The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg
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Hadleyburg enjoys the reputation of being an "incorruptible" town known for its responsible, honest people that are trained to avoid temptation. However, at some point the people of Hadleyburg manage to offend a passing stranger, and he vows to get his revenge by corrupting the town.
The stranger drops off a sack in Hadleyburg, at the house of Edward and Mary Richards. It contains slightly over 160 pounds of gold coins and is to be given to a man in the town who purportedly gave the stranger $20 and some life-changing advice in his time of need years earlier. To identify the man, a letter with the sack suggests that anyone who claims to know what the advice was should write the remark down and submit it to Reverend Burgess, who will open the sack at a public meeting and find the actual remark inside. News of the mysterious sack of gold, whose value is estimated at $40,000, spreads throughout the town and even gains attention across the country.
The residents beam with pride as stories of the sack and Hadleyburg's honesty spread throughout the nation, but the mood soon changes. Initially reluctant to give into the temptation of the gold, soon even the most upstanding citizens are trying to guess the remark.
Edward and Mary, one of the town's 19 model couples, receive a letter from a stranger revealing the remark: "You are far from being a bad man: go, and reform." Mary is ecstatic that they will be able to claim the gold. Unbeknownst to one another, all 19 couples have received identical letters. They submit their claims to Burgess and begin to recklessly purchase things on credit in anticipation of their future wealth.
The town hall meeting to decide the rightful owner of the sack arrives, and it is packed with residents, outsiders, and reporters. Burgess reads the first two claims, and a dispute quickly arises between two townspeople who have submitted nearly the same remark. To settle which is right, Burgess cuts open the sack and finds the note that reveals the full remark: "You are far from being a bad man—go, and reform—or, mark my words—some day, for your sins you will die and go to hell or Hadleyburg—try and make it the former." Neither man's claim includes the entire remark.
The next claim reads the same, and the town hall bursts into laughter at the obvious dishonesty behind the incorrect claims. Burgess continues to read the rest of the claims, all with the same (partial) remark, and one by one the prominent couples of the town are publicly shamed. Edward and Mary await their name with anguish, but surprisingly it is never read.
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