Breakfast in Coralio was at eleven. Therefore the people did not go
to market early. The little wooden market-house stood on a patch of
short-trimmed grass, under the vivid green foliage of a bread-fruit
Thither one morning the venders leisurely convened, bringing their
wares with them. A porch or platform six feet wide encircled the
building, shaded from the mid-morning sun by the projecting, grass-
thatched roof. Upon this platform the venders were wont to display
their goods--newly killed beef, fish, crabs, fruit of the country,
cassava, eggs, ~dulces~ and high, tottering stacks of native tortillas
as large around as the sombrero of a Spanish grandee.
But on this morning they whose stations lay on the seaward side
of the market-house, instead of spreading their merchandise formed
themselves into a softly jabbering and gesticulating group. For there
upon their space of the platform was sprawled, asleep, the unbeautiful
figure of "Beelzebub" Blythe. He lay upon a ragged strip of cocoa
matting, more than ever a fallen angel in appearance. His suit of
coarse flax, soiled, bursting at the seams, crumpled into a thousand
diversified wrinkles and creases, inclosed him absurdly, like the garb
of some effigy that had been stuffed in sport and thrown there after
indignity had been wrought upon it. But firmly upon the high bridge
of his nose reposed his gold-rimmed glasses, the surviving badge of
his ancient glory.
The sun's rays, reflecting quiveringly from the rippling sea upon his
face, and the voices of the market-men woke "Beelzebub" Blythe. He
sat up, blinking, and leaned his back against the wall of the market.
Drawing a blighted silk handkerchief from his pocket, he assiduously
rubbed and burnished his glasses. And while doing this he became
aware that his bedroom had been invaded, and that polite brown and
yellow men were beseeching him to vacate in favor of their market
If the senor would have the goodness--a thousand pardons for bringing
to him molestation--but soon would come the ~compradores~ for the
day's provisions--surely they had ten thousand regrets at disturbing
In this manner they expanded to him the intimation that he must clear
out and cease to clog the wheels of trade.
Blythe stepped from the platform with the air of a prince leaving
his canopied couch. He never quite lost that air, even at the lowest
point of his fall. It is clear that the college of good breeding does
not necessarily maintain a chair of morals within its walls.
Blythe shook out his wry clothing, and moved slowly up the Calle
Grande through the hot sand. He moved without a destination in
his mind. The little town was languidly stirring to its daily life.
Golden-skinned babies tumbled over one another in the grass. The sea
breeze brought him appetite, but nothing to satisfy it. Throughout
Coralio were its morning odors--those from the heavily fragrant
tropical flowers and from the bread baking in the outdoor ovens of
clay and the pervading smoke of their fires. Where the smoke cleared,
the crystal air, with some of the efficacy of faith, seemed to remove
the mountains almost to the sea, bringing them so near that one might
count the scarred glades on their wooded sides. The light-footed
Caribs were swiftly gliding to their tasks at the waterside. Already
along the bosky trails from the banana groves files of horses were
slowly moving, concealed, except for their nodding heads and plodding
legs, by the bunches of green-golden fruit heaped upon their backs.
On doorsills sat women combing their long, black hair and calling, one
to another, across the narrow thoroughfares. Peace reigned in Coralio
--arid and bald peace; but still peace.
On that bright morning when Nature seemed to be offering the lotus
on the Dawn's golden platter "Beelzebub" Blythe had reached rock
bottom. Further descent seemed impossible. That last night's slumber
in a public place had done for him. As long as he had had a roof
to cover him there had remained, unbridged, the space that separates
a gentleman from the beasts of the jungle and the fowls of the air.
But now he was little more than a whimpering oyster led to be devoured
on the sands of a Southern sea by the artful walrus, Circumstance,
and the implacable carpenter, Fate.
To Blythe money was now but a memory. He had drained his friends
of all that their good-fellowship had to offer; then he had squeezed
them to the last drop of their generosity; and at last, Aaron-like,
he had smitten the rock of their hardening bosoms for the scattering,
ignoble drops of Charity itself.
He had exhausted his credit to the last real. With the minute
keenness of the shameless sponger he was aware of every source in
Coralio from which a glass of rum, a meal or a piece of silver could
be wheedled. Marshalling each such source in his mind, he considered
it with all the thoroughness and penetration that hunger and thirst
lent him for the task. All his optimism failed to thresh a grain of
hope from the chaff of his postulations. He had played out the game.
That one night in the open had shaken his nerves. Until then there
had been left to him at least a few grounds upon which he could base
his unblushing demands upon his neighbors' stores. Now he must beg
instead of borrowing. The most brazen sophistry could not dignify
by the name of "loan" the coin contemptuously flung to a beachcomber
who slept on the bare boards of the public market.
But on this morning no beggar would have more thankfully received
a charitable coin, for the demon thirst had him by the throat--the
drunkard's matutinal thirst that requires to be slaked at each morning
station on the road to Tophet.
Blythe walked slowly up the street, keeping a watchful eye for any
miracle that might drop manna upon him in his wilderness. As he
passed the popular eating house of Madama Vasquez, Madama's boarders
were just sitting down to freshly baked bread, ~aguacates~, pines
and delicious coffee that sent forth odorous guarantee of its quality
upon the breeze. Madama was serving; she turned her shy, stolid,
melancholy gaze for a moment out the window; she saw Blythe, and
her expression turned more shy and embarrassed. "Beelzebub" owed
her twenty pesos. He bowed as he had once bowed to less embarrassed
dames to whom he owed nothing, and passed on.
Merchants and their clerks were throwing open the solid wooden doors
of their shops. Polite but cool were the glances they cast upon
Blythe as he lounged tentatively by with the remains of his old jaunty
air; for they were his creditors almost without exception.
At the little fountain in the ~plaza~ he made an apology for a toilet
with his wetted handkerchief. Across the open square filed the
dolorous line of friends to the prisoners in the calaboza, bearing
the morning meal of the immured. The food in their hands roused small
longing in Blythe.
It was drink that his soul craved, or money to buy it. In the streets
he met many with whom he had been friends and equals, and whose
patience and liberality he had gradually exhausted. Willard Geddie
and Paula cantered past him with the coolest of nods, returning from
their daily horseback ride along the old Indian road. Keogh passed
him at another corner, whistling cheerfully and bearing a prize of
newly laid eggs for the breakfast of himself and Clancy. The jovial
scout of Fortune was one of Blythe's victims who had plunged his hand
oftenest into his pocket to aid him. But now it seemed that Keogh,
too, had fortified himself against further invasions. His curt
greeting and the ominous light in his full, gray eye quickened the
steps of "Beelzebub," whom desperation had almost incited to attempt
an additional "loan."
Three drinking shops the forlorn one next visited in succession.
In all of these his money, his credit and his welcome had long since
been spent; but Blythe felt that he would have fawned in the dust at
the feet of an enemy that morning for one draught of ~aguardiente~.
In two of the ~pulperias~ his courageous petition for drink was met
with a refusal so polite that it stung worse than abuse. The third
establishment had acquired something of American methods; and here
he was seized bodily and cast out upon his hands and knees.
This physical indignity caused a singular change in the man.
As he picked himself up and walked away, an expression of absolute
relief came upon his features. The specious and conciliatory
smile that had been graven there was succeeded by a look of calm
and sinister resolve. "Beelzebub" had been floundering in the sea
of improbability, holding by a slender life-line to the respectable
world that had cast him overboard. He must have felt that with this
ultimate shock the line had snapped, and have experienced the welcome
ease of the drowning swimmer who has ceased to struggle.
Blythe walked to the next corner and stood there while he brushed
the sand from his garments and repolished his glasses.
"I've got to do it--oh, I've got to do it," he told himself, aloud.
"If I had a quart of rum I believe I could stave it off yet--for a
little while. But there's no more rum for--'Beelzebub,' as they call
me. By the flames of Tartarus! if I'm to sit at the right hand of
Satan somebody has got to pay the court expenses. You'll have to pony
up, Mr. Frank Goodwin. You're a good fellow; but a gentleman must
draw the line at being kicked into the gutter. Blackmail isn't a
pretty word, but it's the next station on the road I'm travelling."
With purpose in his steps Blythe now moved rapidly through the town
by way of its landward environs. He passed through the squalid
quarters of the improvident negroes and on beyond the picturesque
shacks of the poorer mestizos. From many points along his course he
could see, through the umbrageous glades, the house of Frank Goodwin
on its wooded hill. And as he crossed the little bridge over the
lagoon he saw the old Indian, Galvez, scrubbing at the wooden slab
that bore the name of Miraflores. Beyond the lagoon the lands of
Goodwin began to slope gently upward. A grassy road, shaded by
a munificent and diverse array of tropical flora wound from the edge
of an outlying banana grove to the dwelling. Blythe took this road
with long and purposeful strides.
Goodwin was seated on his coolest gallery, dictating letters to his
secretary, a sallow and capable native youth. The household adhered
to the American plan of breakfast; and that meal had been a thing of
the past for the better part of an hour.
The castaway walked to the steps, and flourished a hand.
"Good morning, Blythe, said Goodwin, looking up. "Come in and have
a chair. Anything I can do for you?"
"I want to speak to you in private."
Goodwin nodded at his secretary, who strolled out under a mango tree
and lit a cigarette. Blythe took the chair that he had left vacant.
"I want some money," he began, doggedly.
"I'm sorry," said Goodwin, with equal directness, "but you can't have
any. You're drinking yourself to death, Blythe. Your friends have
done all they could to help you to brace up. You won't help yourself.
There's no use furnishing you with money to ruin yourself with any
"Dear man," said Blythe, tilting back his chair, "it isn't a question
of social economy now. It's past that. I like you, Goodwin; and I've
come to stick a knife between your ribs. I was kicked out of Espada's
saloon this morning; and Society owes me reparation for my wounded
"I didn't kick you out."
"No--but in a general way you represent Society; and in a particular
way you represent my last chance. I've had to come down to it, old
man--I tried to do it a month ago when Losada's man was here turning
things over; but I couldn't do it then. Now it's different. I want
a thousand dollars, Goodwin; and you'll have to give it to me."
"Only last week," said Goodwin, with a smile, "a silver dollar was
all you were asking for."
"An evidence," said Blythe, flippantly, "that I was still virtuous--
though under heavy pressure. The wages of sin should be something
higher than a peso worth forty-eight cents. Let's talk business.
I am the villain in the third act; and I must have my merited,
if only temporary, triumph. I saw you collar the late president's
valiseful of boodle. Oh, I know it's blackmail; but I'm liberal
about the price. I know I'm a cheap villain--one of the regular
sawmill-drama kind--but you're one of my particular friends, and
I don't want to stick you hard."
"Suppose you go into the details," suggested Goodwin, calmly
arranging his letters on the table.
"All right," said "Beelzebub." "I like the way you take it.
I despise histrionics; so you will please prepare yourself for
the facts without any red fire, calcium or grace notes on
"On the night that His Fly-by-night Excellency arrived in town I was
very drunk. You will excuse the pride with which I state that fact;
but it was quite a feat for me to attain that desirable state.
Somebody had left a cot out under the orange trees in the yard of
Madama Ortiz's hotel. I stepped over the wall, laid down upon it,
and fell asleep. I was awakened by an orange that dropped from
the tree upon my nose; and I laid there for a while cursing Sir Isaac
Newton, or whoever it was that invented gravitation, for not confining
his theory to apples.
"And then along came Mr. Miraflores and his true-love with the
treasury in a valise, and went into the hotel. Next you hove in
sight, and held a pow-wow with the tonsorial artist who insisted
upon talking shop after hours. I tried to slumber again; but once
more my rest was disturbed--this time by the noise of the popgun
that went off upstairs. Then that valise came crashing down into
an orange tree just above my head; and I arose from my couch, not
knowing when it might begin to rain Saratoga trunks. When the army
and the constabulary began to arrive, with their medals and
decorations hastily pinned to their pajamas, and their snickersnees
drawn, I crawled into the welcome shadow of a banana plant. I
remained there for an hour, by which time the excitement and the
people had cleared away. And then, my dear Goodwin--excuse me--I saw
you sneak back and pluck that ripe and juicy valise from the orange
tree. I followed you, and saw you take it to your own house. A
hundred-thousand-dollar crop from one orange tree in a season about
breaks the record of the fruit-growing industry.
"Being a gentleman at that time, of course I never mentioned the
incident to any one. But this morning I was kicked out of a saloon,
my code of honor is all out at the elbows, and I'd sell my mother's
prayer-book for three fingers of ~aguardiente~. I'm not putting
on the screws hard. It ought to be worth a thousand to you for me
to have slept on that cot through the whole business without waking
up and seeing anything."
Goodwin opened two more letters, and made memoranda in pencil on them.
Then he called "Manuel!" to his secretary, who came, spryly.
"The ~Ariel~--when does she sail?" asked Goodwin. "Senor," answered
the youth, "at three this afternoon. She drops down-coast to Punta
Soledad to complete her cargo of fruit. From there she sails for New
Orleans without delay."
"~Bueno!~" said Goodwin. "These letters may wait yet awhile."
The secretary returned to his cigarette under the mango tree.
In round numbers," said Goodwin, facing Blythe squarely, "how much
money do you owe in this town, not including the sums you have
'borrowed' from me?"
"Five hundred--at a rough guess," answered Blythe, lightly.
"Go somewhere in the town and draw up a schedule of your debts," said
Goodwin. "Come back here in two hours, and I will send Manuel with
the money to pay them. I will also have a decent outfit of clothing
ready for you. You will sail on the ~Ariel~ at three. Manuel will
accompany you as far as the deck of the steamer. There he will hand
you one thousand dollars in cash. I suppose that we needn't discuss
what you will be expected to do in return?"
"Oh, I understand," piped Blythe, cheerily. "I was asleep all the
time on the cot under Madama Ortiz's orange trees; and I shake off
the dust of Coralio forever. I'll play fair. No more of the lotus
for me. Your proposition is 0. K. Youre a good fellow, Goodwin; and
I let you off light. I'll agree to everything. But in the meantime
--I've a devil of a thirst on, old man--"
"Not a ~centavo~," said Goodwin, firmly, "until you are on board the
~Ariel~. You would be drunk in thirty minutes if you had money now."
But he noticed the blood-streaked eyeballs, the relaxed form and
the shaking hands of "Beelzebub"; and he stepped into the dining
room through the low window, and brought out a glass and a decanter
"Take a bracer, anyway, before you go," he proposed, even as a man
to the friend whom he entertains.
"Beelzebub" Blythe's eyes glistened at the sight of the solace for
which his soul burned. Today for the first time his poisoned nerves
had been denied their steadying dose; and their retort was a mounting
torment. He grasped the decanter and rattled its crystal mouth
against the glass in his trembling hand. He flushed the glass,
and then stood erect, holding it aloft for an instant. For one
fleeting moment he held his head above the drowning waves of
his abyss. He nodded easily at Goodwin, raised his brimming glass
and murmured a "health" that men had used in his ancient Paradise
Lost. And then so suddenly that he spilled the brandy over his hand,
he set down his glass, untasted.
"In two hours," his dry lips muttered to Goodwin, as he marched down
the steps and turned his face toward the town.
In the edge of the cool banana grove "Beelzebub" halted, and snapped
the tongue of his belt buckle into another hole.
"I couldn't do it," he explained, feverishly, to the waving banana
fronds. "I wanted to, but I couldn't. A gentleman can't drink with
the man that he blackmails."