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O. Henry

The Gentle Grafter

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 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 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.

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