are often content. The reference to the “jackrabbit line” could mean nothing else than the mule-back system of transport that prevailed between Coralio and the capital. The hint that the “boodle” was “six figures short” made the condition of the national treasury lamentably clear. Also it was convincingly true that the ingoing party–its way now made a pacific one–would need the “spondulicks.” Unless its pledges should be fulfilled, and the spoils held for the delectation of the victors, precarious indeed, would be the position of the new government. Therefore it was exceeding necessary to “collar the main guy,” and recapture the sinews of war and government.
Goodwin handed the message to Keogh.
“Read that, Billy,” he said. “It’s from Bob Englehart. Can you manage the cipher?”
Keogh sat in the other half of the doorway, and carefully perused the telegram.
“‘Tis not a cipher,” he said, finally. “‘Tis what they call literature, and that’s a system of language put in the mouths of people that they’ve never been introduced to by writers of imagination. The magazines invented it, but I never knew before that President Norvin Green had stamped it with the seal of his approval. ‘Tis now no longer literature, but language. The dictionaries tried, but they couldn’t make it go for anything but dialect. Sure, now that the Western Union indorses it, it won’t be long till a race of people will spring up that speaks it.”
“You’re running too much to philology, Billy,” said Goodwin. “Do you make out the meaning of it?”
“Sure,” replied the philosopher of Fortune. “All languages come easy to the man who must know ’em. I’ve even failed to misunderstand an order to evacuate in classical Chinese when it was backed up by the muzzle of a breech-loader. This little literary essay I hold in my hands means a game of Fox-in-the-Morning. Ever play that, Frank, when you was a kid?”
“I think so,” said Goodwin, laughing. “You join hands all ’round, and–“
“You do not,” interrupted Keogh. “You’ve got a fine sporting game mixed up in your head with ‘All Around the Rosebush.’ The spirit of ‘Fox-in-the-Morning’ is opposed to the holding of hands. I’ll tell you how it’s played. This president man and his companion in play, they stand up over in San Mateo, ready for the run, and shout: “Fox-in-the-Morning!’ Me and you, standing here, we say: ‘Goose and Gander!’ They say: ‘How many miles is it to London town?’ We say: ‘Only a few, if your legs are long enough. How many comes out?’ They say: ‘More than you’re able to catch.’ And then the game commences.”
“I catch the idea,” said Goodwin. “It won’t do to let the goose and gander slip through your fingers, Billy; their feathers are too valuable. Our crowd is prepared and able to step into the shoes of the government at once; but with the treasury empty we’d stay in power about as long as a tenderfoot would stick on an untamed bronco. We must play the fox on every foot of the coast to prevent their getting out of the country.”
“By the mule-back schedule,” said Keogh, “it’s five days down from San Mateo. We’ve got plenty of time to set our outposts. There’s only three places on the coast where they can hope to sail from–here and Solitas and Alazan. They’re the only points we’ll have to guard. It’s as easy as a chess problem–fox to play, and mate in three moves. Oh, goosey, goosey, gander, whither do you wander? By the blessing of the literary telegraph the boodle of this benighted fatherland shall be preserved to the honest political party that is seeking to overthrow it.”
The situation had been justly outlined by Keogh. The down trail from the capital was at all times a weary road to travel. A jiggety- joggety journey it was; ice-cold and hot, wet and dry. The trail climbed appalling mountains, wound like a rotten string about the brows of breathless precipices, plunged through chilling snow-fed streams, and wriggled like a snake through sunless forests teeming with menacing insect and animal life. After descending to the foothills it turned to a trident, the central prong ending at Alazan. Another branched off to Coralio; the third penetrated to Solitas. Between the sea and the foothills stretched the five miles breadth of alluvial coast. Here was the flora ofthe tropics in its rankest and most prodigal growth. Spaces here and there had been wrested from the jungle and planted with bananas and cane and orange groves. The rest was a riot of wild vegetation, the home of monkeys, tapirs, jaguars, alligators, and prodigious reptiles and insects. Where no road was cut a serpent could scarcely make its way through the tangle of vines and creepers. Across the treacherous mangrove swamps few things without wings could safely pass. Therefore the fugitives could hope to reach the coast only by one of the routes named.
“Keep the matter quiet, Billy,” advised Goodwin. “We don’t want the Ins to know that the president is in flight. I suppose Bob’s information is something of a scoop in the capital as yet. Otherwise he would not have tried to make his message a confidential one; and, besides, everybody would have heard the news. I’m going around now to see Dr. Zavalla, and start a man up the trail to cut the telegraph wire.”
As Goodwin rose, Keogh threw his hat upon the grass by the door and expelled a tremendous sigh.
“What’s the trouble, Billy?” asked Goodwin, pausing. “That’s the first time I heard you sigh.”
“‘Tis the last,” said Keogh. “With that sorrowful puff of wind I resign myself to a life of praiseworthy but harassing honesty. What are tintypes, if you please, to the opportunities of the great and hilarious class of ganders and geese? Not that I would be a president, Frank–and the boodle he’s got is too big for me to handle –but in some ways I feel my conscience hurting me for addicting myself to photographing a nation instead of running away with it. Frank, did you ever see the ‘bundle of muslin’ that His Excellency has wrapped up and carried off?”
“Isabel Guilbert?” said Goodwin, laughing. “No, I never did. From what I’ve heard of her, though, I imagine that she wouldn’t stick at anything to carry her point. Don’t get romantic, Billy. Sometimes I begin to fear that there’s Irish blood in your ancestry.”
“I never saw her either,” went on Keogh; “but they say she’s got all the ladies of mythology, sculpture, and fiction reduced to chromos. They say she can look at a man once, and he’ll turn monkey and climb trees to pick coconuts for her. Think of that president man with Lord know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars in one hand, and this muslin siren in the other, galloping down the hill on a sympathetic mule amid songbirds and flowers! And here is Billy Keogh, because he is virtuous, condemned to the unprofitable swindle of slandering the faces of missing links on tin for an honest living! ‘Tis an injustice of nature.”
“Cheer up,” said Goodwin. “You are a pretty poor fox to be envying a gander. Maybe the enchanting Guilbert will take a fancy to you and your tintypes after we impoverish her royal escort.”
“She could do worse,” reflected Keogh; “but she won’t. ‘Tis not a tintype gallery, but a gallery of the gods that she’s fitted to adorn. She’s a very wicked lady, and the president man is in luck. But I hear Clancy swearing in the back room for having to do all the work.” And Keogh plunged for the rear of the “gallery,” whistling gaily in a spontaneous way that belied his recent sigh over the questionable good luck of the flying president.
Goodwin turned from the main street into a much narrower one that intersected it at a right angle.
These side streets were covered by a growth of thick, rank grass, which was kept to a navigable shortness by the machetes of the police. Stone sidewalks, little more than a ledge in width, ran along the base of the mean and monotonous adobe houses. At the outskirts of the village these streets dwindled to nothing; and here were set the palm-thatched huts of the Caribs and the poorer natives, and the shabby cabins of negroes from Jamaica and the West India islands. A few structures raised their heads above the red-tiled roofs of the one-story houses–the bell tower of the ~Calaboza~, the Hotel de los Extranjeros, the residence of the Vesuvius Fruit Company’s agent, the store and residence of Bernard Brannigan, a ruined cathedral in which Columbus had once set foot, and, most imposing of all, the Casa Morena–the summer “White House” of the President of Anchuria. On the principal street running along the beach–the Broadway of Coralio–were the larger stores, the government ~bodega~ and post-office, the ~cuartel~, the rum-shops and the market place.
On his way Goodwin passed the house of Bernard Brannigan. It was a modern wooden building, two stories in height. The ground floor was occupied by Brannigan’s store, the upper one contained the living apartments. A wide cool porch ran around the house half way up its outer walls. A handsome, vivacious girl neatly dressed in flowing white leaned over the railing and smiled down upon Goodwin. She was no darker than many an Andalusian of high descent; and she sparkled and glowed like a tropical moonlight.
“Good evening, Miss Paula,” said Goodwin, taking off his hat, with his ready smile. There was little difference in his manner whether he addressed women or men. Everybody in Coralio liked to receive the salutation of the big American.
“Is there any news, Mr. Goodwin? Please don’t say no. Isn’t it warm? I feel just like Mariana in her moated grange–or was it a range?–it’s hot enough.”
“No, there’s no news to tell, I believe,” said Goodwin, with a mischievous look in his eye, “except that old Geddie is getting grumpier and crosser every day. If something doesn’t happen to relieve his mind I’ll have to quit smoking on his back porch–and there’s no other place available that is cool enough.”
“He isn’t grumpy,” said Paula Brannigan, impulsively, “when he–“
But she ceased suddenly, and drew back with a deepening color; for her mother had been a ~mestizo~ lady, and the Spanish blood had brought to Paula a certain shyness that was an adornment to the other half of her demonstrative nature.
The Lotus And The Bottle
Willard Greddie, consul for the United States in Coralio, was working leisurely on his yearly report. Goodwin, who had strolled in as he did daily for a smoke on the much coveted porch, had found him so absorbed in his work that he departed after roundly abusing the consul for his lack of hospitality.
“I shall complain to the civil service department,” said Goodwin;– “or is it a department?–perhaps it’s only a theory. One gets neither civility nor service from you. You won’t talk; and you won’t set out anything to drink. What kind of a way is that of representing your government?”
Goodwin strolled out and across to the hotel to see if he could bully the quarantine doctor into a game on Coralio’s solitary billiard table. His plans were completed for the interception of the fugitives from the capital; and now it was but a waiting game that he had to play.
The consul was interested in his report. He was only twenty-four; and he had not been in Coralio long enough for his enthusiasm to cool in the heat of the tropics–a paradox that may be allowed between Cancer and Capricorn.
So many thousand bunches of bananas, so mnay thousand oranges and coconuts, so many ounces of gold dust, pounds of rubber, coffee, indigo and sarparilla–actually, exports were twenty per cent greater than for the previous year!
A little thrill of satisfaction ran through the consul. Perhaps, he thought, the State Department, upon reading his introduction, would notice–and then he leaned back in his chair and laughed. He was getting as bad as the others. For the moment he had forgotten that Coralio was an insignificant republic lying along the by-ways of a second-rate sea. He thought of Gregg, the quarantine doctor, who subscribed for the London ~Lancet~, expecting to find it quoting his reports to the home Board of Health concerning the yellow fever germ. The consul knew that not one in fifty of his acquaintances in the States had ever heard of Coralio. He knew that two men, at any rate, would have to read his report–some underling in the State Department and a compositor in the Public Printing Office. Perhaps the typesticker would note the increase of commerce in Coralio, and speak of it, over the cheese and beer, to a friend.
He had just written: “Most unaccountable is the supineness of the large exporters in the United States in permitting the French and German houses to practically control the trade interests of this rich and productive country”–when he heard the hoarse notes of a steamer’s siren.
Geddie laid down his pen and gathered his Panama hat and umbrella. By the sound he knew it to be the ~Valhalla~, one of the line of fruit vessels plying for the Vesuvius Company. Down to ~ninos~ of five years, every one in Coralio could name you each incoming steamer by the note of her siren.
The consul sauntered by a roundabout, shaded way to the beach. By reason of long practice he gauged his stroll so accurately that by the time he arrived on the sandy shore the boat of the customs officials was rowing back from the steamer, which had been boarded and inspected according to the laws of Anchuria.
There is no harbor at Coralio. Vessels of the draught of the ~Valhalla~ must ride at anchor a mile from shore. When they take on fruit it is conveyed on lighters and freighter sloops. At Solitas, where there was a fine harbor, ships of many kinds were to be seen, but in the roadstead off Coralio scarcely any save the fruiters paused. Now and then a tramp coaster, or a mysterious brig from Spain, and then a tramp coaster, or a mysterious brig from Spain, or a saucy French barque would hang innocently for a few days in the offing. Then the custom-house crew would become doubly vigilant and wary. At night a sloop or two would be making strange trips in and out along the shore; and in the morning the stock of Three-Star Hennessey, wines and drygoods in Coralio would be found vastly increased. It has also been said that the customs officials jingled more silver in the pockets of their red-striped trousers, and that the record books showed no increase in import duties received.
The custom’s boat and the ~Valhalla~ gig reached the shore at the same time. When they grounded in the shallow water there was still five yards of rolling surf between them and dry sand. Then half- clothed Caribs dashed into the water, and brought in on their backs the ~Valhalla’s~ purser, and the little native officials in their cotton undershirts, blue trousers with red stripes, and flapping straw hats.
At college Geddie had been a treasure as a first-baseman. He now closed his umbrella, stuck it upright in the sand, and stooped, with his hands resting upon his knees. The purser, burlesquing the pitcher’s contortions, hurled at the consul the heavy roll of newspapers, tied with a string, that the steamer always brought for him. Geddie leaped high and caught the roll with a sounding “thwack.” The loungers on the beach–about a third of the population of the town–laughed and applauded delightedly. Every week they expected to see that roll of papers delivered and received in that same manner, and they were never disappointed. Innovations did not flourish in Coralio.
The consul re-hoisted his umbrella and walked back to the consulate.
This home of a great nation’s representative was a wooden structure of two rooms, with a native-built gallery of poles, bamboo and nipa palm running on three sides of it. One room was the official apartment, furnished chastely with a flat-top desk, a hammock, and three uncomfortable cane-seated chairs. Engravings of the first and latest president of the country represented hung against the wall. The other room was the consul’s living apartment.
It was eleven o’clock when he returned from the beach, and therefore breakfast time. Chanca, the Carib woman who cooked for him, was just serving the meal on the side of the gallery facing the sea–a spot famous as the coolest in Coralio. The breakfast consisted of shark’s fin soup, stew of land crabs, breadfruit, a boiled iguana steak, aquacates, a freshly cut pineapple, claret and coffee.
Geddie took his seat, and unrolled with luxurious laziness his bundle of newspapers. Here in Coralio for two days or longer he would read the goings-on in the world very much as we of the world read those whimsical contributions to inexact science that assume to portray the doings of the Martians. After he had finished with the papers they would be sent on the rounds of the other English-speaking residents of the town.
The paper that came first to his hand was one of those bulky mattresses of printed stuff upon which the readers of certain New York journals are supposed to take their Sabbath literary nap. Opening this the consul rested it upon the table, supporting its weight with the aid of the back of a chair. Then he partook of his meal deliberately, turning the leaves from time to time and glancing half idly at the contents.
Presently he was struck by something familiar to him in a picture– a half-page, badly printed reproduction of a photograph of a vessel. Languidly interested, he leaned for a nearer scrutiny and a view of the florid headlines of the column next to the picture.
Yes; he was not mistaken. The engraving was of the eight-hundred-ton yacht ~Idalia~, belonging to “that prince of good fellows, Midas of the money market, and society’s pink of perfection, J. Ward Tolliver.”
Slowly sipping his black coffee, Geddie read the column of print. Following a listed statement of Mr. Tolliver’s real estate and bonds, came a description of the yacht’s furnishings, and then the grain of news no bigger than a mustard seed. Mr. Tolliver, with a party of favored guests, would sail the next day on a six weeks’ cruise along the Central American and South American coasts and among the Bahama Islands. Among the guests were Mrs. Cumberland Payne and Miss Ida Payne, of Norfolk.
The writer, with the fatuous presumption that was demanded of him by his readers, had concocted a romance suited to their palates. He bracketed the names of Miss Payne and Mr. Tolliver until he had well-nigh read the marriage ceremony over them. He played coyly and insinuatingly upon the strings of “~on dit~” and “Madame Rumor” and “a little bird” and “no one would be surprised,” and ended with congratulations.
Geddie, having finished his breakfast, took his papers to the edge of the gallery, and sat there in his favorite steamer chair with his feet on the bamboo railing. He lighted a cigar, and looked out upon the sea. He felt a glow of satisfaction at finding he was so little disturbed by what he had read. He told himself that he had conquered the distress that had sent him, a voluntary exile, to this far land of the lotus. He could never forget Ida, of course; but there was no longer any pain in thinking about her. When they had had that misunderstanding and quarrel he had impulsively sought this consulship, with the desire to retaliate upon her by detaching himself from her world and presence. He had succeeded thoroughly in that. During the twelve months of his life in Coralio no word had passed between them, though he had sometimes heard of her through the dilatory correspondence with the few friends to whom he still wrote. Still he could not repress a little thrill of satisfaction at knowing that she had not yet married Tolliver or any one else. But evidently Tolliver had not yet abandoned hope.
Well, it made no difference to him now. He had eaten of the lotus. He was happy and content in this land of perpetual afternoon. Those old days of life in the States seemed like an irritating dream. He hoped Ida would be as happy as he was. The climate as balmy as that of distant Avalon; the fetterless, idyllic round of enchanted days; the life among this indolent, romantic people–a life full of music, flowers, and low laughter; the influence of the imminent sea and mountains, and the many shapes of love and magic and beauty that bloomed in the white tropic nights–with all he was more than content. Also, there was Paula Brannigan.
Geddie intended to marry Paula–if, of course, she would consent; but he felt rather sure that she would do that. Somehow, he kept postponing his proposal. Several times he had been quite near to it; but a mysterious something always held him back. Perhaps it was only the unconscious, instinctive conviction that the act would sever the last tie that bound him to his old world.
He could be very happy with Paula. Few of the native girls could be compared with her. She had attended a convent school in New Orleans for two years; and when she chose to display her accomplishments no one could detect any difference between her and the girls of Norfolk and Manhattan. But it was delicious to see her at home dressed, as she sometimes was, in the native costume, with bare shoulders and flowing sleeves.
Bernard Brannigan was the great merchant of Coralio. Besides his store, he maintained a train of pack mules, and carried on a lively trade with the interior towns and villages. He had married a native lady of high Castilian descent, but with a tinge of Indian brown showing through her olive cheek. The union of the Irish and the Spanish had produced, as it so often has, an offshoot of rare beauty and variety. They were very excellent people indeed, and the upper story of the house was ready to be placed at the service of Geddie and Paula as soon as he should make up his mind to speak about it.
By the time two hours were whiled away the consul tired of reading. The papers lay scattered about him on the gallery. Reclining there, he gazed dreamily out upon an Eden. A clump of banana plants interposed their broad shields between him and the sun. The gentle slope from the consulate to the sea was covered with the dark-green foliage of lemon-trees and orange-trees just bursting into bloom. A lagoon pierced the land like a dark, jagged crystal, and above it a pale ceiba-tree rose almost to the clouds. The waving coconut palms on the beach flared their decorative green leaves against the slate of an almost quiescent sea. His senses were cognizant of brilliant scarlet and ochres and the vert of the coppice, of odors of fruit and bloom and the smoke from Chanca’s clay oven under the calabash-tree; of the treble laughter of the native women in their huts, the song of the robin, the salt taste of the breeze, the diminuendo of the faint surf running along the shore–and, gradually, of a white speck, growing to a blur, that intruded itself upon the drab prospect of the sea.
Lazily interested, he watched this blur increase until it became the ~Idalia~ steaming at full speed, coming down the coast. Without changing his position he kept his eyes upon the beautiful white yacht as she drew swiftly near, and came opposite to Coralio. Then, sitting upright, he saw her float steadily past and on. He had seen the frequent splash of her polished brass work and the stripes of her deck-awnings–so much, and no more. Like a ship on a magic lantern slide the ~Idalia~ had crossed the illuminated circle of the consul’s little world, and was gone. Save for the tiny cloud of smoke that was left hanging over the brim of the sea, she might have been an immaterial thing, a chimera of his idle brain.
Geddie went into his office and sat down to dawdle over his report. If the reading of the article in the paper had left him unshaken, this silent passing of the ~Idalia~ had done for him still more. It had brought the calm and peace of a situation from which all uncertainty had been erased. He knew that men sometimes hope without being aware of it. Now, since she had come two thousand miles and had passed without a sign, not even his unconscious self need cling to the past any longer.
After dinner, when the sun was low behind the mountains, Geddie walked on the little strip of beach under the coconuts. The wind was blowing mildly landward, and the surface of the sea was rippled by tiny wavelets.
A miniature breaker, spreading with a soft “swish” upon the sand brought with its something round and shiny that rolled back again as the wave receded. The next influx beached it clear, and Geddie picked it up. The thing was a long-necked wine bottle of colorless glass. The cork had been driven in tightly to the level of the mouth, and the end covered with dark-red sealing-wax. The bottle contained only what seemed to be a sheet of paper, much curled from the manipulation it had undergone while being inserted. In the sealing-wax was the impression of a seal–probably of a signet-ring, bearing the initials of a monogram; but the impression had been hastily made, and the letters were past anything more certain than a shrewd conjecture. Ida Payne had always worn a signet-ring in preference to any other finger decoration. Geddie thought he could make out the familiar “I P”; and a queer sensation of disquietude went over him. More personal and intimate was this reminder of her than had been the sight of the vessel she was doubtless on. He walked back to his house, and set the bottle on his desk.
Throwing off his hat and coat, and lighting a lamp–for the night had crowded precipitately upon the brief twilight–he began to examine his piece of sea salvage.
By holding the bottle near the light and turning it judiciously, he made out that it contained a double sheet of note-paper filled with close writing; further, that the paper was of the same size and shade as that always used by Ida; and that, to the best of his belief, the handwriting was hers. The imperfect glass of the bottle so distorted the rays of light that he could read no word of the writing; but certain capital letters, of which he caught comprehensive glimpses, were Ida’s, he felt sure.
There was a little smile both of perplexity and amusement in Geddie’s eyes as he set the bottle down, and laid three cigars side by side on his desk. He fetched his steamer chair from the gallery, and stretched himself comfortably. He would smoke those three cigars while considering the problem.
For it amounted to a problem. He almost wished that he had not found the bottle; but the bottle was there. Why should it have drifted in from the sea, whence come so many disquieting things, to disturb his peace?
In this dreamy land, where time seemed so redundant, he had fallen into the habit of bestowing much thought upon even trifling matters.
He bagan to speculate upon many fanciful theories concerning the story of the bottle, rejecting each in turn.
Ships in danger of wreck or disablement sometimes cast forth such precarious messengers calling for aid. But he had seen the ~Idalia~ not three hours before, safe and speeding. Suppose the crew had mutinied and imprisoned the passengers below, and the message was one begging for succor! But, premising such an improbable outrage, would the agitated captives have taken the pains to fill four pages of note-paper with carefully penned arguments to their rescue.
Thus by elimination he soon rid the matter of the more unlikely theories, and was reduced–though aversely–to the less assailable ones that the bottle contained a message to himself. Ida knew he was in Coralio; she must have launched the bottle while the yacht was passing and the wind blowing fairly toward the shore.
As soon as Geddie reached this conclusion a wrinkle came between his brows and a stubborn look settled around his mouth. He sat looking out through the doorway at the gigantic fire-flies traversing the quiet streets.
If this was a message to him from Ida, what could it mean save an overture at reconciliation? And if that, why had she not used the same methods of the post instead of this uncertain and even flippant means of communication? A note in an empty bottle, cast into the sea! There was something light and frivolous about it, if not actually contemptuous.
The thought stirred his pride, and subdued whatever emotions had been resurrected by the finding of the bottle.
Geddie put on his coat and hat and walked out. He followed a street that led him along the border of the little plaza where a band was playing and people were rambling, care-free and indolent. Some timorous ~senoritas~ scurrying past with fire-flies tangled in the jetty braids of their hair glanced at him with shy, flattering eyes. The air was languorous with the scent of jasmin and orange-blossoms.
The consul stayed his steps at the house of Bernard Brannigan. Paula was swinging in a hammock on the gallery. She rose from it like a bird from its nest. The color came to her cheeck at the sound of Geddie’s voice.
He was charmed at the sight of her costume–a flounced muslin dress, with a little jacket of white flannel, all made with neatness and style. He suggested a stroll, and they walked out to the old Indian well on the hill road. They sat on the curb, and there Geddie made the expected but long-deferred speech. Certain though he had been that she would not say him nay, he was still thrilled at the completeness and sweetness of her surrender. Here was surely a heart made for love and steadfastness. Here was no caprice or questionings or captious standards of convention.
When Geddie kissed Paula at her door that night he was happier than he had ever been before. “Here in this hollow lotus land, ever to live and lie reclined” seemed to him, as it has seemed to many mariners, the best as well as the easiest. His future would be an ideal one. He had attained a Paradise without a serpent. His Eve would be indeed a part of him, unbeguiled, and therefore more beguiling. He had made his decision tonight, and his heart was full of serene, assured content.
Geddie went back to his house whistling that finest and saddest love song, “La Golondrina.” At the door his tame monkey leaped down from his shelf, chattering briskly. The consul turned to his desk to get him some nuts he usually kept there. Reaching in the half-darkness, his hand struck against the bottle. He started as if he had touched the cold rotundity of a serpent.
He had forgotten that the bottle was there.
He lighted the lamp and fed the monkey. Then, very deliberately, he lighted a cigar, and took the bottle in his hand, and walked down the path to the beach.
There was a moon, and the sea was glorious. The breeze had shifted, as it did each evening, and was now rushing steadily seaward.
Stepping to the water’s edge, Geddie hurled the unopened bottle far out into the sea. It disappeared for a moment, and then shot upward twice its length. Geddie stood still, watching it. The moonlight was so bright that he could see it bobbing up and down with the little waves. Slowly it receded from the shore, flashing and turning as it went. The wind was carrying it out to sea. Soon it became a mere speck, doubtfully discerned at irregular intervals; and then the mystery of it was swallowed up by the greater mystery of the ocean. Geddie stood still upon the beach, smoking and looking out upon the water.
“Simon!–Oh, Simon!–Wake up there, Simon!” bawled a sonorous voice at the edge of the water.
Old Simon Cruz was a half-breed fisherman and smuggler who lived in a hut on the beach. Out of his earliest nap Simon was thus awakened.
He slipped on his shoes and went outside. Just landing from one of the ~Valhalla’s~ boats was the third mate of that vessel, who was an acquaintance of Simon’s, and three sailors from the fruiter.
“Go up, Simon,” called the mate, “and find Doctor Gregg or Mr. Goodwin or anybody that’s a friend to Mr. Geddie, and bring ’em here at once.”
“Saints of the skies!” said Simon, sleepily, “nothing has happened to Mr. Geddie?”
“He’s under that tarpauling,” said the mate, pointing to the boat, “and he’s rather more than half drowned. We seen him from the steamer nearly a mile out from shore, swimmin’ like mad after a bottle that was floatin’ in the water, outward bound. We lowered the gig and started for him. He nearly had his hand on the bottle, when he gave out and went under. We pulled him out in time to save him, maybe; but the doctor is the one to decide that.”
“A bottle?” said the old man, rubbing his eyes. He was not yet fully awake. “Where is the bottle?”
“Driftin’ along out there some’eres,” said the mate, jerking his thumb toward the sea. “Get on with you, Simon.”
Goodwin and the ardent patriot, Zavalla, took all the precautions that their foresight could contrive to prevent the escape of President Miraflores and his companion. The sent trusted messengers up the coast to Solitas and Alazan to warn the local leaders of the flight, and to instruct them to patrol the water line and arrest the fugitives at all hazards should they reveal themselves in that territory. After this was done there remained only to cover the district about Coralio and await the coming of the quarry. The nets were well spread. The roads were so few, the opportunities for embarkation so limited, and the two or three probable points of exit so well guarded that it would be strange indeed if there should slip through the meshes so much of the country’s dignity, romance, and collateral. The president would, without doubt, move as secretly as possible, and endeavor to board a vessel by stealth from some secluded point along the shore.
On the fourth day after the receipt of Englehart’s telegram the ~Karlsefin~, a Norwegian steamer chartered by the New Orleans fruit trade, anchored off Coralio with three horse toots of her siren. The ~Karlesfin~ ws not one of the line operated by the Vesuvius Fruit Company. She was something of a dilettante, doing odd jobs for a company that was scarcely important enough to figure as a rival to the Vesuvius. The movements of the ~Karlesfin~ were dependent upon the state of the market. Sometimes she would ply steadily between the Spanish Main and New Orleans in the regular transport of fruit; next she would be maing erratic trips to Mobile or Charleston, or even as far north as New York, according to the distribution of the fruit supply.
Goodwin lounged upon the beach with the susual crowd of idlers that had gathered to view the steamer. Now that President Miraflores might be expected to reach the borders of his abjured country at any time, the orders were to keep a strict and unrelenting watch. Every vessel that approached the shores might now be considered a possible means of escape for the fugitives; and an eye was kept even on the slopes and dories that belonged to the sea-going contingent of Coralio. Goodwin and Zavalla moved everywhere, but without ostentation, watching the loopholes of escape.
The customs official crowded importantly into their boat and rowed out to the ~Karlesfin~. A boat from the steamer landed her purser with his papers, and took out the quarantine doctor with his green umbrella and clinical thermometer. Next a swarm of Caribs began to load upon lighters the thousands of bunches of bananas heaped upon the shore and row them out to the steamer. The ~Karlesfin~ had no passenger list, and was soon done with the attention of the authorities. The purser declared that the steamer would remain at anchor until morning, taking on her fruit during the night. The ~Karlesfin~ had come, he said, from New York, to which port her latest load of oranges and coconuts had been conveyed. Two or three of the freighter sloops were engaged to assist in the work, for the captain was anxious to make a quick return in order to reap the advantage offered by a certain dearth of fruit in the States.
About four o’clock in the afternoon another of those marine monsters, not very familiar in those waters, hove in sight, following the fateful ~Idalia~–a graceful steam yacht, painted a light buff, clean-cut as a steel engraving. The beautiful vessel hovered off shore, see-sawing the waves as lightly as a duck in a rain barrel. A swift boat manned by a crew in uniform came ashore, and a stocky- built man leaped to the sands.
The newcomer seemed to turn a disapproving eye upon the rather motley congregation of native Anchurians, and made his way at once toward Goodwin, who was the most conspicuously Anglo-Saxon figure present. Goodwin greeted him with courtesy.
Conversation developed that the newly landed one was named Smith, and that he had come in a yacht. A meagre biography, truly; for the yacht was most apparent; and the “Smith” not beyond a reasonable guess before the revelation. Yet to the eye of Goodwin, who has seen several things, there was a discrepancy between Smith and his yacht. A bullet-headed man Smith was, with an oblique, dead eye and the moustache of a cocktail-mixer. And unless he had shifted costumes before putting off for shore he had affronted the deck of his correct vessel clad in a pearl-gray derby, a gay plaid suit and vaudeville neckwear. Men owning pleasure yachts generally harmonize better with them.
Smith looked business, but he was no advertiser. He commented upon the scenery, remarking upon its fidelity to the pictures in the geography; and then inquired for the United States consul. Goodwin pointed out the starred-and-striped bunting hanging from above the little consulate, which was concealed behind the orange-trees.
“Mr. Geddie, the consul, will be sure to be there,” said Goodwin. “He was very nearly drowned a few days ago while taking a swim in the sea, and the doctor has ordered him to remain indoors for some time.”
Smith ploughed his way through the sand to the consulate, his haberdashery creating violent discord against the smooth tropical blues and greens.
Geddie was lounging in his hammock, somewhat pale of face and languid in pose. On that night when the ~Valhalla’s~ boat had brought him ashore apparently drenched to death by the sea, Doctor Gregg and his other friends had toiled for hours to preserve the little spark of life that remained to him. The bottle, with its impotent message, was gone out to sea, and the problem that it had provoked was reduced to a simple sum in addition–one and one make two, by the rule of arithmetic; one by the rule of romance.
There is a quaint old theory that man may have two souls–a peripheral one which serves ordinarily, and a central one which is stirred only at certain times, but then with activity and vigor. While under the domination of the former a man will shave, vote, pay taxes, give money to his family, buy subscription books and comport himself on the average plan. But let the central soul suddenly become dominant, and he may, in the twinkling of an eye, turn upon the partner of his joys with furious execration; he may change his politics while you could snap your fingers; he may deal out deadly insult to his dearest friend; he may get him, instanter, to a monastery or a dance hall; he may elope, or hang himself–or he may write a song or poem, or kiss his wife unasked, or give his funds to the search of a microbe. Then the peripheral soul will return; and we have our safe, sane citizen again. It is but the revolt of the Ego against Order; and its effect is to shake up the atoms only that they may settle where they belong.
Geddie’s revulsion had been a mild one–no more than a swim in a summer sea after so inglorious an object as a drifting bottle. And now he was himself again. Upon his desk, ready for the post, was a letter to his government tendering his resignation as consul, to be effective as soon as another could be appointed in his place. For Bernard Brannigan, who never did things in a half-way manner, was to take Geddie at once for a partner in his very profitable and various enterprises; and Paula was happily engaged in plans for refurnishing and decorating the upper story of the Brannigan house.
The consul rose from his hammock when he saw the conspicuous stranger at this door.
“Keep your seat, old man,” said the visitor, with an airy wave of his large hand. “My name’s Smith; and I’ve come in a yacht. You are the consul–is that right? A big, cool guy on the beach directed me here. Thought I’d pay my respects to the flag.”
“Sit down, said Geddie. “I’ve been admiring your craft ever since it came in sight. Looks like a fast sailer. What’s her tonnage?”
“Search me!” said Smith. “I don’t know what she weighs in at. But she’s got a tidy gait. The ~Rambler~–that’s her name–don’t take the dust of anything afloat. This is my first trip on her. I’m taking a squint along this coast just to get an idea of the countries where the rubber and red pepper and revolutions come from. I had no idea there was so much scenery down here. Why, Central Park ain’t in it with this neck of the woods. I’m from New York. They get monkeys, and coconuts, and parrots down here–is that right?”
“We have them all,” said Geddie. “I’m quite sure that our fauna and flora would take a prize over Central Park.”
“Maybe they would,” admitted Smith, cheerfully. “I haven’t seen them yet. But I guess you’ve got us skinned on the animal and vegetation question. You don’t have much travel here, do you?”
“Travel?” queried the consul. “I suppose you mean passengers on steamers. No; very few people land in Coralio. An investor now and then–tourists and sightseers generally go further down the coast to one of the larger towns where there is a harbor.”
“I see a ship out there loading up with bananas,” said Smith. “Any passengers come on her?”
“That’s the ~Karlesfin~,” said the consul. “She’s a tramp fruiter– made her last trip to New York, I believe. No; she brought no passengers. I saw her boat come ashore, and there was no one. About the only exciting recreation we have here is watching steamers when they arrive; and a passenger on one of them generally causes the whole town to turn out. If you are going to remain in Coralio a while, Mr. Smith, I’ll be glad to take you around to meet some people. There are four or five American chaps that are good to know, besides the native high-fliers.”
“Thanks,” said the yachtsman, “but I wouldn’t put you the trouble. I’d like to meet the guys you speak of, but I won’t be here long enough to do much knocking around. That cool gent on the beach spoke of a doctor; can you tell me where to find him? The ~Rambler~ ain’t quite as steady on her feet as a Broadway hotel; and a fellow gets a touch of seasickness now and then. Thought I’d strike the croaker for a handful of the little sugar pills, in case I need ’em.”
“You will be apt to find Doctor Gregg at the hotel,” said the consul. “You can see it from the door–it’s that two-story building with the balcony, where the orange-trees are.”
The Hotel de los Extranjeros was a dreary hostelry, in great disuse both by strangers and friends. It stood at a corner of the Street of the Holy Sepulchre. A grove of small orange-trees crowded against one side of it, enclosed by a low, rock wall over which a tall man might easily step. The house was of plastered adobe, stained a hundred shades of color by the salt breeze and the sun. Upon its upper balcony opened a central door and two windows containing broad jalousies instead of sashes.
The lower floor communicated by two doorways with the narrow, rock-paved sidewalk. The ~pulperia~–or drinking shop–of the proprietess, Madama Timotea Ortiz, occupied the ground floor. On the bottles of brandy, ~anisada~, Scotch “smoke,” and inexpensive wines behind the little counter the dust lay thick save where the fingers of infrequent customers had left irregular prints. The upper story contained four or five guest-rooms which were rarely put to their destined use. Sometimes a fruitgrower, riding in from his plantation to confer with his agent, would pass a melancholy night in the dismal upper story; sometimes a minor native official on some trifling government quest would have his pomp and majesty awed by Madama’s sepulchral hospitality. But Madama sat behind her bar content, not desiring to quarrel with Fate. If any one required meat, drink or lodging at the Hotel de los Extranjeros they had but to come, and be served. ~Esta bueno~. If they came not, why, then, they came not. ~Esta bueno~.
As the exceptional yachtsman was making his way down the precarious sidewalk of the Street of the Holy Sepulchre, the solitary permanent guest of that decaying hotel sat at its door, enjoying the breeze from the sea.
Doctor Gregg, the quarantine physician, was a man of fifty or sixty, with a florid face and the longest beard between Topeka and Terra del Fuego. He held his position by virtue of an appointment by the Board of Health of a seaport city in one of the Southern states. That city feared the ancient enemy of every Southern seaport–the yellow fever–and it was the duty of Doctor Gregg to examine crew and passengers of every vessel leaving Coralio for preliminary symptoms. The duties were light, and the salary, for one who lived in Coralio, ample. Surplus time there was in plenty; and the good doctor added to his gains by a large private practice among the residents of the coast. The fact that he did not know ten words of Spanish was no obstacle; a pulse could be felt and a fee collected without one being a linguist. Add to the description the facts that the doctor had a story to tell concerning the operation of trepanning which no listener had ever allowed him to conclude, and that he believed in brandy as a prophylactic; and the special points of interest possessed by Doctor Gregg will have become exhausted.
The doctor had dragged a chair to the sidewalk. He was coatless, and he leaned back against the wall and smoked, while he stroked his beard. Surprise came into his pale blue eyes when he caught sight of Smith in his unusual and prismatic clothes.
“You’re Doctor Gregg–is that right?” said Smith, feeling the dog’s head pin in his tie. “The constable–I mean the consul, told me you hung out at this caravansary. My name’s Smith; and I came in a yacht. Taking a cruise around, looking at the monkeys and pineapple- trees. Come inside and have a drink, Doc. This cafe looks on the blink, but I guess it can set out something wet.”
“I will join you, sir, in just a taste of brandy,” said Doctor Gregg, rising quickly. “I find that as a prophylactic a little brandy is almost a necessity in this climate.”
As they turned to enter the ~pulperia~ a native man, barefoot, glided noiselessly up and addressed the doctor in Spanish. He was yellowish-brown, like an over-ripe lemon; he wore a cotton shirt and ragged linen trousers girded by a leather belt. His face was like an animal’s, live and wary, but without promise of much intelligence. This man jabbered with animation and so much seriousness that it seemed a pity that his words were to be wasted.
Doctor Gregg felt his pulse.
“You sick?” he inquired.
“~Mi mujer es enferma en la casa,~” said the man, thus endeavoring to convey the news, in the only language open to him, that his wife lay ill in her palm-thatched hut.
The doctor drew a handful of capsules filled with a white powder from his trousers pocket. He counted out ten of them into the native’s hand, and held up his forefinger impressively.
“Take one,” said the doctor, “every two hours.” He then held up two fingers, shaking them emphatically before the native’s face. Next he pulled out his watch and ran his finger round the dial twice. Again the two fingers confronted the patient’s nose. “Two–two–two hours,” repeated the doctor.
“~Si, Senor,~” said the native, sadly.
He pulled a cheap silver watch from his own pocket and laid it in the doctor’s hand. “Me bring,” said he, struggling painfully with his scant English, “other watchy tomorrow,” then he departed downheartedly with his capsules.
“A very ignorant race of people, sir,” said the doctor, as he slipped the watch into his pocket. “He seems to have mistaken my directions for taking the physic for the fee. However, it is all right. He owes me an account, anyway. The chances are that he won’t bring the other watch. You can’t depend on anything they promise you. About that drink, now? How did you come to Coralio, Mr. Smith? I was not aware that any boats except the ~Karlesfin~ had arrived for some days.”
The two leaned against the deserted bar; and Madama set out a bottle without waiting for the doctor’s order. There was no dust on it.
After they had drank twice Smith said:
“You say there were no passengers on the ~Karlesfin~, Doc? Are you sure about that? It seems to me I heard somebody down on the beach say that there was one or two aboard.”
“They were mistaken, sir. I myself went out and put all hands through a medical examination, as usual. The ~Karlesfin~ sails as soon as she gets her bananas loaded, which will be about daylight in the morning, and she got everything ready this afternoon. No, sir, there was no passenger list. Like that Three-Star? A French schooner landed two slooploads of it a month ago. If any customs duties on it went to the distinguished republic of Anchuria you may have my hat. If you won’t have another, come out and let’s sit in the cool a while. It isn’t often we exiles get a chance to talk with somebody from the outside world.”
The doctor brought out another chair to the sidewalk for his new acquaintance. The two seated themselves.
“You are a man of the world,” said Doctor Gregg; “a man of travel and experience. Your decision in a matter of ethics and, no doubt, on the points of equity, ability and professional probity should be of value. I would be glad if you will listen to the history of a case that I think stands unique in medical annals.
“About nine years ago, while I was engaged in the practice of medicine in my native city, I was called to treat a case of contusion of the skull. I made the diagnosis that a splinter of bone was pressing upon the brain, and that the surgical operation known as trepanning was required. However, as the patient was a gentleman of wealth and position, I called in for consultation Doctor–“
Smith rose from his chair, and laid a hand, soft with apology, upon the doctor’s shirt sleeve.
“Say, Doc,” he said, solemnly, “I want to hear that story. You’ve got me interrested; and I don’t want to miss the rest of it. I know it’s a loola by the way it begins; and I want to tell it at the next meeting of the Barney O’Flynn Association, if you don’t mind. But I’ve got one or two matters to attend to first. If I get ’em attended to in time I’ll come right back and hear you spiel the rest before bedtime–is that right?”
“By all means,” said the doctor, “get your business attended to, and then return. I shall wait up for you. You see, one of the most prominent physicians at the consultation diagnosed the trouble as a blood clot; another said it was an abscess, but I–“
“Don’t tell me now, Doc. Don’t spoil the story. Wait till I come back. I want to hear it as it runs off the reel–is that right?”
The mountains reached up their bulky shoulders to receive the level gallop of Apollo’s homing steeds, the day died in the lagoons and in the shadowed banana groves and in the mangrove swamps, where the great blue crabs were beginning to crawl to land for their nightly ramble. And it died, at last, upon the highest peaks. Then the brief twilight, ephemeral as the flight of a moth, came and went; the Southern Cross peeped with its topmost eye above a row of palms, and the fire-flies heralded with their torches and approach of soft-footed night.
In the offing the ~Karlesfin~ swayed at anchor, her lights seeming to penetrate the water to countless fathoms with their shimmering, lanceolate reflections. The Caribs were busy loading her by means of the great lighters heaped full from the piles of fruit ranged upon the shore.
On the sandy beach, with his back against a coconut-tree and the stubs of many cigars lying around him, Smith sat waiting, never relaxing his sharp gaze in the direction of the steamer.
The incongruous yachtsman had concentrated his interest upon the innocent fruiter. Twice had he been assured that no passengers had come to Coralio on board of her. And yet, with a persistence not to be attributed to an idling voyager, he had appealed the case to the higher court of his own eyesight. Surprisingly like some gay-coated lizard, he crouched at the foot of the coconut palm, and with the beady, shifting eyes of the selfsame reptile, sustained his espionage on the ~Karlesfin~.
On the white sands a whiter gig belonging to the yacht was drawn up, guarded by one of the white-ducked crew. Not far away in a ~pulperia~ on the shore-following Calle Grande three other sailors swaggerred with their cues around Coralio’s solitary billiard-table. The boat lay there as if under orders to be ready for use at any moment. There was in the atmosphere a hint of expectation, of waiting for something to occur, which was foreign to the air of Coralio.
Like some passing bird of brilliant plumage, Smith alights on this palmy shore but to preen his wings for an instant and then to fly away upon silent pinions. When morning dawned there was no Smith, no waiting gig, no yacht in the offing, Smith left no intimation of his mission there, no footprints to show where he had followed the trail of his mystery on the sands of Coralio that night. He came; he spake his strange jargon of the asphalt and the cafes; he sat under the coconut-tree, and vanished. The next morning Coralio, Smithless, ate its fried plantain and said: “The man of pictured clothing went himself away.” With the ~siesta~ the incident passed, yawning, into history.
So, for a time, must Smith pass behind the scenes of the play. He comes no more to Coralio, nor to Doctor Gregg, who sits in vain, wagging his redundant beard, waiting to enrich his derelict audience with his moving tale of trepanning and jealousy.
But prosperously to the lucidity of these loose pages, Smith shall flutter among them again. In the nick of time he shall come to tell us why he strewed so many anxious cigar stumps around the coconut palm that night. This he must do; for, when he sailed away before the dawn in his yacht ~Rambler~, he carried with him the answer to a riddle so big and preposterous that few in Anchuria had ventured even to propound it.
The plans for the detention of the flying President Miraflores and his companion at the coast line seemed hardly likely to fail. Doctor Zavalla himself had gone to the port of Alazan to establish a guard at that point. At Solitas the Liberal patriot Varras could be depended upon to keep close watch. Goodwin held himself responsible for the district about Coralio.
The news of the president’s flight had been disclosed to no one in the coast towns save trusted members of the ambitious political party that was desirous of succeeding to power. The telegraph wire running from San Mateo to the coast had been cut far up on the mountain trail by an emissary of Zavalla’s. Long before this could be repaired and word received along it from the capital the fugitives would have reached the coast and the question of escape or capture been solved.
Goodwin had stationed armed sentinels at frequent intervals along the shore for a mile in each direction from Coralio. They were instructed to keep a vigilant lookout during the night to prevent Miraflores from attempting to embark stealthily by means of some boat or sloop found by chance at the water’s edge. A dozen patrols walked the streets of Coralio unsuspected, ready to intercept the truant official should he show himself there.
Goodwin was very well convinced that no precautions had been overlooked. He strolled about the streets that bore such high- sounding names and were but narrow, grass-covered lanes, lending his own aid to the vigil that had been intrusted to him by Bob Englehart.
The town had begun the tepid round of its nightly diversions. A few leisurely dandies, cald in white duck, with flowing neckties, and swinging slim bamboo canes, threaded the grassy by-ways toward the houses of their favored senoritas. Those who wooed the art of music dragged tirelessly at whining concertinas, or fingered lugubrious guitars at doors and windows. An occasional soldier from the ~cuartel~, with flapping straw hat, without coat or shoes, hurried by, balancing his long gun like a lance in one hand. From every density of the foliage the giant tree frogs sounded their loud and irritating clatter. Further out, the guttural cries of marauding baboons and the coughing of the alligators in the black estuaries fractured the vain silence of the wood.
By ten o’clock the streets were deserted. The oil lamps that had burned, a sickly yellow, at random corners, had been extinguished by some economical civic agent. Coralio lay sleeping calmly between toppling mountains and encroaching sea like a stolen babe in the arms of its abductors. Somewhere over in that tropical darkness–perhaps already threading the profundities of the alluvial lowlands–the high adventurer and his mate were moving toward land’s end. The game of Fox-in-the-Morning should be coming soon to its close.
Goodwin, at his deliberate gait, passed the long, low ~cuartel~ where Coralio’s contingent of Anchuria’s military force slumbered, with its bare toes pointed heavenward. There was a law that no civilian might come so near the headquarters of that citadel of war after nine o’clock, but Goodwin was always forgetting the minor statutes.
“~Quien vive,~” shrieked the sentinel, wrestling prodigiously with his lengthy musket.
“~Americano,~” growled Goodwin, without turning his head, and passed on, unhalted.
To the right he turned, and to the left up the street that ultimately reached the Plaza Nacional. When within the toss of a cigar stump from the intersecting Street of the Holy Sepulchre, he stopped suddenly in the pathway.
He saw the form of a tall man, clothed in black and carrying a large valise, hurry down the cross-street in the direction of the beach. And Goodwin’s second glance made him aware of a woman at the man’s elbow on the farther side, who seemed to urge forward, if not even to assist, her companion in their swift but silent progress. They were no Coralians, those two.
Goodwin followed at increased speed, but without any of the artful tactics that are so dear to the heart of the sleuth. The American was too broad to feel the instinct of the detective. He stood as an agent for the people of Anchuria, and but for political reasons he would have demanded then and there the money. It was the design of his party to secure the imperilled fund, to restore it to the treasury of the country, and to declare itself in power without bloodshed or resistance.
The couple halted at the door of the Hotel de los Extranjeros, and the man struck upon the wood with the impatience of one unused to his entry being stayed. Madama was long in response, but after a time her light showed, the door was opened, and the guests housed.
Goodwin stoodin the quiet street, lighting another cigar. In two minutes, a faint gleam began to show between the slats of the jalousies in the upper story of the hotel. “They have engaged rooms,” said Goodwin to himself. “So, then, their arrangements for sailing have yet to be made.”
At the moment there came along one Esteban Delgado, a barber, an enemy to existing government, a jovial plotter against stagnation in any form. This barber was one of Coralio’s saddest dogs, often remaining out of doors as late as eleven, post meridian. He was a partisan Liberal; and he greeted Goodwin with flatulent importance as a brother in the cause. But he had something important to tell.
“What think you, Don Frank!” he cried, in the universal tone of the conspirator. “I have tonight shaved ~la barba~–what you call the ‘weeskers’ of the ~Presidente~ himself, of this countree! Consider! He sent for me to come. In the poor ~casita~ of an old woman he awaited me–in a verree leetle house in a dark place. ~Carramba!~ –el Senor Presidente to make himself thus secret and obscured! I shave a man and not see his face? This gold piece he gave me, and said it was to be all quite still. I think, Don Frank, there is what you call a chip over the bug.”
“Have you ever seen President Miraflores before?” asked Goodwin.
“But once,” answered Esteban. “He is tall; and he had weeskers, verree black and sufficient.”
“Was any one else present when you shaved him?”
“An old Indian woman, Senor, that belonged with the ~casa~, and one senorita–a ladee of so much beautee!–~ah, Dios!~”
“All right, Esteban,” said Goodwin. “It’s very lucky that you happened along with your tonsorial information. The new administration will be likely to remember you for this.”
Then in a few words he made the barber acquainted with the crisis into which the affairs of the nation had culminated, and instructed him to remain outside, keeping watch upon the two sides of the hotel that looked upon the street, and observing whether any one should attempt to leave the house by any door or window. Goodwin himself went to the door through which the guests had entered, opened it and stepped inside.
Madama had returned downstairs from her journey above to see after the comfort of her lodgers. Her candle stood upon the bar. She was about to take a thimbleful of rum as a solace for having her rest disturbed. She looked up without surprise or alarm as her third caller entered.
“Ah! it is the Senor Goodwin. Not often does he honor my poor house with his presence.”
“I must come oftener,” said Goodwin, with a Goodwin smile. “I hear that your cognac is the best between Belize to the north and Rio to the south. Set out the bottle, Madama, and let us have the proof in ~un vasito~ for each of us.”
“My ~aguardiente~,” said Madama, with pride, “is the best. It grows, in beautiful bottles, in the dark places among the banana-trees. ~Si, Senor~. Only at midnight can they be picked by sailor-men who bring them, before daylight comes, to your back door. Good ~aguardiente~ is a verree difficult fruit to handle, Senor Goodwin.”
Smuggling, in Coralio, was much nearer than competition to being the life of trade. One spoke of it slyly, yet with a certain conceit, when it had been well accomplished.
“You have guests in the house tonight,” said Goodwin, laying a silver dollar upon the counter.
“Why not?” said Madama, counting the change. “Two; but the smallest while finished to arrive. One senor, not quite old, and one senorita of sufficient hadsomeness. To their rooms they have ascended, not desiring the to-eat nor the to-drink. Two rooms–~Numero~9 and ~Numero~ 10.”
“I was expecting that gentleman and that lady,” said Goodwin. “I have important ~negocios~ that must be transacted. Will you allow me to see them?”
“Why not?” sighed Madama, placidly. “Why should not Senor Goodwin ascend and speak to his friends? ~Esta bueno~. Romm ~Numero~ 9 and romm ~Numero~ 10.”
Goodwin loosened in his coat pocket the American revolver that he carried, and ascended the steep, dark stairway.
In the hallway above, the saffron light from a hanging lamp allowed him to select the gaudy numbers on the doors. He turned the knob on Number 9, entered and closed the door behind him.
If that was Isabel Guilbert seated by the table in that poorly furnished room, report had failed to do her charms justice. She rested her head upon one hand. Extreme fatigue was signified in every line of her figure; and upon her countenance a deep perplexity was written. Her eyes were gray-irised, and of that mold that seems to have belonged to the orbs of all the famous queens of hearts. Their whites were singularly clear and brilliant, concealed above the irises by heavy horizontal lids, and showing a snowy line between them. Such eyes denote great nobility, vigor, and, if you can conceive of it, a most generous selfishness. She looked up when the American entered, with an expression of surprised inquiry, but without alarm.
Goodwin took off his hat and seated himself, with his characteristic deliberate ease, upon a corner of the table. He held a lighted cigar between his fingers. He took this familiar course because he was sure that preliminaries would be wasted upon Miss Guilbert. He knew her history, and the small part that the conventions had played in it.
“Good evening,” he said. “Now, madame, let us come to business at once. You will observe that I mention no names, but I know who is in the next room, and what he carries in that valise. That is the point which brings me here. I have come to dictate terms of surrender.”
The lady neither moved nor replied, but steadily regarded the cigar in Goodwin’s hand.
“We,” continued the dictator, thoughtfully regarding the neat buckskin shoe on his gently swinging foot–“I speak for a considerable majority of the people–demand the return of the stolen funds belonging to them. Our terms go very little further than that. They are very simple. As an accredited spokesman, I promise that our interference will cease if they are accepted. Give up the money, and you and your companion will be permitted to proceed wherever you will. In fact, assistance will be given you in the matter of securing a passage by any outgoing vessel you may choose. It is on my personal responsibility that I add congratulations to the gentleman in Number 10 upon his taste in feminine charms.”
Returning his cigar to his mouth, Goodwin observed her, and saw that her eyes followed it and rested upon it with icy and significant concentration. Apparently she had not heard a word he had said. He understood, tossed the cigar out the window, and, with an amused laugh, slid from the table to his feet.
“That is better,” said the lady. “It makes it possible for me to listen to you. For a second lesson in good manners, you might now tell me by whom I am being insulted.”
“I am sorry,” said Goodwin, leaning one hand on the table, “that my time is too brief for devoting much of it to a course of etiquette. Come, now; I appeal to you good sense. You have shown yourself, in more than one instance, to be well aware of what is to your advantage. This is an occasion that demands the exercise of your undoubted intelligence. There is no mystery here. I am Frank Goodwin; and I have come for the money. I entered this room at a venture. Had I entered the other I would have had it before me now. Do you want it in words? The gentleman in Number 10 has betrayed a great trust. He has robbed his people of a large sum, and it is I who will prevent their losing it. I do not say who that gentleman is; but if I should be forced to see him and he should prove to be a certain high official of the republic, it will be my duty to arrest him. The house is guarded. I am offering you liberal terms. It is not absolutely necessary that I confer personally with the gentleman in the next room. Bring me the valise containing the money, and we will call the affair ended.”
The lady arose from her chair and stood for a moment, thinking deeply.
“Do you live here, Mr. Goodwin?” she asked, presently.
“What is your authority for this intrusion?”
“I am an instrument of the republic. I was advised by wire of the movements of the–gentleman in Number 10.”
“May I ask you two or three questions? I believe you to be a man more apt to be truthful than–timid. What sort of town is this– Coralio, I think they call it?”
“Not much of a town,” said Goodwin, smiling. “A banana town, as they run. Grass huts, ‘dobes, five or six two-story houses, accomodations limited, population half-breed Spanish and Indian, Caribs and blackamoors. No sidewalks to speak of, no amusements. Rather unmoral. That’a an offhand sketch, of course.”
“Are there any inducements, say in a social or in a business way, for people to reside here?”
“Oh, yes,” answered Goodwin, smiling broadly. “There are no afternoon teas, no hand-organs, no department stores–and there is no extradition treaty.”
“He told me,” went on the lady, speaking as if to herself, and with a slight frown, “that there were towns on this coast of beauty and importance; that there was a pleasing social order–especially an American colony of cultured residents.”
“There is an American colony,” said Goodwin, gazing at her in some wonder. “Some of the members are all right. Some are fugitives from justice from the States. I recall two exiled bank presidents, one army paymaster under a cloud, a couple of manslayers, and a widow– arsenic, I believe, was the suspicion in her case. I myself complete the colony, but, as yet, I have not distinguished myself by any particular crime.”
“Do not lose hope,” said the lady, dryly; “I see nothing in your actions tonight to guarantee you further obscurity. Some mistake has been made; I do not know just where. But ~him~ you shall not disturb tonight. The journey has fatigued him so that he has fallen asleep, I think, in his clothes. You talk of stolen money! I do not understand you. Some mistake has been made. I will convince you. Remain where you are and I will bring you the valise that you seem to covet so, and show it to you.”
She moved toward the closed door that connected the two rooms, but stopped, and half turned and bestowed upon Goodwin a grave, searching look that ended in a quizzical smile.
“You force my door,” she said, “and you follow your ruffianly behavior with the basest accusations; and yet”–she hesitated, as if to reconsider what she was about to say–“and yet–it is a puzzling thing–I am sure there has been some mistake.”
She took a step toward the door, but Goodwin stayed her by a light touch upon her arm. I have said before that women turned to look at him in the streets. He was the viking sort of man, big, good- looking, and with an air of kindly truculence. She was dark and proud, glowing or pale as her mood moved her. I do not know if Eve were light or dark, but if such a woman had stood in the garden I know that the apple would have been eaten. This woman was to be Goodwin’s fate, and he did not know it; but he must have felt the first throes of destiny, for, as he faced her, the knowledge of what report named her turned bitter in her throat.
“If there has been any mistake,” he said, hotly, “it was yours. I do not blame the man who has lost his country, his honor, and is about to lose the poor consolation of his stolen riches as much as I blame you, for, by Heaven! I can very well see how he was brought to it. I can understand, and pity him. It is such women as you that strew this degraded coast with wretched exiles, that make men forget their trusts, that drag–“
The lady interrupted him with a weary gesture.
“There is no need to continue your insults,” she said, coldly. “I do not understand what you are saying, nor do I know what mad blunder you are making; but if the inspection of the contents of a gentleman’s portmanteau will rid me of you, let us delay it no longer.”
She passed quickly and noiselessly into the other room, and returned with the heavy leather valise, which she handed to the American with an air of patient contempt.
Goodwin set the valise quickly upon the table and began to unfasten the straps. The Lady stood by, with an expression of infinite scorn and weariness upon her face.
The valise opened wide to a powerful, sidelong wrench. Goodwin dragged out two or three articles of clothing, exposing the bulk of its contents–package after package of tightly packed United States bank and treasury notes of large denomination. Reckoning from the high figures written upon the paper bands that bound them, the total must have come closely upon the hundred thousand mark.
Goodwin glanced swiftly at the woman, and saw, with surprise and a thrill of pleasure that he wondered at, that she had experienced an unmistakeable shock. Her eyes grew wide, she gasped, and leaned heavily against the table. She had been ignorant, then, he inferred, that her companion had looted the government treasury. But why, he angrily asked himself, should he be so well pleased to think this wandering and unscrupulous singer not so black as report had painted her?
A noise in the other room startled them both. The door swung open, and a tall, elderly, dark complexioned man, recently shaven, hurried into the room.
All the pictures of President Miraflores represent him as the possessor of a luxuriant supply of dark and carefully tended whiskers; but the story of the barber, Esteban, had prepared Goodwin for the change.
The man stumbled in from the dark room, his eyes blinking at the lamplight, and heavy from sleep.
“What does this mean?” he demanded in excellent English, with a keen and perturbed look at the American–“robbery?”
“Very near it,” answered Goodwin. “But I rather think I’m in time to prevent it. I represent the people to whom this money belongs, and I have come to convey it back to them.” He thrust his hand into a pocket of his loose, linen coat.
The other man’s hand went quickly behind him.
“Don’t draw,” called Goodwin, sharply; “I’ve got you covered from my pocket.”
The lady stepped forward, and laid one hand upon the shoulder of her hesitating companion. She pointed to the table. “Tell me the truth –the truth,” she said, in a low voice. “Whose money is that?”
The man did not answer. He gave a deep, long-drawn sigh, leaned and kissed her on the forehead, stepped back into the other room and closed the door.
Goodwin foresaw his purpose, and jumped for the door, but the report of the pistol echoed as his hand touched the knob. A heavy fall followed, and some one swept him aside and struggled into the room of the fallen man.
A desolation, thought Goodwin, greater than that derived from the loss of cavalier and gold must have been in the heart of the enchantress to have wrung from her, in that moment, the cry of one turning to the all-forgiving, all-comforting earthly consoler–to have made her call out from that bloody and dishonored room–“Oh, mother, mother, mother!”
But there was an alarm outside. The barber, Esteban, at the sound of the shot, had raised his voice; and the shot itself had aroused half the town. A pattering of feet came up the street, and official orders rang out on the still air. Goodwin had a duty to perform. Circumstances had made him the custodian of his adopted country’s treasure. Swiftly cramming the money into the valise, he closed it, leaned far out of the window and dropped it into a thick orange-tree in the little inclosure below.
They will tell you in Coralio, as they delight in telling the stranger, of the conclusion of that tragic flight. They will tell you how the upholders of the law came apace when the alarm was sounded–the ~Comandante~ in red slippers and a jacket like a head waiter’s and girded sword, the soldiers with their interminable guns, followed by outnumbering officers struggling into their gold and lace epaulettes; the bare-footed policemen (the only capables in the lot), and ruffled citizens of every hue and description.
They say that the countenance of the dead man was marred sadly by the effects of the shot; but he was identified as the fallen president by both Goodwin and the barber Esteban. On the next morning messages began to come over the mended telegraph wire; and the story of the flight from the capital was given out to the public. In San Mateo the revolutionary party had seized the sceptre of government, without opposition, and the ~vivas~ of the mercurial populace quickly effaced the interest belonging to the unfortunate Miraflores.
They will relate to you how the new government sifted the towns and raked the roads to find the valise containing Anchuria’s surplus capital, which the president was known to have carried with him, but all in vain. In Coralio Senor Goodwin himself led the searching party which combed that town as carefully as a woman combs her hair; but the money was not found.
So they buried the dead man, without honors, back of the town near the little bridge that spans the mangrove swamp; and for a ~real~ a boy will show you his grave. They say that the old woman in whose hut the barber shaved the president placed the wooden slab at his head, and burned the inscription upon it with a hot iron.
You will hear also that Senor Goodwin, like a tower of strength, shielded Dona Isabel Guilbert through those subsequent distressful days; and that his scruples as to her past career (if he had any) vanished; and her adventuresome waywardness (if she had any) left her, and they were wedded and were happy.
The American built a home on a little foothill near the town. It is a conglomerate structure of native woods that, exported, would be worth a fortune, and of brick, palm, glass, bamboo and adobe. There is a paradise of nature about it; and something of the same sort within. The natives speak of its interior with hands uplifted in admiration. There are floors polished like mirrors and covered with hand-woven Indian rugs of silk fibre, tall ornaments and pictures, musical instruments and papered walls–“figure-it-to-yourself!” they exclaim.
But they cannot tell you in Coralio (as you shall learn) what became of the money that Frank Goodwin dropped into the orange-tree. But that shall come later; for the palms are fluttering in the breeze, bidding us to sport and gaiety.
Cupid’s Exile Number Two
The United States of America, after looking over its stock of consular timber, selected Mr. John De Graffenreid Atwood, of Dalesburg, Alabama, for a successor to Willard Geddie, resigned.
Without prejudice to Mr. Atwood, it will have to be acknowledged that, in this instance, it was the man who sought the office. As with the self-banished Geddie, it was nothing less than the artful smiles of lovely woman that had driven Johnny Atwood to the desperate expedient of accepting office under a despised Federal Government so that he might go far, far away and never see again the false, fair face that had wrecked his young life. The consulship at Coralio seemed to offer a retreat sufficiently removed and romantic enough to inject the necessary drama into the pastoral scenes of Dalesburg life.
It was while playing the part of Cupid’s exile that Johnny added his handiwork to the long list of casualties along the Spanish Main by his famous manipulation of the shoe market, and his unparalleled feat of elevating the most despised and useless weed in his own country from obscurity to be a valuable product in international commerce.
The trouble began, as trouble often begins instead of ending, with a romance. In Dalesburg there was a man named Elijah Hemstetter, who kept a general store. His family consisted of one daughter called Rosine, a name that atoned much for “Hemstetter.” This young woman was possessed of plentiful attractions, so that the young men of the community were agitated in their bosoms. Among the more agitated was Johnny, the son of Judge Atwood, who lived in the big colonial mansion on the edge of Dalesburg.
It would seem that the desirable Rosine should have been pleased to return the affection of an Atwood, a name honored all over the state long before and since the war. It does seem that she should have gladly consented to have been led into that stately but rather empty colonial mansion. But not so. There was a cloud on the horizon, a threatening, cumulus cloud, in the shape of a lively and shrewd young farmer in the neighborhood who dared to enter the lists as a rival to the high-born Atwood.
One night Johnny propounded to Rosine a question that is considered of much importance by the young of the human species. The accessories were all there–moonlight, oleanders, magnolias, the mockingbird’s song. Whether or no the shadow of Pinkney Dawson, that prosperous young farmer came between them on that occasion is not known; but Rosine’s answer was unfavorable. Mr. John De Graffenreid Atwood bowed till his hat touched the lawn grass, and went away with his head high, but with a sore wound in his pedigree and heart. A Hemstetter refuse an Atwood! Zounds!
Among other accidents of that year was a Democratic president. Judge Atwood was a warhorse of Democracy. Johnny persuaded him to set the wheels moving for some foreign appointment. He would go away–away. Perhaps in years to come Rosine would think how true, how faithful his love had been, and would drop a tear–maybe in the cream she would be skimming for Pink Dawson’s breakfast.
The wheels of politics revolved; and Johnny was appointed consul to Coralio. Just before leaving he dropped in at Hemstetter’s to say good-bye. There was a queer, pinkish look about Rosine’s eyes; and had the two been alone, the United States might have had to cast about for another consul. But Pink Dawson was there, of course, talking about his 400-acre orchard, and the three-mile alfalfa tract, and the 200-acre pasture. So Johnny shook hands with Rosine as coolly as if he were only going to run up to Montgomery for a couple of days. They had the royal manner when they chose, those Atwoods.
“If you happen to strike anything in the way of a good investment down there, Johnny,” said Pink Dawson, “just let me know, will you? I reckon I could lay my hands on a few extra thousands ‘most any time for a profitable deal.”
“Certainly, Pink,” said Johnny, pleasantly. “If I strike anything of that sort I’ll let you in with pleasure.”
So Johnny went down to Mobile and took a fruit steamer for the coast of Anchuria.
When the new consul arrived in Coralio the strangeness of the scenes diverted him much. He was only twenty-two; and the grief of youth was not worn like a garment as it is by older men. It has its seasons when it reigns; and then it is unseated for time by the assertion of the keen senses.
Billy Keogh and Johnny seemed to conceive a mutual friendship at once. Keogh took the new consul about town and presented him to the handful of Americans and the smaller number of French and Germans who made up the “foreign” contingent. And then, of course, he had to be more formally introduced to the native officials, and have his credentials transmitted through an interpreter.
There was something about the young Southerner that the sophisticated Keogh liked. His manner was simple almost to boyishness; but he possessed the cool carelessness of a man of far greater age and experience. Neither uniforms nor titles, red tape nor foreign languages, mountains nor sea weighed upon his spirits. He was heir to all ages, an Atwood, of Dalesburg; and you might know every thought conceived to his bosom.
Geddie came down to the consulate to explain the duties and workings of the office. He and Keogh tried to interest the new consul in their description of the work that his government expected him to perform.
“It’s all right,” said Johnnie from the hammock that he had set up as the official reclining place. “If anything turns up that has to be done I’ll let you fellows do it. You can’t expect a Democrat to work during his first term of holding office.”
“You might look over these headings,” suggested Geddie, “of the different lines of exports you will have to keep account of. The fruit is classified; and there are the valuable woods, coffee, rubber–“
“That last account sounds all right,” interrupted Mr. Atwood. “Sounds as if it could be stretched. I want to buy a new flag, a monkey, a guitar and a barrel of pineapples. Will the rubber account stretch over ’em?”
“That’s merely statistics,” said Geddie, smiling. “The expense account is what you want. It is supposed to have a slight elasticity. The ‘stationery’ items are sometimes carelessly audited by the State Department.”
“We’re wasting our time,” said Keogh. “This man was born to hold office. He penetrates to the root of the art at one step of his eagle eye. The true genius of government shows its hand in every word of his speech.”
“I didn’t take this job with any intention of working,” explained Johnny, lazily. “I wanted to go somewhere in the world where they didn’t talk about farms. There are none here, are there?”
“Not the kind you are acquainted with,” answered the ex-consul. “There is no such art here as agriculture. There never was a plow or a reaper within the boundaries of Anchuria.”
“This is the country for me,” murmured the consul, and immediately he fell asleep.
The cheerful tintypist pursued his intimacy with Johnny in spite of open charges that he did so to obtain a preemption on a seat in that coveted spot, the rear gallery of the consulate. But whether his designs were selfish or purely friendly, Keogh achieved that desirable privilege. Few were the nights on which the two could not be found reposing there in the sea breeze, with their heels on the railing, and the cigars and brandy conveniently near.
One evening they sat thus, mainly silent, for their talk had dwindled before the stilling influence of an unusual night.
There was a great, full moon; and the sea mother-of-pearl. Almost every sound was hushed, for the air was but faintly stirring; and the town lay panting, waiting for the night to cool. Offshore lay the fruit steamer ~Andador~, of the Vesuvius line, full-laden and scheduled to sail at six in the morning. There were no loiterers on the beach. So bright was the moonlight that the two men could see the small pebbles shining on the beach where the gentle surf wetted them.
Then down the coast, tacking close to shore, slowly swam a little