Immagini della pagina

person the

Now and then a banana or two would fall from an overripe bunch, and one of the two men would shamble forward, seize the fruit and return to share it with his companion.

One of the men was in the ultimate stage of deterioration. As far as rain and wind and sun could wreck the garments he wore, it had been done. In his

ravages of drink were as plainly visible. And yet, upon his high-bridged, rubicund nose was jauntily perched a pair of shining and flawless goldrimmed glasses.

The other man was not so far gone upon the descending Highway of the Incompetents. Truly, the flower of his manhood had gone to seed — seed that, perhaps, no soil might sprout. But there were still cross-cuts along where he travelled through which he might yet regain the pathway of usefulness without disturbing the slumbering Miracles. This man was short and compactly built. He had an oblique, dead eye, like that of a sting-ray, and the moustache of a cocktail mixer. We know the eye and the moustache; we know that Smith of the luxurious yacht, the gorgeous raiment, the mysterious mission, the magic disappearance, has come again, though shorn of the accessories of his former state.

[ocr errors]

At his third banana, the man with the nose glasses spat it from him with a shudder.

“ Deuce take all fruit!” he remarked, in a patrician tone of disgust. “ I lived for two years where these things grow. The memory of their taste lingers with you. The oranges are not so bad. Just see if

you can gather a couple of them, O'Day, when the next broken crate comes up."

“Did you live down with the monkeys?” asked the other, made tepidly garrulous by the sunshine and the alleviating meal of juicy fruit. “I was down there, once myself. But only for a few hours. That was when I was with the Columbia Detective Agency. The monkey people did me up. I'd have my job yet if it hadn't been for them. I'll tell you about it.

One day the chief sent a note around to the office that read: Send O'Day here at once for a big piece of business. I was the crack detective of the agency at that time. They always handed me the big jobs. The address the chief wrote from was down in the Wall Street district. .

“When I got there I found him in a private office with a lot of directors who were looking pretty fuzzy. They stated the case. The president of the Republic


[ocr errors]


Insurance Company had skipped with about a tenth of a million dollars in cash. The directors wanted him back pretty bad, but they wanted the money worse. They said they needed it. They had traced the old gent's movements to where he boarded a tramp fruit steamer bound for South America that same morning with his daughter and a big gripsack - all the family he had.

“One of the directors had his steam yacht coaled and with steam up, ready for a trip; and he turned her over to me, cart blongsh. In four hours I was on

. board of her, and hot on the trail of the fruit tub. I had a pretty good idea where old Wahrfield - that was his name, J. Churchill Wahrfield — would head for. At that time we had a treaty with about every foreign country except Belgium and that banana republic, Anchuria. There wasn't a photo of old Wahrfield to be had in New York - he had been foxy there - but I had his description. And besides, the lady with him would be a dead-give-away anywhere. She was one of the high-flyers in Society — not the kind that have their pictures in the Sunday papers - but the real sort that open chrysanthemum shows and christen battleships.

“Well, sir, we never got a sight of that fruit tub on the road. The ocean is a pretty big place; and I guess we took different paths across it. But we kept going toward this Anchuria, where the fruiter was bound for.

“We struck the monkey coast one afternoon about four. There was a ratty-looking steamer off shore taking on bananas. The monkeys were loading her up with big barges. It might be the one the old man had taken, and it might not. I went ashore to look around. The scenery was pretty good. I never saw any finer on the New York stage. I struck an American on shore, a big, cool chap, standing around with the monkeys. He showed me the consul's office. The consul was a nice young fellow. He said the fruiter was the Karlsefin, running generally to New Orleans, but took her last cargo to New York. Then I was sure my people were on board, although everybody told me that no passengers had landed. I didn't think they would land until after dark, for they might have been shy about it on account of seeing that yacht of mine hanging around. So, all I had to do was to wait and nab 'em when they came ashore. I couldn't arrest old Wahrfield without extradition papers,

but my play was to get the cash. They generally give up if you strike 'em when they're tired and rattled and short on nerve.

“ After dark I sat under a cocoanut tree on the - no, sir

a man

beach for a while, and then I walked around and investigated that town some, and it was enough to give you the lions. If a man could stay in New York and be honest, he'd better do it than to hit that monkey town with a million.

“ Dinky little mud houses; grass over your shoe tops in the streets; ladies in low-neck-and-shortsleeves walking around smoking cigars; tree frogs rattling like a hose cart going to a ten blow; big mountains dropping gravel in the back yards, and the sea licking the paint off in front had better be in God's country living on free lunch than there.

“ The main street ran along the beach, and I walked down it, and then turned up a kind of lane where the houses were made of poles and straw, I wanted to see what the monkeys did when they weren't climbing cocoanut trees. The very first shack I looked in I saw my people. They must have come ashore while I was promenading. A man about fifty, smooth face, heavy eyebrows, dressed in black broadcloth, looking like he was just about to say, 'Can any little boy in the Sunday school answer that?' He was freezing on to a grip that weighed like a dozen gold bricks, and a swell girl a regular peach, with a Fifth Avenue cut

was sitting on a wooden chair. An old

« IndietroContinua »