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Billy and the Big Stick   By: (1864-1916)

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by Richard Harding Davis

Had the Wilmot Electric Light people remained content only to make light, had they not, as a by product, attempted to make money, they need not have left Hayti.

When they flooded with radiance the unpaved streets of Port au Prince no one, except the police, who complained that the lights kept them awake, made objection; but when for this illumination the Wilmot Company demanded payment, every one up to President Hamilear Poussevain was surprised and grieved. So grieved was President Ham, as he was lovingly designated, that he withdrew the Wilmot concession, surrounded the power house with his barefooted army, and in a proclamation announced that for the future the furnishing of electric light would be a monopoly of the government.

In Hayti, as soon as it begins to make money, any industry, native or foreign, becomes a monopoly of the government. The thing works automatically. It is what in Hayti is understood as haute finance. The Wilmot people should have known that. Because they did not know that, they stood to lose what they had sunk in the electric light plant, and after their departure to New York, which departure was accelerated as far as the wharf by seven generals and twelve privates, they proceeded to lose more money on lobbyists and lawyers who claimed to understand international law; even the law of Hayti. And lawyers who understand that are high priced.

The only employee of the Wilmot force who was not escorted to the wharf under guard was Billy Barlow. He escaped the honor because he was superintendent of the power house, and President Ham believed that without him the lightning would not strike. Accordingly by an executive order Billy became an employee of the government. With this arrangement the Wilmot people were much pleased. For they trusted Billy, and they knew while in the courts they were righting to regain their property, he would see no harm came to it.

Billy's title was Directeur General et Inspecteur Municipal de Luminaire Electrique, which is some title, and his salary was fifty dollars a week. In spite of Billy's color President Ham always treated his only white official with courtesy and gave him his full title. About giving him his full salary he was less particular. This neglect greatly annoyed Billy. He came of sturdy New England stock and possessed that New England conscience which makes the owner a torment to himself, and to every one else a nuisance. Like all the other Barlows of Barnstable on Cape Cod, Billy had worked for his every penny. He was no shirker. From the first day that he carried a pair of pliers in the leg pocket of his overalls, and in a sixty knot gale stretched wires between ice capped tele graph poles, he had more than earned his wages. Never, whether on time or at piece work, had he by a slovenly job, or by beating the whistle, robbed his employer. And for his honest toil he was determined to be as honestly paid even by President Hamilcar Poussevain. And President Ham never paid anybody; neither the Armenian street peddlers, in whose sweets he delighted, nor the Bethlehem Steel Company, nor the house of Rothschild.

Why he paid Billy even the small sums that from time to time Billy wrung from the president's strong box the foreign colony were at a loss to explain. Wagner, the new American consul, asked Billy how he managed it. As an American minister had not yet been appointed to the duties of the consul, as Wagner assured everybody, were added those of diplomacy. But Haytian diplomacy he had yet to master. At the seaport in Scotland where he had served as vice consul, law and order were as solidly established as the stone jetties, and by contrast the eccentricities of the Black REPUBLIC baffled and distressed him.

"It can't be that you blackmail the president," said the consul, "because I understand he boasts he has committed all the known crimes... Continue reading book >>

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