An hour later, everything settled to my satisfaction, I had discovered a vacant bed in Corozal bachelor quarters and was pulling off my coat preparatory to the shower-bath and a well-earned night’s repose. Suddenly I heard a peculiar noise in the adjoining room, much like that of a seal coming to the surface after being long under water. My curiosity awakened, I sauntered a few feet along the veranda. Beside one of the cots stood a short, roly-poly little man, the lower third of whom showed rosy pink below his bell-shaped white nightie. As he turned his face toward the light to switch it off I swallowed the roof of my mouth and clawed at the clap-boarding for support. It was “the Sloth!” He had been transferred. I slipped hastily into my coat and, turning up the collar, plunged out into the rain and the night and stumbled blindly away on weary legs towards Panama.
There were four of us that Sunday. “Bish” and I always went for an afternoon swim unless police or mess duties forbade. Then there was Bridgley, who had also once displayed his svelte form in a Z. P. uniform to admiring tourists, but was now a pursuer of “soldiering” Hindus on Naos Island. I wish I could describe Bridgley for you. But if you never knew him ten pages would give you no clearer idea, and if you ever did, the mere mention of the name Bridgley will be full and ample description. Still, if you must have some sort of a lay figure to hang your imaginings on, think of a man who always reminds you of a slender, delicate porcelain vase of great antiquity that you know a strong wind would smash to fragments,—yet when you accidentally swat it off the mantelpiece to the floor it bobs up without a crack. Then you grow bolder and more curious and jump on it with both feet in your hob-nailed boots, and to your astonishment it not only does not break but—
Well, Bridgley was one of us that Sunday afternoon; and then there was “the Admiral,” well-dressed as always, who turned up at the last moment; for which we were glad, as any one would be to have “the Admiral” along. So we descended into Panama by the train-guard short-cut and across the bridge that humps its back over the P. R. R. like a cat in unsocial mood, and on through Caledonia out along the beach sands past the old iron hulls about which Panamanian laborers are always tinkering under the impression that they are working. This time we walked. I don’t recall now whether it was quarter-cracks, or the Lieutenant hadn’t slept well—no, it couldn’t have been that, for the Lieutenant never let his personal mishaps trample on his good nature—or whether “Bish” had decided to try to reduce weight. At any rate we were afoot, and thereby hangs the tale—or as much of a tale as there is to tell.
We tramped resolutely on along the hard curving beach past the disheveled bath-houses before which ladies from the Zone gather in some force of a Sunday afternoon. For this time we were really out for a swim rather than to display our figures. On past the light-brown bathers, and the chocolate-colored bathers, and the jet black bathers who seemed to consider that color covering enough, till we came to the big silent saw-mill at the edge of the cocoanut grove that we had been invited long since to make a Z. P. dressing-room.