“Pick,” interrupts Caligula, mussing up his red hair, “what are you going to do with that chicken-feed?”
I hands the money back to Major Tucker; and then I goes over to Colonel Rockingham and slaps him on the back.
“Colonel,” says I, “I hope you’ve enjoyed our little joke. We don’t want to carry it too far. Kidnappers! Well, wouldn’t it tickle your uncle? My name’s Rhinegelder, and I’m a nephew of Chauncey Depew. My friend’s a second cousin of the editor of Puck. So you can see. We are down South enjoying ourselves in our humorous way. Now, there’s two quarts of cognac to open yet, and then the joke’s over.”
What’s the use to go into details? One or two will be enough. I remember Major Tallahassee Tucker playing on a jew’s-harp, and Caligula waltzing with his head on the watch pocket of a tall baggage-master. I hesitate to refer to the cake-walk done by me and Mr. Patterson G. Coble with Colonel Jackson T. Rockingham between us.
And even on the next morning, when you wouldn’t think it possible, there was a consolation for me and Caligula. We knew that Raisuli himself never made half the hit with Burdick Harris that we did with the Sunrise & Edenville Tap Railroad.
On an east-bound train I went into the smoker and found Jefferson Peters, the only man with a brain west of the Wabash River who can use his cerebrum, cerebellum, and medulla oblongata at the same time.
Jeff is in the line of unillegal graft. He is not to be dreaded by widows and orphans; he is a reducer of surplusage. His favorite disguise is that of the target-bird at which the spendthrift or the reckless investor may shy a few inconsequential dollars. He is readily vocalized by tobacco; so, with the aid of two thick and easy-burning brevas, I got the story of his latest Autolycan adventure.
“In my line of business,” said Jeff, “the hardest thing is to find an upright, trustworthy, strictly honorable partner to work a graft with. Some of the best men I ever worked with in a swindle would resort to trickery at times.
“So, last summer, I thinks I will go over into this section of country where I hear the serpent has not yet entered, and see if I can find a partner naturally gifted with a talent for crime, but not yet contaminated by success.
“I found a village that seemed to show the right kind of a layout. The inhabitants hadn’t found that Adam had been dispossessed, and were going right along naming the animals and killing snakes just as if they were in the Garden of Eden. They call this town Mount Nebo, and it’s up near the spot where Kentucky and West Virginia and North Carolina corner together. Them States don’t meet? Well, it was in that neighborhood, anyway.
“After putting in a week proving I wasn’t a revenue officer, I went over to the store where the rude fourflushers of the hamlet lied, to see if I could get a line on the kind of man I wanted.