The Unspeakable Perk
The Unspeakable Perk
II. - AT THE KAST
One dines at the Gran Hotel Kast after the fashion of a champignon sous cloche. The top of the cloche is of fluted glass, with a wide aperture between it and the sides, to admit the rain in the wet season and the flies in the dry. Three balconies run up from the dining-room well to this roof, and upon these, as near to the railings as they choose, the rather conglomerate patronage of the place sleeps, takes baths, dresses, gossips, makes love, quarrels, and exchanges prophecies as to next Sunday's bullfight, while the diners below strive to select from the bill of fare special morsels upon which they will stake their internal peace for the day. No cabaret can hold a candle to it for variety of interest. When the sudden torrential storms sweep down the mountains at meal times, the little human champignons, beneath their insufficient cloche, rush about wildly seeking spots where the drippage will not wash their food away. Commercial travelers of the tropics have a saying: "There are worse hotels in the world than the Kast-but why take the trouble?" And, year upon year, they return there for reasons connected with the other hostelries of Caracuna, which I forbear to specify.
To Miss Polly Brewster, the Kast was a place of romance. Five miles away, as the buzzard flies, she could have dined well, even elegantly, on the Brewster yacht. Would she have done it? Not for worlds! Miss Brewster was entranced by the courtly manners of her waiter, who had lost one ear and no small part of the countenance adjacent thereto, only too obviously through the agency of some edged instrument not wielded in the arts of peace. She was further delightedly intrigued by the abrupt appearance of a romantic-hued gentleman, who thrust out over the void from the second balcony an anguished face, one side of which was profusely lathered, and addressed to all the hierarchy of heaven above, and the peoples of the earth beneath, a passionate protest upon the subject of a cherished and vanished shaving brush; what time, below, the head waiter was hastily removing from sight, though not from memory, a soup tureen whose agitated surface bore a creamy froth not of a lacteal origin. One may not with impunity balance personal implements upon the too tremulous rails of the ancient Kast.
With an appreciative and glowing eye, Miss Brewster read from her mimeographed bill of fare such legends as "ropa con carne," "bacalao seco," "enchiladas," and meantime devoured chechenaca, which, had it been translated into its just and simple English of "hash," she would not have given to her cat.
Nor did her visual and prandial preoccupations inhibit her from a lively interest in the surrounding Babel of speech in mingled Spanish, Dutch, German, English, Italian, and French, all at the highest pitch, for a few rods away the cathedral bells were saluting Heaven with all the clangor and din of the other place, and only the strident of voice gained any heed in that contest. Even after the bells paused, the habit of effort kept the voices up. Miss Brewster, dining with her father a few hours after her return from the mountain, absolved her conscience from any intent of eavesdropping in overhearing the talk of the table to the right of her. The remark that first fixed her attention was in English, of the super-British patois.
"Can't tell wot the blighter might look like behind those bloomin' brown glasses."
"But he's not bothersome to any one," suggested a second speaker, in a slightly foreign accent. "He regards his own affairs."
"Right you are, bo!" approved a tall, deeply browned man of thirty, all sinewy angles, who, from the shoulders up, suggested nothing so much as a club with a gnarled knob on the end of it, a tough, reliable, hardwood club, capable of dealing a stiff blow in an honest cause. "If he deals in conversation, he must SELL it. I don't notice him giving any of it away."
"He gave s