An Erring Shepherd

The ingenuity and perseverance of the fraternity of swindlers is

only equaled by the gullibility and patience of their dupes.

During the flush times that followed the war, immense fortunes were

suddenly acquired by a class of cheats who operated on the

credulity of the public through gift enterprises, lotteries, and

other kindred schemes. Most of the large concerns established

their headquarters in New York City, floo
ing the entire country,

particularly the South and West, with lithographic circulars,

written apparently with the pen for the exclusive benefit of the

recipient, and showing how fortunes could be securely made by

remitting specified sums to the houses in question. Some of the

bogus firms simply pocketed the cash of correspondents without

pretending to render any equivalent whatever; while others, no more

honest, but a little more politic, sent forth worthless jewelry and

other stuff by the bushel.

One of the most villainous and at the same time successful devices

was built up on the offer of counterfeit currency at a heavy

discount. In substance, the circulars, emanating from different

parties, and from the same parties under different names, were all

alike. They usually began with an insidious compliment to the

person addressed, to the effect that from trustworthy sources the

writer had heard of him as a man of more than ordinary capacity and

shrewdness, and, emboldened by the high estimate placed upon his

abilities by persons well qualified to judge, had selected him as

the very individual to aid in securing a fortune for both with

"absolute safety." The circular usually goes on to state that the

writer is a first-class engraver,--indeed "one of the most expert

in the United States,"--while his partner is a first-class printer.

Hence the firm possess unrivaled facilities for imitating the

national currency. The recipient is particuarly cautioned to

beware of a class of miscreants who infest the city of New York and

advertise throughout the country the goods that he manufactures,

but send nothing except rubbish. The "original Doctor Jacobs"

excoriates unmercifully the whole tribe of swindlers whose

rascalities debauch and bring odium upon the trade. He exhorts the

gentleman of great reputed "shrewdness and sagacity" to observe the

utmost caution in conducting operations, and gives him explicit

directions how to forward the purchase-money.

Several years ago a preacher of the gospel, stationed not far from

the northern frontier of the republic, received by mail one of the

seductive missives of Ragem & Co., of New York City. The douceur

opened with the usual complimentary references to the peculiar

personal fitness of the clergyman for the proposed enterprise, and

went on to state that, in exchange for genuine greenbacks, Ragem &

Co. would furnish in the proportion of fifty to one imitations so

absolutely perfect that the most experienced bank officers could

not distinguish the difference. Rev. Zachariah Sapp,--for such was

the euphonious name of the preacher,--after an attentive perusal of

the flattering proposal, deposited the document in his coat-pocket

for convenience of reference. Having pondered the subject for a

day or two, he decided to write to Ragem & Co. for more explicit


Divining with the peculiar instinct of the guild the character of

the fish now nibbling at the naked hook, the cheat resolved to risk

a little bait, and accordingly sent by return mail a genuine one-

dollar note, with a written invitation both for a reply and a

personal conference.

Never before did the Rev. Zachariah Sapp subject a piece of paper

to such scrutiny. Both with the naked eye and with a microscope,--

a relic of collegiate days,--he studied the engravings and filigree

work. Detail by detail he compared the supposed imitation with

bills of known genuineness without being able to discover the

slightest point of variation between them. Paper, printing, and

engraving seemed to be absolutely perfect. While the study was

progressing, the imagination of the clergyman soared through the

empyrean of dazzling expectations. Why continue to toil hard for a

small pittance when the golden apples were hanging within easy

reach? Why drag out an existence in penury when wealth and its

joys were thrust upon him?

Zachariah, however, was prudent and thrifty--indeed rather more

thrifty in the estimation of parishioners than befitted one who

held by right of faith a title-deed to mansions in the skies.

Almost as soon would he risk his future inheritance as peril on a

doubtful venture the few hundred dollars snugly saved up for a wet

day by prudence and economy.

Not willing to rely entirely on his own judgment, he rather

reluctantly decided to call on a banker in an adjacent town, with

whom he enjoyed a slight acquaintance. In thinking the matter over

he was greatly perplexed to determine how to introduce the subject.

Of course it would not answer to allow the cashier to fathom his

secret purpose, and yet he was oppressed with a vague consciousness

that only a translucent film hid his thought from the world. Once

or twice, in driving over on the unfamiliar errand, weak and

irresolute he half resolved to turn back, but greed finally

prevailed, and he kept on to the village.

With a strong but unsatisfactory effort to appear at ease, he

sauntered into the bank. After the usual interchange of greetings,

he nervously remarked, "Brother Hyde, as I was coming this way to-

day to call on Brother Tompkins, I have taken the liberty to drop

in to ask you a question on a matter in your line."

"Very well," replied the banker, "I shall be happy to serve you."

"I had a transaction a few days ago," resumed the clergyman, "with

a peddler,--an entire stranger to me,--who, in making change, gave

me a number of bills which I have reason to suspect are

counterfeits. I desire your opinion."

"Please let me see them," said Mr. Hyde.

He took the one-dollar note from the hand of the unfaithful pastor,

and after scanning it a moment, inquired, "What is the matter with


"Is it good?" queried the anxious owner.

"I wish I had my safe full of the same sort," answered the banker.

"There is nothing bad about the bill. What makes you think so?

Perhaps you have shown me the wrong one. Let me see the others."

"I must have left the rest at home," replied the preacher, fumbling

among the compartments of the pocket-book.

Having accomplished the object of his mission without perpetrating,

as he thought, any disastrous blunder, Mr. Sapp brought the

interview to a close with a few commonplace remarks, and hurried

away to enjoy in solitary self-communion the thick-crowding visions

of future affluence.

With the last doubt satisfactorily overcome, the plans of the

prospective millionaire rapidly took shape. He could raise five

hundred dollars, which at the proposed rate of interchange would

purchase twenty-five thousand of the "absolutely perfect

imitations." The sum seemed vast--incalculable. His imagination,

hitherto bound down by the narrow circumstances of remote rural

life, staggered while trying to grasp the conception of so much

wealth. Like the mysteries of time and space, it appeared too

grand for comprehension. Then his reveries strayed into another

channel. What noble fellows were Ragem & Co. Why, among forty

millions of people, did they pick out him, an unknown clergyman,

living in an obscure place hundreds of miles from the metropolis,

to be the favored recipient of untold wealth? Surely, this is a

special Providence. Not a sparrow falleth to the ground without

His knowledge. He watches over his own. Suddenly the erring

clergyman feels a terrible pull at his heart-strings. What right

has he, about to betray a sacred trust, and engage in operations

branded as infamous by the laws of the land, to claim the watchful

care of Providence? Will not the all-seeing eye follow him? Will

not the omnipotent hand strike him heavily in wrath? The poor man

wipes the cold perspiration from his forehead, and wonders if it

will pay.

But he has paltered too long, and now the devil claims him for his


Returning home, Sapp wrote to Ragem & Co., stating the amount of

his available resources, and saying that upon a given day and hour

he would meet them at the appointed rendezvous. On the following

Sunday the congregation were startled at the close of the afternoon

services by an extraordinary announcement from the pulpit.

Before pronouncing the benediction the pastor said: "I take this

opportunity to communicate to you collectively a piece of personal

intelligence which I have hitherto kept secret. Under the will of

a relative who recently died in the State of Michigan, I inherit a

large sum--to me, with my humble wants, a very large sum. By

appointment, I am to meet the executor of the estate this week in

New York City to receive the first installment of the legacy. I do

not propose to leave you, my dear parishioners, but to remain among

you and toil with you as I have done for so many years. A goodly

portion at least of my inheritance I intend to invest in this

community, that neighbors and friends may share jointly in my

prosperity. I trust I may be guided to make a wise use of the

talents thus unexpectedly, and I may say providentially, committed

to my keeping. We know from the teachings of Scripture that wealth

brings great responsibilities, and that we shall be held to a

strict account for the manner in which we employ it. May your

prayers go with me."

The congregation crowded around the pastor with congratulations.

Particularly demonstrative were the ebullitions of two or three

brothers who saw a chance of exchanging sundry unsalable

possessions for slices in the inheritance.

Mr. Sapp reached New York City in the evening, and the momentous

interview was to take place at an early hour the next day. Sleep

came in brief and fitful snatches. But the stars roll on in their

majestic spheres, regardless of mortal hopes and fears. At length

day broke, when the preacher rose from bed anxious and unrefreshed.

A little before the appointed time he proceeded to a certain

building, and having mounted two flights of stairs, saw the magic

number on the door in front of him. As the clock struck he

entered. Agreeably to a preconcerted plan, he wiped the right

corner of his mouth with a white handkerchief, and nodded three

times. The only person in the room, a well-dressed and apparently

affable gentleman, responded by wiping the left corner of his mouth

with a red silk handkerchief, and nodding three times. The signal

is correctly answered: it is he! So far all works beautifully,

with every promise kept. The bill was a perfect imitation, the

engraver is on hand to a second.

"Two truths are told,

As happy prologues to the swelling act

Of the imperial theme."

The fellow passing under the name of Ragem & Co. welcomed the new

arrival cordially. "Ah," said he "your promptness and

circumspection show that I am not disappointed in my man. I see

that you come up to the full measure of my expectations. Do you

know I am a remarkable judge of character? In fact, I seldom or

never make a mistake. We are both in luck."

"I was trained to punctuality from early youth," replied the

preacher; and proceeding directly to business, without further

circumlocution, continued, "I succeeded in raising five hundred

dollars, which entitles me under the agreement to twenty-five


From an inner pocket, after removing a number of pins, he produced

six one hundred dollar notes, saying, by way of explanation, "For

greater security I converted my funds into bills of large

denomination. One I reserve for contingencies; the other five are

for you."

"Your money is here in the safe," said Ragem, taking the five

notes, and turning toward the safe as if to unlock it. But the

scoundrel evidently reasoned that it would be silly to remain

content with the five when he could just as easily capture the


Walking back, he remarked, "I want to show you that my large bills

are just as perfect as the small ones"; and, as if for purposes of

comparison, he took the remaining note from the hand of the


At this moment began a fearful knocking on a side door, that

threatened the speedy demolition of the frail barrier. "Run, run,"

whispered Ragem, as if in the extremity of terror, "the police are

on us."

The preacher needed no second invitation, fear of exposure giving

wings to his feet. Almost at a bound he cleared the two flights of

stairs and emerged into the street, walking several blocks, and

turning a number of corners before he dared to look back.

The bona fide occupant of the room where these parties met had no

share whatever in the nefarious transactions carried on there.

Through the treachery of the janitor, Ragem was permitted at

certain hours to make use of the apartment for the purpose of

keeping appointments with his victims. A confederate stationed on

the outside delivered the knocks as soon as customers were plucked

and it became desirable to get rid of their company. Occasional

hints of improper practices reached the ear of the real lessee, but

these had never yet taken such shape as to give a decisive clew to

the trouble, dupes for the most part pocketing their losses in


After an interval of two or three hours Mr. Sapp plucked up courage

to return. Having mounted the stairs, he entered the room warily.

His late partner was not there. A stalwart gentleman, who seemed

to be the proprietor, 1ooked up inquiringly, and was not a little

puzzled when the visitor supplemented the performance of wiping the

right corner of his mouth by three deliberate nods. "What can I do

for you to-day?" inquired the gentleman, rising.

"You are, I presume, a partner of Mr. Ragem," answered Sapp. "I

see he is out. Our business this morning was unfortunately

interrupted by the police, and I have returned to complete it."

"What business?" asked the proprietor, in undisguised astonishment.

Now the preacher made the very natural mistake of supposing that

the surprise manifested by his interlocutor was a mere matter of

policy and caution. Hence he proceeded to explain. "Ragem must

have told you. I am the gentleman who gave him the five hundred

dollars, and he said that my twenty-five thousand were locked up in

the safe."

The proprietor did not wait to hear more, but seizing the

affrighted creature by the collar, thundered forth, "I have heard

of you before. You are the villain, are you, who has been turning

my office into a den of thieves? I have caught you at last!"

Awaking to a partial comprehension of the situation, the poor

wretch stammered forth, "There must be some mistake. My name is a--

is a--is a Smith--Smith--John Smith."

"John Smith, is it?" growled the proprietor. "Well, all I have to

say is, John Smith, if not the biggest is the most numerous rascal

in the city. John, come along to the police station."

And John went, billows of trouble rolling over him as the waters of

the Red Sea closed over Pharaoh. Vain the effort to recall

consolatory texts pertinent to the occasion! He was sorely

chastened indeed, but the stripes were inflicted not in love but in

wrath. He mourned, yet whence could he look for comfort?

To avoid a worse fate, the prisoner revealed his identity,

exhibited the correspondence from "Ragem & Co.," and made a full

statement of the facts. The painful news reached the church

shortly after the return of the pastor, when his pulpit career came

to an ignominious end. He soon removed to the far West, hoping to

bury his disgrace in the shades of the primeval forest.

The fall of Rev. Zachariah Sapp sounds a note of warning not

without its lessons. The only safety in dealing with temptation is

to repel its insidious approaches from the outset. Whoever listens

in patience to the siren whisper is half lost already. Human

experience abundantly confirms the divine wisdom of the command,

"Get thee behind me, Satan," as the one sole safe way of meeting

evil advances. At the close of well-spent, useful lives, myriads

can thank a kind Providence, not that they have been stronger than

others who have turned out differently, but that they have been

tried less. Walking among unseen perils, none can without danger

of ruin discard even for a moment the armor of honesty and truth.