Supply and Demand
Finch keeps a hats-cleaned-by-electricity-while-you-wait establishment, nine feet by twelve, in Third Avenue. Once a customer, you are always his. I do not know his secret process, but every four days your hat needs to be cleaned again.
Finch is a leathern, sallow, slow-footed man, between twenty and forty. You would say he had been brought up a bushelman in Essex Street. When business is slack he likes to talk, so I had my hat cleaned even oftener than it deserved, hoping Finch might let me into some of the secrets of the sweatshops.
One afternoon I dropped in and found Finch alone. He began to anoint my headpiece de Panama with his mysterious fluid that attracted dust and dirt like a magnet.
They say the Indians wear em under water, said I, for a leader.
Dont you believe it, said Finch. No Indian or white man could stay under water that long. Say, do you pay much attention to politics? I see in the paper something about a law theyve passed called the law of supply and demand.
I explained to him as well as I could that the reference was to a politico-economical law, and not to a legal statute.
I didnt know, said Finch. I heard a good deal about it a year or so ago, but in a one-sided way.
Yes, said I, political orators use it a great deal. In fact, they never give it a rest. I suppose you heard some of those cart-tail fellows spouting on the subject over here on the east side.
I heard it from a king, said Finchthe white king of a tribe of Indians in South America.
I was interested but not surprised. The big city is like a mothers knee to many who have strayed far and found the roads rough beneath their uncertain feet. At dusk they come home and sit upon the door- step. I know a piano player in a cheap café who has shot lions in Africa, a bellboy who fought in the British army against the Zulus, an express-driver whose left arm had been cracked like a lobsters claw for a stew-pot of Patagonian cannibals when the boat of his rescuers hove in sight. So a hat-cleaner who had been a friend of a king did not oppress me.
A new band? asked Finch, with his dry, barren smile.
Yes, said I, and half an inch wider. I had had a new band five days before.
I meets a man one night, said Finch, beginning his storya man brown as snuff, with money in every pocket, eating schweinerknuckel in Schlagels. That was two years ago, when I was a hose-cart driver for No. 98. His discourse runs to the subject of gold. He says that certain mountains in a country down South that he calls Gaudymala is full of it. He says the Indians wash it out of the streams in plural quantities.
Oh, Geronimo! says I. Indians! Theres no Indians in the South, I tell him, except Elks, Maccabees, and the buyers for the fall dry-goods trade. The Indians are all on the reservations, says I.
Im telling you this with reservations, says he. They aint Buffalo Bill Indians; theyre squattier and more pedigreed. They call em Inkers and Aspics, and they was old inhabitants when Mazuma was King of Mexico. They was the gold out of the mountain streams, says the brown man, and fill quills with it; and then they empty em into red jars till they are full; and then they pack it in buckskin sacks of one arroba eachan arroba is twenty-five poundsand store it in a stone house, with an engraving of a idol with marceled hair, playing a flute, over the door.
How do they work off this unearth increment? I asks.
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