THE DEVIL AND THE BROKER

THE DEVIL AND THE BROKER

A MEDIAEVAL LEGEND


The church clocks in San Francisco were striking ten. The Devil, who had
been flying over the city that evening, just then alighted on the roof
of a church near the corner of Bush and Montgomery Streets. It will be
perceived that the popular belief that the Devil avoids holy edifices,
and vanishes at the sound of a Credo or Pater-noster, is long since
exploded. Indeed, modern scepticism asserts that he is not averse to
these orthodox discourses, which particularly bear reference to himself,
and in a measure recognize his power and importance.

I am inclined to think, however, that his choice of a resting-place was
a good deal influenced by its contiguity to a populous thoroughfare.
When he was comfortably seated, he began pulling out the joints of a
small rod which he held in his hand, and which presently proved to be an
extraordinary fishing-pole, with a telescopic adjustment that permitted
its protraction to a marvellous extent. Affixing a line thereto, he
selected a fly of a particular pattern from a small box which he carried
with him, and, making a skilful cast, threw his line into the very
centre of that living stream which ebbed and flowed through Montgomery
Street.

Either the people were very virtuous that evening or the bait was not a
taking one. In vain the Devil whipped the stream at an eddy in front
of the Occidental, or trolled his line into the shadows of the
Cosmopolitan; five minutes passed without even a nibble. "Dear me!"
quoth the Devil, "that's very singular; one of my most popular flies,
too! Why, they'd have risen by shoals in Broadway or Beacon Street
for that. Well, here goes another." And, fitting a new fly from his
well-filled box, he gracefully recast his line.

For a few moments there was every prospect of sport. The line was
continually bobbing and the nibbles were distinct and gratifying. Once
or twice the bait was apparently gorged and carried off in the upper
stories of the hotels to be digested at leisure. At such times the
professional manner in which the Devil played out his line would have
thrilled the heart of Izaak Walton. But his efforts were unsuccessful;
the bait was invariably carried off without hooking the victim, and
the Devil finally lost his temper. "I've heard of these San Franciscans
before," he muttered; "wait till I get hold of one,--that's all!" he
added malevolently, as he rebaited his hook. A sharp tug and a wriggle
foiled his next trial, and finally, with considerable effort, he landed
a portly two-hundred-pound broker upon the church roof.

As the victim lay there gasping, it was evident that the Devil was in
no hurry to remove the hook from his gills; nor did he exhibit in this
delicate operation that courtesy of manner and graceful manipulation
which usually distinguished him.

"Come," he said, gruffly, as he grasped the broker by the waistband,
"quit that whining and grunting. Don't flatter yourself that you're a
prize either. I was certain to have had you. It was only a question of
time."

"It is not that, my lord, which troubles me," whined the unfortunate
wretch, as he painfully wriggled his head, "but that I should have been
fooled by such a paltry bait. What will they say of me down there? To
have let 'bigger things' go by, and to be taken in by this cheap trick,"
he added, as he groaned and glanced at the fly which the Devil was
carefully rearranging, "is what,--pardon me, my lord,--is what gets me!"

"Yes," said the Devil, philosophically, "I never caught anybody yet who
didn't say that; but tell me, ain't you getting somewhat fastidious
down there? Here is one of my most popular flies, the greenback," he
continued, exhibiting an emerald-looking insect, which he drew from his
box. "This, so generally considered excellent in election season, has
not even been nibbled at. Perhaps your sagacity, which, in spite of
this unfortunate contretemps, no one can doubt," added the Devil, with
a graceful return to his usual courtesy, "may explain the reason or
suggest a substitute."

The broker glanced at the contents of the box with a supercilious smile.
"Too old-fashioned, my lord,--long ago played out. Yet," he added,
with a gleam of interest, "for a consideration I might offer
something--ahem!--that would make a taking substitute for these trifles.
Give me," he continued, in a brisk, business-like way, "a slight
percentage and a bonus down, and I'm your man."

"Name your terms," said the Devil, earnestly.

"My liberty and a percentage on all you take, and the thing's done."

The Devil caressed his tail thoughtfully, for a few moments. He was
certain of the broker any way, and the risk was slight. "Done!" he said.

"Stay a moment," said the artful broker. "There are certain
contingencies. Give me your fishing-rod and let me apply the bait
myself. It requires a skilful hand, my lord; even your well-known
experience might fail. Leave me alone for half an hour, and if you have
reason to complain of my success I will forfeit my deposit,--I mean my
liberty."

The Devil acceded to his request, bowed, and withdrew. Alighting
gracefully in Montgomery Street, he dropped into Meade & Co.'s clothing
store, where, having completely equipped himself a la mode, he sallied
forth intent on his personal enjoyment. Determining to sink his
professional character, he mingled with the current of human life,
and enjoyed, with that immense capacity for excitement peculiar to his
nature, the whirl, bustle, and feverishness of the people, as a purely
aesthetic gratification unalloyed by the cares of business. What he did
that evening does not belong to our story. We return to the broker, whom
we left on the roof.

When he made sure that the Devil had retired, he carefully drew from
his pocket-book a slip of paper and affixed it on the hook. The line
had scarcely reached the current before he felt a bite. The hook was
swallowed. To bring up his victim rapidly, disengage him from the hook,
and reset his line, was the work of a moment. Another bite and the same
result. Another, and another. In a very few minutes the roof was covered
with his panting spoil. The broker could himself distinguish that
many of them were personal friends; nay, some of them were familiar
frequenters of the building on which they were now miserably stranded.
That the broker felt a certain satisfaction in being instrumental in
thus misleading his fellow-brokers no one acquainted with human nature
will for a moment doubt. But a stronger pull on his line caused him
to put forth all his strength and skill. The magic pole bent like a
coach-whip. The broker held firm, assisted by the battlements of the
church. Again and again it was almost wrested from his hand, and again
and again he slowly reeled in a portion of the tightening line. At last,
with one mighty effort, he lifted to the level of the roof a struggling
object. A howl like Pandemonium rang through the air as the broker
successfully landed at his feet--the Devil himself!

The two glared fiercely at each other. The broker, perhaps mindful
of his former treatment, evinced no haste to remove the hook from his
antagonist's jaw. When it was finally accomplished, he asked quietly
if the Devil was satisfied. That gentleman seemed absorbed in the
contemplation of the bait which he had just taken from his mouth. "I
am," he said, finally, "and forgive you; but what do you call this?"

"Bend low," replied the broker, as he buttoned up his coat ready to
depart. The Devil inclined his ear. "I call it WILD CAT!"

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