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Hostages To Momus
by [?]

“Been away a good many years, hasn’t he?” I asked.

“No, sir; Colonel Rockingham is going down to the post-office for his mail. His fellow-citizens take pleasure in greeting him thus every morning. The colonel is our most prominent citizen. Besides the height of the stock of the Sunrise & Edenville Tap Railroad, he owns a thousand acres of that land across the creek. Mountain Valley delights, sir, to honor a citizen of such worth and public spirit.”

For an hour that afternoon Caligula sat on the back of his neck on the porch and studied a newspaper, which was unusual in a man who despised print. When he was through he took me to the end of the porch among the sunlight and drying dish-towels. I knew that Caligula had invented a new graft. For he chewed the ends of his mustache and ran the left catch of his suspenders up and down, which was his way.

“What is it now?” I asks. “Just so it ain’t floating mining stocks or raising Pennsylvania pinks, we’ll talk it over.”

“Pennsylvania pinks? Oh, that refers to a coin-raising scheme of the Keystoners. They burn the soles of old women’s feet to make them tell where their money’s hid.”

Caligula’s words in business was always few and bitter.

“You see them mountains,” said he, pointing. “And you seen that colonel man that owns railroads and cuts more ice when he goes to the post-office than Roosevelt does when he cleans ’em out. What we’re going to do is to kidnap the latter into the former, and inflict a ransom of ten thousand dollars.”

“Illegality,” says I, shaking my head.

“I knew you’d say that,” says Caligula. “At first sight it does seem to jar peace and dignity. But it don’t. I got the idea out of that newspaper. Would you commit aspersions on a equitable graft that the United States itself has condoned and indorsed and ratified?”

“Kidnapping,” says I, “is an immoral function in the derogatory list of the statutes. If the United States upholds it, it must be a recent enactment of ethics, along with race suicide and rural delivery.”

“Listen,” says Caligula, “and I’ll explain the case set down in the papers. Here was a Greek citizen named Burdick Harris,” says he, “captured for a graft by Africans; and the United States sends two gunboats to the State of Tangiers and makes the King of Morocco give up seventy thousand dollars to Raisuli.”

“Go slow,” says I. “That sounds too international to take in all at once. It’s like ‘thimble, thimble, who’s got the naturalization papers?'”

“‘Twas press despatches from Constantinople,” says Caligula. “You’ll see, six months from now. They’ll be confirmed by the monthly magazines; and then it won’t be long till you’ll notice ’em alongside the photos of the Mount Pelee eruption photos in the while-you-get- your-hair-cut weeklies. It’s all right, Pick. This African man Raisuli hides Burdick Harris up in the mountains, and advertises his price to the governments of different nations. Now, you wouldn’t think for a minute,” goes on Caligula, “that John Hay would have chipped in and helped this graft along if it wasn’t a square game, would you?”

“Why, no,” says I. “I’ve always stood right in with Bryan’s policies, and I couldn’t consciously say a word against the Republican administration just now. But if Harris was a Greek, on what system of international protocols did Hay interfere?”

“It ain’t exactly set forth in the papers,” says Caligula. “I suppose it’s a matter of sentiment. You know he wrote this poem, ‘Little Breeches’; and them Greeks wear little or none. But anyhow, John Hay sends the Brooklyn and the Olympia over, and they cover Africa with thirty-inch guns. And then Hay cables after the health of the /persona grata/. ‘And how are they this morning?’ he wires. ‘Is Burdick Harris alive yet, or Mr. Raisuli dead?’ And the King of Morocco sends up the seventy thousand dollars, and they turn Burdick Harris loose. And there’s not half the hard feelings among the nations about this little kidnapping matter as there was about the peace congress. And Burdick Harris says to the reporters, in the Greek language, that he’s often heard about the United States, and he admires Roosevelt next to Raisuli, who is one of the whitest and most gentlemanly kidnappers that he ever worked alongside of. So you see, Pick,” winds up Caligula, “we’ve got the law of nations on our side. We’ll cut this colonel man out of the herd, and corral him in them little mountains, and stick up his heirs and assigns for ten thousand dollars.”