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
"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
"'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
"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
"'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
"'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
"'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
"'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
"'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
"'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."