"In the tropics" ("Hop-along" Bibb, the bird fancier, was saying to me)
"the seasons, months, fortnights, week-ends, holidays, dog-days, Sundays,
and yesterdays get so jumbled together in the shuffle that you never know
when a year has gone by until you're in the middle of the next one."
"Hop-along" Bibb kept his bird store on lower Fourth Avenue. He was an
ex-seaman and beachcomber who made regular voyages to southern ports and
imported personally conducted invoices of talking parrots and dialectic
paroquets. He had a stiff knee, neck, and nerve. I had gone to him to
buy a parrot to present, at Christmas, to my Aunt Joanna.
"This one," said I, disregarding his homily on the subdivisions of time --
"this one that seems all red, white, and blue -- to what genus of beasts
does he belong? He appeals at once to my patriotism and to my love of
discord in colour schemes."
"That's a cockatoo from Ecuador," said Bibb. "All he has been taught to
say is "Merry Christmas." A seasonable bird. He's only seven dollars; and
I'll bet many a human has stuck you for more money by making the same
speech to you."
And then Bibb laughed suddenly and loudly.
"That bird," he explained, "reminds me. He's got his dates mixed. He
ought to be saying '_E pluri bus unum_,' to match his feathers, instead of
trying to work the Santa Claus graft. It reminds me of the time me and
Liverpool Sam got our ideas of things tangled up on the coast of Costa
Rica on account of the weather and other phenomena to be met with in the
"We were, as it were, stranded on that section of the Spanish main with no
money to speak of and no friends that should be talked about either. We
had stoked and second-cooked ourselves down there on a fruit steamer from
New Orleans to try our luck, which was discharged, after we got there, for
lack of evidence. There was no work suitable to our instincts; so me and
Liverpool began to subsist on the red rum of the country and such fruit as
we could reap where we had not sown. It was an alluvial town, called
Soledad, where there was no harbour or future or recourse. Between
steamers the town slept and drank rum. It only woke up when there were
bananas to ship. It was like a man sleeping through dinner until the
"When me and Liverpool got so low down that the American consul wouldn't
speak to us we knew we'd struck bed rock.
"We boarded with a snuff-brown lady named Chica, who kept a rum-shop and a
ladies' and gents' restaurant in a street called the _calle de los_
Forty-seven Inconsolable Saints. When our credit played out there,
Liverpool, whose stomach overshadowed his sensations of _noblesse oblige_,
married Chica. This kept us in rice and fried plantain for a month; and
then Chica pounded Liverpool one morning sadly and earnestly for fifteen
minutes with a casserole handed down from the stone age, and we knew that
we had out-welcomed our liver. That night we signed an engagement with
Don Jaime McSpinosa, a hybrid banana fancier of the place, to work on his
fruit preserves nine miles out of town. We had to do it or be reduced to
sea water and broken doses of feed and slumber.
"Now, speaking of Liverpool Sam, I don't malign or inexculpate him to you
any more than I would to his face. But in my opinion, when an Englishman
gets as low as he can he's got to dodge so that the dregs of other nations
don't drop ballast on him out of their balloons. And if he's a Liverpool
Englishman, why, fire-damp is what he's got to look out for. Being a
natural American, that's my personal view. But Liverpool and me had much
in common. We were without decorous clothes or ways and means of exist
ence; and, as the saying goes, misery certainly does enjoy the society of
"Our job on old McSpinosa's plantation was chopping down banana stalks and
loading the bunches of fruit on the backs of horses. Then a native
dressed up in an alligator hide belt, a machete, and a pair of AA sheeting
pajamas, drives 'em over to the coast and piles 'em up on the beach.
"You ever been in a banana grove? It's as solemn as a rathskeller at
seven A. M. It's like being lost behind the scenes at one of these
mushroom musical shows. You can't see the sky for the foliage above you;
and the ground is knee deep in rotten leaves; and it's so still that you
can hear the stalks growing again after you chop 'em down.
"At night me and Liverpool herded in a lot of grass huts on the edge of a
lagoon with the red, yellow, and black employes of Don Jaime. There we
lay fighting mosquitoes and listening to the monkeys squalling and the
alligators grunting and splashing in the lagoon until daylight with only
snatches of sleep between times.
"We soon lost all idea of what time of the year it was. It's just about
eighty degrees there in December and June and on Fridays and at midnight
and election day and any other old time. Sometimes it rains more than at
others, and that's all the difference you notice. A man is liable to live
along there without noticing any fugiting of tempus until some day the
undertaker calls in for him just when he's beginning to think about
cutting out the gang and saving up a little to invest in real estate.
"I don't know how long we worked for Don Jaime; but it was through two or
thee rainy spells, eight or ten hair cuts, and the life of thee pairs of
sail-cloth trousers. All the money we earned went for rum and tobacco;
but we ate, and that was something.
"All of a sudden one day me and Liverpool find the trade of committing
surgical operations on banana stalks turning to aloes and quinine in our
mouths. It's a seizure that often comes upon white men in Latin and
geographical countries. We wanted to be addressed again in language and
see the smoke of a steamer and read the real estate transfers and gents'
outfitting ads in an old newspaper. Even Soledad seemed like a centre of
civilization to us, so that evening we put our thumbs on our nose at Don
Jaime's fruit stand and shook his grass burrs off our feet.
"It was only twelve miles to Soledad, but it took me and Liverpool two
days to get there. It was banana grove nearly all the way; and we got
twisted time and again. It was like paging the palm room of a New York
hotel for a man named Smith.
"When we saw the houses of Soledad between the trees all my disinclination
toward this Liverpool Sam rose up in me. I stood him while we were two
white men against the banana brindles; but now, when there were prospects
of my exchanging even cuss words with an American citizen, I put him back
in his proper place. And he was a sight, too, with his rum-painted nose
and his red whiskers and elephant feet with leather sandals strapped to
them. I suppose I looked about the same.
"'It looks to me,' says I, 'like Great Britain ought to be made to keep
such gin-swilling, scurvy, unbecoming mud larks as you at home instead of
sending 'em over here to degrade and taint foreign lands. We kicked you
out of America once and we ought to put on rubber boots and do it again.'
"'Oh, you go to 'ell,' says Liverpool, which was about all the repartee he
"Well, Soledad, looked fine to me after Don Jaime 's plantation.
Liverpool and me walked into it side by side, from force of habit, past
the calabosa and the Hotel Grande, down across the plaza toward Chica's
hut, where we hoped that Liverpool, being a husband of hers, might work
his luck for a meal.
"As we passed the two-story little frame house occupied by the American
Club, we noticed that the balcony had been decorated all around with
wreaths of evergreens and flowers, and the flag was flying from the pole
on the roof. Stanzey, the consul, and Ark-right, a gold-mine owner, were
smoking on the balcony. Me and Liverpool waved our dirty hands toward 'em
and smiled real society smiles; but they turned their backs to us and went
on talking. And we had played whist once with the two of 'em up to the ti
me when Liverpool held all thirteen trumps for four hands in succession.
It was some holiday, we knew; but we didn't know the day nor the year.
"A little further along we saw a reverend man named Pendergast, who had
come to Soledad to build a church, standing under a cocoanut palm with his
little black alpaca coat and green umbrella.
"'Boys, boys!' says he, through his blue spectacles, 'is it as bad as
this? Are you so far reduced?'
"'We're reduced,' says I, 'to very vulgar fractions.'
"'It is indeed sad,' says Pendergast, 'to see my countrymen in such
"'Cut 'arf of that out, old party,' says Liverpool. 'Cawn't you tell a
member of the British upper classes when you see one?'
"'Shut up,' I told Liverpool. 'You're on foreign soil now, or that
portion of it that's not on you.'
"'And on this day, too!' goes on Pendergast, grievous -- 'on this most
glorious day of the year when we should all be celebrating the dawn of
Christian civilization and the downfall of the wicked.'
"'I did notice bunting and bouquets decorating the town, reverend,' says
I, 'but I didn't know what it was for. We've been so long out of touch
with calendars that we didn't know whether it was summer time or Saturday
"'Here is two dollars,' says Pendergast digging up two Chili silver wheels
and handing 'em to me. 'Go, my men, and observe the rest of the day in a
"Me and Liverpool thanked him kindly, and walked away.
"'Shall we eat?' I asks.
"'Oh, 'ell!' says Liverpool. 'What's money for?' "'Very well, then,' I
says, 'since you insist upon it, we'll drink.'
"So we pull up in a rum shop and get a quart of it and go down on the
beach under a cocoanut tree and celebrate.
"Not having eaten anything but oranges in two days, the rum has immediate
effect; and once more I conjure up great repugnance toward the British
"'Stand up here,' I says to Liverpool, 'you scum of a despot limited
monarchy, and have another dose of Bunker Hill. That good man, Mr.
Pendergast,' says I, 'said we were to observe the day in a befitting
manner, and I'm not going to see his money misapplied.'
"'Oh, you go to 'ell!' says Liverpool, and I started in with a fine
left-hander on his right eye.
"Liverpool had been a fighter once, but dissipation and bad company had
taken the nerve out of him. In ten minutes I had him lying on the sand
waving the white flag.
"'Get up,' says I, kicking him in the ribs, 'and come along with me.'
"Liverpool got up and followed behind me because it was his habit, wiping
the red off his face and nose. I led him to Reverend Pendergast's shack
and called him out.
"'Look at this, sir,' says I -- 'look at this thing that was once a proud
Britisher. You gave us two dollars and told us to celebrate the day. The
star-spangled banner still waves. Hurrah for the stars and eagles!'
"'Dear me,' says Pendergast, holding up his hands. 'Fighting on this day
of all days! On Christmas day, when peace on --'
"'Christmas, hell!' says I. 'I thought it was the Fourth of July.'"
"Merry Christmas!" said the red, white, and blue cockatoo.
"Take him for six dollars," said Hop-along Bibb. "He's got his dates and