"What was this this graft? asked Johnny, with the impatience of
the great public to whom tales are told.
"'Tis contrary to art and philosophy to give you the information,"
said Keogh, calmly. "The art of narrative consists in concealing
from your audience everything it wants to know until after you expose
your favorite opinions on topics foreign to the subject. A good
story is like a bitter pill with the sugar coating inside of it.
I will begin, if you please, with a horoscope located in the Cherokee
Nation; and end with a moral tune on the phonograph.
"Me and Henry Horsecollar brought the first phonograph to this
country. Henry was a quarter-breed, quarter-back cherokee, educated
East in the idioms of football, and West in contraband whiskey, and
a gentleman, the same as you and me. He was easy and romping in
his ways; a man about six foot, with a kind of rubber-tire movement.
Yes, he was a little man about five foot five, or five foot eleven.
He was what you would call a medium tall man of average smallness.
Henry had quit college once, and the Muscogee jail three times--the
last-named institution on account of introducing and selling whisky
in the territories. Henry Horsecollar never let any cigar stores
come up and stand behind him. He didn't belong to that tribe of
"Henry and me met at Texarkana, and figured out this phonograph
scheme. He had $360 which came to him out of a land allotment
in the reservation. I had run down from Little Rock on account
of a distressful scene I had witnessed on the street there. A man
stood on a box and passed around some gold watches, screw case,
stem-winders, Elgin movement, very elegant. Twenty bucks they cost
you over the counter. At three dollars the crowd fought for the
tickers. The man happened to find a valise full of them handy, and
he passed them out like putting hot biscuits on a plate. The backs
were hard to unscrew, but the crowd put its ear to the case, and
they ticked mollifying and agreeable. Three of these watches were
genuine tickers; the rest were only kickers. Hey? Why, empty cases
with one of them horny black bugs that fly around electric lights
in 'em. Them bugs kick off minutes and seconds industrious and
beautiful. So, this man I was speaking of cleaned up $288; and then
he went away, because he knew that when it came time to wind watches
in Little Rock an entomologist would be needed, and he wasn't one.
"So, as I say, Henry had $360 and I had $288. The idea of introducing
the phonograph to South America was Henry's; but I took to it freely,
being fond of machinery of all kinds.
"'The Latin races,' says Henry, explaining easy in the idioms he
learned at college, 'are peculiarly adapted to be victims of the
phonograph. They yearn for music and color and gaiety. They give
wampum to the hand-organ man and the four-legged chicken in the tent
when they're three months behind with the grocery and the bread-fruit
"'Then,' says I, 'we'll export canned music to the Latins; but I'm
mindful of Mr. Julius Caesar's account of 'em where he says: ~"Omnia
Gallia in tres partes divisa est"~; which is the same as to say, "We
will need all of our gall in devising means to tree them parties."'
"I hated to make a show of education; but I was disinclined to be
overdone in syntax by a mere Indian, a member of a race to which we
owe nothing except the land on which the United States is situated.
"We bought a fine phonograph in Texarkana--one of the best make--and
half a trunkful of records. We packed up, and took the T. and P.
for New Orleans. From that celebrated center of molasses and
disfranchised coon songs we took a steamer for South America.
"We landed at Solitas, forty miles up the coast from here. 'Twas
a palatable enough place to look at. The houses were clean and white;
and to look at 'em stuck around among the scenery they reminded you
of hard-boiled eggs served with lettuce. There was a block of
skyscraper mountains in the suburbs; and they kept pretty quiet,
like they had crept up there and were watching the town. And the sea
was remarking 'Sh-sh-sh' on the beach; and now and then a ripe coconut
would drop kerblip in the sand; and that was all there was doing.
Yes, I judge that town was considerably on the quiet. I judge that
after Gabriel quits blowing his horn, and the car starts, with
Philadelphia swinging to the last strap, and Pine Gully, Arkansas,
hanging onto the rear step, this town of Solitas will wake up and ask
if anybody spoke.
"The captain went ashore with us, and offered to conduct what he
seemed to like to call the obsequies. He introduced Henry and me to
the United States Consul, and a roan man, the head of the Department
of Mercenary and Licentious Dispostions, the way it read upon his
"'I thouch here again a week from today,' says the captain.
"'By that time,' we told him, 'we'll be amassing wealth in the
interior towns with our galvanized prima donna and correct imitations
of Sousa's band excavating a march from a tin mine.'
"'Ye'll not,' says the captain. 'Ye'll be hypnotized. Any gentleman
in the audience who kindly steps upon the stage and looks this country
in the eye will be converted to the hypothesis that he's but a fly
in the Elgin creamery. Ye'll be standing knee deep in the surf
waiting for me, and your machine for making Hamburger steak out of
the hitherto respected art of music will be playing "There's no place
"Henry skinned a twenty off his roll, and received from the Bureau
of Mercenary Dispositions a paper bearing a red seal and a dialect
story, and no change.
"Then we got the consul full of red wine, and struck him for a
horoscope. He was a thin, youngish kind of man, I should say past
fifty, sort of French-Irish in his affections, and puffed up with
disconsolation. Yes, he was a flattened kind of man, in whom drink
lay stagnant, inclined to corpulence and misery. Yes, I think he
was a kind of Dutchman, being very sad and genial in his ways.
"'The marvelous invention,' he says, 'entitled the phonograph, has
never invaded these shores. The people have never heard it. They
would not believe it if they should. Simple-hearted children of
nature, progress has never condemned them to accept the work of
a can-opener as an overture, and rag-time might incite them to a
bloody revolution. But you can try the experiment. The best chance
you have is that the populace may not wake up when you play. There's
two ways,' says the consul, 'they may take it. They may become
inebriated with attention, like an Atlanta colonel listening to
"Marching Through Georgia," or they will get excited and transpose
the key of the music with an axe and yourselves into a dungeon. In
the latter case,' says the consul, 'I'll do my duty by cabling to the
State Department, and I'll wrap the Stars and Stripes around you when
you come to be shot, and threaten them with the vengeance of the
greatest gold export and financial reserve nation on earth. The flag
is full of bullet holes now,' says the consul, 'made in that way.
Twice before,' says the consul, 'I have cabled our government for a
couple of gunboats to protect American citizens. The first time the
Department sent me a pair of gum boots. The other time was when a man
named Pease was going to be executed here. They referred that appeal
to the Secretary of Agriculture. Let us now disturb the senor behind
the bar for a subsequence of the red wine.'
"Thus soliloquized the consul of Solitas to me and Henry Horsecollar.
"But, notwithstanding, we hired a room that afternoon in the Calle de
los Angeles, the main street that runs along the shore, and put our
trunks there. 'Twas a good-sized room, dark and cheerful, but small.
'Twas on a various street, diversified by houses and conservatory
plants. The peasantry of the city passed to and fro on the fine
pasturage between the sidewalks. 'Twas, for the world, like an opera
chorus when the Royal Kafoozlum is about to enter.
"We were rubbing the dust off the machine and getting fixed to start
business the next day, when a big, fine-looking white man in white
clothes stopped at the door and looked in. We extended the
invitations, and he walked inside and sized us up. He was chewing
a long cigar, and wrinkling his eyes, meditative, like a girl trying
to decide which dress to wear to the party.
"'New York?' he says to me finally.
"'Originally, and from time to time,' I says. 'Hasn't it rubbed off
"'It's simple,' says he, 'when you know how. It's the fit of
the vest. They don't cut vests right anywhere else. Coats, maybe,
but not vests.'
"The white man looks at Henry Horsecollar and hesitates.
"'Injun,' says Henry; 'tame Injun.'
"'Mellinger,' says the man--'Homer P. Mellinger. Boys, you're
confiscated. You're babes in the wood without a chaperon or referee,
and it's my duty to start you going. I'll knock out the props and
launch you proper in the pellucid waters of this tropical mud puddle.
You'll have to be christened, and if you'll come with me I'll break
a bottle of wine across your bows, according to Hoyle.'
"Well, for two days Homer P. Mellinger did the honors. That man cut
ice in Anchuria. He was It. He was the Royal Kafoozlum. If me and
Henry was babes in the wood, he was a Robin Redbreast from the topmost
bough. Him and me and Henry Horsecollar locked arms, and toted that
phonograph around, and had wassail and diversions. Everywhere we
found doors open we went inside and set the machine going, and
Mellinger called upon the people to observe the artful music and his
two lifelong friends, the Senores Americanos. The opera chorus was
agitated with esteem, and followed us from house to house. There was
a different kind of drink to be had with every tune. The natives
had acquirements of a pleasant thing in the way of a drink that gums
itself to the recollection. They chop off the end of a green coconut,
and pour in on the juice of it French brandy and other adjuvants.
We had them and other things.
"Mine and Henry's money was counterfeit. Everything was on Homer
P. Mellinger. That man could find rolls of bills concealed in places
on his person where Hermann the Wizard couldn't have conjured out a
rabbit or an omelette. He could have founded universities, and made
orchid collections, and then had enough left to purchase the colored
vote of his country. Henry and me wondered what his graft was. One
evening he told us.
"'Boys, said he, I've deceived you. You think I'm a painted
butterfly; but in fact I'm the hardest worked man in this country.
Ten years ago I landed on its shores; and two years ago on the point
of its jaw. Yes, I guess I can get the decision over this ginger cake
commonwealth at the end of any round I choose. I'll confide in you
because you are my countrymen and guests, even if you have assaulted
my adopted shores with the worst system of noises ever set to music.
"'My job is private secretary to the president of this republic;
and my duties are running it. I'm not headlined in the bills, but I'm
the mustard in the salad dressing just the same. There isn't a law
goes before Congress, there isn't a concession granted, there isn't
an import duty levied but what H. P. Mellinger he cooks and seasons
it. In the front office I fill the president's inkstand and search
visiting statesmen for dirks and dynamite; but in the back room I
dictate the policy of the government. You'd never guess in the world
how I got my pull. It's the only graft of its kind on earth. I'll
put you wise. You remember the old top-liner in the copy book--
Honesty is the Best Policy?" That's it. I'm working honestly for a
graft. I'm the only honest man in the republic. The government knows
it; the people know it; the boodlers know it; the foreign investors
know it. I make the government keep its faith. If a man is promised
a job he gets it. If outside capital buys a concession it gets
the goods. I run the monopoly of square dealing here. There's no
competition. If Colonel Diogenes were to flash his lantern in this
precinct he'd have my address inside of two minutes. There isn't big
money in it, but it's a sure thing, and lets a man sleep of nights.'
"Thus Homer P. Mellinger made oration to me and Henry Horsecollar.
And, later, he divested himself of this remark:
"'Boys, I'm to hold a ~soiree~ this evening with a gang of leading
citizens, and I want your assistance. You bring the musical corn
sheller and give the affair the outside appearance of a function.
There's important business on hand, but it mustn't show. I can talk
to you people. I've been pained for years on account of not having
anybody to blow off and brag to. I get homesick sometimes, and I'd
swap the entire perquisites of office for just one hour to have a
stein and a caviar sandwich somewhere on Thirty-fourth Street, and
stand and watch the street cars go by, and smell the peanut roaster
at old Giuseppe's fruit stand.'
"'Yes,' said I, 'there's fine caviar at Billy Renfrew's cafe, corner
of Thirty-fourth and--'
"'God knows it,' interrupts Mellinger, 'and if you'd told me you knew
Billy Renfrew I'd have invented tons of ways of making you happy.
Billy was my side-kicker in New York. There is a man who never knew
what crooked was. Here I am working Honesty for a graft, but that
man loses money on it. Carrambos! I get sick at times of this
country. Everything's rotten. From the executive down to the coffee
pickers, they're plotting to down each other and skin their friends.
If a mule driver takes off his hat to an official, that man figures
it out that he's a popular idol, and set his pegs to stir up a
revolution and upset the administration. It's one of my little chores
as private secretary to smell out these revolutions and affix the
kibosh before they break out and scratch the paint off the government
property. That's why I'm down here now in this mildewed coast town.
The governor of the district and his crew are plotting to uprise.
I've got every one of their names, and they're invited to listen
to the phonograph tonight, compliments of H. P. M. That's the way
I'll get them in a bunch, and things are on the program to happen
"We three were sitting at table in the cantina of the Purified Saints.
Mellinger poured out wine, and was looking some worried; I was
"'They're a sharp crowd,' he says, kind of fretful. 'They're
capitalized by a foreign syndicate after rubber, and they're loaded
to the muzzle for bribing. I'm sick,' goes on Mellinger, 'of comic
opera. I want to smell East River and wear suspenders again. At
times I feel loke throwing up my job, but I'm d--n fool enough to
be sort of proud of it. "There's Mellinger," they say here. "~Por
dios!~ you can't touch him with a million." I'd like to take that
record back and show it to Billy Renfrow some day; and that tightens
my grip whenever I see a fat thing that I could corral just by
winking one eye--and losing my graft. By--, they can't monkey
with me. They know it. What money I get I make honest and spend it.
Some day, I'll make a pile and go back and eat caviar with Billy.
Tonight I'll show you how to handle a bunch of corruptionists. I'll
show them what Mellinger, private secretary, means when you spell it
with the cotton and tissue paper off.'
"Mellinger appears shaky, and breaks his glass against the neck of
"I says to myself, 'White man, if I'm not mistaken there's been a
bait laid out where the tail of your eye could see it.'
"That night, according to arrangements, me and Henry took the
phonograph to a room in a 'dobe house in a dirty side street, where
the grass was knee high. 'Twas a long room, lit with smoky oil lamps.
There was plenty of chairs, and a table at the back end. We set the
phonograph on the table. Mellinger was there, walking up and down,
disturbed in his predicaments. He chewed cigars and spat 'em out,
and he bit the thumb nail of his left hand.
"By and by the invitations to the musicale come sliding in by pairs
and threes and spade flushes. Their color was of a diversity, running
from a three-day's smoked meerschaum to a patent-leather polish.
They were as polite as wax, being devastated with enjoyments to give
Senor Mellinger the good evenings. I understood their Spanish talk
--I ran a pumping engine two years in a Mexican silver mine, and had
it pat--but I never let on.
"Maybe fifty of 'em had come, and was seated, when in slid the king
bee, the governor of the district. Mellinger met him at the door,
and escorted him to the grand stand. When I saw that Latin man I
knew that Mellinger, private secretary, had all the dances on his card
taken. That was a big, squashy man, the color of a rubber overshoe,
and he had an eye like a head waiter's.
"Mellinger explained, fluent, in the Castilian idioms, that his soul
was disconcerted with joy at introducing to his respected friends
America's greatest invention, the wonder of the age. Henry got the
cue and run on an elegant brass-band record and the festivities became
initiated. The governor man had a bit of English under his hat, and
when the music was choked off he says:
"'Ver-r-ree fine. ~Gr-r'r-r-racias~, the American gentlemen, the so
esplendeed moosic as to playee.'
"The table was a long one, and Henry and me sat at the end of it next
the wall. The governor sat at the other end. Homer P. Mellinger
stood at the side of it. I was just wondering how Mellinger was
going to handle his crowd, when the home talent suddenly opened the
"That governor man was suitable for uprisings and policies. I judge
he was a ready kind of man, who took his own time. Yes, he was full
of attention and immediateness. He leaned his hands on the table and
imposed his face toward the secretary man.
"'Do the American senors understand Spanish?' he asks in his native
"'They do not,' says Mellinger.
"'Then listen,' goes on the Latin man, prompt. 'The musics are
of sufficient prettiness, but not of necessity. Let us speak
of business. I well know why we are here, since I observe my
compatriots. You had a whisper yesterday, Senor Mellinger, of our
proposals. Tonight we will speak out. We know that you stand in
the president's favor, and we know your influence. The government
will be changed. We know the worth of your services. We esteem
your friendship and aid so much that'--Mellinger praises his hand,
but the governor man bottles him up. 'Do not speak until I have
"The governor man then draws a package wrapped in paper from his
pocket, and lays it on the table by Mellinger's hand.
"'In that you will find fifty thousand dollars in money of your
country. You can do nothing against us, but you can be worth that
for us. Go back to the capital and obey our instructions. Take
that money now. We trust you. You will find with it a paper giving
in detail the work you will be expected to do for us. Do not have
the unwiseness to refuse.'
"'The governor man paused, with his eyes fixed on Mellinger, full
of expressions and observances. I looked at Mellinger, and was glad
Billy Renfrew couldn't see him then. The sweat was popping out on his
forehead, and he stood dumb, tapping the little package with the ends
of his fingers. The colorado-maduro gang was after his graft. He had
only to change his politics, and stuff five fingers in his inside
"Henry whispers to me and wants the pause in the program interpreted.
I whisper back: 'H. P. is up against a bribe, senator's size, and the
coons have got him going.' I saw Mellinger's hand moving closer to
the package. 'He's weakening,' I whispered to Henry. 'We'll remind
him,' says Henry, 'of the peanut-roaster on Thirty-fourth Street,
"Henry stooped down and got a record from the basketful we'd brought,
slid it in the phonograph, and started her off. It was a cornet solo,
very neat and beautiful, and the name of it was 'Home, Sweet Home.'
Not one of them fifty odd men in the room moved while it was playing,
and the governor man kept his eyes steady on Mellinger. I saw
Mellinger's head go up little by little and his hand came creeping
away from the package. Not until the last note sounded did anybody
stir. And there Homer P. Mellinger takes up the bundle of boodle
and slams it in the governor man's face.
"'That's my answer,' says Mellinger, private secretary, 'and there'll
be another in the morning. I have proofs of conspiracy against every
man of you. The show is over, gentlemen.'
"'There's one more act,' puts in the governor man. 'You are a
servant, I believe, employed by the president to copy letters and
answer raps at the door. I am governor here. Senores, I call upon
you in the name of the cause to seize this man.'
"That brindled gang of conspirators shoved back their chairs and
advanced in force. I could see where Mellinger had made a mistake in
massing his enemy so as to make a grand-stand play. I think he made
another one, too; but we can pass that, Mellinger's idea of a graft
and mine being different, according to estimations and points of view.
"There was only one window and door in that room, and they were in
the front end. Here was fifty odd Latin men coming in a bunch to
obstruct the legislation of Mellinger. You may say there were three
of us, for me and Henry, simultaneous, declared New York City and
the Cherokee Nation in sympathy with the weaker party.
"Then it was that Henry Horsecollar rose to a point of disorder and
intervened, showing, admirable, the advantages of education as applied
to the American Indian's natural intellect and native refinement.
He stood up and smoothed back his hair on each side with his hands
as you have seen little girls do when they play.
"'Get behind me, both of you,' says Henry
"'What's it to be, chief?' I asked.
"'I'm going to buck center,' says Henry, in his football idioms.
There isn't a tackle in the lot of them. Follow me close, and rush
"'Then that cultured Red Man exhaled an arrangement of sounds with
his mouth that made the Latin aggregation pause, with thoughtfulness
and hesitations. The matter of his proclamation seemed to be a
cooperation of the Carlisle war-whoop with the Cherokee college yell.
He went at the chocolate team like a bean out of a little boy's nigger
shooter. His right elbow laid out the governor man on the gridiron,
and he made a lane the length of the crowd so wide that a woman
could have carried a stepladder through it without striking against
anything. All Mellinger and me had to do was to follow.
"It took us just three minutes to get out of that street around
to military headquarters, where Mellinger had things his own way.
A colonel and a battalion of bare-toed infantry turned out and went
back to the scene of the musicale with us, but the conspirator gang
was gone. But we recaptured the phonograph with honors of war, and
marched back to the ~cuartel~ with it playing 'All Coons Look Alike
"The next day Mellinger takes me and Henry to one side, and begins
to shed tens and twenties.
"'I want to buy that phonograph,' says he. I liked that last tune
it played at the ~soiree~.'
"'This is more money than the machine is worth,' says I.
"'Tis government expense money,' says Mellinger. The government pays
for it, and it's getting the tune-grinder cheap.'
"Me and Henry knew that pretty well. We knew that it had saved Homer
P. Mellinger's graft when he was on the point of losing it; but we
never let him know we knew it.
"'Now you boys better slide off further down the coast for a while,'
says Mellinger, 'till I get the screws put on these fellows here.
If you don't they'll give you trouble. And if you ever happen to see
Billy Renfrew again before I do, tell him I'm coming back to New York
as soon as I can make a stake--honest.'
"Me and Henry laid low until the day the steamer came back. When we
saw the captain's boat on the beach we went down and stood in the edge
of the water. The captain grinned when he saw us.
"'I told you you'd be waiting,' he says. 'Where's the Hamburger
"'It stays behind,' I says, 'to play "Home, Sweet Home."'
"'I told you so,' says the captain again. 'Climb in the boat.'
"And that," said Keogh, "is the way me and Henry Horsecollar
introduced the phonograph into this country. Henry went back to
the States, but I've been rummaging around in the tropics ever since.
They say Mellinger never travelled a mile after that without his
phonograph. I guess it kept him reminded about his graft whenever
he saw the siren voice of the boodler tip him the wink with a bribe
in his hand."
"I suppose he's taking it home with him as a souvenir, remarked the
"Not as a souvenir," said Keogh. "He'll need two of 'em in New York,
running day and night."