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An Erring Shepherd
by [?]

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, flooding 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 information.

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?