Etext prepared by John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org and Dagny, email@example.com
The Gentle Grafter
by O. Henry
I. The Octopus Marooned
II. Jeff Peters as a Personal Magnet III. Modern Rural Sports
IV. The Chair of Philanthromathematics V. The Hand That Riles the World
VI. The Exact Science of Matrimony VII. A Midsummer Masquerade
VIII. Shearing the Wolf
IX. Innocents of Broadway
X. Conscience in Art
XI. The Man Higher Up
XII. A Tempered Wind
XIII. Hostages to Momus
XIV. The Ethics of Pig
THE GENTLE GRAFTER
THE OCTOPUS MAROONED
“A trust is its weakest point,” said Jeff Peters.
“That,” said I, “sounds like one of those unintelligible remarks such as, ‘Why is a policeman?'”
“It is not,” said Jeff. “There are no relations between a trust and a policeman. My remark was an epitogram–an axis–a kind of mulct’em in parvo. What it means is that a trust is like an egg, and it is not like an egg. If you want to break an egg you have to do it from the outside. The only way to break up a trust is from the inside. Keep sitting on it until it hatches. Look at the brood of young colleges and libraries that’s chirping and peeping all over the country. Yes, sir, every trust bears in its own bosom the seeds of its destruction like a rooster that crows near a Georgia colored Methodist camp meeting, or a Republican announcing himself a candidate for governor of Texas.”
I asked Jeff, jestingly, if he had ever, during his checkered, plaided, mottled, pied and dappled career, conducted an enterprise of the class to which the word “trust” had been applied. Somewhat to my surprise he acknowledged the corner.
“Once,” said he. “And the state seal of New Jersey never bit into a charter that opened up a solider and safer piece of legitimate octopusing. We had everything in our favor–wind, water, police, nerve, and a clean monopoly of an article indispensable to the public. There wasn’t a trust buster on the globe that could have found a weak spot in our scheme. It made Rockefeller’s little kerosene speculation look like a bucket shop. But we lost out.”
“Some unforeseen opposition came up, I suppose,” I said.
“No, sir, it was just as I said. We were self-curbed. It was a case of auto-suppression. There was a rift within the loot, as Albert Tennyson says.
“You remember I told you that me and Andy Tucker was partners for some years. That man was the most talented conniver at stratagems I ever saw. Whenever he saw a dollar in another man’s hands he took it as a personal grudge, if he couldn’t take it any other way. Andy was educated, too, besides having a lot of useful information. He had acquired a big amount of experience out of books, and could talk for hours on any subject connected with ideas and discourse. He had been in every line of graft from lecturing on Palestine with a lot of magic lantern pictures of the annual Custom-made Clothiers’ Association convention at Atlantic City to flooding Connecticut with bogus wood alcohol distilled from nutmegs.
“One Spring me and Andy had been over in Mexico on a flying trip during which a Philadelphia capitalist had paid us $2,500 for a half interest in a silver mine in Chihuahua. Oh, yes, the mine was all right. The other half interest must have been worth two or three thousand. I often wondered who owned that mine.
“In coming back to the United States me and Andy stubbed our toes against a little town in Texas on the bank of the Rio Grande. The name of it was Bird City; but it wasn’t. The town had about 2,000 inhabitants, mostly men. I figured out that their principal means of existence was in living close to tall chaparral. Some of ’em were stockmen and some gamblers and some horse peculators and plenty were in the smuggling line. Me and Andy put up at a hotel that was built like something between a roof-garden and a sectional bookcase. It began to rain the day we got there. As the saying is, Juniper Aquarius was sure turning on the water plugs on Mount Amphibious.
“Now, there were three saloons in Bird City, though neither Andy nor me drank. But we could see the townspeople making a triangular procession from one to another all day and half the night. Everybody seemed to know what to do with as much money as they had.
“The third day of the rain it slacked up awhile in the afternoon, so me and Andy walked out to the edge of town to view the mudscape. Bird City was built between the Rio Grande and a deep wide arroyo that used to be the old bed of the river. The bank between the stream and its old bed was cracking and giving away, when we saw it, on account of the high water caused by the rain. Andy looks at it a long time. That man’s intellects was never idle. And then he unfolds to me a instantaneous idea that has occurred to him. Right there was organized a trust; and we walked back into town and put it on the market.
“First we went to the main saloon in Bird City, called the Blue Snake, and bought it. It cost us $1,200. And then we dropped in, casual, at Mexican Joe’s place, referred to the rain, and bought him out for $500. The other one came easy at $400.
“The next morning Bird City woke up and found itself an island. The river had busted through its old channel, and the town was surrounded by roaring torrents. The rain was still raining, and there was heavy clouds in the northwest that presaged about six more mean annual rainfalls during the next two weeks. But the worst was yet to come.
“Bird City hopped out of its nest, waggled its pin feathers and strolled out for its matutinal toot. Lo! Mexican Joe’s place was closed and likewise the other little ‘dobe life saving station. So, naturally the body politic emits thirsty ejaculations of surprise and ports hellum for the Blue Snake. And what does it find there?
“Behind one end of the bar sits Jefferson Peters, octopus, with a sixshooter on each side of him, ready to make change or corpses as the case may be. There are three bartenders; and on the wall is a ten foot sign reading: ‘All Drinks One Dollar.’ Andy sits on the safe in his neat blue suit and gold-banded cigar, on the lookout for emergencies. The town marshal is there with two deputies to keep order, having been promised free drinks by the trust.
“Well, sir, it took Bird City just ten minutes to realize that it was in a cage. We expected trouble; but there wasn’t any. The citizens saw that we had ’em. The nearest railroad was thirty miles away; and it would be two weeks at least before the river would be fordable. So they began to cuss, amiable, and throw down dollars on the bar till it sounded like a selection on the xylophone.
“There was about 1,500 grown-up adults in Bird City that had arrived at years of indiscretion; and the majority of ’em required from three to twenty drinks a day to make life endurable. The Blue Snake was the only place where they could get ’em till the flood subsided. It was beautiful and simple as all truly great swindles are.
“About ten o’clock the silver dollars dropping on the bar slowed down to playing two-steps and marches instead of jigs. But I looked out the window and saw a hundred or two of our customers standing in line at Bird City Savings and Loan Co., and I knew they were borrowing more money to be sucked in by the clammy tendrils of the octopus.
“At the fashionable hour of noon everybody went home to dinner. We told the bartenders to take advantage of the lull, and do the same. Then me and Andy counted the receipts. We had taken in $1,300. We calculated that if Bird City would only remain an island for two weeks the trust would be able to endow the Chicago University with a new dormitory of padded cells for the faculty, and present every worthy poor man in Texas with a farm, provided he furnished the site for it.
“Andy was especial inroaded by self-esteem at our success, the rudiments of the scheme having originated in his own surmises and premonitions. He got off the safe and lit the biggest cigar in the house.
“‘Jeff,’ says he, ‘I don’t suppose that anywhere in the world you could find three cormorants with brighter ideas about down-treading the proletariat than the firm of Peters, Satan and Tucker, incorporated. We have sure handed the small consumer a giant blow in the sole apoplectic region. No?’
“‘Well,’ says I, ‘it does look as if we would have to take up gastritis and golf or be measured for kilts in spite of ourselves. This little turn in bug juice is, verily, all to the Skibo. And I can stand it,’ says I, ‘I’d rather batten than bant any day.’
“Andy pours himself out four fingers of our best rye and does with it as was so intended. It was the first drink I had ever known him to take.
“‘By way of liberation,’ says he, ‘to the gods.’
“And then after thus doing umbrage to the heathen diabetes he drinks another to our success. And then he begins to toast the trade, beginning with Raisuli and the Northern Pacific, and on down the line to the little ones like the school book combine and the oleomargarine outrages and the Lehigh Valley and Great Scott Coal Federation.
“‘It’s all right, Andy,’ says I, ‘to drink the health of our brother monopolists, but don’t overdo the wassail. You know our most eminent and loathed multi-corruptionists live on weak tea and dog biscuits.’
“Andy went in the back room awhile and came out dressed in his best clothes. There was a kind of murderous and soulful look of gentle riotousness in his eye that I didn’t like. I watched him to see what turn the whiskey was going to take in him. There are two times when you never can tell what is going to happen. One is when a man takes his first drink; and the other is when a woman takes her latest.
“In less than an hour Andy’s skate had turned to an ice yacht. He was outwardly decent and managed to preserve his aquarium, but inside he was impromptu and full of unexpectedness.
“‘Jeff,’ says he, ‘do you know that I’m a crater–a living crater?’
“‘That’s a self-evident hypothesis,’ says I. ‘But you’re not Irish. Why don’t you say ‘creature,’ according to the rules and syntax of America?’
“‘I’m the crater of a volcano,’ says he. ‘I’m all aflame and crammed inside with an assortment of words and phrases that have got to have an exodus. I can feel millions of synonyms and parts of speech rising in me,’ says he, ‘and I’ve got to make a speech of some sort. Drink,’ says Andy, ‘always drives me to oratory.’
“‘It could do no worse,’ says I.
“‘From my earliest recollections,’ says he, ‘alcohol seemed to stimulate my sense of recitation and rhetoric. Why, in Bryan’s second campaign,’ says Andy, ‘they used to give me three gin rickeys and I’d speak two hours longer than Billy himself could on the silver question. Finally, they persuaded me to take the gold cure.’
“‘If you’ve got to get rid of your excess verbiage,’ says I, ‘why not go out on the river bank and speak a piece? It seems to me there was an old spell-binder named Cantharides that used to go and disincorporate himself of his windy numbers along the seashore.’
“‘No,’ says Andy, ‘I must have an audience. I feel like if I once turned loose people would begin to call Senator Beveridge the Grand Young Sphinx of the Wabash. I’ve got to get an audience together, Jeff, and get this oral distension assuaged or it may turn in on me and I’d go about feeling like a deckle-edge edition de luxe of Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth.’
“‘On what special subject of the theorems and topics does your desire for vocality seem to be connected with?’ I asks.
“‘I ain’t particular,’ says Andy. ‘I am equally good and varicose on all subjects. I can take up the matter of Russian immigration, or the poetry of John W. Keats, or the tariff, or Kabyle literature, or drainage, and make my audience weep, cry, sob and shed tears by turns.’
“‘Well, Andy,’ says I, ‘if you are bound to get rid of this accumulation of vernacular suppose you go out in town and work it on some indulgent citizen. Me and the boys will take care of the business. Everybody will be through dinner pretty soon, and salt pork and beans makes a man pretty thirsty. We ought to take in $1,500 more by midnight.’
“So Andy goes out of the Blue Snake, and I see him stopping men on the street and talking to ’em. By and by he has half a dozen in a bunch listening to him; and pretty soon I see him waving his arms and elocuting at a good-sized crowd on a corner. When he walks away they string out after him, talking all the time; and he leads ’em down the main street of Bird City with more men joining the procession as they go. It reminded me of the old legerdemain that I’d read in books about the Pied Piper of Heidsieck charming the children away from the town.
“One o’clock came; and then two; and three got under the wire for place; and not a Bird citizen came in for a drink. The streets were deserted except for some ducks and ladies going to the stores. There was only a light drizzle falling then.
“A lonesome man came along and stopped in front of the Blue Snake to scrape the mud off his boots.
“‘Pardner,’ says I, ‘what has happened? This morning there was hectic gaiety afoot; and now it seems more like one of them ruined cities of Tyre and Siphon where the lone lizard crawls on the walls of the main port-cullis.’
“‘The whole town,’ says the muddy man, ‘is up in Sperry’s wool warehouse listening to your side-kicker make a speech. He is some gravy on delivering himself of audible sounds relating to matters and conclusions,’ says the man.
“‘Well, I hope he’ll adjourn, sine qua non, pretty soon,’ says I, ‘for trade languishes.’
“Not a customer did we have that afternoon. At six o’clock two Mexicans brought Andy to the saloon lying across the back of a burro. We put him in bed while he still muttered and gesticulated with his hands and feet.
“Then I locked up the cash and went out to see what had happened. I met a man who told me all about it. Andy had made the finest two hour speech that had ever been heard in Texas, he said, or anywhere else in the world.
“‘What was it about?’ I asked.
“‘Temperance,’ says he. ‘And when he got through, every man in Bird City signed the pledge for a year.'”
JEFF PETERS AS A PERSONAL MAGNET
Jeff Peters has been engaged in as many schemes for making money as there are recipes for cooking rice in Charleston, S.C.
Best of all I like to hear him tell of his earlier days when he sold liniments and cough cures on street corners, living hand to mouth, heart to heart with the people, throwing heads or tails with fortune for his last coin.
“I struck Fisher Hill, Arkansaw,” said he, “in a buckskin suit, moccasins, long hair and a thirty-carat diamond ring that I got from an actor in Texarkana. I don’t know what he ever did with the pocket knife I swapped him for it.
“I was Dr. Waugh-hoo, the celebrated Indian medicine man. I carried only one best bet just then, and that was Resurrection Bitters. It was made of life-giving plants and herbs accidentally discovered by Ta- qua-la, the beautiful wife of the chief of the Choctaw Nation, while gathering truck to garnish a platter of boiled dog for the annual corn dance.
“Business hadn’t been good in the last town, so I only had five dollars. I went to the Fisher Hill druggist and he credited me for half a gross of eight-ounce bottles and corks. I had the labels and ingredients in my valise, left over from the last town. Life began to look rosy again after I got in my hotel room with the water running from the tap, and the Resurrection Bitters lining up on the table by the dozen.
“Fake? No, sir. There was two dollars’ worth of fluid extract of cinchona and a dime’s worth of aniline in that half-gross of bitters. I’ve gone through towns years afterwards and had folks ask for ’em again.
“I hired a wagon that night and commenced selling the bitters on Main Street. Fisher Hill was a low, malarial town; and a compound hypothetical pneumocardiac anti-scorbutic tonic was just what I diagnosed the crowd as needing. The bitters started off like sweetbreads-on-toast at a vegetarian dinner. I had sold two dozen at fifty cents apiece when I felt somebody pull my coat tail. I knew what that meant; so I climbed down and sneaked a five dollar bill into the hand of a man with a German silver star on his lapel.
“‘Constable,’ says I, ‘it’s a fine night.’
“‘Have you got a city license,’ he asks, ‘to sell this illegitimate essence of spooju that you flatter by the name of medicine?’
“‘I have not,’ says I. ‘I didn’t know you had a city. If I can find it to-morrow I’ll take one out if it’s necessary.’
“‘I’ll have to close you up till you do,’ says the constable.
“I quit selling and went back to the hotel. I was talking to the landlord about it.
“‘Oh, you won’t stand no show in Fisher Hill,’ says he. ‘Dr. Hoskins, the only doctor here, is a brother-in-law of the Mayor, and they won’t allow no fake doctor to practice in town.’
“‘I don’t practice medicine,’ says I, ‘I’ve got a State peddler’s license, and I take out a city one wherever they demand it.’
“I went to the Mayor’s office the next morning and they told me he hadn’t showed up yet. They didn’t know when he’d be down. So Doc Waugh-hoo hunches down again in a hotel chair and lights a jimpson- weed regalia, and waits.
“By and by a young man in a blue necktie slips into the chair next to me and asks the time.
“‘Half-past ten,’ says I, ‘and you are Andy Tucker. I’ve seen you work. Wasn’t it you that put up the Great Cupid Combination package on the Southern States? Let’s see, it was a Chilian diamond engagement ring, a wedding ring, a potato masher, a bottle of soothing syrup and Dorothy Vernon–all for fifty cents.’
“Andy was pleased to hear that I remembered him. He was a good street man; and he was more than that–he respected his profession, and he was satisfied with 300 per cent. profit. He had plenty of offers to go into the illegitimate drug and garden seed business; but he was never to be tempted off of the straight path.
“I wanted a partner, so Andy and me agreed to go out together. I told him about the situation in Fisher Hill and how finances was low on account of the local mixture of politics and jalap. Andy had just got in on the train that morning. He was pretty low himself, and was going to canvass the whole town for a few dollars to build a new battleship by popular subscription at Eureka Springs. So we went out and sat on the porch and talked it over.
“The next morning at eleven o’clock when I was sitting there alone, an Uncle Tom shuffles into the hotel and asked for the doctor to come and see Judge Banks, who, it seems, was the mayor and a mighty sick man.
“‘I’m no doctor,’ says I. ‘Why don’t you go and get the doctor?’
“‘Boss,’ says he. ‘Doc Hoskins am done gone twenty miles in de country to see some sick persons. He’s de only doctor in de town, and Massa Banks am powerful bad off. He sent me to ax you to please, suh, come.’
“‘As man to man,’ says I, ‘I’ll go and look him over.’ So I put a bottle of Resurrection Bitters in my pocket and goes up on the hill to the mayor’s mansion, the finest house in town, with a mannered roof and two cast iron dogs on the lawn.
“This Mayor Banks was in bed all but his whiskers and feet. He was making internal noises that would have had everybody in San Francisco hiking for the parks. A young man was standing by the bed holding a cup of water.
“‘Doc,’ says the Mayor, ‘I’m awful sick. I’m about to die. Can’t you do nothing for me?’
“‘Mr. Mayor,’ says I, ‘I’m not a regular preordained disciple of S. Q. Lapius. I never took a course in a medical college,’ says I. ‘I’ve just come as a fellow man to see if I could be off assistance.’
“‘I’m deeply obliged,’ says he. ‘Doc Waugh-hoo, this is my nephew, Mr. Biddle. He has tried to alleviate my distress, but without success. Oh, Lordy! Ow-ow-ow!!’ he sings out.
“I nods at Mr. Biddle and sets down by the bed and feels the mayor’s pulse. ‘Let me see your liver–your tongue, I mean,’ says I. Then I turns up the lids of his eyes and looks close that the pupils of ’em.
“‘How long have you been sick?’ I asked.
“‘I was taken down–ow-ouch–last night,’ says the Mayor. ‘Gimme something for it, doc, won’t you?’
“‘Mr. Fiddle,’ says I, ‘raise the window shade a bit, will you?’
“‘Biddle,’ says the young man. ‘Do you feel like you could eat some ham and eggs, Uncle James?’
“‘Mr. Mayor,’ says I, after laying my ear to his right shoulder blade and listening, ‘you’ve got a bad attack of super-inflammation of the right clavicle of the harpsichord!’
“‘Good Lord!’ says he, with a groan, ‘Can’t you rub something on it, or set it or anything?’
“I picks up my hat and starts for the door.
“‘You ain’t going, doc?’ says the Mayor with a howl. ‘You ain’t going away and leave me to die with this–superfluity of the clapboards, are you?’
“‘Common humanity, Dr. Whoa-ha,’ says Mr. Biddle, ‘ought to prevent your deserting a fellow-human in distress.’
“‘Dr. Waugh-hoo, when you get through plowing,’ says I. And then I walks back to the bed and throws back my long hair.
“‘Mr. Mayor,’ says I, ‘there is only one hope for you. Drugs will do you no good. But there is another power higher yet, although drugs are high enough,’ says I.
“‘And what is that?’ says he.
“‘Scientific demonstrations,’ says I. ‘The triumph of mind over sarsaparilla. The belief that there is no pain and sickness except what is produced when we ain’t feeling well. Declare yourself in arrears. Demonstrate.’
“‘What is this paraphernalia you speak of, Doc?’ says the Mayor. ‘You ain’t a Socialist, are you?’
“‘I am speaking,’ says I, ‘of the great doctrine of psychic financiering–of the enlightened school of long-distance, sub- conscientious treatment of fallacies and meningitis–of that wonderful in-door sport known as personal magnetism.’
“‘Can you work it, doc?’ asks the Mayor.
“‘I’m one of the Sole Sanhedrims and Ostensible Hooplas of the Inner Pulpit,’ says I. ‘The lame talk and the blind rubber whenever I make a pass at ’em. I am a medium, a coloratura hypnotist and a spirituous control. It was only through me at the recent seances at Ann Arbor that the late president of the Vinegar Bitters Company could revisit the earth to communicate with his sister Jane. You see me peddling medicine on the street,’ says I, ‘to the poor. I don’t practice personal magnetism on them. I do not drag it in the dust,’ says I, ‘because they haven’t got the dust.’
“‘Will you treat my case?’ asks the Mayor.
“‘Listen,’ says I. ‘I’ve had a good deal of trouble with medical societies everywhere I’ve been. I don’t practice medicine. But, to save your life, I’ll give you the psychic treatment if you’ll agree as mayor not to push the license question.’
“‘Of course I will,’ says he. ‘And now get to work, doc, for them pains are coming on again.’
“‘My fee will be $250.00, cure guaranteed in two treatments,’ says I.
“‘All right,’ says the Mayor. ‘I’ll pay it. I guess my life’s worth that much.’
“I sat down by the bed and looked him straight in the eye.
“‘Now,’ says I, ‘get your mind off the disease. You ain’t sick. You haven’t got a heart or a clavicle or a funny bone or brains or anything. You haven’t got any pain. Declare error. Now you feel the pain that you didn’t have leaving, don’t you?’
“‘I do feel some little better, doc,’ says the Mayor, ‘darned if I don’t. Now state a few lies about my not having this swelling in my left side, and I think I could be propped up and have some sausage and buckwheat cakes.’
“I made a few passes with my hands.
“‘Now,’ says I, ‘the inflammation’s gone. The right lobe of the perihelion has subsided. You’re getting sleepy. You can’t hold your eyes open any longer. For the present the disease is checked. Now, you are asleep.’
“The Mayor shut his eyes slowly and began to snore.
“‘You observe, Mr. Tiddle,’ says I, ‘the wonders of modern science.’
“‘Biddle,’ says he, ‘When will you give uncle the rest of the treatment, Dr. Pooh-pooh?’
“‘Waugh-hoo,’ says I. ‘I’ll come back at eleven to-morrow. When he wakes up give him eight drops of turpentine and three pounds of steak. Good morning.’
“The next morning I was back on time. ‘Well, Mr. Riddle,’ says I, when he opened the bedroom door, ‘and how is uncle this morning?’
“‘He seems much better,’ says the young man.
“The mayor’s color and pulse was fine. I gave him another treatment, and he said the last of the pain left him.
“‘Now,’ says I, ‘you’d better stay in bed for a day or two, and you’ll be all right. It’s a good thing I happened to be in Fisher Hill, Mr. Mayor,’ says I, ‘for all the remedies in the cornucopia that the regular schools of medicine use couldn’t have saved you. And now that error has flew and pain proved a perjurer, let’s allude to a cheerfuller subject–say the fee of $250. No checks, please, I hate to write my name on the back of a check almost as bad as I do on the front.’
“‘I’ve got the cash here,’ says the mayor, pulling a pocket book from under his pillow.
“He counts out five fifty-dollar notes and holds ’em in his hand.
“‘Bring the receipt,’ he says to Biddle.
“I signed the receipt and the mayor handed me the money. I put it in my inside pocket careful.
“‘Now do your duty, officer,’ says the mayor, grinning much unlike a sick man.
“Mr. Biddle lays his hand on my arm.
“‘You’re under arrest, Dr. Waugh-hoo, alias Peters,’ says he, ‘for practising medicine without authority under the State law.’
“‘Who are you?’ I asks.
“‘I’ll tell you who he is,’ says Mr. Mayor, sitting up in bed. ‘He’s a detective employed by the State Medical Society. He’s been following you over five counties. He came to me yesterday and we fixed up this scheme to catch you. I guess you won’t do any more doctoring around these parts, Mr. Fakir. What was it you said I had, doc?’ the mayor laughs, ‘compound–well, it wasn’t softening of the brain, I guess, anyway.’
“‘A detective,’ says I.
“‘Correct,’ says Biddle. ‘I’ll have to turn you over to the sheriff.’
“‘Let’s see you do it,’ says I, and I grabs Biddle by the throat and half throws him out the window, but he pulls a gun and sticks it under my chin, and I stand still. Then he puts handcuffs on me, and takes the money out of my pocket.
“‘I witness,’ says he, ‘that they’re the same bank bills that you and I marked, Judge Banks. I’ll turn them over to the sheriff when we get to his office, and he’ll send you a receipt. They’ll have to be used as evidence in the case.’
“‘All right, Mr. Biddle,’ says the mayor. ‘And now, Doc Waugh-hoo,’ he goes on, ‘why don’t you demonstrate? Can’t you pull the cork out of your magnetism with your teeth and hocus-pocus them handcuffs off?’
“‘Come on, officer,’ says I, dignified. ‘I may as well make the best of it.’ And then I turns to old Banks and rattles my chains.
“‘Mr. Mayor,’ says I, ‘the time will come soon when you’ll believe that personal magnetism is a success. And you’ll be sure that it succeeded in this case, too.’
“And I guess it did.
“When we got nearly to the gate, I says: ‘We might meet somebody now, Andy. I reckon you better take ’em off, and–‘ Hey? Why, of course it was Andy Tucker. That was his scheme; and that’s how we got the capital to go into business together.”
MODERN RURAL SPORTS
Jeff Peters must be reminded. Whenever he is called upon, pointedly, for a story, he will maintain that his life has been as devoid of incident as the longest of Trollope’s novels. But lured, he will divulge. Therefore I cast many and divers flies upon the current of his thoughts before I feel a nibble.
“I notice,” said I, “that the Western farmers, in spite of their prosperity, are running after their old populistic idols again.”
“It’s the running season,” said Jeff, “for farmers, shad, maple trees and the Connemaugh river. I know something about farmers. I thought I struck one once that had got out of the rut; but Andy Tucker proved to me I was mistaken. ‘Once a farmer, always a sucker,’ said Andy. ‘He’s the man that’s shoved into the front row among bullets, ballots and the ballet. He’s the funny-bone and gristle of the country,’ said Andy, ‘and I don’t know who we would do without him.’
“One morning me and Andy wakes up with sixty-eight cents between us in a yellow pine hotel on the edge of the pre-digested hoe-cake belt of Southern Indiana. How we got off the train there the night before I can’t tell you; for she went through the village so fast that what looked like a saloon to us through the car window turned out to be a composite view of a drug store and a water tank two blocks apart. Why we got off at the first station we could, belongs to a little oroide gold watch and Alaska diamond deal we failed to pull off the day before, over the Kentucky line.
“When I woke up I heard roosters crowing, and smelt something like the fumes of nitro-muriatic acid, and heard something heavy fall on the floor below us, and a man swearing.
“‘Cheer up, Andy,’ says I. ‘We’re in a rural community. Somebody has just tested a gold brick downstairs. We’ll go out and get what’s coming to us from a farmer; and then yoicks! and away.’
“Farmers was always a kind of reserve fund to me. Whenever I was in hard luck I’d go to the crossroads, hook a finger in a farmer’s suspender, recite the prospectus of my swindle in a mechanical kind of a way, look over what he had, give him back his keys, whetstone and papers that was of no value except to owner, and stroll away without asking any questions. Farmers are not fair game to me as high up in our business as me and Andy was; but there was times when we found ’em useful, just as Wall Street does the Secretary of the Treasury now and then.
“When we went down stairs we saw we was in the midst of the finest farming section we ever see. About two miles away on a hill was a big white house in a grove surrounded by a wide-spread agricultural agglomeration of fields and barns and pastures and out-houses.
“‘Whose house is that?’ we asked the landlord.
“‘That,’ says he, ‘is the domicile and the arboreal, terrestrial and horticultural accessories of Farmer Ezra Plunkett, one of our country’s most progressive citizens.’
“After breakfast me and Andy, with eight cents capital left, casts the horoscope of the rural potentate.
“‘Let me go alone,’ says I. ‘Two of us against one farmer would look as one-sided as Roosevelt using both hands to kill a grizzly.’
“‘All right,’ says Andy. ‘I like to be a true sport even when I’m only collecting rebates from the rutabag raisers. What bait are you going to use for this Ezra thing?’ Andy asks me.
“‘Oh,’ I says, ‘the first thing that come to hand in the suit case. I reckon I’ll take along some of the new income tax receipts, and the recipe for making clover honey out of clabber and apple peelings; and the order blanks for the McGuffey’s readers, which afterwards turn out to be McCormick’s reapers; and the pearl necklace found on the train; and a pocket-size goldbrick; and a–‘
“‘That’ll be enough,’ says Andy. ‘Any one of the lot ought to land on Ezra. And say, Jeff, make that succotash fancier give you nice, clean, new bills. It’s a disgrace to our Department of Agriculture, Civil Service and Pure Food Law the kind of stuff some of these farmers hand out to use. I’ve had to take rolls from ’em that looked like bundles of microbe cultures captured out of a Red Cross ambulance.’
“So, I goes to a livery stable and hires a buggy on my looks. I drove out to the Plunkett farm and hitched. There was a man sitting on the front steps of the house. He had on a white flannel suit, a diamond ring, golf cap and a pink ascot tie. ‘Summer boarder,’ says I to myself.
“‘I’d like to see Farmer Ezra Plunkett,’ says I to him.
“‘You see him,’ says he. ‘What seems to be on your mind?’
“I never answered a word. I stood still, repeating to myself the rollicking lines of that merry jingle, ‘The Man with the Hoe.’ When I looked at this farmer, the little devices I had in my pocket for buncoing the pushed-back brows seemed as hopeless as trying to shake down the Beef Trust with a mittimus and a parlor rifle.
“‘Well,’ says he, looking at me close, ‘speak up. I see the left pocket of your coat sags a good deal. Out with the goldbrick first. I’m rather more interested in the bricks than I am in the trick sixty- day notes and the lost silver mine story.’
“I had a kind of cerebral sensation of foolishness in my ideas of ratiocination; but I pulled out the little brick and unwrapped my handkerchief off it.
“‘One dollar and eighty cents,’ says the farmer hefting it in his hand. ‘Is it a trade?’
“‘The lead in it is worth more than that,’ says I, dignified. I put it back in my pocket.
“‘All right,’ says he. ‘But I sort of wanted it for the collection I’m starting. I got a $5,000 one last week for $2.10.’
“Just then a telephone bell rings in the house.
“‘Come in, Bunk,’ says the farmer, ‘and look at my place. It’s kind of lonesome here sometimes. I think that’s New York calling.’
“We went inside. The room looked like a Broadway stockbroker’s–light oak desks, two ‘phones, Spanish leather upholstered chairs and couches, oil paintings in gilt frames a foot deep and a ticker hitting off the news in one corner.
“‘Hello, hello!’ says this funny farmer. ‘Is that the Regent Theatre? Yes; this is Plunkett, of Woodbine Centre. Reserve four orchestra seats for Friday evening–my usual ones. Yes; Friday–good-bye.’
“‘I run over to New York every two weeks to see a show,’ says the farmer, hanging up the receiver. ‘I catch the eighteen-hour flyer at Indianapolis, spend ten hours in the heyday of night on the Yappian Way, and get home in time to see the chickens go to roost forty-eight hours later. Oh, the pristine Hubbard squasherino of the cave-dwelling period is getting geared up some for the annual meeting of the Don’t- Blow-Out-the-Gas Association, don’t you think, Mr. Bunk?’
“‘I seem to perceive,’ says I, ‘a kind of hiatus in the agrarian traditions in which heretofore, I have reposed confidence.’
“‘Sure, Bunk,’ says he. ‘The yellow primrose on the river’s brim is getting to look to us Reubs like a holiday edition de luxe of the Language of Flowers with deckle edges and frontispiece.’
“Just then the telephone calls him again.
“‘Hello, hello!’ says he. ‘Oh, that’s Perkins, at Milldale. I told you $800 was too much for that horse. Have you got him there? Good. Let me see him. Get away from the transmitter. Now make him trot in a circle. Faster. Yes, I can hear him. Keep on–faster yet. . . . That’ll do. Now lead him up to the phone. Closer. Get his nose nearer. There. Now wait. No; I don’t want that horse. What? No; not at any price. He interferes; and he’s windbroken. Goodbye.’
“‘Now, Bunk,’ says the farmer, ‘do you begin to realize that agriculture has had a hair cut? You belong in a bygone era. Why, Tom Lawson himself knows better than to try to catch an up-to-date agriculturalist napping. It’s Saturday, the Fourteenth, on the farm, you bet. Now, look here, and see how we keep up with the day’s doings.’
“He shows me a machine on a table with two things for your ears like the penny-in-the-slot affairs. I puts it on and listens. A female voice starts up reading headlines of murders, accidents and other political casualities.
“‘What you hear,’ says the farmer, ‘is a synopsis of to-day’s news in the New York, Chicago, St. Louis and San Francisco papers. It is wired in to our Rural News Bureau and served hot to subscribers. On this table you see the principal dailies and weeklies of the country. Also a special service of advance sheets of the monthly magazines.’
“I picks up one sheet and sees that it’s headed: ‘Special Advance Proofs. In July, 1909, the /Century/ will say’–and so forth.
“The farmer rings up somebody–his manager, I reckon–and tells him to let that herd of 15 Jerseys go at $600 a head; and to sow the 900-acre field in wheat; and to have 200 extra cans ready at the station for the milk trolley car. Then he passes the Henry Clays and sets out a bottle of green chartreuse, and goes over and looks at the ticker tape.
“‘Consolidated Gas up two points,’ says he. ‘Oh, very well.’
“‘Ever monkey with copper?’ I asks.
“‘Stand back!’ says he, raising his hand, ‘or I’ll call the dog. I told you not to waste your time.’
“After a while he says: ‘Bunk, if you don’t mind my telling you, your company begins to cloy slightly. I’ve got to write an article on the Chimera of Communism for a magazine, and attend a meeting of the Race Track Association this afternoon. Of course you understand by now that you can’t get my proxy for your Remedy, whatever it may be.’
“Well, sir, all I could think of to do was to go out and get in the buggy. The horse turned round and took me back to the hotel. I hitched him and went in to see Andy. In his room I told him about this farmer, word for word; and I sat picking at the table cover like one bereft of sagaciousness.
“‘I don’t understand it,’ says I, humming a sad and foolish little song to cover my humiliation.
“Andy walks up and down the room for a long time, biting the left end of his mustache as he does when in the act of thinking.
“‘Jeff,’ says he, finally, ‘I believe your story of this expurgated rustic; but I am not convinced. It looks incredulous to me that he could have inoculated himself against all the preordained systems of bucolic bunco. Now, you never regarded me as a man of special religious proclivities, did you, Jeff?’ says Andy.
“‘Well,’ says I, ‘No. But,’ says I, not to wound his feelings, ‘I have also observed many church members whose said proclivities were not so outwardly developed that they would show on a white handkerchief if you rubbed ’em with it.’
“‘I have always been a deep student of nature from creation down,’ says Andy, ‘and I believe in an ultimatum design of Providence. Farmers was made for a purpose; and that was to furnish a livelihood to men like me and you. Else why was we given brains? It is my belief that the manna that the Israelites lived on for forty years in the wilderness was only a figurative word for farmers; and they kept up the practice to this day. And now,’ says Andy, ‘I am going to test my theory “Once a farmer, always a come-on,” in spite of the veneering and the orifices that a spurious civilization has brought to him.’
“‘You’ll fail, same as I did,’ says I. ‘This one’s shook off the shackles of the sheep-fold. He’s entrenched behind the advantages of electricity, education, literature and intelligence.’
“‘I’ll try,’ said Andy. ‘There are certain Laws of Nature that Free Rural Delivery can’t overcome.’
“Andy fumbles around awhile in the closet and comes out dressed in a suit with brown and yellow checks as big as your hand. His vest is red with blue dots, and he wears a high silk hat. I noticed he’d soaked his sandy mustache in a kind of blue ink.
“‘Great Barnums?’ says I. ‘You’re a ringer for a circus thimblerig man.’
“‘Right,’ says Andy. ‘Is the buggy outside? Wait here till I come back. I won’t be long.’
“Two hours afterwards Andy steps into the room and lays a wad of money on the table.
“‘Eight hundred and sixty dollars,’ said he. ‘Let me tell you. He was in. He looked me over and began to guy me. I didn’t say a word, but got out the walnut shells and began to roll the little ball on the table. I whistled a tune or two, and then I started up the old formula.
“‘Step up lively, gentlemen,’ says I, ‘and watch the little ball. It costs you nothing to look. There you see it, and there you don’t. Guess where the little joker is. The quickness of the hand deceives the eye.
“‘I steals a look at the farmer man. I see the sweat coming out on his forehead. He goes over and closes the front door and watches me some more. Directly he says: “I’ll bet you twenty I can pick the shell the ball’s under now.”
“‘After that,’ goes on Andy, ‘there is nothing new to relate. He only had $860 cash in the house. When I left he followed me to the gate. There was tears in his eyes when he shook hands.
“‘”Bunk,” says he, “thank you for the only real pleasure I’ve had in years. It brings up happy old days when I was only a farmer and not an agriculturalist. God bless you.”‘”
Here Jeff Peters ceased, and I inferred that his story was done.
“Then you think”–I began.
“Yes,” said Jeff. “Something like that. You let the farmers go ahead and amuse themselves with politics. Farming’s a lonesome life; and they’ve been against the shell game before.”
THE CHAIR OF PHILANTHROMATHEMATICS
“I see that the cause of Education has received the princely gift of more than fifty millions of dollars,” said I.
I was gleaning the stray items from the evening papers while Jeff Peters packed his briar pipe with plug cut.
“Which same,” said Jeff, “calls for a new deck, and a recitation by the entire class in philanthromathematics.”
“Is that an allusion?” I asked.
“It is,” said Jeff. “I never told you about the time when me and Andy Tucker was philanthropists, did I? It was eight years ago in Arizona. Andy and me was out in the Gila mountains with a two-horse wagon prospecting for silver. We struck it, and sold out to parties in Tucson for $25,000. They paid our check at the bank in silver–a thousand dollars in a sack. We loaded it in our wagon and drove east a hundred miles before we recovered our presence of intellect. Twenty- five thousand dollars doesn’t sound like so much when you’re reading the annual report of the Pennsylvania Railroad or listening to an actor talking about his salary; but when you can raise up a wagon sheet and kick around your bootheel and hear every one of ’em ring against another it makes you feel like you was a night-and-day bank with the clock striking twelve.
“The third day out we drove into one of the most specious and tidy little towns that Nature or Rand and McNally ever turned out. It was in the foothills, and mitigated with trees and flowers and about 2,000 head of cordial and dilatory inhabitants. The town seemed to be called Floresville, and Nature had not contaminated it with many railroads, fleas or Eastern tourists.
“Me and Andy deposited our money to the credit of Peters and Tucker in the Esperanza Savings Bank, and got rooms at the Skyview Hotel. After supper we lit up, and sat out on the gallery and smoked. Then was when the philanthropy idea struck me. I suppose every grafter gets it sometime.
“When a man swindles the public out of a certain amount he begins to get scared and wants to return part of it. And if you’ll watch close and notice the way his charity runs you’ll see that he tries to restore it to the same people he got it from. As a hydrostatical case, take, let’s say, A. A made his millions selling oil to poor students who sit up nights studying political economy and methods for regulating the trusts. So, back to the universities and colleges goes his conscience dollars.
“There’s B got his from the common laboring man that works with his hands and tools. How’s he to get some of the remorse fund back into their overalls?
“‘Aha!’ says B, ‘I’ll do it in the name of Education. I’ve skinned the laboring man,’ says he to himself, ‘but, according to the old proverb, “Charity covers a multitude of skins.”‘
“So he puts up eighty million dollars’ worth of libraries; and the boys with the dinner pail that builds ’em gets the benefit.
“‘Where’s the books?’ asks the reading public.
“‘I dinna ken,’ says B. ‘I offered ye libraries; and there they are. I suppose if I’d given ye preferred steel trust stock instead ye’d have wanted the water in it set out in cut glass decanters. Hoot, for ye!’
“But, as I said, the owning of so much money was beginning to give me philanthropitis. It was the first time me and Andy had ever made a pile big enough to make us stop and think how we got it.
“‘Andy,’ says I, ‘we’re wealthy–not beyond the dreams of average; but in our humble way we are comparatively as rich as Greasers. I feel as if I’d like to do something for as well as to humanity.’
“‘I was thinking the same thing, Jeff,’ says he. ‘We’ve been gouging the public for a long time with all kinds of little schemes from selling self-igniting celluloid collars to flooding Georgia with Hoke Smith presidential campaign buttons. I’d like, myself, to hedge a bet or two in the graft game if I could do it without actually banging the cymbalines in the Salvation Army or teaching a bible class by the Bertillon system.
“‘What’ll we do?’ says Andy. ‘Give free grub to the poor or send a couple of thousand to George Cortelyou?’
“‘Neither,’ says I. ‘We’ve got too much money to be implicated in plain charity; and we haven’t got enough to make restitution. So, we’ll look about for something that’s about half way between the two.’
“The next day in walking around Floresville we see on a hill a big red brick building that appears to be disinhabited. The citizens speak up and tell us that it was begun for a residence several years before by a mine owner. After running up the house he finds he only had $2.80 left to furnish it with, so he invests that in whiskey and jumps off the roof on a spot where he now requiescats in pieces.
“As soon as me and Andy saw that building the same idea struck both of us. We would fix it up with lights and pen wipers and professors, and put an iron dog and statues of Hercules and Father John on the lawn, and start one of the finest free educational institutions in the world right there.
“So we talks it over to the prominent citizens of Floresville, who falls in fine with the idea. They give a banquet in the engine house to us, and we make our bow for the first time as benefactors to the cause of progress and enlightenment. Andy makes an hour-and-a-half speech on the subject of irrigation in Lower Egypt, and we have a moral tune on the phonograph and pineapple sherbert.
“Andy and me didn’t lose any time in philanthropping. We put every man in town that could tell a hammer from a step ladder to work on the building, dividing it up into class rooms and lecture halls. We wire to Frisco for a car load of desks, footballs, arithmetics, penholders, dictionaries, chairs for the professors, slates, skeletons, sponges, twenty-seven cravenetted gowns and caps for the senior class, and an open order for all the truck that goes with a first-class university. I took it on myself to put a campus and a curriculum on the list; but the telegraph operator must have got the words wrong, being an ignorant man, for when the goods come we found a can of peas and a curry-comb among ’em.
“While the weekly papers was having chalk-plate cuts of me and Andy we wired an employment agency in Chicago to express us f.o.b., six professors immediately–one English literature, one up-to-date dead languages, one chemistry, one political economy–democrat preferred– one logic, and one wise to painting, Italian and music, with union card. The Esperanza bank guaranteed salaries, which was to run between $800 and $800.50.
“Well, sir, we finally got in shape. Over the front door was carved the words: ‘The World’s University; Peters & Tucker, Patrons and Proprietors. And when September the first got a cross-mark on the calendar, the come-ons begun to roll in. First the faculty got off the tri-weekly express from Tucson. They was mostly young, spectacled, and red-headed, with sentiments divided between ambition and food. Andy and me got ’em billeted on the Floresvillians and then laid for the students.
“They came in bunches. We had advertised the University in all the state papers, and it did us good to see how quick the country responded. Two hundred and nineteen husky lads aging along from 18 up to chin whiskers answered the clarion call of free education. They ripped open that town, sponged the seams, turned it, lined it with new mohair; and you couldn’t have told it from Harvard or Goldfields at the March term of court.
“They marched up and down the streets waving flags with the World’s University colors–ultra-marine and blue–and they certainly made a lively place of Floresville. Andy made them a speech from the balcony of the Skyview Hotel, and the whole town was out celebrating.
“In about two weeks the professors got the students disarmed and herded into classes. I don’t believe there’s any pleasure equal to being a philanthropist. Me and Andy bought high silk hats and pretended to dodge the two reporters of the Floresville Gazette. The paper had a man to kodak us whenever we appeared on the street, and ran our pictures every week over the column headed ‘Educational Notes.’ Andy lectured twice a week at the University; and afterward I would rise and tell a humorous story. Once the Gazette printed my pictures with Abe Lincoln on one side and Marshall P. Wilder on the other.
“Andy was as interested in philanthropy as I was. We used to wake up of nights and tell each other new ideas for booming the University.
“‘Andy,’ says I to him one day, ‘there’s something we overlooked. The boys ought to have dromedaries.’
“‘What’s that?’ Andy asks.
“‘Why, something to sleep in, of course,’ says I. ‘All colleges have ’em.’
“‘Oh, you mean pajamas,’ says Andy.
“‘I do not,’ says I. ‘I mean dromedaries.’ But I never could make Andy understand; so we never ordered ’em. Of course, I meant them long bedrooms in colleges where the scholars sleep in a row.
“Well, sir, the World’s University was a success. We had scholars from five States and territories, and Floresville had a boom. A new shooting gallery and a pawn shop and two more saloons started; and the boys got up a college yell that went this way:
“‘Raw, raw, raw,
Done, done, done,
Lots of fun,
“The scholars was a fine lot of young men, and me and Andy was as proud of ’em as if they belonged to our own family.
“But one day about the last of October Andy comes to me and asks if I have any idea how much money we had left in the bank. I guesses about sixteen thousand. ‘Our balance,’ says Andy, ‘is $821.62.’
“‘What!’ says I, with a kind of a yell. ‘Do you mean to tell me that them infernal clod-hopping, dough-headed, pup-faced, goose-brained, gate-stealing, rabbit-eared sons of horse thieves have soaked us for that much?’
“‘No less,’ says Andy.
“‘Then, to Helvetia with philanthropy,’ says I.
“‘Not necessarily,’ says Andy. ‘Philanthropy,’ says he, ‘when run on a good business basis is one of the best grafts going. I’ll look into the matter and see if it can’t be straightened out.’
“The next week I am looking over the payroll of our faculty when I run across a new name–Professor James Darnley McCorkle, chair of mathematics; salary $100 per week. I yells so loud that Andy runs in quick.
“‘What’s this,’ says I. ‘A professor of mathematics at more than $5,000 a year? How did this happen? Did he get in through the window and appoint himself?’
“‘I wired to Frisco for him a week ago,’ says Andy. ‘In ordering the faculty we seemed to have overlooked the chair of mathematics.’
“‘A good thing we did,’ says I. ‘We can pay his salary two weeks, and then our philanthropy will look like the ninth hole on the Skibo golf links.’
“‘Wait a while,’ says Andy, ‘and see how things turn out. We have taken up too noble a cause to draw out now. Besides, the further I gaze into the retail philanthropy business the better it looks to me. I never thought about investigating it before. Come to think of it now,’ goes on Andy, ‘all the philanthropists I ever knew had plenty of money. I ought to have looked into that matter long ago, and located which was the cause and which was the effect.’
“I had confidence in Andy’s chicanery in financial affairs, so I left the whole thing in his hands. The University was flourishing fine, and me and Andy kept our silk hats shined up, and Floresville kept on heaping honors on us like we was millionaires instead of almost busted philanthropists.
“The students kept the town lively and prosperous. Some stranger came to town and started a faro bank over the Red Front livery stable, and began to amass money in quantities. Me and Andy strolled up one night and piked a dollar or two for sociability. There were about fifty of our students there drinking rum punches and shoving high stacks of blues and reds about the table as the dealer turned the cards up.
“‘Why, dang it, Andy,’ says I, ‘these free-school-hunting, gander- headed, silk-socked little sons of sap-suckers have got more money than you and me ever had. Look at the rolls they’re pulling out of their pistol pockets?’
“‘Yes,’ says Andy, ‘a good many of them are sons of wealthy miners and stockmen. It’s very sad to see ’em wasting their opportunities this way.’
“At Christmas all the students went home to spend the holidays. We had a farewell blowout at the University, and Andy lectured on ‘Modern Music and Prehistoric Literature of the Archipelagos.’ Each one of the faculty answered to toasts, and compared me and Andy to Rockefeller and the Emperor Marcus Autolycus. I pounded on the table and yelled for Professor McCorkle; but it seems he wasn’t present on the occasion. I wanted a look at the man that Andy thought could earn $100 a week in philanthropy that was on the point of making an assignment.
“The students all left on the night train; and the town sounded as quiet as the campus of a correspondence school at midnight. When I went to the hotel I saw a light in Andy’s room, and I opened the door and walked in.
“There sat Andy and the faro dealer at a table dividing a two-foot high stack of currency in thousand-dollar packages.
“‘Correct,’ says Andy. ‘Thirty-one thousand apiece. Come in, Jeff,’ says he. ‘This is our share of the profits of the first half of the scholastic term of the World’s University, incorporated and philanthropated. Are you convinced now,’ says Andy, ‘that philanthropy when practiced in a business way is an art that blesses him who gives as well as him who receives?’
“‘Great!’ says I, feeling fine. ‘I’ll admit you are the doctor this time.’
“‘We’ll be leaving on the morning train,’ says Andy. ‘You’d better get your collars and cuffs and press clippings together.’
“‘Great!’ says I. ‘I’ll be ready. But, Andy,’ says I, ‘I wish I could have met that Professor James Darnley McCorkle before we went. I had a curiosity to know that man.’
“‘That’ll be easy,’ says Andy, turning around to the faro dealer.
“‘Jim,’ says Andy, ‘shake hands with Mr. Peters.'”
THE HAND THAT RILES THE WORLD
“Many of our great men,” said I (apropos of many things), “have declared that they owe their success to the aid and encouragement of some brilliant woman.”
“I know,” said Jeff Peters. “I’ve read in history and mythology about Joan of Arc and Mme. Yale and Mrs. Caudle and Eve and other noted females of the past. But, in my opinion, the woman of to-day is of little use in politics or business. What’s she best in, anyway?–men make the best cooks, milliners, nurses, housekeepers, stenographers, clerks, hairdressers and launderers. About the only job left that a woman can beat a man in is female impersonator in vaudeville.”
“I would have thought,” said I, “that occasionally, anyhow, you would have found the wit and intuition of woman valuable to you in your lines of–er–business.”
“Now, wouldn’t you,” said Jeff, with an emphatic nod–“wouldn’t you have imagined that? But a woman is an absolutely unreliable partner in any straight swindle. She’s liable to turn honest on you when you are depending upon her the most. I tried ’em once.
“Bill Humble, an old friend of mine in the Territories, conceived the illusion that he wanted to be appointed United States Marshall. At that time me and Andy was doing a square, legitimate business of selling walking canes. If you unscrewed the head of one and turned it up to your mouth a half pint of good rye whiskey would go trickling down your throat to reward you for your act of intelligence. The deputies was annoying me and Andy some, and when Bill spoke to me about his officious aspirations, I saw how the appointment as Marshall might help along the firm of Peters & Tucker.
“‘Jeff,’ says Bill to me, ‘you are a man of learning and education, besides having knowledge and information concerning not only rudiments but facts and attainments.’
“‘I do,’ says I, ‘and I have never regretted it. I am not one,’ says I, ‘who would cheapen education by making it free. Tell me,’ says I, ‘which is of the most value to mankind, literature or horse racking?’
“‘Why–er–, playing the po–I mean, of course, the poets and the great writers have got the call, of course,’ says Bill.
“‘Exactly,’ says I. ‘Then why do the master minds of finance and philanthropy,’ says I, ‘charge us $2 to get into a race-track and let us into a library free? Is that distilling into the masses,’ says I, ‘a correct estimate of the relative value of the two means of self- culture and disorder?’
“‘You are arguing outside of my faculties of sense and rhetoric,’ says Bill. ‘What I wanted you to do is to go to Washington and dig out this appointment for me. I haven’t no ideas of cultivation and intrigue. I’m a plain citizen and I need the job. I’ve killed seven men,’ says Bill; ‘I’ve got nine children; I’ve been a good Republican ever since the first of May; I can’t read nor write, and I see no reason why I ain’t illegible for the office. And I think your partner, Mr. Tucker,’ goes on Bill, ‘is also a man of sufficient ingratiation and connected system of mental delinquency to assist you in securing the appointment. I will give you preliminary,’ says Bill, ‘$1,000 for drinks, bribes and carfare in Washington. If you land the job I will pay you $1,000 more, cash down, and guarantee you impunity in boot- legging whiskey for twelve months. Are you patriotic to the West enough to help me put this thing through the Whitewashed Wigwam of the Great Father of the most eastern flag station of the Pennsylvania Railroad?’ says Bill.
“Well, I talked to Andy about it, and he liked the idea immense. Andy was a man of an involved nature. He was never content to plod along, as I was, selling to the peasantry some little tool like a combination steak beater, shoe horn, marcel waver, monkey wrench, nail file, potato masher and Multum in Parvo tuning fork. Andy had the artistic temper, which is not to be judged as a preacher’s or a moral man’s is by purely commercial deflections. So we accepted Bill’s offer, and strikes out for Washington.
“Says I to Andy, when we get located at a hotel on South Dakota Avenue, G.S.S.W. ‘Now Andy, for the first time in our lives we’ve got to do a real dishonest act. Lobbying is something we’ve never been used to; but we’ve got to scandalize ourselves for Bill Humble’s sake. In a straight and legitimate business,’ says I, ‘we could afford to introduce a little foul play and chicanery, but in a disorderly and heinous piece of malpractice like this it seems to me that the straightforward and aboveboard way is the best. I propose,’ says I, ‘that we hand over $500 of this money to the chairman of the national campaign committee, get a receipt, lay the receipt on the President’s desk and tell him about Bill. The President is a man who would appreciate a candidate who went about getting office that way instead of pulling wires.’
“Andy agreed with me, but after we talked the scheme over with the hotel clerk we give that plan up. He told us that there was only one way to get an appointment in Washington, and that was through a lady lobbyist. He gave us the address of one he recommended, a Mrs. Avery, who he said was high up in sociable and diplomatic rings and circles.
“The next morning at 10 o’clock me and Andy called at her hotel, and was shown up to her reception room.
“This Mrs. Avery was a solace and a balm to the eyesight. She had hair the color of the back of a twenty dollar gold certificate, blue eyes and a system of beauty that would make the girl on the cover of a July magazine look like a cook on a Monongahela coal barge.
“She had on a low necked dress covered with silver spangles, and diamond rings and ear bobs. Her arms was bare; and she was using a desk telephone with one hand, and drinking tea with the other.
“‘Well, boys,’ says she after a bit, ‘what is it?’
“I told her in as few words as possible what we wanted for Bill, and the price we could pay.
“‘Those western appointments,’ says she, ‘are easy. Le’me see, now,’ says she, ‘who could put that through for us. No use fooling with the Territorial delegates. I guess,’ says she, ‘that Senator Sniper would be about the man. He’s from somewheres in the West. Let’s see how he stands on my private menu card.’ She takes some papers out of a pigeon-hole with the letter ‘S’ over it.
“‘Yes,’ says she, ‘he’s marked with a star; that means “ready to serve.” Now, let’s see. “Age 55; married twice; Presbyterian, likes blondes, Tolstoi, poker and stewed terrapin; sentimental at third bottle of wine.” Yes,’ she goes on, ‘I am sure I can have your friend, Mr. Bummer, appointed Minister to Brazil.’
“‘Humble,’ says I. ‘And United States Marshal was the berth.’
“‘Oh, yes,’ says Mrs. Avery. ‘I have so many deals of this sort I sometimes get them confused. Give me all the memoranda you have of the case, Mr. Peters, and come back in four days. I think it can be arranged by then.’
“So me and Andy goes back to our hotel and waits. Andy walks up and down and chews the left end of his mustache.
“‘A woman of high intellect and perfect beauty is a rare thing, Jeff,’ says he.
“‘As rare,’ says I, ‘as an omelet made from the eggs of the fabulous bird known as the epidermis,’ says I.
“‘A woman like that,’ says Andy, ‘ought to lead a man to the highest positions of opulence and fame.’
“‘I misdoubt,’ says I, ‘if any woman ever helped a man to secure a job any more than to have his meals ready promptly and spread a report that the other candidate’s wife had once been a shoplifter. They are no more adapted for business and politics,’ says I, ‘than Algernon Charles Swinburne is to be floor manager at one of Chuck Connor’s annual balls. I know,’ says I to Andy, ‘that sometimes a woman seems to step out into the kalsomine light as the charge d’affaires of her man’s political job. But how does it come out? Say, they have a neat little berth somewhere as foreign consul of record to Afghanistan or lockkeeper on the Delaware and Raritan Canal. One day this man finds his wife putting on her overshoes and three months supply of bird seed into the canary’s cage. “Sioux Falls?” he asks with a kind of hopeful light in his eye. “No, Arthur,” says she, “Washington. We’re wasted here,” says she. “You ought to be Toady Extraordinary to the Court of St. Bridget or Head Porter of the Island of Porto Rico. I’m going to see about it.”
“‘Then this lady,’ I says to Andy, ‘moves against the authorities at Washington with her baggage and munitions, consisting of five dozen indiscriminating letters written to her by a member of the Cabinet when she was 15; a letter of introduction from King Leopold to the Smithsonian Institution, and a pink silk costume with canary colored spats.
“‘Well and then what?’ I goes. ‘She has the letters printed in the evening papers that match her costume, she lectures at an informal tea given in the palm room of the B. & O. Depot and then calls on the President. The ninth Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Labor, the first aide-de-camp of the Blue Room and an unidentified colored man are waiting there to grasp her by the hands–and feet. They carry her out to S.W.B. street and leave her on a cellar door. That ends it. The next time we hear of her she is writing postcards to the Chinese Minister asking him to get Arthur a job in a tea store.’
“‘Then,’ says Andy, ‘you don’t think Mrs. Avery will land the Marshalship for Bill?’
“‘I do not,’ says I. ‘I do not wish to be a sceptic, but I doubt if she can do as well as you and me could have done.’
“‘I don’t agree with you,’ says Andy. ‘I’ll bet you she does. I’m proud of having a higher opinion of the talent and the powers of negotiation of ladies.’
“We was back at Mrs. Avery’s hotel at the time she appointed. She was looking pretty and fine enough, as far as that went, to make any man let her name every officer in the country. But I hadn’t much faith in looks, so I was certainly surprised when she pulls out a document with the great seal of the United States on it, and ‘William Henry Humble’ in a fine, big hand on the back.
“‘You might have had it the next day, boys,’ says Mrs. Avery, smiling. ‘I hadn’t the slightest trouble in getting it,’ says she. ‘I just asked for it, that’s all. Now, I’d like to talk to you a while,’ she goes on, ‘but I’m awfully busy, and I know you’ll excuse me. I’ve got an Ambassadorship, two Consulates and a dozen other minor applications to look after. I can hardly find time to sleep at all. You’ll give my compliments to Mr. Humble when you get home, of course.’
“Well, I handed her the $500, which she pitched into her desk drawer without counting. I put Bill’s appointment in my pocket and me and Andy made our adieus.
“We started back for the Territory the same day. We wired Bill: ‘Job landed; get the tall glasses ready,’ and we felt pretty good.
“Andy joshed me all the way about how little I knew about women.
“‘All right,’ says I. ‘I’ll admit that she surprised me. But it’s the first time I ever knew one of ’em to manipulate a piece of business on time without getting it bungled up in some way,’ says I.
“Down about the edge of Arkansas I got out Bill’s appointment and looked it over, and then I handed it to Andy to read. Andy read it, but didn’t add any remarks to my silence.
“The paper was for Bill, all right, and a genuine document, but it appointed him postmaster of Dade City, Fla.
“Me and Andy got off the train at Little Rock and sent Bill’s appointment to him by mail. Then we struck northeast toward Lake Superior.
“I never saw Bill Humble after that.”
THE EXACT SCIENCE OF MATRIMONY
“As I have told you before,” said Jeff Peters, “I never had much confidence in the perfidiousness of woman. As partners or coeducators in the most innocent line of graft they are not trustworthy.”
“They deserve the compliment,” said I. “I think they are entitled to be called the honest sex.”
“Why shouldn’t they be?” said Jeff. “They’ve got the other sex either grafting or working overtime for ’em. They’re all right in business until they get their emotions or their hair touched up too much. Then you want to have a flat footed, heavy breathing man with sandy whiskers, five kids and a building and loan mortgage ready as an understudy to take her desk. Now there was that widow lady that me and Andy Tucker engaged to help us in that little matrimonial agency scheme we floated out in Cairo.
“When you’ve got enough advertising capital–say a roll as big as the little end of a wagon tongue–there’s money in matrimonial agencies. We had about $6,000 and we expected to double it in two months, which is about as long as a scheme like ours can be carried on without taking out a New Jersey charter.
“We fixed up an advertisement that read about like this:
“Charming widow, beautiful, home loving, 32 years, possessing $3,000 cash and owning valuable country property, would remarry. Would prefer a poor man with affectionate disposition to one with means, as she realizes that the solid virtues are oftenest to be found in the humble walks of life. No objection to elderly man or one of homely appearance if faithful and true and competent to manage property and invest money with judgment. Address, with particulars.
Care of Peters & Tucker, agents, Cairo, Ill.
“‘So far, so pernicious,’ says I, when we had finished the literary concoction. ‘And now,’ says I, ‘where is the lady.’
“Andy gives me one of his looks of calm irritation.
“‘Jeff,’ says he, ‘I thought you had lost them ideas of realism in your art. Why should there be a lady? When they sell a lot of watered stock on Wall Street would you expect to find a mermaid in it? What has a matrimonial ad got to do with a lady?’
“‘Now listen,’ says I. ‘You know my rule, Andy, that in all my illegitimate inroads against the legal letter of the law the article sold must be existent, visible, producible. In that way and by a careful study of city ordinances and train schedules I have kept out of all trouble with the police that a five dollar bill and a cigar could not square. Now, to work this scheme we’ve got to be able to produce bodily a charming widow or its equivalent with or without the beauty, hereditaments and appurtenances set forth in the catalogue and writ of errors, or hereafter be held by a justice of the peace.’
“‘Well,’ says Andy, reconstructing his mind, ‘maybe it would be safer in case the post office or the peace commission should try to investigate our agency. But where,’ he says, ‘could you hope to find a widow who would waste time on a matrimonial scheme that had no matrimony in it?’
“I told Andy that I thought I knew of the exact party. An old friend of mine, Zeke Trotter, who used to draw soda water and teeth in a tent show, had made his wife a widow a year before by drinking some dyspepsia cure of the old doctor’s instead of the liniment that he always got boozed up on. I used to stop at their house often, and I thought we could get her to work with us.
“‘Twas only sixty miles to the little town where she lived, so I jumped out on the I.C. and finds her in the same cottage with the same sunflowers and roosters standing on the washtub. Mrs. Trotter fitted our ad first rate except, maybe for beauty and age and property valuation. But she looked feasible and praiseworthy to the eye, and it was a kindness to Zeke’s memory to give her the job.
“‘Is this an honest deal you are putting on, Mr. Peters,’ she asks me when I tell her what we want.
“‘Mrs. Trotter,’ says I, ‘Andy Tucker and me have computed the calculation that 3,000 men in this broad and unfair country will endeavor to secure your fair hand and ostensible money and property through our advertisement. Out of that number something like thirty hundred will expect to give you in exchange, if they should win you, the carcass of a lazy and mercenary loafer, a failure in life, a swindler and contemptible fortune seeker.
“‘Me and Andy,’ says I, ‘propose to teach these preyers upon society a lesson. It was with difficulty,’ says I, ‘that me and Andy could refrain from forming a corporation under the title of the Great Moral and Millennial Malevolent Matrimonial Agency. Does that satisfy you?’
“‘It does, Mr. Peters,’ says she. ‘I might have known you wouldn’t have gone into anything that wasn’t opprobrious. But what will my duties be? Do I have to reject personally these 3,000 ramscallions you speak of, or can I throw them out in bunches?’
“‘Your job, Mrs. Trotter,’ says I, ‘will be practically a cynosure. You will live at a quiet hotel and will have no work to do. Andy and I will attend to all the correspondence and business end of it.
“‘Of course,’ says I, ‘some of the more ardent and impetuous suitors who can raise the railroad fare may come to Cairo to personally press their suit or whatever fraction of a suit they may be wearing. In that case you will be probably put to the inconvenience of kicking them out face to face. We will pay you $25 per week and hotel expenses.’
“‘Give me five minutes,’ says Mrs. Trotter, ‘to get my powder rag and leave the front door key with a neighbor and you can let my salary begin.’
“So I conveys Mrs. Trotter to Cairo and establishes her in a family hotel far enough away from mine and Andy’s quarters to be unsuspicious and available, and I tell Andy.
“‘Great,’ says Andy. ‘And now that your conscience is appeased as to the tangibility and proximity of the bait, and leaving mutton aside, suppose we revenoo a noo fish.’
“So, we began to insert our advertisement in newspapers covering the country far and wide. One ad was all we used. We couldn’t have used more without hiring so many clerks and marcelled paraphernalia that the sound of the gum chewing would have disturbed the Postmaster- General.
“We placed $2,000 in a bank to Mrs. Trotter’s credit and gave her the book to show in case anybody might question the honesty and good faith of the agency. I knew Mrs. Trotter was square and reliable and it was safe to leave it in her name.
“With that one ad Andy and me put in twelve hours a day answering letters.
“About one hundred a day was what came in. I never knew there was so many large hearted but indigent men in the country who were willing to acquire a charming widow and assume the burden of investing her money.
“Most of them admitted that they ran principally to whiskers and lost jobs and were misunderstood by the world, but all of ’em were sure that they were so chock full of affection and manly qualities that the widow would be making the bargain of her life to get ’em.
“Every applicant got a reply from Peters & Tucker informing him that the widow had been deeply impressed by his straightforward and interesting letter and requesting them to write again; stating more particulars; and enclosing photograph if convenient. Peters & Tucker also informed the applicant that their fee for handing over the second letter to their fair client would be $2, enclosed therewith.
“There you see the simple beauty of the scheme. About 90 per cent. of them domestic foreign noblemen raised the price somehow and sent it in. That was all there was to it. Except that me and Andy complained an amount about being put to the trouble of slicing open them envelopes, and taking the money out.
“Some few clients called in person. We sent ’em to Mrs. Trotter and she did the rest; except for three or four who came back to strike us for carfare. After the letters began to get in from the r.f.d. districts Andy and me were taking in about $200 a day.
“One afternoon when we were busiest and I was stuffing the two and ones into cigar boxes and Andy was whistling ‘No Wedding Bells for Her’ a small slick man drops in and runs his eye over the walls like he was on the trail of a lost Gainesborough painting or two. As soon as I saw him I felt a glow of pride, because we were running our business on the level.
“‘I see you have quite a large mail to-day,’ says the man.
“I reached and got my hat.
“‘Come on,’ says I. ‘We’ve been expecting you. I’ll show you the goods. How was Teddy when you left Washington?’
“I took him down to the Riverview Hotel and had him shake hands with Mrs. Trotter. Then I showed him her bank book with the $2,000 to her credit.
“‘It seems to be all right,’ says the Secret Service.
“‘It is,’ says I. ‘And if you’re not a married man I’ll leave you to talk a while with the lady. We won’t mention the two dollars.’
“‘Thanks,’ says he. ‘If I wasn’t, I might. Good day, Mrs. Peters.’
“Toward the end of three months we had taken in something over $5,000, and we saw it was time to quit. We had a good many complaints made to us; and Mrs. Trotter seemed to be tired of the job. A good many suitors had been calling to see her, and she didn’t seem to like that.
“So we decides to pull out, and I goes down to Mrs. Trotter’s hotel to pay her last week’s salary and say farewell and get her check for the $2,000.
“When I got there I found her crying like a kid that don’t want to go to school.
“‘Now, now,’ says I, ‘what’s it all about? Somebody sassed you or you getting homesick?’
“‘No, Mr. Peters,’ says she. ‘I’ll tell you. You was always a friend of Zeke’s, and I don’t mind. Mr. Peters, I’m in love. I just love a man so hard I can’t bear not to get him. He’s just the ideal I’ve always had in mind.’
“‘Then take him,’ says I. ‘That is, if it’s a mutual case. Does he return the sentiment according to the specifications and painfulness you have described?’
“‘He does,’ says she. ‘But he’s one of the gentlemen that’s been coming to see me about the advertisement and he won’t marry me unless I give him the $2,000. His name is William Wilkinson.’ And then she goes off again in the agitations and hysterics of romance.
“‘Mrs. Trotter,’ says I, ‘there’s no man more sympathizing with a woman’s affections than I am. Besides, you was once the life partner of one of my best friends. If it was left to me I’d say take this $2,000 and the man of your choice and be happy.
“‘We could afford to do that, because we have cleaned up over $5,000 from these suckers that wanted to marry you. But,’ says I, ‘Andy Tucker is to be consulted.
“‘He is a good man, but keen in business. He is my equal partner financially. I will talk to Andy,’ says I, ‘and see what can be done.’
“I goes back to our hotel and lays the case before Andy.
“‘I was expecting something like this all the time,’ says Andy. ‘You can’t trust a woman to stick by you in any scheme that involves her emotions and preferences.’
“‘It’s a sad thing, Andy,’ says I, ‘to think that we’ve been the cause of the breaking of a woman’s heart.’
“‘It is,’ says Andy, ‘and I tell you what I’m willing to do, Jeff. You’ve always been a man of a soft and generous heart and disposition. Perhaps I’ve been too hard and worldly and suspicious. For once I’ll meet you half way. Go to Mrs. Trotter and tell her to draw the $2,000 from the bank and give it to this man she’s infatuated with and be happy.’
“I jumps up and shakes Andy’s hand for five minutes, and then I goes back to Mrs. Trotter and tells her, and she cries as hard for joy as she did for sorrow.
“Two days afterward me and Andy packed up to go.
“‘Wouldn’t you like to go down and meet Mrs. Trotter once before we leave?’ I asks him. ‘She’d like mightily to know you and express her encomiums and gratitude.’
“‘Why, I guess not,’ says Andy. ‘I guess we’d better hurry and catch that train.’
“I was strapping our capital around me in a memory belt like we always carried it, when Andy pulls a roll of large bills out of his pocket and asks me to put ’em with the rest.
“‘What’s this?’ says I.
“‘It’s Mrs. Trotter’s two thousand,’ says Andy.
“‘How do you come to have it?’ I asks.
“‘She gave it to me,’ says Andy. ‘I’ve been calling on her three evenings a week for more than a month.’
“‘Then are you William Wilkinson?’ says I.
“‘I was,’ says Andy.”
A MIDSUMMER MASQUERADE
“Satan,” said Jeff Peters, “is a hard boss to work for. When other people are having their vacation is when he keeps you the busiest. As old Dr. Watts or St. Paul or some other diagnostician says: ‘He always finds somebody for idle hands to do.’
“I remember one summer when me and my partner, Andy Tucker, tried to take a layoff from our professional and business duties; but it seems that our work followed us wherever we went.
“Now, with a preacher it’s different. He can throw off his responsibilities and enjoy himself. On the 31st of May he wraps mosquito netting and tin foil around the pulpit, grabs his niblick, breviary and fishing pole and hikes for Lake Como or Atlantic City according to the size of the loudness with which he has been called by his congregation. And, sir, for three months he don’t have to think about business except to hunt around in Deuteronomy and Proverbs and Timothy to find texts to cover and exculpate such little midsummer penances as dropping a couple of looey door on rouge or teaching a Presbyterian widow to swim.
“But I was going to tell you about mine and Andy’s summer vacation that wasn’t one.
“We was tired of finance and all the branches of unsanctified ingenuity. Even Andy, whose brain rarely ever stopped working, began to make noises like a tennis cabinet.
“‘Heigh ho!’ says Andy. ‘I’m tired. I’ve got that steam up the yacht Corsair and ho for the Riviera! feeling. I want to loaf and indict my soul, as Walt Whittier says. I want to play pinochle with Merry del Val or give a knouting to the tenants on my Tarrytown estates or do a monologue at a Chautauqua picnic in kilts or something summery and outside the line of routine and sand-bagging.’
“‘Patience,’ says I. ‘You’ll have to climb higher in the profession before you can taste the laurels that crown the footprints of the great captains of industry. Now, what I’d like, Andy,’ says I, ‘would be a summer sojourn in a mountain village far from scenes of larceny, labor and overcapitalization. I’m tired, too, and a month or so of sinlessness ought to leave us in good shape to begin again to take away the white man’s burdens in the fall.’
“Andy fell in with the rest cure at once, so we struck the general passenger agents of all the railroads for summer resort literature, and took a week to study out where we should go. I reckon the first passenger agent in the world was that man Genesis. But there wasn’t much competition in his day, and when he said: ‘The Lord made the earth in six days, and all very good,’ he hadn’t any idea to what extent the press agents of the summer hotels would plagiarize from him later on.
“When we finished the booklets we perceived, easy, that the United States from Passadumkeg, Maine, to El Paso, and from Skagway to Key West was a paradise of glorious mountain peaks, crystal lakes, new laid eggs, golf, girls, garages, cooling breezes, straw rides, open plumbing and tennis; and all within two hours’ ride.
“So me and Andy dumps the books out the back window and packs our trunk and takes the 6 o’clock Tortoise Flyer for Crow Knob, a kind of a dernier resort in the mountains on the line of Tennessee and North Carolina.
“We was directed to a kind of private hotel called Woodchuck Inn, and thither me and Andy bent and almost broke our footsteps over the rocks and stumps. The Inn set back from the road in a big grove of trees, and it looked fine with its broad porches and a lot of women in white dresses rocking in the shade. The rest of Crow Knob was a post office and some scenery set an angle of forty-five degrees and a welkin.
“Well, sir, when we got to the gate who do you suppose comes down the walk to greet us? Old Smoke-’em-out Smithers, who used to be the best open air painless dentist and electric liver pad faker in the Southwest.
“Old Smoke-’em-out is dressed clerico-rural, and has the mingled air of a landlord and a claim jumper. Which aspect he corroborates by telling us that he is the host and perpetrator of Woodchuck Inn. I introduces Andy, and we talk about a few volatile topics, such as will go around at meetings of boards of directors and old associates like us three were. Old Smoke-’em-out leads us into a kind of summer house in the yard near the gate and took up the harp of life and smote on all the chords with his mighty right.
“‘Gents,’ says he, ‘I’m glad to see you. Maybe you can help me out of a scrape. I’m getting a bit old for street work, so I leased this dogdays emporium so the good things would come to me. Two weeks before the season opened I gets a letter signed Lieut. Peary and one from the Duke of Marlborough, each wanting to engage board for part of the summer.
“‘Well, sir, you gents know what a big thing for an obscure hustlery it would be to have for guests two gentlemen whose names are famous from long association with icebergs and the Coburgs. So I prints a lot of handbills announcing that Woodchuck Inn would shelter these distinguished boarders during the summer, except in places where it leaked, and I sends ’em out to towns around as far as Knoxville and Charlotte and Fish Dam and Bowling Green.
“‘And now look up there on the porch, gents,’ says Smoke-’em-out, ‘at them disconsolate specimens of their fair sex waiting for the arrival of the Duke and the Lieutenant. The house is packed from rafters to cellar with hero worshippers.
“‘There’s four normal school teachers and two abnormal; there’s three high school graduates between 37 and 42; there’s two literary old maids and one that can write; there’s a couple of society women and a lady from Haw River. Two elocutionists are bunking in the corn crib, and I’ve put cots in the hay loft for the cook and the society editress of the Chattanooga /Opera Glass/. You see how names draw, gents.’
“‘Well,’ says I, ‘how is it that you seem to be biting your thumbs at good luck? You didn’t use to be that way.’
“‘I ain’t through,’ says Smoke-’em-out. ‘Yesterday was the day for the advent of the auspicious personages. I goes down to the depot to welcome ’em. Two apparently animate substances gets off the train, both carrying bags full of croquet mallets and these magic lanterns with pushbuttons.
“I compares these integers with the original signatures to the letters –and, well, gents, I reckon the mistake was due to my poor eyesight. Instead of being the Lieutenant, the daisy chain and wild verbena explorer was none other than Levi T. Peevy, a soda water clerk from Asheville. And the Duke of Marlborough turned out to be Theo. Drake of Murfreesborough, a bookkeeper in a grocery. What did I do? I kicked ’em both back on the train and watched ’em depart for the lowlands, the low.
“‘Now you see the fix I’m in, gents,’ goes on Smoke-’em-out Smithers. ‘I told the ladies that the notorious visitors had been detained on the road by some unavoidable circumstances that made a noise like an ice jam and an heiress, but they would arrive a day or two later. When they find out that they’ve been deceived,’ says Smoke-’em-out, ‘every yard of cross barred muslin and natural waved switch in the house will pack up and leave. It’s a hard deal,’ says old Smoke-’em-out.
“‘Friend,’ says Andy, touching the old man on the aesophagus, ‘why this jeremiad when the polar regions and the portals of Blenheim are conspiring to hand you prosperity on a hall-marked silver salver. We have arrived.’
“A light breaks out on Smoke-’em-out’s face.
“‘Can you do it, gents?’ he asks. ‘Could ye do it? Could ye play the polar man and the little duke for the nice ladies? Will ye do it?’
“I see that Andy is superimposed with his old hankering for the oral and polyglot system of buncoing. That man had a vocabulary of about 10,000 words and synonyms, which arrayed themselves into contraband sophistries and parables when they came out.
“‘Listen,’ says Andy to old Smoke-’em-out. ‘Can we do it? You behold before you, Mr. Smithers, two of the finest equipped men on earth for inveigling the proletariat, whether by word of mouth, sleight-of-hand or swiftness of foot. Dukes come and go, explorers go and get lost, but me and Jeff Peters,’ says Andy, ‘go after the come-ons forever. If you say so, we’re the two illustrious guests you were expecting. And you’ll find,’ says Andy, ‘that we’ll give you the true local color of the title roles from the aurora borealis to the ducal portcullis.’
“Old Smoke-’em-out is delighted. He takes me and Andy up to the inn by an arm apiece, telling us on the way that the finest fruits of the can and luxuries of the fast freights should be ours without price as long as we would stay.
“On the porch Smoke-’em-out says: ‘Ladies, I have the honor to introduce His Gracefulness the Duke of Marlborough and the famous inventor of the North Pole, Lieut. Peary.’
“The skirts all flutter and the rocking chairs squeak as me and Andy bows and then goes on in with old Smoke-’em-out to register. And then we washed up and turned our cuffs, and the landlord took us to the rooms he’d been saving for us and got out a demijohn of North Carolina real mountain dew.
“I expected trouble when Andy began to drink. He has the artistic metempsychosis which is half drunk when sober and looks down on airships when stimulated.
“After lingering with the demijohn me and Andy goes out on the porch, where the ladies are to begin to earn our keep. We sit in two special chairs and then the schoolma’ams and literaterrers hunched their rockers close around us.
“One lady says to me: ‘How did that last venture of yours turn out, sir?’
“Now, I’d clean forgot to have an understanding with Andy which I was to be, the duke or the lieutenant. And I couldn’t tell from her question whether she was referring to Arctic or matrimonial expeditions. So I gave an answer that would cover both cases.
“‘Well, ma’am,’ says I, ‘it was a freeze out–right smart of a freeze out, ma’am.’
“And then the flood gates of Andy’s perorations was opened and I knew which one of the renowned ostensible guests I was supposed to be. I wasn’t either. Andy was both. And still furthermore it seemed that he was trying to be the mouthpiece of the whole British nobility and of Arctic exploration from Sir John Franklin down. It was the union of corn whiskey and the conscientious fictional form that Mr. W. D. Howletts admires so much.
“‘Ladies,’ says Andy, smiling semicircularly, ‘I am truly glad to visit America. I do not consider the magna charta,’ says he, ‘or gas balloons or snow-shoes in any way a detriment to the beauty and charm of your American women, skyscrapers or the architecture of your icebergs. The next time,’ says Andy, ‘that I go after the North Pole all the Vanderbilts in Greenland won’t be able to turn me out in the cold–I mean make it hot for me.’
“‘Tell us about one of your trips, Lieutenant,’ says one of the normals.
“‘Sure,’ says Andy, getting the decision over a hiccup. ‘It was in the spring of last year that I sailed the Castle of Blenheim up to latitude 87 degrees Fahrenheit and beat the record. Ladies,’ says Andy, ‘it was a sad sight to see a Duke allied by a civil and liturgical chattel mortgage to one of your first families lost in a region of semiannual days.’ And then he goes on, ‘At four bells we sighted Westminster Abbey, but there was not a drop to eat. At noon we threw out five sandbags, and the ship rose fifteen knots higher. At midnight,’ continues Andy, ‘the restaurants closed. Sitting on a cake of ice we ate seven hot dogs. All around us was snow and ice. Six times a night the boatswain rose up and tore a leaf off the calendar, so we could keep time with the barometer. At 12,’ says Andy, with a lot of anguish on his face, ‘three huge polar bears sprang down the hatchway, into the cabin. And then–‘
“‘What then, Lieutenant?’ says a schoolma’am, excitedly.
“Andy gives a loud sob.
“‘The Duchess shook me,’ he cries out, and slides out of the chair and weeps on the porch.
“Well, of course, that fixed the scheme. The women boarders all left the next morning. The landlord wouldn’t speak to us for two days, but when he found we had money to pay our way he loosened up.
“So me and Andy had a quiet, restful summer after all, coming away from Crow Knob with $1,100, that we enticed out of old Smoke-’em-out playing seven up.”
SHEARING THE WOLF
Jeff Peters was always eloquent when the ethics of his profession was under discussion.
“The only times,” said he, “that me and Andy Tucker ever had any hiatuses in our cordial intents was when we differed on the moral aspects of grafting. Andy had his standards and I had mine. I didn’t approve of all of Andy’s schemes for levying contributions from the public, and he thought I allowed my conscience to interfere too often for the financial good of the firm. We had high arguments sometimes. One word led on to another till he said I reminded him of Rockefeller.
“‘I don’t know how you mean that, Andy,’ says I, ‘but we have been friends too long for me to take offense, at a taunt that you will regret when you cool off. I have yet,’ says I, ‘to shake hands with a subpoena server.’