THE UNSPEAKABLE PERK
BY SAMUEL HOPKINS ADAMS
I. MR. BEETLE MAN II. AT THE KAST III. THE BETTER PART OF VALOR IV. TWO ON A MOUNTAIN-SIDE V. AN UPHOLDER OF TRADITIONS VI. FORKED TONGUES VII. "THAT WHICH THY SERVANT IS—" VIII. LOS YANKIS IX. THE BLACK WARNING X. THE FOLLY OF PERK XI. PRESTO CHANGE! XII. THE WOMAN AT THE QUINTA XIII. LEFT BEHIND XIV. THE YELLOW FLAG
THE UNSPEAKABLE PERK
MR. BEETLE MAN
The man sat in a niche of the mountain, busily hating the Caribbean Sea. It was quite a contract that he had undertaken, for there was a large expanse of Caribbean Sea in sight to hate; very blue, and still, and indifferent to human emotions. However, the young man was a good steadfast hater, and he came there every day to sit in the shade of the overhanging boulder, where there was a little trickle of cool air down the slope and a little trickle of cool water from a crevice beneath the rock, to despise that placid, unimpressionable ocean and all its works and to wish that it would dry up forthwith, so that he might walk back to the blessed United States of America. In good plain American, the young man was pretty homesick.
Two-man's-lengths up the mountain, on the crest of the sturdy hater's rock, the girl sat, loving the Caribbean Sea. Hers, also, was a large contract, and she was much newer to it than was the man to his, for she had only just discovered this vantage-ground by turning accidentally into a side trail—quite a private little side trail made by her unsuspected neighbor below—whence one emerges from a sea of verdure into full view of the sea of azure. For the time, she was content to rest there in the flow of the breeze and feast her eyes on that broad, unending blue which blessedly separated her from the United States of America and certain perplexities and complications comprised therein. Presently she would resume the trail and return to the city of Caracuna, somewhere behind her. That is, she would if she could find it, which was by no means certain. Not that she greatly cared. If she were really lost, they'd come out and get her. Meantime, all she wished was to rest mind and body in the contemplation of that restful plain of cool sapphire, four thousand feet below.
But there was a spirit of mischief abroad upon that mountain slope. It embodied itself in a puff of wind that stirred gratefully the curls above the girl's brow. Also, it fanned the neck of the watcher below and cunningly moved his hat from his side; not more than a few feet, indeed, but still far enough to transfer it from the shade into the glaring sun and into the view of the girl above. The owner made no move. If the wind wanted to blow his new panama into some lower treetop, compelling him to throw stones, perhaps to its permanent damage, in order to dislodge it, why, that was just one more cause of offense to pin to his indictment of irritation against the great island republic of Caracuna. Such is the temper one gets into after a year in the tropics.
Like as peas are panama hats to the eyes of the inexpert; far more like than men who live under them. For the girl, it was a direct inference that this was a hat which she knew intimately; which, indeed, she had rather maliciously eluded, riot half an hour before. Therefore, she addressed it familiarly: "Boo!"
The result of this simple monosyllable exceeded her fondest expectations. There was a sharp exclamation of surprise, followed by a cry that might have meant dismay or wrath or both, as something metallic tinkled and slid, presently coming to a stop beside the hat, where it revealed itself as a pair of enormous, aluminum-mounted brown-green spectacles. After it, on all fours, scrambled the owner.
Shock number one: It wasn't the man at all! Instead of the black- haired, flanneled, slender Adonis whom the trouble-maker confidently assumed to have been under that hat, she beheld a brownish-clad, stocky figure with a very blond head.
Shock number two: The figure was groping lamentably and blindly in the undergrowth, and when, for an instant, the face was turned half toward her, she saw that the eyes were squinted tight-closed, with a painful extreme of muscular tension about them.
Presently one of the ranging hands encountered the spectacles, and settled upon them. With careful touches, it felt them all over. A mild grunt, presumably of satisfaction, made itself heard, and the figure got to its feet. But before the face turned again, the girl had stepped back, out of range.
Silence, above and below; a silence the long persistence of which came near to constituting shock number three. What sort of hermit had she intruded upon? Into what manner of remote Brahministic contemplation had she injected that impertinent "Boo!"? Who, what, how, why—
"Say it again." The request came from under the rock. Evidently the spectacled owner had resumed his original situation.
"Say WHAT again?" she inquired.
"Anything," returned the voice, with child-like content.
"Oh, I—I hope you didn't break your glasses."
"No; you didn't."
On consideration, she decided to ignore this prompt countering of the pronoun.
"I thought you were some one else," she observed.
"Well, so I am, am I not?"
"So you are what?"
"Some one else than you thought."
"Why, yes, I suppose—But I meant some one else besides yourself."
"I only wish I were."
"Why?" she asked, intrigued by the fervid inflection of the wish.
"Because then I'd be somewhere else than in this infernal hell- hole of a black-and-tan nursery of revolution, fever, and trouble!"
"I think it one of the loveliest spots I've ever seen," said she loftily.
"How long have you been here?"
"On this rock? Perhaps five minutes."
"Not on the rock. In Caracuna?"
"Quite a long time. Nearly a fortnight."
The commentary on this was so indefinite that she was moved to inquire:—
"Is that a local dialect you're speaking?"
"No; that was a grunt."
"I don't think it was a very polite grunt, even as grunts go."
"Perhaps not. I'm afraid I'm out of the habit."
"Of grunting? You seem expert enough to satisfy—"
"No; of being polite. I'll apologize if—if you'll only go on talking."
She laughed aloud.
"Or laughing," he amended promptly. "Do it again."
"One can't laugh to order!" she protested; "or even talk to order. But why do you stay 'way out here in the mountains if you're so eager to hear the human voice?"
"The human voice be—choked! It's YOUR human voice I want to hear —your kind of human voice, I mean." "I don't know that my kind of human voice is particularly different from plenty of other human voices," she observed, with an effect of fine impartial judgment.
"It's widely different from the kind that afflicts the suffering ear in this part of the world. Fourteen months ago I heard the last American girl speak the last American-girl language that's come within reach of me. Oh, no,—there WAS one, since, but she rasped like a rheumatic phonograph and had brick-colored freckles. Have you got brick-colored freckles?"
"Stand up and see."
"No, SIR!—that is, ma'am. Too much risk."
"Risk! Of what?"
"Freckles. I don't like freckles. Not on YOUR voice, anyway."
"On my VOICE? Are you—"
"Of course I am—a little. Any one is who stays down here more than a year. But that about the voice and the freckles was sane enough. What I'm trying to say—and you might know it without a diagram—is that, from your voice, you ought to be all that a man dreams of when—well, when he hasn't seen a real American girl for an eternity. Now I can sit here and dream of you as the loveliest princess that ever came and went and left a memory of gold and blue in the heart of—"
"I'm not gold and blue!"
"Of course you're not. But your speech is. I'll be wise, and content myself with that. One look might pull down, In irrevocable ruin, all the lovely fabric of my dream. By the way, are you a Cookie?"
"Cookie. Tourist. No, of course you're not. No tour would be imbecile enough to touch here. The question is: How did you get here?"
"Ah, that's my secret."
"Or, rather, are you here at all? Perhaps you're just a figment of the overstrained ear. And if I undertook to look, there wouldn't be anything there at all."
"Of course, if you don't believe in me, I'll fly away on a sunbeam."
"Oh, please! Don't say that! I'm doing my best."
So panic-stricken was the appeal that she laughed again, in spite of herself.
"Ah, that's better! Now, come, be honest with me. You're not pretty, are you?"
"Me? I'm as lovely as the dawn."
"So far, so good. And have you got long golden—that is to say, silken hair that floats almost to your knees?"
"Certainly," she replied, with spirit.
"Is it plentiful enough so that you could spare a little?"
"Are you asking me for a lock of my hair?" she queried, on a note of mirth. "For a stranger, you go fast."
"No; oh, no!" he protested. "Nothing so familiar. I'm offering you a bribe for conversation at the price of, say, five hairs, if you can sacrifice so many."
"It sounds delightfully like voodoo," she observed. "What must I do with them?"
"First, catch your hair. Well up toward the head, please. Now pull it out. One, two, three—yank!"
"Ouch!" said the voice above.
"Do it again. Now have you got two?"
"Knot them together."
There was a period of silence.
"It's very difficult," complained the girl.
"Because you're doing it in silence. There must be sprightly conversation or the charm won't work. Talk!"
"Tell me who you thought I was when you said, 'Boo!' at me."
"A—a GOOSE! Why—what—"
"Doesn't one proverbially say 'Boo!' to a goose?" she remarked demurely.
"If one has the courage. Now, I haven't. I'm shy."
"Shy! You?" Again the delicious trill of her mirth rang in his ears. "I should imagine that to be the least of your troubles."
"No! Truly." There was real and anxious earnestness in his assurance. "It's because I don't see you. If I were face to face with you, I'd stammer and get red and make a regular imbecile of myself. Another reason why I stick down here and decline to yield to temptation."
"O wise young man! ARE you young? Ouch!"
"Reasonably. Was that the last hair?"
"Positively! I'm scalped. You're a red Indian."
"Tie it on. Now, fasten a hairpin on the end and let it down. All right. I've got it. Wait!" The fragile line of communication twitched for a moment. "Haul, now. Gently!"
Up came the thread, and, as its burden rose over the face of the rock, the girl gave a little cry of delight:—
"How exquisite! Orchids, aren't they?"
"Yes, the golden-brown bee orchid. Just your coloring."
"So it is. How do you know?" she asked, startled.
"From the hair. And your eyes have gold flashes in the brown when the sun touches them."
"Your wits are YOUR eyes. But where do you get such orchids?"
"From my little private garden underneath the rock."
"Life will be a dull and dreary round unless I see that garden."
"No! I say! Wait! Really, now, Miss—er—" There was panic in the protest.
"Oh, don't be afraid. I'm only playing with your fears. One look at you as you chased your absurd spectacles was enough to satisfy my curiosity. Go in peace, startled fawn that you are."
"Go nothing! I'm not going. Neither are you, I hope, until you've told me lots more about yourself."
"All that for a spray of orchids?"
"But they are quite rare ones."
"And very lovely."
The girl mused, and a sudden impulse seized her to take the unseen acquaintance at his word and free her mind as she had not been able to do to any living soul for long weeks. She pondered over it.
"You aren't getting ready to go?" he cried, alarmed at her long silence.
"No; I'm thinking."
"Please think aloud."
"I was thinking—suppose I did."
There was so much of weighty consideration in her accents that the other fear again beset him.
"Did what? Not come down from the rock?" "Be calm. I shouldn't want to face you any more than you want to face me, if I decided to do it."
"Go on," he encouraged. "It sounds most promising."
"More than that. It's fairly thrilling. It's the awful secret of my life that I'm considering laying bare to you, just like a dime novel. Are you discreet?"
"As the eternal rocks. Prescribe any form of oath and I'll take it."
"I'm feeling just irresponsible enough to venture. Now, if I knew you, of course I couldn't. But as I shall never set eyes on you again—I never shall, shall I?"
"Not unless you creep up on me unawares."
"Then I'll unburden my overweighted heart, and you can be my augur and advise me with supernatural wisdom. Are you up to that?"
"I will. But, remember: this means truly that we are never to meet. And if you ever do meet me and recognize my voice, you must go away at once."
"Agreed," he said cheerfully, just a bit too cheerfully to be flattering.
"Very well, then. I'm a runaway."
"Naturally. Where's home?"
"Utica, New York," she specified.
"U.S.A.," he concluded, with a sigh. "What did you run away from?"
"Does any one ever run away from anything else?" he inquired philosophically. "What particular brand?"
"Three men," she said dolorously. "All after poor little me. They all thought I ought to marry them, and everybody else seemed to think so, too—"
"Go slow! Did you say Utica or Utah?"
"Everybody thought I ought to marry one or the other of 'em, I mean. If I could have married them all, now, it might have been easier, for I like them ever so much. But how could I make up my mind? So I just seized papa around the neck and ran away with him down here."
"Why here, of all places on earth?"
"Oh, he's interested in some mines and concessions and things. It's very beautiful, but I almost wish I'd stayed at home and married Bobby."
"Which is Bobby?"
"He's one of the home boys. We've grown up together, and I'm so fond of him. Only it's more the brother-and-sister sort of thing, if he'd let it be."
"Check off No. 1. What's No. 2?"
"Lots older. Mr. Thomas Murray Smith is an unspoiled millionaire. If he weren't so serious and quite so dangerously near forty— well, I don't know."
"Have you kept No. 3 for the last because he's the best?"
"No-o-o-o. Because he's the nearest. He followed me down. You can see his name in all its luster on the Hotel Kast register, when you get back to the city—Preston Fairfax Fitzhugh Carroll, at your service."
"Sounds Southern," commented the man below.
"Southern! He's more Southern than the South Pole. His ancestors fought all the wars and owned all the negroes—he calls them 'niggers'—and married into all the first families of Virginia, and all that sort of thing. He must quite hate himself, poor Fitz, for falling in love with a little Yankee like me. In fact, that's why I made him do it."
"And now you wish he hadn't?"
"Oh—well—I don't know. He's awfully good-looking and gallant and devoted and all that. Only he's such a prickly sort of person. I'd have to spend the rest of my life keeping him and his pride out of trouble. And I've no taste for diplomacy. Why, only last week he declined to dine with the President of the Republic because some one said that his excellency had a touch of the tar brush."
"He'd better get out of this country before that gets back to headquarters."
"If he thought there was danger, he'd stay forever. I don't suppose Fitz is afraid of anything on earth. Except perhaps of me," she added after-thoughtfully.
"Young woman, you're a shameless flirt!" accused the invisible one in stern tones.
"If I am, it isn't going to hurt you. Besides, I'm not. And, anyway, who are you to judge me? You're not here as a judge; you're an augur. Now, go on and aug."
"Aug?" repeated the other hesitantly.
"Certainly. Do an augury. Tell me which."
"Oh! As for that, it's easy. None."
"Because I much prefer to think of you, when you are gone, as unmarried. It's more in character with your voice."
"Well, of all the selfish pigs! Condemned to be an old maid, in order not to spoil an ideal! Perhaps you'd like to enter the lists yourself," she taunted.
"Good Heavens, no!" he cried in the most unflattering alarm. "It isn't in my line—I mean I haven't time for that sort of thing. I'm a very busy man."
"You look it! Or you did look it, scrambling about like a doodle bug after your absurd spectacles."
"There is no such insect as a doodle bug."
"Isn't there? How do you know? Are you personally acquainted with all the insect families?"
"Certainly. That's my business. I'm a scientist."
"Oh, gracious! And I've appealed to you in a matter of sentiment! I might better have stuck to Fitz. Poor Fitz! I wonder if he's lost."
"Why should he be lost?"
"Because I lost him. Back there on the trail. Purposely. I sent him for water and then—I skipped."
"Oh-h-h! Then HE'S the goose."
"Goose! Preston Fairfax Fitz—"
"Yes, the goose you said 'Boo!' to, you know."
"Of course. You didn't steal his hat, did you?"
"No. It's my own hat. Why did you run away from him?"
"He bored me. When people bore me, I always run away. I'm beginning to feel quite fugitive this very minute."
There was silence below, a silence that piqued the girl.
"Well," she challenged, "haven't you anything to say before the court passes sentence of abandonment to your fate?"
"I'm thinking—frantically. But the thoughts aren't girl thoughts. I mean, they wouldn't interest you. I might tell you about some of my insects," he added hopefully.
"They're very interesting."
"No. You're worthless as an augur, and a flat failure as a conversationalist, when thrown on your own resources. So I shall shake the dust from my feet and depart."
"Good-bye!" he said desolately. "And thank you."
"For making music in my desert."
"That's much better," she approved. "But you've paid your score with the orchids. If you have one or two more pretty speeches like that in stock, I might linger for a while."
"I'm afraid I'm all out of those," he returned. "But," he added desperately, "there's the hexagonal scarab beetle. He's awfully queer and of much older family even than Mr. Fitzwhizzle's. It is the hexagonal scarab's habit when dis—"
"We have an encyclopaedia of our own at home," she interrupted coldly. "I didn't climb this mountain to talk about beetles."
"Well, I'll talk some more about you, if you'll give me a little time to think."
"I think you are very impertinent. I don't wish to talk about myself. Just because I asked your advice in my difficulties, you assume that I'm a little egoist—"
"Oh, please don't—"
"Don't interrupt. I'm very much offended, and I'm glad we are never going to meet. Just as I was beginning to like you, too," she added, with malice. "Good-bye!"
"Good-bye," he answered mournfully.
But his attentive ears failed to discern the sound of departing footsteps. The breeze whispered in the tree-tops. A sulphur-yellow bird, of French extraction, perched in a flowering bush, insistently demanded: "Qu'est-ce qu'il dit? Qu'est-ce qu'il dit?" —What's he say? WHAT'S he say?—over and over again, becoming quite wrathful because neither he nor any one else offered the slightest reply or explanation. The girl sympathized with the bird. If the particular he whose blond top she could barely see by peeping over the rock would only say something, matters would be easier for her. But he didn't. So presently, in a voice of suspiciously saccharine meekness, she said:—
"Please, Mr. Beetle Man, I'm lost."
"No, you're not," he said reassuringly. "You're not a quarter of a mile from the Puerto del Norte Road."
"But I don't know which direction—"
"Perfectly simple. Keep on over the top of the rock; turn left down the slope, right up the dry stream bed to a dead tree; bear right past—"
"That's too many turns, I never could remember more than two."
"Now, listen," he said persuasively. "I can make it quite plain to you if—"
"I don't WISH to listen! I'll never find it."
"I'll toss you up my compass."
"I don't want your compass," she said firmly.
A long patient sigh exhaled from below.
"Do you want me to guide you?"
"No," she retorted, and was instantly panic-stricken, for the monosyllable was of that accent which sets fire to bridges and burns them beyond hope of return.
Slowly she got to her feet. Perhaps she would have dared and gone; perhaps she would have swallowed pride and her negative, and made one more appeal. She turned hesitantly and saw the devil.
It was a small devil on stilts, not more than three or four inches tall, but there was no mistaking his identity. No other living thing could possess such demoniac little red-hot pin points of eyes, or be so bristly and grisly and vicious. The stilts suddenly folded flat, and the devil rushed upon his prey. The girl stepped back; her foot turned and caught, and—
"Of course," the patient voice below was saying, "if you really think that you couldn't find the road, I could draw you a map and send it up by the hair route. But I really think—"
The rock had turned over on his unprotected head and flattened him out forever. Such was his first thought. When he finally collected himself, his eyeglasses, and his senses, he sustained a second shock more violent than the first.
Two paces away, the Voice, duly and most appropriately embodied, sat half-facing him. The Voice's eyes confirmed his worst suspicions, and, dazed though they were at the moment, there were deep lights in them that wholly disordered his mental mechanism. Nor were her first words such as to restore his deranged faculties.
"Oh-h! Aren't you GOGGLESOME!" she cried dizzily.
He raised his hands to the huge brown spectacles.
"Wh—wh—what did you come down for?" he babbled. There was a distinct note of accusation in the query.
"COME down! I fell!"
"Yes, yes; that may be true—"
"Of course, it is true. I—I—I see it's true. I'm awfully sorry."
"Sorry? What for?"
"That you came. That you fell, I mean to say. I—I—I don't really know what I mean to say."
"No wonder, poor boy! I landed right on you, didn't I?"
"Did you? Something did. I thought it was the mountain."
"You aren't very complimentary," she pouted. "But there! I dare say I knocked your thoughts all to bits."
"No; not at all. Certainly, I mean. It doesn't matter. See here," he said, with an injured sharpness of inquiry born of his own exasperation at his verbal fumbling, "you said you wouldn't, and here you are. I ask you, is that fair and honorable?"
"Well, if it comes to that," she countered, "you promised that you'd never speak to me if you saw me, and here you are telling me that you don't want me around the place at all. It's very rude and inhospitable, I consider."
"I can't help it," he said miserably. "I'm afraid."
"You don't look it. You look disagreeable."
"As long as you stayed where you belonged—Excuse me—I don't mean to be impolite—but I—I—You see—as long as you were just a voice, I could manage all right, but now that you are—er—er— you—" His speech trailed off lamentably into meaningless stutterings.
The girl turned amazed and amused eyes upon him.
"What on earth ails the poor man?" she inquired of all creation.
"I told you. I—I'm shy."
"Not really! I thought it was a joke."
"Qu'est-ce qu'il dit? Qu'est-ce qu'il dit?" demanded the yellow- breasted inquisitor, from his flowery perch.
"What does he say? He says he's shy. Poor poo—er young, helpless thing!" And her laughter put to shame a palm thrush who was giving what he had up to that moment considered a highly creditable musical performance.
"All right!" he retorted warmly. "Laugh if you want to! But after stipulating that we should be strangers, to—to act this way— well, I think it's—it's—forward. That's what I think it is."
"Do you, indeed? Perhaps you think it's pleasant for me, after I've opened my heart to a stranger, to have him forced on me as an acquaintance!"
From the depths of those limpid eyes welled up a little film of vexation.
"O Lord! Don't do that!" he implored. "I didn't mean—I'm a bear— a pig—a—a—a scarab—I'm anything you choose. Only don't do that!"
"I'm not doing anything."
"Of course you're not. That's fine! As for your secrets, I dare say I wouldn't know you again if I saw you."
"Oh, wouldn't you?" she cried in quite another tone.
"Quite likely not. These glasses, you see. They make things look quite queer."
"Or if you heard me?" she challenged.
"Ah, well, that's different. But I forget quite easily—even things like voices."
She leaned forward, her hands in her lap, her eyes upon the goggled face before her.
"Then take them off."
"What? My glasses?"
"Take them off!"
"Wh—wh—why should I?"
"So that you can see me better."
"I don't want to see you better."
"Yes, you do. I'm much more interesting than a scarab."
"But I know about scarabs and I don't know about—about—"
"Girls. So one might suspect. Do you know what I'm doing, Mr. Beetle Man?"
"I'm flirting with you. I never flirted with a scientific person before. It's awfully one-sided, difficult, uphill work."
This last was all but drowned out in his flood of panicky instructions, from which she disentangled such phrases as "first to left"—"dry river-bed-hundred-yards"—"dead tree—can't miss it."
"If you send me away now, I'll cry. Really, truly cry, this time."
"No, you won't! I mean I won't! I—I'll do anything! I'll talk! I'll make conversation! How old are you? That's what the Chinese ask. I used to have a Chinese cook, but he lost all my shirt studs, playing fan-tan. Can you play fan-tan? Two can't play, though. They have funny cards in this country, like the Spanish. Have you seen a bullfight yet? Don't do it. It's dull and brutal. The bull has no more chance than—than—"
"Than an unprotected man with a conscienceless flirt, who falls on his neck and then threatens to submerge him in tears."
"Now you're beginning again!" he wailed. "What did you jump for, anyway?"
"I slipped. An awful, red-eyed, scrambly fiend scared me—a real, live, hairy devilkin on stilts. He ran at me across the rock. Was that one of your pet scarabs, Mr. Beetle Man?"
"That was a tarantula, I suppose, from the description."
"They're deadly, aren't they?"
"Of course not. Unscientific nonsense. I'll go up and chase him off."
"Flying from perils that you know not of to more familiar dangers?" she taunted.
"Well, you see, with the tarantula out of the way, there's no reason why you shouldn't—er—"
"Go, and leave you in peace? What do you think of that for gallantry, Birdie?"
The gay-feathered inquisitor had come quite near.
"Qu'est-ce qu'il dit?" he queried, cocking his curious head.
"He says he doesn't like me one little, wee, teeny bit, and he wishes I'd go home and stay there. And so I'm going, with my poor little feelings all hurted and ruffled up like anything."
"Nothing of the sort," protested the badgered spectacle-wearer.
"Then why such unseemly haste to make my path clear?"
"I just thought that maybe you'd go back on the top of the rock, where you came from, and—and be a voice again. If you won't go, I will."
He made three jumps of it up the boulder, bearing a stick in his hand. Presently his face, preternaturally solemn and gnomish behind the goggles, protruded over the rim. The girl was sitting with her hands folded in her lap, contemplating the scenery as if she'd never had another interest in her life. Apparently she had forgotten his very existence.
"Ahem!" he began nervously.
"Ahem!" she retorted so promptly that he almost fell off his precarious perch. "Did you ring? Number, please."
"I wish I knew whether you were laughing at me or not," he said ruefully.
"All the time."
"I am. Your darkest suspicions are correct. Did you abolish my devilkin?"
"I drove him back into his trapdoor home and put a rock over it."
"Why didn't you destroy him?"
"Because I've appointed him guardian of the rock, with strict instructions to bite any one that ever comes there after this except you."
"Bravo! You're progressing. As soon as you're free from the blight of my regard, you become quite human. But I'll never come again."
"No, I suppose not," he said dismally. "I shan't hear you again, unless, perhaps, the echoes have kept your voice to play with."
"Oh, oh! Is this the language of science? You know I almost think I should like to come—if I could. But I can't."
"Because we leave to-morrow."
"Not across to the southern coast? It isn't safe. Fever—"
"No; by Puerto del Norte."
"There's no boat."
"Yes, there is. You can just see her funnel over that white slope. It's our yacht."
"And you think you are going in her to-morrow?"
"Think? I know it."
"No," he contradicted.
"Yes," she asserted, quite as concisely.
"No," he repeated. "You're mistaken."
"Don't be absurd. Why?" "Look out there, over that tree to the horizon."
"Do you see anything?"
"Yes; a sort of little smudge."
"It's a very shadowy sort of why."
"There's substance enough under it."
"A riddle? I'll give it up."
"No; a bet. I'll bet you the treasures of my mountain-side. Orchids of gold and white and purple and pink, butterflies that dart on wings of fire opal—"
"Beetles, to know which is to love them, and love but them forever," she laughed. "And my side of the wager—what is that to be?"
"That you will come to the rock day after to-morrow at this hour and stand on the top and be a voice again and talk to me."
"Done! Send your treasures to the pier, for you'll surely lose. And now take me to the road."
It was a single-file trail, and he walked in advance, silent as an Indian. As they emerged from a thicket into the highway, above the red-tiled city in its setting of emerald fields strung on the silver thread of the Santa Clara River, she turned and gave him her hand.
"Be at your rock to-morrow, and when you see the yacht steam out, you'll know I'll be saying good-bye, and thank you for your mountain treasures. Send them to Miss Brewster, care of the yacht Polly. She's named after me. Is there anything the matter with my shoes?" she broke off to inquire solicitously.
"Er—what? No." He lifted his eyes, startled, and looked out across the quaint old city.
"Then is there anything the matter with my face?"
"Yes? Well, what?"
"It's going to be hard to forget," complained he of the goggles.
"Then look away before it's too late," she cried merrily; but her color deepened a little. "Good-bye, O friend of the lowly scarab!"
At the dip of the road down into the bridged arroyo, she turned, and was surprised—or at least she told herself so—to find him still looking after her.
AT THE KAST
One dines at the Gran Hotel Kast after the fashion of a champignon sous cloche. The top of the cloche is of fluted glass, with a wide aperture between it and the sides, to admit the rain in the wet season and the flies in the dry. Three balconies run up from the dining-room well to this roof, and upon these, as near to the railings as they choose, the rather conglomerate patronage of the place sleeps, takes baths, dresses, gossips, makes love, quarrels, and exchanges prophecies as to next Sunday's bullfight, while the diners below strive to select from the bill of fare special morsels upon which they will stake their internal peace for the day. No cabaret can hold a candle to it for variety of interest. When the sudden torrential storms sweep down the mountains at meal times, the little human champignons, beneath their insufficient cloche, rush about wildly seeking spots where the drippage will not wash their food away. Commercial travelers of the tropics have a saying: "There are worse hotels in the world than the Kast—but why take the trouble?" And, year upon year, they return there for reasons connected with the other hostelries of Caracuna, which I forbear to specify.
To Miss Polly Brewster, the Kast was a place of romance. Five miles away, as the buzzard flies, she could have dined well, even elegantly, on the Brewster yacht. Would she have done it? Not for worlds! Miss Brewster was entranced by the courtly manners of her waiter, who had lost one ear and no small part of the countenance adjacent thereto, only too obviously through the agency of some edged instrument not wielded in the arts of peace. She was further delightedly intrigued by the abrupt appearance of a romantic-hued gentleman, who thrust out over the void from the second balcony an anguished face, one side of which was profusely lathered, and addressed to all the hierarchy of heaven above, and the peoples of the earth beneath, a passionate protest upon the subject of a cherished and vanished shaving brush; what time, below, the head waiter was hastily removing from sight, though not from memory, a soup tureen whose agitated surface bore a creamy froth not of a lacteal origin. One may not with impunity balance personal implements upon the too tremulous rails of the ancient Kast.
With an appreciative and glowing eye, Miss Brewster read from her mimeographed bill of fare such legends as "ropa con carne," "bacalao seco," "enchiladas," and meantime devoured chechenaca, which, had it been translated into its just and simple English of "hash," she would not have given to her cat.
Nor did her visual and prandial preoccupations inhibit her from a lively interest in the surrounding Babel of speech in mingled Spanish, Dutch, German, English, Italian, and French, all at the highest pitch, for a few rods away the cathedral bells were saluting Heaven with all the clangor and din of the other place, and only the strident of voice gained any heed in that contest. Even after the bells paused, the habit of effort kept the voices up. Miss Brewster, dining with her father a few hours after her return from the mountain, absolved her conscience from any intent of eavesdropping in overhearing the talk of the table to the right of her. The remark that first fixed her attention was in English, of the super-British patois.
"Can't tell wot the blighter might look like behind those bloomin' brown glasses."
"But he's not bothersome to any one," suggested a second speaker, in a slightly foreign accent. "He regards his own affairs."
"Right you are, bo!" approved a tall, deeply browned man of thirty, all sinewy angles, who, from the shoulders up, suggested nothing so much as a club with a gnarled knob on the end of it, a tough, reliable, hardwood club, capable of dealing a stiff blow in an honest cause. "If he deals in conversation, he must SELL it. I don't notice him giving any of it away."
"He gave some to Kast the last time he dined here," observed a languid and rather elegant elderly man, who occupied the fourth side of the table. "Mine host didn't like it."
"I should suppose Senior Kast would be hardened," remarked the young Caracunan who had defended the absent.
"Our eyeglassed friend scored for once, though. They had just served him the usual table-d'hote salad—you know, two leaves of lettuce with a caterpillar on one. Kast happened to be passing. Our friend beckoned him over. 'A little less of the fauna and more of the flora, Senior Kast,' said he in that gritty, scientific voice of his. I really thought Kast was going to forget his Swiss blood, and chase a whole peso of custom right out of the place."
"If you ask me, I think the blighter is barmy," asserted the Briton.
"Well, I'll ask you," proffered the elegant one kindly. "Why do you consider him 'barmy,' as you put it?"
"When I first saw him here and heard him speak to the waiter, I knew him for an American Johnny at once, and I went, directly I'd finished my soup, and sat down at his table. The friendly touch, y' know. 'I say,' I said to him, 'I don't know you, but I heard you speak, and I knew at once you were one of these Americans— tell you at once by the beastly queer accent, you know. You are an American, ay—wot?' Wot d' you suppose the blighter said? He said, 'No, I'm an ichthyo'—somethin' or other—"
"Ichthyosaurus, perhaps," supplied the Caracunuan, smiling.
"That's it, whatever it may be. 'I'm an ichthyosaurus,' he says. 'It's a very old family, but most of the buttons are off. Were you ever bitten by one in the fossil state? Very exhilaratin', but poisonous,' he says. 'So don't let me keep you any longer from your dinner.' Of course, I saw then that he was a wrong un, so I cut him dead, and walked away."
"Served him right," declared the elderly American, with a solemn twinkle directed at the tall brown man, who, having opened his mouth, now thought better of it, and closed it again, with a grin.
"But he is very kind," said the native. "When my brother fell and broke his arm on the mountain, this gentleman found him, took care of him, and brought him in on muleback."
"Lives up there somewhere, doesn't he, Mr. Raimonda?" asked the big man.
"In the quinta of a deserted plantation," replied the Caracunan.
"Wot's he do?" asked the Englishman.
"Ah, THAT one does not know, unless Senor Sherwen can tell us."
"Not I," said the elderly man. "Some sort of scientific investigation, according to the guess of the men at the club."
"You never can tell down here," observed the Englishman darkly. "Might be a blind, you know. Calls himself Perkins. Dare say it isn't his name at all."
"Daughter," said Mr. Thatcher Brewster at this juncture, in a patient and plaintive voice, "for the fifth and last time, I implore you to pass me the butter, or that which purports to be butter, in the dish at your elbow."
"Oh, poor dad! Forgive me! But I was overhearing some news of an— an acquaintance."
"Do you know any of the gentlemen upon whose conversation you are eavesdropping?"
In financial circles, Mr. Brewster was credited with the possession of a cold blue eye and a denatured voice of interrogation, but he seldom succeeded in keeping a twinkle out of the one and a chuckle out of the other when conversing with his daughter.
"Not yet," observed that damsel calmly.
"Meaning, I suppose I am to understand—"
"Precisely. Haven't you noticed them looking this way? Presently they'll be employing all their strategy to meet me. They'll employ it on you."
Mr. Brewster surveyed the group dubiously.
"In a country such as this, one can't be too—too cau—"
"Too particular, as you were saying," cut in his daughter cheerfully. "Men are scarce—except Fitzhugh, who is rather less scarce than I wish he were lately. You know," she added, with a covert glance at the adjoining table, "I wouldn't be surprised if you found yourself an extremely popular papa immediately after dinner. It might even go so far as cigars. Do you suppose that lovely young Caracunan is a bullfighter?"
"No; I believe he's a coffee exporter. Less romantic, but more respectable. Quite one of the gilded youth of Caracuna. His name is Raimonda. Fitzhugh knows him. By the way, where on earth is Fitzhugh?"
"Trying to fit a kind and gentlemanly expression over a swollen sense of injury, for a guess," replied the girl carelessly. "I left him in sweet and lone communion with nature three hours ago."
"Polly, I wish—"
"Oh, dad, dear, don't! You'll get your wish, I suppose, and Fitz, too. Only I don't want to be hurried. Here he is, now. Look at that smile! A sculptor couldn't have done any better. Now, as soon as he comes, I'm going to be quite nice and kind."
But Mr. Fairfax Preston Fitzhugh Carroll did not come direct to the Brewster table. Instead, he stopped to greet the elderly man in the near-by group, and presently drew up a chair. At first, their conversation was low-toned, but presently the young native added his more vivacious accents.
"Who can tell?" the Brewsters heard him say, and marked the fatalistic gesture of the upturned hands. "They disappear. One does not ask questions too much."
"Not here," confirmed the big man. "Always room for a few more in the undersea jails, eh?"
"Always. But I think it was not that with Basurdo. I think it was underground, not undersea." He brushed his neck with his finger tips.
"Is it dangerous for foreigners?" asked Carroll quickly.
"For every one," answered Sherwen; adding significantly: "But the Caracunan Government does not approve of loose fostering of rumors."
Carroll rose and came over to the Brewsters.
"May I bring Mr. Graydon Sherwen over and present him?" he asked. "I can vouch for him, having known his family at home, and—"
"Oh, bring them all, Fitzhugh," commanded the girl.
The exponent of Southern aristocracy looked uncomfortable.
"As to the others," he said, "Mr. Raimonda is a native—"
"With the manners of a prince. I've quite fallen in love with him already," she said wickedly.
"Of course, if you wish it. But the other American is an ex- professional baseball player, named Cluff."
"What? 'Clipper' Cluff? I knew I'd seen him before!" cried Miss Polly. "He got his start in the New York State League. Why, we're quite old friends, by sight."
"As for Galpy, he's an underbred little cockney bounder."
"With the most naive line of conversation I've ever listened to. I want all of them."
"Let me bring Sherwen first," pleaded the suitor, and was presently introducing that gentleman. "Mr. Sherwen is in charge here of the American Legation," he explained.
"How does one salute a real live minister?" queried Miss Brewster.
"Don't mistake me for anything so important," said Sherwen. "We're not keeping a minister in stock at present. My job is being a superior kind of janitor until diplomatic relations are resumed."
"Goodness! It sounds like war," said Miss Brewster hopefully. "Is there anything as exciting as that going on?"
"Oh, no. Just a temporary cessation of civilities between the two nations. If it weren't indiscreet—"
"Oh, do be indiscreet!" implored the girl, with clasped hands. "I admire indiscretion in others, and cultivate it in myself."
Mr. Carroll looked pained, as the other laughed and said:—
"Well, it would certainly be most undiplomatic for me to hint that the great and friendly nation of Hochwald, which wields more influence and has a larger market here than any other European power, has become a little jealous of the growing American trade. But the fact remains that the Hochwald minister and his secretary, Von Plaanden, who is a very able citizen when sober,—and is, of course, almost always sober,—have not exerted themselves painfully to compose the little misunderstanding between President Fortuno and us. The Dutch diplomats, who are not as diplomatic in speech as I am, would tell you, if there were any of them left here to tell anything, that Von Plaanden's intrigues brought on the present break with them. So there you have a brief, but reliable 'History of Our Times in the Island Republic of Caracuna.'"
"Highly informative and improving to the untutored mind," Miss Brewster complimented him. "I like seeing the wires of empire pulled. More, please."
"Perhaps you won't like the next so well," observed Carroll grimly. "There is bubonic plague here."
"Oh—ah!" protested Sherwen gently. "The suspicion of plague. Quite a different matter."
"Which usually turns out to be the same, doesn't it?" inquired Mr. Brewster.
"Perhaps. People disappear, and one is not encouraged to ask about them. But then people disappear for many causes in Caracuna. Politics here are somewhat—well—Philadelphian in method. But— there is smoke rising from behind Capo Blanco."
"What is there?" inquired the girl.
"The lazaretto. Still, it might be yellow fever, or only smallpox. The Government is not generous with information. To have plague discovered now would be very disturbing to the worthy plans of the Hochwald Legation. For trade purposes, they would very much dislike to have the port closed for a considerable time by quarantine. The Dutch difficulty they can arrange when they will. But quarantine would bring in the United States, and that is quite another matter. Well, we'll see, when Dr. Pruyn gets here."
"Who is he?" asked Carroll.
"Special-duty man of the United States Public Health Service. The best man on tropical diseases and quarantine that the service has ever had."
"That isn't Luther Pruyn, is it?" inquired Mr. Brewster.
"The same. Do you know him?"
"More than I do, except by reputation."
"He was in my class at college, but I haven't seen him since. I'd be glad to see him again. A queer, dry fellow, but character and grit to his backbone." "I'd supposed he was younger," said Sherwen. "Anyway, he's comparatively new to the service. His rise is the more remarkable. At present, he's not only our quarantine representative, with full powers, but unofficially he acts, while on his roving commission, for the British, the Dutch, the French, and half the South American republics. I suppose he's really the most important figure in the Caracuna crisis—and he hasn't even got here yet. Perhaps our Hochwaldian friends have captured him on the quiet. It would pay 'em, for if there is plague here, he'll certainly trail it down."
"Oh, I'm tired of plague," announced Miss Polly. "Bring the others here and let's all go over to the plaza, where it's cool."
To their open and obvious delight, exhibited jauntily by the Englishman, with awkward and admiring respectfulness by the ball- player, and with graceful ease by the handsome Caracunan, the rest were invited to join the party.
"Don't let them scare you about plague, Miss Brewster," said Cluff, as they found their chairs. "Foreigners don't get it much."
"Oh, I'm not afraid! But, anyway, we shouldn't have time to catch even a cold. We leave to-morrow."
The men exchanged glances.
"How?" inquired Sherwen and Raimonda in a breath.
"In the yacht, from Puerto del Norte."
"Not if it were a British battleship," said Galpy. "Port's closed."
"What? Quarantine already?" said Carroll.
"Quarantine be blowed! It's the Dutch."
"I thought you knew," said Sherwen. "All the town is ringing with the news. It just came in to-night. Holland has declared a blockade until Caracuna apologizes for the interference with its cable."
"And nothing can pass?" asked Mr. Brewster.
"Nothing but an aeroplane or a submarine."
There was a silence. Miss Polly Brewster broke it with a curious question:—
"What day is day after to-morrow?"
Several voices had answered her, but she paid little heed, for there had slipped over her shoulder a brown thin hand holding a cunningly woven closed basket of reedwork. A soft voice murmured something in Spanish.
"What does he say?" asked the girl "For me?"
"He thinks it must be for you," translated Raimonda, "from the description."
"He was told to go to the hotel and deliver it to the most beautiful lady. There could hardly be any mistaking such specific instructions even by an ignorant mountain peon," he added, smiling.
The girl opened the curious receptacle, and breathed a little gasp of delight. Bedded in fern, lay a mass of long sprays aquiver with bells of the purest, most lucent white, each with a great glow of gold at its heart.
"Ah," observed the young Caracunan, "I see that you are persona grata with our worthy President, Miss Brewster."
"President Fortuno?" asked the girl, surprised. "No; not that I'm aware of. Why do you say that?"
"That is his special orchid—almost the official flower. They call it 'the President's orchid.'"
"Has he a monopoly of growing them?" asked Miss Brewster.
"No one can grow them. They die when transplanted from their native cliffs. But it's only the President's rangers who are daring enough to get them."
"Are they so inaccessible?"
"Yes. They grow nowhere but on the cliff faces, usually in the wildest part of the mountains. Few people except the hunters and mountaineers know where, and it's only the most adventurous of them who go after the flowers."
"Do you suppose this boy got these?" Miss Brewster indicated the shy and dusky messenger.
Raimonda spoke to the boy for a moment.
"No; he didn't collect them. Nor is he one of the President's men. I don't quite understand it."
"Who did gather them?"
"All that he will say is, 'the master.'"
"Oh!" said Miss Brewster, and retired into a thoughtful silence.
"They're very beautiful, aren't they?" continued the Caracunan. "And they carry a pretty sentiment."
"Tell me," commanded the girl, emerging from her reverie.
"The mountaineers say that their fragrance casts a spell which carries the thought back to the giver."
"Is that the language of science?" she queried absently, with a thought far away.
"But no, senorita, assuredly not," said the young Caracufian. "It is the language—permit that I say it better in French—c'est le langage d'amour."
THE BETTER PART OF VALOR
Night fell with the iron clangor of bells, and day broke to the accompaniment of further insensate jangling, for Caracuna City has the noisiest cathedral in the world; and still the graceful gray yacht Polly lay in the harbor at Puerto del Norte, hemmed in by a thin film of smoke along the horizon where the Dutch warship promenaded.
In one of the side caverns off the main dining-room of the Hotel Kast, the yacht's owner, breakfasting with the yacht's tutelary goddess and the goddess's determined pursuer, discussed the blockade. Though Miss Polly Brewster kept up her end of the conversation, her thoughts were far upon a breeze-swept mountain- side. How, she wondered, had that dry and strange hermit of the wilds known the news before the city learned it? With her wonder came annoyance over her lost wager. The beetle man, she judged, would be coolly superior about it. So she delivered herself of sundry stinging criticisms regarding the conduct of the Caracunan Administration in having stupidly involved itself in a blockade. She even spoke of going to see the President and apprising him of her views.
"I'd like to tell him how to run this foolish little island," said she, puckering a quaintly severe brow.
"Now is the appointed time for you to plunge in and change the course of empire," her father suggested to her. "There's an official morning reception at ten o'clock. We're invited."
"Then I shan't go. I wouldn't give the old goose the satisfaction of going to his fiesta."
"Meaning the noble and patriotic President?" said Carroll. "Treason most foul! The cuartels are full of chained prisoners who have said less."
"Father can go with Mr. Sherwen. I shall do some important shopping," announced Miss Brewster. "And I don't want any one along."
Thus apprised of her intentions, Carroll wrapped himself in gloom, and retired to write a letter.
Miss Polly's shopping, being conducted mainly through the medium of the sign language, presently palled upon her sensibilities, and about twelve o'clock she decided upon a drive. Accordingly she stepped into one of the pretty little toy victorias with which the city swarms.
"Para donde?" inquired the driver.
His fare made an expansive gesture, signifying "Anywhere." Being an astute person in his own opinion, the Jehu studied the pretty foreigner's attire with an appraising eye, profoundly estimated that so much style and elegance could be designed for only one function of the day, whirled her swiftly along the two-mile drive of the Calvario Road, and landed her at the President's palace, half an hour after the reception was over. Supposing from the coachman's signs that she was expected to go in and view some public garden, she paid him, walked far enough to be stopped by the apologetic and appreciative guard, and returned to the highway, to find no carriage in sight. Never mind, she reflected; she needed the exercise. Accordingly, she set out to walk.
But the noonday sun of Caracuia has a bite to it. For a time, Miss Brewster followed the car tracks which were her sure guide from the palace to the Kast; briskly enough, at first. But, after three cars had passed her, she began to think longingly of the fourth. When it stopped at her signal, it was well filled. The most promising ingress appeared to be across the blockade of a robust and much-begilded young man, who was occupying the familiar position of an "end-seat hog," and displaying the full glories of the Hochwaldian dress uniform.
Herr von Plaanden was both sleepy and cross, for, having lingered after the reception to have a word and several drinks with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, he had come forth to find neither coach nor automobile in attendance. There had been nothing for it but the plebeian trolley. Accordingly, when he heard a foreign voice of feminine timbre and felt a light pressure against his knee, he only snorted. What he next felt against his knee was the impact of a half-shove, half-blow, brisk enough to slue him around. The intruder passed by to the vacant seat, while the now thoroughly awakened and annoyed Hochwaldian whirled, to find himself looking into a pair of expressionless brown goggles.
With a snort of fury, the diplomat struck backward. The glasses and the solemn face behind them dodged smartly. The next moment, Herr von Plaanden felt his neck encircled by a clasp none the less warm for being not precisely affectionate. He was pinned. Twisting, he worked one arm loose.
"Be careful!" warned the cool voice of Polly Brewster, addressing her defender. "He's trying to draw his sword."
The gogglesome one's grip slid a little lower. The car had now stopped, and the conductor came forward, brandishing what was apparently the wand of authority, designed to be symbolic rather than utile, since at no point was it thicker than a man's finger. From a safe distance on the running-board, he flourished this, whooping the while in a shrill and dissuasive manner. Somewhere down the street was heard a responsive yell, and a small, jerky, olive-green policia pranced into view.
Thereupon a strange thing happened. The rescuing knight relaxed his grip, leaped the back of his seat, dropped off the car, and darted like a hunted hare across a compound, around a wall, and so into the unknown, deserting his lady fair, if not precisely in the hour of greatest need, at least in a situation fraught with untoward possibilities. Indeed, it seemed as if these possibilities might promptly become actualities, for the diplomat turned his stimulated wrath upon the girl, and was addressing her in tones too emphatic to be mistaken when a large angular form interposed itself, landing with a flying leap on the seat between them.
"Move!" the newly arrived one briefly bade Herr von Plaanden.
Herr von Plaanden, feeling the pressure of a shoulder formed upon the generous lines of a gorilla's, and noting the approach of the policia on the other side, was fain to obey.
"Don't you be scared, miss," said Cluff, turning to the girl. "It's all over."
"I'm not frightened," she said, with a catch in her voice.
"Of course you ain't," he agreed reassuringly. "You just sit quiet—"
"But I—I—I'm MAD, clean through."
"You gotta right. You gotta perfect right. Now, if this was New York, I'd spread that gold-laced guy's face—"
"I'm not angry at him. Not particularly, I mean."
"No?" queried her friend in need. "What got your goat, then?"
Miss Brewster shot a quick and scornful glance over her shoulder.
"Oh, HIM" interpreted the athlete. "Well, he made his get-away like a man with some reason for being elsewhere."
"Reason enough. He was afraid."
"Maybe. Being afraid's a queer thing," remarked her escort academically. "Now, me, I'm afraid of a fuzzy caterpillar. But I ain't exactly timid about other things."
"You certainly aren't. And I don't know how to thank you."
"Aw, that's awright, miss. What else could I do? Our departed friend, Professor Goggle-Eye, when he made his jump, landed right in my shirt front. 'Take my place,' he says; 'I've got an engagement.' Well, I was just moving forward, anyway, so it was no trouble at all, I assure you," asserted the doughty Cluff, achieving a truly elegant conclusion.
"Most fortunate for me," said the girl sweetly. "Mr. Perkins scuttled away like one of his own little wretched beetles. When I see him again—"
"Again? Oh, well, if he's a friend of yours, accourse he'd awtuv stood by—"
"He isn't!" she declared, with unnecessary vehemence.
"Don't you be too hard on him, miss," argued her escort. "Seems to me he did a pretty good job for you, and stuck to it until he found some one else to take it up."
"Then why didn't he stand by you?"
"Oh, I don't carry any 'Help-wanted' signs on me. You know, miss, you can't size up a man in this country like he was at home. Now, me, I'd have natcherly hammered that Von Plaanden gink all to heh —heh—hash. But did I do it? I did not. You see, I got a little mining concession out here in the mountains, and if I was to get into any diplomatic mix-up and bring in the police, it'd be bad for my business, besides maybe getting me a couple of tons of bracelets around my pretty little ankles. Like as not your friend, Professor Lamps, has got an equally good reason for keeping the peace."
"Do you mean that this man will make trouble for you over this?"
"Not as things stand. So long as nothing was done—no arrests or anything like that—he'll be glad to forget it, when he sobers up. I'll forget it, too, and maybe, miss, it wouldn't be any harm to anybody if you did a turn at forgetting, yourself."
But neither by the venturesome Miss Polly nor by her athlete servitor was the episode to be so readily dismissed. Late that afternoon, when the Brewster party were sitting about iced fruit drinks amid the dingy and soiled elegance of the Kast's one private parlor, Mr. Sherwen's card arrived, followed shortly by Mr. Sherwen's immaculate self, creaseless except for one furrow of the brow.
"How you are going to get out of here I really don't know," he said.
"Why should we hurry?" inquired Miss Brewster. "I don't find Caracuna so uninteresting."
"Never since I came here has it been so charming," said the legation representative, with a smiling bow. "But, much as your party adds to the landscape, I'm not at all sure that this city is the most healthful spot for you at present."
"You mean the plague?" asked Mr. Brewster.
"Not quite so loud, please. 'Healthful,' as I used it, was, in part, a figure of speech. Something is brewing hereabout."
"Not a revolution?" cried Miss Polly, with eyes alight. "Oh, do brew a revolution for me! I should so adore to see one!"
"Possibly you may, though I hardly think it. Some readjustment of foreign relations, at most. The Dutch blockade is, perhaps, only a beginning. However, it's sufficient to keep you bottled up, though if we could get word to them, I dare say they would let a yacht go out."
"Senator Richland, of the Committee on Foreign Relations, is an old friend of my family," said Carroll, in his measured tones. "A cable—"
"Would probably never get through. This Government wouldn't allow it. There are other possibilities. Perhaps, Mr. Brewster," he continued, with a side glance at the girl, "we might talk it over at length this evening."
"Quite useless, Mr. Sherwen," smiled the magnate. "Polly would have it all out of me before I was an hour older. She may as well get it direct."
"Very well, then. It's this quarantine business. If Dr. Pruyn comes here and declares bubonic plague—"
"But how will he get in?" asked Carroll.
"So far as the blockade goes, the Dutch will help him all they can. But this Government will keep him out, if possible."
"He is not persona grata?" asked Brewster.
"Not with any of the countries that play politics with pestilence. But if he's sent here, he'll get in some way. In fact, Stark, the public-health surgeon at Puerto del Norte, let fall a hint that makes me think he's on his way now. Probably in some cockleshell of a small boat manned by Indian smugglers."
"It sounds almost too adventurous for the scholarly Pruyn whom I recall," observed Mr. Brewster.
"The man who went through the cholera anarchy on the lazar island off Camacho, with one case of medical supplies and two boxes of cartridges, may have been scholarly; he certainly didn't exhibit any distaste for adventure. Well, I wish he'd arrive and get something settled. Only I'd like to have you out of the way first."
"Oh, don't send ME away, Mr. Sherwen," pleaded Miss Polly, with mischief in her eyes. "I'd make the cunningest little office assistant to busy old Dr. Pruyn. And he's a friend of dad's, and we surely ought to wait for him."
"If only I COULD send you! The fact is, Americans won't be very popular if matters turn out as I expect."
"Shall we be confined to our rooms and kept incomunicado, while Dr. Pruyn chases the terrified germ through the streets of Caracuna?" queried the irrepressible Polly.
"You'll probably have to move to the legation, where you will be very welcome, but none too comfortable. The place has been practically closed and sealed for two months."
"I'm sure we should bother you dreadfully," said the girl.
"It would bother me more dreadfully if you got into any trouble. Just this morning there was some kind of an affair on a street car in which some Americans were involved."
Miss Polly's countenance was a design—a very dainty and ornamental design—in insouciance as her father said:—
"Americans? Any one we have met?"
"No news has come to me. I understand one of the diplomatic corps, returning from the President's matinee, spoke to an American woman, and an American man interfered."
"When did this happen?" asked Carroll.
"About noon. Inquiries are going on quietly."
The young man directed a troubled and accusing look from his fine eyes upon Miss Brewster.
"You see, Miss Polly," he said, "no lady should go about unprotected down here."
"Ordinarily it's as safe as any city," said Sherwen. "Just now I can't be so certain."
"I hate being watched over like a child!" pouted Miss Brewster. "And I love sight-seeing alone. The flowers along the Calvario Road were so lovely."
"That's the road to the palace," remarked Carroll, looking at her closely.
"And the butterflies are so marvelous," she continued cheerfully. "Who lives in that salmon-pink pagoda just this side of the curve?"
Trouble sat dark and heavy upon the handsome features of Mr. Preston Fairfax Fitzhugh Carroll, but he was too experienced to put a direct query to his inamorata. What suspicion he had, he cherished until after dinner, when he took it to the club and made it the foundation of certain inquiries.
Thus it happened that at eleven o'clock that evening, he paused before a bench in the plaza, bowered in the bloom of creepers which flowed down from a balcony of the Kast, and occupied by the comfortably sprawled-out form of Mr. Thomas Cluff, who was making a burnt offering to Morpheus.
"Good-evening!" said Mr. Carroll pleasantly.
"Evenin'! How's things?" returned the other.
"Right as can be, thanks to you. On behalf of the Brewster family, I want to express our appreciation of your assistance to Miss Brewster this morning."
"Oh, that was nothing," returned the other.
"But it might have been a great deal. Mr. Brewster will wish to thank you in person—"
"Aw, forget it!" besought Mr. Thomas Cluff. "That little lady is all right. I'd just as soon eat an ambassador, let alone a gilt- framed secretary, to help her out."
"Miss Brewster," said the other, somewhat more stiffly, "is a wholly admirable young lady, but she is not always well advised in going out unescorted. By the way, you can doubtless confirm the rumor as to the identity of her insulter."
"His name is Von Plaanden. But I don't think he meant to insult any one."
"You will permit me to be the best judge of that."
"Go as far as you like," asserted the big fellow cheerfully. "That fellow Perkins can tell you more about the start of the thing than I can."
"From what I hear, he has no cause to be proud of his part in the matter," said the Southerner, frowning.
"He's sure a prompt little runner," asserted Cluff. "But I've run away in my time, and glad of the chance."
"You will excuse me from sympathizing with your standards."
"Sure, you're excused," returned the athlete, so placidly that Carroll, somewhat at a loss, altered his speech to a more gracious tone.
"At any rate, you stood your ground when you were needed, which is more than Mr. Perkins did. I should like to have a talk with him."
"That's easy. He was rambling around here not a quarter of an hour ago with young Raimonda. That's them sitting on the bench over by the fountain."
"Will you take me over and present me? I think it is due Mr. Perkins that some one should give him a frank opinion of his actions."
"I'd like to hear that," observed Cluff, who was not without humanistic curiosity. "Come along."
Heaving up his six-feet-one from the seat, he led the way to the two conversing men. Raimonda looked around and greeted the newcomers pleasantly. Cluff waved an explanatory hand between his charge and the bench.
"Make you acquainted with Mr. Perkins," he said, neglecting to mention the name of the first party of the introduction.
Perkins, goggling upward to meet a coldly hostile glance, rose, nodded in some wonder, and said: "How do you do?" Raimonda sent Cluff a glance of interrogation, to which that experimentalist in human antagonisms responded with a borrowed Spanish gesture of pleasurable uncertainty.
"I will not say that I'm glad to meet you, Mr. Perkins," began Carroll weightily, and paused.
If he expected a query, he was doomed to a disappointment. Such of the Perkins features as were not concealed by his extraordinary glasses expressed an immovable calm.
"Doubtless you know to what I refer."
Still those blank brown glasses regarded him in silence.
"Do you or do you not?" demanded Carroll, struggling to keep his temper in the face of this exasperating irresponsiveness.
"Haven't the least idea," replied Perkins equably.
"You were on the tram this morning when Miss Brewster was insulted, weren't you?"
"And ran away?"
"What did you run away for?"
"I ran away," the other sweetly informed him, "on important business of my own."
Cluff snickered. The suspicion impinged upon Carroll's mind that this wasn't going to be as simple as he had expected.
"Let that go for the moment. Do you know Miss Brewster's insulter?"
"Are you telling me the truth?" asked the Southerner sternly.
The begoggled one's chin jerked up. To the trained eye of Cluff, swift to interpret physical indications, it seemed that Perkins's weight had almost imperceptibly shifted its center of gravity.
"Our Southern friend is going to run into something if he doesn't look out," he reflected.
But there was no hint of trouble in Perkins's voice as he replied:—
"I know who he is. I don't know him."
"Was it Von Plaanden?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"Because," returned the other, with convincing coolness, "if it was, I intend to slap his face publicly as soon as I can find him."
"You must do nothing of the sort."
Now, indeed, there was a change in the other's bearing. The words came sharp and crisp.
"I shall do exactly as I said. Perhaps you will explain why you think otherwise."
"Because you must have some sense somewhere about you. Do you realize where you are?"
"I hardly think you can teach me geography, or anything else, Mr. Perkins."
"Well, good God," said the other sharply, "somebody's got to teach you! What do you suppose would be the result of your slapping Von Plaanden's face?"
"Whatever it may be, I am ready. I will fight him with any weapons, and gladly."
"Oh, yes; gladly! Fun for you, all right. But suppose you think of others a little."
"Afraid of being involved yourself?" smiled Carroll. "I'm sure you could run away successfully from any kind of trouble."
"Others might not be so able to escape."
"Of course I'm wholly wrong, and my training and traditions are absurdly old-fashioned, but I've been brought up to believe that the American who will run from a fight, or who will not stand up at home or abroad for American rights, American womanhood, and the American flag, isn't a man."
"Oh, keep it for the Fourth of July," returned Perkins wearily. "You can't get me into a fight."
"Fight?" Carroll laughed shortly. "If you had the traditions of a gentleman, you would not require any more provocation."
"If I had the traditions of a deranged doodle bug, I'd go around hunting trouble in a country that is full of it for foreigners— even those who behave themselves like sane human beings."
"Meaning, perhaps, that I'm not a sane human being?" inquired the Southerner.
"Do you think you act like it? To satisfy your own petty vanity of courage, you'd involve all of us in difficulties of which you know nothing. We're living over a powder magazine here, and you want to light matches to show what a hero you are. Traditions! Don't you talk to me about traditions! If you can serve your country or a woman better by running away than by fighting, the sensible thing to do is to run away. The best thing you can do is to keep quiet and let Von Plaanden drop. Otherwise, you'll have Miss Brewster the center of—"
"Keep your tongue from that lady's name!" warned Carroll.
"You're giving a good many orders," said the other slowly. "But I'll do almost anything just now to keep you peaceable, and to convince you that you must let Von Plaanden strictly alone."
"Just as surely as I meet him," said the Southerner ominously, "on my word of honor—" "Wait a moment," broke in the other sharply. "Don't commit yourself until you've heard me. Just around the corner from here is a cuartel. It isn't a nice clean jail like ours at home. Fleas are the pleasantest companions in the place. When a man—particularly an obnoxious foreigner—lands there, they are rather more than likely to forget little incidentals like food and water. And if he should happen to be of a nation without diplomatic representation here, as is the case with the United States at present, he might well lie there incomunicado until his hearing, which might be in two days or might not be for a month. Is that correct, Mr. Raimonda?"
"Essentially," confirmed the Caracunan.
"When you are through trying to frighten me—" began Carroll contemptuously.
"Frighten you? I'm not so foolish as to waste time that way. I'm trying to warn you."
"Are you quite done?"
"I am not. On MY honor—" He broke off as Carroll smiled. "Smile if you like, but believe what I'm telling you. Unless you agree to keep your hands and tongue off Von Plaanden I'll lay an information which will land you in the cuartel within an hour."
The smile froze on the Southerner's lips.
"Could he do that?" he asked Raimonda.
"I'm afraid he could. And, really, Mr. Carroll, he's correct in principle. In the present state of political feeling, an assault by an American upon the representative of Hochwald might seriously endanger all of your party."
"That's right," Cluff supported him. "I'm with you in wanting to break that gold-frilled geezer's face up into small sections, but it just won't do."
With an effort, Carroll recovered his self-control.
"Mr. Raimonda," he said courteously, "I give YOU my word that there will be no trouble between Herr Von Plaanden and myself, of my seeking, until Mr. and Miss Brewster are safely out of the country."
"That's enough," said Cluff heartily. "The rest of us can take care of ourselves."
"Meantime," said Raimonda, "I think the whole matter can be arranged. Von Plaanden shall apologize to Miss Brewster to-morrow. It is not his first outbreak, and always he regrets. My uncle, who is of the Foreign Office, will see to it."
"Then that's settled," remarked Perkins cheerfully.
Carroll turned upon him savagely:—
"To your entire satisfaction, no doubt, now that you've shown yourself an informer as well as—"
"Easy with the rough stuff, Mr. Carroll," advised Cluff, his good- natured face clouding. "We're all a little het up. Let's have a drink, and cool down."
"With you, with pleasure. I shall hope to meet you later, Mr. Perkins," he added significantly.
"Well, I hope not," retorted the other. "My voice is still for peace. Meantime, please assure Miss Brewster for me—"
"I warned you to keep that lady's name from your lips."
"You did. But I don't know by what authority. You're not her father, I suppose. Are you her brother, by any chance?"
As he spoke, Perkins experienced that curious feeling that some invisible person was trying to catch his eye. Now, as he turned directly upon Carroll, his glance, passing over his shoulder, followed a broad ray of light spreading from a second-story leaf- framed balcony of the hotel. There was a stir amid the greenery. The face of the Voice appeared, framed in flowers. Its features lighted up with mirth, and the lips formed the unmistakable monosyllable: "Boo!"
The identification was complete—"Boo to a goose."
"Preston Fairfax Fitzhugh Carroll!" Unwittingly he spoke the name aloud, and, unfortunately, laughed.
To a less sensitive temperament, even, than Carroll's, the provocation would have been extreme. Perkins was recalled to a more serious view of the situation by the choking accents of that gentleman.
"Take off your glasses!"
"Because I'm going to thrash you within an inch of your life!"
"Gentlemen, gentlemen!" cried the young Caracunan. "This is no place for such an affair."
Apparently Perkins held the same belief. Stepping aside, he abruptly sat down on the end of the bench, facing the fountain and not four feet from it. His head drooped a little forward; his hands dropped between his knees; one foot—but Cluff, the athlete, was the only one to note this—edged backward and turned to secure a firm hold on the pavement. Carroll stepped over in front of him and stood nonplused. He half drew his hand back, then let it fall.
"I can't hit a man sitting down," he muttered distressfully.
Perkins's set face relaxed.
"Running true to tradition," he observed, pleasantly enough. "I didn't think you would. See here, Mr. Carroll, I'm sorry that I laughed at your name. In fact, I didn't really laugh at your name at all. It was at something quite different which came into my mind at that moment."
"Your apology is accepted so far," returned the other stiffly. "But that doesn't settle the other account between us, when we meet again. Or do you choose to threaten me with jail for that, also?"
"No. It's easier to keep out of your way."
"Good Lord!" cried the Southerner in disgust. "Are you afraid of everything?"
"Why, no!" Perkins rose, smiling at him with perfect equanimity. "As a matter of fact, if you're interested to know, I wasn't particularly afraid of Von Plaanden, and, if I may say so without offense, I'm not particularly afraid of you."
Carroll studied him intently.
"By Jove, I believe you aren't! I give it up!" he cried desperately. "You're crazy, I reckon—or else I am." And he took himself off without the formality of a farewell to the others.
Raimonda, with a courteous bow to his companions, followed him.
Wearily the goggled one sank back in his seat. Cluff moved across, planting himself exactly where Carroll had stood.
"Eh?" responded the sitter absently.
"What would you do if I should bat you one in the eye?"
"What would you do to me?"
"You, too?" cried the bewildered Perkins. "Why on earth—"
"You'd dive into my knees, wouldn't you, and tip me over backward?"
"Oh, that!" A slow grin overspread the space beneath the glasses. "That was the idea."
"I know the trick. It's a good one—except for the guy that gets it."
"It wouldn't have hurt him. He'd have landed in the fountain."
"So he would. What then?"
"Oh, I'd have held him there till he got cooled off, and then made a run for it. A wet man can't catch a dry man."
"Say, son, YOU'RE a dry one, all right."
"Wake up! I'm saying you're all right."
"You certainly took enough off him to rile a sheep. Why didn't you do it?"
"Tip him in."
Perkins glanced upward at the balcony where the vines had closed upon a face that smiled.
"Oh," he said mildly, "he's a friend of a friend of mine."
TWO ON A MOUNTAIN-SIDE
ORCHIDS do not, by preference, grow upon a cactus plant. Little though she recked of botany, Miss Brewster was aware of this fundamental truth. Neither do they, without extraneous impulsion, go hurtling through the air along deserted mountain-sides, to find a resting-place far below; another natural-history fact which the young lady appreciated without being obliged to consult the literature of the subject. Therefore, when, from the top of the appointed rock, she observed a carefully composed bunch of mauve Cattleyas describe a parabola and finally join two previous clusters upon the spines of a prickly-pear patch, she divined some energizing force back of the phenomenon. That energizing force she surmised was temper.
"Fie!" said she severely. "Beetle gentlemen should control their little feelings. Naughty, naughty!"
From below rose a fervid and startled exclamation.
"Naughtier, naughtier!" deprecated the visitor. "Are these the cold and measured terms of science?"
"You haven't lived up to your bet," complained the censured one.
"Indeed I have! I always play fair, and pay fair. Here I am, as per contract."
"Nearly half an hour late."
"Not at all. Four-thirty was the time."
"And now it is three minutes to five."
"Making twenty-seven minutes that I've been sitting here waiting for a welcome."
"Waiting? Oh, Miss Brewster—"
"I'm not Miss Brewster. I'm a voice in the wilderness."
"Then, Voice, you haven't been there more than one minute. A voice isn't a voice until it makes a noise like a voice. Q.E.D."
"There is something in that argument," she admitted. "But why didn't you come up and look for me?"
"Does one look for a sound?"
"Please don't be so logical. It tires my poor little brain. You might at least have called."
"That would have been like holding you up for payment of the bet, wouldn't it? I was waiting for you to speak."
"Not good form in Caracuna. The senor should always speak first."
"You began the other time," he pointed out.
"So I did, but that was under a misapprehension. I hadn't learned the customs of the country then. By the way, is it a local custom for hermits of science to climb breakneck precipices for golden- hearted orchids to send to casual acquaintances?"
"Is that what you are?" he queried in a slightly depressed tone.
"What on earth else could I be?" she returned, amused.
"Of course. But we all like to pretend that our fairy tales are permanent, don't we?"
"I can readily picture you chasing beetles, but I can't see you chasing fairies at all," she asserted positively.
"Nor can I. If you chase them, they vanish. Every one knows that."
"Anyway, your orchids were fit for a fairy queen. I haven't thanked you for them yet."
"Indeed you have. Much more than they deserve. By coming here to- day."
"Oh, that was a point of honor. Are you going to let those lovely purple ones wither on that prickly plant down there? Think how much better they'd look pinned on me—if there were any one here to see and appreciate."
If this were a hint, it failed of its aim, for, as the hermit scuttled out from his shelter, looking not unlike some bulky protrusive-eyed insect, secured the orchids, and returned, he never once glanced up. Safe again in his rock-bound retreat, he spoke:—
"'Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.'"
"So you do know something of fairies and fairy lore!" she cried.
"Oh, it wasn't much more than a hundred years ago that I read my Grimm. In the story, only one call was necessary."
"Well, I can't spare any more of my silken tresses. I brought a string this time. Where's the other hair line?"
"I've used it to tether a fairy thought so that it can't fly away from me. Draw up slowly."
"Thank you so much, and I'm so glad that you are feeling better."
"Yes. Better than the day before yesterday."
"Day before yesterday?"
"Bless the poor man! Much anxious waiting hath bemused his wits. He thinks he's an echo."
"But I was all right the day before yesterday."
"You weren't. You were a prey to the most thrilling terrors. You were a moving picture of tender masculinity in distress. You let bashfulness like a worm i' th' bud prey upon your damask cheek. Have you a damask cheek? Stand out! I wish to consider you impartially. YOU needn't look at ME, you know."
"I'm not going to," he assured her, stepping forth obediently.
"Basilisk that I am!" she laughed. "How brown you are! How long did you say you'd been here? A year?"
"Fourteen weary Voiceless months. Not on this island, you know, but around the tropics."
"Yet you look vigorous and alert; not like the men I've seen come back from the hot countries, all languid and worn out. And you do look clean."
"Why shouldn't I be clean?"
"Of course you should. But people get slack, don't they, when they live off all alone by themselves? Still, I suppose you spruced up a little for me?"
"Nothing of the sort," he denied, with heat.
"No? Oh, my poor little vanity! He wouldn't dress up for us, Vanity, though we did dress up for him, and we're looking awfully nice—for a voice, that is. Do you always keep so soft and pink and smooth, Mr. Beetle Man?"
"I own a razor, if that's what you mean. You're making fun of me. Well, I don't mind." He lifted his voice and chanted:—
"Although beyond the pale of law, He always kept a polished jaw; For he was one of those who saw A saving hope In shaving soap."
"Oh, lovely! What a noble finish. What is it?"
"Extract from 'Biographical Blurbings.'"
"Yes. By Me."
"And are you beyond the pale of law?"
"Poetical license," he explained airily. "Hold on, though." He fell silent a moment, and out of that silence came a short laugh. "I suppose I AM beyond the pale of law, now that I come to think of it. But you needn't be alarmed, I'm not a really dangerous criminal."
Later she was to recall that confession with sore misgivings. Now she only inquired lightly:
"Is that why you ran away from the tram car yesterday?" "Ran away? I didn't run away," he said, with dignity. "It just happened that there came into my mind an important engagement that I'd forgotten. My memory isn't what it should be. So I just turned over the matter in hand to an acquaintance of mine."
"The matter in hand being me."
"Why, yes; and the acquaintance being Mr. Cluff. I saw him throw four men out of a hotel once for insulting a girl, so I knew that he was much better at that sort of thing than I. May I go back now and sit down?" "Of course. I don't know whether I ought to thank you about yesterday or be very angry. It was such an extraordinary performance on your part—"
"Nothing extraordinary about it." His voice came up out of the shadow, full of judicial confidence. "Merely sound common sense."
"To leave a woman who has been insulted—"
"In more competent hands than one's own."
"Oh, I give it up!" she cried. "I don't understand you at all. Fitzhugh is right; you haven't a tradition to your name."
"Tradition," he repeated thoughtfully. "Why, I don't know. They're pretty rigid things, traditions. Rusty in the joints and all that sort of thing. Life isn't a process of machinery, exactly. One has to meet it with something more supple and adjustable than traditions."
"Is that your philosophy? Suppose a man struck you. Wouldn't you hit him back?"
"Perhaps. It would depend."
"Or insulted your country? Don't you believe that men should be ready to die, if necessary, in such a cause?"
"Some men. Soldiers, for instance. They're paid to."
"Good Heavens! Is it all a question of pay in your mind? Wouldn't YOU, unless you were paid for it?"
"How can I tell until the occasion arises?"
"Are you afraid?"
"I suppose I might be."
"Hasn't the man any blood in his veins?" cried his inquisitor, exasperated. "Haven't you ever been angry clear through?"
"Oh, of course; and sorry for it afterward. One is likely to lose one's temper any time. It might easily happen to me and drive me to make a fool of myself, like—like—" His voice trailed off into a silence of embarrassment.
"Like Fitzhugh Carroll. Why not say it? Well, I much prefer him and his hot-headedness to you and your careful wisdom."
"Of course," he acquiesced patiently. "Any girl would. It's the romantic temperament."
"And yours is the scientific, I suppose. That doesn't take into account little things like patriotism and heroism, does it? Tell me, have you actually ever admired—really got a thrill out of— any deed of heroism?"
"Oh, yes," he replied tranquilly. "I've done my bit of hero worship in my time. In fact, I've never quite recovered from it."
"No! Really? Do go on. You're growing more human every minute."
"Do you happen to know anything about the Havana campaign?"
"Not much. It never seemed to me anything to brag of. Dad says the Spanish-American War grew a crop of newspaper-made heroes, manufactured by reporters who really took more risks and showed more nerve than the men they glorified."
"Spanish-American War? That isn't what I'm talking about. I'm speaking of Walter Reed and his fellow scientists, who went down there and fought the mosquitoes."
The girl's lip curled.
"So that's your idea of heroism! Scrubby peckers into the lives of helpless bugs!"
"Have you the faintest idea what you are talking about?"
His voice had abruptly hardened. There was an edge to it; such an edge as she had faintly heard on the previous night, when Carroll had pressed him too hard. She was startled.
"Perhaps I haven't," she admitted.
"Then it's time you learned. Three American doctors went down into that pesthole of a Cuban city to offer their lives for a theory. Not for a tangible fact like the flag, or for glory and fame as in battle, but for a theory that might or might not be true. There wasn't a day or a night that their lives weren't at stake. Carroll let himself be bitten by infected mosquitoes on a final test, and grazed death by a hair's breadth. Lazear was bitten at his work, and died in the agony of yellow-fever convulsions, a martyr and a hero if ever there was one. Because of them, Havana is safe and livable now. We were able to build the Panama Canal because of their work, their—what did you call it?—scrubby peeking into the lives of—"
"Don't!" cried the girl. "I—I'm ashamed. I didn't know."
"How should you?" he said, in a changed tone. "We Americans set up monuments to our destroyers, not to our preservers, of life. Nobody knows about Walter Reed and James Carroll and Jesse Lazear —not even the American Government, which they officially served— except a few doctors and dried-up entomologists like myself. Forgive me. I didn't mean to deliver a lecture."
There was a long pause, which she broke with an effort.
"Mr. Beetle Man?"
"I—I'm beginning to think you rather more man than beetle at times."
"Well, you see, you touched me on a point of fanaticism," he apologized.
"Do you mind standing up again for examination? No," she decided, as he stepped out and stood with his eyes lowered obstinately. "You don't seem changed to outward view. You still remind me," with a ripple of irrepressible laughter, "of a near-sighted frog. It's those ridiculous glasses. Why do you wear them?"
"To keep the sun out of my eyes."
"And the moon at night, I suppose. They're not for purposes of disguise?"
"Disguise! What makes you say that?" he asked quickly.
"Don't bark. They'd be most effective. And they certainly give your face a truly weird expression, in addition to its other detriments."
"If you don't like my face, consider my figure," he suggested optimistically. "What's the matter with that?"
"Stumpy," she pronounced. "You're all in a chunk. It does look like a practical sort of a chunk, though."
"Don't you like it?" he asked anxiously.
"Oh, well enough of its kind." She lifted her voice and chanted:—
"He was stubby and square, But SHE didn't much care.
"There's a verse in return for yours. Mine's adapted, though. Examination's over. Wait. Don't sit down. Now, tell me your opinion of me."
"I'm not musical at all."
"Oh, I'm considering you as a VOICE."
"I'm tired of being just a voice. Look up here. Do," she pleaded. "Turn upon me those lucent goggles."
When orbs like thine the soul disclose, Tee-deedle-deedle-dee.
Don't be afraid. One brief fleeting glance ere we part."
"No," he returned positively. "Once is enough."
"On behalf of my poor traduced features, I thank you humbly. Did they prove as bad as you feared?"
"Worse. I've hardly forgotten yet what you look like. Your kind of face is bad for business."
"What is business?"
"Haven't I told you? I'm a scientist."
"Well, I'm a specimen. No beetle that crawls or creeps or hobbles, or does whatever beetles are supposed to do, shows any greater variation from type—I heard a man say that in a lecture once— than I do. Can't I interest you in my case, O learned one? The proper study of mankind is—"
"Woman. Yes, I know all about that. But I'm a groundling."
"Mr. Beetle Man," she said, in a tremulous voice, "the rock is moving."
"I don't feel it. Though it might be a touch of earthquake. We have 'em often."
"Not your rock. The tarantula rock, I mean."
"Nonsense! A hundred tarantulas couldn't stir it."
"Well, it seems to be moving, and that's just as bad. I'm tired and I'm lonely. Oh, please, Professor Scarab, have I got to fall on your neck again to introduce a little human companionship into this conversation?"
"Caesar! No! My shoulder's still lame. What do you want, anyway?"
"I want to know about you and your work. ALL about you."
"Humph! Well, at present I'm making some microscopical studies of insects. That's the reason for these glasses. The light is so harsh in these latitudes that it affects the vision a trifle, and every trifle counts in microscopy."
"Does the microscope add charm to the beetle?"
"Some day I'll show you, if you like. Just now it's the flea, the national bird of Caracuna."
"The wicked flea?"
"Nobody knows how wicked until he has studied him on his native heath."
"Doesn't the flea have something to do with plague? They say there's plague in the city now. You knew all about the Dutch. Do you know anything about the plague?"
"You've been listening to bolas."
"What's a bola?"
"A bola is information that somebody who is totally ignorant of the facts whispers confidentially in your ear with the assurance that he knows it to be authentic—in other words, a lie."
"Then there isn't any plague down under those quaint, old, red- tiled roofs?"
"Who ever knows what's going on under those quaint, old, red-tiled roofs? No foreigner, certainly."
"Even I can feel the mystery, little as I've seen of the place," said the girl.
"Oh, that's the Indian of it. The tiled roofs are Spanish; the speech is Spanish; but just beneath roof and speech, the life and thought are profoundly and unfathomably Indian."
"Not with all the Caracunans, surely. Take Mr. Raimonda, for instance."
"Ah, that's different. Twenty families of the city, perhaps, are pure-bloods. There are no finer, cleaner fellows anywhere than the well-bred Caracunans. They are men of the world, European educated, good sportsmen, straight, honorable gentlemen. Unfortunately not they, but a gang of mongrel grafters control the politics of the country."
"For a hermit of science, you seem to know a good deal of what goes on. By the way, Mr. Raimonda called on me—on us last evening."
"So he mentioned. Rather serious, that, you know."
"Far from it. He was very amusing."
"Doubtless," commented the other dryly. "But it isn't fair to play the game with one who doesn't know the rules. Besides, what will Mr. Preston Fairfax—"