The Proem "Fox-in-the-Morning"


НазваниеThe Proem "Fox-in-the-Morning"
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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
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