The Proem "Fox-in-the-Morning"

НазваниеThe Proem "Fox-in-the-Morning"
Дата публикации24.06.2013
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ice in Anchuria. He was It. He was the Royal Kafoozlum. If me and

Henry was babes in the wood, he was a Robin Redbreast from the topmost

bough. Him and me and Henry Horsecollar locked arms, and toted that

phonograph around, and had wassail and diversions. Everywhere we

found doors open we went inside and set the machine going, and

Mellinger called upon the people to observe the artful music and his

two lifelong friends, the Senores Americanos. The opera chorus was

agitated with esteem, and followed us from house to house. There was

a different kind of drink to be had with every tune. The natives

had acquirements of a pleasant thing in the way of a drink that gums

itself to the recollection. They chop off the end of a green coconut,

and pour in on the juice of it French brandy and other adjuvants.

We had them and other things.
"Mine and Henry's money was counterfeit. Everything was on Homer

P. Mellinger. That man could find rolls of bills concealed in places

on his person where Hermann the Wizard couldn't have conjured out a

rabbit or an omelette. He could have founded universities, and made

orchid collections, and then had enough left to purchase the colored

vote of his country. Henry and me wondered what his graft was. One

evening he told us.
"'Boys, said he, I've deceived you. You think I'm a painted

butterfly; but in fact I'm the hardest worked man in this country.

Ten years ago I landed on its shores; and two years ago on the point

of its jaw. Yes, I guess I can get the decision over this ginger cake

commonwealth at the end of any round I choose. I'll confide in you

because you are my countrymen and guests, even if you have assaulted

my adopted shores with the worst system of noises ever set to music.
"'My job is private secretary to the president of this republic;

and my duties are running it. I'm not headlined in the bills, but I'm

the mustard in the salad dressing just the same. There isn't a law

goes before Congress, there isn't a concession granted, there isn't

an import duty levied but what H. P. Mellinger he cooks and seasons

it. In the front office I fill the president's inkstand and search

visiting statesmen for dirks and dynamite; but in the back room I

dictate the policy of the government. You'd never guess in the world

how I got my pull. It's the only graft of its kind on earth. I'll

put you wise. You remember the old top-liner in the copy book--

Honesty is the Best Policy?" That's it. I'm working honestly for a

graft. I'm the only honest man in the republic. The government knows

it; the people know it; the boodlers know it; the foreign investors

know it. I make the government keep its faith. If a man is promised

a job he gets it. If outside capital buys a concession it gets

the goods. I run the monopoly of square dealing here. There's no

competition. If Colonel Diogenes were to flash his lantern in this

precinct he'd have my address inside of two minutes. There isn't big

money in it, but it's a sure thing, and lets a man sleep of nights.'
"Thus Homer P. Mellinger made oration to me and Henry Horsecollar.

And, later, he divested himself of this remark:
"'Boys, I'm to hold a ~soiree~ this evening with a gang of leading

citizens, and I want your assistance. You bring the musical corn

sheller and give the affair the outside appearance of a function.

There's important business on hand, but it mustn't show. I can talk

to you people. I've been pained for years on account of not having

anybody to blow off and brag to. I get homesick sometimes, and I'd

swap the entire perquisites of office for just one hour to have a

stein and a caviar sandwich somewhere on Thirty-fourth Street, and

stand and watch the street cars go by, and smell the peanut roaster

at old Giuseppe's fruit stand.'
"'Yes,' said I, 'there's fine caviar at Billy Renfrew's cafe, corner

of Thirty-fourth and--'
"'God knows it,' interrupts Mellinger, 'and if you'd told me you knew

Billy Renfrew I'd have invented tons of ways of making you happy.

Billy was my side-kicker in New York. There is a man who never knew

what crooked was. Here I am working Honesty for a graft, but that

man loses money on it. Carrambos! I get sick at times of this

country. Everything's rotten. From the executive down to the coffee

pickers, they're plotting to down each other and skin their friends.

If a mule driver takes off his hat to an official, that man figures

it out that he's a popular idol, and set his pegs to stir up a

revolution and upset the administration. It's one of my little chores

as private secretary to smell out these revolutions and affix the

kibosh before they break out and scratch the paint off the government

property. That's why I'm down here now in this mildewed coast town.

The governor of the district and his crew are plotting to uprise.

I've got every one of their names, and they're invited to listen

to the phonograph tonight, compliments of H. P. M. That's the way

I'll get them in a bunch, and things are on the program to happen

to them.'
"We three were sitting at table in the cantina of the Purified Saints.

Mellinger poured out wine, and was looking some worried; I was

"'They're a sharp crowd,' he says, kind of fretful. 'They're

capitalized by a foreign syndicate after rubber, and they're loaded

to the muzzle for bribing. I'm sick,' goes on Mellinger, 'of comic

opera. I want to smell East River and wear suspenders again. At

times I feel loke throwing up my job, but I'm d--n fool enough to

be sort of proud of it. "There's Mellinger," they say here. "~Por

dios!~ you can't touch him with a million." I'd like to take that

record back and show it to Billy Renfrow some day; and that tightens

my grip whenever I see a fat thing that I could corral just by

winking one eye--and losing my graft. By--, they can't monkey

with me. They know it. What money I get I make honest and spend it.

Some day, I'll make a pile and go back and eat caviar with Billy.

Tonight I'll show you how to handle a bunch of corruptionists. I'll

show them what Mellinger, private secretary, means when you spell it

with the cotton and tissue paper off.'
"Mellinger appears shaky, and breaks his glass against the neck of

the bottle.
"I says to myself, 'White man, if I'm not mistaken there's been a

bait laid out where the tail of your eye could see it.'
"That night, according to arrangements, me and Henry took the

phonograph to a room in a 'dobe house in a dirty side street, where

the grass was knee high. 'Twas a long room, lit with smoky oil lamps.

There was plenty of chairs, and a table at the back end. We set the

phonograph on the table. Mellinger was there, walking up and down,

disturbed in his predicaments. He chewed cigars and spat 'em out,

and he bit the thumb nail of his left hand.
"By and by the invitations to the musicale come sliding in by pairs

and threes and spade flushes. Their color was of a diversity, running

from a three-day's smoked meerschaum to a patent-leather polish.

They were as polite as wax, being devastated with enjoyments to give

Senor Mellinger the good evenings. I understood their Spanish talk

--I ran a pumping engine two years in a Mexican silver mine, and had

it pat--but I never let on.
"Maybe fifty of 'em had come, and was seated, when in slid the king

bee, the governor of the district. Mellinger met him at the door,

and escorted him to the grand stand. When I saw that Latin man I

knew that Mellinger, private secretary, had all the dances on his card

taken. That was a big, squashy man, the color of a rubber overshoe,

and he had an eye like a head waiter's.
"Mellinger explained, fluent, in the Castilian idioms, that his soul

was disconcerted with joy at introducing to his respected friends

America's greatest invention, the wonder of the age. Henry got the

cue and run on an elegant brass-band record and the festivities became

initiated. The governor man had a bit of English under his hat, and

when the music was choked off he says:
"'Ver-r-ree fine. ~Gr-r'r-r-racias~, the American gentlemen, the so

esplendeed moosic as to playee.'
"The table was a long one, and Henry and me sat at the end of it next

the wall. The governor sat at the other end. Homer P. Mellinger

stood at the side of it. I was just wondering how Mellinger was

going to handle his crowd, when the home talent suddenly opened the

"That governor man was suitable for uprisings and policies. I judge

he was a ready kind of man, who took his own time. Yes, he was full

of attention and immediateness. He leaned his hands on the table and

imposed his face toward the secretary man.
"'Do the American senors understand Spanish?' he asks in his native

"'They do not,' says Mellinger.
"'Then listen,' goes on the Latin man, prompt. 'The musics are

of sufficient prettiness, but not of necessity. Let us speak

of business. I well know why we are here, since I observe my

compatriots. You had a whisper yesterday, Senor Mellinger, of our

proposals. Tonight we will speak out. We know that you stand in

the president's favor, and we know your influence. The government

will be changed. We know the worth of your services. We esteem

your friendship and aid so much that'--Mellinger praises his hand,

but the governor man bottles him up. 'Do not speak until I have

"The governor man then draws a package wrapped in paper from his

pocket, and lays it on the table by Mellinger's hand.
"'In that you will find fifty thousand dollars in money of your

country. You can do nothing against us, but you can be worth that

for us. Go back to the capital and obey our instructions. Take

that money now. We trust you. You will find with it a paper giving

in detail the work you will be expected to do for us. Do not have

the unwiseness to refuse.'
"'The governor man paused, with his eyes fixed on Mellinger, full

of expressions and observances. I looked at Mellinger, and was glad

Billy Renfrew couldn't see him then. The sweat was popping out on his

forehead, and he stood dumb, tapping the little package with the ends

of his fingers. The colorado-maduro gang was after his graft. He had

only to change his politics, and stuff five fingers in his inside

"Henry whispers to me and wants the pause in the program interpreted.

I whisper back: 'H. P. is up against a bribe, senator's size, and the

coons have got him going.' I saw Mellinger's hand moving closer to

the package. 'He's weakening,' I whispered to Henry. 'We'll remind

him,' says Henry, 'of the peanut-roaster on Thirty-fourth Street,

New York."
"Henry stooped down and got a record from the basketful we'd brought,

slid it in the phonograph, and started her off. It was a cornet solo,

very neat and beautiful, and the name of it was 'Home, Sweet Home.'

Not one of them fifty odd men in the room moved while it was playing,

and the governor man kept his eyes steady on Mellinger. I saw

Mellinger's head go up little by little and his hand came creeping

away from the package. Not until the last note sounded did anybody

stir. And there Homer P. Mellinger takes up the bundle of boodle

and slams it in the governor man's face.
"'That's my answer,' says Mellinger, private secretary, 'and there'll

be another in the morning. I have proofs of conspiracy against every

man of you. The show is over, gentlemen.'
"'There's one more act,' puts in the governor man. 'You are a

servant, I believe, employed by the president to copy letters and

answer raps at the door. I am governor here. Senores, I call upon

you in the name of the cause to seize this man.'
"That brindled gang of conspirators shoved back their chairs and

advanced in force. I could see where Mellinger had made a mistake in

massing his enemy so as to make a grand-stand play. I think he made

another one, too; but we can pass that, Mellinger's idea of a graft

and mine being different, according to estimations and points of view.
"There was only one window and door in that room, and they were in

the front end. Here was fifty odd Latin men coming in a bunch to

obstruct the legislation of Mellinger. You may say there were three

of us, for me and Henry, simultaneous, declared New York City and

the Cherokee Nation in sympathy with the weaker party.
"Then it was that Henry Horsecollar rose to a point of disorder and

intervened, showing, admirable, the advantages of education as applied

to the American Indian's natural intellect and native refinement.

He stood up and smoothed back his hair on each side with his hands

as you have seen little girls do when they play.
"'Get behind me, both of you,' says Henry
"'What's it to be, chief?' I asked.
"'I'm going to buck center,' says Henry, in his football idioms.

There isn't a tackle in the lot of them. Follow me close, and rush

the game.'
"'Then that cultured Red Man exhaled an arrangement of sounds with

his mouth that made the Latin aggregation pause, with thoughtfulness

and hesitations. The matter of his proclamation seemed to be a

cooperation of the Carlisle war-whoop with the Cherokee college yell.

He went at the chocolate team like a bean out of a little boy's nigger

shooter. His right elbow laid out the governor man on the gridiron,

and he made a lane the length of the crowd so wide that a woman

could have carried a stepladder through it without striking against

anything. All Mellinger and me had to do was to follow.
"It took us just three minutes to get out of that street around

to military headquarters, where Mellinger had things his own way.

A colonel and a battalion of bare-toed infantry turned out and went

back to the scene of the musicale with us, but the conspirator gang

was gone. But we recaptured the phonograph with honors of war, and

marched back to the ~cuartel~ with it playing 'All Coons Look Alike

to Me.'
"The next day Mellinger takes me and Henry to one side, and begins

to shed tens and twenties.
"'I want to buy that phonograph,' says he. I liked that last tune

it played at the ~soiree~.'
"'This is more money than the machine is worth,' says I.
"'Tis government expense money,' says Mellinger. The government pays

for it, and it's getting the tune-grinder cheap.'
"Me and Henry knew that pretty well. We knew that it had saved Homer
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