Since April tenth I had been settled in notorious House 111, Ancon, a sort of frontiersman resort or smugglers’ retreat—had there been anything to smuggle—where to have fallen through the veranda screening would have been to fall into a foreign land. As pay-day approached there came the duty of standing a half-hour at the station gate before the departure of each train to watch and discuss with the ponderous, smiling, dark-skinned chief of Panama’s plain-clothes squad, or with a vigilante the suspicious characters and known crooks of all colors going out along the line. On the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth the I. C. C. pay-car, that bank on wheels guarded by a squad of Z. P., sprinkled its half-million a day along the Zone. Then plain-clothes duty was not merely to scan the embarking passengers but to ride out with each train to one of the busy towns. There scores upon scores of soil-smeared workmen swarmed over all the landscape with long paper-wrapped rolls of Panamanian silver in their hands, while flashily dressed touts and crooks of both sexes drifted out from Panama with every train to worm their insidious way into wherever the scent of coin promised another month free from labor. To add to those crowded times the chief dissipation of the West Indian during the few days following pay-day that his earnings last is to ride aimlessly and joyously back and forth on the trains.
There is one advantage, though some policemen call it by quite the opposite name, in being stationed at Ancon. When crime takes a holiday and do-nothing threatens tropical dementia, or a man tires of his native land and people a short stroll down the asphalt takes him into the city of Panama. Barely across the street where his badge becomes mere metal, and he must take care not to arrest absent-mindedly the first violator of Zone laws—whom he is sure to come upon within the first block—he notes that the English tongue has suddenly almost disappeared. On every hand, lightly sprinkled with many other dialects, sounds Spanish, the slovenly Spanish of Panama in which bueno is “hueno” and calle is “caye.” As he swings languidly to the right into Avenida Central he grows gradually aware that there has settled down about him a cold indifference, an atmosphere quite different from that on his own side of the line. Those he addresses in the tongue of the land reply to his questions with their customary gestures and fixed phrases of courtesy. But no more; and a cold dead silence falls sharply upon the last word, and at times, if the experience be comparatively new, there seems to hover in the air something that reminds him that way back fifty-six years ago there was a “massacre” of Americans in Panama city. For the Panamanian has little love for the United States or its people; which is the customary thanks any man or nation gets for lifting a dirty half-breed gamin from the gutter.