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The Belted Seas By Arthur Colton Characters: 21606

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

I was taking a cargo of machinery and carts one time to the city of Tampico in Mexico, and from there I was to go for return cargo to a little republic to the south that we'll call Guadaloupe, whose capital city we'll call Rosalia. The real names of them sounded that way, soft and sleepy, and warm and sweet, like hot waffles and honey. According to reputation it was a place where revolutions were billed for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and the other days left for siestas and argument. They were fixed that way in respect to entertainment.

But there came to me in Tampico a man named Flannagan, who said he was manager of "The Flannagan and Imperial Itinerant Exhibition," a company composed of three Japanese performers, a tin-type man from New England, and a trick dog who was thoughtful and spotted. Flannagan said he wanted to go far, far from Tampico, because, he says, "Thim Tampican peons ain't seen tin cints apiece since they sold their souls," he says, "at that price," he says, "to the divil that presides over loafers." I told him I was going to Rosalia in Guadaloupe which had a local system of entertainment already, and he says, "Guadaloupe!" he says, "Rosalia! D'ye moind thim names! It's like sthrokin' a cat"; and the company came aboard at five dollars a head, three polite Japanese tumblers and rope-walkers, the thoughtful dog, whose name was David, and the tin-type man, who was cynical He'd gone into tin-typing, Flannagan said, so as to express contempt and satire for his fellow-men.

"But," says Flannagan, "it do be curious how thim Dagoes in this distimpered climate rejoice to see thimsilves wid a villyanous exprission an' pathriotic attichude in a two be four photygraph."

We sailed away down the Gulf, through the Strait of Honduras and into the Caribbean Sea, with quiet weather, so that the Japanese could rope-walk in the rigging and tumble peaceable about the deck. The only trouble was the feeling created by the vicious photographs the tin-typer took of the crew. David used to sit quiet mostly, and look over the sea, and scratch his spots, for some of them were put on.

Flannagan was a fiery-eyed and easy-spoken man, who had picked up the tumblers in California and the tin-type man somewhere on the plains. But David was a friend of his of years' standing, and he was a dog I should call naturally gifted, and with that of a friendly nature, sober, decent, middle-aged, comfortable, and one who took things as they came. But Flannagan had hair that was wild and red, and his complexion was similar. He was large and bony. His voice was windy, his manner oratorical, and his nature sudden. The Japanese spoke little English and couldn't be told apart, but as to that there was no need of it. They were skilful, small, and dark, with rubber bones and extra joints, and they could smile from a hundred and thirteen classified and labelled attitudes. We came one afternoon into the harbour of Rosalia.

Speaking of Rosalia, it's a green and pink and white town, in a valley that opens on the sea, with mountains behind it. It's a prettier town than Portate. In the centre is the little square or plaza, filled with palms and roses and bushes. There's a lamp-post near the middle and the ruins of a stone fountain. Around three sides of the plaza are shops, where you can buy your hands' full of bread and fruit for a cent or two; and casinos or saloons where they play monte and fight gamecocks; and a hotel, with men asleep on the steps of it. On the fourth side is the Palazio del Libertad, which they commonly call it La Libertad. It contains the government and the families of most of it. There are the offices and residences of the President and the departmental ministers, the legislative chambers, courtrooms, soldiers' barracks, and other things. It's the pride of Guadaloupe and the record of its revolutions. It's been sixty years in building, and each new government adds something to remember it by. It has white stucco fronts, and towers, doors, inner courts, and roofs. If you are looking for a department, you walk along the fronts till you see a likely-looking sign that seems to refer in figures of speech to that department. Then you go in. But when the government changes by revolution-or by election, which sometimes happens, when no one is looking-why, then the departments shift around in La Libertad to suit themselves better, and they're apt to leave their signs behind them. Besides that, each new minister will decorate himself and his department with names to fit his ideas of beauty and usefulness, and he'll proclaim these in the official gazette for the intention of his department. The Guadaloupeans argue the competence of a minister according as he has a department with titles that sweep the horizon and claim kin with the Antipodes and the Resurrection. Only it seemed to me that these things tended in time to make the figures of speech on the signs sort of far-fetched.

It was that way that Flannagan and I, with David, the tin-type man and the tumblers, fell on the "Department of Military and Internal Peace," when we were looking for permits to ship cargoes and deliver Japanese performances, under the sign "Office of Discretionary Regulations." That may have been all right enough, for most of the departments were that accommodating they would do any agreeable business that came their way; but it appeared to me, the revolutions left the government too full of idioms.

There we waited till Flannagan became fierce with the heat and the impatience of him.

"Discretionary!" he says, striding around with his nostrils full of wrath, and banging at doors. "Would they be boilin' us the night wid the discreetness of 'em?"

With that there was an opening of a door, and there waddled in a little fat mestizo, both shorter and fatter than seemed right or natural. He wore red and yellow livery and shining buttons, and we thought he was likely the official butler or door boy. He seemed to have eaten too much, as a rule, and looked sleepy and in a bad temper.

"Boy" says Flannagan, striding up to him, "where's the misbegotten and corrupt official of Disthressionary Regularities? Do we wait here till the explosion of doom? Spheak, ye lump of butther!" he says. "Or do we not?"

"Carambos!" says the extraordinary clothes, backing off and speaking snappish. "If you don't like it, get out!"

"Carambos, is it?" says Flannagan, enraged and grabbing him by the collar. "Impidence!" he says, "an' ye talk so to the Manager of the Flannagan and Imparial!"

With that he gets him also by his new trousers and heaves him into the corridor, where was a handsome half-caste Spanish woman, more Spanish than Indian, who looked dignified and happy in a purple dress. She fell against the wall to avoid him, and appeared surprised. He scrambled up. Then he clutched his hair, and waddled down the corridor, shrieking, and the purple dress began to gobble with her laughter.

"Why," she says, in a mellow voice-"Ho! ho! haw! haw! Why does the distinguished senor cast the Minister of Military and Internal Peace thus upon his digesting, immediately his too great meal thereafter?"

"Hivins!" says Flannagan.

"Now he will say the internal peace is disturbed, meaning his digestion, and bring the military, to the end that the distinguished senors shall be placed in the dungeons of La Libertad, which," she says kindly, "beyond expectation are wet, and the senors will probably decay. He is my husband-Ho, ho! haw, haw!" she says. "He is a pig."

Flannagan was speechless for a moment. The tin-type man pointed his camera at the purple dress, and was going to take a misanthropic photograph, and David went and stood on his head before her, so that she laughed harder: "Ho! ho! haw! haw!" and spread out her hands, which had two rings to a finger, and the mixed stones of her necklace clicked together with her laughter.

"Put up yer camery, typist" says Flannagan, getting hold of his diplomacy. "None of your contimptimous photographs of the lady. Sure," he says, "it's wid great discomposure I'm taken to be treatin' so the iligint buttons an' canned-tomato clothes enclosin'," he says, "the milithary an' internal digestion of the husband of yourself," he says, "as foine a lady, an' that educated, as me eyes iver beheld. 'Tis me impulses," he says, "'tis me warm an' hearty nature. But your ladyship won't be allowin' a triflin' incident to interfere wid enjoyin' the exhibition by me Japanese frinds of the mystherious art of ancient Asia, an' me that proud of your ladyship's approvin'!"

"What can they do?" she says, looking interested, while the three Japanese bowed in a limber manner, and smiled thin and mystical Asiatic smiles.

"Oh, hivins!" said Flannagan. "Oh, that I might see thim again for the first time, in the bloom of me innocence of marvels! For a thousand years by the imerald seas of the Orient," he says,-and then one of them bent backward, and brought his head up between his legs, and smiled; and the purple dress fell against the wall with pleasure and surprise.

"Come after me," she says, opening a door in the corridor, "heretofore the arrival of my pig husband."

We went up twisting staircases that appeared unaccountable and weren't counted. We saw furnished rooms through open doors, and at last we came to a large room, high up under a tower, and looking out over the Plaza, and in another direction over the roofs of La Libertad. It seemed to be unused, and was darkened with shutters, and littered with the miscellaneous and upset furniture of past administrations.

The Minister of Military and Internal Peace was named "Georgio Bill," from which a man might argue the origins of his family. The purple dress was called "Madame Bill," because French titles were popular with the official ladies. She left us there in a stately manner, and then fell down the stairs through mixing her feet. She was dignified and cheerful, but she had large feet.

Through the shutters we saw the Plaza beginning to stir with the evening crowds. A few blocks over the flat roofs of houses, we saw the harbour, and the Annalee floating at anchor.

When Madame Bill came back she brought with her two negresses with baskets, who straightened the furniture and laid the table. The shutters were closed, and a lamp or two lit, and we dined sumptuous to the elegant dialogue of Flannagan and Madame Bill. "For a thousand years," says Flannagan, "by the imerald seas of the Orient"; and the Japanese did moderate after-dinner tumbling, with mild but curious bow-knots. David marched and saluted, and after that he climbed into his chair, and got his pipe, which Flannagan lit for him; he got it fixed between his teeth, laid his head on his paws, pulle

d a few puffs, and went to sleep. He was a calm one, David, as I said, and ingenious, and experienced. Madame Bill lit her cheroot thoughtful, and there was conversation.

"The Senor Bill," she says, "is at the present pursuing the foreigners throughout Rosalia and La Libertad with a portion of the Guadaloupean army. It was not wise to cast the Minister of Military and Internal Peace so upon his digestion, which is to him important. But without doubt you are distinguished and experienced, especially the Senor David. They will not look for you perhaps here, which is over my apartments, but will attack, it may be, the ship of your coming here, and in that way be imbecile and foolish."

"Hivins!" says Flannagan. "But I'm thinkin', wid great admiration for yourself, ma'am, I'm thinkin' this country wid its interestin' people in pajamies, its scenery resemblin'a lobster salad, an' government illuminated by figures of spache an' inspired wid seltzer-wather-I'm thinkin' it would make its fortune, sure, by exhibition of itself in the capitals of the worrld, ma'am. Not Barnum's, nor the Flannagan an' Imparial, would compare with it. An' 'tis thrue, ma'am, as a showman in the profession, I couldn't be exprissin' betther me wondher an' admiration."

Then the tin-type man put in, and he sneered some: "I ain't much on admiration and wonder."

"You're not, typist," says Flannagan. "'Tis curdled like he is, ma'am, wid inveterate scorn, the poor man!"

"The human bein' is vicious from original sin," says the tin-type man. "It comes out in the camery," he says. "You can't fool the camery. It tells ye the Bible truth," he says. "Nor I ain't expectin' anything from a broiled and frizzled country like this, where the continent's shaved down so narrow you could take a photograph of two oceans. And yet it's as good as anywhere else. I takes tin-types and says nothing."

"Santa Maria!" says Madame Bill.

And Flannagan says proudly: "'Tis as I told ye, ma'am. There's not such an other to be seen for extinsive scornful-fulness."

"Speaking of the ship, ma'am," I says, "I guess it's all right. Ain't you afraid your husband will get internationally complicated?"

She gestured and grinned.

"Afraid! I! My Georgio! Neither for him nor of him. Moreover, I think,"-pausing with her cheroot in the air-"that he has heard from below, and is now outside the door. He pants. He has climbed the stairs in haste, the little pig. Ho, ho! haw, haw!"

At that the Minister of Military and Internal Peace burst in, with the sweat of his fatness on his face, his teeth sticking out, and his features expressing intentions.

"You do, you Madame," he says, "you woman! You hide them, my enemies, insulters!"

"You would do best," she says to Flannagan, "without doubt, now to enclose and suppress him, my Georgio."

"I go! I return!" he says, stamping his feet.

"Nayther," says Flannagan, enclosing his collar with one hand, and suppressing his features with the other. "Ye sits in the chair, me little man. Ye smokes a cigar in genteel conviviality afther coolin' down to be recognised by a thermometer-an' ye listens to the advice of your beaucheous an' accomplished lady," he says, "that has in moind a bit of domestic discipline."

He dropped him in a chair facing Madame Bill. David, in the next chair, woke up, and appeared to say to himself, "They're doing something else," and went to sleep again. The tin-type man sat by the window and looked through the shutters at the Plaza. They were making a noise on the Plaza. Now and then a military let off his gun, and the people shouted as if they wanted him to do it again. The Japanese bowed to Bill across the table, and smiled mystical.

"By the tomb of my mother, you shall pay!" gurgled Bill.

"Come off!" says Flannagan kindly. "She hadn't any tomb, an' ye disremember who she was."

"Why," says Madame Bill, "the Senor Flannagan on that point speaks nearly the truth."

"A-r-r-r! I'll have your blood!" says the Minister.

"An' me givin' ye the soft word," says Flannagan, "an' apologies for takin' ye for a decorated rubber ball, an' bouncin' ye on the floor! 'Twas wrong of me. Sure, now, Misther Bill, an' is there more needed between gentlemen?" He looked for help to Madame Bill, who gazed at the smoke of her cheroot and seemed absent-minded.

"Listen, my Georgio," she began at last, "I have considered, and I say you have done foolishly to scatter the soldiers about the city to hurry and to inquire, so that the people become excited. Hear in the Plaza already how they cry out like children, and each one is angry at a different thing."

The Minister started, and listened, and wiped his wet forehead with his sleeve. The roar in the Plaza was increasing. He sprang to his feet, and puffed, and he says:

"The military is scattered! It is a mob! I must go! Attend me, my wife!"

But Flannagan enclosed his collar. "Respict for me own intherests," he says, "is me proudest virtue. Would ye have me missin' the sight of a rivolution from a private box, an' the shpectacle of explodin' liberty? An' ye'll be havin' me blood to-morry by the tomb of your mother? Ah, now!"

"Let me go!" he says, shrieking and struggling. "I accept your apology! Say no more!"

Flannagan looked at Madame Bill. The crowd was shouting more in unison now. They says, "Vivo Alvarez!" and "Bill al fuego!" which the latter means, as you or I might say, "To hell with Bill!" The Minister shivered and struggled, but more moderate.

"The military will be confused, will do nothing without order!" he pleaded to Madame Bill.

"The military," says the tin-type man, from the shutters, speaking through his nose, soft and scornful, "they appear to feel tolerable good. There's a batch of 'em on the steps under here, a-sittin' in their sins, and shoutin' 'Down with Bill!' very hearty like."

"Mutiny!" howled the Minister. "Alas!" and he sat down, wiped his forehead with his sleeve, and panted, and appeared more composed.

Flannagan sat down, too. "I do be feelin' warm the same," he says. "Shall we have a drink?"

Madame Bill was still turning things over in her mind. "Doubtless they so shout," she says. "They are not without sense. Listen again, my Georgio. I have considered. It is perhaps not bad. Moreover, it is done. But the Department of the Military is not good for you. It worries you, therefore you disturb it, therefore it does not like you. Also, we have lost popularity in Rosalia. But in the interior, as yet, no. Therefore, consider. Senor Alvarez is perhaps generous. If he overthrow the government, he will desire there come an election, and who knows? We may for him go to the interior, and in reward be Minister of Agriculture, which is cooler. But if he overthrow not the government, but by compromise become Minister of Military and Internal Peace, then my Georgio will be in innocence a victim, and perhaps will have to hide, which is hot and dull, or go to the dungeons of La Libertad, which is dull and wet; or we would escape from the country in the distinguished ship of the Senor Buckingham, or in the Imperial Company of Senor Flannagan, which would be better."

"An' it's proud I'd be to have ye," says Flannagan, "as I said, ma'am, in the capitals of the world. Hivins!" he says, "the tropical advertisements! By the mimory of Ireland, 'tis a filibuster expedition I foresee! Me genius is long suppressed."

Madame Bill shrugged her shoulders. "Who knows? Therefore be calm, little one. We will see what they do in the Plaza."

The fallen or falling Minister emptied a glass of iced wine, and looked more contented than before. He was a pleasant enough man as a rule, except when not digesting well, and generally submissive to Madame Bill. We put out the lights and opened the shutters, and all looked out on the Plaza except David, who woke up, and taking things in, appeared to say to himself, "They're doing something else," and went to sleep again.

The Plaza was a boiling mess, but the military were enjoying themselves in good order. They were collected on the steps of La Libertad below, about five hundred of them. They seemed to be leading the cheering. The hotel across the Plaza was lit up and the windows full of heads.

Then a hush fell everywhere, and the faces were turned toward the portico, with the six great pillars and lamps on each, that formed the centre of the Plaza front of La Libertad. Two men stood on the top step, one in a sombrero, and the other in black coat and tall hat. The tall hat, by his gestures, was addressing the crowd, but we couldn't hear him.

"The President and Alvarez," says Madame Bill, very calm. "They compromise. My Georgio will be hot and dull."

The crowd cried "Vivo" everything except Bill. They wanted him "al fuego" just the same, which, as you might say, means something like: "Oh, take him away. Put him somewhere and boil him!" They seemed distressed with him that way, and I took it Madame Bill was right that he'd been too lively with his military, and it was up with him. A band began to play by the hotel.

"My wife is ever right," says Bill, and began feeling toward the table for the iced wine. "Carambos! It is not with Madame Bill to be discouraged. No! Bueno! All right, my wife. What did you say?"

Madame Bill said we'd leave him there, which we did, after closing the shutters. We left him drinking iced wine, eating mangoes, blowing smoke, and looking like a porpoise in respect to complexion, but shorter and fatter than a porpoise, and remarkable youthful.

It came on the Monday following and my cargo was shipped. There was a platform put up on the Plaza, and I heard Flannagan making a speech there, in which the feeling was eloquent, and the languages as they came along. The tin-type man, under the platform, was taking tin-types to make a man remember how he was depraved. David's spots were running with the heat, but he scratched them and made no trouble. The Japanese sat on their heels and smiled.

"For a thousand years," says Flannagan, "by the imerald seas of the Orient, have the ancesthors of me frinds on me right developed the soopleness of limb an' the art that is becalled by the Mahatmas an' thim Boodhists 'the art of the symbolical attichude,' as discovered and practised in the Injian Ocean's coral isles, which by the same they do expriss their feelin's till ye get a mysthical pain in your stomick wid lookin' at 'em. 'Twas so done," he says, "by the imerald seas of the Orient."

That evening they came secretly aboard, Flannagan and the Company, and with them Bill and Madame Bill. We weighed anchor the next morning, and got away. The Bill family became an addition and a credit to the Flannagan and Imperial, as it turned out.

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