"At last one golden misty morning the lookout above made land on the port bow, and soon we saw wreathed in iridescent cloud the lordly summits of the mountains of Atlas. The sight of these mysterious crags momentarily appearing and disappearing through the cumuli caused the hearts of the directors and stockholders to leap with joy, and they burst into a prolonged cheer which ended in a triumphant rendition of 'El baul del prisionero.'
"But Pip gently grasped me by the arm and led me aside. 'Look here, old man,' he whispered, 'I hate to say it to you, but I am beginning to get a hunch that this whole thing is a fake.'
"You can imagine the effect of a sudden announcement of that sort upon the delicate adjustment of my angelina pectoris, for once the crusaders got wise to the fact that the beautiful daughter was a myth, stock in the Expeditiones Generales would be a drug on the market and they would want their money back besides, and then where would I be?
"'Say not so!' I says, tryin' to encourage him. 'It cannot be!'
"'No,' he replies, 'I have been thinkin' this over for some time, and if there is any Don Antonio Ramos or beautiful Sorella or even a faithful old Carlos, you can rate me in Bradstreet's List of Suckers as AA1. In my opinion this is a high-class con game,' he says, 'and we will all go sailing back on the next boat sadder and wiser by this momentary glimpse into the complexities of the human heart.'
"'Well,' I says, 'I am inclined to agree with you. There always have been certain features of old Don Antonio that had a familiar physiognomy, but what is the use in casting gloom into the innocent hearts of our friends so long as there is still some possibility of the dream being true?'
"'But,' he says, 'in case there is no Don Ramos it will then become necessary to return the money.'
"'I had already thought of that,' I says, 'and therefore let us prolong the uncertainty as much as possible.'
"He gave me one long look and then held out his hand. 'Mr. Koko,' he says, 'I honor you in that you respect the simple faith of others. Perhaps, as you say, I am wrong, and the poor old don and his lovely daughter may indeed be realities, with faithful old Carlos awaiting us patiently at Plaza Cortes 8 Primero.'
"That afternoon we anchored under the guns of Gibraltar and prepared to debark. The Expeditiones held one last joint directors' and stock-holders' meeting at which we received final instructions. A telegram was sent to Carlos and another to Don Antonio, and Pip, moved to eloquence by the recollection of Trafalgar and the historic associations of the land and sea, burst into eloquence and in an inspired speech warned the committees that the Expeditiones Generales des Americanos expected every one of them to do their duty. Singing the corporation song, the crusaders boarded a tug and were soon landed at the quay, whence they marched to the railroad station. The thought of the proximity of the Spanish prisoner and the faithful Carlos, to say nothing of Daughter, caused a hysteria of excitement in which it was difficult to refrain from yielding to the requisitions of the pilgrims for cash to purchase castanets, wicker bottles, figs, and cork models of the Infanta.
"The hot noon of a burning Spanish day was beating down upon the tiled roofs of Madrid when we pulled into the railroad station and assembled upon the platform. Pip descended from the train last of all, with a red handkerchief tucked into his collar and a copy of a Boston paper held carefully in his dexter hand. At a distance the guard of safety watched his every move.
"From the shadow of a building an aged white-haired Spaniard cautiously approached. Soon his eye caught the slight figure of our president with the handkerchief and newspaper, and casting a swift look around him he drew near and murmured a few words in his native tongue. The next instant they had embraced, and with beating hearts the stockholders saw the two wending their way through the narrow streets toward the lower city, followed at a respectful distance by the guard of safety. Caramba! and Rey del Mundo! But it was a moment of exaltation for all of us! Even ImeKoko Jim of Koko Junct.felt that perhaps after all there was something doing. I deplored my natural skepticism.
"'Boys,' I says, 'so far so good. We have seen with our own eyes dear old Carlos. Let us now hastily repair to a nearby inn for some light refreshment and then perform our several duties. Don Antonio awaits you! Beautiful Daughter awaits you! The bottomlessI mean double-bottomed valise awaits you! Forward! "El baul del prisionero!"'
"As we threaded the streets leading to the principal hotel I began to have misgiving so far as my own private plans were concerned. The auditing committee stuck closer to me than brothers. They had been much impressedtoo much, it seemed to meby what Pip had said about doing their duty. It appeared impossible that I could ever shake them off. And suppose I could not? And suppose old Ramos really was! I should only come in as a general participant in a visionary fortune when I had twenty thousand dollars in good American bank-notes in my jeans.
"After luncheon at the Hotel del Guillame Shakespeare the reception committee departed for the prison, while the remaining stockholders, including the auditing committee and myself, enjoyed a short siesta upon the pizattza. Have you ever been in Madrid? Then indeed you know nothing of the potentiality of heat. I was wilted with it, inside and out. Even the wad of bills in my pocket was like a handkerchief that has been left out overnight in the rain. And I could not sleep, for while two of the auditing committee snored the third pierced me with an eagle-eye. I began to see where I never could make a get-away at all. The afternoon wore on. Neither Pip nor the reception committee had returned, and the impression gained ground that they had themselves been detained in some place of confinement.
"We dined in an interior courtyard to the musical tinkle of miniature fountains and the pop of the vin du pays, of which I had ordered a liberal supply in the hope that thus I might induce a slight relaxation on the part of the auditing committee. The meal over, we smoked long Habanas in the warm moonlight that fell through the leaves of magnificent imitation rubber-plants, palms, and oleanders, and at nine thirty I proposed that we retire. No one felt particularly concerned about either Pip or the reception committee. We were too comfortable and too tired. It was finally agreed that I should occupy a bed between two others occupied by a couple of the auditing committee, while the third kept watch, on a horsehair sofa, in an adjoining room.
"How long I slept I do not know, but I dreamed of fountains, and tortillas, Spanish maidens, and mules until a low whistle awoke me. At the open window, devoid of even a mosquito-bar, the head of Pip was sharply silhouetted against the moonlight. He beckoned to me, and I silently arose.
"'It's all true!' he whispered. 'I've seen Don Antonio and talked with him. That fool bunch of a reception committee went to the wrong placethe lunatic asylumand got run in. Carlos is waiting for us with Doņa Sorella. She's a peach! Now, look here! Just shake this bunch and slide out of the window, and we'll cop the whole two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and divide even. What do you say?'
"'I'm on!' I replied, letting myself gently out by the trellis and lowering myself down the lightning-rod.
"I followed Pip through countless alleys, across dark shadows sharply pierced by moonlight, over bridges, through sleeping plazas, and down streets of inky blackness until at last we found ourselves on the bank of the river among the rotting piles of ancient warehouses and decaying wharves.
"'Look,' whispered Pip. 'Over there!' and he pointed to a patch of moonlight.
"I strained my eyes to see. As I did so a hairy fist clutched my throat and a brawny arm encircled my waist and threw me to the sand. In a moment I was gagged, bound, and helpless. I struggled to free myself, and glared in fury at my assailants. There before me, a mocking smile playing upon his lips, stood Pip, with the white-haired Spaniard whom we had seen at the railroad station and a third ruffian disguised as a woman. Pip felt in my trousers pocket and relieved me of the money, which he counted deliberately in the moonlight. Then, removing his hat, he said with the stately dignity of ancient Spain:
"'Seņor Koko, I beg the honor of presenting to you the beautiful Doņa Sorella, my faithful old servitor Carloswhom you already knowand myself, the "Spanish Prisoner"Don Antonio Ramos, of the Canary Isles."'
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