Title Image for Spanish Prisoner

"And now the plot thickens. In order to avoid accidents coony old Antonio had had false bottoms put in his two valises as well as his trunk, and in the pocket of one of them he had stowed away the baggage-check and a sight draft for twenty-four hundred pounds. In the other were the family jewels—among them some formerly belonging to the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico. When the police had arrested him as he was about to slip into France, they had, of course, captured his hand-baggage at the same time, but they didn't get on to the little false bottoms, and all they found was his safety razor, his Sunday suit, and some collars. The trunk had gone on, but the receipt for it remained in the secret compartment of the valise, which was in the hands of the authorities. Once in Madrid the bags were sealed up and deposited with the clerk of the Municipal Tribunal. In due course these would be put up at auction and sold to the highest bidder, and that was where I came in. For if some friend did not jump into the game and bid in the bags some Spaniard who was taking a flier in hand-luggage would buy up the Maximilian jewels, the check, and the draft for a few miserable pesetas! Casadora! Horrible thought!

"Don Antonio had the idea that he would get about five years in prison, and he wanted some honest party to come to Madrid and look after his luggage on a basis of thirty-three and a third per cent. Once the money was safe his side partner could get the daughter out of the asylum, compound the bankruptcy at fifteen cents on the peseta (Excuse my Spanish, but it is second nature), and get the don out of prison! Things had to be done on the jump, too, for there were only about twenty-five days before the annual unclaimed baggage sale. To show that he was on the level, Antonio enclosed a clipping from an English paper telling all about his arrest and a certificate showing that he really had been jugged for being a bankrupt and how much it would cost to get him out. The proposition was simplicity itself. I was to take the first steamer for Gibraltar, come to Madrid via rail, meet Carlos, attend the baggage sale, and buy the valises. This would be easy, as no one but us would know their real value. I would then be in possession of the baggage receipt for the trunk, the jewels, and the sight draft on London. To satisfy myself that there was no trick I could then cable to the bank to find out if it had issued a draft of that number and amount. Having thus assured myself, I could start for London accompanied by Carlos, who would act as his master's representative. Once there I could first cash the draft and then by reason of the check secure the trunk containing the two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Could anything have been easier?

"I was to cable the day I sailed, and when I got off the train at Madrid Carlos would know me by the fact that I had a handkerchief tucked around my collar and a newspaper in my hand. I was to give the password, 'Mir,' and the faithful servant would show me to a quiet hotel. Antonio said I had better bring enough money to pay all expenses for the trip to London with Carlos and to bribe the jailer so that we could have a personal conference, and he thought twelve hundred dollars would be about enough. It was no use to write because the postal authorities were on to Carlos and intercepted his letters. Everything had to be clone by cable. He ended up by explaining how he got my name. He said that confined in the same jail for a trifling offense was an American friend of mine who, in response to a request for the name and address of some honest man in the United States, had given him mine. He couldn't give me my friend's name since he knew him only by an alias—Smith. Carlos was going to move in about a week, so that I had better hurry up and cable if my intentions were honorable.

"Well, that letter made me think. It looked kind of phony to me. In the first place I didn't have any friends likely to be in jail in Spain. Most of mine were in Auburn, Joliet, or Sing Sing. It seemed awful queer that poor old faithful Carlos couldn't raise enough coin right in Madrid to buy up a couple of old bags and pay for a railroad ticket to London; and it did not occur to me that Koko Junct. was a particularly promising locality to which to look for help. 'No,' I says, 'this is one of the slickest con games ever worked upon an ignorant agriculturalist.' But the thought of my six dollars and seventy-five cents depressed me. 1 wanted to get even with that Don Antonio Ramos Casadora Perfecto and make him give up!

"In the first place, whoever wrote that letter had committed a crime, by attempting to obtain money on false pretenses; in the second he owed me my cable money with six per cent. interest; and in the third I was entitled to punitive damages. Last, he had insulted my intelligence. 'I will go after this Spanish cavalier, and if he is still in his retreat I will make him reimburse me even to the half of all that he hath!' says I. 'He is fair game, and if I can prove that he wrote that letter he will either go to jail ipso facto, pro bono publico, instanter, or he must shell out handsome—for silence on the part of Koko James is golden.'

"The more I thought of the idea the better I liked it. I had always wanted to go to Spain, and see the black-eyed Amontillados, the ruined Moorish castles, the mules and tinkling fountains. 'I will get my hooks into that old Spanish don and make him look like an Habana second made in Grand Street,' I says. So I cabled faithful old Carlos that I was off and coming so fast that I was gaining all the time.

"Why should I detail to you the emotions of one of your countrymen leaving his native land for the first time? I bade farewell to the 'Smile-with-Grandfather,' put on my store clothes, and shook the cinders of Koko Junct. from off my sandals. Once in New York I discovered that a new and fast Spanish-American liner, The Cuspidores Furiosos, was just sailing for Gibraltar, and on her I took my passage. Once I had recovered from the momentary inconveniences caused by crossing the Gulf Stream I secured a seat at the captain's table, and in spite of a notice warning honest passengers against thieves and gamblers I soon had a quiet little game running in the rear of the smoking-saloon and was taking in the spondulix. Those passengers were the softest lot of guys I have ever seen. They just cried to have their money taken away from 'em—one wizened-up little fellow in particular, with a bald head, who looked like Mr. Pip. And there were all kinds.

"One was a German brewer from Newark, New Jersey, with a big black beard; another was a poet from Kansas City with long hair; there was a minister from Kalamazoo, Michigan, and a couple of farmers from Illinois. But they were pretty good fun, and the trip was one unalloyed dream of delight. On moonlight nights we would sit along the taffrail and smoke, and the poet would rhapsodize about ruined Spanish castles, and the brewer would sing 'The Watch on the Rhine.' There was a wireless on board, too, and when they got tired of poker I would make a little hand-book on the side. When I was real seasick I used to think of how I was going to put the screws on old Don Antonio and count over my roll, for I had taken in eleven hundred dollars, mostly from Mr. Pip.

"Well, about the seventh day out, just as we were coming into sight of Fayal and having a little five-handed game in the smoker, I happened to pull in a big pot just on a pair of aces, and Pip got up looking kind of limp and threw himself down on a sofy and says:

"'I'm cleaned out! All is over! Toot on somble!'

"'Oh, cheer up,' I says, 'I'll lend you a stake. Your luck may turn now we're in sight of land.'

"'No,' he says dolefully. 'My trip is a failure. I had a wonderful opportunity to win a fortune, and I have thrown it away. I was going to rescue a Spanish prisoner confined in prison in Madrid.'

"'Do tell,' I says, with my heart beating a tattoo.

"'Yes,' he says, 'and he had a daughter, the Doņa Sorella, only nineteen years old, beautiful as a night full of stars.'

"'Excuse me,' says the brewer from Newark. 'Did I hear you say anydings aboud a Spanish prisoner? I vas going to rescue a prisoner myself—in Madrid. Don Antonio Ramos,' he says, 'and he had a pootiful daughter. Maybe he vas der same, already?'

"'That's him,' groans Pip, 'and now you will get the money and the maiden, besides!'

"'Hold on a bit,' cries the poet from Kansas City, 'I'm in on this. I've come four thousand miles to arrange with faithful old Carlos about that daughter, and you can't freeze me out!'

"'Well,' I says, 'this looks serious!' Then, turning to the rest of the passengers lounging around the saloon, I says, 'Boys—I mean Gents—how many of you are interested in liberating a Spanish prisoner from durance vile in Madrid?'

For a minute they all put up a bluff at being surprised at the question, and then one by one every hand in the room went up.

"'Gosh" I says. 'This is bad. We can't all marry the poor girl!'

They were the nineteen sickest-looking pikers you ever seen in your life, and of course I let on I was the same kind of a sucker they was. So we had a sort of informal meeting and each told how he happened to be there, and each was different.

In the case of the minister his congregation had contributed toward a fund to liberate Don Antonio and secure the money for church purposes, and the Young Men's Bible Class had offered to marry Doņa Sorella provided she turned down the parson. The farmers had both mortgaged their farms, and the poet had written a poem in one hundred and ninety-seven cantos, based on how he was going to rescue Sorella, and sold it to a newspaper syndicate, and so on and so forth. They all glared at one another and frothed at the mouth as if they wanted to tear each other's hearts out.

"Well, I began to take courage, for I smelt something better than trying to squeeze a con man who spoke a foreign language, for i knew they must all have their money—except what I had taken from them—and didn't see why it could not be put to some good purpose. "'Boys,' I says—'Beg pardon again, I should say Gents—what seems at first sight to be an unfortunate coincidence may in the end prove a genooine dispensation. We have all started upon a sacred mission to free an unfortunate man unjustly confined in prison. Money is no object to us. It is the principle of the thing. We have sworn to rescue innocent maidenhood from the contaminating surroundings of a Spanish orphan-asylum. Incidentally we may stumble over two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to be used for church purposes. Where no one of us could have hoped to succeed alone, all may achieve our object together. In union is strength. Let us incorporate ourselves.' They had never thought of that, and after a little persuasion they began to see that the idea had points.

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This page updated 3 February 2003


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