VII. ALONG THE EAST COAST
Were a man picked up on a flying carpet and dropped without warning into Lorenco Marquez, he might guess for a day before he could make up his mind where he was, or determine to which nation the place belonged.
If he argued from the adobe houses with red-tiled roofs and walls of cobalt blue, the palms, and the yellow custom-house, he might think he was in Santiago; the Indian merchants in velvet and gold embroideries seated in deep, dark shops which breathe out dry, pungent odors, might take him back to Bombay; the Soudanese and Egyptians in long blue night-gowns and freshly ironed fezzes would remind him of Cairo; the dwarfish Portuguese soldiers, of Madeira, Lisbon, and Madrid, and the black, bare-legged policemen in khaki with great numerals on their chests, of Benin, Sierra Leone, or Zanzibar. After he had noted these and the German, French, and English merchants in white duck, and the Dutch man-of-warsmen, who look like ship's stewards, the French marines in coal-scuttle helmets, the British Jack-tars in their bare feet, and the native Kaffir women, each wrapped in a single, gorgeous shawl with a black baby peering from beneath her shoulder-blades, he would decide, by using the deductive methods of Sherlock Holmes, that he was in the Midway of the Chicago Fair.
Several hundred years ago Da Gama sailed into Delagoa Bay and founded the town of Lorenco Marquez, and since that time the Portuguese have always felt that it is only due to him and to themselves to remain there. They have great pride of race, and they like the fact that they possess and govern a colony. So, up to the present time, in spite of many temptations to dispose of it, they have made the ownership of Delagoa Bay an article of their national religion. But their national religion does not require of them to improve their property. And to-day it is much as it was when the sails of Da Gama's fleet first stirred its poisonous vapors.
The harbor itself is an excellent one and the bay is twenty-two miles along, but there is only one landing-pier, and that such a pier as would be considered inconsistent with the dignity of the Larchmont Yacht Club. To the town itself Portugal has been content to contribute as her share the gatherers of taxes, collectors of customs and dispensers of official seals. She is indifferent to the fact that the bulk of general merchandise, wine, and machinery that enter her port is brought there by foreigners. She only demands that they buy her stamps. Her importance in her own colony is that of a toll-gate at the entrance of a great city.
Lorenco Marquez is not a spot which one would select for a home. When I was first there, the deaths from fever were averaging fifteen a day, and men who dined at the club one evening were buried hurriedly before midnight, and when I returned in the winter months, the fever had abated, but on the night we arrived twenty men were robbed. The fact that we complained to the police about one of the twenty robberies struck the commandant as an act of surprising and unusual interest. We gathered from his manner that the citizens of Lorenco Marquez look upon being robbed as a matter too personal and selfish with which to trouble the police. It was perhaps credulous of us, as our hotel was liberally labelled with notices warning its patrons that "Owing to numerous robberies in this hotel, our guests will please lock their doors." This was one of three hotels owned by the same man. One of the others had been described to us as the "tough" hotel, and at the other, a few weeks previous, a friend had found a puff-adder barring his bedroom door. The choice was somewhat difficult.