« IndietroContinua »
"I throw in that postscript,” explained the consul, so Uncle Obadiah won't take offence at the official tone of the letter! Now, Billy, you get that correspondence fixed up, and send Pancho to the post-office with it. The Ariadne takes the mail out to-morrow if they make up that load of fruit to-day.”
The night programme in Coralio never varied. The recreations of the people were soporific and flat. They wandered about, barefoot and aimless, speaking lowly and smoking cigar or cigarette. Looking down on the dimly lighted ways one seemed to see a threading maze of brunette ghosts tangled with a procession of insane fireflies. In some houses the thrumming of lugubrious guitars added to the depression of the triste night. Giant tree-frogs rattled in the foliage as loudly as the end man's “bones” in a minstrel troupe. By nine o'clock the streets were almost deserted.
Nor at the consulate was there often a change of bill. Keogh would come there nightly, for Coralio's one cool place was the little seaward porch of that official residence.
The brandy would be kept moving; and before midnight sentiment would begin to stir in the heart of the self-exiled consul. Then he would relate to Keogh the story of his ended romance. Each night Keogh would listen patiently to the tale, and be ready with untiring sympathy.
“But don't you think for a minute" — thus Johnny would always conclude his woeful narrative —“that I'm grieving about that girl, Billy. I've forgotten her. She never enters my mind. If she were to enter that door right now, my pulse wouldn't gain a beat. That's all over long ago.”
“Don't I know it?” Keogh would answer. “Of course you've forgotten her. Proper thing to do. Wasn't quite O. K. of her to listen to the knocks that --er - Dink Pawson kept giving you.'
“Pink Dawson!”- a world of contempt would be in Johnny's tones —“Poor white trash! That's what he was. Had five hundred acres of farming land, though; and that counted. Maybe I'll have a chance to get back at him some day. The Dawsons weren't anybody. Everybody in Alabama knows the Atwoods. Say, Billy — did you know my mother was a De Graffenreid ?"
“Why, no," Kecgh would say; “is that so ?” He had heard it some turee hundred times.
“Fact. The De Graffenreids of Hancock County. But I never think of that girl any more, do I, Billy ?”
“Not for a minute, my boy,” would be the last sounds heard by the conqueror of Cupid.
At this point Johnny would fall into a gentle slumber, and Keogh would saunter out to his own shack under the calabash tree at the edge of the plaza.
In a day or two the letter from the Dalesburg postmaster and its answer had been forgotten by the Coralio exiles. But on the 26th day of July the fruit of the reply appeared upon the tree of events.
The Andador, a fruit steamer that visited Coralio regularly, drew into the offing and anchored. The beach was lined with spectators while the quarantine doctor and the custom-house crew rowed out to attend to their duties.
An hour later Billy Keogh lounged into the consulate, clean and cool in his linen clothes, and grinning like a pleased shark.
Guess what?” he said to Johnny, lounging in his hammock.
“Too hot to guess,” said Johnny, lazily.
“Your shoe-store man's come,” said Keogh, roll. ing the sweet morsel on his tongue, “ with a stock of goods big enough to supply the continent as far down as Terra del Fuego. They're carting his cases over to the custom-house now. Six barges full they brought ashore and have paddled back for the rest. Oh, ye saints in glory! won't there be regalements in the air when he gets onto the joke and has an interview with Mr. Consul? It'll be worth nine years in the tropics just to witness that one joyful moment.”
Keogh loved to take his mirth easily. He selected a clean place on the matting and lay upon the floor. The walls shook with his enjoyment. Johnny turned half over and blinked.
“Don't tell me,” he said, “ that anybody was fool enough to take that letter seriously."
“Four-thousand-dollar stock of goods!” gasped Keogh, in ecstasy. “Talk about coals to Newcastle! Why didn't he take a ship-load of palm-leaf fans to Spitzbergen while he was about it? Saw the old codger on the beach. You ought to have been there when he put on his specs and squinted at the five hundred or so barefooted citizens standing around.”
“Are you telling the truth, Billy?” asked the consul, weakly.
“Am I? You ought to see the buncoed gentleman's daughter he brought along. Looks! She makes the brick-dust señoritas here look like tar-babies."
"Go on,” said Johnny, “if you can stop that asinine giggling. I hate to see a grown man make a laughing hyena of himself.” “Name is Hemstetter," went on Keogh. “He's
Hello! what's the matter now ?” Johnny's moccasined feet struck the floor with a thud as he wriggled out of his hammock.
“Get up, you idiot,” he said, sternly, “or I'll brain you with this inkstand. That's Rosine and her father. Gad! what a drivelling idiot old Patterson is! Get up, here, Billy Keogh, and help me. What the devil are we going to do? Has all the world gone crazy ?”
Keogh rose and dusted himself. He managed to regain a decorous demeanour.
“Situation has got to be met, Johnny,” he said,