"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
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
"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-
"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
"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
"'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
"When I got there I found her crying like a kid that don't want to go
"'Now, now,' says I, 'what's it all about? Somebody sassed you or you
"'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
"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
"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."