O'henry — the man higher up
THE MAN HIGHER UP
Across our two dishes of spaghetti, in a corner of Provenzano's
restaurant, Jeff Peters was explaining to me the three kinds of graft.
Every winter Jeff comes to New York to eat spaghetti, to watch the
shipping in East River from the depths of his chinchilla overcoat,
and to lay in a supply of Chicago-made clothing at one of the Fulton
street stores. During the other three seasons he may be found further
west — his range is from Spokane to Tampa. In his profession he
takes a pride which he supports and defends with a serious and
unique philosophy of ethics. His profession is no new one. He is an
incorporated, uncapitalized, unlimited asylum for the reception of
the restless and unwise dollars of his fellowmen.
In the wilderness of stone in which Jeff seeks his annual lonely
holiday he is glad to palaver of his many adventures, as a boy will
whistle after sundown in a wood. Wherefore, I mark on my calendar the
time of his coming, and open a question of privilege at Provenzano's
concerning the little wine-stained table in the corner between the
rakish rubber plant and the framed palazzio della something on the
"There are two kinds of graft," said Jeff, "that ought to be wiped out
by law. I mean Wall Street speculation, and burglary."
"Nearly everybody will agree with you as to one of them," said I, with
"Well, burglary ought to be wiped out, too," said Jeff; and I wondered
whether the laugh had been redundant.
"About three months ago," said Jeff, "it was my privilege to become
familiar with a sample of each of the aforesaid branches of
illegitimate art. I was _sine qua grata_ with a member of the
housebreakers' union and one of the John D. Napoleons of finance at
the same time."
"Interesting combination," said I, with a yawn. "Did I tell you I
bagged a duck and a ground-squirrel at one shot last week over in the
Ramapos?" I knew well how to draw Jeff's stories.
"Let me tell you first about these barnacles that clog the wheels of
society by poisoning the springs of rectitude with their upas-like
eye," said Jeff, with the pure gleam of the muck-raker in his own.
"As I said, three months ago I got into bad company. There are two
times in a man's life when he does this — when he's dead broke, and
when he's rich.
"Now and then the most legitimate business runs out of luck. It was
out in Arkansas I made the wrong turn at a cross-road, and drives into
this town of Peavine by mistake. It seems I had already assaulted and
disfigured Peavine the spring of the year before. I had sold $600
worth of young fruit trees there — plums, cherries, peaches and pears.
The Peaviners were keeping an eye on the country road and hoping I
might pass that way again. I drove down Main street as far as the
Crystal Palace drugstore before I realized I had committed ambush upon
myself and my white horse Bill.
"The Peaviners took me by surprise and Bill by the bridle and began
a conversation that wasn't entirely disassociated with the subject
of fruit trees. A committee of 'em ran some trace-chains through
the armholes of my vest, and escorted me through their gardens and
"Their fruit trees hadn't lived up to their labels. Most of 'em had
turned out to be persimmons and dogwoods, with a grove or two of
blackjacks and poplars. The only one that showed any signs of bearing
anything was a fine young cottonwood that had put forth a hornet's
nest and half of an old corset-cover.