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Title: Sorrow in Sunlight [alternatively entitled 'Prancing Nigger'] (1925)
Author: Ronald Firbank
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0700911.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: July 2007
Date most recently updated: January 2010

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Title: Sorrow in Sunlight [alternatively entitled 'Prancing Nigger'] (1925)
Author: Ronald Firbank




I

Looking gloriously bored, Miss Miami Mouth gaped up into the boughs of a
giant silk-cotton tree. In the lethargic noontide nothing stirred: all
was so still, indeed, that the sound of someone snoring was clearly
audible among the cane-fields far away.

"After dose yams an' pods an' de white falernum, I dats way sleepy too,"
she murmured, fixing heavy somnolent eyes upon the prospect that lay
before her.

Through the sun-tinged greenery shone the sea, like a floor of silver
glass strewn with white sails.

Somewhere out there, fishing, must be her boy, Bamboo!

And, inconsequently, her thoughts wandered from the numerous
shark-casualties of late to the mundane proclivities of her mother; for
to quit the little village of Mediavilla for the capital was that dame's
fixed obsession.

Leave Mediavilla, leave Bamboo! The young negress fetched a sigh.

In what, she reflected, way would the family gain by _entering society_,
and how did one enter it, at all? There would be a gathering, doubtless,
of the elect (probably armed), since the best society is exclusive, and
difficult to enter. And then? Did one burrow? Or charge? She had
sometimes heard it said that people "pushed"... and closing her eyes,
Miss Miami Mouth sought to picture her parents, assisted by her small
sister, Edna, and her brother, Charlie, forcing their way, perspiring,
but triumphant, into the highest social circles of the city of Cuna-Cuna.

Across the dark savannah country the city lay, one of the chief alluring
cities of the world: The Celestial city of Cuna-Cuna, Cuna, city of
Mimosa, Cuna, city of Arches, Queen of the Tropics, Paradise--almost
invariably travellers referred to it like that.

Oh, everything must be fantastic there, where even the very pickneys put
on clothes! And Miss Miami Mouth glanced fondly down at her own plump
little person, nude, but for a girdle of creepers that she would gather
freshly twice a day.

"It would be a shame, sh'o, to cover it," she murmured drowsily,
caressing her body, and moved to a sudden spasm of laughter, she
tittered: "No! really. De ideah!"



II

"Silver bean-stalks, silver bean-stalks, oh hé, oh hé," down the long
village street, from door to door, the cry repeatedly came, until the
vendor's voice was lost on the evening air.

In a rocking chair, before the threshold of a palm thatched cabin, a
matron with broad, bland features, and a big, untidy figure, surveyed the
scene with a nonchalant eye.

Beneath some tall trees, bearing flowers like flaming bells, a few staid
villagers sat enjoying the rosy dusk, while, strolling towards the sea,
two young men passed by with fingers intermingled.

With a slight shrug, the lady plied her fan.

As the Mother of a pair of oncoming girls, the number of ineligible young
men, or confirmed bachelors around the neighbourhood was a constant
source of irritation to her.

"Sh'o, dis remoteness bore an' weary me to death," she exclaimed,
addressing someone through the window behind; and receiving no audible
answer, she presently rose, and went within.

It was the hour when, fortified by a siesta, Mrs. Ahmadou Mouth was wont
to approach her husband on general household affairs, and to discuss, in
particular, the question of their removal to the town; for, with the
celebration of their Pearl-wedding, close at hand, the opportunity to
make the announcement of a change of residence to their guests, ought
not, she believed, to be missed.

"We leave Mediavilla for de education ob my daughters," she would say;
or, perhaps: "We go to Cuna-Cuna, for de finishing ob _mes filles!"_

But, unfortunately, the reluctance of Mr. Mouth to forsake his Home
seemed to increase from day to day.

She found him asleep, bolt upright, his head gently nodding, beneath a
straw-hat beautifully browned.

"Say, nigger, lub," she murmured, brushing her hand featheringly along
his knee, "say, nigger, lub, I gotta go!"

It was the tender prelude to the storm.

Evasive (and but half-awake), he warned her. "Let me alone; Ah'm
thinkin'."

"Prancing Nigger, now come on!"

"Ah'm thinkin'."

"Tell me what for dis procrastination?" Exasperated, she gripped his arm.

But for all reply, Mr. Mouth drew a volume of revival hymns towards him,
and turned on his wife his back.

"You ought to sae o' you-self, sh'o," sh caustically commented, crossing
to the window.

The wafted odours of the cotton trees without oppressed the air. In the
deepening twilight, the rising moonmist, already obscured the street.

"Dis placee not healthy. Dat damp! Should my daughters go off into a
decline..." she apprehensively murmured, as her husband started softly to
sing.

    "For ebber wid de Lord!
     Amen; so let it be
     Life from de dead is in dat word
     'Tis immortality."

"If it's de meting-house dats de obstruction, dair are odders, too, in
Cuna-Cuna," she observed.

"How often hab I bid you nebba to mention dat modern Sodom in de hearing
ob my presence!"

"De Debil frequent de village, fo' dat matter, besides de town."

"Sh'o nuff."

"But yestiddy, dat po' silly negress Ottalie was seduced again in a Mango
track--; an' dats de third time!"

    "Heah in de body pent,
     Absent from Him I roam
     Yet nightly pitch my movin' tent
     A day's march nearer home."

"Prancing Nigger, from dis indifference to your fambly, be careful lest
you do arouse the vials ob de Lord's wrath!"

"Yet nightly pitch--" he was beginning again, in a more subdued key, but
the tones of his wife arrested him.

"Prancing Nigger, lemme say sumptin' more!" Mrs. Mouth took a long
sighing breath: "In dis dark jungle my lil jewel Edna, I feah, will wilt
away..."

"Wh'a gib you cause to speak like dat?"

"I was tellin' my fortune lately wid de cards," she reticently made
reply, insinuating, by her half-turned eyes, that more disclosures of an
ominous nature concerning others besides her daughter had been revealed
to her as well.

"Lordey Lord; what is it den you want?"

"I want a Villa with a watercloset--" flinging wiles to the winds, it was
a cry from the heart.

"De Lord hab pity on dese vanities an' innovations!"

"In town, you must rememba, often de houses are far away from de
parks;--de city, in dat respect, not like heah."

"Say nothin' more! De widow ob my po' brudder Willie, across de glen, she
warn me I ought nebba to listen to you."

"Who care for a common woman, dat only read de 'Negro World,' an' nebba
see anyt'ing else!" she swelled.

Mr. Mouth turned conciliatingly.

"To-morrow me arrange for de victuals for our ebenin' at Home!"

"Good, bery fine," she murmured, acknowledging through the window the
cordial "good-night" of a few late labourers, returning from the fields,
each with a bundle of sugar-cane poised upon the head.

"As soon as marnin' dawn me take dis bizniz in hand."

"Only pramas, nigger darlin'," she cajoled, "dat durin' de course ob de
reception, you make a lil speech to inform de neighbours ob our gwine
away bery soon, for de sake of de education ob our girls."

"Ah sh'an' pramas nothing'."

"I could do wid a change too, honey, after my last miscarriage."

"Change come wid our dissolution," he assured her, "quite soon enuff!"

"Bah," she murmured, rubbing her cheek to his: "we set out on our journey
sh'o in de season ob Novemba."

To which with asperity he replied: "_Not for two Revolutions!"_ and
rising brusquely, strode solemnly from the room.

"Hey-ho-day," she yawned, starting a wheezy gramophone, and sinking down
upon his empty chair; and she was lost in ball-room fancies (whirling in
the arms of some blonde young foreigner) when she caught sight of her
daughter's reflection in the glass.

Having broken, or discarded her girdle of leaves, Miss Miami Mouth,
attracted by the gramophone, appeared to be teaching a hectic two-step to
the cat.

"Fie, fie, my lass. Why you be so _Indian?"_ he mother exclaimed,
bestowing with the full force of a carpet-slipper, a well-aimed spank
from behind.

"Aïe, aïe!"

"Sh'o: you nohow select!"

"Aïe..."

"De low exhibition!"

"I had to take off my apron, 'cos it seemed to draw de bees," Miami
tearfully explained, catching up the cat in her arms.

"Ob course, if you choose to wear roses..."

"It was but ivy!"

"De berries ob de ivy entice de same," Mrs. Mouth replied, nodding
graciously, from the window, to Papy Paul, the next door neighbour, who
appeared to be taking a lonely stroll with a lanthorn and a pineapple.

"I dats way wondering why Bamboo, no pass, dis ebenin', too; as a rule,
it is seldom he stop so late out upon de sea," the young girl ventured.

"After I shall introduce you to de world (de advantage ob a good
marriage; when I t'ink ob mine!), you will be ashamed, sh'o, to recall
this infatuation."

"De young men ob Cuna-Cuna (tell me, Mammee), are dey den so nice?"

"Ah, Chile! If I was your age again..."

"Sh'o, dair's nothin' so much in dat."

"As a young girl of eight (Tee-hee!) I was distracting to all the
gentlemen," Mrs. Mouth asserted, confiding a smile to a small,
long-billed bird, in a cage, of the variety known as Bequia-Sweet.

"How I wish I'd been born, like you, in August-Town, across de Isthmus!"

"It gib me dis taste fo' S'ciety, Chile."

In S'ciety, don't dey dress wid clothes on ebery day?"

"Sh'o; surtainly."

"An' don't dey nebba tickle?"

"In August-Town, de aristocracy conceal de best part ob deir bodies; not
like heah!"

"An' tell me, Mamme...? De first lover you eber had... was he half as
handsome as Bamboo?"

"De first dude, Chile, I eber had, was a lil, lil buoy,...wid no hair
(whatsoeber at all,) bal' like a calabash!" Mrs. Mouth replied, as her
daughter Edna entered with the lamp.

"Frtt!" the wild thing tittered, setting it down with a bang: with her
cincture of leaves and flowers, she had the éclat of a butterfly.

"Better fetch de shade," Mrs. Mouth exclaimed, staring squeamishly at
Miami's shadow on the wall.

"Already it grow dark; no one about now at dis hour ob night at all."

"Except thieves an' ghouls," Mrs. Mouth replied, her glance straying
towards the window.

But only the little blue winged bats were passing beneath a fairyland of
stars.

"When I do dis, or dis, my shadow appear as formed as Mimi's!"

"Sh'o, Edna, she dat provocative to-day."

"Be off at once Chile, an' lay de table for de ebenin' meal; an' be
careful not to knock de shine off de new tin teacups," Mrs. Mouth
commanded, taking up an Estate-Agent's catalogue and seating herself
comfortably beneath the lamp.

"'City of Cuna-Cuna,'" she read, "'_in the Heart of a Brainy District,_
(within easy reach of University, shops, etc.) A charming, Freehold
Villa. Main drainage. Extensive views. Electric light. Every
convenience.'"

"Dat sound just de sort ob lil shack for me."



III

The strange sadness of evening, the _détresse_ of the Evening Sky! Cry,
cry white Rain Birds out of the West, cry...!

"An' so, Miami, you no come back no more?"

"No, no come back."

Flaunting her boredom by the edge of the sea one close of day, she had
chanced to fall in with Bamboo, who, stretched at length upon the beach,
was engaged in mending a broken net.

"An' I dats way glad," she half-resentfully pouted, jealous a little of
his toil.

But, presuming deafness, the young man laboured on, since, to support an
aged mother, and to attain one's desires, perforce necessitates work; and
his fondest wish, by dint of saving, was to wear on his wedding-day a
pink starched cotton shirt--a starched, pink cotton shirt, stiff as a
boat's-sail when the North winds caught it! But a pink shirt would mean
trousers... and trousers would lead to shoes... "Extravagant nigger,
don't you dare!" he would exclaim, in dizzy panic, from time to time,
aloud.

"Forgib me, honey," he begged, "but me obliged to finish while de
daylight last."

"Sh'o," she sulked, following the amazing strategy of the sunset-clouds.

"Miami angel, you look so sweet: I dat amorous ob you, Mimi!"

A light laugh tripped over her lips:

"Say buoy, how you getting on?" she queried, sinking down on her knees
beside him.

"I dat amorous ob you!"

"Oh, ki," she tittered, with a swift mocking glance at his crimson
loincloth. She had often longed to snatch it away.

"Say you lub me, just a lil, too, deah?"

"Sh'o," she answered softly, sliding over on to her stomach, and laying
her cheek to the flats of her hands.

Boats with crimson spouts, to wit, steamers, dotted the skyline far away,
and barques, with sails like the wings of butterflies, borne by an idle
breeze, were bringing more than one ineligible young mariner, back to the
prose of shore.

"Ob wha' you t'inking?"

"Nothin'," she sighed, contemplating laconically a little transparent
shell of violet pearl, full of sea-water and grains of sand, that the
wind ruffled as it blew.

"Not ob _any_ sort ob lil t'ing?" he caressingly insisted, breaking an
open dark flower from her belt of wild Pansy.

"I should be gwine home," she breathed, recollecting the undoing of the
negress Ottalie.

"Oh, I dat amorous ob you, Mimi."

"If you want to finish dat net while de daylight last."

For oceanward, in a glowing ball, the sun had dropped already.

"Sho', nigger, I only wish to be kind," she murmured, getting up and
sauntering a few paces along the strand.

Lured, perhaps, by the nocturnal phosphorescence from its lair, a
water-scorpion, disquited at her approach, turned and vanished amid the
sheltering cover of the rocks. "Isht, isht," she squaled, wading after it
into the surf; but to find it, look as she would, was impossible. Dark,
curious and anxious, in the fast failing light, the sea disquited her
too, and it was consoling to hear close behind her the solicitous voice
of Bamboo.

"Us had best soon be movin', befo' de murk ob night."

The few thatched cabins that comprised the village of Mediavilla lay not
half a mile from the shore. Situated between the savannah and the sea, on
the southern side of the island known as Tacarigua (the "burning
Tacarigua" of the Poets), its inhabitants were obliged, from lack of
communication with the large island centres, to rely to a considerable
extent for a livelihood among themselves. Local Market days, held,
alternatively, at Valley Village or Broken Hill (the nearest approach to
industrial towns in the district around Mediavilla), were the chief
source of rural trade, when such merchandise as fish, coral, beads,
bananas and loincloths would exchange hands amid much animation, social
gossip and pleasant fun.

"Wha' you say to dis?" she queried as they turned inland through the
cane-fields, holding up a fetish known as a "luck-ball," attached to her
throat by a chain.

"Who gib it you?" he shortly demanded, with a quick suspicious glance.

"Mammee, she bring it from Valley Village, an' she bring another for my
lil sister, too."

"Folks say she attend de Market only to meet the Obi man, who cast a
spell so dat your Dada move to Cuna-Cuna."

"Dat so!"

"Your Mammee no seek ebber de influence ob Obeah?"

"Not dat I know ob!" she replied; nevertheless, she could not but recall
her mother's peculiar behaviour of late, especially upon Market days,
when, instead of conversing with her friends, she would take herself off
with a mysterious air, saying she was going to the Baptist Chapel.

"Mammee, she hab no faith in de Witch-Doctor at all," she murmured,
halting to lend an ear to the liquid note of a peadove among the canes.

"I no care; me follow after wherebber you go," he said, stealing an arm
about her.

"True?" she breathed, looking up languidly towards the white mounting
moon.

"I dat amorous ob you, Mimi."



IV

It was the Feast night. In the grey spleen of evening, through the dusty
lanes towards Mediavilla county society flocked.

Peering round a cow-shed door, Primrose and Phoebe, procured as
waitresses for the occasion, felt their valour ooze as they surveyed the
arriving guests, and dropping prostrate amid the straw, declared, in each
other's arms, that never, never would they find the courage to appear.

In the road, before a tall tamarind-tree, a well-spread supper board
exhaled a pungent odour of fried cascadura fish, exciting the plaintive
ravings of the wan pariah dogs, and the cries of a few little stark naked
children engaged as guardians to keep them away. Defying an ancient and
inelegant custom by which the hosts welcomed their guests by the side of
the road, Mrs. Mouth had elected to remain within the precincts of the
house, where, according to tradition, the bridal trophies--cowrie-shells,
feathers, and a bouquet of faded orange blossom--were being displayed.

"It seem no more dan yestidday," she was holding forth gaily over a
goblet of Sangaree wine, "it seem no more dan yestidday dat I put on me
maiden wreath ob arange blastams to walk wid me nigger to church."

Clad in rich-hued creepers, she was both looking and feeling her best.

"Sh'o," a woman with blonde-dyed hair and Buddery eyes exclaimed, "it
seem no more dan just like yestidday; dat not so, Papy Paul?" she
queried, turning to an old man in a raspberry-pink kerchief, who
displayed (as he sat) more of his person than he seemed to be aware of.

But Papy Paul was confiding a receipt for pickling yuccas to Mamma Luna,
the mother of Bamboo, and made as if not to hear.

Offering a light, lilac wine, sweet and heady, Miami circled here and
there. She had a cincture of white rose-oleanders, and a bandeau of blue
convolvuli. She held a fan.

"Or do you care for anyt'ing else?" she was enquiring, automatically, of
Mr. Musket (the father of three very common girls), as a melodious tinkle
of strings announced the advent of the minstrels from Broken Hill.

Following the exodus roadward, it was agreeable to reach the outer air.

Under the high tress by the yard-door gate, the array of vehicles and
browsing quadrupeds was almost as numerous as upon a market day. The
quiet village road was agog, with bustling folk as perhaps never before,
coming and going between the little Café of the "Forty Parrots," with its
Bar, spelled _Biar_ in twinkling lights. All iris in the dusk, a few
loosely-loinclothed young men, had commenced dancing aloofly among
themselves, bringing down some light (if bitter) banter from the belles.

Pirouetting with these, Miami recognised the twinkling feet of her
brother Charlie, a lad who preferred roaming the wide savannah country
after butterflies with his net to the ever-increasing etiquette of his
home.

"Sh'o, S'ciety no longer what it wa'," the mother of two spare lean
girls, like young giraffes, was lamenting, when a clamorous gong summoned
the assembly to the festal board.

In the glow of blazing palm logs, stoked by capering pickneys, the
company, with some considerable jostling, became seated by degrees.

"Fo' what we gwine to recebe, de Lord make us to be truly t'ankful." Mr.
Mouth's low voice was lost amid the din. Bending to the decree of
Providence, and trusting in God for the welfare of his house, he was
resigned to follow the call of duty, by allowing his offspring such
educational advantages and worldly polish that only a city can give.

"An' so I heah you gwine to leab us!" the lady at his elbow exclaimed,
helping herself to a claw of a crab.

"Fo' de sake ob de chillen's schoolin'," Mr. Mouth made reply, blinking
at the brisk lightning play through the foliage of the trees.

"Dey tell me de amount of licence dat go on ober dah--" she murmured,
indicating with her claw the chequered horizon; "but de whole world needs
revising, as de Missionary truly say!"

"Inded, an' dat's de trute."

"It made my cry," a plump little woman declared, "when de Minister speak
so serious on de scandal ob close dancing..."

"Fo' one t'ing lead sh'o to de nex'!" Mr. Mouth obstrusely assented,
turning his attention upon an old negress answering to the name of Mamma
May, who was retailing how she had obtained the sunshade beneath which,
since noon, she had walked all the way to the party.

"Ah could not afford a parasol, so Ah just cut miself a lil green bush,
an' held it up ober my head," she was crooning in gleeful triumph.

"It's a wonder, indeed, no one gib you a lif'!" several voices observed,
but the discussion was drowned by an esoteric song of remote tribal times
from the lips of Papy Paul:

    "I am King Elephant-bag,
     Ob de rose-pink Mountains!
     Tatou tatouay, tatou..."

provoking from Miss Stella Spooner, the marvellous daughter of an elderly
father, a giggle in which she was joined by the youngest Miss Mouth.

Incontestably a budding Princess, the playful mite was enjoying, with
airy nonchalance, her initial experience of Society.

"Ob course she is very _jeune_," Mrs. Mouth murmured archly, behind her
hand, into the ear of Mr. Musket.

"It's de Lord's will," he cautiously replied, rolling a mystified eye
towards his wife (a sable negress out of Africa), continually vaunting
her foreign extraction. "I'm Irish," she would say: "I'm Irish, deah..."

"Sh'o she de born image ob her elder sister!"

"De world all say she to marry de son ob ole Mamma Luna, dat keep de lil
shop."

"Suz! Wha' next?" Mrs. Mouth returned, breaking off to focus Papy Paul,
apparently, already, far from sober. "I hav' saw God, an' I hav' spoke
wid de President, too!" he was announcing impressively to Mamma Luna, a
little old woman in whose veins ran the blood of many races.

"Dair's no trute at all in _dat_ report," Mrs. Mouth quietly added,
signalling directions to a sturdy, round-bottomed little lad, who had
undertaken to fill the gap caused by Primrose and Phoebe.

Bearing a pannier piled with fruit, he had not got far before the
minstrels called forth several couples to their feet.

The latest jazz, bewildering, glittering, exuberant as the soil, a jazz,
throbbing, pulsating, with a zim, zim, zim, a jazz all abandon and verve
that had drifted over the glowing savannah and the waving cane-fields
from Cuna-Cuna by the Violet Sea, invited, irresistibly, to motion every
boy and girl.

"Prancing Nigger, hab a dance?" his wife, transported, shrilled: but Mr.
Mouth was predicting a banana slump to Mrs. Walker, the local midwife,
and paid no heed.

Torso-to-torso, the youngsters twirled, while even a pair of majestic
matrons, Mrs. Friendship and Mrs. Mother, went whirling away (together)
into the brave summer dusk. Accepting the invitation of Bamboo, Miami
rose, but before dancing long complained of the heat.

"Sh'o, it cooler in de Plantation," he suggested, pointing along the
road.

"Oh, I too much afraid!"

"What for you afraid?"

But Miami only laughed, and tossed her hand as if she were scattering
dewdrops.

Following the roving fireflies and adventurous flittermice, they strolled
along in silence. By the roadside, two young men, friends, walking with
fingers intermingled, saluted them softly. An admirable evening for a
promenade! Indescribably sweet, the floating field-scents enticed them
witchingly on.

"Shi!" she exclaimed as a bird skimmed swiftly past with a chattering
cry.

"It noddin', deah, but a lil wee owl!"

"An' it to make my heart go so," she murmured, with a sidelong smiling
glance.

He had a new crimson loincloth, and a blood-pink carnation at his ear.

"What for you afraid?" he tenderly pressed.

"It much cooler heah, doh it still very hot," she inconsequently
answered, pausing to listen to the fretting of the hammer tree-frogs in
the dusk.

"Dey hold a concert, honey lub, all for us."

Rig a jig jig, rig a jig jig...

"Just hark to de noise!" she murmured, starting a little at the silver
lightning behind the palms.

"Just hark," he repeated, troubled.

Rig a jig jig, rig a jig jig...



V

Little jingley trot-trot-trot, over the Savannah, hey--!

Joggling along towards Cuna-Cuna the creaking caravan shaped its course.
Seated in a hooded chariot, berced by mule-bells, and nibbling a shoot of
ripe cane, Mrs. Mouth appeared to have attained the heights of bliss.
Disregarding or insensitive to the incessant groans of her husband
(wedged in between a case of pineapples and a box marked "lingerie"), she
abandoned herself voluptuously to her thoughts. It was droll to
contemplate meeting an old acquaintance, Nini Snagg, who had gone to
reside in Cuna-Cuna long ago. "Fancy seein' you!" she would say, and how
they both would laugh.

Replying tersely to the innumerable "what would you do ifs" of her
sister, supposing attacks from masked bandits or ferocious wild animals,
Miami moped.

All her whole heart yearned back behind her, and never had she loved
Bamboo so much as now.

"--if a big, shaggy buffalo, wid two sharp horns, dat long, were to rush
right at you?" Edna was plaguing her, when a sudden jolt of the van set
up a loud cackling from a dozen scared cocks and hens.

"Drat dose fowl; as if dair were none in Cuna-Cuna!" Mrs. Mouth addressed
her husband.

"Not birds ob dat brood," he retorted, plaintively starting to sing.

    "I t'ink when I read dat sweet story ob old,
     When Jesus was here among men,
     How He called lil chillens as lambs to His fold,
     I should like to hab been wid dem den!
     I wish dat His hands had been placed ahn my head,
     Dat His arms had been thrown aroun' me,
     An' dat I might hab seen His kind look when he said,
     'Let de lil ones come unto Me!'"

"Mind de dress-basket, don't drop down, deah, an' spoil our clo'," Mrs.
Mouth exclaimed, indicating a cowskin trunk that seemed to be in peril of
falling; for, from motives of economy and ease, it had been decided that
not before Cuna-Cuna should rear her queenly towers above them would they
change their floral garlands for the more artificial fabrics of the town,
and Edna, vastly to her importance, go into a pair of frilled
"invisibles" and a petticoat for the first amazing time; nor, indeed,
would Mr. Mouth himself "take to de pants" until his wife and daughters
should have assumed their skirts. But this, from the languid pace at
which their vehicle proceeded, was unlikely to be just yet. In the torrid
tropic noontime, haste, however, was quite out of the question. Bordered
by hills, long, yellow and low, the wooded savannah rolled away beneath a
blaze of trembling heat.

"I don't t'ink much ob dis part of de country," Mrs. Mouth commented.
"All dese common palms... de cedar-wood tree, dat my tree. Dat is de
timber I prefer."

"An' some," Edna pertly smiled, "dey like best de bamboo..."

A remark that was rewarded by a blow on the ear.

"Now she set up a hullabaloo like de time de scorpion bit her botty,"
Mrs. Mouth lamented, and indeed the uproar made alarmed from the boskage
a cloud of winsome soldier-birds and inquisitive paroquets.

"Oh my God," Mr. Mouth exclaimed. "What for you make all dat dere noise?"
But his daughter paid no attention, and soon sobbed herself to sleep.

Advancing through tracks of acacia-scrub or groves of nutmeg-trees, they
jolted along in the gay, exalting sunlight. Flowers brighter than love,
wafting the odour of spices, strewed in profusion the long guinea-grass
on either side of the way.

"All dose sweet aprons, if it weren't fo' de flies!" Mrs. Mouth murmured,
regarding some heavy, ambered, Trumpet flowers with a covetous eye.

"I trust Charlie get bit by no snake!"

"Prancing Nigger! It a lil too late now to t'ink ob dat."

Since, to avoid overcrowding the family party, Charlie was to follow with
his butterfly net and arrive as he could. And never were butterflies
(seen in nigger-boys' dreams) as brilliant or frolicsome as were those of
mid-savannah. Azure Soledads, and radiant Conquistadors with frail
flamboyant wings, wove about the labouring mules perpetual fresh
rosettes.

"De Lord protect de lad," Mr. Mouth remarked, relapsing into silence.

Onward through the cloudless noontide, beneath the ardent sun, the
caravan drowsily crawled. As the afternoon advanced, Mrs. Mouth produced
a pack of well-thumbed cards, and cutting, casually, twice, began
interrogating Destiny with these. Reposing as best she might, Miami gave
herself up to her reflections. The familiar aspect of the wayside palms,
the tattered pennons of the bananas, the big silk-cottons (known, to
children, as "Mammee-trees"), all brought to her mind Bamboo.

"Dair's somet'in' dat look like a death dah, dat's dat's troublin' me,"
Mrs. Mouth remarked, moodily fingering a greasy ace.

"De Almighty forgib dese foolish games!" Mr. Mouth protestingly said.

"An' from de lie ob de cards... it seem as ef de corpse were ob de
masculine species."

"Wha' gib you de notion ob dat?"

"Sh'o, a sheep puts his wool on his favourite places," Mrs. Mouth
returned, reshuffling slowly her pack.

Awakened by her Father's psalms, Edna's "What would you do's" had
commenced with volubility anew, growing more eerie with the gathering
night.

"...if a Wood-Spirit wid two heads an' six arms were to take hold ob you,
Mimi, from behind?"

"I no do nothin' at all," Miami answered briefly.

"Talk not so much ob de jumbies, Chile, as de chickens go to roost!" Mrs.
Mouth admonished.

"Or, if de debil himself should?" Edna insisted, allowing Snowball, the
cat, to climb on to her knee.

"Nothin', sh'o," Miami murmured, regarding dreamily the sun's sinking
disk, that was illuminating all the Western sky with incarnadine and
flamingo-rose. Ominous in the falling dusk, the savannah rolled away, its
radiant hues effaced beneath a rapid tide of deepening shadow.

"Start de gramophone gwine, girls, an' gib us somet'in' bright!" Mrs.
Mouth exclaimed, depressed by the forlorn note of the Twa-oo-Twa-oo bird,
that mingled its lament with a thousand night cries from the grass.

"When de saucy female sing 'My Ice Cream Girl,' for' sh'o she scare de
elves."

And as though by force of magic the nasal soprano of an invisible
songstress rattled forth with tinkling gusto a music-hall air with a
sparkling refrain.

           "And the boys shout Girlie, hi!
        Bring me soda, soda, soda,
(Aside, spoken) (Stop your fooling there and let me alone!)
            For I'm an Ice Cream Soda Girl."

"It put me in mind ob de last sugar-factory explosion. It was de same day
dat Snowball crack de Tezzrazine record. Drat de cat!"

"O Lordey Lord! Wha' for you make dat din?" Mr. Mouth complained,
knotting a cotton handkerchief over his head.

"I hope you not gwine to be billeous, honey, afore we get to Lucia?"

"Lemme alone. Ah'm thinkin'."

Pressing on by the light of a large clear moon, the hamlet of Lucia, the
halting-place proposed for the night, lay still far ahead.

Stars, like many Indian pinks, flecked with pale brightness the sky
above; towards the horizon shone the Southern Cross, while the Pole Star,
through the palm-fronds, came and went.

    "And the men cry Girlie, hi!
     Bring me--"

"Silence, dah! Ah'm thinkin'..."



VI

Cuna, full of charming roses, full of violet shadows, full of music, full
of Love, Cuna...!

Leaning from a balcony of the Grand Savannah hotel, their instincts all
aroused, Miami and Edna gazed out across the Alemeda, a place all
foliage, lamplight, and flowers. It was the hour when Society, in slowly
parading carriages, would congregate to take the air beneath the pale
mimosas that adorned the favourite promenade. All but recumbent, as
though agreeably fatigued by their recent emotions (what wild follies
were not committed in shuttered-villas during the throbbing hours of
noon?), the Cunans, in their elegant equipages, made, for anyone fresh
from the provinces, an interesting and absorbing sight. The liquid-eyed
loveliness of the women, and the handsomeness of the men, with their
black moustaches and their treacherous smiles--these, indeed, were things
to gaze on.

"Oh ki!" Miami laughed delightedly, indicating a foppish, pretty youth,
holding in a restive little horse dancing away with him.

Rubbing herself repeatedly, as yet embarrassed by the novelty of her
clothes, Edna could only gasp.

"...," she jabbered, pointing at some flaunting belles in great evening
hats and falling hair.

"All dat fine," Miami murmured, staring in wonderment around.

Dominating the city soared the Opera House, uplifting a big, naked man,
all gilt, who was being bitten, or mauled, so it seemed, by a pack of
wild animals carved in stone; while near by were the University, and the
Cathedral with its low white dome crowned by moss-green tiles.

Making towards it, encouraged by the Vesper bell, some young girls, in
muslin masks, followed by a retinue of bustling nuns, were running the
gauntlet of the profligates that clustered on the curb.

"Oh, Jesus honey!" Edna cooed, scratching herself in an ecstasy of
delight.

"Fo' shame, Chile, to act so unladylike; if any gen'leman look up he
t'ink you make a wicked sign," Mrs. Mouth cautioned, stepping out upon
the balcony from the sitting-room behind.

Inhaling a bottle of sal volatile, to dispel _de megrims_, she was
looking dignified in a _décolleté_ of smoke-blue tulle.

"Nebba do _dat_ in S'ciety," she added, placing a protecting arm around
each of her girls.

Seduced, not less than they, by the animation of the town, the fatigue of
the journey seemed to her amply rewarded. It was amusing to watch the
crowd before the Ciné Lara, across the way, where many were flocking
attracted by the hectic posters of "A Wife's Revenge."

"I keep t'inking I see Nini Snagg," Mrs. Mouth observed, regarding a
negress in emerald-tinted silk, seated on a public bench beneath the
glittering greenery.

"Cunan folk dat fine," Edna twittered, turning about at her Father's
voice:

    "W'en de day ob toil is done,
     W'en de race ob life is run,
     Heaven send thy weary one
     Rest for evermore!"

"Prancing Nigger! Is it worth while to wear dose grimaces?"

"Sh'o, dis no good place to be."

"Why, what dair wrong wid it?"

"Ah set out to look fo' de Meetin'-House, but no sooner am Ah in de
street dan a female wid her har droopin' loose down ober her back an'
into her eyes, she tell me to Come along."

"Some of dose bold women, dey ought to be shot through dair bottoms!"
Mrs. Mouth indignantly said.

"But I nebba answer nothin'."

"May our daughters respect dair virtue same as you!" Mrs. Mouth returned,
focusing wistfully the vast flowery parterre of the Café McDhu'l.

Little city of cocktails, Cuna! The surpassing excellence of thy Barmen,
who shall sing?

"See how dey spell 'Biar,' Mammee," Miami tittered: "dey forget de _i_!"

"Sh'o, Chile, an' so dey do..."

"Honey Jesus!" Edna broadly grinned: "imagine de ignorance ob dat."



VII

Now, beyond the Alemeda, in the modish faubourg of Farananka, there lived
a lady of both influence and wealth--the widow of the Inventor of
Sunflower Piquant. The _veto_ of Madame Ruiz, arbitress absolute of Cunan
society, and owner, moreover, of a considerable portion of the town, had
caused the suicide indeed of more than one social climber. Unhappy,
nostalgic, disdainful, selfish, ever about to abandon Cuna-Cuna to return
to it no more, yet never budging, adoring her fairy villa far to well,
Madame Ruiz, while craving for the International-world, consoled herself
by watching from afar European Society going speedily to the dogs.
Art-loving, and considerably musical (many a dizzy venture at the
Opera-house had owed its audition to her), she had, despite the
self-centeredness of her nature, done not a little to render more
brilliant the charming city it amused her with such vehemence to abuse.

One softly gloomy morning, preceding Madame Ruiz's first _cotillon_ of
the Season, the lodge-keeper of the Villa Alba, a negress, like some
great, violet bug, was surprised, while tending the brightly hanging
grape-fruit in the drive, by an imperative knocking on the gate. At such
a matutinal hour only trashy errand-boys shouldering baskets might be
expected to call, and giving the summons no heed the mulatress continued
her work.

The villa Alba, half-buried in spreading awnings, and surrounded by many
noble trees, stood but a short distance off the main road, its
pleasaunces enclosed by flower-enshrouded walls, all a-zig-zag, like the
folds of a screen. Beloved of lizards and velvet-backed humming-birds,
the shaded gardens led on one side to the sea.

"To make such a noise at dis hour," the negress murmured, going
grumblingly at length to the gate, disclosing, upon opening, a gentleman
in middle life, with a tooth-brush moustache and a sapphire ring.

"De mist'ess still in bed, sah."

"In bed?"

"She out bery late, sah, but you find Miss Edwards up."

With a nod of thanks the visitor directed his footsteps discreetly
towards the house.

Although not, precisely, _in_ her bed when the caller, shortly
afterwards, was announced, Madame Ruiz was nevertheless as yet in
dishabille.

"Tiresome man, what does he want to see me about?" she exclaimed,
gathering around her a brocaded wrap formed of a priestly cope.

"He referred to a lease, ma'am," the maid replied.

"A lease!" Madame Ruiz raised eyes dark with spleen.

The visit of her agent, or man of affairs, was apt to ruffle her
composure for the day. "Tell him to leave it and go," she commanded,
selecting a nectarine from a basket of iced fruits beside her.

Removing reflectively the sensitive skin, her mind evoked, in ironic
review, the chief salient events of society, scheduled to take place on
the face of the map in the course of the day.

The marriage of the Count de Nozhel, in Touraine, to Mrs. Exelmans of
Cincinnati, the divorce of poor Lady Luckcock in London (it seemed quite
certain that one of the five co-respondents was the little carrot-haired
Lord Dubelly again), the last "pomps," at Vienna, of Princess de Seeyohl
_née_ Mitchening-Meyong (Peace to her soul! She had led her life)... The
christening in Madrid of the girl-twins of the Queen of Spain...

"At her time, I really _don't_ understand it," Madame Ruiz murmured to
herself aloud, glancing, as though for an explanation, about the room.

Through the flowing folds of the mosquito curtains of the bed, that swept
a cool, flagged floor spread with skins, showed the oratory, with its
waxen flowers, and pendent flickering lights, that burned, night and day,
before a Leonardo saint with a treacherous smile. Beyond the little
recess came a lacquer commode, bearing a masterly marble group, depicting
a pair of amorous hermaphrodites amusing themselves; while above,
suspended against the spacious wainscoting of the wall, a painting of a
man, elegantly corseted, with a violet in his moustache, "Study of a
Parisian," and its pendant, "Portrait of a Lady," signed Van Dongen, were
the chief outstanding objects that the room contained.

"One would have thought that at forty she would have given up having
babies," Madame Ruiz mused, choosing a glossy cherry from the basket at
her side.

Through the open window a sound of distant music caught her ear.

"Ah! If only her were less weak," she sighed, her thoughts turning
towards the player, who seemed to be enamoured of the opening movement
(rapturously repeated) of _L'après-midi d'un Faune_.

The venetorial habits of Vittorio Ruiz had been from his earliest years
the source of his mother's constant chagrin and despair. At the age of
five he had assaulted his Nurse, and steadily onward, his passions had
grown and grown...

"It's the fault of the wicked climate," Madame Ruiz reflected, as her
companion, Miss Edwards, came in with the post.

"Thanks, Eurydice," she murmured, smilingly exchanging a butterfly kiss.

"It's going to be oh so hot to-day!"

"Is it, dear?"

"Intense," Miss Edwards predicted, fluttering a gay-daubed paper-fan.

Sprite-like, with a little strained ghost-face beneath a silver shock of
hair, it seemed as if her long blue eyes had absorbed the Cunan sea.

"Do you remember the giant with the beard?" he asked, "at the Presidency
fête?"

"Do I?"

"And we wondered who he could be!"

"Well?"

"He's the painter of Women's Backs, my dear!"

"The painter of women' _what_?"

"An artist."

"Oh."

"I wanted to know if you'd advise me to it."

"Your back is charming, dear, _c'est un dos d'élite_."

"I doubt, though, it's classic," Miss Edwards murmured, pirouetting
slowly before the glass.

But Madame Ruiz was perusing her correspondence and seemed to be
absorbed.

"They're to be married, in Munich, on the fifth," she chirruped.

"Who?"

"Elsie and Baron Sitmar."

"Ah, Ta-ra, dear! In those far worlds..." Miss Edwards impatiently
exclaimed, opening wide a window and leaning out.

Beneath the flame-trees, with their spreading tops a mass of crimson
flower, coolly white-garbed gardeners, with naked feet and big
bell-shaped hats of straw, were sweeping slowly, as in one rhythmic
dance, the flamboyant blossoms that had fallen to the ground.

"Wasn't little Madame Haase, dear, born Kattie von Guggenheim?"

"I really don't know," Miss Edwards returned, flapping away a fly with
her fan.

"This villainous climate! My memory's going..."

"I wish I cared for Cuna less, that's all!" Miss Edwards said, her glance
following a humming-bird, poised in the air, above the sparkling
turquoise of a fountain.

"Captain Moonlight... duty... (tedious word)... can't come!"

"Oh?"

"Such a dull post," Madame Ruiz murmured, pausing to listen to the
persuasive tenor voice of her son.

    "Little mauve nigger boy,
     I t'ink you break my heart!"

"My poor Vitti! Bless him."

"He was out last night with some Chinese she."

"I understood him to be going to _Pelléas and Mélisande_."

"He came to the Opera-house, but only for a minute."

"Dios!"

"And, oh, dearest." Miss Edwards dropped her cheek to her hand.

"Was Hatso as ever delicious?" Madame Ruiz asked, changing the topic as
her woman returned, followed by a pomeranian of parts, "Snob"; a dog
beautiful as a child.

"We had Gebhardt instead."

"In Mélisande she's so huge," Madame Ruiz commented, eyeing severely the
legal-looking packet which her maid had brought her.

"Business, Camilla; _how_ I pity you!"

Madame Ruiz sighed.

"It seems," she said, "that for the next nine-and-ninety-years I have let
a Villa to a Mrs. and Mrs. Ahmadou Mouth."



VIII

Floor of copper, floor of gold... Beyond the custom-house door, ajar,
the street at sunrise seemed aflame.

"Have you nothing, young man, to declare?"

"...Butterflies!"

"Exempt of duty. Pass."

Floor of silver, floor of pearl...

Trailing a muslin net, and laughing for happiness, Charlie Mouth marched
into the town.

Oh, Cuna-Cuna! Little city of Lies and Peril! How many careless young
nigger boys have gone thus to seal their Doom!

Although the Sun-god was scarcely risen, already the radiant street
teemed with life.

Veiled dames, flirting fans, bent on church or market, were issuing
everywhere from their door, and the air was vibrant with the sweet voice
of bells.

To rejoin his parents promptly at their hotel was a promise he was
tempted to forget.

Along streets all fresh and blue in the shade of falling awnings, it was
fine, indeed, to loiter. Beneath the portico of a church a running
fountain drew his steps aside. Too shy to strip and squat in the basin,
he was glad to bathe freely his head, feet and chest: then, stirred by
curiosity to throw a glance at the building, he lifted the long yellow
nets that veiled the door.

It was the fashionable church of La Favavoa, and the extemporary address
of the Archbishop of Cuna was in full and impassioned swing.

"Imagine the world, my friend, had Christ been born a girl!" he was
saying in tones of tender dismay as Charlie entered.

Subsiding bashfully to a bench, Charlie gazed around.

So many sparkling fans. One, a delicate light mauve one: "Shucks! If only
you wa' butterflies!" he breathed, contemplating with avidity the
nonchalant throng; then perceiving a richer specimen splashed with silver
of the same amative tint: "Oh you lil beauty!" And, clutching his itching
net to his heart, he regretfully withdrew.

Sauntering leisurely through the cool, mimosa-shaded streets, he
approached, as he guessed, the Presidency. A score of shoeblacks lolled
at cards or gossip before its gilded pales. Amazed at their audacity (for
the President had threatened more than once to "wring the public's
neck"), Charlie hastened by. Public gardens, brilliant with sarracenias,
lay just beyond the palace, where a music-pavilion, surrounded by palms
and rocking-chars, appeared a favourite, and much-frequented, resort;
from here he observed the Cunan bay strewn with sloops and white-sailed
yachts asleep on the tide. Strolling on, he found himself in the busy
vicinity of the Market. Although larger and more varied, it resembled in
other respect the village one at home.

"Say, honey, say"--crouching in the dust before a little pyre of mangoes,
a lean-armed woman besought him to buy.

Pursued by a confusion of voices, he threaded his way deftly down an
alley dressed with booths. Pomegranates, some open with their crimson
seeds displayed, banana-combs, and big, veined water-melons, lay heaped
on every side.

"I could do wid a slice ob watteh-million," he reflected: "but to lick an
ice-cream dat tempt me more!" Nor would the noble fruit of the baobab,
the paw-paw, or the pine turn him from his fancy.

But no ice-cream stand met his eye, and presently he resigned himself to
sit down upon his heels, in the shade of a potter's stall, and consider
the passing crowd.

Missionaries with freckled hands and hairy, care-worn faces, followed by
pale girls wielding tambourines of the Army of the Soul, foppish nigger
bucks in panamas and palm-beach suits so cocky, Chinamen with osier
baskets, their nostalgic eyes aswoon, heavily straw-hatted nuns trailing
their dust-coloured rags, and suddenly, oh, could it be?--but there was
no mistaking that golden waddle: "Mamma!"

Mamma, Mammee, Mrs. Ahmadou Mouth. All in white, with snow-white shoes
and hose so fine, he hardly dare.

"Mammee, Mammee, oh, Mammee..."

"Sonny mine! My lil boy!"

"Mammee."

"Just to say!"

And, oh, honies! Closse behind, behold Miami, and Edna too: the Miss
Lips, the fair Lips, the smiling Lips. How spry each looked. The elder
(grown a trifle thinner), sweet _à ravir_ in tomato-red, while her
sister, plump as a corn-fattened partridge, and very perceptibly
powdered, seemed like the flower of the prairie sugar-cane when it breaks
into bloom.

"We've been to a Music-hall, an' a pahty, an' Snowball has dropped black
kittens." Forestalling Miami, Edna rapped it out.

"Oh shucks!"

"An' since we go into S'ciety, we keep a boy in buttons!"

Mrs. Mouth turned about.

"Where is dat idjit coon?"

"He stay behind to bargain for de pee-wee birds, Mammee, fo' to make de
taht."

"De swindling tortoise."

"An' dair are no vacancies at de University: not fo' any ob us!" Edna
further retailed, going off into a spasm of giggles.

She was swinging a wicker basket, from which there dangled the silver
forked tail of a fish.

"Fo' goodness' sake gib dat sea-porcupine to Ibum, Chile," Mrs. Mouth
commanded, as a perspiring niggerling in livery presented himself.

"Ibum, his arm are full already."

"Just come along all to de Villa now! It dat mignon an' all so nice. An'
after de collation," Mrs. Mouth (shocked on the servants' account at her
son's nude neck) raised her voice, "we go to de habadasher in Palmbranch
Avenue an' I buy you an Eton colleh!"



IX

"Prancing Nigger, I t'ink it bery strange dat Madame Ruiz she nebba
call."

"Sh'o."

"In August-Town, S'ciety less stuck-up dan heah!"

Ensconced in rocking-chairs, in the shade of the ample port of the Villa
Vista Hermosa, Mr. and Mrs. Mouth had been holding a desultory
_tête-à-tête_.

It was a Sabbath evening, and a sound of reedy pipes and bafalons, from a
neighbouring café, filled with a feverish sadness the brilliantly
lamp-lit street.

"De airs ob de neighehs, dat dair affair; what matter mo' am de chillen's
schoolin'."

"Prancing Nigger, I hope your Son an' Daughters will yet take dair
Degrees, an' if not from de University, den from Home. From heah."

"Hey-ho-day, an' dat would be a miracle!" Mr. Mouth mirthlessly laughed.

"Dos chillens hab learnt quite a lot already."

"'Bout de shaps an' cinemas!"

Mrs. Mouth disdained a reply.

She had taken the girls to the gallery at the Opera one night to hear
"Louise," but they had come out, by tacit agreement, in the middle of it:
the plainness of Louise's blouse, and the lack of tunes... the
suffocation of the gallery... Once bit twice shy, they had not gone back
again.

"All your fambly need, Prancing Nigger, is social opportunity! But what
is de good ob the Babtist parson?"

Mr. Mouth sketched a gesture.

"Sh'o, Edna, she some young yet... But Miami dat _distinguée_; an' doh I
her mother, b'lieb me dat is one ob de choicest girls I see; an dat's de
trute."

"It queer," Mr. Mouth abstrusely murmured, "how many skeeter-bugs dair
are 'bout dis ebenin'!"

"De begonias in de window-boxes most lik'ly draw dem. But as I was
saying, Prancing Nigger, I t'ink it bery strange dat Madame Ruiz nebba
call."

"P'r'aps she out ob town."

"Accordin' to de paper, she bin habing her back painted, but what dat fo'
I dunno."

"Ah shouldn't wonder ef she hab some trouble ob a dorsal kind; same as me
gramma mumma long agone."

"Dair'd be no harm in sendin' one ob de chillens to enquire. Wha' you
t'ink, sah?" Mrs. Mouth demanded, plucking from off the porch a pale
hanging flower with a languorous scent.

Mr. Mouth glanced apprehensively skyward.

The mutters of thunder and intermittent lightning of the finest nights.

"It's a misfortnit we eber left Mediavilla," he exclaimed uneasily, as a
falling star, known as a thief star, sped swiftly down the sky.

"Prancing Nigger," Mrs. Mouth rose, remarking, "befo' you start to
grummle, I leab you alone to your Jereymiads!"

"A misfortnit sho' nuff," he mused, and regret for the savannah country
and the tall palm-trees of his village oppressed his heart. Moreover, his
means (derived from the cultivation of the _Musa paradisica_, or Banana)
seemed likely to prove ere long inadequate to support the whims of his
wife, who after a lifetime of contented nudity appeared to be now almost
insatiable for dress.

A discordant noise from above interrupted the trend of his thoughts.

"Sh'o, she plays wid it like a toy," he sighed, as the sound occurred
again.

"Prancing Nigger, de water-supply cut off!"

"It's de Lord's will."

"Dair's not a drop, my lub, in de privy."

"'Cos it always in use!"

"I b'lieb dat lil half-caste Ibum, 'cos I threaten to gib him notice, do
somet'in' out ob malice to de chain."

"Whom de Lord loveth He chasteneth!" Mr. Mouth observed, "an' dose bery
words (ef you look) you will find in de twelfth chapter an' de sixth
berse ob de Book ob Hebrews."

"Prancing Nigger, you datways selfish! Always t'inkin' ob your soul,
instead ob your obligations towards de fambly."

"Why, wha' mo' can I do dan I've done?"

Mrs. Mouth faintly shrugged.

"I had hoped," she said, "dat Nini would hab bin ob use to de girls, but
dat seem now impossible!" For Mrs. Snagg had been traced to a house of
ill-fame, where, it appeared, she was an exponent of the Hodeidah--a
lascive Cunan dance.

"Understand dat any sort ob intimacy 'tween de Vila an' de _Closerie des
Lilas_ Ah must flatly forbid."

"Prancing Nigger, as ef I should take your innocent chillen to call on
po' Nini; not dat eberyt'ing about her at de _Closerie_ is not elegant
an' nice. Sh'o, some ob de inmate ob dat establishment possess mo'
diamonds dan dair betters do outside! You'd be surprised ef you could see
what two ob de girls dair, Dinah an' Lew..."

"Enuf!"

"It isn't always Virtue, Prancing Nigger, dat come off best!" And Mrs.
Mouth might have offered further observations on the matter of ethic had
not her husband left her.



X

Past the Presidency and the public park, the Theatres Maxine Bush,
Eden-Garden and Apollo, along the Avenida and the Jazz Halls by the
wharf, past little suburban hops, and old, deserted churchyards where
bloom geraniums, through streets of squalid houses, and onward skirting
pleasure lawns and orchards, bibbitty-bobbitty, beneath the sovereign
brightness of the sky, crawled the Farananka tram.

Surveying the landscape listlessly through the sticks of her fan, Miss
Edna Mouth grew slightly bored--alas, poor child; couldst thou have
guessed the blazing brightness of they Star, thou wouldst doubtless have
been more alert!

"Sh'o, it dat far an' tejus," she observed to the conductor, lifting upon
him the sharp-soft eye of a paroquet.

She was looking bewitching in a frock of silverish _mousseline_ and a
violet tallyho cap, and dangled upon her knees an intoxicating sheaf of
the blossoms known as Marvel of Peru.

"Hab patience, lil Missey, an' we soon be dah."



"He tells me, dear child, he tells me," Madame Ruiz was rounding a garden
path, upon the arm of her son, "he tells me, Vitti, that the systol and
diastole of my heart's muscles are slightly inflamed; and that I ought,
darling, to be _very_ careful..."

Followed by a handsome borzoi and the pomeranian "Snob," the pair were
taking their usual post-prandial exercise beneath the trees.

"Let me come, Mother, dear," he murmured without interrupting, "over the
other side of you; I always like to be on the right side of my profile!"

"And, really, since the affair of Madame de Bazvalon, my health has
hardly been what it was."

"That foolish little woman," he uncomfortably laughed.

"He tells me my nerves need rest," she declared, looking pathetically up
at him.

He had the nose of an actress, and ink-black hair streaked with gold, his
eyes seemed to be covered with the freshest of fresh dark pollen, while
nothing could exceed the vivid pallor of his cheeks or the bright
sanguine of his mouth.

"You go out so much, Mother."

"Not so much!"

"So very much."

"And he forbids me my opera-box for the rest of the week! So last night I
sat at home, dear child, reading the Life of Lazarillo de Tormes."

"I don't give a damn," he said, "for any of your doctors."

"So vexing, though; and apparently Lady Bird has been at death's door,
and poor Peggy Povey too. It seems she got wet on the way to the Races;
and really I was _sorry_ for her when I saw her in the paddock; for the
oats and the corn, and the wheat and the tares, and the barley and the
rye, and all the rest of the reeds and grasses in her pretty Lancret hat,
looked like nothing so much as manure."

"I adore to folly her schoolboy's moustache!"

"My dear, Age is the one disaster," Madame Ruiz remarked, raising the
rosy dome of her sunshade a degree higher above her head.

They were pacing a walk radiant with trees and flowers as some magician's
garden, that commanded a sweeping prospect of long, livid sands, against
a white-green sea.

"There would seem to be several new yachts, darling," Madame Ruiz
observed.

"The Duke of Wellclose with his duchess (on their wedding-tour) arrived
with the tide."

"Poor man; I'm told that he only drove to the church after thirty
brandies!"

"And the _Sea-Thistle_, with Lady Violet Valesbridge, and, _oh_, such a
crowd."

"She used to be known as 'The Cat of Curzon Street,' but I hear she is
still quite incredibly pretty," Madame Ruiz murmured, turning to admire a
somnolent peacock, with moping fan, poised upon the curved still arm of a
marble maenad.

"How sweet something smells."

"It's the China lilies."

"I believe it's my handkerchief..." he said.

"Vain wicked boy; ah, if you would but decide, and marry some nice,
intelligent girl."

"I'm too young yet."

"You're _twenty-six_!"

"And past the age of folly-o," he made airy answer, drawing from his
breast-pocket a flat, jewel-encrusted case, and lighting a cigarette.

"Think of the many men, darling, of twenty-six..." Madame Ruiz broke off,
focusing the fruit-bearing summit of a slender areca palm.

"Foll-foll-folly-o!" he laughed.

"I think I'm going in."

"Oh, why?"

"Because," Madame Ruiz repressed a yawn, "because, my dear, I feel
armchairish."

With a kiss of the finger-tips (decidedly distinguished hands had
Vittorio Ruiz), he turned away.

Joying frankly in excess, the fiery noontide hour had a special charm for
him.

It was the hour, to be sure, of "the Faun!"

"Aho, Ahi, Aha!" he carolled, descending half trippingly a few white
winding stairs that brought him upon a fountain. Palms, with their
floating fronds radiating light, stood all around.

It was here "the creative mood" would sometimes take him, for he
possessed no small measure of talent of his own.

His _Three Hodeidahs_, and _Five Phallic Dances for Pianoforte and
Orchestra_, otherwise known as "Suite in Green," had taken the whole
concert world by storm, and, now, growing more audacious, he was engaged
upon an opera to be known, by and by, as _Sumaïa_.

"Ah Atthis, it was Sappho who told me--" tentatively he sought an air.

A touch of banter there.

"_Ah Atthis_--" One must make the girl feel that her little secret is
out...; quiz her; but let her know, and pretty plainly, that the Poetess
had been talking...

"Ah Atthis--"

But somehow or other the lyric mood to-day was obdurate and not to be
persuaded.

"I blame the oysters! After oysters--" he murmured, turning about to
ascertain what was exciting the dogs.

She was coming up the drive with her face to the sun, her body shielded
behind a spreading bouquet of circumstance.

"It's all right; they'll not hurt you."

"Sh'o, I not afraid!"

"Tell me who it is you wish to see."

"Mammee send me wid dese flowehs..."

"Oh! Buy how scrumptious."

"It strange how dey call de bees; honey-bees, sweat-bees, bumble-bees an'
all!" she murmured, shaking the blossoms into the air.

"That's only natural," he returned, his hand falling lightly to her arm.

"Madane Ruiz is in?"

"She is: but she is resting; and something tells me," he suavely added,
indicating a grassy bank, "you might care to repose yourself too."

And indeed after such a long and rambling course she was glad to accept.

"De groung's as soft as a cushom," she purred, sinking with nonchalance
to the grass.

"You'd find it," he said, "even softer, if you'll try it nearer me."

"Dis a mighty pretty place!"

"And you--" but he checked his tongue.

"Fo' a villa so grand, dair must be mo' dan one privy?"

Some six or seven!"

"Ours is broke."

"You should get it mended."

"De aggervatiness'!" she wriggled.

"Tell me about them."

And so, not without digressions, she unfolded her life.

"Then you, Charlie, and Mimi are here, dear, to study?"

"As soon as de University is able to receibe us; but dair's a waiting
list already dat long."

"And what do you do with all your spare time?"

"Goin' round de shops takes up some ob it. An' den, ob course, dair's de
Cinés. Oh, I love de Lara. We went last night to see _Souls in Hell_.

"I've not been."

"Oh it was choice."

"Was it? Why?"

"De scene ob dat story," she told him, "happen foreign; 'way crost de big
watteh, on de odder side ob de world... an' de principal gal, she merried
to a man who neglect her (ebery ebenin' he go to pahtys an' biars), while
all de time his wife she sit at home wid her lil pickney at her breas'.
But dair anodder gemplum (a friend ob de fambly) an' he afiah to woe her;
but she only shake de head, slowly, from side to side, an' send dat man
away. Den de hubsom lose his fortnue, an', oh, she dat 'stracted, she dat
crazed... at last she take to gamblin', but dat only make t'ings worse.
Den de friend ob de fambly come back, an' offer to pay all de expenses ef
only she unbend: so she cry, an' she cry, 'cos it grieb her to leav her
pickney to de neglect ob de serbants (dair was three ob dem, an old
buckler, a boy, an' a cook), but, in de end, she do, an' frtt! away she
go in de fambly carriage. An' den, bimeby, you see dem in de bedroom
doin' a bit ob funning."

"What?"

"Oh ki; it put me in de gigglemints..."

"Exquisite kid."

"Sh'o, de coffee-concerts an' de pictchures, I don't nebba tiah ob dem."

"Bad baby."

"I turned thirteen."

"You are?"

"By de Law ob de Island, I a spinster ob age!"

"I might have guessed it was the Bar! These Law-students," he murmured,
addressing the birds.

"Sh'o, it's de trute," she pouted, with a languishing glance through the
sticks of her fan.

"I don't doubt it," he answered, taking lightly her hand.

"Mercy," she marvelled: "is dat a watch dah, on your arm?"

"Dark, bright baby!"

"Oh, an' de lil 'V.R.' all in precious stones so blue." Her frail fingers
caressed his wrist.

"Exquisite kid." She was in his arms.

"Vitti, Vitti!--" It was the voice of Eurydice Edwards. Her face was
strained and quivering. She seemed about to faint.



XI

Ever so lovely are the young men of Cuna-Cuna--Juarez, Jotifa,
Enid--(these, from many, to distinguish but a few)--but none so delicate,
charming, and squeamish as Charlie Mouth.

"Attractive little Rose..." "What a devil of a dream..." the avid belles
would exclaim when he walked abroad, while impassioned widows would
whisper "Peach!"

One evening, towards sundown, just as the city lifts its awnings, ad the
deserted streets start seething with delight, he left his home to enjoy
the grateful air. It had been a day of singular oppressiveness, and, not
expecting overmuch of the vesperal breezes, he had borrowed his mother's
small Pompadour fan.

Ah, little did that nigger boy know as he strolled along what novel
emotions that promenade held in store!

Disrelishing the dust of the Avenida, he directed his steps towards the
Park.

He had formed already an acquaintanceship with several young men,
members, it seemed, of the University, and these he would sometimes join,
about this hour, beneath the Calabash-trees in the Marcella Gardens.

There was Abe, a lad of fifteen, whose father ran a Jazz Hall on the
harbour-beach, and Ramon, who was destined to enter the Church, and the
intriguing Esmé, whose dream was the Stage, and who was supposed to be
"in touch" with Miss Maxine Bush, and there was Pedro, Pedro ardent and
obese, who seemed to imagine that to be a dress-designer to foreign
Princesses would yield his several talents a thrice-blessed harvest.

Brooding on these and other matters, Charlie found himself in Liberty
Square.

Here, the Cunan Poet, Samba Marcella's effigy arose--that "sable singer
of Revolt."

Aloft, on a pedestal, soared the Poet, laurel-crowned, thick-lipped,
woolly, a large weeping Genius, with a bold taste for draperies, hovering
just beneath; her one eye closed, the other open, giving her an air of
winking confidentially at the passers-by.

"'Up, Cunans, up! To arms, to arms!'" he quoted, lingering to watch the
playful swallows wheeling among the tubs of rose-oleanders that stood
around.

And a thirst, less for bloodshed than for a sherbet, seized him.

It was a square noted for the frequency of its bars, and many of their
names, in flickering lights, showed palely forth already.

Cuna! City of Moonstones; how faerie art thou in the blue blur of dusk!

Costa Rica. Chile Bar. To the Island of June...

Red roses against tall mirrors, reflecting the falling night.

Seated before a cloudy cocktail, a girl with gold cheeks like the flesh
of peaches addressed him softly from behind: "Listen, lion!"

But he merely smiled on himself in the polished mirrors, displaying
moist-gleaming teeth and coral gums.

A fragrance of aromatic cloves... a mystic murmur of ice...

A little dazed after a Ron Bacardi, he moved away. "Shine, sah?" The
inveigling squeak of a shoeblack followed him.

Sauntering by the dusty benches along the pavement-side, where
white-robed negresses sat communing in twos and threes, he attained the
Avenue Messalina with its spreading palms, whose frongs hung nerveless in
the windless air.

Tinkling mandolins from restaurant gardens, light laughter, and shifting
lights.

Passing before the Café de Cuna, and a people's "Dancing," he roamed
leisurely along. Incipient Cyprians, led by vigilant, blanched-faced
queens, youths of a certain life, known as bwam-wam bwam-wams, gaunt
pariah dogs with questing eyes, all equally were on the prowl. Beneath
the Pharaohic pilasters of the Theatre Maxine Bush a street crowd had
formed before a notice described "Important," which informed the Public
that, owing to a "temporary hoarseness," the rôle of Miss Maxine Bush
would be taken, on that occasion, by Miss Pauline Collier.

The Marcella Gardens lay towards the end of the Avenue, in the animated
vicinity of the Opera. Pursuing the glittering thoroughfare, it was
interesting to observe the pleasure announcements of the various
theatres, picked out in signs of fire: _Aïda: The Jewels of the Madonna:
Clara Novotny and Lily Lima's Season_.

Vending bags of roasted peanuts, or sapodillas and avocado pears,
insistent small boys were importuning the throng.

"Go away; I can't be bodder," Charlie was saying, when he seemed to slip;
it was as though the pavement were a carpet snatched from under him, and,
looking round, he was surprised to see, in a confectioner's window, a
couple of marble-topped tables start merrily waltzing together.

Driven onward by those behind, he began stumblingly to run towards the
Park. It was the general goal. Footing it a little ahead, two loose women
and a gay young man (pursued by a waiter with a napkin and a bill),
together with the horrified, half-crazed crowd; all, helter-skelter, were
intent upon the Park.

Above the Calabash-trees, bronze, demoniac, the moon gleamed sourly from
a starless sky, and although not a breath of air was stirring, the crests
of the loftiest palms were set arustling by the vibration at their roots.

"Oh, will nobody _stop_ it?" a terror-struck lady implored.

Feeling quite white and clasping a fetish, Charlie sank all panting to
the ground.

Safe from falling chimney-pots and sign-boards (that for "Pure Vaseline,"
for instance, had all but caught him), he had much to be thankful for.

"Sh'o nuff, dat was a close shave," he gasped, gazing dazed about him.

Clustered back to back near by upon the grass, three stolid matrons,
matrons of hoary England, evidently not without previous earthquake
experience, were ignoring resolutely the repeated shocks.

"I always follow the Fashions, dear, at a distance!" one was saying:
"this little gingham gown I'm wearing I had made for me after a design I
found in a newspaper at my hotel."

"It must have been a pretty old one, dear--I mean the paper, of course."

"New things are only those you know that have been forgotten."

"Mary... there's a sharp pin, sweet, at the back of your... _Oh_!"

Venturing upon his legs, Charlie turned away.

By the Park palings a few "Salvationists" were holding forth, while, in
the sweep before the bandstand, the artists from the Opera, in their
costumes of Aïda, were causing almost a greater panic among the ignorant
rather than the earthquake itself. A crowd, promiscuous rather than
representative, composed variously of chauffeurs (making a wretched
pretence, poor chaps, of seeking out their masters), Cyprians, patricians
(these in opera cloaks and sparkling diamonds), tourists, for whom the
Hodeidah girls would _not_ dance that night, and bwam-bwam bwam-bwams,
whose equivocal behaviour, indeed, was perhaps more shocking even than
the shocks, set the pent Park ahum. Yet, notwithstanding the upheavals of
Nature, certain persons there were bravely making new plans.

"How I wish I could, dear! But I shall be having a houseful of women over
Sunday--that's to say."

"Then come the week after."

"Thanks, then, I _will_."

Hoping to meet with Abe, Charlie took a pathway flanked with rows of
tangled roses, whose leaves shook down at every step.

And it occurred to him with alarming force that perhaps he was an orphan.

Papee, Mammee, Mimi and lil Edna--the villa drawing-room on the floor...

His heart stopped still.

"An' dey in de spirrit world--in heaven hereafter!" He glanced with awe
at the moon's dark disk.

"All in dair cotton shrouds..."

What if he should die and go to the Bad Place below?

"I mizzable sinneh, Lord. You heah, Sah? You heah me say dat? Oh, Jesus,
Jesus, Jesus," and weeping, he threw himself down among a bed of flowers.

When he raised his face it was towards a sky all primrose and silver
pink. Sunk deep in his dew-laved bower, it was sweet to behold the light.
Above him great spikes of blossom were stirring in the idle wind, while
birds were chaunting voluntaries among the palms. And in thanksgiving,
too, arose the matin bells. From Our Lady of the Pillar, from the church
of La Favavoa in the West, from Saint Sebastian, from Our Lady of the
Sea, from Our Lady of Mount Carmel, from Santa Theresa, from Saint
Francis of the Poor.



XII

But although by the grace of Providence the city of Cuna-Cuna had been
spared, other parts of the island had sustained irremediable loss. In the
Province of Casuby, beyond the May Day Mountains, many a fair banana or
sugar estate had been pitifully wrecked, yet what caused perhaps the
widest regret among the Cucan public was the destruction of the famous
convent of Sasabonsam. One of the beauties of the island, one of the gems
of tropic architecture, celebrated, made immortal (in _The Picnic_) by
the Poet Marcella, had disappeared. A Relief fund for those afflicted had
at once been started, and, as if this were not enough, the doors of the
Villa Alba were about to be thrown open for "An Evening of Song and Gala"
in the causes of charity.

"Prancing Nigger, dis an event to take exvantage ob; dis not a lil t'ing,
love, to be sneezed at at all," Mrs. Mouth eagerly said upon hearing the
news, and she had gone about ever since, reciting the names in the list
of Patronesses, including that of the Cucan Archbishop.

It was the auspicious evening.

In their commodious, jointly shared bedroom, the Miss Lips, the fair
Lips, the smiling Leps were maiding one another in what they both
considered to be the "Parisian way"; a way, it appeared, that involved
much nudging, arch laughter, and, even, some prodding.

"In love? Up to my ankles! Oh, yes." Edna blithely chuckled.

"Up to your topknot!" her sister returned, making as if to pull it.

But with the butt end of the curling-tongs Edna waved her away.

Since her visit to the Villa Alba "me, an' Misteh Ruiz" was all her talk,
and to be his reigning mistress the summit of her dreams.

"Come on, man, wid dose tongs; 'cos I want 'em myself," Miami murmured,
pinning a knot of the sweet night jasmine deftly above her ear.

Its aroma evoked Bamboo.

Oh, why had he not joined her? Why did he delay? Had he forgotten their
delight among the trees, the giant silk-cotton-trees, with the
hammer-tree-frogs chanting in the dark: Rig-a-jig-jig, rig-a-jig-jig?

"Which do you like de best, man, dis lil necklash or de odder?" Edna
asked, essaying a strand of orchid-tinted beads about her throat.

"I'd wear dem both," her sister advised.

"I t'ink, on de whole, I wear de odder; de one he gib me de time he take
exvantage ob my innocence."

"Since dose imitation pearls, honey,--he gib you anyt'ing else?"

"No; but he dat generous! He say he mean to make me a lil pickney gal
darter: an', oh, won't dat be day," Edna fluted, breaking off at the
sound of her mother's voice in the corridor.

"...an tell de cabman to take de fly-bonnets off de horses," she was
instructing Ibum as she entered the room.

She had a gown of the new mignonette satin, with "episcopal" sleeves
lined with red.

"Come, girls, de cab is waiting; but perhaps you no savey dat."

They didn't; and, for some time, dire was the confusion.

In the Peacock drawing room of the Villa Alba the stirring ballet music
from _Isfahan_ filled the vast room with its thrilling madness. Upon a
raised estrade, a corps of dancing boys, from Sankor, glided amid a
murmur of applause.

The combination of charity and amusement had brought together a crowded
and cosmopolitan assembly and, early though it was, it was evident
already that with many more new adverts there would be a shortage of
chairs. From their yachts had come several distinguished birds of
passage, exhaling an atmosphere of Paris and Park Lane.

Wielding a heavy bouquet of black feathers, Madame Ruiz, robed in a gown
of malmaison cloth-of-silver, watched the dancers from an alcove by the
door.

Their swaying torsos, and weaving gliding feet, fettered with chains of
orchids and hung with bells, held a fascination for her.

"My dear, they beat the Hodeidahs! I'm sure I never saw anything like
it," the Duchess of Wellclose remarked admiringly: "that little one,
Fred," she murmured, turning towards the Duke.

A piece of praise a staid small body in a demure lace cap chanced to
hear.

This was "the incomparable" Miss McAdam, the veteran ballet mistress of
the Opera-house, and inventrix of the dance. Born in the frigid High
Street of Aberdeen, "Alice," as she was universally known among
enthusiastic patrons of the ballet, had come originally to the tropics as
companion to a widowed clergyman, when, as she would relate (in her
picturesque, native brogue), at the sight of _Nature_ her soul had awoke.
Self-expression had come with a rush; and, now that she was ballet
mistress of the Cunan opera, some of the daring _ensembles_ of the
Scottish spinster would embarrass even the good Cunans themselves.

"I've warned the lads," she whispered to Madame Ruiz, "to cut their final
figure on account of the Archbishop. But young boys are so excitable, and
I expect they'll forget!"

Gazing on their perfect backs, Madame Ruiz could not but mourn the fate
of the Painter, who, like Dalou, had specialized almost exclusively on
this aspect of the human form; for, alas, that admirable Arist had been
claimed by the Quake; and although his portrait of Madame Ruiz remained
unfinished... there was still a mole, nevertheless, in gratitude, and as
a mark of respect she had sent her Rolls car to the Mass in honor of his
obsequies, with the _crêpe_ off an old black dinner-dress tied across the
lamps.

"I see they're going to," Miss McAdam murmured, craning a little to focus
the Archbishop, then descanting to two ladies with deep purple fans.

"Ah, well! It's what they do in _Isfahan_," Madame Ruiz commented,
turning to greet her neighbour Lady Bird.

"Am I late for Gebhardt?" she asked, as if Life itself hinged upon the
reply.

A quite silly woman, Madame Ruiz was often obliged to lament the absence
of intellect at her door: accounting for it as the consequence of a
weakness for negroes, combined with a hopeless passion for the Regius
Professor of Greek at Oxford.

But the strident cries of the dancers and the increasing volume of the
music discouraged all talk, though ladies with collection-boxes (biding
their time) were beginning furtively to select their next quarry.

Countess Katty Taosay, _née_ Soderini, a little woman and sure of the
giants, could feel in her psychic veins which men were most likely to
empty their pockets: English Consul... pale and interesting, he would not
refuse to stoop and fumble, nor Follinsbe "Peter," the slender husband of
a fashionable wife, nor Charlie Campfire, a young boy like an injured
camel, heir to vast banana estates, the darling, and six foot high if an
inch.

"Why do big men like little women?" she wondered, waving a fan powdered
with blue _paillettes_: and she was still casting about for a reason when
the hectic music stopped.

And now the room echoed briefly with applause, while admiration was
divided between the super-excellence of the dancers and the living beauty
of the rugs which their feet had trod--rare rugs from Bokhara-i-Shareef,
and Kairouan-city-of-Prayer, lent by the mistress of the house.

Entering on the last hand-clap, Mr. and Mrs. Mouth, followed by their
daughters, felt, each in their several ways, they might expect to enjoy
themselves.

"Prancing Nigger, what a _furore_!" Mrs. Mouth exclaimed. "You b'lieb, I
hope, now, dat our tickets was worth de money."

Plucking at the swallow-tails of an evening "West-End," Mr. Mouth was
disinclined to re-open a threadbare topic.

"It queah how few neegah dair be," he observed, scanning the brilliant
audience, many of whom, taking advantage of an interval, were flocking
towards a buffet in an adjoining conservatory.

"Prancing Nigger, I feel I could do wid a glass of champagne."

Passing across a corridor, it would have been interesting to have
explored the spacious vistas that loomed beyond. "Dat must be one ob de
priveys," Edna murmured, pointing to a distant door.

"Seben, Chile, did you say?"

"If not more!"

"She seem fond ob flowehs," Mr. Mouth commented, pausing to notice the
various plants that lined the way: from the roof swung showery azure
flowers that commingled with the theatrically-hued cañas, set out in
crude, bold, colour-schemes below, that looked best at night. But in
their malignant splendour the orchids were the thing. Mrs. Abernathy,
Ronald Firbank (a dingy lilac blossom of rarity untold), Prince Palairet,
a heavy blue-spotted flower, and rosy Olive Moonlight, were those that
claimed the greatest respect from a few discerning connoisseurs.

"Prancing Nigger, you got a chalk mark on your 'West-End.' Come heah,
sah, an' let me brush it."

Hopeful of glimpsing Vittorio, Miami and Edna sauntered on. With arms
loosely entwined about each other's hips, they made, in their complete
insouciance, a conspicuous couple.

"I'd give sumpin' to see de bedrooms, man, 'cos dair are chapels, an'
barf-rooms, beside odder conveniences off dem," Edna related, returning a
virulent glance from Miss Eurydice Edwards with a contemptuous, pitying
smile.

Traversing a throng, sampling sorbets and ices, the sisters strolled out
upon the lawn.

The big silver stars, how clear they shone--infinitudes, infinitudes.

"Adieu, hydrangeas, adieu, blue, burning South!"

The concert, it seemed, had begun.

"Come chillens, come!"

In the vast drawing-room the first novelty of the evening--an aria from
_Sumaïa_--had stilled all chatter. Deep-sweet, poignant, the singer's
voice was conjuring Sumaïa's farewell to the Greek isle of Mitylene,
bidding farewell to its gracious women, and to the trees of white or
turquoise in the gardens of Lesbos.

"Adieu, hydrangeas--"

Hardly a suitable moment, perhaps, to dispute a chair. But neither the
Duchess of Wellclose nor Mrs. Mouth were creatures easily abashed.

"I pay, an' I mean to hab it."

"You can't; it's taken!" the duchess returned, nodding meaningly towards
the buffet, where the duke could be seen swizzling whisky at the back of
the bar.

"Sh'o! Dese white women seem to t'ink dey can hab ebberyt'ing."

"Taken," the duchess repeated, who disliked what she called the _parfum
d'Afrique_ of the "sooties," and, as though to intimidate Mrs. Mouth, she
gave her a look that would have made many a Peeress in London quail.

Nevertheless, in the stir that followed the song chairs were forthcoming.

"From de complexion dat female hab, she look as doh she bin boiling
bananas!" Mrs. Mouth commented comfortably, loud enough for the duchess
to hear.

"Such a large congregation should su'tinly assist de fund!" Mr. Mouth
resourcefully said, envisaging with interest the audience; it was not
every day that one could feast the gaze on the noble baldness of the
Archbishop, or on the subtle _silhouette_ of Miss Maxine Bush, swathed
like an idol in an Egyptian tissue woven with magical eyes.

"De woman in de window dah," Mrs. Mouth remarked, indicating a dowager
who had the hard but resigned look of the mother of six daughters in
immediate succession, "hab a look, Prancing Nigger, ob your favourite
statesman."

"De immortal Wilberforce!"

"I s'poge it's de whiskers," Mrs. Mouth replied, ruffling gently her
"Borgia" sleeves for the benefit of the Archbishop. Rumour had it he was
fond of negresses, and that the black private secretary he employed was
his own natural son, while some suspected indeed a less natural
connexion.

But Madame Hatso (of Blue Brazil, the Argentine; those nights in
Venezuela and Buenos Ayres, "bis" and "bravas"! How the public had
roared) was curtseying right and left, and Mrs. Mouth, glancing round to
address her daughters, perceived with vexation that Edna had vanished.



In the garden he caught her to him.

"Flower of the Sugar Cane!"

"Misteh Ruiz..."

"Exquisite kid."

"I saw you thu de window-glass all de time, an' dair was I! laughing so
silent-ly..."

"My little honey."

"...no; 'cos ob de neighbehs," she fluted, drawing him beneath the great
flamboyants that stood like temples of darkness all around.

"Sweetheart."

"I 'clar to grashis!" she delightedly crooned as he gathered her up in
his arms.

My little Edna...?...?...?"

"Where you goin' wid me to?"

"There," and he nodded towards the white sea sand.



A yawning butler, an insolent footman, a snoring coachman, a drooping
horse...

The last conveyance had driven away, and only a party of "b--d--y
niggers," supposed to be waiting for a daughter, was keeping the
domestics from their beds.

Ernest, the bepowdered footman, believed them to be thieves, and could
have sworn he saw a tablespoon in the old coon's pocket.

Hardly able to restrain his tears, Mr. Mouth sat gazing vacuously at the
floor.

"Wha' can keep de chile?... O Lord... I hope dair noddin' wrong."

"On such a lovely ebenin' what is time?" Mrs. Mouth exclaimed, taking up
an attitude of night-enchantment by the open door.

A remark that caused the butler and his subordinate to cough.

"It not often see de cosmos look so special!"

"Ef she not heah soon, we better go widout her," Miami murmured, who was
examining the visitors' cards on the hall table undismayed by the eye of
Ernest.

"It's odd she should so procrastinate; but la jeunesse, c'est le temps où
l'on s'amuse," Mrs. Mouth blandly declared, seating herself tranquilly by
her husband's side.

"Dair noddin', I hope, de matteh..."

"Eh, suz, my deah! Eh, suz." Reassuringly, she tapped his arm.

"Sir Victor Virtue, Lady Bird, Princess Altamisal," Miami tossed the
cards.

"Sh'o it was a charming ebenin'! Doh I was sorry for de duchess, wid de
duke, an' he all nasty drunk wid spirits."

"I s'poge she use to it."

"It was a perfect skangle! Howebber, on de whole, it was quite an
enjoyable pahty--do dat music ob Wagner, it gib me de retches."

"It bore me, too," Miami confessed, as a couple of underfootmen made
their appearance and, joining their fidgeting colleagues by the door,
waited for the last guests to depart, in a mocking, whispering group.

"Ef she not here bery soon," Miami murmured, vexed by the servants'
impertinent smiles.

"Sh'o, she be here directly," Mrs. Mouth returned, appraising through her
fan-sticks the footmen's calves.

"It daybreak already!" Miami yawned, moved to elfish mirth by the
over-emphasis of rouge on her mother's round cheeks.

But under the domestics' mocking stare their talk at length was chilled
to silence.

From the garden came the plaintive wheepling of a bird (intermingled with
the coachman's spasmodic snores), while above the awning of the door the
stars were wanly paling.

"Prancing Nigger, sah, heah de day. Dair no good waitin' any more."

It was on their return from the Villa Alba that they found a letter
signed "Mamma Luna," announcing the death of Bamboo.



XIII

He had gone out, it seemed, upon the sea to avoid the earthquake (leaving
his mother at home to take care of the shop), but the boat had
overturned, and the evil sharks...

In a room darkened against the sun, Miami, distracted, wept. Crunched by
the may of a great blue shark: "Oh honey."

Face downward, with one limp arm dangling to the floor, she bemoaned her
loss: such love-blank, and aching void! Like some desolate, empty care,
filled with clouds, so her heart.

"An' to t'ink dat I eber teased you!" she moaned, reproaching herself for
the heedless past; and as day passed over day still she wept.

One mid-afternoon, some two weeks later, she was reclining lifelessly
across the bed, gazing at the sun-blots on the floor. There had been a
mild disturbance of a seismic nature that morning, and indeed slight
though unmistakable shocks had been sensed repeatedly of late.

"Intercession" services, fully choral--the latest craze of
society--filled the churches at present, sadly at the expense of other
places of amusement, many of which had been obliged to close down. A
religious revival was in the air, and in the Parks and streets elegant
dames would stop one another in their passing carriages and pour out the
stories of their iniquitous lives.

Disturbed by the tolling of a neighbouring bell, Miami reluctantly rose.

"Lord! What a din; it gib a po' soul de grabe-yahd creeps," she murmured,
lifting the jalousie of a sun-shutter and peering idly out.

Standing in the street was a Chinese laundrymaid, chatting with two
Chinamen with osier baskets, while a gaunt pariah dog was rummaging among
some egg-shells and banana-skins in the dust before the gate.

"Dat lil fool-fool Ibum, he throw ebberyt'ing out ob de window an' nebba
t'ink ob de stink," she commented, as an odour of decay was wafted in on
a gust of the hot trade wind. The trade winds! How pleasantly they used
to blow in the village of Mediavilla. The blue trade wind, the gold trade
wind caressing the bending canes... City life, what had it done for any
of them, after all? Edna nothing else than a harlot (since she had left
them there was no other word), and Charlie fast going to pieces, having
joined the Promenade of a notorious Bar with its bright particular galaxy
of boys.

"Sh'o, ebberyt'ing happier back dah," she mused, following the slow gait
across the street of some bare-footed nuns; soon they would be returning,
with many converts and pilgrims, to Sasabonsam, beyond the May Day
Mountains, where remained a miraculous image of Our Lady of the Sorrows
still intact. How if she joined them, too? A desire to express her grief,
and thereby ease it, possessed her. In the old times there had been many
ways: tribal dances and wild austerities...

She was still musing, self-absorbed, when her mother, much later, came in
from the street.

There had been a great Intercessional, it seemed, at the Cathedral, with
hired singers from the Opera-house and society women as thick as thieves,
"_gnats_," she had meant to say (Tee-hee!), about a corpse. Arturo
Arrivabene... a voice like a bull... and she had caught a glimpse of Edna
driving on the Avenue Amanda, looking almost Spanish in a bandeau beneath
a beautiful grey tilt hat.

But Miami's abstraction discouraged confidences.

"Why you so triste, Chile? Dair no good at all in frettin'."

"Sh'o nuff."

"Dat death was on de cards, my deah, an' dair is no mistakin' de fac';
an' as de shark is a rapid feeder it all ober sooner dan wid de
crocodile, which is some consolation for dose dat remain to mourn."

"Sh'o, it bring not an atom to me!"

"'Cos de process ob de crocodile bein' sloweh dan dat ob de shark--"

"Ah, say no more," Miami moaned, throwing herself in a storm of grief
across the bed. And as all efforts to appease made matters only worse,
Mrs. Mouth prudently left her.

"Prancing Nigger, she seem dad sollumcholly an' depressed," Mrs. Mouth
remarked at dinner, helping herself to some guava-jelly that had partly
dissolved through lack of ice.

"Since de disgrace ob Edna dat scarcely s'prisin'," Mr. Mouth made
answer, easing a little the napkin at his neck.

"She is her own woman, me deah sah, an' _I_ cannot prevent it!"

In the convivial ground-floor dining-room of an imprecise style, it was
hard, at times, to endure such second-rate company as that of a querulous
husband.

Yes, marriage had its dull side, and its drawbacks; still, where would
society be (and where morality!) without the married women?

Mrs. Mouth fetched a sigh.

Just at her husband's back, above the ebony sideboard, hung a Biblical
engraving, after Rembrandt, of the _Woman Taken in Adultery_, the
conception of which seemed to her exaggerated and overdone, knowing full
well, from previous experience, that there need not, really, be so much
fuss... Indeed, there need not be any: but to be _Taken_ like that! A
couple of idiots.

"W'en I look at our chillen's chairs, an' all ob dem empty, in my opinion
we both betteh deaded," Mr. Mouth brokenly said.

"I dare say dair are dose dat may t'ink so," Mrs. Mouth returned,
refilling her glass; "but, Prancing Nigger, I am not like dat: no, sah!"

"Where's Charlie?"

"I s'poge he choose to dine at de lil Cantonese restaurant on de quay,"
she murmured, setting down her glass with a slight grimace: how
_ordinaire_ this cheap red wine! Doubtless Edna was lapping the wines of
paradise! Respectability had its trials...

"Dis jelly mo' like lemon squash," Mr. Mouth commented.

"'Cos dat lil liard Ibum, he again forget de ice! Howebber, I hope soon
to get rid ob him: for de insolence ob his bombax is more dan I can
stand," Mrs. Mouth declared, lifting her voice on account of a
piano-organ in the street just outside.

"I s'poge to-day Chuesd'y? It was a-Chuesd'y--God forgib dat po' frail
chile."

"Prancing Nigger, I allow Edna some young yet for dat position; I allow
dat to be de matteh ob de case but, me good sah! bery likely she marry
him later."

"Pah."

"An' why not?"

"Chooh, nebba!"

"Prancing Nigger, you seem to forget dat your elder daughter was a babe
ob four w'en I put on me nuptial arrange blastams to go to de Church."

"Sh'o, I wonder you care to talk ob it!"

"An' to-day, honey, as I sat in de Cathedral, lis'nin' to de Archbishop,
I seemed to see Edna, an' she all in _dentelles_ so _chic_, comin' up de
aisle, followed by twelve maids, all ob good blood, holdin' flowehs an
wid hats kimpoged ob feddehs--worn raddeh to de side, an' I heah a
stranger say: 'Excuse me, sah, but who dis fine marriage?' an' a voice
make reply: 'Why, dat Mr. Ruiz de milliona'r-'r-'r,' an' as he speak, one
ob dese Italians from de Opera-house commence to sing 'De voice dat
brieved o'er Eden,' an' Edna she blow a kiss at me an' laugh dat arch."

"Nebba!"

"Prancing Nigger, 'wait an' see'!" Mrs. Mouth waved prophetically her
fan.

"No, nebbah," he repeated, his head sunk low in chagrin.

"How you know, sah?" she queried, rising to throw a crust of loaf to the
organ man outside.

The wind with the night had risen, and a cloud of blown dust was circling
before the gate.

"See de raindrops, deah; her come at last de big rain."

"..."

"Prancing Nigger!"

"Ah'm thinkin'."



XIV

Improvising at the piano, Piltzenhoffer, kiddy-grand, he was contented,
happy. The creative fertility, bursting from a radiant heart, more than
ordinarily surprised him. "My most quickening affair since--" he groped,
smiling a little at several particular wraiths, more or less bizarre,
that, in their time, had especially disturbed him. "Yes; probably!" he
murmured enigmatically, striking an intricate, virile chord.

"Forgib me, dearest! I was wid de manicu' ob de fingeh-nails."

"Divine one."

She stood before him.

Hovering there between self-importance and madcapery, she was exquisite
quite.

"All temperament...!" he murmured, capturing her deftly between his
knees.

She was wearing a toilette of white _crêpe de chine_, and a large favour
of bright purple Costa-Rica roses.

"Soon as de sun drop, dey set out, deah: so de manicu' say."

"What shall we do till then?"

"...or, de pistols!" she fluted, encircling an arm about his neck.

"Destructive kitten," he murmured, kissing, one by one, her red, polished
nails.

"Honey! Come on."

He frowned.

It seemed a treason almost to his last mistress, an exotic English girl,
perpetually shivering, even in the sun, this revolver practice on the
empty quinine-bottles she had left behind. Poor Meraude! It was touching
what faith she had in a dose of quinine! Unquestionably she had been
faithful to _that_. And, dull enough, too, it had made her. With her
albums of photographs, nearly all of midshipmen, how insufferably had she
bored him:--"This one, darling, tell me, isn't he--I, really--he makes
me--and this one, darling! An Athenian viking, with hair like mimosa, and
what ravishing hands!--oh my God!--I declare--he makes me--" Poor
Meraude; she had been extravagant as well!

"Come on, an' break some bokkles!"

"There's not a cartridge left," he told her, setting her on his knee.

    "Ha-ha! Oh, hi-hi!
     Not a light:
     Not a bite!
     What a Saturday Night!"

she trilled, taking off a comedian from the Eden Garden.

Like all other negresses she possessed a natural bent for mimicry and a
voice of that lisping quality that would find complete expression in
songs such as: "Have you seen my sweet garden ob Flowehs?", "Sst! Come
closer, Listen heah," "Lead me to the Altar, Dearest," and "His Little
Pink, proud, Spitting-lips are mine."

"What is that you're wearing?"

"A souvenir ob to-day; I buy it fo' luck," she rippled, displaying a
black briar cross pinned to her breast.

"I hope it's blessed?"

"De nun dat sold it, didn't say. Sh'o, it's dreadful to t'ink ob po'
Mimi, an' she soon a pilgrim all in blistehs an' rags," she commented, as
a page-boy with bejasmined ears appeared at the door.

"Me excuse..."

"How dare you come in, lil saucebox, widdout knockin'?"

"What?"

Ibum hung his head.

"I only thoughted, it bein' Crucifix day, I would like to follow in de
procession thu de town."

"Bery well: but be back in time fo' dinner."

"T'ank you, missey."

"An' mind fo' once you are!"

"Yes, missey," the niggerling acquiesced, bestowing a slow smile on Snob
and Snowball, who had accompanied him into the room. Easy of habit, as
tropical animals are apt to be, it was apparent that the aristocratic
pomeranian was paying sentimental court to the skittish mouser, who,
since her [Greek letters] of black kittens, looked ready for anything.

"Sh'o, but she hab a way wid her!" Ibum remarked, impressed.

"Lil monster, take dem both, an' den get out ob my sight," his mistress
directed him.

Fingering a battered volume that bore the book-plate of Meraude, Vittorio
appeared absorbed.

"Honey?"

"Well?"

"Noddin'."

In the silence of the room a restless bluebottle, attracted by the wicked
leer of a chandelier, tied up incredibly in a bright green net, blended
its hum with the awakening murmur of the streets.

"Po' Mimi. I hope she look up as she go by."

"Yes, by Jove."

"Doh after de rude t'ings she say to me--" she broke off, blinking a
little at the sunlight through the thrilling shutters.

"If I remember, beloved, you were both equally candid," he remarked,
wandering out upon the balcony.

It was on the palm-grown Messalina, an avenue that comprised a solid
portion of the Ruiz estate, that he had installed her, in a many-storied
building, let out in offices and flats.

Little gold, blue, lazy and romantic Cuna, what chastened mood broods
over thy life to-day!

"Have you your crucifix? Won't you buy a cross?" persuasive, feminine
voices rose up from the pavement below. Active again with the waning sun,
"workers," with replenished wares, were emerging forth from their
respective depots nursing small lugubrious baskets.

"Have you bought your cross?" The demand, when softly cooed by some
solicitous patrician, almost compelled an answer; and most of the social
world of Cuna appeared to be vending crosses, or "Pilgrims' medals" in
imitation "bronze," this afternoon, upon the kerb. At the corner of
Valdez Street, across the way, Countess Katty Taosay (_née_ Soderini),
austere in black with Parma violets, was presiding over a depot festooned
with nothing but rosaries, that "professed" themselves, as they hung, to
the suave trade wind.

    "Not a light:
     Not a bite!
     What a----"

Edna softly hummed, shading her eyes with a big feather fan.

It was an evening of cloudless radiance; sweet and mellow as is frequent
at the close of summer.

"Oh, ki, honey! It so cleah I can see de lil iluns ob yalleh sand far
away b'yond de Point!"

"Dearest!" he inattentively murmured, recognising on the Avenue the
elegant cobweb wheels of his mother's Bolivian buggy.

Accompanied by Eurydice Edwards, she was driving her favourite mules.

"An' de shipwreck off de coral reef, oh, ki!"

"Let me find you the long-glass, dear," he said, glad for an instant to
step inside.

Leaning with one foot thrust nimbly out through the balcony-rails towards
the street, she gazed absorbed.

Delegates of agricultural guilds bearing banners, making for the
Cathedral square (the pilgrims' starting-point), were advancing along the
avenue amidst applause: fruit-growers, rubber-growers, sugar-growers,
opium-growers, all doubtless wishful of placating Nature that redoubtable
Goddess by showing a little honour to the Church. "O Lord, _not_ as
Sodom," she murmured, deciphering a text attached to the windscreen of a
luxurious automobile.

"Divine one, here they are."

"T'anks, honey, I see best widdout," she replied, following the Bacchic
progress of two girls in soldiers' forage-caps, who were exciting the
gaiety of the throng.

"Be careful, kid; don't lean too far..."

"Oh, ki, if dey don't exchange kisses!"

But the appearance of the Cunan Constabulary, handsome youngsters,
looking the apotheosis themselves of earthly lawlessness, in their
feathered sun-hats and bouncing kilts, created a diversion.

"De way dey stare up; I goin' to put on a tiara!"

"Wait, do, till supper," he entreated, manipulating the long-glass to
suit his eye.

Driving or on foot, were the usual faces.

Seated on a doorstep, Miss Maxine Bush, the famous actress, appeared to
be rehearsing a smart society rôle, as she flapped the air with a sheet
of street-foul paper, while, rattling a money-box, her tame monkey,
"Jutland-ho," came as prompt for a coin as any demned Duchess.

"Ha-ha, Oh, hi-hi!" Edna's blasted catches. "Bless her," he exclaimed,
re-levelling the glass. Perfect. Good lenses these; one could even read a
physician's doorplate across they way: "Hours 2-4, Agony
guaranteed"--obviously, a dentist; and the window-card, too, above,
"Miss--? Miss--? Specialty: Men past thirty."

Four years to wait. Patience.

Ooof! There went "Alice" and one of her boys. Bad days for the ballet!
People afraid of the Opera-house... that chandelier... and the pictures
on the roof... And wasn't that little Lady Bird? running at all the
trousers: "_have_ you your crucifix!...??"

"Honey..."

She had set a crown of moonstones on her head, and had moonstone
bracelets on her arms.

"My queen."

"I hope Mimi look up at me!"

"Vain one."

Over the glistering city the shadows were falling, staining the
white-walled houses here and there as with some purple pigment.

"Accordin' to de lates' 'tickler, de Procession follow de Paseo only as
far as de fountain."

"Oh..."

"Where it turn up thu Carmen Street, into de Avenue Messalina."

Upon the metallic sheen of the evening sky she sketched the itinerary
lightly with her fan.

And smiling down on her uplifted face, he asked himself whimsically how
long he would love her. She had not the brains, poor child, of course, to
keep a man for ever. Heigho. Life indeed was often hard...

"Honey, here dey come!"

A growing murmur of distant voices, jointly singing, filled liturgically
the air, just as the warning salute, fired at sundown from the heights of
the fort above the town, reverberated sadly.

"Oh, la, la," she laughed, following the wheeling flight of some birds
that rose started from the palms.

"The Angelus..."

"Hark, honey: what is dat dey singin'?"

    _A thousand ages in Thy sight
    Are like an evening gone;
    Short as the watch that ends the night
    Before the rising sun._

Led by an old negress leaning on her hickory staff, the procession came.

Banners, banners, banners.

"I hope Mimi wave!"

Floating banners against the dusk...

"Oh, honey! See dat lil pilgrim-boy?"

    _Time like an ever-rolling stream,
    Bears all its sons away;
    They fly forgotten, as a dream
    Dies at the opening day._

"Mimi, Mimi!" She had flung the roses from her dress. "Look up, my deah,
look up."

But her cry escaped unheard.

    _They fly forgotten, as a dream
    Dies----_

The echoing voices of those behind lingered a little.

"Edna."

She was crying.

"It noddin'; noddin' at all! But it plain she refuse to forgib me!"

"Never."

"Perspirin', an' her skirt draggin, sh'o, she looked a fright."

He smiled: for indeed already the world was perceptibly moulding her...

"Enuff to scare ebbery crow off de savannah!"

"And wouldn't the farmers bless her."

"Oh, honey!" Her glance embraced the long, lamp-lit avenue with
suppressed delight.

"Well."

"Dair's a new dancer at de Apollo to-night. Suppose we go?"



Havana--Bordighera.



THE END



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