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Reportorial Reminiscences.


Reportorial Reminiscences. Page6 from a Journalist's Diary. 'Tvva,s a balmy September eve when first 1 met His Excellency. Doubtless there is truth in the old atuge anent the superiority of "second thoughts." Certain it is that I was, at the moment, favourably impressed. The conviction was irresistibly borne in upon me that here was a man whose very personality breatnea benignity, benevolence, and all other kindred and alliterative virtues. Possibly this premature conception had its birth m my immediately precedent appointment to a temporary, yet lucrative, post on the lega. tion entourage. Shorn, however, of the idealistic mantle and mask with which a momentary and fantastic impulse had clothed him, one saw a dmiin. uitive, sallow-complexioned man, whose fierce military inoustacne and bristling iron-grey kair were in ludicrous contrast to the physique they adorned. His conversational acquaintance witn the English tongue was mainly of the monosyllabic, ejaculatory order, but his mast- ery of sybiiant Spanish was such as was cal- culated to astonish those of a race more'phieg- matic. In either instance, the tone and accent wera those of a man easily irritated, readily angered; of a man autocratie and unreasoning in his bearing; of a man who would brook neither interference, persuasion, nor argument. Such were my more mature impressions oi the "Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Pleni- potentiary" of the most stable of Central American States—of a man whose ostensible mission was one of peace and arbitration. Subsequent investigation of my temporarily exalted status proved remarkably instructive if scarcely reassuring. His Excellency had had occasion for the services of four steno- graphers. His Excellency was economic. He was aware that an Englishman—at his own valuation—was worth five of any other nation- ality. Therefore did he import one of that race. inevitable result: transcript in arrears, steno- grapher in-valid! Hence my advent. The premier Saturday found His Excellency in a quandary. With pathetic emotion he con- fessed to a temporary financial embarassment. ,He could merely offer to approach the hotel manager on the subject. With this he bid us adieu. Meanwhile, our own hotel manager ap- proached us upon a somewhat different, yet nevertheless analogous and dependant subject, and when, next morn, we wended our way to y the Legation 'twas with empty stomachs, and with the raucous voice of our buxom blanchisseuse ringing in our ears. Fortunately, His Excellency had contrived to negotiate a loan. What portion of the terri- tory or assets of his Fatherland he had mort- gaged in the operation did not immediately concern us. Sufficient was the fact that the notes were in his possession. To transfer them into ours was the next desideratum-a. task, under the circumstances, of no mean proportions. His Excellency's bony fingers conducted exploratory expeditions into the dense growth of bristles which served His Excellency in lieu of the customary hair; he gesticulated; he spoke emphatically in Spanish, persuasively in French, deprecatingly in Eng- lish—or rather what he fondly imagined to be English. Despite, however, the excessive amount of both mental and physical exercise in which he indulged, the extrication of our modest account from the intricate maze of pounds, dollars, francs, and florins, into which he had plunged it, proved a task beyond his ability, and even after close upon an hundred florins had changed hands chaos still reigned supreme. Hence, now arose another difficulty-the re- ceipt. Each party was bent on adopting a non- committal tone therein. English failed to sat- isfy His Excellency; Spanish was gratefully declined by us. Time rolled on, the churches poured forth their congregations, luncheon gongs sounded; yet unscattered remained the melancholy trio. Torn paper strewed the floor, a confused murmur filled the air; yet still the polyglot battle raged. Eventually, after many and divers attempts at compromise, the Diplomatic Tongue afforded a solution of the difficulty, and a receipt at once intelligible to, and acceptable by, all parties was duly exe- cuted in French. We setlled the bill of our now more-than- obsequious landlord, and, apparently some- what to that individual's astonishment, depart- ed in search of new and less impulsively-con- trolled residential pastures. "Inspiriting" is a. term scarce applicable to my initial experience of the Arbitration Court. e session terminated,we adjourned to the Lega- tion which, I may parenthetically remark, was situate in a suite of rooms in the premier hotel of the Metropolis. Here, for five hours, little save the rattle and click of the typewriter was heard. Exactly when the irresistable humour of the Isituatdon first dawned upon us, 'twould be hard to say, but once 'twaS realised, we promptly adjourned for our hitherto-forgotten dinner. A brief calculation had sufficed to show us that, at the present ra-te of progress, there was a remote possibility that, by continu- ous and assiduous labour, we might contrive to terminate our task ere the next dtay's session commenced! We typed out our resignations^, and my invalid colleague wandered forth into the highways and byeways in search of medical advice. t not without trepidation, awaited re- sults. I had not long to wait. The overgrown office-boy—euphoniously de- signated a "garcon de chanoellrie," entered, gazed! upon my august countenance, and in- continently fled. One by one, in order of dip- lomatic precedence, the entire entoiirage of the Legation followed suit. His Excellency, ap- parently satisfied, by these humorous preli- minaries, that there was no immediate danger, put in a belated appearance. The fact that he did not foam at the mouth with impotent rage was doubtless attributable to a neglect to foster his melodramatic abilities n early youth. Certainly the spirit manifested every willingness; the flesh alone was weak. His vocal evolutions were, however, not with- out interest, and never before in my brief, yet eventful career had I so deeply regretted my neglect of the Spanish tongue. That His Excellency was gifted with a perfect genius for adapting its idioms to immediate require- ments was evinced by the expressions of mingled horror and admiration that were de- hniatod upon the countenances of his body- guard of attaches, secretaries, hotel-waiters, and small boys. Eventually, from skeer exhaustion rather than from any further lack of initiative, His Excellency paused. The momentary respite was promptly seized by the First Secretary as a fit opportunity for translation. I sadly fear, however, that His Excellency's eloquent and vigorous discourse lost much of its beauty in the process. Deprived of its purely ornamental features, the story, as recounted in hushed and grieved accents by the Secretary, was that of a generous benefac- tor and a couple of ungrateful beneficiaries. Incidentally I learned with some astonishment that we were indebted to His Excellency, and that unless the money were immediately returned, we should each spend the night un- der the roof of one of Her Majesty's compul- sory hotels. I fear that I failed to maintain that judicious control of my aisible faculties mftich the gravity of the situation demanded. Be that as it may, His Excellency departed in dudgeon. "His Excellency junior," a hobble- dyhoy of uncertain age, but remarkably defin ite weight, remained behind for a brief space, but rapidly tiring of my spicy conversational efforts, retired in the wake of his illustrious sire. The First Secretary then proceeded to take me in hand, which operation was accompanied with remarkably beneficial effects. It was agreed that the work should be lightened, the resignations withdrawn, and the nnancial mat- ters in dispute left, without prejudice, in abey- ance. Upon departing, however, I discovered, in the entrance foyer His Excellency in animated conversation with the hotel manager, and over- heard him give instructions in French for the immediate arrest of my unfortunate colleague, whom he professed to regard as an absconder. Considering that the joke had gone far enough, I contrived to interpolate a small modicum of legal advice which, whilst not tending towards a reduction of His Excellency's highly in- flammable temper was the oause. oj material modifications in his plans. This latter discus- sion having taken place in public, naturally aroused considerable interest amongst the English-speaking portion of the hotel staff, and was the means of affording me an unanti- cipated insight into the popul&r opinion of His Excellency. As I took my departure, the comissionaire and his attendant satellites mani- fested by their increased obsequiousness a keen appreciation of my temerity, whilst the page, of whose physiognmy I ne'er caught e'en a fleeting glance, added an interesting view of the rear of an unwashed neck 1:-8 the-customary attractions of a well-greased mop of tow. Next morn, His Excellency appeared, we noted) with regret, to be suffering from severe indisposition. The predominant symptom seemed to consist of a curious combination of deafness and failing eyesight when in the im- mediate vicinity of myself and colleague. On the other hand the First Secretary was most assiduous for our welfare, and work was re. sumed under far more auspicious circum- stances than hitherto. Once again Saturday came round; once again His Excellency produced an intricate and ab- solutely unintelligible mass of calculations in triple currency. He appeared to be remark- ably satisfied with this arithmetical effort, and, having endeavoured but without success to explain its intricacies thereof, departed in search of the money. Whether or no he was compelled to saise another loan, he apparently did not feel himself called upon to explain, but the lengthy duration of his absence cer- tainly lent colour to the theory. Meanwhile, with that assiduity which the situation demanded, we proceeded to evolve in- tricate calculations based upon various imagin- ary hypotheses in the endeavour to discover the basic principle of His Excellency's eccen- tric statement of account. Infinite labour dis- closed the gratifying fact that His Excellency had accepted our contentions in the matter a decision worthy, in our mind, of the highest possible, commendation. We further discovered the motive for the utilisation of three cur- rencies. It transpired that by a judicious manipulation of the rates of exchange, His wily Excellency had contrived to reduce his obligation by no less than a florin! Sooner, however, than undertake the Herculean task of convincing His Excellency of this error (?) we humbly and thankfully accepted the dirty paper with which His Excellency eventually returned. We accepted with praiseworthy restraint the intimation that the trial would terminate dur- ing the ensuing week and that from then our services would no longer be required. (These Series to be Continued).