Title Image for Spanish Prisoner

"'Gents,' I continued, 'so far as the money is concerned we shall each receive over ten thousand dollars—a sum by no means to be discarded lightly. We shall have the encouragement of mutual support, and we can draw lots for the daughter.'

"'Id looks goot to me,' said the brewer. 'Vat shall we call ourselves?'

"'We must have some simple and intelligible appellation,' I says, 'that will clearly indicate our purposes. I suggest "Las Expeditiones Generales des Americanos to rescue el baul (the trunk) del prisionero Espagna. Incorporated."'

"None of the others knew any Spanish, so they pretended they thought the title was fine; only the poet wanted to add something about the daughter, but he was voted down nineteen to one.

"'What state laws are we going to incorporate under?' inquired the minister, whose name was the Reverend Ezra Washgut.

"I was stuck for a minute, and then my legal experience flew to my aid. 'We are not as yet,' I says, 'a corporation de jure, but merely one de facto. We do not need to incorporate under the laws of any state, being more than three miles outside of the boundaries of the United States and Canada. We can incorporate de jure later.'

"'Of course we don't need a jury,' remarked the minister.

"Then one of the farmers wanted to know how much it was going to cost, and I had to explain that it really would not cost anything, but that each must deposit in the treasury enough to pay for his proportion of the capital stock. We would capitalize the concern at twenty thousand dollars, fully paid up and non-assessable, and each would get one thousand shares at one dollar each. Thereafter all expenses would be paid by the corporation. The first dividend after reaching London would be about one thousand per cent. Well, you oughter have seen their binoculars protrude! They all began to take out what was left of their rolls and count to see how many shares they could buy. The minister allowed he wanted twelve hundred shares, so I had to make a rule (to keep harmony) that no one could put in more than one thousand dollars.

"'The first thing,' I says, 'is to read the minutes of the last meeting,' which there never was any, 'and then proceed to the election of officers. I nominate the Reverend Ezra Washgut for president.'

"The brewer looked a little put out, but the rest thought Ezra would give us a sort of tone and elected him. The minister wanted to make a speech, but was voted down, and then we elected the brewer general manager. I whispered to him that the president was just a figurehead and that he would be the real thing, so he was more than satisfied. Then we chose one of the farmers vice-president and Pip for secretary and the poet for corresponding secretary. At the end I said that there was one more office of trifling import to be filled and that was fiscal agent, or the one who held the bag. Well, they hadn't thought of that, but as all the stockholders with an exaggerated ego had offices already, the brewer nominated me. I declined at first on the ground that I did not care for so much responsibility, but after much urging finally consented to take care of the money. So I collected a thou. from each one and had the ship's printer get us up a certificate with a rising sun and a pair of handcuffs on it, emblematical of the prisoner and hope dawning on the horizon.

"But there was a miner from Skagway who allowed there ought to be an auditing committee to make sure I took proper care of the funds, and on vote the motion was carried, and the chair appointed the miner, a drug-clerk from Bangor, Maine, and a chiropodist from New York as a committee.

"Then the Reverend Ezra suggested that in view of the turn things had taken we had better appoint a committee to compose a Marconigram to send to Don Antonio to let him know we were coming. At that the poet put up a kick that it was his job, and so he was given permission to see what he could do first. After a while he came back and said he wasn't any good at ten-word prose and asked for a committee to help him, which was duly appointed and entitled 'The Committee on Wireless Correspondence.'

"The first draft they submitted read:

"'Wait for us. The Expeditiones Generales des Americanos to rescue el baul del Prisionero Espagna Inc. is coming. Have daughter ready.
         "'REV. E. WASHGUT, Prest.'

"'Vat is der goot of tellin' him to vait when he is locked up, yet?' asked the brewer, and the chiropodist thought the reference to the daughter unnecessary. The committee said that the daughter part was up to the poet, who reluctantly consented that it be stricken out, particularly when he found that his name was not to be signed to the message.

"Then the drug-clerk wanted to know what good there was in putting in the name of the corporation if we didn't explain what the corporation was. Everybody agreed that that would take too many words, and the Reverend Ezra suggested that so long as Don Antonio knew anybody was coming that would be sufficient and proposed the following:

"'I am coming.

The brewer said Ezra had delusions of grandeur and vetoed this, so finally for the sake of peace we compromised on,

"'We are coming.
         "'WASHGUT ET AL.'

"There had been a good deal of feeling over the Marconigram, so in order to induce harmony I moved that all those who held no office in the corporation should be elected directors, which was done amid great applause, and we then had a directors' meeting in order to lay out our plan of campaign.

"The difficulty was that each one wanted to be the chap to carry the thing through himself, meet dear old Carlos, get the money and rescue the beautiful daughter—particularly the daughter. Everybody felt that he wanted to be the early bird who was goin' to land the breakfast-food. The hardest job I had was to gerrymander the bunch in such a way that each crusader was satisfied. So far as I was concerned, once I could shake the auditing committee I was twenty thousand dollars to the good, so the more I could get them scattered the better it was.

"It was finally decided after a close division that the Reverend Ezra should wear the handkerchief and do the glad-hand act with Carlos. There was to be a guard of safety to protect him and to watch from a distance to make sure that he went through the motions correctly. If he didn't they were to report to the directors, and the brewer was to go in as a substitute. Mean-time a reception committee was to wait on Don Antonio with suitable refreshments and give him physical and mental encouragement, while the poet was to snoop around the orphan-asylum and size up Daughter. As for me, I was to sit tight on the hotel pizattza holding the dough-bag in plain view of the auditing committee, who had taken a hide-bound oath to drink nothing and sleep not until 'el baul del prisionero' had been recovered. Of course, as I had the money, if anybody wanted to buy anything be could only get it by coming to me, and he had to sign a voucher for whatever I allowed him. You can bet your life they got mighty little, for every cent came directly out of my own pocket.

"It was not long before we received a reply from Don Antonio:

"'Delighted! I await you breathless. Who is "we"? And who is "et al"?'

"'You see, he is quite familiar with my name,' says Washgut. 'I knew any reference to other parties would disconcert him. Hereafter I think all communications should be in the first person singular, signed simply "Washgut."'

"At this the brewer began to get huffy and allowed that the Reverend Ezra was entirely too arbitrary in his methods. He, for one, objected to the domination of the church and didn't believe in mixing religion with business; he said that Washgut had been president now for two days and he thought some one else ought to have a chance. This proposition was greeted with cheers by the malcontents, of whom there were several, there not being enough offices to go entirely round, and I could see that the brewer .had laid his plans astutely. Some one called for a vote on whether there should be a new election, and it was carried by a majority of one.

Things began to look real bad for harmony. The Anti-Washguts had ten votes and the Washguts nine, Ezra himself being in the chair, but of course as soon as we really began to vote Washgut left the chair and voted for himself, making a tie. We voted all one day, taking one hundred and seventy-six ballots with invariably the same result, and finally in sheer desperation some one suggested that Pip, who was a retiring little man and never butted into the conversation, should be elected as a compromise.

This was done, for in truth it would have been quite impossible to agree in any other way. Pip left most of the committees as they were, except that being president of course he would have to take Washgut's place as the glad-hand man to meet Carlos, and at my special and urgent request he took the miner and the chiropodist off the auditing committee and substituted a photographer from Utica and a veterinary from Lynn, Massachusetts, both of them inoffensive and trustful souls.

"Our cables to Don Antonio could no longer be signed by Washgut, which we feared would create confusion in the poor fellow's mind, so one long Marconigram was sent explaining the purposes and organization of our corporation and signed simply: 'Las Expeditiones Generales des Americanos to rescue el baul del prisionero Espagna. Per Ephraim Tubbs, Prest.,' which was Pip's baptismal name.

The Poet stalks the decks

"As we neared the shores of sunny Espagna the excitement grew intense. The poet stalked up and down the decks in one continuous Marathon race with Pegasus, his hair waving in the wind while he extemporized an invocation to Beautiful Daughter. He also composed a marching song to be sung by the crusaders as they walked along the streets, to the tune of 'Oh, he's a jolly good fellow!' It ran:

"'El baul del prisionero! El baul del prisionero!
El baul del prision-e-e-ro!!! El baul del pris-ionero!!!'

"He explained that the fact that there was no word in English to rhyme with 'prisionero' accounted for a certain indefinite but not unpleasing monotony.

"Pip was the only man who seemed at all dispirited. A gloom seemed to have descended upon him like a drop-curtain with a burial scene painted on it. Moodily he paced the quarter-deck with folded arms while the gay crusaders down below sang joyous songs and played pinocle for soft drinks, or dreamed in their cabins of false bottoms and the beautiful daughter.

Sang songs and played pinocle

PAGE TWO                                            PAGE FOUR

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This page updated 3 February 2003


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