The Proem "Fox-in-the-Morning"

НазваниеThe Proem "Fox-in-the-Morning"
Дата публикации24.06.2013
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"That last account sounds all right," interrupted Mr. Atwood. "Sounds

as if it could be stretched. I want to buy a new flag, a monkey, a

guitar and a barrel of pineapples. Will the rubber account stretch

over 'em?"
"That's merely statistics," said Geddie, smiling. "The expense

account is what you want. It is supposed to have a slight elasticity.

The 'stationery' items are sometimes carelessly audited by the State

"We're wasting our time," said Keogh. "This man was born to hold

office. He penetrates to the root of the art at one step of his

eagle eye. The true genius of government shows its hand in every

word of his speech."
"I didn't take this job with any intention of working," explained

Johnny, lazily. "I wanted to go somewhere in the world where they

didn't talk about farms. There are none here, are there?"
"Not the kind you are acquainted with," answered the ex-consul.

"There is no such art here as agriculture. There never was a plow

or a reaper within the boundaries of Anchuria."
"This is the country for me," murmured the consul, and immediately

he fell asleep.
The cheerful tintypist pursued his intimacy with Johnny in spite

of open charges that he did so to obtain a preemption on a seat in

that coveted spot, the rear gallery of the consulate. But whether

his designs were selfish or purely friendly, Keogh achieved that

desirable privilege. Few were the nights on which the two could

not be found reposing there in the sea breeze, with their heels on

the railing, and the cigars and brandy conveniently near.
One evening they sat thus, mainly silent, for their talk had dwindled

before the stilling influence of an unusual night.
There was a great, full moon; and the sea mother-of-pearl. Almost

every sound was hushed, for the air was but faintly stirring; and

the town lay panting, waiting for the night to cool. Offshore lay

the fruit steamer ~Andador~, of the Vesuvius line, full-laden and

scheduled to sail at six in the morning. There were no loiterers on

the beach. So bright was the moonlight that the two men could see

the small pebbles shining on the beach where the gentle surf wetted

Then down the coast, tacking close to shore, slowly swam a little

sloop, white-winged like some snowy sea fowl. Its course lay within

twenty points of the wind's eye; so it veered in and out again in

long, slow strokes like the movements of a graceful skater.
Again the tactics of its crew brought it close in shore, this time

nearly opposite the consulate; and then there blew from the sloop

clear and surprising notes as if from a horn of elfland. A fairy

bugle it might have been, sweet and silvery and unexpected, playing

with spirit the familiar air of "Home, Sweet Home."
It was a scene set for the land of the lotus. The authority of the

sea and the tropics, the mystery that attends unknown sails, and the

prestige of drifting music on moonlit waters gave it an anodynous

charm. Johnny Atwood felt it, and thought of Dalesburg; but as soon

as Keogh's mind had arrived at a theory concerning the peripatetic

solo he sprang to the railing, and his ear-rending yawp fractured

the silence of Coralio like a cannon shot.
"Mel-lin-ger a-hoy!"
The sloop was now on its outward tack; but from it came a clear,

answering hail:
"Good-bye, Billy... go-ing home--bye!"
The ~Andador~ was the sloop's destination. No doubt some passenger

with a sailing permit from some up-the-coast point had come down

in this sloop to catch the regular fruit steamer on its return trip.

Like a coquettish pigeon the little boat tacked on its eccentric way

until at last its white sail was lost to sight against the larger

bulk of the fruiter's side.
"That's old H. P. Mellinger," explained Keogh, dropping back into his

chair. "He's going back to New York. He was a private secretary of

the late hot-foot president of this grocery and fruit stand that they

call a country. His job's over now; and I guess old Mellinger is

"Why does he disappear to music, like Zo-zo, the magic queen?" asked

Johnny. "Just to show 'em that he doesn't care?"
"That noise you heard is a phonograph," said Keogh. "I sold him

that. Mellinger had a graft in this country that was the only thing

of its kind in the world. The tooting machine saved it for him once,

and he always carried it around with him afterward."
"Tell me about it," demanded Johnny, betraying interest.
"I'm no disseminator of narratives," said Keogh. "I can use language

for purposes of speech; but when I attempt a discourse the words come

out as they will, and they may make sense when they strike the

atmosphere, or they may not."
"I want to hear about the graft," persisted Johnny, "You've got no

right to refuse. I've told you all about every man, woman and

hitching post in Dalesburg."
"You shall hear it," said Keogh. "I said my instincts of narrative

were perplexed. Don't you believe it. It's an art I've acquired

along with many other of the graces and sciences."

The Phonograph and the Graft
"What was this this graft? asked Johnny, with the impatience of

the great public to whom tales are told.
"'Tis contrary to art and philosophy to give you the information,"

said Keogh, calmly. "The art of narrative consists in concealing

from your audience everything it wants to know until after you expose

your favorite opinions on topics foreign to the subject. A good

story is like a bitter pill with the sugar coating inside of it.

I will begin, if you please, with a horoscope located in the Cherokee

Nation; and end with a moral tune on the phonograph.
"Me and Henry Horsecollar brought the first phonograph to this

country. Henry was a quarter-breed, quarter-back cherokee, educated

East in the idioms of football, and West in contraband whiskey, and

a gentleman, the same as you and me. He was easy and romping in

his ways; a man about six foot, with a kind of rubber-tire movement.

Yes, he was a little man about five foot five, or five foot eleven.

He was what you would call a medium tall man of average smallness.

Henry had quit college once, and the Muscogee jail three times--the

last-named institution on account of introducing and selling whisky

in the territories. Henry Horsecollar never let any cigar stores

come up and stand behind him. He didn't belong to that tribe of

"Henry and me met at Texarkana, and figured out this phonograph

scheme. He had $360 which came to him out of a land allotment

in the reservation. I had run down from Little Rock on account

of a distressful scene I had witnessed on the street there. A man

stood on a box and passed around some gold watches, screw case,

stem-winders, Elgin movement, very elegant. Twenty bucks they cost

you over the counter. At three dollars the crowd fought for the

tickers. The man happened to find a valise full of them handy, and

he passed them out like putting hot biscuits on a plate. The backs

were hard to unscrew, but the crowd put its ear to the case, and

they ticked mollifying and agreeable. Three of these watches were

genuine tickers; the rest were only kickers. Hey? Why, empty cases

with one of them horny black bugs that fly around electric lights

in 'em. Them bugs kick off minutes and seconds industrious and

beautiful. So, this man I was speaking of cleaned up $288; and then

he went away, because he knew that when it came time to wind watches

in Little Rock an entomologist would be needed, and he wasn't one.
"So, as I say, Henry had $360 and I had $288. The idea of introducing

the phonograph to South America was Henry's; but I took to it freely,

being fond of machinery of all kinds.
"'The Latin races,' says Henry, explaining easy in the idioms he

learned at college, 'are peculiarly adapted to be victims of the

phonograph. They yearn for music and color and gaiety. They give

wampum to the hand-organ man and the four-legged chicken in the tent

when they're three months behind with the grocery and the bread-fruit

"'Then,' says I, 'we'll export canned music to the Latins; but I'm

mindful of Mr. Julius Caesar's account of 'em where he says: ~"Omnia

Gallia in tres partes divisa est"~; which is the same as to say, "We

will need all of our gall in devising means to tree them parties."'
"I hated to make a show of education; but I was disinclined to be

overdone in syntax by a mere Indian, a member of a race to which we

owe nothing except the land on which the United States is situated.
"We bought a fine phonograph in Texarkana--one of the best make--and

half a trunkful of records. We packed up, and took the T. and P.

for New Orleans. From that celebrated center of molasses and

disfranchised coon songs we took a steamer for South America.
"We landed at Solitas, forty miles up the coast from here. 'Twas

a palatable enough place to look at. The houses were clean and white;

and to look at 'em stuck around among the scenery they reminded you

of hard-boiled eggs served with lettuce. There was a block of

skyscraper mountains in the suburbs; and they kept pretty quiet,

like they had crept up there and were watching the town. And the sea

was remarking 'Sh-sh-sh' on the beach; and now and then a ripe coconut

would drop kerblip in the sand; and that was all there was doing.

Yes, I judge that town was considerably on the quiet. I judge that

after Gabriel quits blowing his horn, and the car starts, with

Philadelphia swinging to the last strap, and Pine Gully, Arkansas,

hanging onto the rear step, this town of Solitas will wake up and ask

if anybody spoke.
"The captain went ashore with us, and offered to conduct what he

seemed to like to call the obsequies. He introduced Henry and me to

the United States Consul, and a roan man, the head of the Department

of Mercenary and Licentious Dispostions, the way it read upon his

"'I thouch here again a week from today,' says the captain.
"'By that time,' we told him, 'we'll be amassing wealth in the

interior towns with our galvanized prima donna and correct imitations

of Sousa's band excavating a march from a tin mine.'
"'Ye'll not,' says the captain. 'Ye'll be hypnotized. Any gentleman

in the audience who kindly steps upon the stage and looks this country

in the eye will be converted to the hypothesis that he's but a fly

in the Elgin creamery. Ye'll be standing knee deep in the surf

waiting for me, and your machine for making Hamburger steak out of

the hitherto respected art of music will be playing "There's no place

like home."'
"Henry skinned a twenty off his roll, and received from the Bureau

of Mercenary Dispositions a paper bearing a red seal and a dialect

story, and no change.
"Then we got the consul full of red wine, and struck him for a

horoscope. He was a thin, youngish kind of man, I should say past

fifty, sort of French-Irish in his affections, and puffed up with

disconsolation. Yes, he was a flattened kind of man, in whom drink

lay stagnant, inclined to corpulence and misery. Yes, I think he

was a kind of Dutchman, being very sad and genial in his ways.
"'The marvelous invention,' he says, 'entitled the phonograph, has

never invaded these shores. The people have never heard it. They

would not believe it if they should. Simple-hearted children of

nature, progress has never condemned them to accept the work of

a can-opener as an overture, and rag-time might incite them to a

bloody revolution. But you can try the experiment. The best chance

you have is that the populace may not wake up when you play. There's

two ways,' says the consul, 'they may take it. They may become

inebriated with attention, like an Atlanta colonel listening to

"Marching Through Georgia," or they will get excited and transpose

the key of the music with an axe and yourselves into a dungeon. In

the latter case,' says the consul, 'I'll do my duty by cabling to the

State Department, and I'll wrap the Stars and Stripes around you when

you come to be shot, and threaten them with the vengeance of the

greatest gold export and financial reserve nation on earth. The flag

is full of bullet holes now,' says the consul, 'made in that way.

Twice before,' says the consul, 'I have cabled our government for a

couple of gunboats to protect American citizens. The first time the

Department sent me a pair of gum boots. The other time was when a man

named Pease was going to be executed here. They referred that appeal

to the Secretary of Agriculture. Let us now disturb the senor behind

the bar for a subsequence of the red wine.'
"Thus soliloquized the consul of Solitas to me and Henry Horsecollar.
"But, notwithstanding, we hired a room that afternoon in the Calle de

los Angeles, the main street that runs along the shore, and put our

trunks there. 'Twas a good-sized room, dark and cheerful, but small.

'Twas on a various street, diversified by houses and conservatory

plants. The peasantry of the city passed to and fro on the fine

pasturage between the sidewalks. 'Twas, for the world, like an opera

chorus when the Royal Kafoozlum is about to enter.
"We were rubbing the dust off the machine and getting fixed to start

business the next day, when a big, fine-looking white man in white

clothes stopped at the door and looked in. We extended the

invitations, and he walked inside and sized us up. He was chewing

a long cigar, and wrinkling his eyes, meditative, like a girl trying

to decide which dress to wear to the party.
"'New York?' he says to me finally.
"'Originally, and from time to time,' I says. 'Hasn't it rubbed off

"'It's simple,' says he, 'when you know how. It's the fit of

the vest. They don't cut vests right anywhere else. Coats, maybe,

but not vests.'
"The white man looks at Henry Horsecollar and hesitates.
"'Injun,' says Henry; 'tame Injun.'
"'Mellinger,' says the man--'Homer P. Mellinger. Boys, you're

confiscated. You're babes in the wood without a chaperon or referee,

and it's my duty to start you going. I'll knock out the props and

launch you proper in the pellucid waters of this tropical mud puddle.

You'll have to be christened, and if you'll come with me I'll break

a bottle of wine across your bows, according to Hoyle.'
"Well, for two days Homer P. Mellinger did the honors. That man cut
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