SHREWDNESS
IS A TEN-LETTER WORD


Théot Brune, at twenty, ragged, barefoot, and without a copper, wanted a bottle of clairin, which is colorless, like moonshine corn whiskey. He found an empty bottle, half filled it with water, and approached a woman who sat retailing her wares, dried herring, little bundles of tobacco leaves, food and drink, beneath a roadside booth.

"Replenish my bottle," he ordered, and she filled it, unsuspecting, from her jug.

A
thought
or
two

"Thirty cobs" (six cents), she told him.

"Thief! Criminelle!" he cried in a passion.

"Never!"

"What would you pay?"

"I will not trade with robbers. Take back your clairin, pour it out."

And with his bottle still half-filled, but now with rum and water mixed, he played the trick successively at other roadside booths until the pure water he had started with was transformed into pure rum.

At thirty, Théot moved to Port-au-Prince, where he acquired a house and family; but he still had no money and wanted a pair of shoes.

He sent a child to a neighborhood merchant, saying, "Théot has rheumatism. Send one shoe, size thus, for Théot to try on, and if it fits, I will return with the money and get the other shoe."

There seemed no sense in Théot’s trying to cheat him out of one shoe; so the merchant acquiesced. But Théot sent the child with the same tale to another merchant, and Théot rejoiced in a pair of shoes which had cost him nothing.

At forty, Théot, who had risen considerably in the world, had begun to dabble in politics. His shrewdness and trickery had made him valuable to men higher up.

He decided privately that the time had come for him to go higher up himself. There were some senatorial vacancies to be filled by senatorial ballot. For Théot to aspire to a senatorship was quite absurd, but this is what he did.

He went confidentially to one senator and said, "I have a little favor to ask you which can do nobody any harm. On the first balloting for such and such a vacancy, I want you to vote for me, so that when the minutes are published in the newspaper reports, Théot’s name will appear written in that honorable company; it will make my wife proud and happy; and it will increase my prestige with all my neighbors. They will say, ‘So, this Théot is getting to be a man of importance!’ and it will not do anybody any harm. You can vote afterward for your serious candidate, of course. It is just a little confidential favor you can do me, my vanity perhaps, and no one need ever know who did it. Neither of us need mention it to a soul. But I want just that one vote."

He confided his harmless wish, ‘in confidence’ to other senators, who must have been subsequently somewhat astonished when they discovered that they had elected Théot senator almost without a dissenting vote.

Quoted from The Magic Island by W. B. Seabrook.

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