« IndietroContinua »
JOHN DE GRAFFENREID ATWOOD ate of the lotus, root, stem, and flower. The tropics gobbled him up. He plunged enthusiastically into his work, which was to try to forget Rosine.
Now, they who dine on the lotus rarely consume it plain. There is a sauce au diable that goes with it; and the distillers are the chefs who prepare it. And on Johnny's menu card it read “brandy.” With a bottle between them, he and Billy Keogh would sit on the porch of the little consulate at night and roar out great, indecorous songs, until the natives, slipping hastily past, would shrug a shoulder and mutter things to themselves about the “Americanos diablos.”
One day Johnny's mozo brought the mail and dumped it on the table. Johnny leaned from his hammock, and fingered the four or five letters dejectedly. Keogh was sitting on the edge of the table chopping lazily with a paper knife at the legs of a
centipede that was crawling among the stationery. Johnny was in that phase of lotus-eating when all the world tastes bitter in one's mouth.
“Same old thing!” he complained. "Fool people writing for information about the country. They want to know all about raising fruit, and how to make a fortune without work. Half of 'em don't even send stamps for a reply. They think a consul hasn't anything to do but write letters. Slit those envelopes for me, old man, and see what they want. I'm feeling too rocky to move."
Keogh, acclimated beyond all possibility of ill-humour, drew his chair to the table with smiling compliance on his rose-pink countenance, and began to slit open the letters. Four of them were from citizens in various parts of the United States who seemed to regard the consul at Coralio as a cyclopædia of information. They asked long lists of questions, numerically arranged, about the climate, products, possibilities, laws, business chances, and statistics of the country in which the consul had the honour of representing his own government.
“Write 'em, please, Billy,” said that inert official, “just a line, referring them to the latest consular report. Tell 'em the State Department will be delighted to furnish the literary gems. Sign my name.
Don't let your pen scratch, Billy; it'll keep me awake.” “Don't snore,
” said Keogh, amiably, “and I'll do your work for you. You need a corps of assistants, anyhow. Don't see how you ever get out a report. Wake up a minute! - here's one more letter it's from your own town, too — Dalesburg."
“That so?" murmured Johnny showing a mild and obligatory interest. “What's it about?”
“Postmaster writes,” explained Keogh. “Says a citizen of the town wants some facts and advice from you. Says the citizen has an idea in his head of coming down where you are and opening a shoe store. Wants to know if you think the business would pay. Says he's heard of the boom along this coast, and wants to get in on the ground floor.”
In spite of the heat and his bad temper, Johnny's liammock swayed with his laughter. Keogh laughed too; and the pet monkey on the top shelf of the bookcase chattered in shrill sympathy with the ironical reception of the letter from Dalesburg.
“Great bunions !” exclaimed the consul. “Shoe store! What'll they ask about next, I wonder? Overcoat factory, I reckon. Say, Billy — of our 3,000 citizens, how many do you suppose ever had on a pair of shoes?”
Keogh reflected judicially. “Let's see
and “Not me,” said Johnny, promptly and incorrectly, holding up a foot encased in a disreputable decrskin zapato. "I haven't been a victim to shoes in months.”
“But you've got 'em, though,” went on Keogh. “And there's Goodwin and Blanchard and Geddie and old Lutz and Doc Gregg and that Italian that's agent for the banana company, and there's old Delgado --no; he wears sandals. And, oh, yes; there's Madama Ortiz, 'what kapes the hotel— she had on a pair of red slippers at the baile the other night. And Miss Pasa, her daughter, that went to school in the States - she brought back some civilized notions in the way of footgear. And there's the comandante's sister that dresses up her feet on feast-days — and Mrs. Geddie, who wears a two with a Castilian instepand that's about all the ladies. Let's see — don't some of the soldiers at the cuartel no: that's so; they're allowed shoes only when on the march. In barracks they turn their little toeses out to grass."
“ 'Bout right,” agreed the consul. “Not over twenty out of the three thousand ever felt leather on their walking arrangements. Oh, yes; Coralio is just the town for an enterprising shoe store — that doesn't
want to part with its goods. Wonder if old Patterson is trying to jolly me! He always was full of things he called jokes. Write him a letter, Billy. I'll dictate it. We'll jolly him back a few.”
Keogh dipped his pen, and wrote at Johnny's dictation. With many pauses, filled in with smoke and sundry travellings of the bottle and glasses, the following reply to the Dalesburg communication was perpetrated :
MR. OBADIAH PATTERSON,
Dalesburg, Ala. Dear Sir: In reply to your favour of July 2d, I have the honour to inform you that, according to my opinion, there is no place on the habitable globe that presents to the eye stronger evidence of the need of a first-class shoe store than does the town of Coralio. There are 3,000 inhabitants in the place, and not a single shoe store! The situation speaks for itself. This coast is rapidly becoming the goal of enterprising business men, but the shoe business is one that has been sadly overlooked or neglected. In fact, there are a considerable number of our citizens actually without shoes at present.
Besides the want above mentioned, there is also a crying need for a brewery, a college of higher mathe