Some Magic and a Moral
By Virginia H. Reichard
Along in the early nineties as I was traveling in the West, selling
shoes, I left the train at the little junction of Skywaw and surveyed
the town. I found that the proverbial hotel, blacksmith shop, general
store and a handful of houses, beside the depot, comprised the town.
After supper at the hotel, where I was waited upon by the landlord's
pretty daughter, I asked about the storekeeper across the way and found
to my surprise that he carried about a ten or twelve thousand dollar
general stock which included everything from a sheepskin to a paper of
needles. The farming country being so good, it was no wonder that this
man did almost as big a business as many others in much larger towns,
so the daughter told me, while the landlord himself chipped in with a
question: "Why, don't you know this is just the richest spot in Wahoo
County? In fact the ground is too rich. Just think of it—too rich to
"Why," I asked, "can't you grow pumpkins?"
With a smile of confidence that his joke was entirely new he replied:
"The vines grow so fast it drags them over the ground and wears them
out. Go up and see the storekeeper and if you sell him you get your
money for the goods sure thing, for he sells for cash only."
I picked up my grips and started to see my man at once; found him
standing in the door chewing a quid and spitting out into the street at
any stray chicken or dog that chanced to wander by. As he stood there
indifferent, expressionless, he looked the typical Westerner, with an
air of "do as you darn please" about him; pants tucked into a pair of
boots that were run over and worn off at the toe in a peculiar way that
would indicate to a shoeologist that he was a sharp, keen trader, very
suspicious of strangers, hard to strike a trade with unless he could
see a hundred per cent in it for himself. In early days he had been a
horse trader and a dealer in buffalo hides, and had never seen the time
when he couldn't tell what o'clock it was better by the sun than by a
watch; a hard man to approach on the shoe subject as his mind didn't
seem to hover around shoes.
There must have been a depression in his skull where his bump of order
was supposed to be, as from the general appearance it looked as if the
devil had held an auction there the day before. I began my little
"spiel" by telling my business—who I was, where I was from—and asked
if my conversation would interest him at all if I talked about shoes
for awhile, remarking incidentally: "You'll have some business now
sure. Trade will get good right away, as I never opened up my samples
in a man's store in my life but what customers came dropping in."
"Well, then, for God's sake open them up. I need the business all right
enough," quoth he.
Then strange to say, as if to cinch what I had said, up rode six
country boys on horseback, and in a minute the big strapping fellows
came tramping in. You know the kind that work on a farm all day, ride
to town to buy one pound of sugar for family use and ten pounds of
chewing tobacco for their own use, and other articles in like
proportion while they are having a good time.
Taking seats on the counter opposite, they began a lot of loud talking.
One picked up a turnip and began peeling it, poising it on the tip of
his knife-blade, taking large bites, and never for a minute losing
sight of what we were doing in the shoe line.
It took a lot of persuading to get the proprietor to look at my
samples, but I soon noticed the shrewd gleam of his eyes that told that
he had had hold of good leather before and was a much better judge of
my line than I expected to find in such a place. But talk about
exhorting! How I worked with that fellow. And after keeping it up for
two whole hours—from seven until nine, I finally landed him, selling
him a little over five hundred dollars' worth of shoes. As I was
getting a straight eight per cent commission at that time, the sale
made me a little over forty dollars for two hours' work, and I was
feeling mighty good. Even my cold-blooded customer had warmed up some
from the effects of the deal on which he saw he was bound to make a
While I was packing up my samples he said, sort of edging around: "Say,
can't you sing us a song or dance us a jig or do something to entertain
us all? You travelin' fellers allus know somethin' new, and are up to
whatever is goin' on over the country, ain't ye?"
I replied: "I can't sing; I am out of voice; but if you can furnish the
music I can dance a jig or clog. Oh, by the way, did you ever see any
sleight of hand or legerdemain tricks?"
None of them ever had; didn't even know what they were, and solemnly
assured me they were something new in that burg.
As I had been practicing coin tricks and other feats of sleight of hand
for the last ten years and could do many of the former, making the
coins appear and disappear at will in a mysterious manner, I decided to
try this form of amusement, thinking I had an easy bunch to work on. So
I showed them a silver dollar, giving it to one of them to examine,
passing it on to each one of them in succession, just to show them that
it was a genuine, everyday piece. Then taking it in my hand, I
proceeded to manipulate the coin by picking it out from underneath one
fellow's foot as he sat on the counter dangling his long legs; taking
it from another fellow's chin; picking it out from the pocket of the
jumper one of them had on; finding it in the next man's ear; and
finally, coming to the proprietor, I told him to hold his thumb and
finger together, pointing up; then took the coin from between his own
thumb and finger without his realizing how it got there or how it got
away. I caught his startled look—the fellows jumped down off the
counter and crowded close together—wonder and amazement written all
over them. This was the first time in their lives they had ever seen a
sleight of hand trick, where the motion of the hand is so quick the
sight cannot follow it.
But presto, chango, begono, magico, came near being too much for them.
They were absolutely horror stricken. Some of them were unable to
speak; some were afraid to; others couldn't speak above a whisper; and
one of these desired to know when I would be back in that country
again. He wanted Brother Bill to see it; in fact he would like to bring
the whole family in.
The proprietor's face was a study. Doubt, surprise and suspicion passed
over his face in succession, but gave way to fresh curiosity when I
asked him to bring me two hats and I would do Hermann's parlor trick
with two hats and four balls. The method of doing this is to place the
four balls in a square about three feet apart on a counter or a table,
then place the hats over two of the balls; the object being to find all
four balls under one hat, without, of course, anybody seeing how they
got there. This I accomplished successfully, and this performance
seemed to bring them close to the limit. They had been craning their
necks to see, but when it was over they all straightened up, took a
step backward in line and looked at one another. Then one of them said
"Folks is gettin' geniuser and geniuser every day, boys. Ain't it so?"
And Pete nudged Jim to make sure it was no dream, then spat excitedly
on the rusty stove.
The proprietor had been eyeing me with suspicion for a good while. I
noticed whenever I would pass in front of him he would step back and
plant his hands tight on his pockets where he kept his money, as if he
thought I might somehow coax it to jump out unless he held it in by
main force. Legerdemain had scared him some and made him both
suspicious and wary.
Pretty soon I began to realize I had done a little too much; in fact, I
had given them a little more than they had been able to digest. But
like many another fool who has overstepped, I tried to make up by
giving them something in another line.
The proprietor looked up with a distrustful glance. "Is that all you
"That's all in the trick line, gentlemen. But I have something that I
can do that is out of the line of tricks. It's a gift—mind-reading.
Only about one in six millions has it. I do the same as Brown, Johnson
or Bishop—those big guns you have heard about—in finding any given
object. And if you, sir (to the proprietor), will place your mind on
any one of the ten thousand articles in this store, concentrating your
mind on it, I will get the object you are thinking about and hand it to
"You can't do that; it ain't possible," he said.
One of the boys spoke up: "Aw, let him try, Dan. Gosh! Let him try."
After looking around the store and meditating a little he said: "Durn
it all, then, go ahead. I've picked out the thing I want you to get and
by jigger I'll keep my mind on it all right."
Taking his hand, placing it upon my forehead, and holding it there with
one of mine, I started down the store, the other six rubbering after us
with all their might. After going about thirty feet with an occasional
kick or bump at a basket or barrel that happened to be in the way, I
turned to the left; stopping at the show-case, and sliding back the
doors, I reached in, picked up a razor—his own razor—that lay in the
case and handed it to him.
"Great Scott," he yelled. "The very razor I shave myself with—when I
shave; and that's the very thing I had my mind on too, by thunder." The
sweat stood out in great drops on his forehead and for a few minutes
his emotion seemed to be too much for him. So I said:
"Well, boys, this concludes the evening's performance; meeting's out,
Dazed with wonder, the six riders looked blankly at each other, turned
to me grinning foolishly, then filed out, jumped on their horses and
galloped away, whooping like Comanche Indians.
Bidding the proprietor good night I started for the door.
"Hold on a minute!" he cried. "I want to see you, young feller." He
strode up to within about two feet of me, hands thrust deep in his
pockets, looking as if he would like to fight. Then he burst out with:
"Say, you're about the slickest thing I ever saw in my life, ain't you?
You're durned slick. You're smooth—a little too smooth; and you hear
me, you needn't send them goods I bought to-night. I won't take 'em."
"What!" I cried.
"You hear me; you needn't send 'em. I won't take the goods," he said in
a tone there was no mistaking.
I commenced to argue. But no. "You've done killed yourself with me,"
was all I could get out of him, and nothing I could say or do would
make any difference. But I was bound not to lose the forty dollars
without a struggle and brought all the arts, arguments and persuasions
to bear that I could think of; but without avail. He seemed to be
convinced that if I wasn't the devil himself, at least I was a near
relation, and he would have none of me.
Then I did what I never had done before: took the dollar and carefully
showed him just how I had done the trick, explaining that sight was
really slower than motion sometimes and that the whole thing was
intended to be harmless and amusing.
"If that's the way you did with the money, how about the four-ball
trick?" he asked gruffly.
Still bent upon making the proposition stick, I explained the ball
trick too, by going over it and explaining how the eye could be
deceived. You see, I was growing more and more anxious all the time to
cinch my commission, and felt that my efforts were worth while. When
suddenly, dubious and still unconvinced, he turned to me and asked:
"Well, how in time did you find the razor?"
"I was very particular to tell you," I said, "before I went after that
razor that it wasn't a trick. It's a gift I can't explain; nobody can;
nobody ever did. I can't do it; I don't know how or why. Some call it
mind-reading and some people have been kept guessing to give it a name.
I am one of the few who can do it, that's all. When I went after the
article you had in mind, I didn't know it was a razor; I didn't know
what it was; but when I came in contact with what you had in mind I
picked it up and handed it to you. This is my explanation—the only one
I can give. I call it 'mind-reading,' that's all."
After some more talk I left him mystified and distrustful, in spite of
all I had said and done, still refusing to reinstate the order. I left
my grips in the store as it was near the station, and went to the hotel
to spend a restless night, kicking myself for a fool meanwhile, since
my attempts to amuse had lost me the neat little sum of forty dollars.
I slept a couple of hours when I was awakened by the most horrible
noise it was ever my fortune to hear: Two car-loads of calves, just a
day away from their mothers, were being shipped and their bawling was
intolerable. Talk about your quiet country towns for rest and sleep! No
more for me that night, I thought. So I dressed, took a smoke, and
decided to tackle my man again in the morning and to try to change his
A little after daylight I saw him sweeping the sidewalk in front of the
door, handling the broom as a man does a flail on the barn floor. I
went over and said: "Good morning." As he looked up I saw that his
glance was as surly and suspicious as it had been the night before, but
thought I would make a good start by approaching him upon some of his
hobbies the landlord had told me about. In his capacity as horse trader
he prided himself on his ability to judge a good horse. So I opened up
by telling him about a horse I owned, and asked if he had anything to
trade for him. This seemed to bring the right twinkle into his eye, and
he began to brace up and take notice a little. So I talked on until I
saw the smoke of the approaching train away down the valley seven or
eight miles along the old Kantopey trail. Then I made a last attempt.
"Now see here, Mister," I said, "I came into your store last night and
showed you my samples, showed you the names of some of the best
merchants who have bought big bills of me and I sold you a bill of
goods in good faith. Then you proposed that I entertain you as you had
very little amusement in a place like this. I told you I couldn't sing
but would do what I could with such sleight of hand tricks as I knew,
and I did exactly what I said I would. It seemed to meet with plenty of
approval all around until the mind-reading came up, when you turned me
down for no reason whatever. Now, I ask you a question: Is that a
square deal to a man on a business proposition?"
He looked at the floor and was silent, though apparently a little
uneasy. He shook his head doubtfully, which made me feel that he was
perhaps not so unfriendly after all, and might possibly do the right
thing yet. Hearing the distant whistle, I said:
"Train's coming; have to go. Wish you good luck, just the same as if
you'd treated me square. Wish you good crops and plenty of water for
your stock. As long as you live don't turn another fellow down like you
have me, just because he's done his best to give you a good time." And
I made a rush for the depot to check my baggage.
The train came in; there was the usual hurry and noise. The old fellow
stood there, leaning against the weather-boarding of the depot like a
picture of Uncle Sam—a queer, awkward figure with his hay-colored
whiskers, pipe in the corner of his mouth, and hands still planted
firmly in his pockets, his eyes riveted on every move I made.
I boarded the train, said "Howdy" to a friend, and looking back saw old
Dan standing where I had left him as if glued to the spot. The engine
puffed and snorted; the wheels began to go around. "Good-bye," I
shouted from the platform as if answering his steady gaze.
All of a sudden the long, gaunt figure limbered up, like a corpse that
had been touched by a galvanic battery. He came chasing down the track
after the train, waving his arms like a windmill and yelling like
Bedlam let loose: "Hey! Say there, you young feller; hey there! I'll
take them goods; send 'em along. I'll take them goods. D'ye hear?"
And I called back to him with great gusto: "All right," as the train
rounded a curve.
Moral: When you have sold your goods make your get-away.