The Gentle Grafter

Author: O. Henry


Me and Caligula spent the next three days investigating the bunch of mountains into which we proposed to kidnap Colonel Jackson T. Rockingham. We finally selected an upright slice of topography covered with bushes and trees that you could only reach by a secret path that we cut out up the side of it. And the only way to reach the mountain was to follow up the bend of a branch that wound among the elevations.

Then I took in hand an important subdivision of the proceedings. I went up to Atlanta on the train and laid in a two-hundred-and-fiftydollar supply of the most gratifying and efficient lines of grub that money could buy. I always was an admirer of viands in their more palliative and revised stages. Hog and hominy are not only inartistic to my stomach, but they give indigestion to my moral sentiments. And I thought of Colonel Jackson T. Rockingham, president of the Sunrise & Edenville Tap Railroad, and how he would miss the luxury of his home fare as is so famous among wealthy Southerners. So I sunk half of mine and Caligula’s capital in as elegant a layout of fresh and canned provisions as Burdick Harris or any other professional kidnappee ever saw in a camp.

I put another hundred in a couple of cases of Bordeaux, two quarts of cognac, two hundred Havana regalias with gold bands, and a camp stove and stools and folding cots. I wanted Colonel Rockingham to be comfortable; and I hoped after he gave up the ten thousand dollars he would give me and Caligula as good a name for gentlemen and entertainers as the Greek man did the friend of his that made the United States his bill collector against Africa.

When the goods came down from Atlanta, we hired a wagon, moved them up on the little mountain, and established camp. And then we laid for the colonel.

We caught him one morning about two miles out from Mountain Valley, on his way to look after some of his burnt umber farm land. He was an elegant old gentleman, as thin and tall as a trout rod, with frazzled shirt-cuffs and specs on a black string. We explained to him, brief and easy, what we wanted; and Caligula showed him, careless, the handle of his forty-five under his coat.

"What?" says Colonel Rockingham. "Bandits in Perry County, Georgia! I shall see that the board of immigration and public improvements hears of this!"

"Be so unfoolhardy as to climb into that buggy," says Caligula, "by order of the board of perforation and public depravity. This is a business meeting, and we’re anxious to adjourn /sine qua non/."

We drove Colonel Rockingham over the mountain and up the side of it as far as the buggy could go. Then we tied the horse, and took our prisoner on foot up to the camp.

"Now, colonel," I says to him, "we’re after the ransom, me and my partner; and no harm will come to you if the King of Mor—if your friends send up the dust. In the mean time we are gentlemen the same as you. And if you give us your word not to try to escape, the freedom of the camp is yours."

"I give you my word," says the colonel.

"All right," says I; "and now it’s eleven o’clock, and me and Mr. Polk will proceed to inculcate the occasion with a few well-timed trivialities in the way of grub."

"Thank you," says the colonel; "I believe I could relish a slice of bacon and a plate of hominy."

"But you won’t," says I emphatic. "Not in this camp. We soar in higher regions than them occupied by your celebrated but repulsive dish."

While the colonel read his paper, me and Caligula took off our coats and went in for a little luncheon /de luxe/ just to show him. Caligula was a fine cook of the Western brand. He could toast a buffalo or fricassee a couple of steers as easy as a woman could make a cup of tea. He was gifted in the way of knocking together edibles when haste and muscle and quantity was to be considered. He held the record west of the Arkansas River for frying pancakes with his left hand, broiling venison cutlets with his right, and skinning a rabbit with his teeth at the same time. But I could do things /en casserole/ and /a la creole/, and handle the oil and tobasco as gently and nicely as a French /chef/.

So at twelve o’clock we had a hot lunch ready that looked like a banquet on a Mississippi River steamboat. We spread it on the tops of two or three big boxes, opened two quarts of the red wine, set the olives and a canned oyster cocktail and a ready-made Martini by the colonel’s plate, and called him to grub.

Colonel Rockingham drew up his campstool, wiped off his specs, and looked at the things on the table. Then I thought he was swearing; and I felt mean because I hadn’t taken more pains with the victuals. But he wasn’t; he was asking a blessing; and me and Caligula hung our heads, and I saw a tear drop from the colonel’s eye into his cocktail.

I never saw a man eat with so much earnestness and application—not hastily, like a grammarian, or one of the canal, but slow and appreciative, like a anaconda, or a real /vive bonjour/.

In an hour and a half the colonel leaned back. I brought him a pony of brandy and his black coffee, and set the box of Havana regalias on the table.

"Gentlemen," says he, blowing out the smoke and trying to breathe it back again, "when we view the eternal hills and the smiling and beneficent landscape, and reflect upon the goodness of the Creator who—"

"Excuse me, colonel," says I, "but there’s some business to attend to now"; and I brought out paper and pen and ink and laid ’em before him. "Who do you want to send to for the money?" I asks.

"I reckon," says he, after thinking a bit, "to the vice-president of our railroad, at the general offices of the Company in Edenville."

"How far is it to Edenville from here?" I asked.

"About ten miles," says he.

Then I dictated these lines, and Colonel Rockingham wrote them out:

I am kidnapped and held a prisoner by two desperate outlaws in a
place which is useless to attempt to find. They demand ten
thousand dollars at once for my release. The amount must be raised
immediately, and these directions followed. Come alone with the
money to Stony Creek, which runs out of Blacktop Mountains. Follow
the bed of the creek till you come to a big flat rock on the left
bank, on which is marked a cross in red chalk. Stand on the rock
and wave a white flag. A guide will come to you and conduct you to
where I am held. Lose no time.

After the colonel had finished this, he asked permission to take on a postscript about how he was being treated, so the railroad wouldn’t feel uneasy in its bosom about him. We agreed to that. He wrote down that he had just had lunch with the two desperate ruffians; and then he set down the whole bill of fare, from cocktails to coffee. He wound up with the remark that dinner would be ready about six, and would probably be a more licentious and intemperate affair than lunch.

Me and Caligula read it, and decided to let it go; for we, being cooks, were amenable to praise, though it sounded out of place on a sight draft for ten thousand dollars.

I took the letter over to the Mountain Valley road and watched for a messenger. By and by a colored equestrian came along on horseback, riding toward Edenville. I gave him a dollar to take the letter to the railroad offices; and then I went back to camp.


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Chicago: O. Henry, "III," The Gentle Grafter, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in The Gentle Grafter (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909), Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2022,

MLA: Henry, O. "III." The Gentle Grafter, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in The Gentle Grafter, Vol. 22, New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909, Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2022.

Harvard: Henry, O, 'III' in The Gentle Grafter, ed. . cited in 1909, The Gentle Grafter, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2022, from