Spilled milk draws few tears from an Anchurian administration.
Many are its lacteal sources; and the clocks' hands point forever
to milking time. Even the rich cream skimmed from the treasury by
the bewitched Miraflores did not cause the newly installed patriots
to waste time in unprofitable regrets. The government philosophically
set about supplying the deficiency by increasing the import duties
and by "suggesting" to wealthy private citizens that contributions
according to their means would be considered patriotic and in order.
Prosperity was expected to attend the reign of Losada, the new
president. The ousted office-holders and military favorites
organized a new "Liberal" party, and began to lay their plans
for a re-succession. Thus the game of Anchurian politics began, like
a Chinese comedy, to unwind slowly its serial length. Here and there
Mirth peeps for an instant from the wings and illumines the florid
A dozen quarts of champagne in conjunction with an informal sitting
of the president and his cabinet led to the establishment of the navy
and the appointment of Felipe Carrera as its admiral.
Next to the champagne the credit of the appointment belongs to Don
Sabas Placido, the newly confirmed Minister of War.
The president had requested a convention of his cabinet for the
discussion of questions politic and for the transaction of certain
routine matters of state. The session had been signally tedious;
the business and the wine prodigiously dry. A sudden, prankish humor
of Don Sabas, impelling him to the deed, spiced the grave affairs
of state with a whiff of agreeable playfulness. In the dilatory
order of business had come a bulletin from the coast department
of Orilla del Mar reporting the seizure by the custom-house officers
at the town of Coralio of the sloop ~Estrella del Noche~ and her cargo
of drygoods, patent medicines, granulated sugar and three-star brandy.
Also six Martini rifles and a barrel of American whiskey. Caught
in the act of smuggling, the sloop with its cargo was now, according
to law, the property of the republic.
The Collector of Customs, in making his report, departed from the
conventional forms so far as to suggest that the confiscated vessel
be converted to the use of the government. The prize was the first
capture to the credit of the department in ten years. The collector
took opportunity to pat his department on the back.
It often happened that government officers required transportation
from point to point along the coast, and means were usually lacking.
Furthermore, the sloop could be manned by a loyal crew and employed
as a coast guard to discourage the pernicious art of smuggling. The
collector also ventured to nominate one to whom the charge of the boat
could be safely intrusted--a young man of Coralio, Felipe Carrera--
not, be it understood, one of extreme wisdom, but loyal and the best
sailor along the coast.
It was upon this hint that the Minister of War acted, executing a
rare piece of drollery that so enlivened the tedium of the executive
In the consultation of this small, maritime banana republic was
a forgotten section that provided for the maintenance of a navy.
This provision--with many other wiser ones--had lain inert since
the establishment of the republic. Anchuria had no navy and had
no use for one. It was characteristic of Don Sabas—a man at once
merry, learned, whimsical and audacious--that he should have disturbed
the dust of this musty and sleeping statute to increase the humor
of the world by so much as a smile from his indulgent colleagues.
With delightful mock seriousness the Minister of War proposed the
creation of a navy. He argued its need and the glories it might
achieve with such gay and witty zeal that the travesty overcame with
its humor even the swart dignity of President Losada himself.
The champagne was bubbling trickily in the veins of the mercurial
statesmen. It was not the custom of the grave governors of Anchuria
to enliven their sessions with a beverage so apt to cast a veil
of disparagement over sober affairs. The wine had been a thoughtful
compliment tendered by the agent of the Vesuvius Fruit Company as
a token of amicable relations--and certain consummated deals--between
that company and the republic of Anchuria.
The jest was carried to its end. A formidable, official document was
prepared, encrusted with chromatic seals and jaunty with fluttering
ribbons, bearing the florid signatures of state. This commission
conferred upon el Senor Don Felipe Carrera the title of Flag Admiral
of the Republic of Anchuria. Thus within the space of a few minutes
and the dominion of a dozen "extra dry" the country took its place
among the naval powers of the world, and Felipe Carrera became
entitled to a salute of nineteen guns whenever he might enter port.
The southern races are lacking in that particular kind of humor that
finds entertainment in the defects and misfortunes bestowed by Nature.
Owing to this defect in their constitution they are not moved to
laughter (as are their northern brothers) by the spectacle of the
deformed, the feeble-minded or the insane.
Felipe Carrera was sent upon earth with but half his wits. Therefore,
the people of Coralio called him "~El pobrecito loco~" the poor little
crazed one"--saying that God had sent but half of him to earth,
retaining the other half.
A sombre youth, glowering, and speaking only at the rarest times,
Felipe was but negatively "loco." On shore he generally refused all
conversation. He seemed to know that he was badly handicapped on
land, where so many kinds of understanding are needed; but on the
water his one talent set him equal with most men. Few sailors whom
God had carefully and completely made could handle a sailboat as well.
Five points nearer the wind than the best of them he could sail his
sloop. When the elements raged and set other men to cowering, the
deficiencies of Felipe seemed of little importance. He was a perfect
sailor, if an imperfect man. He owned no boat, but worked among the
crews of the schooners and sloops that skimmed the coast, trading and
freighting fruit out to the steamers where there was no harbor. It
was through his famous skill and boldness on the sea, as well as for
the pity felt for his mental imperfections, that he was recommended by
the collector as a suitable custodian of the captured sloop.
When the outcome of Don Sabas' little pleasantry arrived in the form
of the imposing and preposterous commission, the collector smiled.
He had not expected such prompt and overwhelming response to
his recommendation. He despatched a ~muchacho~ at once to fetch
the future admiral.
The collector waited in his official quarters. His office was in
the Calle Grande, and the sea breezes hummed through its windows all
day. The collector, in white linen and canvas shoes, philandered with
papers on an antique desk. A parrot, perched on a pen rack, seasoned
the official tedium with a fire of choice Castilian imprecations.
Two rooms opened into the Collector's. In one the clerical force of
young men of variegated complexions transacted with glitter and parade
their several duties. Through the open door of the other room could
be seen a bronze babe, guiltless of clothing, that rollicked upon the
floor. In a grass hammock a thin woman, tinted a pale lemon, played
a guitar and swung contentedly in the breeze. Thus surrounded by
the routine of his high duties and the visible tokens of agreeable
domesticity, the collector's heart was further made happy by the power
placed in his hands to brighten the fortunes of the "innocent" Felipe.
Felipe came and stood before the collector. He was a lad of twenty,
not ill-favored in looks, but with an expression of distant and
pondering vacuity. He wore white cotton trousers, down the seams
of which he had sewed red stripes with some vague aim at military
decoration. A flimsy blue shirt fell open at his throat; his feet
were bare; he held in his hand the cheapest of straw hats from the
"Senor Carrera," said the collector, gravely, producing the showy
commission, "I have sent for you at the president's bidding. This
document that I present to you confers upon you the title of Admiral
of this great republic, and gives you absolute command of the naval
forces and fleet of our country. You may think, friend Felipe, that
we have no navy--but yes! The sloop the ~Estrella del Noche~, that
my brave men captured from the coast smugglers, is to be placed under
your command. The boat is to be devoted to the services of your
country. You will be ready at all times to convey officials of the
government to points along the coast where they may be obliged to
visit. You will also act as a coast-guard to prevent, as far as you
may be able, the crime of smuggling. You will uphold the honor and
prestige of your country at sea, and endeavor to place Anchuria among
the proudest naval powers of the world. These are your instructions
as the Minister of War desires me to convey them to you. ~Por Dios!~
I do not know how all this is to be accomplished, for not one word
did his letter contain in respect to a crew or to the expenses of this
navy. Perhaps you are to provide a crew yourself, Senor Admiral--I do
not know--but it is a very high honor that has descended upon you. I
now hand you your commission. When you are ready for the boat I will
give orders that she shall be made over into your charge. That is as
far as my instructions go."
Felipe took the commission that the collector handed to him. He gazed
through the open window at the sea for a moment, with his customary
expression of deep but vain pondering. Then he turned without having
spoken a word, and walked swiftly away through the hot sand of the
"~Pobrecito loco!~" sighed the collector; and the parrot on the pen
racks screeched "Loco!—loco!—loco!"
The next morning a strange procession filed through the streets
to the collector's office. At its head was the admiral of the navy.
Somewhere Felipe had raked together a pitiful semblance of a military
uniform--a pair of red trousers, a dingy blue short jacket heavily
ornamented with gold braid, and an old fatigue cap that must have been
cast away by one of the British soldiers in Belize and brought away
by Felipe on one of his coasting voyages. Buckled around his waist
was an ancient ship's cutlass contributed to his equipment by Pedro
Lafitte, the baker, who proudly asserted its inheritance from his
ancestor, the illustrious buccaneer. At the admiral's heels tagged
his newly shipped crew--three grinning, glossy, black Caribs, bare to
the waist, the sand spurting in showers from the spring of their naked
Briefly and with dignity Felipe demanded his vessel of the collector.
And now a fresh honor awaited him. The collector's wife, who played
the guitar and read novels in the hammock all day, had more than
a little romance in her placid, yellow bosom. She had found in
an old book an engraving of a flag that purported to be the naval
flag of Anchuria. Perhaps it had so been designed by the founders
of the nation; but, as no navy had ever been established, oblivion
had claimed the flag. Laboriously with her own hands she had made
a flag after the pattern--a red cross upon a blue-and-white ground.
he presented it to Felipe with these words: "Brave sailor, this flag
is of your country. Be true, and defend it with your life. Go you
For the first time since his appointment the admiral showed a flicker
of emotion. He took the silken emblem, and passed his hand reverently
over its surface, "I am the admiral," he said to the collector's lady.
Being on land he could bring himself to no more exuberant expression
of sentiment. At sea with the flag at the masthead of his navy, some
more eloquent exposition of feelings might be forthcoming.
Abruptly the admiral departed with his crew. For the next three days
they were busy giving the ~Estrella del Noche~ a new coat of white
paint trimmed with blue. And then Felipe further adorned himself by
fastening a handful of brilliant parrot's plumes in his cap. Again
he tramped with his faithful crew to the collector's office and
formally notified him that the sloop's name had been changed to ~El
During the next few months the navy had its troubles. Even an admiral
is perplexed to know what to do without any orders. But none came.
Neither did any salaries. ~El Nacional~ swung idly at anchor.
When Felipe's little store of money was exhausted he went to the
collector and raised the question of finances.
"Salaries!" exclaimed the collector, with hands raised; "~Valgame
Dios~! not one ~centavo~ of my own pay have I received for the last
seven months. The pay of an admiral, do you ask? ~Quien sabe~?
Should it be less than three thousand ~pesos~? ~Mira~! you will see
a revolution in this country very soon. A good sign of it is when
the government calls all the time for ~pesos, pesos, pesos~, and pays
Felipe left the collector's office with a look almost of content
on his sombre face. A revolution would mean fighting, and then
the government would need his services. It was rather humiliating
to be an admiral without anything to do, and have a hungry crew at your
heels begging for ~reales~ to buy plantains and tobacco with.
When he returned to where his happy-go-lucky Caribs were waiting
they sprang up and saluted, as he had drilled them to do. "Come,
~muchachos~," said the admiral; "it seems that the government is poor.
It has no money to give us. We will earn what we need to live upon.
Thus will we serve our country. Soon"--his heavy eyes almost lighted
up--"it may gladly call upon us for help."
Thereafter ~El Nacional~ turned out with the other coast craft and
became a wage-earner. She worked with the lighters freighting bananas
and oranges out to the fruit steamers that could not approach nearer
than a mile from the shore. Surely a self-supporting navy deserves
red letters in the budget of any nation.
After earning enough at freighting to keep himself and his crew
in provisions for a week Felipe would anchor the navy and hang about
the little telegraph office, looking like one of the chorus of an
insolvent comic opera troupe besieging the manager's den. A hope for
orders from the capital was always in his heart. That his services
as admiral had never been called into requirement hurt his pride and
patriotism. At every call he would inquire, gravely and expectantly,
for despatches. The operator would pretend to make a search, and
"Not yet, it seems, ~Senor el Almirante--poco tiempo~!"
Outside in the shade of the lime-trees the crew chewed sugar cane
or slumbered, well content to serve a country that was contented
with so little service.
One day in the early summer the revolution predicted by the collector
flamed out suddenly. It had long been smoldering. At the first note
of alarm the admiral of the navy force and fleet made all sail for
a larger port on the coast of a neighboring republic, where he traded
a hastily collected cargo of fruit for its value in cartridges for the
five Martini rifles, the only guns that the navy could boast. Then
to the telegraph office sped the admiral. Sprawling in his favorite
corner, in his fast-decaying uniform, with his prodigious sabre
distributed between his red legs, he waited for the long-delayed,
but now soon expected, orders.
"Not yet, ~Senor el Almirante~" the telegraph clerk would call to him
At the answer the admiral would plump himself down with a great
rattling of scabbard to await the infrequent tick of the little
instrument on the table.
"They will come," would be his unshaken reply; "I am the admiral."