Conscience in Art (Henry)

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Conscience in Art
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: Two swindlers tricked a millionaire into buying an ancient ivory carving, only to reveal later that they had stolen the original from him and sold it back.

Jeff Peters and Andy Tucker were two swindlers who decided to target millionaires in Pittsburgh. They believed that the millionaires in the city were more likely to spend their money there than in New York. Jeff explains his personal philosophy on swindling, preferring to give something in return for the money he takes.

Myself, I never believed in taking any man’s dollars unless I gave him something for it — something in the way of rolled gold jewelry, garden seeds, lumbago lotion, stock certificates, stove polish or a crack on the head to show for his money.

Jeff Peters — narrator; swindler with a conscience; prefers to give something in return for money taken.
Andy Tucker — Jeff's partner; imaginative swindler; devises fraudulent schemes.

After a few days in the city, Andy managed to befriend a millionaire named Scudder, who had a passion for art and owned a valuable ancient Egyptian ivory carving.

Cornelius T. Scudder — Pittsburg millionaire; rough but unpretentious; interested in art and antiques.

Andy discovered an identical carving in a pawnshop and bought it for $25, believing that Scudder would be willing to pay a high price for it. Jeff, posing as a professor, contacted Scudder and claimed to have found the other carving in a museum in Vienna. He offered to buy Scudder's carving, but Scudder refused to sell and instead offered to buy the professor's carving for $2,500. Jeff accepted the offer and received the cash payment.

After the deal was completed, Andy revealed to Jeff that the carving they had sold to Scudder was actually Scudder's own carving, which Andy had stolen during their earlier meeting.

‘It was,’ says Andy. ‘It was his own. When I was looking at his curios yesterday he stepped out of the room for a moment and I pocketed it. Now, will you pick up your suit case and hurry?’

They had to leave the city immediately to avoid being caught. Jeff was initially confused about the story of finding the carving in a pawnshop, but Andy explained that he had made up the story to appease Jeff's conscience.

‘Oh,’ says Andy, ‘out of respect for that conscience of yours. Come on.’