It was at Quito, the mountain capital of Ecuador, that the
following passage at correspondence took place. Having occasion
to buy a pair of shoes in a shop six feet by eight in size and
with walls three feet thick, I noticed a mangy leopard skin on the
floor. I had no Spanish. The shop-keeper had no English. But I
was an adept at sign language. I wanted to know where I should go
to buy leopard skins. On my scribble-pad I drew the interesting
streets of a city. Then I drew a small shop, which, after much
effort, I persuaded the proprietor into recognising as his shop.
Next, I indicated in my drawing that on the many streets there
were many shops. And, finally, I made myself into a living
interrogation mark, pointing all the while from the mangy leopard
skin to the many shops I had sketched.
But the proprietor failed to follow me. So did his assistant.
The street came in to help--that is, as many as could crowd into
the six-by-eight shop; while those that could not force their way
in held an overflow meeting on the sidewalk. The proprietor and
the rest took turns at talking to me in rapid-fire Spanish, and,
from the expressions on their faces, all concluded that I was
remarkably stupid. Again I went through my programme, pointing on
the sketch from the one shop to the many shops, pointing out that
in this particular shop was one leopard skin, and then questing
interrogatively with my pencil among all the shops. All regarded
me in blank silence, until I saw comprehension suddenly dawn on
the face of a small boy.
"Tigres montanya!" he cried.
This appealed to me as mountain tigers, namely, leopards; and in
token that he understood, the boy made signs for me to follow him,
which I obeyed. He led me for a quarter of a mile, and paused
before the doorway of a large building where soldiers slouched on
sentry duty and in and out of which went other soldiers.
Motioning for me to remain, he ran inside.
Fifteen minutes later he was out again, without leopard skins, but
full of information. By means of my card, of my hotel card, of my
watch, and of the boy's fingers, I learned the following: that at
six o'clock that evening he would arrive at my hotel with ten
leopard skins for my inspection. Further, I learned that the
skins were the property of one Captain Ernesto Becucci. Also, I
learned that the boy's name was Eliceo.
The boy was prompt. At six o'clock he was at my room. In his
hand was a small roll addressed to me. On opening it I found it
to be manuscript piano music, the Hora Tranquila Valse, or
"Tranquil Hour Waltz," by Ernesto Becucci. I came for leopard
skins, thought I, and the owner sends me sheet music instead. But
the boy assured me that he would have the skins at the hotel at
nine next morning, and I entrusted to him the following letter of
"DEAR CAPTAIN BECUCCI:
"A thousand thanks for your kind presentation of Hora Tranquila
Valse. Mrs. London will play it for me this evening.
Next morning Eliceo was back, but without the skins. Instead, he
gave me a letter, written in Spanish, of which the following is a
"To my dearest and always appreciated friend, I submit myself -
" I sent you last night an offering by the bearer of this note,
and you returned me a letter which I translated.
"Be it known to you, sir, that I am giving this waltz away in the
best society, and therefore to your honoured self. Therefore it
is beholden to you to recognise the attention, I mean by a
tangible return, as this composition was made by myself. You will
therefore send by your humble servant, the bearer, any offering,
however minute, that you may be prompted to make. Send it under
cover of an envelope. The bearer may be trusted.
"I did not indulge in the pleasure of visiting your honourable
self this morning, as I find my body not to be enjoying the normal
exercise of its functions.
"As regards the skins from the mountain, you shall be waited on by
a small boy at seven o'clock at night with ten skins from which
you may select those which most satisfy your aspirations.
"In the hope that you will look upon this in the same light as
myself, I beg to be allowed to remain,
"Your most faithful servant,
" CAPTAIN ERNESTO BECUCCI."
Well, thought I, this Captain Ernesto Becucci has shown himself to
be such an undependable person, that, while I don't mind rewarding
him for his composition, I fear me if I do I never shall lay eyes
on those leopard skins. So to Eliceo I gave this letter for the
"MY DEAR CAPTAIN BECUCCI:
"Have the boy bring the skins at seven o'clock this evening, when
I shall be glad to look at them. This evening when the boy brings
the skins, I shall be pleased to give him, in an envelope, for
you, a tangible return for your musical composition.
"Please put the price on each skin, and also let me know for what
sum all the skins will sell together.
Now, thought I, I have him. No skins, no tangible return; and
evidently he is set on receiving that tangible return.
At seven o'clock Eliceo was back, but without leopard skins. He
handed me this letter:
"I wish to instil in you the belief that I lost to-day, at half
past three in the afternoon, the key to my cubicle. While
distributing rations to the soldiers I dropped it. I see in this
loss the act of God.
"I received a letter from your honourable self, delivered by the
one who bears you this poor response of mine. To-morrow I will
burst open the door to permit me to keep my word with you. I feel
myself eternally shamed not to be able to dominate the evils that
afflict colonial mankind. Please send me the trifle that you
offered me. Send me this proof of your appreciation by the
bearer, who is to be trusted. Also give to him a small sum of
money for himself, and earn the undying gratitude of
Your most faithful servant,
"CAPTAIN ERNESTO BECUCCI."
Also, inclosed in the foregoing letter was the following original
poem, e propos neither of leopard skins nor tangible returns, so
far as I can make out:
Thou canst not weep;
Nor ask I for a year
To rid me of my woes
Or make my life more dear.
The mystic chains that bound
Thy all-fond heart to mine,
Alas! asundered are
For now and for all time.
In vain you strove to hide,
From vulgar gaze of man,
The burning glance of love
That none but Love can scan.
Go on thy starlit way
And leave me to my fate;
Our souls must needs unite -
But, God! 'twill be too late.
To all and sundry of which I replied:
"MY DEAR CAPTAIN BECUCCI:
"I regret exceedingly to hear that by act of God, at half past
three this afternoon, you lost the key to your cubicle. Please
have the boy bring the skins at seven o'clock to-morrow morning,
at which time, when he brings the skins, I shall be glad to make
you that tangible return for your "Tranquil Hour Waltz."
At seven o'clock came no skins, but the following:
"After offering you my most sincere respects, I beg to continue by
telling you that no one, up to the time of writing, has treated me
with such lack of attention. It was a present to GENTLEMEN who
were to retain the piece of music, and who have all, without
exception, made me a present of five dollars. It is beyond my
humble capacity to believe that you, after having offered to send
me money in an envelope, should fail to do so.
"Send me, I pray of you, the money to remunerate the small boy for
his repeated visits to you. Please be discreet and send it in an
envelope by the bearer.
"Last night I came to the hotel with the boy. You were dining. I
waited more than an hour for you and then went to the theatre.
Give the boy some small amount, and send me a like offering of
"Awaiting incessantly a slight attention on your part,
"CAPTAIN ERNESTO BECUCCI."
And here, like one of George Moore's realistic studies, ends this
intercourse with Captain Ernesto Becucci. Nothing happened.
Nothing ever came to anything. He got no tangible return, and I
got no leopard skins. The tangible return he might have got, I
presented to Eliceo, who promptly invested it in a pair of
trousers and a ticket to the bull-fight.
(NOTE TO EDITOR.--This is a faithful narration of what actually
happened in Quito, Ecuador.)