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THE REMNANTS OF THE CODE
BREAKFAST in Coralio was at eleven. Therefore the people did not go to market early. The little wooden market-house stood on a patch of shorttrimmed grass, under the vivid green foliage of a bread-fruit tree.
Thither one morning the venders leisurely convened, bringing their wares with them. A porch or platform six feet wide encircled the building, shaded from the mid-morning sun by the projecting, grassthatched roof. Upon this platform the venders were wont to display their goods — newly-killed beef, fish, crabs, fruit of the country, cassava, eggs, dulces and high, tottering stacks of native tortillas as large around as the sombrero of a Spanish grandee.
But on this morning they whose stations lay on the seaward side of the market-house, instead of spreading their merchandise formed themselves into a softly jabbering and gesticulating group. For there upon their space of the platform was sprawled, asleep, the unbeautiful figure of “Beelzebub” Blythe. He lay upon a ragged strip of cocoa matting, more than ever a fallen angel in appearance. His suit of coarse flax, soiled, bursting at the seams, crumpled into a thousand diversified wrinkles and creases, inclosed him absurdly, like the garb of some effigy that had been (stuffed in sport and thrown there after indignity had been wroucht upon it. But firmly upon the high bridge of his nose reposed his gold-rimmed glasses, the surviving badge of his ancient glory.
The sun's rays, reflecting quiveringly from the rippling sea upon his face, and the voices of the marketmen woke “Beelzebub” Blythe. He sat up, blinking, and leaned his back against the wall of the market. Drawing a blighted silk handkerchief from his pocket, he assiduously rubbed and burnished his glasses. And while doing this he became aware that his bedroom had been invaded, and that polite brown and yellow men were beseeching him to vacate in favour of their market stuff.
If the señor would have the goodness a thousand pardons for bringing to him molestation — but soon would come the compradores for the day's provisions - surely they had ten thousand regrets at disturbing him !
In this manner they expanded to him the intimation that he must clear out and cease to clog the wheels of trade.
Blythe stepped from the platform with the air of a prince leaving his canopied couch. He never quite lost that air, even at the lowest point of his fall. It is clear that the college of good breeding does not necessarily maintain a chair of morals within its walls.
Blythe shook out his wry clothing, and moved slowly up the Calle Grande through the hot sand. He moved without a destination in his mind. The little town was languidly stirring to its daily life. Golden-skinned babies tumbled over one another in the grass. The sea breeze brought him appetite, but nothing to satisfy it. Throughout Coralio were its morning odors — those from the heavily fragrant tropical flowers and from the bread baking in the outdoor ovens of clay and the pervading smoke of their fires. Where the smoke cleared, the crystal air, with some of the efficacy of faith, seemed to remove the mountains almost to the sea, bringing them so near that one might count the scarred glades on their wooded sides. The light-footed Caribs were swiftly gliding to their tasks at the waterside. Already along the bosky trails from the banana groves files of horses were slowly moving, concealed, except for their nodding heads and plodding legs, by the bunches of green-golden fruit heaped upon their backs. On doorsills sat women combing their long, black hair and calling, one to another, across the narrow thoroughfares. Peace reigned in Coralio - arid and bald peace; but still peace.
On that bright morning when Nature seemed to be offering the lotus on the Dawn's golden platter “Beelzebub” Blythe had reached rock bottom. Furo ther descent seemed impossible. That last night's slumber in a public place had done for him.
As long as he had had a roof to cover him there had remained, unbridged, the space that separates a gentleman from the beasts of the jungle and the fowls of the air. But now he was little more than a whimpering oyster led to be devoured on the sands of a Southern sea by the artful walrus, Circumstance, and the implacable carpenter, Fate.
To Blythe money was now but a memory. He had drained his friends of all that their good-fellowship had to offer; then he had squeezed them to the last drop of their generosity; and at the last, Aaronlike, he had smitten the rock of their hardening bosoms for the scattering, ignoble drops of Charity itself.
He had exhausted his credit to the last real. With the minute keenness of the shameless sponger he was aware of every source in Coralio from which a glass
of rum, a meal or a piece of silver could be wheedled. Marshalling each such source in his mind, he considered it with all the thoroughness and penetration that hunger and thirst lent him for the task. All his optimism failed to thresh a grain of hope from the chaff of his postulations. He had played out the game. That one night in the open had shaken his
Until then there had been left to him at least a few grounds upon which he could base his unblushing demands upon his neighbours' stores. Now he must beg instead of borrowing. The most brazen sophistry could not dignify by the name of “loan” the coin contemptuously flung to a beachcomber who slept on the bare boards of the public market.
But on this morning no beggar would have more thankfully received a charitable coin, for the demon thirst had him by the throat — the drunkard's matutinal thirst that requires to be slaked at each morning station on the road to Tophet.
Blythe walked slowly up the street, keeping a watchful eye for any miracle that might drop manna upon
him in his wilderness. As he passed the popular eating house of Madama Vasquez, Madama's boarders were just sitting down to freshly-baked bread, aguacates, pines and delicious coffee that sent forth