The Proem "Fox-in-the-Morning"


НазваниеThe Proem "Fox-in-the-Morning"
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a chair. Anything I can do for you?"
"I want to speak to you in private."
Goodwin nodded at his secretary, who strolled out under a mango tree

and lit a cigarette. Blythe took the chair that he had left vacant.
"I want some money," he began, doggedly.
"I'm sorry," said Goodwin, with equal directness, "but you can't have

any. You're drinking yourself to death, Blythe. Your friends have

done all they could to help you to brace up. You won't help yourself.

There's no use furnishing you with money to ruin yourself with any

longer."
"Dear man," said Blythe, tilting back his chair, "it isn't a question

of social economy now. It's past that. I like you, Goodwin; and I've

come to stick a knife between your ribs. I was kicked out of Espada's

saloon this morning; and Society owes me reparation for my wounded

feelings."
"I didn't kick you out."
"No--but in a general way you represent Society; and in a particular

way you represent my last chance. I've had to come down to it, old

man--I tried to do it a month ago when Losada's man was here turning

things over; but I couldn't do it then. Now it's different. I want

a thousand dollars, Goodwin; and you'll have to give it to me."
"Only last week," said Goodwin, with a smile, "a silver dollar was

all you were asking for."
"An evidence," said Blythe, flippantly, "that I was still virtuous--

though under heavy pressure. The wages of sin should be something

higher than a peso worth forty-eight cents. Let's talk business.

I am the villain in the third act; and I must have my merited,

if only temporary, triumph. I saw you collar the late president's

valiseful of boodle. Oh, I know it's blackmail; but I'm liberal

about the price. I know I'm a cheap villain--one of the regular

sawmill-drama kind--but you're one of my particular friends, and

I don't want to stick you hard."
"Suppose you go into the details," suggested Goodwin, calmly

arranging his letters on the table.
"All right," said "Beelzebub." "I like the way you take it.

I despise histrionics; so you will please prepare yourself for

the facts without any red fire, calcium or grace notes on

the saxophone.
"On the night that His Fly-by-night Excellency arrived in town I was

very drunk. You will excuse the pride with which I state that fact;

but it was quite a feat for me to attain that desirable state.

Somebody had left a cot out under the orange trees in the yard of

Madama Ortiz's hotel. I stepped over the wall, laid down upon it,

and fell asleep. I was awakened by an orange that dropped from

the tree upon my nose; and I laid there for a while cursing Sir Isaac

Newton, or whoever it was that invented gravitation, for not confining

his theory to apples.
"And then along came Mr. Miraflores and his true-love with the

treasury in a valise, and went into the hotel. Next you hove in

sight, and held a pow-wow with the tonsorial artist who insisted

upon talking shop after hours. I tried to slumber again; but once

more my rest was disturbed--this time by the noise of the popgun

that went off upstairs. Then that valise came crashing down into

an orange tree just above my head; and I arose from my couch, not

knowing when it might begin to rain Saratoga trunks. When the army

and the constabulary began to arrive, with their medals and

decorations hastily pinned to their pajamas, and their snickersnees

drawn, I crawled into the welcome shadow of a banana plant. I

remained there for an hour, by which time the excitement and the

people had cleared away. And then, my dear Goodwin--excuse me--I saw

you sneak back and pluck that ripe and juicy valise from the orange

tree. I followed you, and saw you take it to your own house. A

hundred-thousand-dollar crop from one orange tree in a season about

breaks the record of the fruit-growing industry.
"Being a gentleman at that time, of course I never mentioned the

incident to any one. But this morning I was kicked out of a saloon,

my code of honor is all out at the elbows, and I'd sell my mother's

prayer-book for three fingers of ~aguardiente~. I'm not putting

on the screws hard. It ought to be worth a thousand to you for me

to have slept on that cot through the whole business without waking

up and seeing anything."
Goodwin opened two more letters, and made memoranda in pencil on them.

Then he called "Manuel!" to his secretary, who came, spryly.
"The ~Ariel~--when does she sail?" asked Goodwin. "Senor," answered

the youth, "at three this afternoon. She drops down-coast to Punta

Soledad to complete her cargo of fruit. From there she sails for New

Orleans without delay."
"~Bueno!~" said Goodwin. "These letters may wait yet awhile."
The secretary returned to his cigarette under the mango tree.
In round numbers," said Goodwin, facing Blythe squarely, "how much

money do you owe in this town, not including the sums you have

'borrowed' from me?"
"Five hundred--at a rough guess," answered Blythe, lightly.
"Go somewhere in the town and draw up a schedule of your debts," said

Goodwin. "Come back here in two hours, and I will send Manuel with

the money to pay them. I will also have a decent outfit of clothing

ready for you. You will sail on the ~Ariel~ at three. Manuel will

accompany you as far as the deck of the steamer. There he will hand

you one thousand dollars in cash. I suppose that we needn't discuss

what you will be expected to do in return?"
"Oh, I understand," piped Blythe, cheerily. "I was asleep all the

time on the cot under Madama Ortiz's orange trees; and I shake off

the dust of Coralio forever. I'll play fair. No more of the lotus

for me. Your proposition is 0. K. Youre a good fellow, Goodwin; and

I let you off light. I'll agree to everything. But in the meantime

--I've a devil of a thirst on, old man--"
"Not a ~centavo~," said Goodwin, firmly, "until you are on board the

~Ariel~. You would be drunk in thirty minutes if you had money now."
But he noticed the blood-streaked eyeballs, the relaxed form and

the shaking hands of "Beelzebub"; and he stepped into the dining

room through the low window, and brought out a glass and a decanter

of brandy.
"Take a bracer, anyway, before you go," he proposed, even as a man

to the friend whom he entertains.
"Beelzebub" Blythe's eyes glistened at the sight of the solace for

which his soul burned. Today for the first time his poisoned nerves

had been denied their steadying dose; and their retort was a mounting

torment. He grasped the decanter and rattled its crystal mouth

against the glass in his trembling hand. He flushed the glass,

and then stood erect, holding it aloft for an instant. For one

fleeting moment he held his head above the drowning waves of

his abyss. He nodded easily at Goodwin, raised his brimming glass

and murmured a "health" that men had used in his ancient Paradise

Lost. And then so suddenly that he spilled the brandy over his hand,

he set down his glass, untasted.
"In two hours," his dry lips muttered to Goodwin, as he marched down

the steps and turned his face toward the town.
In the edge of the cool banana grove "Beelzebub" halted, and snapped

the tongue of his belt buckle into another hole.
"I couldn't do it," he explained, feverishly, to the waving banana

fronds. "I wanted to, but I couldn't. A gentleman can't drink with

the man that he blackmails."


XII
Shoes
John De Graffenreid Atwood ate of the lotus, root, stem, and flower.

The tropics gobbled him up. He plunged enthusiastically into his

work, which was to try to forget Rosine.
Now, they who dine on the lotus rarely consume it plain. There is

a sauce ~au diable~ that goes with it; and the distillers are the

chefs who prepare it. And on Johnny's menu card it read "brandy."

With a bottle between them, he and Billy Keogh would sit on the porch

of the little consulate at night and roar out great, indecorous songs,

until the natives, slipping hastily past, would shrug a shoulder and

mutter things to themselves about the "~Americanos diablos~."
One day Johnny's ~mozo~ brought the mail and dumped it on the table.

Johnny leaned from his hammock, and fingered the four or five letters

dejectedly. Keogh was sitting on the edge of the table chopping

lazily with a paper knife at the legs of a centipede that was crawling

among the stationery. Johnny was in that phase of lotus-eating when

all the world tastes bitter in one's mouth.
"Same old thing!" he complained. "Fool people writing for information

about the country. They want to know all about raising fruit, and how

to make a fortune without work. Half of 'em don't even send stamps

for a reply. They think a consul hasn't anything to do but write

letters. Slit those envelopes for me, old man, and see what they

want. I'm feeling too rocky to move."
Keogh, acclimated beyond all possibility of ill-humor, drew his chair

to the table with smiling compliance on his rose-pink countenance,

and began to slit open the letters. Four of them were from citizens

in various parts of the United States who seemed to regard the consul

at Coralio as a cyclopedia of information. They asked long lists

of questions, numerically arranged, about the climate, products,

possibilities, laws, business chances, and statistics of the country

in which the consul had the honor of representing his own government.
"Write 'em, please, Billy," said that inert official, "just a line,

referring them to the latest consular report. Tell 'em the State

Department will be delighted to furnish the literary gems. Sign my

name. Don't let your pen scratch, Billy; it'll keep me awake."
"Don't snore," said Keogh, amiably, "and I'll do your work for you.

You need a corps of assistants, anyhow. Don't see how you ever get

out a report. Wake up a minute--here's one more letter--it's from

your own town, too--—Dalesburg."
"That so?" murmured Johnny showing a mild and obligatory interest.

"What's it about?"
"Postmaster writes," explained Keogh. "Says a citizen of the town

wants some facts and advice from you. Says the citizen has an idea

in his head of coming down where you are and opening a shoe store.

Wants to know if you think the business would pay. Says he's heard

of the boom along this coast, and wants to get in on the ground

floor."
In spite of the heat and his bad temper, Johnny's hammock swayed

with his laughter. Keogh laughed too; and the pet monkey on the top

shelf of the bookcase chattered in shrill sympathy with the ironical

reception of the letter from Dalesburg.
"Great bunions!" exclaimed the consul. "Shoe store! What'll they ask

about next, I wonder? Overcoat factory, I reckon. Say, Billy--of our

3,000 citizens, how many do you suppose ever had on a pair of shoes?"
Keogh reflected judicially.
"Let's see--there's you and me and--"
"Not me," said Johnny, promptly and incorrectly, holding up a foot

encased in a disreputable deerskin ~zapato~. "I haven't been a victim

to shoes in months."
"But you've got 'em, though," went on Keogh. "And there's Goodwin

and Blanchard and Geddie and old Lutz and Doc Gregg and that Italian

that's agent for the banana company, and there's old Delgado--no; he

wears sandals. And, oh, yes; there's Madama Ortiz, 'what kapes the

hotel'--she had on a pair of red kid slippers at the ~baile~ the other

night. And Miss Pasa, her daughter, that went to school in the States

--she brought back some civilized notions in the way of footgear. And

there's the ~comandante's~ sister that dresses up her feet on feast-

days--and Mrs. Geddie, who wears a two with a Castilian instep--and

that's about all the ladies. Let's see--don't some of the soldiers at

the ~cuartel~--no: that's so; they're allowed shoes only when on the

march. In barracks they turn their little toeses out to grass."
"'Bout right," agreed the consul. "Not over twenty out of the three

thousand ever felt leather on their walking arrangements. Oh, yes;

Coralio is just the town for an enterprising shoe store--that doesn't

want to part with its goods. Wonder if old Patterson is trying to

jolly me! He always was full of things he called jokes. Write him

a letter, Billy. I'll dictate it. We'll jolly him back a few."
Keogh dipped his pen, and wrote at Johnny's dictation. With many

pauses, filled in with smoke and sundry travellings of the bottle

and glasses, the following reply to the Dalesburg communication was

perpetrated:
^ MR. OBADIAH PATTERSON,

Dalesburg, Ala.
~Dear Sir~: in reply to your favor of July 2d. I have the honor

to inform you that, according to my opinion, there is no place on

the habitable globe that presents to the eye stronger evidence of

the need of a first-class shoe store than does the town of Coralio.

There are 3,000 inhabitants in the place, and not a single shoe

store! The situation speaks for itself. This coast is rapidly

becoming the goal of enterprising business men, but the shoe

business is one that has been sadly overlooked or neglected.

In fact, there are a considerable number of our citizens actually

without shoes at present.
Besides the want above mentioned, there is also a crying need

for a brewery, a college of higher mathematics, a coal yard, and a

clean and intellectual Punch and Judy show. I have the honor to be,
Your Obt. Servant,

~John De Graffenreid Atwood~,

^ U.S. CONSUL AT CORALIO.
P.S.--Hello! Uncle Obadiah. How's the old burg racking along?

What would the government do without you and me? Look out for

a green-headed parrot and a bunch of bananas soon, from your old

friend
~Johnny~,

"I throw in that postscript," explained the consul, "so Uncle Obadiah

won't take offense at the official tone of the letter! Now, Billy,

you get that correspondence fixed up, and send Pancho to the post-

office with it. The ~Ariadne~ takes the mail out tomorrow if they

make up that load of fruit today."
The night programme in Coralio never varied. The recreations of

the people were soporific and flat. They wandered about, barefoot

and aimless, speaking lowly and smoking cigar or cigarette. Looking

down on the dimly lighted ways one seemed to see a threading maze

of brunette ghosts tangled with a procession of insane fireflies.

In some houses the thrumming of lugubrious guitars added to

the depression of the ~triste~ night. Giant tree-frogs rattled in
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