Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary
Mr. Tench, a British dentist, goes down to the docks in the Mexican village where he lives to retrieve a shipment of ether. He is constantly forgetting why he is there. He sees a load of liquor and becomes thirsty, whispering to himself, but alcohol is illegal. He is overheard by a stranger, with whom he strikes up a conversation. On learning that the stranger has a bottle of brandy, Mr. Tench invites him back to his office to wait for departure time of his boat.
Mr. Tench observes that the stranger seems nervous and run-down. Being the dentist, he strongly suggests that the man makes sure to take care of his teeth. He shows him a picture of his sons, taken sixteen years previously, but one had died. The stranger asks Tench what he remembers about the place before the revolutionary Red Shirts took over. It was a happy place then. Tench says that he may soon go back to England.
Mr. Tench reveals that he is married with children, but he has left them back in England and does not write to them. The stranger asks how long the boat will take to reach Vera Cruz. Mr. Tench says that it should be about forty hours. The stranger had arrived in the village to meet a man by the name of Lopez, only to learn that he had been shot.
A child arrives at the door and says his mother is sick. He indicates that the stranger should come. Tench asks the stranger if he is a doctor. The stranger says he is not, plus he has to catch his boat. Tench says that the boats are never on time. He tells the child to go away, explaining to the stranger that if she is dying, there is no point in a doctor's seeing her. The stranger assumes a resigned air and agrees to go with the child. Tench warns him he might miss his boat, but the stranger replies that he is meant to miss it. Tench tells him that it will be two or three weeks before the next boat to Vera Cruz comes. The stranger goes with the child, telling Tench good-bye and saying that he will pray for him. Tench goes back into his office, where he is faced with his loneliness. He sees that the stranger has left a book behind. It is in Latin and of a religious nature. Since religion is also illegal, he decides to hide it. Then he remembers that he did not pick up his ether shipment. At the boat that is leaving, he sees a young girl who seems to be happy. The stranger feels a hatred toward the child he is following and the woman he is going to see. He mutters to himself that he hopes he will be caught soon.