From The Wit and Humor of America, edited by Marshall P. Wilder, Volume III, New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls and Company, 1911; pp. 511-518.
BY FRANK CRANE
“Yes, sir,” said the short, chunky man, as he leaned back against the gorgeous upholstery of his seat in the smoking compartment of the sleeping-car; “yes, sir, I knew you was a preacher the minute I laid eyes on you. You don’t wear your collar buttoned behind, nor a black thingumbob over your shirt front, nor Presbyterian whiskers, nor a little gold cross on a black string watch chain; them’s the usual marks, I know, and you hain’t got any of ’em. But I knew you just the same. You can’t fool J. P. Wamsley. You see, there’s a peculiar air about a man that’s accustomed to handle any particular line of goods. You can tell ’em all, if you’ll just notice, — any of ’em, — white-goods counter, lawyer, doctor, travelin’ man, politician, railroad, — every one of ’em’s got his sign out, and it don’t take Sherlock Holmes to read it, neither. It’s the same way with them gospel goods. You’ll excuse me, but when I saw you come in here and light a cigar, with an air of I-will-now-give-you-a-correct-imitation-of-a-human-being, I says to myself, ‘There’s one of my gospel friends.’ Murder will out, as the feller says.”
“Experience, did you say? I must have had considerable experience? Well, I guess yes! “Didn’t you never hear of my invention, Wamsley’s Automatic Pastor, Self-feedin’ Preacher and Lightning Caller? Say, that was the hottest scheme ever. I’ll tell you about it.512
“You see, it’s this way. I’m not a church member myself — believe in it, you know, and all that sort of thing, — I’m for religion strong, and when it comes to payin’ I’m right there with the goods. My wife is a member, and a good one; in fact, she’s so blame good that we average up pretty well.”
“Well, one day they elected me to the board of trustees at the church; because I was the heaviest payer, I suppose. I kicked some, not bein’ anxious to pose as a pious individual, owin’ to certain brethren in the town who had a little confidential information n J. P. and might be inclined to get funny. But they insisted, allowin’ that me bein’ the most prominent and successful merchant in the town, and similar rot, I ought to line up and help out the cause, and so on; so finally I gave in.
“I went to two or three of their meetin’s — and say, honest, they were the fiercest things ever.”
The minister smiled knowingly.
“You’re on, I see. Ain’t those official meetin’s of a church the limit? Gee! Once I went — a cold winter night — waded through snow knee-deep to a giraffe — and sat there two hours, while they discussed whether they’d fix the pastor’s back fence or not — price six dollars! I didn’t say anything, bein’ sort o’ new, you know, but I made up my mind that next time I’d turn loose on ’em, if it was the last thing I did.
“I says to my wife when I got home, ‘Em,’ says I, ‘if gittin’ religion gives a man softenin’ of the brain, like I see it workin’ on them men there to-night, I’m afraid I ain’t on prayin’ ground and intercedin’ terms, as the feller says. The men in that bunch to-night was worth over eight hundred thousand dollars, and they took eleven dollars and a half’s worth o’ my time chewin’ the rag over fixin’ the parson’s fence. I’m goin’ to bed,’ I 513 says, ‘and if I shouldn’t wake up in the mornin’, if you should miss Petty in the mornin’, you may know his vital powers was exhausted by the hilarious proceedin’s of this evenin’.’
“But I must get along to my story, about my automatic pastor. One day the preacher resigned, — life probably hectored out of him by a lot o’ cheap skates whose notion of holdin’ office in church consisted in cuttin’ down expenses and findin’ fault with the preacher because he didn’t draw in sinners enough to fill the pew and pay their bills for ’em.
“When it come to selectin’ a committee to get a new pastor, I butted right in. I had an idea, so — me to the front, leadin’ trumps and bangin’ my cards down hard on the table. Excuse my gay and festive reference to playin’-cards, but what I mean is, that I thought the fullness of time had arrived and was a-hollerin’ for J. P. Wamsley.
“Well, sir, it was right then and there I invented my automatic pastor, continuous revolving hand-shaker and circular jolly-hander.
“I brung it before the official brethren one night and explained its modus operandi. I had a wax figger made by the same firm that supplies me with the manikins for my show-windows. And it was a peach, if I do say it myself. Tall, handsome figger, benevolent face, elegant smile that won’t come off, as the feller says, Chauncey Depew spinnage in front of each ear. It was a sure lu-lu.
“ ‘Now,’ I says to ’em, ‘gentlemen, speakin’ o’ pastors, I got one here I want to recommend. It has one advantage anyhow; it won’t cost you a cent. I’ll make you a present of it, and also chip in, as heretofore, toward operatin’ expenses.’ That caught old Jake Hicks — worth a hundred thousand dollars, and stingier ’n all git-out. 514 He leaned over and listened, same as if he was takin’ ’em right off the bat. He’s a retired farmer. If you’ll find me a closer boy than a retired farmer moved to town, you can have the best plug hat in my store.
“ ‘You observe,’ I says, ‘that he has the leadin’ qualifications of all and comes a heap cheaper than most. He is swivel mounted; that is, the torso, so to speak, is pinioned onto the legs, so that the upper part of the body can revolve. This enables him to rotate freely without bustin’ his pants, the vest bein’ unconnected with the trousers.
“ ‘Now, you stand this here, whom we will call John Henry, at the door of the church as the congregation enters, havin’ previously wound him up, and there he stays, turning around and givin’ the glad hand and cheery smile, and so doth his unchangin’ power display as the unwearied sun from day to day, as the feller says. Nobody neglected, all pleased. You remember the last pastor wasn’t sociable enough, and there was considerable complaint because he didn’t hike right down after the benediction and jolly the flock as they passed out. We’ll have a wire run the length of the meetin’ house, with a gentle slant from the pulpit to the front door, and as soon as meetin’s over, up goes John Henry and slides down to the front exit, and there he stands, gyratin’ and handin’ out pleasant greeting to all, — merry Christmas and happy New Year to beat the band.
“ ‘Now as for preachin’,’ I continued, ‘you see all you have to do is to raise up the coat-tails and insert a record on the phonograph concealed here in the back of the chest, with a speakin’ tube runnin’ up to the mouth. John Henry bein’ a regular minister, he can get the Homiletic Review at a dollar and a half a year; we can subscribe for that, get the up-to-datest sermons by the 515 most distinguished divines, get some gent that’s afflicted with elocution to say ’em into a record, and on Sunday our friend and pastor here will reel ’em off fine. You press the button — he does the rest, as the feller says.’
“ ‘How about callin’ on the members?’ inquires Andy Robinson.
“ ‘Easy,’ says I. ‘Hire a buggy of Brother Jinks here, who keeps a livery stable, at one dollar per P. M. Get a nigger to chauffeur the pastor at fifty cents per same. There you are. Let the boy be provided with an assortment of records to suit the people — pleasant and sad, consolatory and gay, encouragin’ or reprovin’, and so forth. The coon drives up, puts in a cartridge, sets the pastor in the door, and when the family gets through with him they sets him out again.
“ ‘There are, say about three hundred callin’ days in the year. He can easy make fifteen calls a day on an average — equals four thousand five hundred calls a year, at $450. Of course, there’s the records, but they won’t cost over $50 at the outside — you can shave ’em off and use ’em over again, you know.’
“ ‘But there’s the personality of the pastor,’ somebody speaks up. ‘It’s that which attracts folks and fills the pews.’
“ ‘Personality shucks!’ says I. ‘Haven’t we had personality enough? For every man it attracts it repels two. Your last preacher was one of the best fellers that ever struck this town. He as a plum brick, and had lots o’ horse sense, to boot. He could preach, too, like a house afire. But you kicked him out because he wasn’t sociable enough. You’re askin’ an impossibility. No man can be a student and get up the rattlin’ sermons he did, and put in his time trottin’ around callin’ on the sisters.
“ ‘Now, let’s apply business sense to this problem. 516 That’s the way I run my store. Find out what the people want and give it to ’em, is my motto. Now, people ain’t comin’ to church unless there’s somethin’ to draw ’em. We’ve tried preachin’, and it won’t draw. They say they want sociability, so let’s give it to ’em strong. They want attention paid to ’em. You turn my friend here loose in the community, and he’ll make each and every man, woman and child think they’re it in less’n a month. If anybody gets disgruntled, you sic John Henry here on ’em, and you’ll have ’em come right back a-runnin’, and payin’ their pew rent in advance.
“ ‘Then,’ I continued, ‘that ain’t all. There’s another idea I propose, to go along with the pastor, as a sort of side line. That’s tradin’ stamps. Simple, ain’t it? Wonder why you never thought of it yourselves, don’t you? That’s the way with all bright ideas. People drink soda water all their lives, and along comes a genius and hears the fizz, and goes and invents a Westinghouse brake. Same as Newton and the apple, and Colombus and the egg.
“ ‘All you have to do is to give tradin’ stamps for attendance, and your church fills right up, and John Henry keeps ’em happy. Stamps can be redeemed at any store. So many stamps gets, say a parlor lamp or a masterpiece of Italian art in a gilt frame; so many more draws a steam cooker or an oil stove; so many more and you have a bicycle or a hair mattress or a what-not; and so on up to where a hat full of ’em gets an automobile.
“ ‘I tell you when a family has a what-not in their eye they ain’t goin’ to let a little rain keep ’em home from church. If they’re all really too sick to go they’ll hire a substitute. And I opine these here stamps will have a powerful alleviatin’ effect on Sunday-sickness.
“ ‘And then,’ I went on, waxin’ eloquent, and leanin’ 517 the pastor against the wall, so I could put one hand in my coat and gesture with the other and make it more impressive, — ‘and then,’ I says, ‘just think of them other churches. We won’t do a thing to ’em. That Baptist preacher thinks he’s a wizz because he makes six hundred calls a year. You just wait till the nigger gets to haulin’ John Henry here around town and loadin’ him up with rapid-fire conversations. That Baptist gent will look like thirty cents, that’s what he’ll look like. He’ll think he’s Rojessvinsky and the Japanese fleet’s after him. And the Campbellites think they done it when they got their new pastor, with a voice like a Bull o’ Bashan comin’ down hill. Just wait till we load a few of them extra-sized records with megaphone attachment into our pastor, and gear him up to two hundred and fifty words a minute, and then where, oh, where is Mister Campbellite, as the feller says.
“ ‘Besides, brethren, this pastor, havin’ no family, won’t need his back fence fixed; in fact, he won’t need the parsonage; we can rent it, and the proceeds will go toward operatin’ expenses.
“ ‘What we need to do,’ I says in conclusion, ‘is to get in ine, get up to date, give the people what they want. We have no way of judgin’ the future but by the past, as the feller says. We know they ain’t no human bein’ can measure up to our requirements, so let’s take a fall out of science, and have enterprise and business sense.’
J. P. Wamsley reached for a match.
“Did they accept your offer?” asked his companion. “I am anxious to know how your plan worked. It has many points in its favor, I confess.”
“No,” replied J. P. Wamsley, as he meditatively puffed his cigar and seemed to be lovingly reviewing the past. “No, they didn’t. I’m kind o’ sorry, too. I’d like to have 518 seen the thing tried myself. But,” he added, with a slow and solemn wink, “they passed a unanimous resolution callin’ back the old pastor at an increased salary.”
“I should say, then, that your invention was a success.”
“Well, I didn’t lose out on it, anyhow. I’ve got John Henry rigged up with a new bunch of whiskers, and posin’ in my show-window as Dewitt, signin’ the peace treaty, in an elegant suit of all-wool at $11.50.”