After a brief hiatus, we return to our story…
On nearer approach he was still more surprised at the singularity of the stranger’s appearance. He was a tall, slender young fellow, with slick-backed hair largely concealed under a derby, with a clean-shaven face. His dress was of the antique American fashion—a three-piece pin-striped suit with a club collar and gold bar under the perfect knot of his purple necktie, coordinating with the cufflinks in his French shirt. He bore on his shoulder a stout keg, that seemed full of liquor, and made signs for Rip to approach and assist him with the load.
Though rather shy and distrustful of this new acquaintance, Rip complied with his usual alacrity; and mutually relieving one another, they clambered up a narrow gully, apparently the dry bed of a mountain torrent.
As they ascended, Rip every now and then heard short cracks, like abbreviated thunder, that seemed to issue out of a deep ravine, or rather cleft, between lofty rocks, toward which their rugged path conducted. He paused for an instant, but supposing it to be the muttering of one of those transient thunder-showers which often take place in mountain heights, he proceeded.
Passing through the ravine, they came to a hollow, like a small amphitheater. Upon entering, new objects of wonder presented themselves. On a level spot in the center was a company of odd-looking personages playing stickball. They were dressed in a quaint outlandish fashion; some wore Oxford bags, others seersuckers, with suspenders or belts, and most of them retained their suit vests, of similar style with that of the guide’s.
Most discomfiting of all, was that they were all porcelain white. Every last one of them.
There was one who seemed to be the commander. He was a distinguished looking gentleman, with an amiable though aristocratic countenance; he wore an impeccably pressed suit, a skimmer hat, small spectacles, and—quite scandalously—clutched a cigarette holder between his teeth.
(The whole scene might have reminded Rip of some classic piece of art…were Rip ever exposed, at any point in his long tenure in his multicultural, diverse paradise, to anything resembling art.)
What seemed particularly odd to Rip was, that though these folks were evidently amusing themselves, yet they maintained the gravest faces, the most mysterious silence, and were, withal, the most melancholy party of pleasure he had ever witnessed. Nothing interrupted the stillness of the scene but the noise of bat on ball, which, whenever they met, echoed along the mountains like short peals of thunder.
To be continued…