The Proem "Fox-in-the-Morning"

НазваниеThe Proem "Fox-in-the-Morning"
Дата публикации24.06.2013
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the foliage as loudly as the end man's "bones" in a minstrel troupe.

By nine o'clock the streets were almost deserted.
Not at the consulate was there often a change of bill. Keogh would

come there nightly, for Coralio's one cool place was the little porch

of that official residence. The brandy would be kept moving; and

before midnight sentiment would begin to stir in the heart of the

self-exiled consul. Then he would relate to Keogh the story of his

ended romance. Each night Keogh would listen patiently to the tale,

and be ready with untiring sympathy.
"But don't you think for a minute"--thus Johnny would always conclude

his woeful narrative--"that I'm grieving about that girl, Billy. I've

forgotten her. She never enters my mind. If she were to enter that

door right now, my pulse wouldn't gain a beat. That's all over long

"Don't I know it?" Keogh would answer. "Of course you've forgotten

her. Proper thing to do. Wasn't quite 0. K. of her to listen to the

knocks that--er--Dink Pawson kept giving you."
"Pink Dawson!"--a word of contempt would be in Johnny's tones--"Poor

white trash! That's what he was. Had five hundred acres of farming

land, though; and that counted. Maybe I'll have a chance to get back

at him some day. The Dawsons weren't anybody. Everybody in Alabama

knows the Atwoods. Say, Billy--did you know my mother was a

De Graffenreid?"
"Why, no," Keogh would say; "is that so?" He had heard it some three

hundred times.
"Fact. The De Graffenreids of Hancock County. But I never think

of that girl any more, do I, Billy?"
"Not for a minute, my boy," would be the last sounds heard by

the conqueror of Cupid.
At this point Johnny would fall into a gentle slumber, and Keogh would

saunter out to his own shack under the calabash tree at the edge of

the plaza.
In a day or two the letter from the Dalesburg postmaster and its

answer had been forgotten by the Coralio exiles. But on the 26th day

of July the fruit of the reply appeared upon the tree of events.
The ~Andador~, a fruit steamer that visited Coralio regularly, drew

into the offing and anchored. The beach was lined with spectators

while the quarantine doctor and the custom-house crew rowed out to

attend to their duties.
An hour later Billy Keogh lounged into the consulate, clean and cool

in his linen clothes, and grinning like a pleased shark. "Guess

what?" he said to Johnny, lounging in his hammock.
"Too hot to guess," said Johnny, lazily.
"Your shoe-store man's come," said Keogh, rolling the sweet morsel on

his tongue, "with a stock of goods big enough to supply the continent

as far down as Tierra del Fuego. They're carting his cases over to

the custom-house now. Six barges full they brought ashore and have

paddled back for the rest. Oh, ye saints in glory! won't there be

regalements in the air when he gets onto the joke and has an interview

with Mr. Consul? It'll be worth nine years in the tropics just to

witness that one joyful moment."
Keogh loved to take his mirth easily. He selected a clean place

on the matting and lay upon the floor. The walls shook with his

enjoyment. Johnny turned half over and blinked.
"Didn't tell me," he said, "that anybody was fool enough to take

that letter seriously."
"Four-thousand-dollar stock of goods!" gasped Keogh, in ecstasy.

"Talk about coals to Newcastle! Why didn't he take a ship-load of

palm-leaf fans to Spitzenbergen while he was about it? Saw the old

codger on the beach. You ought to have been there when he put on

his specs and squinted at the five hundred or so barefooted citizens

standing around."
"Are you telling the truth, Billy?" asked the consul, weakly.
"Am I? You ought to see the buncoed gentleman's daughter he brought

along. Looks! She makes the brick-dust senoritas here look like

"Go on," said Johnny, "if you can stop that asinine giggling. I hate

to see a grown man make a laughing hyena of himself."
"Name is Hemstetter," went on Keogh. "He's a--Hello! what's the matter

Johnny's moccasined feet struck the floor with a thud as he wriggled

out of his hammock.
"Get up, you idiot," he said, sternly, "or I'll brain you with this

inkstand. That's Rosine and her father. Gad! what a drivelling idiot

old Patterson is! Get up, here, Billy Keogh, and help me. What the

devil are we going to do? Has all the world gone crazy?"
Keogh rose and dusted himself. He managed to regain a decorous

"Situation has got to be met, Johnny," he said, with some success

at seriousness. "I didn't think about its being your girl until you

spoke. First thing to do is to get them comfortable quarters. You

go down and face the music, and I'll trot out to Goodwin's and see

if Mrs. Goodwin won't take them in. They've got the decentest house

in town."
"Bless you, Billy!" said the consul. "I knew you wouldn't desert me.

The world's bound to come to an end, but maybe we can stave it off for

a day or two."
Keogh hoisted his umbrella and set out for Goodwin's house. Johnny

put on his coat and hat. He picked up the brandy bottle, but set it

down again without drinking, and marched bravely down to the beach.
In the shade of the custom-house walls he found Mr. Hemstetter

and Rosine surrounded by a mass of gaping citizens. The customs

officers were ducking and scraping, while the captain of the Andador

interpreted the business of the new arrivals. Rosine looked healthy

and very much alive. She was gazing at the strange scenes around her

with amused interest. There was a faint blush upon her round cheek

as she greeted her old admirer. Mr. Hemstetter shook hands with

Johnny in a very friendly way. He was an oldish, impractical man

--one of that numerous class of erratic business men who are forever

dissatisfied, and seeking a change.
"I am very glad to see you, John--may I call you John?" he said.

"Let me thank you for your prompt answer to our postmaster's letter

of inquiry. He volunteered to write to you on my behalf. I was

looking about for something different in the way of a business

in which the profits would be greater. I had noticed in the papers

that this coast was receiving much attention from investors. I am

extremely grateful for your advice to come. I sold out everything

that I possess, and invested the proceeds in as fine a stock of shoes

as could be bought in the North. You have a picturesque town here,

John. I hope business will be as good as your letter justifies me

in expecting."
Johnny's agony was abbreviated by the arrival of Keogh, who hurried up

with the news that Mrs. Goodwin would be much pleased to place rooms

at the disposal of Mr. Hemstetter and his daughter. So there Mr.

Hemstetter and Rosine were at once conducted and left to recuperate

from the fatigue of the voyage, while Johnny went down to see that

the cases of shoes were safely stored in the customs warehouse pending

their examination by the officials. Keogh, grinning like a shark,

skirmished about to find Goodwin, to instruct him not to expose to

Mr. Hemstetter the true state of Coralio as a shoe market until Johnny

had been given a chance to redeem the situation, if such a thing were

That night the consul and Keogh held a desperate consultation on

the breezy porch of the consulate.
Send em back home," began Keogh, reading Johnny's thoughts.
"I would," said Johnny, after a little silence; "but I've been lying

to you, Billy."
"All right about that," said Keogh, affably.
"I've told you hundreds of times," said Johnny, slowly, "that I had

forgotten that girl, haven't I?"
"About three hundred and seventy-five," admitted the monument

of patience.
"I lied," repeated the consul, "every time. I never forgot her for

one moment. I was an obstinate ass for running away just because she

said 'No' once. And I was too proud a fool to go back. I talked with

Rosine a few minutes this evening up at Goodwin's. I found out one

thing. You remember that farmer fellow who was always after her?"
"Dink Pawson?" asked Keogh.
"Pink Dawson. Well, he wasn't a hill of beans to her. She says she

didn't believe a word of the things be told her about me. But I'm

sewed up now, Billy. That tomfool letter we sent ruined whatever

chance I had left. She'll despise me when she finds out that her

old father has been made the victim of a joke that a decent schoolboy

wouldn't have been guilty of. Shoes! Why he couldn't sell twenty

pairs of shoes in Coralio if he kept store here for twenty years. You

put a pair of shoes on one of these Caribs or Spanish brown boys and

what'd he do? Stand on his head and squeal until he'd kicked 'em off.

None of 'em ever wore shoes and they never will. If I send 'em back

home I'll have to tell the whole story, and what'll she think of me?

I want that girl worse than ever, Billy, and now when she's in reach

I've lost her forever because I tried to be funny when the thermometer

was at 102."
"Keep cheerful," said the optimistic Keogh. "And let 'em open

the store. I've been busy myself this afternoon. We can stir up a

temporary boom in foot-gear anyhow. I'll buy six pairs when the doors

open. I've been around and seen all the fellows and explained the

catastrophe. They'll all buy shoes like they was centipedes. Frank

Goodwin will take cases of 'em. The Geddies want about eleven pairs

between 'em. Clancy is going to invest the savings of weeks, and even

old Doc Gregg wants three pairs of alligator-hide slippers if they've

got any tens. Blanchard got a look at Miss Hemstetter; and as he's

a Frenchman, no less than a dozen pairs will do for him."
"A dozen customers," said Johnny, "for a $4,000 stock of shoes!

It won't work. There's a big problem here to figure out. You go

home, Billy, and leave me alone. I've got to work at it all by

myself. Take that bottle of Three-star along with you--no, sir;

not another ounce of booze for the United States consul. I'll sit

here tonight and pull out the think stop. If there's a soft place

on this proposition anywhere I'll land on it. If there isn't

there'll be another wreck to the credit of the gorgeous tropics."
Keogh left, feeling that he could be of no use. Johnny laid a handful

of cigars on a table and stretched himself in a steamer chair. When

the sudden daylight broke, silvering the harbor ripples, he was still

sitting there. Then he got up, whistling a little tune, and took his

At nine o'clock he walked down to the dingy little cable office and

hung for half an hour over a blank. The result of his application was

the following message, which he signed and had transmitted at a cost

of $33:

Dalesburg, Ala.
Draft for $100 comes to you next mail. Ship me immediately 500

pounds stiff, dry cockleburrs. New use here in arts. Market price

twenty cents pound. Further orders likely. Rush.

Within a week a suitable building had been secured in the Calle

Grande, and Mr. Hemstetter's stock of shoes arranged upon their

shelves. The rent of the store was moderate; and the stock made

a fine showing of neat white boxes, attractively displayed.
Johnny's friends stood by him loyally. On the first day Keogh

strolled into the store in a casual kind of way about once every hour,

and bought shoes. After he had purchased a pair each of extension

soles, congress gaiters, button kids, low-quartered calfs, dancing

pumps, rubber boots, tans of various hues, tennis shoes and flowered

slippers, he sought out Johnny to be prompted as to the names of other

kinds that he might inquire for. The other English-speaking residents

also played their parts nobly by buying often and liberally. Keogh

was grand marshal, and made them distribute their patronage, thus

keeping up a fair run of custom for several days.
Mr. Hemstetter was gratified by the amount of business done thus far;

but expressed surprise that the natives were so backward with their

"Oh, they're awfully shy," explained Johnny, as he wiped his forehead

nervously. "They'll get the habit pretty soon. They'll come with

a rush when they do come."
One afternoon Keogh dropped into the consul's office, chewing an

unlighted cigar thoughtfully.
"Got anything up your sleeve?" he inquired of Johnny. "If you have

it's about time to show it. If you can borrow some gent's hat in

the audience, and make a lot of customers for an idle stock of shoes

come out of it you'd better spiel. The boys have all laid in enough

footwear to last 'em ten years; and there's nothing doing in the shoe

store but dolcy far nienty. I just came by there. Your venerable

victim was standing in the door, gazing through his specs at the bare

toes passing by his emporium. The natives here have got the true

artistic temperament. Me and Clancy took eighteen tintypes this

morning in two hours. There's been but one pair of shoes sold all

day. Blanchard went in and bought a pair of furlined house-slippers

because he thought he saw Miss Hemstetter go into the store. I saw

him throw the slippers into the lagoon afterwards."
"There's a Mobile fruit steamer coming in tomorrow or next day," said

Johnny. We can't do anything until then."
"What are you going to do--try to create a demand?"
"Political economy isn't your strong point," said the consul,

impudently. "You can't create a demand. But you can create

a necessity for a demand. That's what I am going to do."
Two weeks after the consul sent his cable, a fruit steamer brought

him a huge, mysterious brown bale of some unknown commodity. Johnny's

influence with the custom-house people was sufficiently strong for

him to get the goods turned over to him without the usual inspection.

He had the bale taken to the consulate and snugly stowed in the back

room. That night he ripped open a corner of it and took out a handful

of the cockleburrs. He examined them with the care with which a

warrior examines his arms before he goes forth to battle for his

lady-love and life. The burrs were the ripe August product, as hard

as filberts, and bristling with spines as tough and sharp as needles.

Johnny whistled softly a little tune, and went out to find Billy

Later in the night, when Coralio was steeped in slumber, he and Billy

went forth into the deserted streets with their coats bulging like
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