On a summer's day, while the city was rocking with the din and red
uproar of patriotism, Billy Casparis told me this story.
In his way, Billy is Ulysses, Jr. Like Satan, he comes from going to
and fro upon the earth and walking up and down in it. To-morrow
morning while you are cracking your breakfast egg he may be off with
his little alligator grip to boom a town site in the middle of Lake
Okeechobee or to trade horses with the Patagonians.
We sat at a little, round table, and between us were glasses holding
big lumps of ice, and above us leaned an artificial palm. And because
our scene was set with the properties of the one they recalled to his
mind, Billy was stirred to narrative.
"It reminds me," said he, "of a Fourth I helped to celebrate down in
Salvador. 'Twas while I was running an ice factory down there, after I
unloaded that silver mine I had in Colorado. I had what they called a
'conditional concession.' They made me put up a thousand dollars cash
forfeit that I would make ice continuously for six months. If I did
that I could draw down my ante. If I failed to do so the government
took the pot. So the inspectors kept dropping in, trying to catch me
without the goods.
"One day when the thermometer was at 110, the clock at half-past one,
and the calendar at July third, two of the little, brown, oily nosers
in red trousers slid in to make an inspection. Now, the factory hadn't
turned out a pound of ice in three weeks, for a couple of reasons. The
Salvador heathen wouldn't buy it; they said it make things cold they
put it in. And I couldn't make any more, because I was broke. All I
was holding on for was to get down my thousand so I could leave the
country. The six months would be up on the sixth of July.
"Well, I showed 'em all the ice I had. I raised the lid of a darkish
vat, and there was an elegant 100-pound block of ice, beautiful and
convincing to the eye. I was about to close down the lid again when
one of those brunette sleuths flops down on his red knees and lays a
slanderous and violent hand on my guarantee of good faith. And in two
minutes more they had dragged out on the floor that fine chunk of
molded glass that had cost me fifty dollars to have shipped down from
"'Ice-y?' says the fellow that played me the dishonourable trick;
'verree warm ice-y. Yes. The day is that hot, senor. Yes. Maybeso it
is of desirableness to leave him out to get the cool. Yes.'
"'Yes,' says I, 'yes,' for I knew they had me. 'Touching's believing,
ain't it, boys? Yes. Now there's some might say the seats of your
trousers are sky blue, but 'tis my opinion they are red. Let's apply
the tests of the laying on of hands and feet.' And so I hoisted both
those inspectors out the door on the toe of my shoe, and sat down to
cool off on my block of disreputable glass.
"And, as I live without oats, while I sat there, homesick for money
and without a cent to my ambition, there came on the breeze the most
beautiful smell my nose had entered for a year. God knows where it
came from in that backyard of a country--it was a bouquet of soaked
lemon peel, cigar stumps, and stale beer--exactly the smell of
Goldbrick Charley's place on Fourteenth Street where I used to play
pinochle of afternoons with the third-rate actors. And that smell
drove my troubles through me and clinched 'em at the back. I began to
long for my country and feel sentiments about it; and I said words
about Salvador that you wouldn't think could come legitimate out of an
"And while I was sitting there, down through the blazing sunshine in
his clean, white clothes comes Maximilian Jones, an American
interested in rubber and rosewood.
"'Great carrambos!' says I, when he stepped in, for I was in a bad
temper, 'didn't I have catastrophes enough? I know what you want. You
want to tell me that story again about Johnny Ammiger and the widow on
the train. You've told it nine times already this month.'
"'It must be the heat,' says Jones, stopping in at the door, amazed.
'Poor Billy. He's got bugs. Sitting on ice, and calling his best
friends pseudonyms. Hi!--/muchacho/!' Jones called my force of
employees, who was sitting in the sun, playing with his toes, and told
him to put on his trousers and run for the doctor.
"'Come back,' says I. 'Sit down, Maxy, and forget it. 'Tis not ice you
see, nor a lunatic upon it. 'Tis only an exile full of homesickness
sitting on a lump of glass that's just cost him a thousand dollars.
Now, what was it Johnny said to the widow first? I'd like to hear it
again, Maxy--honest. Don't mind what I said.'
"Maximilian Jones and I sat down and talked. He was about as sick of
the country as I was, for the grafters were squeezing him for half the
profits of his rosewood and rubber. Down in the bottom of a tank of
water I had a dozen bottles of sticky Frisco beer; and I fished these
up, and we fell to talking about home and the flag and Hail Columbia
and home-fried potatoes; and the drivel we contributed would have
sickened any man enjoying those blessings. But at that time we were
out of 'em. You can't appreciate home till you've left it, money till
it's spent, your wife till she's joined a woman's club, nor Old Glory
till you see it hanging on a broomstick on the shanty of a consul in a
"And sitting there me and Maximilian Jones, scratching at our prickly
heat and kicking at the lizards on the floor, became afflicted with a
dose of patriotism and affection for our country. There was me, Billy
Casparis, reduced from a capitalist to a pauper by over-addiction to
my glass (in the lump), declares my troubles off for the present and
myself to be an uncrowned sovereign of the greatest country on earth.
And Maximilian Jones pours out whole drug stores of his wrath on
oligarchies and potentates in red trousers and calico shoes. And we
issues a declaration of interference in which we guarantee that the
fourth day of July shall be celebrated in Salvador with all the kinds
of salutes, explosions, honours of war, oratory, and liquids known to
tradition. Yes, neither me nor Jones breathed with soul so dead. There
shall be rucuses in Salvador, we say, and the monkeys had better climb
the tallest cocoanut trees and the fire department get out its red
sashes and two tin buckets.
"About this time into the factory steps a native man incriminated by
the name of General Mary Esperanza Dingo. He was some pumpkin both in
politics and colour, and the friend of me and Jones. He was full of
politeness and a kind of intelligence, having picked up the latter and
managed to preserve the former during a two years' residence in
Philadelphia studying medicine. For a Salvadorian he was not such a
calamitous little man, though he always would play jack, queen, king,
ace, deuce for a straight.
"General Mary sits with us and has a bottle. While he was in the
States he had acquired a synopsis of the English language and the art
of admiring our institutions. By and by the General gets up and
tiptoes to the doors and windows and other stage entrances, remarking
'Hist!' at each one. They all do that in Salvador before they ask for
a drink of water or the time of day, being conspirators from the
cradle and matinee idols by proclamation.
"'Hist!' says General Dingo again, and then he lays his chest on the
table quite like Gaspard the Miser. 'Good friends, senores, to-morrow
will be the great day of Liberty and Independence. The hearts of
Americans and Salvadorians should beat together. Of your history and
your great Washington I know. Is it not so?'
"Now, me and Jones thought that nice of the General to remember when
the Fourth came. It made us feel good. He must have heard the news
going round in Philadelphia about that disturbance we had with
"'Yes,' says me and Maxy together, 'we knew it. We were talking about
it when you came in. And you can bet your bottom concession that
there'll be fuss and feathers in the air to-morrow. We are few in
numbers, but the welkin may as well reach out to push the button, for
it's got to ring.'
"'I, too, shall assist,' says the General, thumping his collar-bone.
'I, too, am on the side of Liberty. Noble Americans, we will make the
day one to be never forgotten.'
"'For us American whisky,' says Jones--'none of your Scotch smoke or
anisada or Three Star Hennessey to-morrow. We'll borrow the consul's
flag; old man Billfinger shall make orations, and we'll have a
barbecue on the plaza.'
"'Fireworks,' says I, 'will be scarce; but we'll have all the
cartridges in the shops for our guns. I've got two navy sixes I
brought from Denver.'
"'There is one cannon,' said the General; 'one big cannon that will go
"BOOM!" And three hundred men with rifles to shoot.'
"'Oh, say!' says Jones, 'Generalissimo, you're the real silk elastic.
We'll make it a joint international celebration. Please, General, get
a white horse and a blue sash and be grand marshal.'
"'With my sword,' says the General, rolling his eyes. 'I shall ride at
the head of the brave men who gather in the name of Liberty.'
"'And you might,' we suggest 'see the commandante and advise him that
we are going to prize things up a bit. We Americans, you know, are
accustomed to using municipal regulations for gun wadding when we line
up to help the eagle scream. He might suspend the rules for one day.
We don't want to get in the calaboose for spanking his soldiers if
they get in our way, do you see?'
"'Hist!' says General Mary. 'The commandant is with us, heart and
soul. He will aid us. He is one of us.'
"We made all the arrangements that afternoon. There was a buck coon
from Georgia in Salvador who had drifted down there from a busted-up
coloured colony that had been started on some possumless land in
Mexico. As soon as he heard us say 'barbecue' he wept for joy and
groveled on the ground. He dug his trench on the plaza, and got half a
beef on the coals for an all-night roast. Me and Maxy went to see the
rest of the Americans in the town and they all sizzled like a seidlitz
with joy at the idea of solemnizing an old-time Fourth.
"There were six of us all together--Martin Dillard, a coffee planter;
Henry Barnes, a railroad man; old man Billfinger, an educated tintype
taker; me and Jonesy, and Jerry, the boss of the barbecue. There was
also an Englishman in town named Sterrett, who was there to write a
book on Domestic Architecture of the Insect World. We felt some
bashfulness about inviting a Britisher to help crow over his own
country, but we decided to risk it, out of our personal regard for
"We found Sterrett in pajamas working at his manuscript with a bottle
of brandy for a paper weight.
"'Englishman,' says Jones, 'let us interrupt your disquisition on bug
houses for a moment. To-morrow is the Fourth of July. We don't want to
hurt your feelings, but we're going to commemorate the day when we
licked you by a little refined debauchery and nonsense--something that
can be heard above five miles off. If you are broad-gauged enough to
taste whisky at your own wake, we'd be pleased to have you join us.'
"'Do you know,' says Sterrett, setting his glasses on his nose, 'I
like your cheek in asking me if I'll join you; blast me if I don't.
You might have known I would, without asking. Not as a traitor to my
own country, but for the intrinsic joy of a blooming row.'
"On the morning of the Fourth I woke up in that old shanty of an ice
factory feeling sore. I looked around at the wreck of all I possessed,
and my heart was full of bile. From where I lay on my cot I could look
through the window and see the consul's old ragged Stars and Stripes
hanging over his shack. 'You're all kinds of a fool, Billy Casparis,'
I said to myself; 'and of all your crimes against sense it does look
like this idea of celebrating the Fourth should receive the award of
demerit. Your business is busted up, your thousand dollars is gone
into the kitty of this corrupt country on that last bluff you made,
you've got just fifteen Chili dollars left, worth forty-six cents each
at bedtime last night and steadily going down. To-day you'll blow in
your last cent hurrahing for that flag, and to-morrow you'll be living
on bananas from the stalk and screwing your drinks out of your
friends. What's the flag done for you? While you were under it you
worked for what you got. You wore your finger nails down skinning
suckers, and salting mines, and driving bears and alligators off your
town lot additions. How much does patriotism count for on deposit with
the little man with the green eye-shade in the savings-bank adds up
your book? Suppose you were to get pinched over here in this
irreligious country for some little crime or other, and appealed to
your country for protection--what would it do for you? Turn your
appeal over to a committee of one railroad man, an army officer, a
member of each labour union, and a coloured man to investigate whether
any of your ancestors were ever related to a cousin of Mark Hanna, and
then file the papers in the Smithsonian Institution until after the
next election. That's the kind of a sidetrack the Stars and Stripes
would switch you onto.'
"You can see that I was feeling like an indigo plant; but after I
washed my face in some cool water, and got out my navys and
ammunition, and started up to the Saloon of the Immaculate Saints
where we were to meet, I felt better. And when I saw those other
American boys come swaggering into the trysting place--cool, easy,
conspicuous fellows, ready to risk any kind of a one-card draw, or to
fight grizzlies, fire, or extradition, I began to feel glad I was one
of 'em. So, I says to myself again: 'Billy, you've got fifteen dollars
and a country left this morning--blow in the dollars and blow up the
town as an American gentleman should on Independence Day.'
"It is my recollection that we began the day along conventional lines.
The six of us--for Sterrett was along--made progress among the
cantinas, divesting the bars as we went of all strong drink bearing
American labels. We kept informing the atmosphere as to the glory and
preeminence of the United States and its ability to subdue, outjump,
and eradicate the other nations of the earth. And, as the findings of
American labels grew more plentiful, we became more contaminated with
patriotism. Maximilian Jones hopes that our late foe, Mr. Sterrett,
will not take offense at our enthusiasm. He sets down his bottle and
shakes Sterrett's hand. 'As white man to white man,' says he, 'denude
our uproar of the slightest taint of personality. Excuse us for Bunker
Hill, Patrick Henry, and Waldorf Astor, and such grievances as might
lie between us as nations.'
"'Fellow hoodlums,' says Sterrett, 'on behalf of the Queen I ask you
to cheese it. It is an honour to be a guest at disturbing the peace
under the American flag. Let us chant the passionate strains of
"Yankee Doodle" while the senor behind the bar mitigates the occasion
with another round of cochineal and aqua fortis.'
"Old Man Billfinger, being charged with a kind of rhetoric, makes
speeches every time we stop. We explained to such citizens as we
happened to step on that we were celebrating the dawn of our own
private brand of liberty, and to please enter such inhumanities as we
might commit on the list of unavoidable casualties.
"About eleven o'clock our bulletins read: 'A considerable rise in
temperature, accompanied by thirst and other alarming symptoms.' We
hooked arms and stretched our line across the narrow streets, all of
us armed with Winchesters and navys for purposes of noise and without
malice. We stopped on a street corner and fired a dozen or so rounds,
and began a serial assortment of United States whoops and yells,
probably the first ever heard in that town.
"When we made that noise things began to liven up. We heard a
pattering up a side street, and here came General Mary Esperanza Dingo
on a white horse with a couple of hundred brown boys following him in
red undershirts and bare feet, dragging guns ten feet long. Jones and
me had forgot all about General Mary and his promise to help us
celebrate. We fired another salute and gave another yell, while the
General shook hands with us and waved his sword.
"'Oh, General,' shouts Jones, 'this is great. This will be a real
pleasure to the eagle. Get down and have a drink.'
"'Drink?' says the general. 'No. There is no time to drink. /Vive la
"'Don't forget /E Pluribus Unum/!' says Henry Barnes.
"'/Viva/ it good and strong,' says I. 'Likewise, /viva/ George
Washington. God save the Union, and,' I says, bowing to Sterrett,
'don't discard the Queen.'
"'Thanks,' says Sterrett. 'The next round's mine. All in to the bar.
"But we were deprived of Sterrett's treat by a lot of gunshots several
square sway, which General Dingo seemed to think he ought to look
after. He spurred his old white plug up that way, and the soldiers
scuttled along after him.
"'Mary is a real tropical bird,' says Jones. 'He's turned out the
infantry to help us to honour to the Fourth. We'll get that cannon he
spoke of after a while and fire some window-breakers with it. But just
now I want some of that barbecued beef. Let us on to the plaza.'
"There we found the meat gloriously done, and Jerry waiting, anxious.
We sat around on the grass, and got hunks of it on our tin plates.
Maximilian Jones, always made tender-hearted by drink, cried some
because George Washington couldn't be there to enjoy the day. 'There
was a man I love, Billy,' he says, weeping on my shoulder. 'Poor
George! To think he's gone, and missed the fireworks. A little more
salt, please, Jerry.'
"From what we could hear, General Dingo seemed to be kindly
contributing some noise while we feasted. There were guns going off
around town, and pretty soon we heard that cannon go 'BOOM!' just as
he said it would. And then men began to skin along the edge of the
plaza, dodging in among the orange trees and houses. We certainly had
things stirred up in Salvador. We felt proud of the occasion and
grateful to General Dingo. Sterrett was about to take a bite off a
juicy piece of rib when a bullet took it away from his mouth.
"'Somebody's celebrating with ball cartridges,' says he, reaching for
another piece. 'Little over-zealous for a non-resident patriot, isn't
"'Don't mind it,' I says to him. ''Twas an accident. They happen, you
know, on the Fourth. After one reading of the Declaration of
Independence in New York I've known the S.R.O. sign to be hung out at
all the hospitals and police stations.'
"But then Jerry gives a howl and jumps up with one hand clapped to the
back of his leg where another bullet has acted over-zealous. And then
comes a quantity of yells, and round a corner and across the plaza
gallops General Mary Esperanza Dingo embracing the neck of his horse,
with his men running behind him, mostly dropping their guns by way of
discharging ballast. And chasing 'em all is a company of feverish
little warriors wearing blue trousers and caps.
"'Assistance, amigos,' the General shouts, trying to stop his horse.
'Assistance, in the name of Liberty!'
"'That's the Campania Azul, the President's bodyguard,' says Jones.
'What a shame! They've jumped on poor old Mary just because he was
helping us to celebrate. Come on, boys, it's our Fourth;--do we let
that little squad of A.D.T's break it up?'
"'I vote No,' says Martin Dillard, gathering his Winchester. 'It's the
privilege of an American citizen to drink, drill, dress up, and be
dreadful on the Fourth of July, no matter whose country he's in.'
"'Fellow citizens!' says old man Billfinger, 'In the darkest hour of
Freedom's birth, when our brave forefathers promulgated the principles
of undying liberty, they never expected that a bunch of blue jays like
that should be allowed to bust up an anniversary. Let us preserve and
protect the Constitution.'
"We made it unanimous, and then we gathered our guns and assaulted the
blue troops in force. We fired over their heads, and then charged 'em
with a yell, and they broke and ran. We were irritated at having our
barbecue disturbed, and we chased 'em a quarter of a mile. Some of 'em
we caught and kicked hard. The General rallied his troops and joined
in the chase. Finally they scattered in a thick banana grove, and we
couldn't flush a single one. So we sat down and rested.
"If I were to be put, severe, through the third degree, I wouldn't be
able to tell much about the rest of the day. I mind that we pervaded
the town considerable, calling upon the people to bring out more
armies for us to destroy. I remember seeing a crowd somewhere, and a
tall man that wasn't Billfinger making a Fourth of July speech from a
balcony. And that was about all.
"Somebody must have hauled the old ice factory up to where I was, and
put it around me, for there's where I was when I woke up the next
morning. As soon as I could recollect by name and address I got up and
held an inquest. My last cent was gone. I was all in.
"And then a neat black carriage drives to the door, and out steps
General Dingo and a bay man in a silk hat and tan shoes.
"'Yes,' says I to myself, 'I see it now. You're the Chief de Policeos
and High Lord Chamberlain of the Calaboosum; and you want Billy
Casparis for excess of patriotism and assault with intent. All right.
Might as well be in jail, anyhow.'
"But it seems that General Mary is smiling, and the bay man shakes my
hand, and speaks in the American dialect.
"'General Dingo has informed me, Senor Casparis, of your gallant
service in our cause. I desire to thank you with my person. The
bravery of you and the other senores Americanos turned the struggle
for liberty in our favour. Our party triumphed. The terrible battle
will live forever in history.
"'Battle?' says I; 'what battle?' and I ran my mind back along
history, trying to think.
"'Senor Casparis is modest,' says General Dingo. 'He led his brave
compadres into the thickest of the fearful conflict. Yes. Without
their aid the revolution would have failed.'
"'Why, now,' says I, 'don't tell me there was a revolution yesterday.
That was only a Fourth of--'
"But right there I abbreviated. It seemed to me it might be best.
"'After the terrible struggle,' says the bay man, 'President Bolano
was forced to fly. To-day Caballo is President by proclamation. Ah,
yes. Beneath the new administration I am the head of the Department of
Mercantile Concessions. On my file I find one report, Senor Casparis,
that you have not made ice in accord with your contract.' And here the
bay man smiles at me, 'cute.
"'Oh, well,' says I, 'I guess the report's straight. I know they
caught me. That's all there is to it.'
"'Do not say so,' says the bay man. He pulls off a glove and goes over
and lays his hand on that chunk of glass.
"'Ice,' says he, nodding his head, solemn.
"General Dingo also steps over and feels of it.
"'Ice,' says the General; 'I'll swear to it.'
"'If Senor Casparis,' says the bay man, 'will present himself to the
treasury on the sixth day of this month he will receive back the
thousand dollars he did deposit as a forfeit. Adios, senor.'
"The General and the bay man bowed themselves out, and I bowed as
often as they did.
"And when the carriage rolls away through the sand I bows once more,
deeper than ever, till my hat touches the ground. But this time 'twas
not intended for them. For, over their heads, I saw the old flag
fluttering in the breeze above the consul's roof; and 'twas to it I
made my profoundest salute."