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THE GENTLE GRAFTER
Illustrated by H. C. Greening and May Wilson Preston
[Illustration: "They began to cuss, amiable, and throw down dollars."
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
elseif (getClientWidth() > 430)
XIII. Hostages to Momus
XIV. The Ethics of Pig
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
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
"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
[Illustration: "Andy was especial inroaded by self-esteem."]
"'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
"'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
"'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
"'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
"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.
[Illustration: "And he leads 'em down the main street of Bird City."]
"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
"'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
"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
"'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
"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
[Illustration: "Life began to look rosy again..."]
"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
"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.
[Illustration: "I commenced selling the bitters on Main Street."]
"'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 mansard 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
"'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
"'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
"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
"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