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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Isaac Kahn Friedman (1870–1931)

Five Fingers and Five Dollars

From “Autobiography of a Beggar”


“I GOES inter a man’s store ter day, an’ I tells him how I lost meh eyesight from sickness.

“‘Den yer can’t see?’ axes de man.

“‘I wouldn’t be blind ef I could see,’ answers I.

“‘Can’t yer see at all?’ he axes, lookin’ at meh right sharp.

“‘Excuse meh,’ answers I, ‘but yer ’pinion ef blindness is peculiar.’

“‘It is sometimes,’ he grins, an’ de clerks stop workin’ an grins, too. ‘I don’t believe yer blind,’ he goes on, ‘an’ I’m goin’ ter put yer to de test!’

“‘I’m perfectly willin’,’ replies I. But I feels skeered, fer he was a smart-lookin’ feller, an’ dis test business is ticklish sometimes.

“De first thing he done was ter throw a quarter on his desk. ‘Guess what dat is,’ snaps he, ‘an’ yer kin have it.’

“‘It’s a quarter,’ snaps I, an’ I puts out meh hand ter grab it.

“‘Don’t be too quick, meh blind friend,’ says he, puttin’ his hand over de coin; ‘ef yer was blind, how could yer tell dat de piece of money was a quarter?’

“I was almost caught dat time. I had no bizness ter call de turn, but de sight of de quarter made meh greedy; but I t’inks quick, an’ I answers, ‘De hearin’ of de blind is ’cute; I kin tell any coin by de ring.”

“‘Yer must have been a payin’-teller in a bank ter know money so well,’ says he. But he gives meh de quarter.

“I startes ter go out in a hurry wid meh quarter, de clerks all laffin’, when he calls meh back.

“‘I’ll give yer de chance ter earn anuder quarter,’ says he.

“‘I’m willin’,’ says I.

“‘Ef yer guesses how many fingers I holds up, I’ll give yer a quarter,’ says he.

“‘Ef I guesses it,’ pipes I, ‘yer’ll tell meh I ain’t blind, an’ den yer won’t give it ter meh. Ef I don’t guess what it is, den yer surely won’t give it ter meh. Dat bet ain’t fair!’

“‘Ef I ever kin use a blind clerk,’ says he, ‘I’ll give yer de job. But I’ll tell yer what I’ll do: ef yer guesses right, I’ll give yer de quarter; ef yer guesses wrong, I’ll give yer a dime. Is dat fair?’

“‘No,’ replies I. ‘I’m blind, an’ yer might cheat meh, an’ how would I know?’

“‘I’ll be de judge,’ says one ef de clerks, an’ I could see from de look on his face dat he wanted de boss beat, so I says, ‘I’m willin’.’

“‘Come, how many fingers is it?’ axes he, holdin’ up four.

“‘T’ree,’ says I.

“‘Yer wrong,’ says he an’ de clerk.

“‘But I gets meh dime!’ shouts I.

“‘Dat game ain’t fair,’ says de man; ‘I loses either way. I’ll tell yer what I’ll do: I’ll bet yer seventy cents ag’in yer thirty-five cents dat yer can’t call de turn next time!’

“‘Give yer coin to de clerk first,’ says I, givin’ him mine.

“He holds up four fingers, an’ I bawls out ‘Four!’ an’ de clerk give meh de coin in a hurry.

“‘Hold on,’ cries de man ter de clerk; ‘dat feller is a-cheatin’ meh!’

“‘A blind man might guess right,’ says I, a-goin’ out.

“He pulls meh back by de coat, an’ shouts, ‘We’ll have one more bet, anyways!’

“I agrees ter dat ’cause I couldn’t help mehself.

“‘Now,’ says he, ‘I’ll bet yer two dollars ag’in yer one dollar an’ five cents dat yer don’t guess right dis time.’ An’ he puts de two dollars in de clerk’s hand, an’ I puts in meh one dollar an’ five cents, feelin’ sorry dat I didn’t have sense enuf ter quit.

“‘Now,’ axes he, holdin’ up his five fingers, ‘how many?’

“‘Five!’ shouts I, bein’ willin’ ter lose meh reputation fer honesty rather den meh dollar an’ five. De clerk was a-goin ’ter drop de t’ree dollars in meh hand when de boss snaps his fingers an’ bawls out:

“‘Hold on; don’t be so quick!’ An’ he says ter meh:

“‘How could I hold up five fingers when I’ve only got four, meh thumb bein’ gone?’

“‘No, sir,’ says I; ‘a man what had his thumb cut orff can’t snap his fingers!’

“‘An’ de clerk drops his money in meh hand, an’ de man says:

“‘Yer hearin’ is very ’cute.’ Den he t’inks a minute, an’ says:

“‘I’ll bet two dollars ag’in yer t’ree dat yer don’t guess it dis time! An’, Mr. Clerk, yer needn’t be in sich a hurry ter get rid ef meh money!’

“Den he holds up one finger. ‘One!’ hollers I afore he has de chanct ter haul it down an’ hold up two. An’ de clerk hands meh de coin.

“‘Yer seen it,’ says he.

“‘I didn’t,’ says I.

“‘Den how did yer guess it?’ axes he.

“It’s de most natcheral thing in de world,’ says I, ‘fer a man ter go back ter one finger after him havin’ up five.’

“‘Well,’ says he, ‘I’ll give ye de five dollars an’ let yer go. An’ some dark night I’m comin’ around ter borrow dose blind eyes of yourn!’”

And Bill drew his story to a close, tossing the five-dollar gold piece to McQuinn with the carelessness of a man who is used to handling gold as if it were so much dross. McQuinn examined it with the care of a man who is used to having dross foisted on him for so much gold.

“Look-a-here,” he roared, marching up to Bill, “dat ain’t nothin’ but a gilded quarter. What does yer mean by tryin’ ter shove queer?” And without delay he threw Bill from the club-room into the street.

Throughout the evening one member, evidently a stranger, for none of the members could claim his acquaintance, sat stupidly in a corner, never smiling, never changing the expression on his face.

Crutch McAllister, who had been eying him closely all evening, was irritated beyond endurance by the stranger’s stolid indifference.

When Blind Bill’s gold proved spurious and the stranger in the gates failed to see the humor of the situation, Crutch McAllister could control himself no longer, and he turned and smote the melancholy guest with all his might and main.

“Yer can’t palm dat deaf-an’-dumb racket orf on ter us. It don’t go here!” he yelled.

“Dat’s right, Crutch, make him speak. Make him!” and they all pounced on the silent guest.

“Let him alone!” yelled McQuinn, pulling the others off, “let him alone. Dat feller is all right; I knows him. He can’t speak an’ he can’t hear.”

“I’m sorry dat I hit him, den,” apologized Crutch, “but de guy had de right ter holler an’ tell meh dat he was deaf an’ dumb in de first place!”