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 grow pumpkins."

"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 good thing.

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 solemnly:

"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 can do?"

"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."

"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, boys."

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 mind.

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.