"Bemis, is all that true, just as you have stated it?"
"I wish I may rot in my tracks and die the death of a dog if it isn't."
"Well, we can't refuse to believe it, and we don't. But if there were some proofs----"
"Proofs! Did I bring back my lariat?"
"Did I bring back my horse?"
"Did you ever see the bull again?"
"Well, then, what more do you want? I never saw anybody as particular as you are about a little thing like that."
I made up my mind that if this man was not a liar he only missed it by the skin of his teeth. This episode reminds me of an incident of my brief sojourn in Siam, years afterward. The European citizens of a town in the neighborhood of Bangkok had a prodigy among them by the name of Eckert, an Englishman--a person famous for the number, ingenuity and imposing magnitude of his lies. They were always repeating his most celebrated falsehoods, and always trying to "draw him out" before strangers; but they seldom succeeded. Twice he was invited to the house where I was visiting, but nothing could seduce him into a specimen lie. One day a planter named Bascom, an influential man, and a proud and sometimes irascible one, invited me to ride over with him and call on Eckert. As we jogged along, said he:
"Now, do you know where the fault lies? It lies in putting Eckert on his guard. The minute the boys go to pumping at Eckert he knows perfectly well what they are after, and of course he shuts up his shell. Anybody might know he would. But when we get there, we must play him finer than that. Let him shape the conversation to suit himself--let him drop it or change it whenever he wants to. Let him see that nobody is trying to draw him out. Just let him have his own way. He will soon forget himself and begin to grind out lies like a mill. Don't get impatient-- just keep quiet, and let me play him. I will make him lie. It does seem to me that the boys must be blind to overlook such an obvious and simple trick as that."
Eckert received us heartily--a pleasant-spoken, gentle-mannered creature. We sat in the veranda an hour, sipping English ale, and talking about the king, and the sacred white elephant, the Sleeping Idol, and all manner of things; and I noticed that my comrade never led the conversation himself or shaped it, but simply followed Eckert's lead, and betrayed no solicitude and no anxiety about anything. The effect was shortly perceptible. Eckert began to grow communicative; he grew more and more at his ease, and more and more talkative and sociable. Another hour passed in the same way, and then all of a sudden Eckert said:
"Oh, by the way! I came near forgetting. I have got a thing here to astonish you. Such a thing as neither you nor any other man ever heard of--I've got a cat that will eat cocoanut! Common green cocoanut--and not only eat the meat, but drink the milk. It is so--I'll swear to it."
A quick glance from Bascom--a glance that I understood--then:
"Why, bless my soul, I never heard of such a thing. Man, it is impossible."
"I knew you would say it. I'll fetch the cat."
He went in the house. Bascom said:
"There--what did I tell you? Now, that is the way to handle Eckert. You see, I have petted him along patiently, and put his suspicions to sleep. I am glad we came. You tell the boys about it when you go back. Cat eat a cocoanut--oh, my! Now, that is just his way, exactly--he will tell the absurdest lie, and trust to luck to get out of it again.
"Cat eat a cocoanut--the innocent fool!"
Eckert approached with his cat, sure enough.
Bascom smiled. Said he:
"I'll hold the cat--you bring a cocoanut."
Eckert split one open, and chopped up some pieces. Bascom smuggled a wink to me, and proffered a slice of the fruit to puss. She snatched it, swallowed it ravenously, and asked for more!
We rode our two miles in silence, and wide apart. At least I was silent, though Bascom cuffed his horse and cursed him a good deal, notwithstanding the horse was behaving well enough. When I branched off homeward, Bascom said:
"Keep the horse till morning. And--you need not speak of this-- foolishness to the boys."