by O. Henry
Coralio reclined, in the mid-day heat, like some vacuous beauty lounging in a guarded harem. The town lay at the sea’s edge on a strip of alluvial coast. It was set like a little pearl in an emerald band. Behind it, and seeming almost to topple, imminent, above it, rose the sea-following range of the Cordilleras. In front the sea was spread, a smiling jailer, but even more incorruptible than the frowning mountains. The waves swished along the smooth beach; the parrots screamed in the orange and ceiba-trees; the palms waved their limber fronds foolishly like an awkward chorus at the prima donna’s cue to enter.
Suddenly the town was full of excitement. A native boy dashed down a grass-grown street, shrieking: “~Busca el Senor~ Goodwin. ~Ha venido un telegrafo por el!~”
The word passed quickly. Telegrams do not come to any one in Coralio. The cry for Senor Goodwin was taken up by a dozen officious voices. The main street running parallel to the beach became populated with those who desired to expedite the delivery of the dispatch. Knots of women with complexions varying from palest olive to deepest brown gathered at street corners and plaintively carolled: “~Un telegrafo por Senor~ Goodwin!” The ~comandante~, Don Senor el Coronel Encarnacion Rios, who was loyal to the Ins and suspected Goodwin’s devotion to the Outs, hissed: “Aha!” and wrote in his secret memorandum book the accusive fact that Senor Goodwin had on that momentous date received a telegram.
In the midst of the hullabaloo a man stepped to the door of a small wooden building and looked out. Above the door was a sign that read “Keogh and Clancy”–a nomenclature that seemed not to be indigenous to that tropical soil. The man in the door was Billy Keogh, scout of fortune and progress and latter-day rover of the Spanish Main. Tintypes and photographs were the weapons with which Keogh and Clancy were at that time assailing the hopeless shores. Outside the shop were set two large frames filled with specimens fo their art and skill.
Keogh leaned in the doorway, his bold and humorous countenance wearing a look of interest at the unusual influx of life and sound in the street. When the meaning of the disturbance became clear to him he placed a hand beside his mouth and shouted: “Hey! Frank!” in such a robustious voice that the feeble clamor of the natives was drowned and silenced.
Fifty yards away, on the seaward side of the street, stood the abode of the consul for the United States. Out from the door of this building tumbled Goodwin at the call. He had been smoking with Willard Geddie, the consul, on the back porch of the consulate, which was conceded to be the coolest spot in Coralio.
“Hurry up,” shouted Keogh. “There’s a riot in town on account of a telegram that’s come for you. You want to be careful about these things, my boy. It won’t do to trifle with the feelings of the public this way. You’ll be getting a pink note some day with violet scent on it; and then the country’ll be steeped in the throes of a revolution.”
Goodwin had strolled up the street and met the boy with the message. The ox-eyed women gazed at him with shy admiration, for his type drew them. He was big, blond, and jauntily dressed in white linen, with buckskin ~zapatos~. His manner was courtly, with a merciful eye. When the telegram had been delivered, and the bearer of it dismissed with a gratuity, the relieved populace returned to the contiguities of shade from which curiosity had drawn it–the women to their baking in the mud ovens under the orange-trees, or to the interminable combing of their long, straight hair; the men to their cigarettes and gossip in the cantinas.
Goodwin sat on Keogh’s doorstep, and read his telegram. It was from Bob Englehart, an American, who lived in San Mateo, the capital city of Anchuria, eighty miles in the interior. Englehart was a gold miner, an ardent revolutionist and “good people.” That he was a man of resource and imagination was proven by the telegram he had sent. It had had been his task to send a confidential message to his friend in Coralio. This could not have been accomplished in either Spanish or English, for the eye politic in Anchuria was an active one. But Englehart was a diplomatist. There existed but one code upon which he might make requisition with promise of safety–the great and potent code of Slang. So, here is the message that slipped, unconstrued, through the fingers of curious officials, and came to the eye of Goodwin:
“His Nibs skedaddled yesterday per jack-rabbit line with all the coin in the kitty and the bundle of muslin he’s spoony about. The boodle is six figures short. Our crowd in good shape, but we need the spondulicks. You collar it. The main guy and the dry goods are headed for the briny. You to know what to do.
This screed, remarkable as it was, had no mystery for Goodwin. He was the most successful of the small advance-guard of speculative Americans that had invaded Anchuria, and he had not reached that enviable pinnacle without having well exercised the arts of foresight and deduction. He had taken up political intrigue as a matter of business. He was acute enough to wield a certain influence among the leading schemers, and he was prosperous enough to be able to purchase the respect of the petty-officeholders. There was always a revolutionary party; and to it he had allied himself; for the adherents of a new administration received the rewards of their labors. There was now a Liberal party seeking to overturn President Miraflores. If the wheel successfully revolved, Goodwin stood to win a concession to 30,000 manzanas of the finest coffee lands in the interior. Certain incidents in the recent career of President Miraflores had excited a shrewd suspicion in Goodwin’s mind that the government was near a dissolution from another cause than that of a revolution, and now Englehart’s telegram had come as a corroboration of his wisdom.
The telegram, which had remained unintelligible to the Anchurian linguists who had applied to it in vain their knowledge of Spanish and elemental English, conveyed a stimulating piece of news to Goodwin’s understanding. It informed him that the president of the republic had decamped from the capital city with the contents of the treasury. Furthermore, that he was accompanied in his flight by that winning adventuress Isabel Guilbert, the opera singer, whose troupe of performers had been entertained by the president at San Mateo during the past month on a scale less modest than that with which royal visitors are often content. The reference to the “jackrabbit line” could mean nothing else than the mule-back system of transport that prevailed between Coralio and the capital. The hint that the “boodle” was “six figures short” made the condition of the national treasury lamentably clear. Also it was convincingly true that the ingoing party–its way now made a pacific one–would need the “spondulicks.” Unless its pledges should be fulfilled, and the spoils held for the delectation of the victors, precarious indeed, would be the position of the new government. Therefore it was exceeding necessary to “collar the main guy,” and recapture the sinews of war and government.
Goodwin handed the message to Keogh.
“Read that, Billy,” he said. “It’s from Bob Englehart. Can you manage the cipher?”
Keogh sat in the other half of the doorway, and carefully perused the telegram.
“‘Tis not a cipher,” he said, finally. “‘Tis what they call literature, and that’s a system of language put in the mouths of people that they’ve never been introduced to by writers of imagination. The magazines invented it, but I never knew before that President Norvin Green had stamped it with the seal of his approval. ‘Tis now no longer literature, but language. The dictionaries tried, but they couldn’t make it go for anything but dialect. Sure, now that the Western Union indorses it, it won’t be long till a race of people will spring up that speaks it.”
“You’re running too much to philology, Billy,” said Goodwin. “Do you make out the meaning of it?”
“Sure,” replied the philosopher of Fortune. “All languages come easy to the man who must know ’em. I’ve even failed to misunderstand an order to evacuate in classical Chinese when it was backed up by the muzzle of a breech-loader. This little literary essay I hold in my hands means a game of Fox-in-the-Morning. Ever play that, Frank, when you was a kid?”
“I think so,” said Goodwin, laughing. “You join hands all ’round, and–”
“You do not,” interrupted Keogh. “You’ve got a fine sporting game mixed up in your head with ‘All Around the Rosebush.’ The spirit of ‘Fox-in-the-Morning’ is opposed to the holding of hands. I’ll tell you how it’s played. This president man and his companion in play, they stand up over in San Mateo, ready for the run, and shout: “Fox-in-the-Morning!’ Me and you, standing here, we say: ‘Goose and Gander!’ They say: ‘How many miles is it to London town?’ We say: ‘Only a few, if your legs are long enough. How many comes out?’ They say: ‘More than you’re able to catch.’ And then the game commences.”
“I catch the idea,” said Goodwin. “It won’t do to let the goose and gander slip through your fingers, Billy; their feathers are too valuable. Our crowd is prepared and able to step into the shoes of the government at once; but with the treasury empty we’d stay in power about as long as a tenderfoot would stick on an untamed bronco. We must play the fox on every foot of the coast to prevent their getting out of the country.”
“By the mule-back schedule,” said Keogh, “it’s five days down from San Mateo. We’ve got plenty of time to set our outposts. There’s only three places on the coast where they can hope to sail from–here and Solitas and Alazan. They’re the only points we’ll have to guard. It’s as easy as a chess problem–fox to play, and mate in three moves. Oh, goosey, goosey, gander, whither do you wander? By the blessing of the literary telegraph the boodle of this benighted fatherland shall be preserved to the honest political party that is seeking to overthrow it.”
The situation had been justly outlined by Keogh. The down trail from the capital was at all times a weary road to travel. A jiggety- joggety journey it was; ice-cold and hot, wet and dry. The trail climbed appalling mountains, wound like a rotten string about the brows of breathless precipices, plunged through chilling snow-fed streams, and wriggled like a snake through sunless forests teeming with menacing insect and animal life. After descending to the foothills it turned to a trident, the central prong ending at Alazan. Another branched off to Coralio; the third penetrated to Solitas. Between the sea and the foothills stretched the five miles breadth of alluvial coast. Here was the flora ofthe tropics in its rankest and most prodigal growth. Spaces here and there had been wrested from the jungle and planted with bananas and cane and orange groves. The rest was a riot of wild vegetation, the home of monkeys, tapirs, jaguars, alligators, and prodigious reptiles and insects. Where no road was cut a serpent could scarcely make its way through the tangle of vines and creepers. Across the treacherous mangrove swamps few things without wings could safely pass. Therefore the fugitives could hope to reach the coast only by one of the routes named.
“Keep the matter quiet, Billy,” advised Goodwin. “We don’t want the Ins to know that the president is in flight. I suppose Bob’s information is something of a scoop in the capital as yet. Otherwise he would not have tried to make his message a confidential one; and, besides, everybody would have heard the news. I’m going around now to see Dr. Zavalla, and start a man up the trail to cut the telegraph wire.”
As Goodwin rose, Keogh threw his hat upon the grass by the door and expelled a tremendous sigh.
“What’s the trouble, Billy?” asked Goodwin, pausing. “That’s the first time I heard you sigh.”
“‘Tis the last,” said Keogh. “With that sorrowful puff of wind I resign myself to a life of praiseworthy but harassing honesty. What are tintypes, if you please, to the opportunities of the great and hilarious class of ganders and geese? Not that I would be a president, Frank–and the boodle he’s got is too big for me to handle –but in some ways I feel my conscience hurting me for addicting myself to photographing a nation instead of running away with it. Frank, did you ever see the ‘bundle of muslin’ that His Excellency has wrapped up and carried off?”
“Isabel Guilbert?” said Goodwin, laughing. “No, I never did. From what I’ve heard of her, though, I imagine that she wouldn’t stick at anything to carry her point. Don’t get romantic, Billy. Sometimes I begin to fear that there’s Irish blood in your ancestry.”
“I never saw her either,” went on Keogh; “but they say she’s got all the ladies of mythology, sculpture, and fiction reduced to chromos. They say she can look at a man once, and he’ll turn monkey and climb trees to pick coconuts for her. Think of that president man with Lord know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars in one hand, and this muslin siren in the other, galloping down the hill on a sympathetic mule amid songbirds and flowers! And here is Billy Keogh, because he is virtuous, condemned to the unprofitable swindle of slandering the faces of missing links on tin for an honest living! ‘Tis an injustice of nature.”
“Cheer up,” said Goodwin. “You are a pretty poor fox to be envying a gander. Maybe the enchanting Guilbert will take a fancy to you and your tintypes after we impoverish her royal escort.”
“She could do worse,” reflected Keogh; “but she won’t. ‘Tis not a tintype gallery, but a gallery of the gods that she’s fitted to adorn. She’s a very wicked lady, and the president man is in luck. But I hear Clancy swearing in the back room for having to do all the work.” And Keogh plunged for the rear of the “gallery,” whistling gaily in a spontaneous way that belied his recent sigh over the questionable good luck of the flying president.
Goodwin turned from the main street into a much narrower one that intersected it at a right angle.
These side streets were covered by a growth of thick, rank grass, which was kept to a navigable shortness by the machetes of the police. Stone sidewalks, little more than a ledge in width, ran along the base of the mean and monotonous adobe houses. At the outskirts of the village these streets dwindled to nothing; and here were set the palm-thatched huts of the Caribs and the poorer natives, and the shabby cabins of negroes from Jamaica and the West India islands. A few structures raised their heads above the red-tiled roofs of the one-story houses–the bell tower of the ~Calaboza~, the Hotel de los Extranjeros, the residence of the Vesuvius Fruit Company’s agent, the store and residence of Bernard Brannigan, a ruined cathedral in which Columbus had once set foot, and, most imposing of all, the Casa Morena–the summer “White House” of the President of Anchuria. On the principal street running along the beach–the Broadway of Coralio–were the larger stores, the government ~bodega~ and post-office, the ~cuartel~, the rum-shops and the market place.
On his way Goodwin passed the house of Bernard Brannigan. It was a modern wooden building, two stories in height. The ground floor was occupied by Brannigan’s store, the upper one contained the living apartments. A wide cool porch ran around the house half way up its outer walls. A handsome, vivacious girl neatly dressed in flowing white leaned over the railing and smiled down upon Goodwin. She was no darker than many an Andalusian of high descent; and she sparkled and glowed like a tropical moonlight.
“Good evening, Miss Paula,” said Goodwin, taking off his hat, with his ready smile. There was little difference in his manner whether he addressed women or men. Everybody in Coralio liked to receive the salutation of the big American.
“Is there any news, Mr. Goodwin? Please don’t say no. Isn’t it warm? I feel just like Mariana in her moated grange–or was it a range?–it’s hot enough.”
“No, there’s no news to tell, I believe,” said Goodwin, with a mischievous look in his eye, “except that old Geddie is getting grumpier and crosser every day. If something doesn’t happen to relieve his mind I’ll have to quit smoking on his back porch–and there’s no other place available that is cool enough.”
“He isn’t grumpy,” said Paula Brannigan, impulsively, “when he–”
But she ceased suddenly, and drew back with a deepening color; for her mother had been a ~mestizo~ lady, and the Spanish blood had brought to Paula a certain shyness that was an adornment to the other half of her demonstrative nature.