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THE CONSUL

By Richard Harding Davis



For over forty years, in one part of the world or another, old man
Marshall had, served his country as a United States consul. He had
been appointed by Lincoln. For a quarter of a century that fact was his
distinction. It was now his epitaph. But in former years, as each new
administration succeeded the old, it had again and again saved his
official head. When victorious and voracious place-hunters, searching
the map of the world for spoils, dug out his hiding-place and demanded
his consular sign as a reward for a younger and more aggressive party
worker, the ghost of the dead President protected him. In the State
Department, Marshall had become a tradition. "You can't touch Him!"
the State Department would say; "why, HE was appointed by Lincoln!"
Secretly, for this weapon against the hungry headhunters, the department
was infinitely grateful. Old man Marshall was a consul after its own
heart. Like a soldier, he was obedient, disciplined; wherever he was
sent, there, without question, he would go. Never against exile, against
ill-health, against climate did he make complaint. Nor when he was moved
on and down to make way for some ne'er-do-well with influence, with a
brother-in-law in the Senate, with a cousin owning a newspaper, with
rich relatives who desired him to drink himself to death at the expense
of the government rather than at their own, did old man Marshall point
to his record as a claim for more just treatment.

And it had been an excellent record. His official reports, in a quaint,
stately hand, were models of English; full of information, intelligent,
valuable, well observed. And those few of his countrymen, who stumbled
upon him in the out-of-the-world places to which of late he had been
banished, wrote of him to the department in terms of admiration and awe.
Never had he or his friends petitioned for promotion, until it was
at last apparent that, save for his record and the memory of his dead
patron, he had no friends. But, still in the department the tradition
held and, though he was not advanced, he was not dismissed.

"If that old man's been feeding from the public trough ever since the
Civil War," protested a "practical" politician, "it seems to me, Mr.
Secretary, that he's about had his share. Ain't it time he give some
one else a bite? Some of us that has, done the work, that has borne the
brunt - - "

"This place he now holds," interrupted the Secretary of State suavely,
"is one hardly commensurate with services like yours. I can't pronounce
the name of it, and I'm not sure just where it is, but I see that, of
the last six consuls we sent there, three resigned within a month and
the other three died of yellow-fever. Still, if you insist - - "

The practical politician reconsidered hastily. "I'm not the sort,"
he protested, "to turn out a man appointed by our martyred President.
Besides, he's so old now, if the fever don't catch him, he'll die of old
age, anyway."

The Secretary coughed uncomfortably. "And they say," he murmured,
"republics are ungrateful."

"I don't quite get that," said the practical politician.

Of Porto Banos, of the Republic of Colombia, where as consul Mr.
Marshall was upholding the dignity of the United States, little could
be said except that it possessed a sure harbor. When driven from the
Caribbean Sea by stress of weather, the largest of ocean tramps, and
even battle-ships, could find in its protecting arms of coral a safe
shelter. But, as young Mr. Aiken, the wireless operator, pointed out,
unless driven by a hurricane and the fear of death, no one ever visited
it. Back of the ancient wharfs, that dated from the days when Porto
Banos was a receiver of stolen goods for buccaneers and pirates, were
rows of thatched huts, streets, according to the season, of dust or
mud, a few iron-barred, jail-like barracks, customhouses, municipal
buildings, and the whitewashed adobe houses of the consuls. The backyard
of the town was a swamp. Through this at five each morning a rusty
engine pulled a train of flat cars to the base of the mountains, and, if
meanwhile the rails had not disappeared into the swamp, at five in the
evening brought back the flat cars laden with odorous coffeesacks.

In the daily life of Porto Banos, waiting for the return of the train,
and betting if it would return, was the chief interest. Each night the
consuls, the foreign residents, the wireless operator, the manager of
the rusty railroad met for dinner. There at the head of the long table,
by virtue of his years, of his courtesy and distinguished manner, of his
office, Mr. Marshall presided. Of the little band of exiles he was
the chosen ruler. His rule was gentle. By force of example he had made
existence in Porto Banos more possible. For women and children Porto
Banos was a death-trap, and before "old man Marshall" came there had
been no influence to remind the enforced bachelors of other days.

They had lost interest, had grown lax, irritable, morose. Their white
duck was seldom white. Their cheeks were unshaven. When the sun sank
into the swamp and the heat still turned Porto Banos into a Turkish
bath, they threw dice on the greasy tables of the Cafe Bolivar for
drinks. The petty gambling led to petty quarrels; the drinks to fever.
The coming of Mr. Marshall changed that. His standard of life, his
tact, his worldly wisdom, his cheerful courtesy, his fastidious personal
neatness shamed the younger men; the desire to please him, to, stand
well in his good opinion, brought back pride and self-esteem.

The lieutenant of her Majesty's gun-boat PLOVER noted the change.

"Used to be," he exclaimed, "you couldn't get out of the Cafe Bolivar
without some one sticking a knife in you; now it's a debating club.
They all sit round a table and listen to an old gentleman talk world
politics."

If Henry Marshall brought content to the exiles of Porto Banos, there
was little in return that Porto Banos could give to him. Magazines and
correspondents in six languages kept him in touch with those foreign
lands in which he had represented his country, but of the country he had
represented, newspapers and periodicals showed him only too clearly
that in forty years it had grown away from him, had changed beyond
recognition.

When last he had called at the State Department, he had been made to
feel he was a man without a country, and when he visited his home town
in Vermont, he was looked upon as a Rip Van Winkle. Those of his boyhood
friends who were not dead had long thought of him as dead. And the
sleepy, pretty village had become a bustling commercial centre. In
the lanes where, as a young man, he had walked among wheatfields,
trolley-cars whirled between rows of mills and factories. The children
had grown to manhood, with children of their own.

Like a ghost, he searched for house after house, where once he had been
made welcome, only to find in its place a towering office building.
"All had gone, the old familiar faces." In vain he scanned even the shop
fronts for a friendly, homelike name. Whether the fault was his,
whether he would better have served his own interests than those of his
government, it now was too late to determine. In his own home, he was a
stranger among strangers. In the service he had so faithfully followed,
rank by rank, he had been dropped, until now he, who twice had been a
consul-general, was an exile, banished to a fever swamp. The great Ship
of State had dropped him overside, had "marooned" him, and sailed away.

Twice a day he walked along the shell road to the Cafe Bolivar, and back
again to the consulate. There, as he entered the outer office, Jose, the
Colombian clerk, would rise and bow profoundly.

"Any papers for me to sign, Jose?" the consul would ask.

"Not to-day, Excellency," the clerk would reply. Then Jose would return
to writing a letter to his lady-love; not that there was any-thing to
tell her, but because writing on the official paper of the consulate
gave him importance in his eyes, and in hers. And in the inner office
the consul would continue to gaze at the empty harbor, the empty coral
reefs, the empty, burning sky.

The little band of exiles were at second break fast when the wireless
man came in late to announce that a Red D. boat and the island of
Curacao had both reported a hurricane coming north. Also, that much
concern was felt for the safety of the yacht SERAPIS. Three days before,
in advance of her coming, she had sent a wireless to Wilhelmstad, asking
the captain of the port to reserve a berth for her. She expected to
arrive the following morning. But for forty-eight hours nothing had
been heard from her, and it was believed she had been overhauled by the
hurricane. Owing to the presence on board of Senator Hanley, the closest
friend of the new President, the man who had made him president, much
concern was felt at Washington. To try to pick her up by wireless, the
gun-boat NEWARK had been ordered from Culebra, the cruiser RALEIGH,
with Admiral Hardy on board, from Colon. It was possible she would seek
shelter at Porto Banos. The consul was ordered to report.

As Marshall wrote out his answer, the French consul exclaimed with
interest:

"He is of importance, then, this senator?" he asked. "Is it that in your
country ships of war are at the service of a senator?"

Aiken, the wireless operator, grinned derisively.

"At the service of THIS senator, they are!" he answered. "They call him
the 'king-maker,' the man behind the throne."

"But in your country," protested the Frenchman, "there is no throne. I
thought your president was elected by the people?"

"That's what the people think," answered Aiken. "In God's country,"
he explained, "the trusts want a rich man in the Senate, with the same
interests as their own, to represent them. They chose Hanley. He picked
out of the candidates for the presidency the man he thought would help
the interests. He nominated him, and the people voted for him. Hanley is
what we call a 'boss.'"

The Frenchman looked inquiringly at Marshall.

"The position of the boss is the more dangerous," said Marshall gravely,
"because it is unofficial, because there are no laws to curtail his
powers. Men like Senator Hanley are a menace to good government. They
see in public office only a reward for party workers."

"That's right," assented Aiken. "Your forty years' service, Mr. Consul,
wouldn't count with Hanley. If he wanted your job, he'd throw you out as
quick as he would a drunken cook."

Mr. Marshall flushed painfully, and the French consul hastened to
interrupt.

"Then, let us pray," he exclaimed, with fervor, "that the hurricane has
sunk the SERAPIS, and all on board."

Two hours later, the SERAPIS, showing she had met the hurricane and had
come out second best, steamed into the harbor.

Her owner was young Herbert Livingstone, of Washington. He once had
been in the diplomatic service, and, as minister to The Hague, wished to
return to it. In order to bring this about he had subscribed liberally
to the party campaign fund.

With him, among other distinguished persons, was the all-powerful
Hanley. The kidnapping of Hanley for the cruise, in itself, demonstrated
the ability of Livingstone as a diplomat. It was the opinion of
many that it would surely lead to his appointment as a minister
plenipotentiary. Livingstone was of the same opinion. He had not lived
long in the nation's capital without observing the value of propinquity.
How many men he knew were now paymasters, and secretaries of legation,
solely because those high in the government met them daily at the
Metropolitan Club, and preferred them in almost any other place. And if,
after three weeks as his guest on board what the newspapers called his
floating palace, the senator could refuse him even the prize, legation
of Europe, there was no value in modest merit. As yet, Livingstone
had not hinted at his ambition. There was no need. To a statesman of
Hanley's astuteness, the largeness of Livingstone's contribution to the
campaign fund was self-explanatory.

After her wrestling-match with the hurricane, all those on board the
SERAPIS seemed to find in land, even in the swamp land of Porto Banos,
a compelling attraction. Before the anchors hit the water, they were
in the launch. On reaching shore, they made at once for the consulate.
There were many cables they wished to start on their way by wireless;
cables to friends, to newspapers, to the government.

Jose, the Colombian clerk, appalled by the unprecedented invasion of
visitors, of visitors so distinguished, and Marshall, grateful for a
chance to serve his fellow-countrymen, and especially his countrywomen,
were ubiquitous, eager, indispensable. At Jose's desk the great senator,
rolling his cigar between his teeth, was using, to Jose's ecstasy,
Jose's own pen to write a reassuring message to the White House. At
the consul's desk a beautiful creature, all in lace and pearls, was
struggling to compress the very low opinion she held of a hurricane
into ten words. On his knee, Henry Cairns, the banker, was inditing
instructions to his Wall Street office, and upon himself Livingstone
had taken the responsibility of replying to the inquiries heaped upon
Marshall's desk, from many newspapers.

It was just before sunset, and Marshall produced his tea things, and the
young person in pearls and lace, who was Miss Cairns, made tea for the
women, and the men mixed gin and limes with tepid water. The consul
apologized for proposing a toast in which they could not join. He begged
to drink to those who had escaped the perils of the sea. Had they been
his oldest and nearest friends, his little speech could not have been
more heart-felt and sincere. To his distress, it moved one of the ladies
to tears, and in embarrassment he turned to the men.

"I regret there is no ice," he said, "but you know the rule of the
tropics; as soon as a ship enters port, the ice-machine bursts."

"I'll tell the steward to send you some, sir," said Livingstone, "and as
long as we're here."

The senator showed his concern.

"As long as we're here?" he gasped.

"Not over two days," answered the owner nervously. "The chief says
it will take all of that to get her in shape. As you ought to know,
Senator, she was pretty badly mauled."

The senator gazed blankly out of the window. Beyond it lay the naked
coral reefs, the empty sky, and the ragged palms of Porto Banos.

Livingstone felt that his legation was slipping from him.

"That wireless operator," he continued hastily, "tells me there is a
most amusing place a few miles down the coast, Las Bocas, a sort of
Coney Island, where the government people go for the summer. There's
surf bathing and roulette and cafes chantants. He says there's some
Spanish dancers - - "

The guests of the SERAPIS exclaimed with interest; the senator smiled.
To Marshall the general enthusiasm over the thought of a ride on a
merry-go-round suggested that the friends of Mr. Livingstone had found
their own society far from satisfying.

Greatly encouraged, Livingstone continued, with enthusiasm:

"And that wireless man said," he added, "that with the launch we can
get there in half an hour. We might run down after dinner." He turned to
Marshall.

"Will you join us, Mr. Consul?" he asked, "and dine with us, first?"

Marshall accepted with genuine pleasure. It had been many months
since he had sat at table with his own people. But he shook his head
doubtfully.

"I was wondering about Las Bocas," he explained, "if your going there
might not get you in trouble at the next port. With a yacht, I think it
is different, but Las Bocas is under quarantine."

There was a chorus of exclamations.

"It's not serious," Marshall explained. "There was bubonic plague there,
or something like it. You would be in no danger from that. It is only
that you might be held up by the regulations. Passenger steamers
can't land any one who has been there at any other port of the
West Indies. The English are especially strict. The Royal Mail won't
even receive any one on board here without a certificate from the
English consul saying he has not visited Las Bocas. For an American
they would require the same guarantee from me. But I don't think the
regulations extend to yachts. I will inquire. I don't wish to deprive
you of any of the many pleasures of Porto Banos," he added, smiling,
"but if you were refused a landing at your next port I would blame
myself."

"It's all right," declared Livingstone decidedly. "It's just as you say;
yachts and warships are exempt. Besides, I carry my own doctor, and if
he won't give us a clean bill of health, I'll make him walk the plank.
At eight, then, at dinner. I'll send the cutter for you. I can't give
you a salute, Mr. Consul, but you shall have all the side boys I can
muster."

Those from the yacht parted from their consul in the most friendly
spirit.

"I think he's charming!" exclaimed Miss Cairns. "And did you notice his
novels? They were in every language. It must be terribly lonely down
here, for a man like that."

"He's the first of our consuls we've met on this trip," growled her
father, "that we've caught sober."

"Sober!" exclaimed his wife indignantly.

"He's one of the Marshalls of Vermont. I asked him."

"I wonder," mused Hanley, "how much the place is worth? Hamilton, one of
the new senators, has been deviling the life out of me to send his son
somewhere. Says if he stays in Washington he'll disgrace the family. I
should think this place would drive any man to drink himself to death in
three months, and young Hamilton, from what I've seen of him, ought to
be able to do it in a week. That would leave the place open for the next
man."

"There's a postmaster in my State thinks he carried it." The senator
smiled grimly. "He has consumption, and wants us to give him a
consulship in the tropics. I'll tell him I've seen Porto Banos, and that
it's just the place for him."

The senator's pleasantry was not well received. But Miss Cairns alone
had the temerity to speak of what the others were thinking.

"What would become of Mr. Marshall?" she asked. The senator smiled
tolerantly.

"I don't know that I was thinking of Mr. Marshall," he said. "I can't
recall anything he has done for this administration. You see, Miss
Cairns," he explained, in the tone of one addressing a small child,
"Marshall has been abroad now for forty years, at the expense of the
taxpayers. Some of us think men who have lived that long on their
fellow-countrymen had better come home and get to work."

Livingstone nodded solemnly in assent. He did not wish a post abroad at
the expense of the taxpayers. He was willing to pay for it. And then,
with "ex-Minister" on his visiting cards, and a sense of duty well
performed, for the rest of his life he could join the other expatriates
in Paris.

Just before dinner, the cruiser RALEIGH having discovered the
whereabouts of the SERAPIS by wireless, entered the harbor, and Admiral
Hardy came to the yacht to call upon the senator, in whose behalf he
had been scouring the Caribbean Seas. Having paid his respects to that
personage, the admiral fell boisterously upon Marshall.

The two old gentlemen were friends of many years. They had met,
officially and unofficially, in many strange parts of the world. To
each the chance reunion was a piece of tremendous good fortune. And
throughout dinner the guests of Livingstone, already bored with each
other, found in them and their talk of former days new and delightful
entertainment. So much so that when, Marshall having assured them that
the local quarantine regulations did not extend to a yacht, the men
departed for Las Bocas, the women insisted that he and admiral remain
behind.

It was for Marshall a wondrous evening. To foregather with his old
friend whom he had known since Hardy was a mad midshipman, to sit at
the feet of his own charming countrywomen, to listen to their soft,
modulated laughter, to note how quickly they saw that to him the evening
was a great event, and with what tact each contributed to make it the
more memorable; all served to wipe out the months of bitter loneliness,
the stigma of failure, the sense of undeserved neglect. In the
moonlight, on the cool quarter-deck, they sat, in a half-circle, each
of the two friends telling tales out of school, tales of which the
other was the hero or the victim, "inside" stories of great occasions,
ceremonies, bombardments, unrecorded "shirt-sleeve" diplomacy.

Hardy had helped to open the Suez Canal. Marshall had assisted the Queen
of Madagascar to escape from the French invaders. On the Barbary Coast
Hardy had chased pirates. In Edinburgh Marshall had played chess with
Carlyle. He had seen Paris in mourning in the days of the siege, Paris
in terror in the days of the Commune; he had known Garibaldi, Gambetta,
the younger Dumas, the creator of Pickwick.

"Do you remember that time in Tangier," the admiral urged, "when I was a
midshipman, and got into the bashaw's harem?"

"Do you remember how I got you out? Marshall replied grimly.

"And," demanded Hardy, "do you remember when Adelina Patti paid a visit
to the KEARSARGE at Marseilles in '65 - George Dewey was our second
officer - and you were bowing and backing away from her, and you backed
into an open hatch, and she said 'my French isn't up to it' what was it
she said?"

"I didn't hear it," said Marshall; "I was too far down the hatch."

"Do you mean the old KEARSARGE?" asked Mrs. Cairns. "Were you in the
service then, Mr. Marshall?"

With loyal pride in his friend, the admiral answered for him:

"He was our consul-general at Marseilles!"

There was an uncomfortable moment. Even those denied imagination could
not escape the contrast, could see in their mind's eye the great harbor
of Marseilles, crowded with the shipping of the world, surrounding
it the beautiful city, the rival of Paris to the north, and on the
battleship the young consul-general making his bow to the young Empress
of Song. And now, before their actual eyes, they saw the village of
Porto Banos, a black streak in the night, a row of mud shacks, at the
end of the wharf a single lantern yellow in the clear moonlight.

Later in the evening Miss Cairns led the admiral to one side.

"Admiral," she began eagerly, "tell me about your friend. Why is he
here? Why don't they give him a place worthy of him? I've seen many of
our representatives abroad, and I know we cannot afford to waste men
like that." The girl exclaimed indignantly: "He's one of the most
interesting men I've ever met! He's lived everywhere, known every one.
He's a distinguished man, a cultivated man; even I can see he knows his
work, that he's a diplomat, born, trained, that he's - - " The admiral
interrupted with a growl.

"You don't have to tell ME about Henry," he protested. "I've known Henry
twenty-five years. If Henry got his deserts," he exclaimed hotly, "he
wouldn't be a consul on this coral reef; he'd be a minister in Europe.
Look at me! We're the same age. We started together. When Lincoln sent
him to Morocco as consul, he signed my commission as a midshipman.
Now I'm an admiral. Henry has twice my brains and he's been a
consul-general, and he's HERE, back at the foot of the ladder!"

"Why?" demanded the girl.

"Because the navy is a service and the consular service isn't a service.
Men like Senator Hanley use it to pay their debts. While Henry's been
serving his country abroad, he's lost his friends, lost his 'pull.'
Those politicians up at Washington have no use for him. They don't
consider that a consul like Henry can make a million dollars for his
countrymen. He can keep them from shipping goods where there's no
market, show them where there is a market." The admiral snorted
contemptuously. "You don't have to tell ME the value of a good consul.
But those politicians don't consider that. They only see that he has
a job worth a few hundred dollars, and they want it, and if he hasn't
other politicians to protect him, they'll take it." The girl raised her
head.

"Why don't you speak to the senator?" she asked. "Tell him you've known
him for years, that - - "

"Glad to do it!" exclaimed the admiral heartily. "It won't be the first
time. But Henry mustn't know. He's too confoundedly touchy. He hates the
IDEA of influence, hates men like Hanley, who abuse it. If he thought
anything was given to him except on his merits, he wouldn't take it."

"Then we won't tell him," said the girl. For a moment she hesitated.

"If I spoke to Mr. Hanley," she asked, "told him what I learned to-night


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