Willard Greddie, consul for the United States in Coralio, was working
leisurely on his yearly report. Goodwin, who had strolled in as he
did daily for a smoke on the much coveted porch, had found him so
absorbed in his work that he departed after roundly abusing the
consul for his lack of hospitality.
"I shall complain to the civil service department," said Goodwin;--
"or is it a department?--perhaps it's only a theory. One gets neither
civility nor service from you. You won't talk; and you won't set out
anything to drink. What kind of a way is that of representing your
Goodwin strolled out and across to the hotel to see if he could bully
the quarantine doctor into a game on Coralio's solitary billiard
table. His plans were completed for the interception of the
fugitives from the capital; and now it was but a waiting game that
he had to play.
The consul was interested in his report. He was only twenty-four;
and he had not been in Coralio long enough for his enthusiasm to cool
in the heat of the tropics--a paradox that may be allowed between
Cancer and Capricorn.
So many thousand bunches of bananas, so mnay thousand oranges and
coconuts, so many ounces of gold dust, pounds of rubber, coffee,
indigo and sarparilla--actually, exports were twenty per cent greater
than for the previous year!
A little thrill of satisfaction ran through the consul. Perhaps,
he thought, the State Department, upon reading his introduction,
would notice--and then he leaned back in his chair and laughed.
He was getting as bad as the others. For the moment he had forgotten
that Coralio was an insignificant republic lying along the by-ways
of a second-rate sea. He thought of Gregg, the quarantine doctor,
who subscribed for the London ~Lancet~, expecting to find it quoting
his reports to the home Board of Health concerning the yellow fever
germ. The consul knew that not one in fifty of his acquaintances in
the States had ever heard of Coralio. He knew that two men, at any
rate, would have to read his report--some underling in the State
Department and a compositor in the Public Printing Office. Perhaps
the typesticker would note the increase of commerce in Coralio, and
speak of it, over the cheese and beer, to a friend.
He had just written: "Most unaccountable is the supineness of the
large exporters in the United States in permitting the French and
German houses to practically control the trade interests of this
rich and productive country"--when he heard the hoarse notes of
a steamer's siren.
Geddie laid down his pen and gathered his Panama hat and umbrella.
By the sound he knew it to be the ~Valhalla~, one of the line of
fruit vessels plying for the Vesuvius Company. Down to ~ninos~ of
five years, every one in Coralio could name you each incoming steamer
by the note of her siren.
The consul sauntered by a roundabout, shaded way to the beach.
By reason of long practice he gauged his stroll so accurately that
by the time he arrived on the sandy shore the boat of the customs
officials was rowing back from the steamer, which had been boarded
and inspected according to the laws of Anchuria.
There is no harbor at Coralio. Vessels of the draught of the
~Valhalla~ must ride at anchor a mile from shore. When they take on
fruit it is conveyed on lighters and freighter sloops. At Solitas,
where there was a fine harbor, ships of many kinds were to be seen,
but in the roadstead off Coralio scarcely any save the fruiters
paused. Now and then a tramp coaster, or a mysterious brig from
Spain, and then a tramp coaster, or a mysterious brig from Spain,
or a saucy French barque would hang innocently for a few days in
the offing. Then the custom-house crew would become doubly vigilant
and wary. At night a sloop or two would be making strange trips in
and out along the shore; and in the morning the stock of Three-Star
Hennessey, wines and drygoods in Coralio would be found vastly
increased. It has also been said that the customs officials jingled
more silver in the pockets of their red-striped trousers, and that
the record books showed no increase in import duties received.
The custom's boat and the ~Valhalla~ gig reached the shore at the
same time. When they grounded in the shallow water there was still
five yards of rolling surf between them and dry sand. Then half-
clothed Caribs dashed into the water, and brought in on their backs
the ~Valhalla's~ purser, and the little native officials in their
cotton undershirts, blue trousers with red stripes, and flapping
At college Geddie had been a treasure as a first-baseman. He now
closed his umbrella, stuck it upright in the sand, and stooped,
with his hands resting upon his knees. The purser, burlesquing
the pitcher's contortions, hurled at the consul the heavy roll of
newspapers, tied with a string, that the steamer always brought for
him. Geddie leaped high and caught the roll with a sounding "thwack."
The loungers on the beach--about a third of the population of the
town--laughed and applauded delightedly. Every week they expected
to see that roll of papers delivered and received in that same
manner, and they were never disappointed. Innovations did not
flourish in Coralio.
The consul re-hoisted his umbrella and walked back to the consulate.
This home of a great nation's representative was a wooden structure
of two rooms, with a native-built gallery of poles, bamboo and
nipa palm running on three sides of it. One room was the official
apartment, furnished chastely with a flat-top desk, a hammock, and
three uncomfortable cane-seated chairs. Engravings of the first and
latest president of the country represented hung against the wall.
The other room was the consul's living apartment.
It was eleven o'clock when he returned from the beach, and therefore
breakfast time. Chanca, the Carib woman who cooked for him, was just
serving the meal on the side of the gallery facing the sea--a spot
famous as the coolest in Coralio. The breakfast consisted of shark's
fin soup, stew of land crabs, breadfruit, a boiled iguana steak,
aquacates, a freshly cut pineapple, claret and coffee.
Geddie took his seat, and unrolled with luxurious laziness his bundle
of newspapers. Here in Coralio for two days or longer he would read
the goings-on in the world very much as we of the world read those
whimsical contributions to inexact science that assume to portray the
doings of the Martians. After he had finished with the papers they
would be sent on the rounds of the other English-speaking residents
of the town.
The paper that came first to his hand was one of those bulky
mattresses of printed stuff upon which the readers of certain
New York journals are supposed to take their Sabbath literary nap.
Opening this the consul rested it upon the table, supporting its
weight with the aid of the back of a chair. Then he partook of his
meal deliberately, turning the leaves from time to time and glancing
half idly at the contents.
Presently he was struck by something familiar to him in a picture--
a half-page, badly printed reproduction of a photograph of a vessel.
Languidly interested, he leaned for a nearer scrutiny and a view of
the florid headlines of the column next to the picture.
Yes; he was not mistaken. The engraving was of the eight-hundred-ton
yacht ~Idalia~, belonging to "that prince of good fellows, Midas of
the money market, and society's pink of perfection, J. Ward Tolliver."
Slowly sipping his black coffee, Geddie read the column of print.
Following a listed statement of Mr. Tolliver's real estate and bonds,
came a description of the yacht's furnishings, and then the grain of
news no bigger than a mustard seed. Mr. Tolliver, with a party of
favored guests, would sail the next day on a six weeks' cruise along
the Central American and South American coasts and among the Bahama
Islands. Among the guests were Mrs. Cumberland Payne and Miss Ida
Payne, of Norfolk.
The writer, with the fatuous presumption that was demanded of him
by his readers, had concocted a romance suited to their palates.
He bracketed the names of Miss Payne and Mr. Tolliver until he had
well-nigh read the marriage ceremony over them. He played coyly and
insinuatingly upon the strings of "~on dit~" and "Madame Rumor" and
"a little bird" and "no one would be surprised," and ended with
Geddie, having finished his breakfast, took his papers to the edge
of the gallery, and sat there in his favorite steamer chair with his
feet on the bamboo railing. He lighted a cigar, and looked out upon
the sea. He felt a glow of satisfaction at finding he was so little
disturbed by what he had read. He told himself that he had conquered
the distress that had sent him, a voluntary exile, to this far land
of the lotus. He could never forget Ida, of course; but there was
no longer any pain in thinking about her. When they had had that
misunderstanding and quarrel he had impulsively sought this
consulship, with the desire to retaliate upon her by detaching
himself from her world and presence. He had succeeded thoroughly
in that. During the twelve months of his life in Coralio no word had
passed between them, though he had sometimes heard of her through the
dilatory correspondence with the few friends to whom he still wrote.
Still he could not repress a little thrill of satisfaction at knowing
that she had not yet married Tolliver or any one else. But evidently
Tolliver had not yet abandoned hope.
Well, it made no difference to him now. He had eaten of the lotus.
He was happy and content in this land of perpetual afternoon. Those
old days of life in the States seemed like an irritating dream. He
hoped Ida would be as happy as he was. The climate as balmy as that
of distant Avalon; the fetterless, idyllic round of enchanted days;
the life among this indolent, romantic people--a life full of music,
flowers, and low laughter; the influence of the imminent sea and
mountains, and the many shapes of love and magic and beauty that
bloomed in the white tropic nights--with all he was more than
content. Also, there was Paula Brannigan.
Geddie intended to marry Paula--if, of course, she would consent;
but he felt rather sure that she would do that. Somehow, he kept
postponing his proposal. Several times he had been quite near to it;
but a mysterious something always held him back. Perhaps it was only
the unconscious, instinctive conviction that the act would sever the
last tie that bound him to his old world.
He could be very happy with Paula. Few of the native girls could be
compared with her. She had attended a convent school in New Orleans
for two years; and when she chose to display her accomplishments no
one could detect any difference between her and the girls of Norfolk
and Manhattan. But it was delicious to see her at home dressed, as
she sometimes was, in the native costume, with bare shoulders and
Bernard Brannigan was the great merchant of Coralio. Besides his
store, he maintained a train of pack mules, and carried on a lively
trade with the interior towns and villages. He had married a native
lady of high Castilian descent, but with a tinge of Indian brown
showing through her olive cheek. The union of the Irish and the
Spanish had produced, as it so often has, an offshoot of rare beauty
and variety. They were very excellent people indeed, and the upper
story of the house was ready to be placed at the service of Geddie
and Paula as soon as he should make up his mind to speak about it.
By the time two hours were whiled away the consul tired of reading.
The papers lay scattered about him on the gallery. Reclining there,
he gazed dreamily out upon an Eden. A clump of banana plants
interposed their broad shields between him and the sun. The gentle
slope from the consulate to the sea was covered with the dark-green
foliage of lemon-trees and orange-trees just bursting into bloom.
A lagoon pierced the land like a dark, jagged crystal, and above it a
pale ceiba-tree rose almost to the clouds. The waving coconut palms
on the beach flared their decorative green leaves against the slate
of an almost quiescent sea. His senses were cognizant of brilliant
scarlet and ochres and the vert of the coppice, of odors of fruit and
bloom and the smoke from Chanca's clay oven under the calabash-tree;
of the treble laughter of the native women in their huts, the song of
the robin, the salt taste of the breeze, the diminuendo of the faint
surf running along the shore--and, gradually, of a white speck,
growing to a blur, that intruded itself upon the drab prospect of
Lazily interested, he watched this blur increase until it became
the ~Idalia~ steaming at full speed, coming down the coast. Without
changing his position he kept his eyes upon the beautiful white yacht
as she drew swiftly near, and came opposite to Coralio. Then, sitting
upright, he saw her float steadily past and on. He had seen the
frequent splash of her polished brass work and the stripes of her
deck-awnings--so much, and no more. Like a ship on a magic lantern
slide the ~Idalia~ had crossed the illuminated circle of the consul's
little world, and was gone. Save for the tiny cloud of smoke that
was left hanging over the brim of the sea, she might have been an
immaterial thing, a chimera of his idle brain.
Geddie went into his office and sat down to dawdle over his report.
If the reading of the article in the paper had left him unshaken,
this silent passing of the ~Idalia~ had done for him still more.
It had brought the calm and peace of a situation from which all
uncertainty had been erased. He knew that men sometimes hope without
being aware of it. Now, since she had come two thousand miles and
had passed without a sign, not even his unconscious self need cling
to the past any longer.
After dinner, when the sun was low behind the mountains, Geddie
walked on the little strip of beach under the coconuts. The wind
was blowing mildly landward, and the surface of the sea was rippled
by tiny wavelets.
A miniature breaker, spreading with a soft "swish" upon the sand
brought with its something round and shiny that rolled back again
as the wave receded. The next influx beached it clear, and Geddie
picked it up. The thing was a long-necked wine bottle of colorless
glass. The cork had been driven in tightly to the level of the
mouth, and the end covered with dark-red sealing-wax. The bottle
contained only what seemed to be a sheet of paper, much curled from
the manipulation it had undergone while being inserted. In the
sealing-wax was the impression of a seal--probably of a signet-ring,
bearing the initials of a monogram; but the impression had been
hastily made, and the letters were past anything more certain than
a shrewd conjecture. Ida Payne had always worn a signet-ring in
preference to any other finger decoration. Geddie thought he could
make out the familiar "I P"; and a queer sensation of disquietude
went over him. More personal and intimate was this reminder of
her than had been the sight of the vessel she was doubtless on.
He walked back to his house, and set the bottle on his desk.
Throwing off his hat and coat, and lighting a lamp--for the night had
crowded precipitately upon the brief twilight--he began to examine
his piece of sea salvage.
By holding the bottle near the light and turning it judiciously, he
made out that it contained a double sheet of note-paper filled with
close writing; further, that the paper was of the same size and shade
as that always used by Ida; and that, to the best of his belief, the
handwriting was hers. The imperfect glass of the bottle so distorted
the rays of light that he could read no word of the writing; but
certain capital letters, of which he caught comprehensive glimpses,
were Ida's, he felt sure.
There was a little smile both of perplexity and amusement in Geddie's
eyes as he set the bottle down, and laid three cigars side by side
on his desk. He fetched his steamer chair from the gallery, and
stretched himself comfortably. He would smoke those three cigars
while considering the problem.
For it amounted to a problem. He almost wished that he had not found
the bottle; but the bottle was there. Why should it have drifted in
from the sea, whence come so many disquieting things, to disturb his
In this dreamy land, where time seemed so redundant, he had fallen
into the habit of bestowing much thought upon even trifling matters.
He bagan to speculate upon many fanciful theories concerning the
story of the bottle, rejecting each in turn.
Ships in danger of wreck or disablement sometimes cast forth such
precarious messengers calling for aid. But he had seen the ~Idalia~
not three hours before, safe and speeding. Suppose the crew had
mutinied and imprisoned the passengers below, and the message was one
begging for succor! But, premising such an improbable outrage, would
the agitated captives have taken the pains to fill four pages of
note-paper with carefully penned arguments to their rescue.
Thus by elimination he soon rid the matter of the more unlikely
theories, and was reduced--though aversely--to the less assailable
ones that the bottle contained a message to himself. Ida knew he
was in Coralio; she must have launched the bottle while the yacht
was passing and the wind blowing fairly toward the shore.
As soon as Geddie reached this conclusion a wrinkle came between his
brows and a stubborn look settled around his mouth. He sat looking
out through the doorway at the gigantic fire-flies traversing the
If this was a message to him from Ida, what could it mean save an
overture at reconciliation? And if that, why had she not used the
same methods of the post instead of this uncertain and even flippant
means of communication? A note in an empty bottle, cast into the
sea! There was something light and frivolous about it, if not
The thought stirred his pride, and subdued whatever emotions had been
resurrected by the finding of the bottle.
Geddie put on his coat and hat and walked out. He followed a street
that led him along the border of the little plaza where a band was
playing and people were rambling, care-free and indolent. Some
timorous ~senoritas~ scurrying past with fire-flies tangled in the
jetty braids of their hair glanced at him with shy, flattering eyes.
The air was languorous with the scent of jasmin and orange-blossoms.
The consul stayed his steps at the house of Bernard Brannigan. Paula
was swinging in a hammock on the gallery. She rose from it like a
bird from its nest. The color came to her cheeck at the sound of
He was charmed at the sight of her costume--a flounced muslin dress,
with a little jacket of white flannel, all made with neatness and
style. He suggested a stroll, and they walked out to the old Indian
well on the hill road. They sat on the curb, and there Geddie made
the expected but long-deferred speech. Certain though he had been
that she would not say him nay, he was still thrilled at the
completeness and sweetness of her surrender. Here was surely a heart
made for love and steadfastness. Here was no caprice or questionings
or captious standards of convention.
When Geddie kissed Paula at her door that night he was happier than
he had ever been before. "Here in this hollow lotus land, ever
to live and lie reclined" seemed to him, as it has seemed to many
mariners, the best as well as the easiest. His future would be
an ideal one. He had attained a Paradise without a serpent. His
Eve would be indeed a part of him, unbeguiled, and therefore more
beguiling. He had made his decision tonight, and his heart was full
of serene, assured content.
Geddie went back to his house whistling that finest and saddest love
song, "La Golondrina." At the door his tame monkey leaped down from
his shelf, chattering briskly. The consul turned to his desk to get
him some nuts he usually kept there. Reaching in the half-darkness,
his hand struck against the bottle. He started as if he had touched
the cold rotundity of a serpent.
He had forgotten that the bottle was there.
He lighted the lamp and fed the monkey. Then, very deliberately,
he lighted a cigar, and took the bottle in his hand, and walked down
the path to the beach.
There was a moon, and the sea was glorious. The breeze had shifted,
as it did each evening, and was now rushing steadily seaward.
Stepping to the water's edge, Geddie hurled the unopened bottle far
out into the sea. It disappeared for a moment, and then shot upward
twice its length. Geddie stood still, watching it. The moonlight
was so bright that he could see it bobbing up and down with the
little waves. Slowly it receded from the shore, flashing and turning
as it went. The wind was carrying it out to sea. Soon it became a
mere speck, doubtfully discerned at irregular intervals; and then the
mystery of it was swallowed up by the greater mystery of the ocean.
Geddie stood still upon the beach, smoking and looking out upon the
"Simon!--Oh, Simon!--Wake up there, Simon!" bawled a sonorous voice
at the edge of the water.
Old Simon Cruz was a half-breed fisherman and smuggler who lived in a
hut on the beach. Out of his earliest nap Simon was thus awakened.
He slipped on his shoes and went outside. Just landing from one of
the ~Valhalla's~ boats was the third mate of that vessel, who was an
acquaintance of Simon's, and three sailors from the fruiter.
"Go up, Simon," called the mate, "and find Doctor Gregg or Mr.
Goodwin or anybody that's a friend to Mr. Geddie, and bring 'em here
"Saints of the skies!" said Simon, sleepily, "nothing has happened
to Mr. Geddie?"
"He's under that tarpauling," said the mate, pointing to the boat,
"and he's rather more than half drowned. We seen him from the
steamer nearly a mile out from shore, swimmin' like mad after a
bottle that was floatin' in the water, outward bound. We lowered the
gig and started for him. He nearly had his hand on the bottle, when
he gave out and went under. We pulled him out in time to save him,
maybe; but the doctor is the one to decide that."
"A bottle?" said the old man, rubbing his eyes. He was not yet fully
awake. "Where is the bottle?"
"Driftin' along out there some'eres," said the mate, jerking his
thumb toward the sea. "Get on with you, Simon."