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|Mr. obadiah patterson|
U.s. consul at coralio.
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
"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
"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
"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
"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."
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
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
~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~,
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
"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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