The Proem "Fox-in-the-Morning"

НазваниеThe Proem "Fox-in-the-Morning"
Дата публикации24.06.2013
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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
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