« IndietroContinua »
sion of deep but vain pondering. Then he turned without having spoken a word, and walked swiftly away through the hot sand of the street.
“Pobrecito. loco!” sighed the collector; and the parrot on the pen racks screeched "Loco!- loco!loco !"
The next morning a strange procession filed through the streets to the collector's office. At its head was the admiral of the navy. Somewhere Felipe had raked together a pitiful semblance of a military uniform — a pair of red trousers, a dingy blue short jacket heavily ornamented with gold braid, and an old fatigue cap that must have been cast away by one of the British soldiers in Belize and brought away by Felipe on one of his coasting voyages. Buckled around his waist was
an ancient ship’s cutlass contributed to his equipment by Pedro Lafitte, the baker, who proudly asserted its inheritance from his ancestor, the illustrous buccaneer. At the admiral's heels tagged his newly-shipped crew three grinning, glossy, black Caribs, bare to the waist, the sand spurting in showers from the spring of their naked feet.
Briefly and with dignity Felipe denianded his vessel of the collector. And now a fresh honour awaited him. The collector's wife, who played the
guitar and read novels in the hammock all day, had more than a little romance in her placid, yellow bosom. She had found in an old book an engraving of a flag that purported to be the naval flag of Anchuria. Perhaps it had so been designed by the founders of the nation; but, as no navy had ever been established, oblivion had claimed the flag. Laboriously with her own hands she had made a flag after the pattern — a red cross upon a blue-andwhite ground. She presented it to Felipe with these words: “Brave sailor, this flag is of your country. Be true, and defend it with your life.
Go you with God.”
For the first time since his appointment the admiral showed a flicker of emotion. He took the silken emblem, and passed his hand reverently over its surface. "I am the admiral,” he said to the collector's lady. Being on land he could bring himself to no more exuberant expression of sentiment. At sea with the flag at the masthead of his navy, some more cloquent exposition of feelings might be forthcoming.
Abruptly the admiral departed with his crew. For the next three days they were busy giving the Estrella del Noche a new coat of white paint trimmed with blue. And then Felipe further adorned him
self by fastening a handful of brilliant parrot's plumes in his cap. Again he tramped with his faithful crew to the collector's office and formally notificd him that the sloop's name had been changed to El Nacional,
During the next few months the navy had its troubles. Even an admiral is perplexed to know what to do without any orders. But none came. Neither did any salaries. El Nacional swung idly at anchor.
When Felipe's little store of money was exhausted he went to the collector and raised the question of finances.
“Salaries !” exclaimed the collector, with hands raised; “Valgame Dios! not onc centavo of my own pay have I received for the last seven months. The pay of an admiral, do you ask? Quién sabe? Should it be less than three thousand pesos? Mira! you will see a revolution in this country very soon.
A good sign of it is when the government calls all the time for pesos, pesos, pesos, and pays none out.”
Felipe left the collector's office with a look almost of content on his sombre face. A revolution would mean fighting, and then the government would need his services. It was rather humiliating to be an admiral without anything to do, and have a hungry
crew at your heels begging for reales to buy plantains and tobacco with.
When he returned to where his happy-go-lucky Caribs were waiting they sprang up and saluted, as he had drilled them to do.
“Come, muchachos,” said the admiral; "it seems that the government is poor.
It had no money to give us. We will earn what we need to live upon. Thus will we serve our country. Soon” — his heavy eyes almost lighted up — "it may gladly call upon us for help.”
Thereafter El Nacional turned out with the other coast craft and became a wage-earner. She worked with the lighters freighting bananas and oranges out to the fruit steamers that could not approach nearer than a mile from the shore. Surely a self-supporting navý deserves red letters in the budget of any nation.
After earning enough at freighting to keep himself and his crew in provisions for a week Felipe would anchor the navy and hang about the little telegraph office, looking like one of the chorus of an insolvent comic opera troupe besieging the manager's den. A hope for orders from the capital was always in his heart. That his services as admiral had never been called into requirement hurt his pride and patriotism.
At every call he would inquire, gravely and expectantly, for despatches. The operator would pretend to make a sea
arch, and then reply: “Not yet, it seems, Señor el Almirante - poco tiempo!”
Outside in the shade of the lime-trees the crew chewed sugar cane or slumbered, well content to serve a country that was contented with so little service.
One day in the early summer the revolution predicted by the collector flamed out suddenly. It had long been smouldering. At the first note of alarm the admiral of the navy force and fleet made all sail for a larger port on the coast of a neighbouring republic, where he traded a hastily collected cargo of fruit for its value in cartridges for the five Martini rifles, the only guns that the navy could boast. Then to the telegraph office sped the admiral. Sprawling in his favourite corner, in his fast-decaying uniform, with his prodigious sabre distributed between his red legs, he waited for the long-delayed, but now soon expected, orders.
“Not yet, Señor el Almirante," the telegraph clerk would call to him—“poco tiempo!”
At the answer the admiral would plump himself down with a great rattling of scabbard to await the