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- Cumner & South Sea Folk, v4 - 4/11 -
to others. Though I too smiled, my thoughts were gloomy; for now it seemed impossible to go to the Palace and present myself to King George and the Heir-Apparent. But the consul, and, still more, the consul's daughter, insisted; pooh-poohing my hesitation. At this distance from the scene and after years of meditation I am convinced that their efforts to induce me to go were merely an unnatural craving for sensation.
I went--we three went. Even a bare-legged King has in his own house an advantage over the European stranger. I was heated, partly from self- repression, partly from Scotch tweed. King George was quite, quite cool, and unencumbered, save for a trifling calico jacket, a pink lava-lava, and the august fly-flapper. But what heated me most, I think, was the presence of the Crown Prince, who, on my presentation, looked at me as though he had never seen me before. He was courteous, however, directing a tappa cloth to be spread for me. The things I intended to say to King George for the good of himself and his kingdom, which I had thought out on the steamer Lubeck and rehearsed to my guide a few hours before, would not be tempted forth. There was silence; for the consul did not seem "to be on in the scene," and presently the King of Holy Tonga nodded and fell asleep. Then the Crown Prince came forward, and beckoned me to go with him. He led me to a room which was composed of mats and bamboo pillars chiefly. At first I thought there were about ten pillars to support the roof, but my impression before I left was that there were about ten thousand. For which multiplication there were good reasons.
Again a beautiful tappa cloth was spread for me, and then ten maidens entered, and, sitting in a semi-circle, began to chew a root called kava, which, when sufficiently masticated, they returned into a calabash, water being poured on the result. Meanwhile, the Prince, dreamily and ever so gently, was rolling some kind of weed between his fingers. About the time the maidens had finished, the Crown Prince's cigarette was ready. A small calabash of the Result was handed to me, and the cigarette accompanied it. The Crown Prince sat directly opposite me, lit his own cigarette, and handed the matches. I distinctly remember the first half- dozen puffs of that cigarette, the first taste of kava it had the flavour of soft soap and Dover's powder. I have smoked French-Canadian tobacco, I have puffed Mexican hair-lifters, but Heaven had preserved me till that hour from the cigarettes of a Crown Prince of Tonga. As I said, the pillars multiplied; the mats seemed rising from the floor; the maidens grew into a leering army of Amazons; but through it all the face of the Crown Prince never ceased to smile upon me gently.
There were some incidents of that festival which I may have forgotten, for the consul said afterwards that I was with his Royal Highness about an hour and a half. The last thing I remember about the visit was the voice of the successor to the throne of Holy Tonga asking me blandly in perfect English: "Will you permit me to show you the way to the consul's house?"
To my own credit I respectfully declined.
THE BLIND BEGGAR AND THE LITTLE RED PEG
As Sherry and I left the theatre in Mexico City one night, we met a blind beggar tapping his way home. Sherry stopped him. "Good evening," he said over the blind man's shoulder.
"Good evening, senor," was the reply. "You are late."
"Si, senor," and the blind man pushed a hand down in his coat pocket.
"He's got his fist on the rhino," said Sherry to me in English. "He's not quite sure whether we're footpads or not--poor devil."
"How much has he got?" asked I.
"Perhaps four or five dollars. Good business, eh? Got it in big money mostly, too--had it changed at some cafe."
The blind man was nervous, seemed not to understand us. He made as if to move on. Sherry and I, to reassure him, put a few reals into his hand-- not without an object, for I asked Sherry to make him talk on. A policeman sauntered near with his large lantern--a superior sort of Dogberry, but very young, as are most of the policemen in Mexico, save the Rurales, that splendid company of highwaymen whom Diaz bought over from being bandits to be the guardians of the peace. This one eyed us meaningly, but Sherry gave him a reassuring nod, and our talk went on, while the blind man was fingering the money we had just given him. Presently Sherry said to him: "I'm Bingham Sherry," adding some other particulars--"and you're all right. I've a friend here who wants to talk with you. Come along; we'll take you home--confound the garlic, what a breath he's got!"
For a moment the blind man seemed to hesitate, then he raised his head quickly, as if looking into Sherry's face; a light came over it, and he said, repeating Sherry's name: "Si, senor; si, si, senor. I know you now. You sit in the right-hand corner of the little back-room at the Cafe Manrique, where you come to drink chocolate. Is it not?"
"That's where I sit," said Sherry. "And now, be gad, I believe I remember you. Are you Becodar?"
"Well, I'm damned!" Then, turning tome: "Lots of these fellows look so much alike that I didn't recognise this one. He's a character. Had a queer history. I'll get him to tell it."
We walked on, one on either side, Sherry using his hat to wave away the smell of garlic. Presently he said "Where've you been to-night, Becodar?"
"I have paid my respects to the Maison Dore, to the Cafe de la Concordia, to the Cafe Iturbide, senor."
"And how did paying your respects pay you, Becodar?"
"The noble courtesy of these cafes, and the great consideration of the hidalgos there assembled rendered to me five pesos and a trifle, senor."
"The poor ye have always with you. He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord. Becodar has large transactions with Providence, mio amigo," said Sherry.
The beggar turned his sightless eyes to us, as though he would understand these English words. Sherry, seeing, said: "We were saying, Becodar, that the blessed saints know how to take care of a blind man, lest, having no boot, he stub his toe against a stone."
Off came Becodar's hat. He tapped the wall. "Where am I, senor?" he asked.
Sherry told him. "Ah!" he said, "the church of Saint Joseph is near." Then he crossed himself and seemed to hurry his steps. Presently he stood still. We were beside the church. Against the door, in a niche, was a figure of the Virgin in stone. He got to his knees and prayed fast. And yet as he prayed I saw his hand go to his pocket, and it fumbled and felt the money there.
"Begad, he's counting it all," said Sherry, "and now he's giving thanks for the exact amount, adding his distinguished consideration that the sum is by three reals greater than any day since Lent began. He promises to bring some flowers to-morrow for the shrine, and he also swears to go a pilgrimage to a church of Mary at Guadaloupe, and to be a kind compadre-- By Jove, there you are! He's a compadre--a blind compadre!"
A little while afterwards we were in Becodar's house--a low adobe but of two rooms with a red light burning over the door, to guard against the plague. It had a table hanging like a lid from the wall, a stone for making tortillas, a mortar for grinding red peppers, a crucifix on the wall, a short sword, a huge pistol, a pair of rusty stirrups, and several chairs. The chairs seemed to be systematically placed, and it was quite wonderful to see how the beggar twisted in and out among them without stumbling. I could not understand this, unless it was that he wished to practise moving about deftly, that he might be at least disadvantage in the cafes and public resorts. He never once stirred them, and I was presently surprised to see that they were all fastened to the floor. Sherry seemed as astonished as I. From this strangeness I came to another. Looking up at the walls I saw set in the timber a number of holes cleanly bored. And in one of the last of these holes was a peg. Again my eyes shifted. From a nail in one corner of the room hung a red and white zarape, a bridle, one of those graceless bits which would wrench the mouth of the wildest horse to agony, and a sombrero. Something in these things fascinated me. I got up and examined them, while the blind man was in the other room. Turning them over I saw that the zarape was pierced with holes-bullet holes. I saw also that it was stained a deeper red than its own. I turned away, questioning Sherry. He came and looked, but said nothing, lifting a hand in deprecation. As we stood so, Becodar appeared again in the doorway, bearing an olla of pulque and some tortilla sandwiches, made of salad and shreds of meat, flavoured with garlic. He paused, his face turned towards us, with an understanding look. His instinct was remarkable. He did not speak, but came and placed the things he carried near the chairs where we had sat.
Presently I saw some writing on the adobe wall. The look of it showed the hand of youth, its bold carelessness, a boy. Some of it I set down soon afterwards, and it ran in this fashion: "The most good old compadre! But I'd like another real." Again: "One media for a banderilla, two reals for the bull-fight, five centavos for the sweet oranges, and nothing for dulces. I threw a cigar at the toreador. It was no good, but the toreador was a king. Good-night, compadre the blind, who begs." Again: "If I knew where it was I'd take a real. Carambo! No, I wouldn't. I'll ask him. I'll give him the new sword-stick that my cousin the Rurales gave me. He doesn't need it now he's not a bandit. I'm stuffed, and my head swims. It's the pulque. Sabe Dios!" Again: "Compadre, the most miraculous, that goes tapping your stick along the wall, and jingles the silver in your pocket, whither do you wander? Have you forgotten that I am going to the cock-fight, and want a real? What is a cock-fight without a real? Compadre the brave, who stumbles along and never falls, I am sitting on your doorstep, and I am writing on your wall--if I had as much money as you I'd go to every bull-fight. I'd keep a fighting-cock myself." And once again: "If I was blind I'd have money out of the cafes, but I couldn't see my bulls toss the horses. I'll be a bandit, and when I'm old, and if Diaz doesn't put me against the wall and prod holes in me like Gonzales, they'll take me in the Rurales, same as Gerado."
"Who is it writes on the wall, Becodar?" asked Sherry of our host, as, on his knees, he poured out pulque for us.
The old man turned musingly, and made motions of writing, a pleased look in his face. "Ah, senor, he who so writes is Bernal--I am his compadre. He has his mother now, but no father, no father." He smiled. "You have never seen so bold and enterprising, never so handsome a boy. He can throw the lasso and use the lariat, and ride--sabe Dios, he can ride!
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