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   Chapter 4 — SADLER IN PORTATE. THE NARRATIVE CONTINUED.

The Belted Seas By Arthur Colton Characters: 22685

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


I don't know how Sadler got to be Harbour Master for the Transport Company, but so he did, and he was a capable harbour master. The Transport Company thought much of him, only they said he was reckless, and he surely acted youthful to belie his looks. He used to go around in a grimy little tugboat called the Harvest Moon, with Irish running the engine below, and himself busy thrashing and blackguarding roustabouts, joyful like a dewy morn; but at night he'd be found on the deck of either the Helen Mar or the Harvest Moon, playing a banjo very melancholy, and singing his verses to tunes that he got from secret sources of sorrow maybe, which the verses were interesting, but the tunes weren't fortunate. He was particular about his poetry being accurate to facts, but he'd no gift as to tunes.

The trouble he got into all came from throwing Pedro Hillary off the stern of the Harvest Moon, so that Pete went out with the tide, because no one thought him worth fishing out, till it was found that he was a member of some sort of Masonic Society among the negroes in Ferdinand Street, and a British subject too, who came from Jamaica to Portate. But before that time Pete was picked up by a rowboat, and came back to Portate and Ferdinand Street. He and Ferdinand Street were very mad. It was a street occupied by negroes, and Sadler wasn't popular there.

He came up to the Helen Mar the afternoon of the day that Pete went out of the harbour, and lay in a hammock on deck, where one could look down past the fruit trees toward the town and the mouth of the Jiron. He was making a requiem for Pete Hillary, such as he thought he ought to do under those circumstances, though the requiem was no good and the tune vicious. "Pete Hillary," it began,

"Pete Hillary, I make for you

This lonesome, sad complaint.

Alive you wa'nt no use, 'tis true,

And dead you prob'ly ain't.

"Pete Hillary, Pete Hillary,

I don't know where you are.

Here's luck to you, Pete Hillary,

Beyond the harbour bar."

Just then Irish came running up the path, and climbed the ladder on deck, and he cried:

"It's a warrant for ye, Kid I Run! Oh, wirra! What did ye do it for?" He was distracted.

Sadler paid no attention. He only twanged his banjo, and sang casual poetry, and Little Irish ran on:

"'Tis Pete Hillary himself was pulled out forninst the sand-bar," he says, "an' he's back in Ferdinand Street, swearin' for the bucket o' wather he swallyed. An' 'tis the English consul up to the City Hall says he come from Jamaica, an' a crowd of naygers from Ferdinand Street be the docks. Ah, coom, Kid! Coom quick, for the love of God!"

And Sadler says: "Gi'n me a kiss," he says,

"Gi'n me a kiss, sweetheart, says he;

Don't shed no tears for me, says he,

And if I meet a lass as sweet

In Paraguay, in Paraguay,

I'll tell her this: 'Gi'n me a kiss;

You ain't half bad for Paraguay.'"

And Irish says: "An' there's two twin sojers with their guns," he says, "an' belts full of cartridges on the Harvest Moon, an' the gentlemen at the Transport says, Hide, dom ye! he says, till they can ship ye wid a cargo to Californy."

Says Sadler:

"The little islands fall asleep,

The little wavelets wink.

Aye, God's on high; the sea is deep;

Go, Chepa, get some drink.

Ah, Magdalena--

"Calm, Irish! Get calm!" he says.

"You mean to say there's twins like that occupying the Harvest Moon?-

"Magdalena,

First I seen her

Underneath an orange-tree-

"They are," says Irish.

"Well-ain't they got nerve!"

"She was swashin'

Suds and washin'

Shirts beneath her orange-tree,"

he says. "Why, I got to go down and spank 'em!" he says, and he rolled out of the hammock and went off down the road toward Portate with Irish pattering after him.

We saw no more of them that day, and we didn't hear any news until the noon following. There was a gale from the northwest in the morning. I went down to the city in the afternoon, and found the Plaza boiling with news.

It seemed that Sadler had gone aboard the Harvest Moon and surprised the two soldiers, and dipped them in the water with their artillery, and sent them uptown with the wet warrant stuck in the muzzle of a gun. Then he paraded the Harvest Moon the length of Portate's water-front, tooting his steam whistle. Then the Jefe Municipal-that's the Mayor-fell into his warmest temper, and sent a company of pink soldiery of the City Guard in the morning, packed close in a tugboat. Then Sadler led them seaward, where the gale was blowing from the northwest and the seas piled past the harbour; so most of the pink soldiers were seasick, not being good mariners, and the gale standing the tugs on their beam-ends, which was no sort of place for a City Guard. They came back unhappy. The Harvest Moon was in again, and now anchored in the harbour. I passed the Jefe myself on the City Hall steps, and heard him b-r-r-ring like a dynamo. Then I went down to the harbour.

The Harvest Moon lay rolling a half mile out. I took a rowboat and rowed out. When I drew near, I saw Sadler standing by the rail with the black nozzle of a hose pipe pushed forward, and shading his eyes against the glint of the water. When he saw it was me he took me aboard. But he was thoughtful and depressed. He sat himself on the rail and dangled his boots over the water and described his state of mind.

"What makes a man act so?" he says. "There's my fellow-man. Look at him! I'm sorry for him. Most of him had hard luck to be born, and yet when he gets in my way I just walk all over him. I can't help it. He's leathery and he's passive, my fellow-man. He goes to sleep in the middle of the road. When I ketch one of him, I kicks a hole in his trousers first, and then it occurs to me, 'My sufferin' brother! This is too bad!' Why, Pete Hillary was one of the dumbdest and leatheriest, and here's the Mayor's pink sojers been fillin' me with joy and sorrow, till I laughed from eleven till twelve, and been sheddin' tears ever since. Irish's been three times around his rosary before he got the scare kinks out of him, and between Irish bein' pathetic, and the Mayor and his sojers comin' out pink and going back jammed to the colour of canned salmon, my feelin's is worked up to bust. What makes a man act so? It must be he has cats in him."

He pulled his moustache and looked gloomy, and I judged his remorse was sincere. I says:

"That's what I don't put together. Why, Kid, look here! If you feel as bad as that three-for-a-cent requiem to Pete Hillary sounded, it's cats all right. It's the same kind that light on back fences and feel sick, and express themselves by clawing faces," I says, "and blaspheming the moon with sounds that never ought to be. That what you mean by 'cats in him'?"

"Precise, Tommy, precise."

"Well, I don't put it together," I says. "I wouldn't feel like that for the satisfaction of drowning all Ferdinand Street. Why, poetical habits and habits of banging folks don't seem to me to fit. Why," I says, "a poet he's one thing, and a scrapper he's another, ain't they? They don't agree. One of 'em feels bad about it, and takes to laments and requiems nights, same as malaria."

"It's this way," he says. "Those are just two different ways of statin' that things are interestin'. And yet, you're not far from the facts. It was a shoemaker in Portland, Maine," he says, "that taught me to chuck metres when I was a young one, and the shoemaker's son taught me to fight in the back yard, more because he was bigger than because he was interested in educatin' me. By-and-by I beat the shoemaker on metres and the son in the back yard, and then I left 'em, for they was no more use to me. But I never found anything else so much satisfaction as them two pursuits. But I'll go away, Tommy," he says, "I'll leave Portate. I will, honest. I'll be good. I wish they'd quit puttin' temptations on me. But they won't. They're comin' out again! Look at 'em! They've borrowed the Juanita, and she's comin' with only the steersman in sight, and a cabin full of sojers that can't keep their bayonets inside of the windows. My! ain't they sly!"

He went to the companion way and called Irish, telling him to "start her up."

The Juanita was one of the Transport Company's tugs. She appeared to be engaged in a stratagem. She passed the Harvest Moon, then swung around and came up, on the other side. The Harvest Moon made no effort to escape her anchorage, though the engine below began thumping busily.

Sadler went aft, dragging the long black hose, and sat on the rail till the Juanita drew in to forty feet away, and through the deckhouse windows you could see the tufted caps of the suppressed soldiery. Then he let a steaming arch out of the hose pipe, that vaulted the distance and soaked the steersman, who howled and lay down. Then the Juanita ploughed on, and Sadler played his hose, as she passed, through the windows of the deck house, where there were crashes and other noises, and Irish's engine kept on chug-chugging in the chest of the Harvest Moon. The Juanita went out of reach, and the soldiery poured out on deck disorderly and furious, and Sadler pulled me flat beside him, supposing they might open a volley of musketry on us, but they didn't. Then he got up. "They give me the colic," he says, and Irish put his head up the companion way, and says: "The wather was too hot," he says and blew his fingers, and Sadler gave a groan.

"There's my luck!" he says. "I meant to tell Irish to take the boil off and forgot it. Now their skins'll peel. You go away, Tommy. You go ashore. You can't do me no good."

He looked sheepish and troubled. When I pulled away, he sat staring down, with his back turned, his boots dangling over the water, and his shoulders bent. He certainly felt bad.

The Superintendent of the Transport Company was named Dorcas, a bustling, heavy-bearded man that you couldn't hold still and that talked fast and jerky like a piston rod.

I met him in the Plaza next morning going into the City Hall.

"Come on," he says. "We'll fix it. What? Jefe was stuck. Come to me. Now then. Got an idea. Suit him first-rate. You see. Struck me this morning," says Dorcas. "Suit everybody."

We came to the Mayor's office, and found Sadler, sitting alone by the window and looking moodily down on the Plaza, where the chain gang from the City Jail was pretending to mend the pavement, but mostly loafing and quarrelling.

"Got him!" said Dorcas joyfully. "Thumped up the Jefe. First he cussed, then he calmed. That's his way. Be up pretty soon. Hold on! Wait for the Jefe."

Sadler nodded, and we sat and watched the chain gang, till the Mayor came in out of breath. He was a small, stout man with a military goatee, and his temper was such as kept the resident consuls happy with their diplomacy. He snorted at Sadler, and sat down.

"Now, Excellency," Dorcas says, "this way. Understand your position. All right. Reasonable. First, if Pete Hillary is Jamaican, he's no citizen of Portate. See? No good, anyway. No. British consul, he don't care, except for the principle. Not really. No. You want to pacify him, meaning his principle. That's so. Then that Hottentot Society. Got to fix them. Course you have. Don't want to disoblige honest voters o

f Ferdinand Street. No. Third; you got to celebrate the majesty of laws and municipal guards. Good. Last; the Transport Company. We don't want the Kid to chew his thumbs in jail for wetting folks. Good land! No! You want to satisfy us. Complicated, ain't it? But you're equal to it. You're a good one, Jefe. Sure. Now what's needed? Something bold. Something skilful. We have it! Get him banished, Excellency. Get him banished. Executive Edict from the President. Big gun. Hottentots pleased and scared. Majesty of Great Britain pacified. Majesty of municipal guards celebrated. Transport Company don't object. Everybody happy. There, now!"

He put his thumbs in the armholes of his vest, leaned back and beamed.

"Hum! You assist?" says the Mayor.

"We do."

The Mayor gazed at him fierce for a minute, then he smiled and patted his knee.

"It is, perhaps, Senor Dorcas, not impossible."

"There now, Kid! Fixed you."

Sadler said nothing, but looked down at the chain gang below. The Plaza was full of people, women talking under the stiff palms, and men sitting on wicker chairs on the hotel piazza opposite. The butcher on the corner was chasing away a dog.

"It won't do," says Sadler mournfully, at last. "It's more interestin' than I'd suppose you was up to, but comparatively it's dull. Besides, it ain't safe. I'd have to come back and see how bad I was banished. That's certain. Not that I'd throw you down this way, Excellency," he says with sad eyes on the Mayor and a deep voice, "I wouldn't do it," he says, "without puttin' up another scheme, for it wouldn't be treating you upright. But makin' a supposition, now, suppose I was arrested some, and set to bossin' that gang out there for the benefit of Portate, and quartered, for safe keepin' till the trial, at the Hotel Republic, as a partial return for being exhibited in disgrace. And suppose it took me three days to finish that little job they're potterin' with, by that time I'd be ready to, let's say, to escape, say, on the steamer that sails for Lima on Thursday. I'm a broken and tremblin' reed, Jefe. That's me. I shrinks, I fades away. The majestic law's too much for me. And suppose you was to fix up a Proclamation subsequent and immejiate, offerin' a reward for me. Now, as to fugitive, or as to exile, lookin' at it from my standpoint, I makes my choice. I says, fugitive. It suits me better. It's elegant and inexpensive. I ain't worthy of an Executive Edict. As a fugitive I wouldn't have to fidgit to get even with you. But take your standpoint, Excellency. There's iniquitous limits to you. For instance, you can't put up an Executive Edict by yourself. Consequence is, there's no glory in it for you. But you can put up a Proclamation, runnin' like this: 'Five hundred dollars reward for capture and return of one Sadler, that committed humiliatin' assault on one Hillary, and sp'iled the stomachs and b'iled the skins of patriotic municipal guardsmen, which shameful person is more'n six feet of iniquity, and his features homely beyond belief, complexion dilapidated, and conscience dyspeptic.' Of course, Excellency, there couldn't anybody give you points on a Proclamation. I ain't doin' that, but I was supposin' it was printed in the national colours, with a spectacular reward precedin' a festival of language. Printed, posted, and scattered over Ferdinand Street and the British Consulate, what happens? British majesty pacified, Ferdinand Street solid for a Mayor that puts that value on Pete Hillary, Transport Company don't object. Everybody happy, except me. Don't mind me. I go my lonesome way."

Sadler turned away, depressed, and looked at the chain gang in the Plaza. The Mayor's eyes glistened. Dorcas pulled his beard, and he says:

"There'd be more in it for you, Excellency, that's a fact."

The Mayor came over and patted Sadler on the shoulder, and his voice showed emotion.

"My friend, be not sad. To be sacrificed to public policy is noble."

"Recollect that Proclamation, Excellency," says Sadler. "You can't describe me too villainous."

"I will remember," says the Mayor in a broken voice. "I will remember."

"And you won't go under five hundred," says Sadler. "It'll be a tribute to your private respect, just between you and me, as friends that might never meet again."

"I will remember. My friend! Yet be firm," says the Mayor.

Sadler left the hall with a file of pink soldiers, who acted sly and kept aside from him, as not knowing in what direction he might be dangerous. He was put in charge of the chain gang, and introduced them to sorrow and haste, and he spent his three days at the Hotel Republic, taking things joyful at the bar at municipal expense. There were soirees on the hotel piazza and terror in the chain gang. By the rate the work went on in the Plaza, he was worth the expense. The only point where he didn't appear scrupulous was going around to bid people good-bye, which seemed simple-hearted and affecting in a way, but it harrowed the Mayor's feelings. He said they were harrowed. He got nervous. For if a man agrees to be a fugitive, and to escape in a way described by himself as a shrinking and fading away, it stands to reason he oughtn't to make too much fuss about it; nor tell the British consul that the Mayor was going to assassinate him, which was the reason for "these here adieus," to which the British consul said, "Gammon!" Yet this seemed to be the idea current in Ferdinand Street, and was why the Hottentot Society were peaceful for the time being. But it made the Mayor nervous the way Portate was keyed up for tragedy, and the way Sadler acted as if he wasn't going to escape real mysterious. For the Mayor had to please the British consul and Ferdinand Street and the Transport Company; but the Hottentots were skittish, and the Mayor was nervous.

On Thursday morning the dock was crowded with Sadler's friends, come to watch him escape, and some who heard he was to try it, and thought to see him grabbed by the City Guard. They expected a surprise. It puzzled them when the strip of water widened between the steamer and the pier.

Irish wasn't there, though I had supposed he would go with Sadler; but the British and American consuls were there, and Dorcas, with others of the Transport Company, people from the Hotel Republic, and Hillary, and a lot of negroes from Ferdinand Street. I heard the British consul say to the American consul: "You know, of course, that's what you call a 'put up job'-one of your Americanisms," he says.

"Shucks! You don't care," says the American consul.

"But really, you know, it's not decent," says the British consul.

Sadler stood on the after deck of the steamer with his hat off, same as if he was asking a benediction on Portate.

An hour later the steamer was out of sight and the proclamations were posted in Ferdinand Street, and the Plaza, and at the consulates: "Three hundred dollars reward for the capture and return, dead or alive, of one known as 'Kid Sadler,' a fugitive from public justice, who committed felonious and insulting assault on Pedro Hillary, the well-known and respected resident of Ferdinand Street. It is suspected," says the Proclamation, "that, if still in the city, he will endeavour to escape by steamer in disguise. Description."--

Which description of him was remarkable for length and scorn.

I heard the American consul say to the British consul; "I'll tell you what that is, old man. That's a porous plaster. It has some holes, but it's meant to cover your indecency."

That Thursday night I sat alone on the deck of the Hotel Helen Mar. It was near ten o'clock. I saw a flamingo rise from the river, and it flew over the Helen Mar, like a ghost, trailing its legs.

And the ladder creaked, and Sadler came over the side. He stepped soft and long like a ghost.

"How do?" he says, and sat down, and twankled his banjo.

Then I asked, "Why? What for?" I says, "I don't see it," I says. "It ain't reasonable." It was well enough for a flamingo, but a man has responsibilities. It's not right for him to be a floating object that's no such thing. He's got no business to be impossible, unless he explains himself. I stated that opinion pretty sharp, but Sadler was calm.

"Irish hooked the Harvest Moon" he says, "and lay outside for the steamer. I jumped overboard."

"Changed your mind?"

"Well, I'd thought some of enlisting for the Chilian War, but Irish don't like war. Gives him the fidgits. I made a 'Farewell' going out. I thought I'd come round and tell it to you." He sang hoarsely as follows:

"Tommy and Dorcas, now adieu;

I drops a briny tear on,

Mayor, my memories of you;

Stevey that brought the beer on;

Farewell across the waters blue,

Oh, Jiron.

"Farewell the nights of ba'my smell,

Farewell the alligator,

Special them little ones that dwell

In the muck hole with their mater.

Farewell, Portate, oh, farewell,

Equator."

"You see," he says, "the point of going to war is this way, because

"The damage you do

Ain't totted to you

But explained by the habits of nations.

"Government pays the bills, commissary, sanitary, and them that's sent to God Almighty. I guess so. But it'd give Irish the fidgits. Then the Transport's got a three-master billed for San Francisco, and she sails to-morrow morning, and we're going on her." He seemed subdued, and hummed and strummed on his banjo, as if he couldn't get hold of what he wanted to let out. At last he struck up a monotonous thing that had no tune, and sang again: "One day," he says,

"One day I struck creation,

And I says in admiration,

'What's this here combination?'

Then I done a heap of sin.

I hain't no education,

Nor kin.

"There's something I would say, boys,

Of the life I throwed away, boys,

It cackles, but don't lay, boys,

There's a word that won't come out.

The hell I raised I'll pay, boys,

Just about.

"Tommy," he says then, "I'm leaving you. You ain't going to have my sheltering wing no more. Write down these here maxims in your memory, supposing I never see you no more. Any game is good that'll hold up a bet. Any sort of life is good so long as it has a good risk in it. The worth of anything depends on how much you've staked on it. Him that draws most of the potluck in this world is the same that drops most in. The man that puts up his last coin as keen as when he put up his first, he'll sure win in the end. Lastly, Tommy, if you want a backer inquire for Sadler. So long."

He got up to leave, and stood a moment looking away into the moonlight. I says:

"The Mayor's Proclamation's out, Kid."

"Yep. I got it somewhere about. I just been to see him."

He had the Proclamation in his hand.

"Durned little runt," he says. "He cut me down two hundred dollars on that reward, plump! And he'd gi'n me his word! Why, you heard him! He ought to be ashamed. I told him so. I says, 'You're no lady.' Nor he ain't. Nor sporty, either. Squeals and wriggles."

"Paid you the reward, did he?"

"Why, of course, he couldn't miss his politics. It took him sudden, though. He had a series of fits that was painful, painful." Then he moved away, muttering, "Painful, painful!" climbed over the side, and down the ladder, and went to California.

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