A seafaring friend just from a tropical voyage had presented me with a bunch of bananas.
They were not quite ripe, and I hung them before my window to mature in the sun of McGinnis’s Court, whose forcing qualities were remarkable.
In the mysteriously mingled odors of ship and shore which they diffused throughout my room, there was lingering reminiscence of low latitudes.
But even that joy was fleeting and evanescent: they never reached maturity.
Coming home one day, as I turned the corner of that fashionable thoroughfare before alluded to, I met a small boy eating a banana.
There was nothing remarkable in that, but as I neared McGinnis’s Court I presently met another small boy, also eating a banana.
A third small boy engaged in a like occupation obtruded a painful coincidence upon my mind.
I leave the psychological reader to determine the exact correlation between the circumstance and the sickening sense of loss that overcame me on witnessing it.
I reached my room—and found the bunch of bananas was gone.
There was but one that knew of their existence, but one who frequented my window, but one capable of gymnastic effort to procure them, and that was—I blush to say it—Melons.
Melons the depredator—Melons, despoiled by larger boys of his ill-gotten booty, or reckless and indiscreetly liberal; Melons—now a fugitive on some neighborhood housetop.
I lit a cigar, and, drawing my chair to the window, sought surcease of sorrow in the contemplation of the fish-geranium.
In a few moments something white passed my window at about the level of the edge.
There was no mistaking that hoary head, which now represented to me only aged iniquity.
It was Melons, that venerable, juvenile hypocrite.
He affected not to observe me, and would have withdrawn quietly, but that horrible fascination which causes the murderer to revisit the scene of his crime impelled him toward my window.
I smoked calmly and gazed at him without speaking.
He walked several times up and down the court with a half-rigid, half-belligerent expression of eye and shoulder, intended to represent the carelessness of innocence.
Once or twice he stopped, and putting his arms their whole length into his capacious trousers, gazed with some interest at the additional width they thus acquired.
Then he whistled. The singular conflicting conditions of John Brown’s body and soul were at that time beginning to attract the attention of youth, and Melons’s performance of that melody was always remarkable.
But to-day he whistled falsely and shrilly between his teeth.
At last he met my eye. He winced slightly, but recovered himself, and going to the fence, stood for a few moments on his hands, with his bare feet quivering in the air.
Then he turned toward me and threw out a conversational preliminary:
“They is a cirkis”—said Melons gravely, hanging with his back to the fence and his arms twisted around the palings—“a cirkis over yonder!”—indicating the locality with his foot—“with hosses and hossback riders.
They is a man wot rides six hosses to onct—six hosses to onct—and nary saddle”—and he paused in expectation.
Even this equestrian novelty did not affect me. I still kept a fixed gaze on Melons’s eye, and he began to tremble and visibly shrink in his capacious garment.
Some other desperate means—conversation with Melons was always a desperate means—must be resorted to. He recommenced more artfully:
“Do you know Carrots?”
I had a faint remembrance of a boy of that euphonious name, with scarlet hair, who was a playmate and persecutor of Melons. But I said nothing.
“Carrots is a bad boy. Killed a policeman onct. Wears a dirk knife in his boots. Saw him to-day looking in your windy.”
I felt that this must end here. I rose sternly and addressed Melons.
“Melons, this is all irrelevant and impertinent to the case. You took those bananas.
Your proposition regarding Carrots, even if I were inclined to accept it as credible information, does not alter the material issue.
You took those bananas. The offense under the statutes of California is felony. How far Carrots may have been accessory to the fact either before or after it is not my intention at present to discuss.
The act is complete. Your present conduct shows the animo furandi to have been equally clear.”
By the time I had finished this exordium Melons had disappeared, as I fully expected.
He never reappeared. The remorse that I have experienced for the part I had taken in what I fear may have resulted in his utter and complete extermination, alas! he may not know, except through these pages.
For I have never seen him since. Whether he ran away and went to sea to reappear at some future day as the most ancient of mariners, or whether he buried himself completely in his trousers, I never shall know.
I have read the papers anxiously for accounts of him. I have gone to the police office in the vain attempt of identifying him as a lost child.
But I never saw him or heard of him since. Strange fears have sometimes crossed my mind that his venerable appearance may have been actually the result of senility, and that he may have been gathered peacefully to his fathers in a green old age.
I have even had doubts of his existence, and have sometimes thought that he was providentially and mysteriously offered to fill the void I have before alluded to. In that hope I have written these pages.
—Mrs. Skaggs’s Husbands, and other Sketches.Melons
by Bret Harte Melons 1
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