The Exact Science of Matrimony (Henry)

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The Exact Science of Matrimony
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: Two con men ran a fake matrimonial agency using a widow as bait, but their scheme unraveled when the widow fell in love with one of the men, who secretly took her money.

Jeff Peters and Andy Tucker decided to start a matrimonial agency in Cairo, Illinois, with the intention of making a profit by connecting a charming widow with potential suitors. They created an advertisement for a beautiful widow with $3,000 in cash and valuable property, who was looking for a poor but affectionate man to marry. Jeff insisted that they needed a real widow to make their scheme legitimate, so he recruited Mrs. Trotter, a widow he knew from his past.

Jeff Peters — narrator; con man; cautious, insistent on keeping his schemes within legal boundaries.
Andy Tucker — con man; cunning, opportunistic, and secretly romantic.
Mrs. Trotter — widow; emotional, easily infatuated, and used as bait in the scheme.

The advertisement attracted a large number of responses, and Jeff and Andy made money by charging the suitors a fee to send their letters to the widow. Most of the men who responded were fortune seekers, and the partners made a good profit from their scheme. However, some of the more determined suitors traveled to Cairo to meet Mrs. Trotter in person, and she had to deal with them herself.

‘It does, Mr. Peters,’ says she. ‘I might have known you wouldn’t have gone into anything that wasn’t opprobrious. But what will my duties be?’

After three months, Jeff and Andy had made over $5,000 and decided it was time to end the scheme. When Jeff went to pay Mrs. Trotter her final salary and retrieve the $2,000 they had placed in her bank account, he found her in tears. She had fallen in love with one of the suitors, a man named William Wilkinson, who would only marry her if she gave him the $2,000.

‘Mr. Peters, I’m in love. I just love a man so hard I can’t bear not to get him. He’s just the ideal I’ve always had in mind.’

Jeff discussed the situation with Andy, who agreed to let Mrs. Trotter have the money so she could be happy with her new love.

As they prepared to leave Cairo, Jeff discovered that Andy had been secretly visiting Mrs. Trotter and was, in fact, William Wilkinson. Andy had taken the $2,000 from her, and the partners left town with their profits intact.

‘I was,’ says Andy.