A Wish Unexpectedly Gratified
When the bogus-lottery men were driven out of the large cities by
the vigor of the postal authorities, they tried for a while to
operate from small country towns by collusion with dishonest
postmasters. As the delinquencies of the offenders were
successively brought to light, their heads rolled into the basket
at the foot of the official guillotine. The swindlers, however,
succeeded in bribing fresh victims, and for
time cunning and
duplicity managed with tolerable success to maintain a foothold
against the power of the department.
Among other similar swindles, sealed circulars were at one time
scattered broadcast over the more remote states, announcing that on
a given date the drawing for a series of magnificent prizes would
take place at Livingston Hall, No. 42 Elm Avenue, Wington Junction,
Connecticut. Patrons were urged to remit the purchase-money for
tickets promptly, as there would be no postponement of the grand
event under any circumstances. "Fortune," continued the glittering
advertisement, "knocks once at every one's door, and she is now
knocking at yours."
As usual, multitudes swallowed the bait, but some, instead of
sending the greenbacks to Highfalutin & Co., forwarded the
circulars to the department. Thereupon special agent Sharretts was
instructed to visit Wington Junction, with the view of learning
whether the postmaster was properly discharging his duties. Taking
an early opportunity to perform the mission, he alighted at the
station one morning, and proceeded to survey the town, which
consisted of four or five houses scattered along the highway for a
distance of half a mile. "Livingston Hall" and "Elm Avenue" were
nowhere visible. It was apparent that "No. 42" on any avenue was a
remote contingency not likely to arise in the present generation.
Having previously ascertained that the postmaster was also switch-
tender at the junction, and that the cares of the office devolved
on his wife, the officer walked up to a keen-looking man in front
of the little round switch-house, whose energies were devoted
exclusively at that moment to the mastication of a huge quid of
tobacco, and who, after a prolonged scrutiny of the stranger,
answered his salutation in an attenuated drawl,' "Meornin', sir."
"Will you be kind enough to tell me, sir, where Mr. Morris, the
postmaster, can be found?" asked the agent.
"Wall, I guess my name's Morris. What kin I do fur yeou?"
"Mr. Morris, I should like a few minutes' private conversation on
business of great importance, which can be so managed as to turn
out advantageously to us both. I do not wish to be overheard or
interrupted. In these times even blank walls have ears, you know."
The last suggestion seemed to serve as a passport to the confidence
of the postmaster. Leading the way into the switch-house, he
remarked, "Come in heear. Neow, what is it?"
"The fact is, Mr. Morris, some friends of mine propose to go into a
little speculation, which will involve a large correspondence; and
for reasons that I need not specify to a man like you, they do not
wish to have every ragtag, bobtail post-office clerk poring over
their letters, and asking impertinent questions at the delivery-
window. If they can find a shrewd, square man, who knows how to
keep his mouth shut, and who can't be fooled, that for a handsome
consideration will put the letters away in a safe place till called
for, they are willing to make an arrangement that will be
profitable all around. You have been recommended as just the
person. I am told that you generally know which side your bread is
buttered, and have called to see if we can't arrange to pull
"'Nuff said," ejaculated Morris, with a sly wink. "I know what
yeou want, but my wife is the one to fix things. I don't have
nuthin' to dew with the letters. Sue 'tends to everything. The
folks as we'se a-workin' for said we must be plaguey keerful about
the deetecters. I'll bet nun on 'em can't play it on my wife tho'.
If they dew, they'll have to git up arly in the mornin'."
With that he thrust his head out of the window, and yelled: "Sue,
As the sound died away, a tall, raw-boned female, from whose cheeks
the bloom of youth had faded a number of years before, emerged from
the side door of a two-story cottage, about eighty rods distant,
and walked briskly to the switch-house, where she was introduced to
the stranger as "my wife."
After a little preliminary skirmishing, she invited the agent to go
over to the cottage. Having been duly ushered into the "best
room," he embellished for her benefit the story already told to the
"I think I kin 'commodate yeou," she broke forth, "but yeou'll have
to pay putty well for't. Laws me, I'm told--and I've ways o'
heerin' 'bout these things--that the deetecters are jest as likely
as not to come a-swoopin' deown enny minnit. Yeou know, if they
feound it out, we'd be smash'd."
Her terms were ten dollars a week. Highfalutin & Co. paid six, but
she understood the business a great deal better now than when she
made the bargain with them. The agent thought the price rather
high, but finally consented to contract at that figure.
Then, as if troubled by an after-thought, he said, "Madam, how do I
know but some of these 'deetecters' may come around, and, seeing my
letters, get me into difficulty?"
"Why, laws a' mercy," said she, "don't be skeer'd. Yeou jest leave
that to me. The minnit them air letters gits here, I hides 'em in
that bewro-draw'r," pointing to an article of furniture in the
"Is it a safe place?" queried the agent.
"Yas, it is," answered the woman. "Got it half full neow. Carry
the key in my pocket."
She gave a grin, intended for a knowing smile, in admiration of her
"I believe the hiding-place is tolerably secure," replied the
officer, with the air of one who desired to be convinced, but had
not yet reached the point of full assurance.
"You seem to be very particl'r and diffikilt to satisfy," continued
Mrs. Morris; "but, if yeou don't believe it, jest come and see for
She led the way to the bureau, opened the drawer, and, raising a
plaid cotton handkerchief, displayed the contraband letters by the
score. All were directed to the lottery firm, and were turned over
to the knave from time to time as it suited his convenience to call
for them. As no such firm did business at Wington Junction, it was
the duty of the postmaster to forward to the department, as
fictitious and undeliverable, all letters bearing the address of
the swindlers. In similar cases neglect to obey the regulation was
treated as sufficient ground for instant removal.
More fully pleased with the result of the examination than the
woman surmised, the officer resumed: "I see you are very particular
about your methods of doing business, and do not mean to be caught
napping. The arrangement we are about to enter into is a very
important one, and, as you are not postmaster, your husband will
have to be present to witness and ratify the bargain."
"Bless yeour soul," replied she, "it's all right. I 'tend to all
the biznis. My husband doesn't bother hissef abeout it in the
"Madam," answered the officer, "pardon me. I had my training in a
large city, and am accustomed to pay minute attention to every
detail. Your husband is the principal in this case, and must
ratify the agreement to make it binding. Of course you will derive
all the benefit, but his presence is essential as a matter of
Apparently satisfied, she called for "John," who replied promptly
to the summons.
"Mr. Morris," said the officer, "your wife has agreed to keep my
letters for me--"
"Yaas," broke in the postmaster. "I know'd she would. Yeou'll
find she'll dew it right, tew. Nobody can't come enny tricks on
her--can they, Sue? I wish one o' 'em durn'd deetecters would come
around, jest tew see heow she'd pull the wool over 'im. I wudn't
ax enny better fun;" and he indulged in a fit of loud cachinnation
at the absurdity of supposing that anyone could match in sharpness
his own beloved Sue.
"The letters will come to that address," said the agent, pulling
out his commission from the postmaster-general, and exhibiting it
to the pair.
Taking in the purport of it at a glance, Morris jumped several
inches into the air, slapped his sides, and exclaimed, "A
deetecter, arter all; sold, by jingo!"
"We're bust'd then," chimed in Sue, with a melancholy grin.
It was even so. The letters for Highfalutin & Co. went to
Washington, and Morris went out of the post-office; but the fact
that Sue was overmatched hurt him more than the loss of the place.
June 8, 1872, a law was approved making it a penal offense to use
the mails for the purpose of defrauding others, whether residing
within or outside of the United States. The postmaster-general was
also authorized to forbid the payment of postal money orders to
persons engaged in fraudulent lotteries, gift enterprises, and
other schemes for swindling the public, and to instruct postmasters
to return to the writers, with the word "fraudulent" written or
stamped on the outside, all registered letters directed to such
persons or firms. Prior to the enactment of this law, the most
wholesale and barefaced operations were conducted by professional
cheats, mainly through the facilities afforded by the mails, with
almost absolute impunity. Letters addressed to bogus firms were
indeed forwarded from the offices of delivery to the department as
"fictitious" and "undeliverable," and many colluding postmasters
were decapitated. Such petty measures of warfare served merely to
annoy the vampires and to whet their diabolical ingenuity for the
contrivance of new devices. Since the law of 1872 went into
effect, however, the scoundrels have been compelled to travel a
thorny road. Scores of arrests have been made, and in many cases
the criminals have been sentenced to the penitentiary.
It would exceed our limits even to enumerate the devices which have
been tried by different swindlers with greater or less success.
Gift enterprises of various kinds are the most common and
notorious, constituting a distinct branch of the business; but the
pretenses on which human credulity is invited to part with actual
cash for imaginary benefits are innumerable. A few specimens are
given as illustrations.