"The devil you hadn't. And do you claim sir, that you own the things just delivered from my store?"
"Of course I do, but I don't deny that I owe you, and am willing to confess judgment if you wish me to do so."
After he had cooled off a little I stated my condition, when he too asked why I didn't explain in the beginning.
I answered that I had been on earth too long to take any such chances.
I had a siege of about ten days' sickness, after which I "hus'led" out, and by extra exertion managed to accumulate money enough to pay up my grocery and butcher bills. This greatly pleased the proprietors, and proved the means of making them my best friends, and just such as might come very convenient to have, in case of absolute necessity.
During my several months' absence from home my correspondence with my mother had been more limited than usual. I felt that during my entire career I had never shown a disposition to loaf or to sponge my living. While I had frequently been assisted, I had kept a strict account of every dollar, and had regarded it, in each instance, as a business loan, expecting to pay it back some day; and had never asked for assistance except when I actually needed it. It was impossible at that time for me to understand my mother's policy in abruptly refusing me aid, when I felt that she was at least able to assist me a little.
At any rate, I was immensely "red-headed" all the time, and declared that I would fight it out on that line, if I had to wear my summer clothes all winter. I had declared that I would never return home till I was comfortably well fixed, or at least in a fair way to prosper. How well I kept my word will be seen farther on.
I remember during that siege, a coal and wood-dealer offered me a position in his office at fifteen dollars per week, which I declined with thanks, explaining that I had started out in life to "hus'le," and try and accomplish something of my own accord; and to go to work in a stupid, quiet business on a salary, at that late day, would be a disgrace to the profession. He argued that I would be sure of a comfortable living, anyhow. I agreed with him, but declared that I would never be sure of anything beyond that; and I would rather live from hand to mouth till such time as I could better my condition and possibly make money rapidly.
I felt that to settle down on a salary in such a business would be the means of falling into a certain rut, from which it would be hard to extricate myself. And I have thus far never had occasion to regret having taken that position.
About this time I received a letter from my mother anxiously inquiring what business I had engaged in after quitting the hotel, and if we were all comfortably fixed for the winter.
She closed by saying that as she had no picture of me since I was eighteen years of age she wished I would have my photograph taken and sent to her.
On reading this letter I remarked to my wife that I would send her a likeness that would make her sick. I replied to her, agreeing to send it as soon as I could have some taken. I also answered her questions as to my business engagements and how we were situated, by saying that I occasionally fell back on the furniture polish and did considerable canvassing with it, but my principal business was hauling coke, and had been all winter; and as for comfort, we had never before experienced any thing equal to it.
After mailing my letter to her I wrote to the landlord at Adrian, where I had left the old carpet-bag which had been my companion to New York as well as on my first polish tour, and asked him to get it from the attic of his hotel, and forward to me by express. He did so immediately.
I then borrowed a long linen duster about three sizes too small for me from the "man Friday" employed in the drug store, and repaired to a photograph gallery. I pulled my suspenders up as much as possible in order to make my pants ridiculously short. I donned the linen duster and with tight squeezing managed to button it around me, and turning up the collar pinned it over with a long black shawl-pin. I put on my straw hat, ear muffs, and heavy woolen mittens, struck as awkward an attitude as possible with my toes turned in, and with the old carpet-bag in hand was duly photographed.
While they were being printed I received another letter from my mother congratulating us on our splendid success in making ourselves comfortable during such a hard winter, and said we ought to be thankful that the Lord had blessed us with so many comforts. But one thing in my letter puzzled them all, and that was, what in the world I meant by saying that my principal business was hauling coke. They couldn't imagine that I had hired out as a teamster, and if I had, they couldn't see how I could work for some one else and sell polish too. She said when she read my letter Mr. Keefer declared that "that boy would keep hustling and die with his boots on before he would ever hire out as a teamster or any thing else." And he wanted her to find out at once what on earth it meant. I answered in a few days, stating that I had spent the greater portion of the winter hauling coke a distance of about a mile in a wheel-barrow for our own use and that it took about a bushel a minute to keep us comfortable. I enclosed my photograph, saying that I had stopped on my way home from canvassing one afternoon and had it taken just as I appeared on the street.
I also explained that at the last house where I had stopped they had set the dog on me and he had torn a piece out of my linen ulster and I hadn't noticed it till after the picture was taken.
I received an immediate reply to this letter acknowledging the receipt of the photograph and making a few comments.
About the first thing she said was that her advice to me would be never to let another winter catch me in Michigan, but to start South and try to reach a locality where linen ulsters and straw hats were more adapted to the climate.
She said she thought the mittens and ear mufflers were very becoming and her first impulse was to send me a pair of Mr. Keefer's old rubber boots, but on second thought had made up her mind that the tops would hardly reach the bottom of my pants and had concluded that the shoes I was wearing would be more becoming and much easier to walk in.
She concluded her remarks by saying she didn't see what objection I had to burning wood or nice hard coal, instead of hauling coke so far in a wheel-barrow; and asked how I liked "hus'ling" by this time. She also said that I had carried the old carpet-bag so long that it bore a strong resemblance to myself; and advised me to hang to it, as it might some day be considered a valuable relic, especially if I should ever get rich by "hus'ling," or become a member of Congress.
Although I felt that she had shown herself equal to the occasion, by replying as she did, my answer to this letter was sufficient to let her know that I asked no favors, and had no intention of doing so.
As soon as spring opened and moving and house-cleaning became the order of the day, my business began to improve, and I made money fast. I bought myself a nice suit of clothes, and other necessary wearing apparel; and I moved my family back to Bronson, where I paid their board and left them sufficient means to procure clothing and pay incidental expenses.
I went to Toledo, expecting to canvass with my polish, and very soon called on an old acquaintance who was telegraphing. While chatting with him a gentleman came in and wrote a message to be sent to an auctioneer at Cleveland, asking him to come to Toledo and travel with him. The operator asked me if I would like to send the message, for a little practice. I told him I would, and stepped inside the office to do so. After reading it, I stepped forward and accosted the stranger with: "What kind of an auctioneer do you wish to employ, sir?"
He replied that he was traveling with a large wagon that cost him fifteen hundred dollars, drove four fine horses, employed two musicians, was selling Yankee Notions, and needed a good man who could sell goods on the down-hill plan, or "Dutch Auction," as some termed it. I told him that I was an auctioneer, and would engage with him.
He asked me to step out and take a drink. I said: "Thank you, I don't care for anything to drink."
"Well, come and take a cigar."
"Thank you. I never smoke, either."
He asked if there was anything I did to pass the time pleasantly. I said:
"Yes, sir. I attend to business, when I have any to attend to."
He inquired what I was engaged in at the present time. I opened my valise and showed him, and several others standing by, what I was selling, and polished up an office desk to show its superior qualities. He asked the price, and on being told, handed me a dollar and took two bottles, after which I sold three more bottles to different gentlemen in the office.
The auction man looked at me a moment, and then laughingly inquired if I could talk as well on Yankee Notions as I could on polish. Then he added that he couldn't understand how any man could make a living with such a thing, and foolishly asked if I ever sold any of it.
I answered his question by asking if I had not sold him two bottles, as well as three other men in his presence; and asked if he was in the habit of buying everything he saw, whether he needed it or not. He said he bought it because he thought it a valuable article to have in the house, and was going to send it to his wife.
He asked what my price would be per week to work for him. I told him it was strictly against my principles to work on a salary and would prefer to engage on commission even if I didn't make as much money.
He explained that he usually remained in a town from three days to a week and sold on the street during the evening and Saturday afternoons. He offered me twenty-five dollars per week and all expenses, or five per cent. on all my gross sales and all expenses. I accepted the latter, provided he would not expect me to do anything but sell goods at the times specified. This suited him and I started with him that afternoon for the West. He informed me that the auctioneer he had been employing drank too much liquor and was in consequence unfit for duty half the time. I assured him that he would experience no such trouble with me.
He said that was one reason why he concluded to take me, and confessed that had I accepted his invitation to take a drink he would never have given me the position.
During our first ten miles' ride I was racking my brain for something to say when I should jump up to make my first sale. I had never sold a dollars' worth of goods of any kind at auction, and the only experience of a similar nature that I had ever had was the four days' sale of prize soap.
However, I valued that four days' experience very highly at that juncture as I felt that it was experience, at any rate, and would no doubt help me in the way of giving me self-confidence.
Fortunately for me, the first town we stopped at had the license so very high that we could not afford to pay it, and decided to continue westward and postpone our first sale till the next night. This gave me an opportunity for further study, which I grasped eagerly.
I slept but little that night, but spent the time in manufacturing a line of talk on the different kinds of goods handled by my employer, and the preparation of a suitable opening speech.
At any rate, the next evening when we drove into Blissfield, Michigan, I determined that it should be a success, although I dreaded the opening of my first sale.
After supper we seated our musicians at the rear end of the wagon-box and started on our parade around town.
Loud singing and the sweet strains of music routed every body in town.
I remember one song they used to sing that always took immensely. It was to the tune of "Marching Through Georgia." The chorus was:
"Come out, come out, you hungry wearied souls. Come out, come out, we're here to do you good. We've marched from East to West, and North, and now we're going South, To supply the wants of those way down in Georgia."
When we drove back to a convenient corner and lighted our immense torches it seemed to me that the towns-people had turned out en masse and gathered around us.
After one or two more pieces by the musicians my proprietor handed me the keys and directed me to open up. I removed the covers from the top of the goods and then began sorting them over carefully. I then laid off my coat and again went through the goods.
Next I threw off my vest and sorted over more goods, till at last realizing that the time had come when something must be said, I looked knowingly over the vast concourse of people and then removed my hat.
A death-like stillness prevailed.
The cold perspiration stood out on my forehead in big drops.
Something about the size of a watermelon appeared to be in my throat.
I feared the sound of my own voice. My knees were weak, and knocking together.
I looked over my audience the second time, and was about to venture to say something, when I happened to think that I hadn't taken off my cuffs and collar, and proceeded to do so, when to my horror I heard a young man in the audience say, in a tone loud enough for all to hear:
"You bet yer life he is fixing to give us the biggest game of talk we ever heard."
It was then I realized that the great preparations I had been making, and the knowing looks I had been giving, had only confirmed their supposition that I was certainly capable of doing credit to such a complete and pretentious turn-out.
Could I have lassoed and hung that fellow to the nearest tree, I would gladly have done so; for it seemed to almost completely demoralize me and unfit me for the occasion. And I would have given ten times the price of the whole outfit could I have been spirited away forty miles.
I again discovered myself perspiring more freely than ever. I had fixed the torches several times, had gone through the entire stock of goods three or four times, and had taken off every article of clothing that I dared to, all with the vain hope that something would occur to break the horrid stillness. Such was not the case, however. The eyes of every one were centered upon me—those of the proprietor and musicians as well as the audience.
When finally ready to begin my speech, I suddenly discovered that I couldn't recall a single word that I had so carefully prepared for the occasion.
At all events the very last moment had arrived when I had got to either open up and say something, or desert the whole paraphernalia.
At last I broke out in a low husky voice; and in less than two minutes I was rattling away with an introductory speech, which my employer afterwards complimented me on, and said that from it, alone, my sale was half made before offering a single dollar's worth of goods for sale.
I continued to use that same speech for years, with an occasional slight variation, but was never able to improve on it very much.
I then began my sale, and very soon felt perfectly at home, and made a great hit, much to the evident satisfaction of my employer, and entirely so to myself.
A SUCCESSFUL AUCTIONEER—PLAYING A DOUBLE ROLE—ILLUSTRATING AN AUCTION SALE.
My success as an auctioneer was assured from the result of my first sale. I soon learned that it required only hard study and close application to make it a profitable business.
I did not give up my furniture polish, but as soon as possible bought an extra suit of clothes, a silk hat and a wig with which to change my appearance from a polish-vender to an auctioneer. I would peddle from house to house during the day in a dark suit and Derby hat, with my hair clipped close to my head, while in the evening I would appear on the auction-wagon attired in a flashy, plaid suit, a blonde wig and silk hat. In no instance was my identity ever discovered.
We used to have a great deal of sport at the hotels, where I invariably registered and represented myself as a polish vender, and never intimated that I was connected with the auction party.
As soon as the time drew near to open the sale I would go to my room, dress for the occasion and suddenly appear at the hotel office ready for business; and as soon as the wagon was driven to the door ready for the parade, I would climb in and perform my part of the programme.
It was usually a query with hotel clerks and porters, who the auctioneer could be and where he slept and took his meals.
My reason for thus disguising myself was to satisfy my employer, who feared that the polish business would in some degree injure the auction sales.
I made auctioneering my constant study, jotting down every saying that suggested itself to me, and giving it a great deal of thought at odd times. In the morning, at noon, and while walking from house to house I conjured up all sorts of expressions.
Consequently I manufactured a large variety of comical descriptive talk on all lines of goods we handled, besides an endless variety of funny sayings and jokes with which to hold and entertain my audiences.
By reading a good deal and carefully listening to every thing that was said in my presence I was constantly catching on to something new which I combined with something original. I very soon found myself not only rated equal to the average auctioneer, but almost invariably on my daily trips selling polish I would be asked if I "had heard that auctioneer the night before," and then would follow the highest commendation of his ability.
This of course had a tendency to elevate me in my own estimation, and was no doubt a motive power to urge me on to success. But under the circumstances of not daring to make my identity known, I was unable to share in the glory that my egotism would naturally crave for.
I became satisfied, at any rate, that I had "struck my gait," and at once became wrapped up soul and body in the business.
In a few weeks my employer suggested that we let the musicians go, as he was convinced that I was able to entertain my audiences sufficiently without them. I agreed with him and we very soon learned that our sales were better than with them.
The music seemed to divide the attention of the people, besides suggesting more pleasure than business.
My commission was increased from five to seven per cent. as soon as this fact was demonstrated.
Before quitting the business I was successful in acquiring a general line of talk on suspenders, shoe-laces, combs, brushes, handkerchiefs, hose, pocket-knives, razors, pencils, pins, stationery, towels, table-cloths, and in fact everything belonging to this line of goods, together with an endless variety of jokes and sayings used during and immediately after each sale.
My sales were made on what is termed the down-hill plan, or Dutch Auction, instead of to the highest bidder, as is common in selling farm implements and stock. I would first describe the quality of the article for sale, and after placing its price as high as it usually sold at, would then run it down to our lowest bottom price, and as soon as a sale was made, proceed to duplicate and sell off as many of them as possible in a single run; and then introduce something else.
To give the reader a more definite knowledge of the manner of conducting this business and describing the goods, I will give an illustration on one or two articles, including a few sayings frequently used between sales. It should be borne in mind that as soon as I opened my sale I began talking at lightning speed, and talked incessantly from that moment till its final close, which usually lasted two to four hours. I have talked six hours, incessantly, but it is very exhausting and wearing, and could not be kept up.
To hold the people and keep them buying, it was necessary to entertain them with a variety of talk. Whenever a sale was made, I would cry out at the top of my voice:
"Sold again;" and would not lose a chance then to add some joke or saying that would be likely to amuse the crowd, before offering another lot.
I will now illustrate a sale on "Soap:"
"My friends, the next article I will offer for your inspection is the homa jona, radical, tragical, incomprehensible compound extract of the double-distilled rute-te-tute toilet soap.
"T-a-l-k about your astronomical calculation and scientific investigation, but the man who invented this soap, studied for one hundred years. As he d-o-v-e into the deep, d-a-r-k mysteries of chemical analysis, he solved the problem that n-o man born could be an honest Christian without the use of soap.
"Take a smell of it, gentlemen, eat a cake of it, and if you don't like it, spit it out. I'll guarantee it to remove tar, pitch, paint, oil or varnish from your clothing; it will remove stains from your conscience, pimples from your face, dandruff from your head, and whiskey from your stomach; it will enamel your teeth, strengthen your nerves, purify your blood, curl your hair, relax your muscles and put a smile on your face an inch and-a-half thick; time will never wear it away; it's a sure cure for bald heads, scald heads, bloody noses, chapped hands, or dirty feet. * * *
"Now, gentlemen, I have here an extra fine toilet soap that you can't buy in your city for less than ten cents a cake. But I'm here my friends, to give you bargains." (Then counting them out, one cake at a time):
"I'll give you one cake for ten, two for twenty, three of 'em for thirty, four for forty, five for fifty and six for sixty cents. Yes, you lucky cusses, I'll see if there's a God in Israel. Here, I'll wrap them up for fifty-five—fifty—forty-five—forty—thirty-five, thirty. There! I hope never to see my Mary Ann or the back of my neck if a quarter of a dollar don't buy the whole lot. Remember, twenty-five cents; two dimes and-a-half will neither make nor break you, buy you a farm, set you up in business or take you out of the poor-house.
"Is there a gentleman in the crowd now who will take this lot for twenty-five cents?"
(When some one cries out, "I'll take 'em,")—
"Take 'em, I should think you would take 'em. I took 'em, too; but I took 'em when the man was asleep, or I never could sell 'em for the money. Will it make any difference to you, sir, if I give you six more cakes in the bargain?—(throwing in six more.) All right, my friends.
"You can't give in vain to a good cause. Remember, 'God loveth a cheerful giver.' Now gentlemen, who'll have the next, last, and only remaining lot for the money? Here's one, another makes two, one more are three, another makes four, one more are five and one are six, and six more added make another dozen, the only remaining lot for the money. And sold again.
"Not sold, but morally and Christianly given away; where Christians dwell blessings freely flow; I'm here to dispense blessings with a free and liberal hand. Ah, you lucky sinners, I have just one more lot—the last and only remaining one. Who'll have it? And sold again. The fountains of joy still come rushing along, the deeper we go the sweeter we get and the next song will be a dance. Well, dog my riggin', if here ain't another dozen cakes. And who'll take them along for the same money? Sold again! Not sold, but given away. He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord and when he dies he'll go to Georgetown by the short-line.
"Well, there, gentlemen, I've soaped you to death. The next article I'll call your attention to is a fine Eagle rubber-tipped pencil with the lead running all the way through it and half way back again, and a pencil you can't buy in the regular way for less than ten cents. Now, gentlemen, after sharpening this pencil to a fine point, I propose to give you a specimen of my penmanship. I presume I'm the finest penman who ever visited your city.
"And I will wager one hundred dollars to fifty that I can beat any man in your town writing two different and distinct hands." (Then hold up a piece of paper or paste-board and commence writing on it.)
"You will notice, my friends, that I write one hand that no man in the world can read but myself, and another hand that myself nor any other man can read. Now, gentlemen, I'm going to supply the wants of yourself and family, and all your relatives." (Then picking them up one at a time, and exposing them to view):
"Here is one for dad and one for mam, Two for the cook and the hired man, One for your daughter and one for your son. As true as I tell you, I have only begun. For there is one for your wife and one for yourself; I'll give you another to lay on the shelf. Here's one for your sister and one for your brother, For fear they'll need three I'll throw in another. Here is one for your uncle and one for your aunt. I would give them another, but I know that I can't, For there's just two left for grandfather and grandmother. If you'll take them along and make me no bother, You may have the whole lot for a quarter of a dollar.
"And who'll have the entire lot for the money?
"And sold right here. This gentleman takes them. I should think he would take 'em. Any man that wouldn't take 'em, wouldn't take sugar at a cent a pound. He'd want to taste off the top, taste from the bottom and eat out the middle and then he'd swear it wasn't sugar. And who'll have the next, last, and only remaining lot for the money? And sold again. Luck is a fortune gentlemen. The man that is here to-night is bound to be a winner. And who'll have the next lot for the money?"
The foregoing will give the reader a slight idea of the variety of talk that it was necessary for me to keep conjuring up and manufacturing in order to entertain my buyers, and to continually spring something new on them.
MY EMPLOYER CALLED HOME—I CONTINUE TO HUS'LE—AN AUCTIONEERING CO-PARTNERSHIP—STILL IN A DOUBLE ROLE—A NEAT, TIDY, QUIET BOARDING HOUSE—WE MOVE TO A HOTEL—A PRACTICAL JOKE—AUCTIONEERING FOR MERCHANTS—MAKING A POLITICAL SPEECH—GETTING MIXED.
I remained with my late employer several weeks, having almost uninterrupted success, when he was notified of his wife's serious illness and was obliged to leave his horses and wagon with a liveryman and return at once to his home in Ohio.
I continued selling furniture polish as though nothing had happened, but never ceased making auctioneering a continual study.
Shortly after this I received a letter from an old acquaintance who had recently married a widow about forty years older than himself, expressing a desire to go into the auction business with me.
He said he was well fixed now (or at least his wife was) and if I would do the auctioneering he would furnish the capital and we would travel together and divide the profits.
I telegraphed him to have his money ready, as I was coming.
On my arrival Johnny showed me a large roll of bills and said "there was plenty more where that come from."
We ordered a nice stock of goods and started at once taking in the Western and Southwestern States.
Johnny was exceedingly gay and chipper from the start and seemed possessed with the idea that he had found a gold mine.
He led about the same life I did the winter I was selling government goods—only a little more so, and I frequently reminded him of the results of my experience and tried hard to convince him that his would result the same, but without success.
He was a jolly, good natured fellow, a true friend, kind and generous to a fault, which with his expensive habits made serious inroads on his capital and it diminished rapidly.
I saw how things were shaping, and lost no time in making a new contract with him, which gave me a certain commission, and required him to defray all hotel bills.
I kept up the sale of polish as usual, during the time when we were not selling at auction, and by so doing was steadily gaining ground.
I suggested to Johnny when we first started out that he also sell polish.
He laughed at the idea and said he "didn't have to."
After we had been out a few weeks I asked him one day if he didn't think we had better invoice. He thought we had, and we did so. He seemed less gay after this and showed frequent signs of having the blues.
We could show good sales, but he couldn't show where the money had gone, although he had had the exclusive handling of it himself.
He began to show an inclination to make improvements, but still clung to a few expensive notions, so much so that his expenses far exceeded his profits.
In a few weeks I suggested another inventory, to which he submitted, and was fairly paralyzed at the result.
We then decided to go to Kansas City, Missouri. On our way there Johnny asked me what I thought of going to some nice, quiet boarding-house instead of paying the usual high rates at hotels.
I agreed, and again suggested that he go to selling polish, which he was almost tempted to do, but finally said he guessed he wouldn't yet a while.
When we got to Kansas City I said:
"Now Johnny, I will stay at the depot while you 'hustle' up town and find a boarding-house."
He started on the hunt immediately.
In about two hours he came rushing back with a broad grin on his countenance, and informed me that he had found one of the nicest places in town, where every thing was neat and clean, and nice and tidy, the old lady was a good conversationalist, she had a nice family of well-bred children, and it was so home-like, and at a cost of only two dollars and a half each.
"But Johnny, two dollars and a half a day apiece at a boarding-house is too much."
"Good —— Johnston, I don't mean by the day. I mean by the week."
At this he grabbed a piece of baggage and bounded away, I following closely.
On our arrival at the boarding-house we found the landlady to be a widow with seven children. The house was furnished with the very commonest of furniture, no carpets on any of the floors, no paper on the walls, and the plastering off in many places.
We were both very hearty eaters, and were in the habit of taking our heartiest meal at six o'clock in the evening.
When supper was called we went in to the dining-room, took seats and waited to be served.
In about two minutes the children began flocking in. The majority of them took their position along one side of the room and stared at us with half-starved looks, while the others were climbing over the backs of our chairs, and turning summersaults under the table and in the middle of the floor.
Directly the old lady came in with a cup of tea for each of us, and then brought in a molasses cake, with a couple of slices of bread and a small piece of butter.
Johnny glanced at me as if expecting a grand "kick;" but, although I had no fondness for molasses cake, I took hold and ate with as much relish as if it had been roast turkey. I kept up a pleasant conversation with the old lady, and never failed to laugh heartily whenever one of the older boys happened to kick a cat up the chimney or break a lamp or two.
When bed-time came, the old lady showed us to the spare-room, which contained nothing but a small stand and an old-fashioned bedstead with a straw tick resting on ropes instead of slats. The straw was nearly all on one side, which discovery I happened to make before retiring, and forthwith took advantage of it by hurrying to bed first, and occupying that side.
Although I had always before insisted on sleeping alone, I didn't in this instance raise any objection, but on the contrary, appeared as happy as could be.
As soon as Johnny struck the bed he began to roll and tumble, and in a very short time succeeded in breaking the rope on his side, making it very uncomfortable for both of us. We kept sinking gradually, till at last our bodies were resting on the floor, with our feet and heads considerably elevated.
I felt the consciousness of getting the best of it, as the straw still remained on my side; and made up my mind to find no fault, but wait and see what Johnny would have to say.
Hardly a word had passed between us since supper. Finally, discovering that I was awake, he asked me if I was comfortable. I assured him that I was resting splendidly.
He then asked, in a low tone, how I liked the supper, and what I thought of the boarding house.
I replied that I thought the supper was fine, and that everything was neat and clean and nice and tidy, the old lady a splendid cook, a good conversationalist, and had a nice family of well-bred children; and as for myself, I liked it, it was so home-like. Johnny made no reply, but as I could see, was doing considerable thinking.
For breakfast we had hominy and coffee. If there was ever one thing I detested more than another, it was hominy. But I partook of it heartily, and conversed as pleasantly as possible with Johnny and the old lady.
For dinner we had a small piece of tainted beef-steak with some warmed over sour potatoes and warm biscuit and butter.
I praised the dinner and especially the biscuit. The children never failed to occupy their customary places nor to perform their usual evolutions.
For supper the cup of tea and molasses cake were again brought out.
The third day Johnny once more asked me how I liked the boarding-house. I said:
"Well, Johnny, I think it is nice. Every thing is neat and clean and nice and tidy. The old lady is a splendid cook, a good conversationalist and has a nice family of well-bred children, and as for myself I like it, it's so home-like."
We made several successful auction sales, and I kept canvassing with the polish.
Johnny found considerable difficulty in passing the time pleasantly at the boarding-house. Having previously stopped at first-class hotels, the contrast was far from agreeable, and I could see he was getting restive and dissatisfied.
I had determined to use every effort in trying to keep him there as long as possible. My experience had taught me that a cheap boarding-house was no place to stop at, and I thought the sooner he learned the lesson the better it would be for him.
On the fifth day, when he asked how I liked it by that time, I again repeated:
"Why, Johnny, I think it's nice. Everything is neat and clean and nice and tidy, the old lady is a splendid cook and a good conversationalist, and has a nice family of well-bred children; and as for myself, I like it, it's so home-like."
I noticed he eyed me very closely this time, but as I managed to get through without a smile, and appeared thoroughly in earnest, he seemed to consider it best not to express his opinion; and as I asked no questions he said nothing, but looked pale and haggard, and appeared nervous and anxious.
Matters went on as usual, with no improvement at the boarding-house, except on Sunday for dinner we had flour gravy, which I was very fond of, and complimented the old lady on her way of making it.
Johnny had nothing to say; and as he cared nothing for gravy, ate but little, and looked silly.
As we passed into the sitting-room together I remarked:
"That's the kind of a dinner I like; it's so home-like."
He eyed me closely, said nothing, but looked bewildered.
On the seventh day at noon, as I was coming in from canvassing, I met him down town. He looked haggard and hungry. When I came up and said "it's about dinner-time, isn't it?" he answered: "Great Caesar! it's about time to eat, anyhow, and I have got to have a square meal once more."
"Well, come with me, Johnny, I'll take you to a nice place."
He followed, and as we passed into the restaurant the cashier said:
"How are you to-day Mr. Johnston?"
We took a seat at one of the tables, when Johnny began watching me closely. Directly one of the waiters came to us and said:
"Mr. Johnston, we have your favorite dish, to-day, and it's very fine."
"Very well, then bring me a New England dinner."
At this Johnny's eyes fairly glistened, and he turned ghastly pale. Then jumping to his feet and pounding the table with his fist, he cried out:
"Johnston, you're a —— fraud! and have nearly succeeded in starving me to death, and —— me if I——"
"But, sit down—sit down; let me explain—let me explain."
He resumed his seat, when I began with:
"You see, Johnny, I thought you were partial to boarding-houses, and as everything was neat and clean and nice and tid——"
"Oh, tidy be ——! Cuss your nice old lady, and her good conversation, and all the —— well-bred kids. I'll be cussed if you'll ever come any such smart tricks on me again. The best will be none too good for me, hereafter. I thought all the while that you were feeling mighty gay for a man living on wind and water, and sleeping on a bunch of straw. And I suppose, if the truth were known, you slipped off up to some hotel every night after I got to sleep, and staid till five o'clock in the morning, and then returned in time to make a —— fool of me. But look out for breakers hereafter. No more clean, nice, tidy boarding-houses for me, no matter how home-like it is, nor how good a talker the old woman is. I am through—through forever, even though all the well-bred children in Missouri starve for the want of income from boarders, I am going to move to-day."
We then moved to a respectable hotel, where both were delighted with the wonderful change.
After leaving Kansas City we remained together for some time, but Johnny made no improvement in his manner of living till finally his money was gone and his stock was reduced to a mere handful of goods. At last one Saturday afternoon we went out to make a sale and I cleaned out the last dollars' worth and then sold the trunks and declared the business defunct.
Johnny protested, but I argued with him that the sooner he sold out entirely and spent the money the sooner he could call on his wife for more.
He said that was so, and he guessed he would telegraph her to sell another house and lot and send him the proceeds immediately, with which he would purchase more goods.
I laughed at the idea and little thought he would do so till about two weeks later he opened a letter one day containing a draft for several hundred dollars, and said:
"Johnston there is nothing like striking it rich;" and then queried in an under tone: "If a man has nothing and his wife has plenty who does the property belong to?"
He liked the auction business and immediately ordered more goods and also began showing more extravagance than ever in buying clothing and a disposition to go out with "the boys" at every town we visited.
I kept "hus'ling" with my polish and let Johnny pay my hotel bills and the commission due me on auction sales.
I soon saw that all arguments were lost on him so long as his wife owned another house and lot, so concluded to stay with him as long as there was anything in it.
He was not long, however, in again bringing the business to a focus. It happened in this way: One afternoon while I was out selling polish he engaged in a quiet game of cards "with just enough at stake to make it interesting," and when the game ended he had not only lost all his ready cash, but had borrowed about twice as much on the goods as they were worth, and had also lost that.
He then asked me to loan him some money which I refused to do, but assured him that I would not see him want for the necessaries of life as long as he was with me.
I now thought it a good time to urge him to try to sell polish, and lost no time in doing so. When pressed he declared he wouldn't be caught going to a house with a valise in his hand for fifty dollars a day.
But he said he had often wished he could be sitting in some one's house some time when I entered and see how I managed.
I then proposed that he should make some plausible excuse for visiting a certain house that we should agree upon, and I would call while he was there.
The next day was Sunday, and when we were out walking he located a house, and we fixed the next day as the time.
I asked him what excuse he would make few calling.
He said he would make believe he wanted to buy their house and lot, and the lots adjoining them, and that his intentions were to build a stave and barrel factory. He had been foreman in such a factory, and could talk it right to the point.
The next day, after dinner, I asked him if he was going to make that call and hear me sell polish.
He said yes, he was ready to start then.
He started, and I followed closely after him; and in a very few minutes after he was admitted, I rang the bell and was also admitted by the servant, and ushered into the parlor where Johnny was sitting alone. The girl informed me that her mistress would be down very soon.
I asked Johnny, in a low tone, if he had met the lady of the house yet. He said he had not, but she had sent word that she would see him in a few moments.
I stepped across the room near him and began looking at some pictures, then carelessly set my valise down by his chair, and after looking at a few more pictures, returned to my own chair, near the hall door, and awaited the lady's coming.
She soon entered the parlor, her two grown daughters accompanying her. As they glanced from one of us to the other, I arose and said:
"Madam, I am informed that you have offered your property here for sale. I am desirous of purchasing a property of this description, as I want a house with several vacant lots adjoining on which to build a stave and barrel factory."
She said they had often spoken about selling out if they had a good chance; but didn't know that their neighbors, or any one else, had ever been informed of it. I then asked her if she would show me the house. She said she would, and as we were about to leave the room I turned to her and said:
"Madam, perhaps this gentleman would like your attention before we leave the room. I see he has something for sale in his valise."
She turned to him and said:
"What is it sir?"
Johnny sat there deathly pale, his eyes fairly popping out of his head and his whole body shaking like a poplar leaf. He first glanced at the valise, then at the lady, and after giving me a wistful, weary, woe-begone look, carefully picked up the valise and rising from his chair faltered out:
"Madam, you don't want to buy any varnish, do you?"
"No sir, indeed I do not and——"
"Well that is what I thought. I'll bid you good day, ladies," and he bowed himself out.
After being shown through the house and answering innumerable questions about stave and barrel-making, and where I had formerly been in business, I left for the hotel where I found Johnny patiently waiting my return.
As I entered the hotel office he met me near the door and said:
"Johnston I'd rather have been caught stealing chickens than in that horrible predicament; don't you ever do it again."
I assured him I had no idea of ever being able to do it again, or to perpetrate a similar joke on him, even though I were ever so anxious to do so.
After it was all over he seemed to appreciate the joke, but made me all sorts of offers if I would not tell it to his wife when we got home.
I asked for the valise and he said he had paid a small boy to bring it to the hotel, and he supposed it was at the office, for he wouldn't carry it through town under any circumstances, and if those people where he called would deed him their house and lot he wouldn't again go through what he did during those few awful seconds. He said that when I began talking about the house and lot he thought at first I had either got things badly mixed up or had gone crazy; and then when he suddenly thought of himself and the predicament it had left him in, he thought he would go crazy. The very first thing he thought of was that I had up and told the same identical story that he was to tell, and that he was actually left without a sign of an excuse for calling on those people. It never occurred to him that he could possibly introduce himself as a polish vender although he fully realized that the valise had been saddled on to him; and he was sitting there in a dazed condition wondering how he should get out of a scrape when I called the lady's attention to him. And only for the fact that I mentioned him as a man with something for sale he possibly never would have came to his senses again, and would no doubt have been arrested or kicked out of the house.
I asked him why he didn't ask the lady if she didn't wish to buy instead of saying, "Madam, you don't want to buy do you?"
"Great Heavens, I was afraid as it was that she would say that she wanted to buy and if she had I would have fainted dead away."
This satisfied me that Johnny would never make a polish vender and I advised him to return home, which he did.
I then went to Clyde, Ohio, where my family were keeping house. I had sent them there from Bronson, Michigan a few weeks before. It had taken the greater portion of the money I had been making to get them comfortably settled at housekeeping and to buy necessary clothing for them. I had now begun to hand over a few dollars to Mr. Keefer occasionally to help him out at times when he was badly in need of money.
I lost no time in getting out canvassing again and had set my mind on some day having a nice stock of auction goods.
It occurred to me about this time that I might possibly prevail upon merchants doing business in country towns to advertise and make an auction sale and clean out their old hard stock. I suggested the idea to one of the leading merchants of a town where I was canvassing. He readily fell in with it, and after I convinced him of my ability to sell the goods, he advertised a sale which brought large crowds of people from all directions, and our success was more than gratifying.
He acknowledged that we had converted hundreds of dollars' worth of goods into money that had been in his store for years and probably would have remained there for years to come.
With a strong letter of recommendation from this merchant, I found no trouble in persuading the leading merchant in each and every town I visited to make an auction sale. I was to receive a regular commission on all sales made, and to sell only during the evenings and Saturday afternoons. This afforded me a very nice income, but I still clung to my polish, and kept hus'ling when I wasn't selling at auction.
It is not generally known by auctioneers that this plan of operating is a practical one. Nevertheless it is, and there is not only a wide field for them, but it is a fact that the average merchant can well afford to and will give a good live auctioneer a large percentage for clearing out his odds and ends, as often as once a year, and this can be continued from place to place the year round.
Many a young man, who has the ability and might easily learn the profession and adapt himself to it, could as easily establish himself in a well-paying business in that way as to plod along in the same old rut year in and year out, without any future prospect for obtaining either money or experience.
As for the latter, I have always considered every year's experience I had as an auctioneer equal to any three years of other business.
On my new plan of operating, I at once saw that success, especially during the fall and winter season, was assured me.
This was in the fall of 1876, when Hayes and Tilden were candidates for the Presidency. I had never interested myself in politics in the least, up to this time, and hardly knew which side either man was running on. But Mr. Hayes being from my own county, and I might add the fact that I then had in my possession a history of one branch of my father's family which contained his name, and enabled me to prove him at least a fourteenth cousin, I at once became interested in him and anxious to see him in the Presidential chair.
I likewise began reading up on politics; and seeing the necessity of familiarizing myself with the party platforms, so as to be able to score every Democrat I met in good shape, I took the precaution to preserve every good Republican speech I read, and at my leisure cut such extracts from them as I considered good.
After getting a lot of these together I arranged them so as to read smoothly, and pasted in a scrap book; and discovered that I had a "bang up" political speech. I lost no time in committing it to memory, and was thereby successful in carrying everything by storm.
As I could talk louder, longer and faster than the average person, I usually experienced little trouble in making the Democrats "lay still."
At last, however, I came in contact with one landlord who was a Democrat and who made it so very unpleasant for me that I concluded to manufacture a Democratic speech also, in order to be prepared for another such occasion.
Therefore I did the same as I did with the Republican speech; and although I rather preferred Hayes, I didn't think my own prospects for a post office were so flattering but that, when I considered it a matter of policy, I could deliver a Democratic speech as well. This I often did, with as much success as with the Republican.
Whenever I registered at a strange hotel, the first inquiry I made was about the landlord's politics; and he always found me with him.
Before the campaign was over I had argued about equally for both parties, and the day before election I felt that I ought to go into mourning, because whichever was elected I knew I would be sorry it wasn't the other.
I had been a red hot Democrat at Gallion, Ohio, and had made a great many hotel-office speeches there, greatly to the satisfaction of the landlord and his friends.
From there I went to Crestline, where I felt obliged to be a Republican, and immediately made the acquaintance of two professional men, one a doctor and the other a lawyer. Both were Republicans, and frequented the hotel where I boarded. Neither of them could read very easily, on account of having what I used to call "slivers in their eyes," caused by excessive drinking. They enjoyed politics, however, and used to ask me to read aloud to them. In order to flatter me and keep me interested in the reading, every time I would finish an article the old lawyer would jump up and down in his chair, and say:
"He's a good reader, a Jim-dandy reader."
"Damfeain't, damfeain't," the doctor would chime in, also jumping up and down in his chair.
"Read some more, Johnston; read some more, you're a bully good reader."
I of course had frequent occasions to deliver my Republican speech while there, or at least extracts from it; and as I also established quite a reputation as an auctioneer, the two professional gentlemen said I ought to have been making political speeches during the entire campaign.
The lawyer said he frequently went out to different points and made speeches, and wanted me to go along the next time he went.
In a few days he asked me to accompany him fifteen miles to a cross-roads school house the following evening. He was to make a speech, and expected to meet a man from Gallion who would also speak; and he wanted me to go with him, and get up and bury the Democratic party forever, in that part of the country.
I at first hesitated, on account of having been a Democrat while at Gallion, as I feared that the gentleman from there might have heard me arguing at the hotel, and would give me away.
Fortunately, however, he failed to put in an appearance. The lawyer delivered his speech, and after informing his audience that the Gallion man was unable to come, introduced me as a substitute sent by him, and represented me as a very promising young lawyer from Fremont, Ohio, the very town where Mr. Hayes had always resided. I could tell them more of his personal characteristics than any politician in the field.
I opened up on them like a thunderbolt, and succeeded in fairly mopping the floor with the Democratic party.
After talking a full half hour, and relating many a little story which I had picked up for the occasion, and was carrying my audience along under full sail, with almost a full string counted up for the Republican party, the old lawyer who sat behind me, pulled my coat-tail, and began to laugh slightly. I noticed also a few intelligent-looking gentlemen looking suspiciously at one another and laughing immoderately.
I became conscious that something was wrong, and suddenly realized that I had unconsciously switched off onto my Democratic speech.
I hesitated a moment, and on a second's reflection realized that I had been talking Democracy several minutes, and had said several things that I couldn't take back. I became flustered, and hesitated and stumbled more or less till I heard the lawyer say, in a low voice:
"Dang it, get out of it the best you can, and close 'er up—close 'er up quick."
I then said:
"Gentlemen, I am compelled to make an honest, frank confession to you. In the first place I must admit that my politics have become somewhat tangled up in this particular speech; and as an apology for it must honestly confess that I am a Democrat, and have been traveling all over the country making Democratic speeches.
"But I was paid an extra stipulated price this evening to come over here as a substitute and make a Republican speech; and dang me if I haven't got fogged up. So, gentlemen, you must take the will for the deed; and if you are able to unravel my speech, you are welcome to whichever portion pleases you best."
Everybody laughed and yelled, and the majority of them wanted to shake me by the hand and congratulate me.
The old lawyer said one good thing about it was, that the biggest part of my speech was Republican, anyhow; and that I told them a good many plain truths, too, while I was at it.
I asked how about the Democratic part. Weren't they facts, too?
"Well, yes, I guess they were; but, thank God, there wasn't much of it."
He said he couldn't see how on earth I could have gotten my politics so badly mixed, and only for the fact that he positively knew me to be engaged in selling polish and auctionering he would surely take my word for it that I was a Democratic stump speaker. He said further, if I had politics down a little bit finer, he couldn't see anything to prevent me from striking a job in almost any town, as I would be sure to find either a Democratic or Republican meeting wherever I went.
CONTINUE TO SELL FOR MERCHANTS—WELL PREPARED FOR WINTER—TRADING A SHOT-GUN FOR A HORSE AND WAGON—AUCTIONEERING FOR MYSELF—MR. KEEFER NEEDING HELP—HOW I RESPONDED—TURNING MY HORSE OUT TO PASTURE—ENGAGED TO SELL ON COMMISSION—HOW I SUCCEEDED—OUT OF A JOB—BUSTED—HOW I MADE A RAISE—A RETURN TO THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE—PEDDLING WITH A HORSE AND WAGON—MEETING AN OLD FRIEND—MISERY LIKES COMPANY—WE HUS'LE TOGETHER—PERFORMING A SURGICAL OPERATION—A PUGILISTIC ENCOUNTER—OUR WILD-WEST STORIES—BROKE AGAIN—A HARD CUSTOMER—ANOTHER RAISE.
I kept up my plan of engaging with merchants to sell out their accumulated hard stocks, and never lost an opportunity to put in my spare time selling polish. I was determined that old Jack Frost should not catch me again with my summer clothes on and no coal in the bin; and when winter came, my family and myself were well provided for. We had plenty of coal and wood, a cellar well filled with all kinds of winter vegetables, a half barrel of corned beef, a barrel of flour, a tub of butter, and I was still "hus'ling." Snow storms could not be severe enough to keep me from peddling; and although I called on many ladies who plainly showed their disgust at me for tracking the snow over their carpets, I knew I was working for a good cause, and that they had only to see to be convinced.
I was obliged to spend considerable money for additional furniture for housekeeping and the general comforts of life; and when spring came again I was a little short financially, but determined, now that my family were comfortably situated, to make an earnest effort to procure a stock of auction goods for myself.
One day while canvassing with the polish, a young man wanted to trade for the recipe so he could travel with it. I soon struck a deal with him and received seventeen dollars in cash and an old shot-gun. I laid the money away carefully, thinking I would try and sell the gun and have that much towards a stock of goods. I did not succeed, however, in making this sale, and so took it home with me.
One day as I was walking down town I met two men leading a poor, old, bony horse out of town and carrying a gun.
I learned from their conversation that they were going to kill the old nag. I asked the reason and they said he was so old he couldn't eat and was starving to death. I examined his mouth and found his front teeth were so very long that when the mouth was closed there was a considerable space between the back teeth, which of course, would prevent him from grinding the feed.
I inquired of the owner if he also owned a wagon or harness. He said he did. I next asked what he would take for the whole rig, horse, harness and wagon.
He wanted twenty-five dollars. I told him about my shot-gun and offered to trade with him. He accompanied me to my house and I very quickly closed a trade, receiving the whole outfit for the gun.
I was not long in filing the old horse's front teeth down, by which he was enabled to eat, much to his satisfaction and to my gain.
I then ordered seventeen dollars' worth of notions, bought an old second hand trunk, had a couple of tin lamps made to use for street illumination, and started on my first trip as proprietor and auctioneer.
The old horse I think meant all right enough, that is if he meant any thing at all, but he wasn't much good. He couldn't have been built right in the first place, for though he could eat more than three ordinary horses and seemed willing enough to make a good showing, yet I was always obliged to get out and push whenever we came to the least incline; and at the slightest noise sounding like the word "whoa" he would stop instantly. But with him, stopping was one thing and starting another.
I made a practice of commencing early in the morning and selling polish among the farmers during the day-time, and driving into some country town just at night-fall and making an auction sale on the street by torch light.
I had small packages of notions sent on ahead C.O.D. from the wholesale house with which I was dealing. In this way I was able to carry on quite a business.
I bantered every one I met to trade horses, but no one seemed to take a particular fancy to my animal.
I kept up this system of auctioneering and selling polish till into the summer, and had succeeded in getting a trunk full of goods, and began to feel that I was in a fair way to make money rapidly.
One day I received a letter from Mr. Keefer saying he must have help from some source. His note was coming due at the bank besides other obligations which he must meet, and if it were possible for me to assist him in any way he wished I would do so.
This was the first time he had ever asked me for assistance, and not once could I remember that he had ever refused me aid when I asked it of him.
It was not necessary for him to make any explanations to convince me that he really needed help, for the many times he had so generously handed out to me was sufficient proof that he would more willingly give to, than take from me. Consequently I was not long in deciding to close out my goods at once and send him the proceeds.
The next morning after making my evening sale I sent him what money I had, with a promise of more as soon as I could sell out. I made two more sales before I was able to close out the last of my stock, and sent him the money.
The next town I stopped at was Bodkins; and the landlord of the hotel, Mr. Lehman, informed me that his father, living in another town, owned a large stock of general merchandise, and wanted to sell it out; and asked what I thought about selling it at auction. I explained it would be the proper caper. He telegraphed for his father, who came up, and they wanted to hire me by the day or week.
I told them it was against my principles to work on salary, but I would take ten per cent. and all my expenses. This they agreed on. After turning the old horse out to pasture, we started for the old gentleman's home, and began making arrangements for an auction sale there, preparatory to starting out on the road.
We advertised extensively; and as the stock consisted of almost everything, including a lot of ready-made clothing, we drew an immense crowd, and made a sale of over twelve hundred dollars on Saturday afternoon and evening.
I remember when Sunday morning came I was unable to above a whisper; but I had one hundred and twenty dollars in cash as my commission, ready to send to Mr. Keefer on Monday morning.
We moved the balance of the stock to another town, where our sales ran from one to three hundred dollars per day. I had a settlement every night, as soon as the receipts were counted, and on the following morning sent the money to Mr. Keefer, reserving only enough to pay my family expenses, which I practiced sending home every Friday.
We succeeded in closing out the bulk of this large stock of goods, when one day, at St. Mary's, Ohio, after I had sent my last dollar to Mr. Keefer, the proprietor made a trade with a real-estate agent, receiving a farm for the remainder of the stock. I was notified that my services were no longer required. My board was paid up to the following day, but I hadn't a dollar to my name.
Of course, the first thing that entered my mind was the "Incomprehensible" and the only thing needed was a dollar or two with which to invest in a few bottles.
That day at noon, when I came out of the dining-room from dinner, my light-colored Derby hat was missing; and as another one was there which resembled mine very closely, and fitted me exactly, I put it on, keeping a look-out for the wearer of my own. As it had a large grease-spot on one side, from the dripping of oil from my street lamps I knew I could tell it easily.
Directly in came a drummer for a grocery house, and began telling how much his sales had been in that town: To one grocer a car-load each of rice, nutmegs, cinnamon and pepper, besides several hundred barrels of flour and as many chests of tea. I told him I didn't doubt his word, but would thank him to give me back my hat. He discovered his mistake, and was about to trade back, when I happened to think of what a splendid chance I had for making a little raise. As he handed me my hat I said:
"Thunderation! Do you suppose I am going to let you give me back my hat with that big grease-spot on it? Not much, sir. Have you been down in some grocer's cellar with my hat on? Now, sir, you can either give me five dollars to buy a new hat, or give me one dollar and we'll trade hats."
He willingly handed over the dollar, and after apologizing, offered to treat in order to quiet me down.
I then made a bee-line for the nearest drugstore, where I ordered a half gallon of the "Incomprehensible" to be prepared for the next day.
The old valise I had was a large-sized one, in which I carried my clothing; but I made room for the polish, and started out the next day on foot, arriving at a small town late that night, with four dollars in cash, and some stock on hand.
The following morning I started back to where I had left the old horse and wagon. Arriving there, I hitched up and started through the country, selling polish to the farmers. It took about all I could rake and scrape to keep my family, myself and the old horse eating.
While on this trip as I was passing through Wapakanetta, Ohio, a familiar voice came from a crowd of lookers-on saying:
"Halloo, Johnston, where you going?"
And an old acquaintance of mine came running to the wagon and hastily explained that he had the agency of a valuable patent which he was then trying to sell County and State rights in and wanted me to join him. I told him that I had promised my mother never to sell another Patent right, and then asked what success he had met with. He said not any yet, but——
"But," I interrupted, "I suppose you have succeeded in spending what money you had, and are now broke."
"Yes, that's it exactly."
"Well, Frank, misery likes company. Get in here and we'll travel together."
He did so and we had quite a siege of it. We bought another valise and I immediately began educating him in selling polish. He made a very fair salesman and as I was to furnish him with the polish at a stipulated sum, I felt that I could very soon be deriving an income from his services. My idea was to keep him with me till he could get acquainted with the business and then arrange with some drug house to ship him what he wanted and pay me my profits.
Our third day out we drove into a small hamlet, and after hitching the old nag to a post began operations. I called at a house where there was considerable excitement and learned that an old lady had fallen down stairs and either broken or badly sprained her ankle. The principal cause for excitement was the fact that no Doctor could be found. As I passed from the house I saw Frank crossing the street a block or two away and called to him. He came right up and I explained to him the critical condition of the old lady and suggested that he should go in and play surgeon as they were unable to find a doctor at home. He consented and we went in together. Frank looked wise, and I did the talking. Finally one of the women in attendance beckoned us to the bedside. Frank made a hasty examination, and with my assistance helped her to a chair and began pulling the victim around the room by her crippled leg. She yelled and kept yelling, we pulled and kept pulling, her son swore and kept swearing, while the dog barked and kept barking. Everything was in a hubbub and every one excited. The neighboring women soon left in disgust. The more we pulled the more excited we all became and the more assurance Frank seemed to have that pulling was the only remedy. We were very soon rewarded with success, for a moment later the joint went back into place, snapping like a pistol, which gave the old lady immediate relief. Then Frank did look wise and I dubbed him Doctor Frank at once.
They inquired where he was practicing, and he told them he was a traveling Doctor. I suddenly spoke up and said:
"Why, ladies, this gentleman graduated at Whiting, Indiana. You've all heard of that place?"
"O, yes, we've all read of it," they answered in chorus.
When asked what his charges would be he glanced at me as if undecided what to make it. I raised both hands intimating ten dollars as the proper figure. He said:
"Well, the usual charge for a case of this kind is twenty dollars, but I'll charge you only ten."
They hesitated, and grudgingly paid the price, but were well satisfied with the operation. We had many a hearty laugh over the ridiculous manner in which the ten dollars was obtained.
We continued to peddle around over the country, taking in small inland towns.
The old horse was an elephant on my hands, but he was all I possessed in the world; and being unable to find a buyer, I could do no better than to stick by him unless I chose to give him away, which I hardly considered business-like. But I would have made money and saved trouble had I done so, for he was the means of getting me into two or three little fights. One in particular I will relate.
Doctor Frank and myself were driving into New Baltimore one Saturday evening, and as the old horse went heaving and crippling along we seemed to be the attraction for every one on the street. Suddenly a young man who was sitting out in front of a store on the cross-railing between two hitching posts cried out at the very top of his voice:
The old nag, as usual, came to a sudden halt, and every one of a large crowd of men standing near by began to laugh.
I realized that if their risibilities were so easily aroused at seeing him stop, it would be a regular circus for them to see me get him in motion again; so I coolly handed the lines to Doctor Frank, and said:
"Here, hold these, and I'll make believe I have business in that store; and after this crowd has dispersed, I'll come out and we'll try and make another start."
I climbed out and walked toward the store. As I got even with the young chap who had stopped us, and noticed him still sitting there, with his feet swinging backward and forward and a look of triumph on his face, I suddenly changed my course, and stepping up to him, quickly dealt him a right-hander straight from the shoulder. He received the blow directly under the chin, and it set him spinning around the rail like a trapeze performer on a horizontal bar. I then returned to the wagon, climbed in, picked up my club and made preparations for another move.
Before making the start we had the pleasure of witnessing several revolutions by the young gentleman, after which he was helped to the ground by some friends; and as we were moving away, under the strong pressure of my club and the hard pushing of the lines by Doctor Frank, our smart youth looked more silly and terror-stricken than he did gay and frisky a few moments before, when the laugh was all on his side.
As we passed along down street everything was as quiet as a funeral; and although every man may have wanted to laugh, they all looked sober and sanctimonious, and as we imagined, took extra precautions to look sorrowful and sympathetic, as we rode along, looking savagely at them, apparently ready to spring from the wagon and pounce upon them at a second's warning.
We then drove to the hotel, where we took quarters.
The next day, Sunday, while we were standing out in front, a man came up and began interrupting us in our conversation, and became rather abusive when we asked him to go away and not interfere with our affairs. He then said he was a lawyer and a gentleman, if he had been drinking a little, and he could whip half-a-dozen such men as we were; and so saying he shook his fist under Doctor Frank's nose. He soon discovered his mistake, for no sooner had he done so than he received a straight left-hander from Frank, right on his big red nose. I shall never forget his looks, as he began backing up, in a dazed condition, and kept backing round and round in a circle, with the blood spurting and his nose flattened all over his face, and finally, not being able to keep on his feet any longer, landed squarely, in a sitting posture, right in the middle of a puddle of water that had been made by a severe rain-storm that morning.
He had no sooner landed in the water, than not less than two dozen men came running from a saloon across the street; and the leader of the mob, a man about as large again as either of us, and who, we afterwards learned, was the pugilist of the town, came rushing up to us and said:
"Any man that will strike a drunken man is a coward."
From this we inferred that the whole thing was a put-up job, and our only way out was to assert our rights and fight our way through.
He was coolly informed that we were not looking for fights, but we never been placed on the list of cowards yet. He said:
"Well, I am here to clean both you fellows out."
"Very well, I guess you can commence on me," said Doctor Frank; and they opened up. The crowd gathered closely around, and I became a little excited, and fearful lest some one should assist the stranger by kicking or hitting Frank. While they were scuffling on the ground I stuck close by them, and realizing that my little escapade of the day before would have a tendency to give me considerable prestige, I continued to cry out, at the top of my voice:
"Gentlemen, stand back, stand back; the first man who interferes here to-day will get knocked out in less than a second, and I'm the boy that can do it."
Every one was yelling for the pugilist but myself; and I continued talking encouragingly to Frank at the very top of my voice:
"Stay by him, Doctor, old boy, stay by him, stay by him, never give up, stay by him, make him lay still. I can whip any man that dares to interfere."
For a few moments when the pugilist was on top of the Doctor it looked rather dubious, but I knew the sort of stuff Frank was made of and kept yelling:
"Never quit, Frank, die on the spot. Stay by him."
A second later the pugilist had not only been turned, but the fight had also turned, for Frank was on top and it was not long till the pugilist screamed:
"Take him off, take him off."
I said to Frank: "Let the poor devil up now, he has enough."
Frank raised up, looking a little the worse for the battle, but victory was plainly written in his countenance. When he went into the hotel office to wash, the landlord informed him that he had whipped the bully of the town. About this time I felt considerably like having a little brush myself, with some one, and stepping outside I asked in a loud tone of voice if there was any one there who was not quite satisfied, and if there was I would like to try any one of them a round or two just to accommodate them. No one responded.
During my several years' experience I had learned to avoid any such scenes as this one, and fully realized how easy it was to become involved in trouble through a fracas. But at this particular time I was really anxious to show fight and willing to take a whipping if I couldn't hold my own. We were not molested in that town again.
I remember that Sunday night the office of the hotel was filled with men who came in and expressed themselves as in sympathy with us; and I well remember, too, the number of Wild West stories we related of our experience on the frontier with wild Indians and Polar bears, and when we finished relating them, how surprised many seemed to be that they had all escaped with their lives during the late combat.
I remember one very exciting story I told about an encounter I had with seven Indians and how I killed five of them and took the other two prisoners after receiving thirteen wounds, and as evidence of my assertion took off my coat and vest, and was about to remove my shirt, to show the scars when Frank and the landlord stopped me and said:
"Never mind, Johnston, you showed us those scars last night, and remember this is Sunday night and people are passing by going to church and will see you; wait till to-morrow night and then show them."
Of course I took their advice and put my coat and vest on again, and was amused to hear three or four old I-told-you-so-fellows say: "I knew it, I knew you fellows were good ones, I knew no common ordinary fellows had any business with you men."
Doctor Frank and I were sworn friends from this time on and continued with the polish for some time.
One day I received a letter from my wife demanding an extra amount of money from what I had been accustomed to sending her, and I borrowed all Frank had, and with it sent all I had, leaving us without a cent, but with plenty of polish. As we had from three o'clock in the afternoon till sundown to operate, we hadn't the slightest doubt of being able to make at least enough sales to procure money sufficient to pay expenses over night; but in spite of every effort we were unable to even sell a single bottle, and when darkness came we made arrangements with a farmer for supper, lodging and breakfast.
In the morning of course the only thing we could do was to trade him polish and I began negotiations with him, but in vain. I had polished up two or three pieces of furniture, but neither himself nor his wife seemed to care for it at all, and as we could plainly see were bent on receiving a little pin-money from us. I then polished up another piece of furniture and kept talking it up, perspiring freely, and noticed great drops of perspiration standing out on Frank's forehead. Then I polished more furniture and gave a more elaborate explanation of the merits of the polish, Doctor Frank of course putting in a word now and then. But we had struck a Tartar—in fact, two Tartars. They were as firm as adamant.
We were at last cornered and looked at each other as though we had an idea that a private consultation would be the thing to hold about that time.
I felt that I would rather forfeit the old horse and wagon than acknowledge that we had no money. I then said:
"Mr. ——, is the gentleman living in the second house south of here a responsible and enterprising man?"
He answered that he was, and asked why.
"Well I have been thinking of making him a General Agent in this County for my polish."
The lady of the house then said:
"John, why don't you take the agency? you have always wanted to travel."
He asked what kind of a show I'd give him.
I told him we charged ten dollars for the General Agency for each county and we would supply him with the polish, or he could have the recipe for making it by paying twenty-five dollars. He said he had no money and there was no use talking.
I asked how much our bill would be for staying over night.
"Two dollars," was his reply.
"Very well, then, we can fix the money part. Which do you prefer, the General Agency or the recipe?"
He said he wanted the recipe.
"You can just give us credit then, for the two dollars and pay us fifty cents in cash and you will owe us twenty-two and one-half dollars which you can pay after you have made it."
His wife said that was fair. He said he hadn't the fifty cents, but they would give us a chicken for the difference.
As we had been accustomed to trading anything and everything we explained that the fowl was right in our line, and immediately closed the deal and left with it. The reader may be assured that we congratulated ourselves on our narrow escape. The man still owes the balance,—in fact I forgot to leave him my address, so he could send it.
We had consumed nearly a half day wrestling with our farmer friend to effect a deal, and immediately started out with renewed vigor and the chicken with its legs securely tied and under the wagon seat.
HELPING A TRAMP—WE DISSOLVE PARTNERSHIP—MY AUCTION SALE FOR THE FARMER—HOW I SETTLED WITH HIM—I RESUME THE AUCTION BUSINESS FOR MYSELF—MY HORSE TRADE—I START FOR MICHIGAN.
We were then but a short distance from Fostoria, to which place we drove, arriving there at noon with seventy-five cents and the chicken, which we sold for twenty-five cents. When we received the cash for it, a rather seedy-looking individual stepped up and asked us if we couldn't give him money enough to buy his dinner, as he had had nothing to eat for several days. We figured that as we had a dollar we could afford to give the fellow twenty-five cents, and have the same amount left for dinner for each of us, including the old horse. When we handed the tramp his quarter, I remarked:
"We will divide equally with you, which is the best we can do."
He thanked us, and passed out of the store, when a very sorry-looking individual with a deacon-fied appearance who stood by said:
"Young man, I think you make a mistake by giving such characters money. How do you know what he will do with it? He may spend it for liquor, and may hoard it up; there is no telling what he will do with it. I believe in charity, but I believe prayers are better than money for such people."
"Well, if you believe in prayers you believe in God?"
"Of course I do."
"Then, sir, you must admit that God keeps the books; and if the tramp is an impostor this little transaction will be recorded against him, and in our favor—especially if His system of book-keeping is double entry."
The old gentleman laughed and said he didn't know but I was right, and that he would give the matter a little extra thought. We then left the store and immediately satisfied ourselves that the old gentleman was right, in this particular instance, for we saw the tramp across the street going into a saloon and followed him, reaching there just in time to hear him order a glass of beer. I stepped up to him and said: "Are you hungry?"
"No, sir, I am not; but I am thirsty."
"Well, sir, you've got to eat anyhow; we gave you twenty-five cents a few moments ago to eat with, and, dang you, you have got to eat, and eat twenty-five cents' worth, too, or be kicked out of town. Which do you prefer?"
He thought he'd rather eat.
I took him by the neck and marched him forthwith to a restaurant, and demanded of him that he order twenty-five cents' worth and eat every mouthful of it, and assured him of our intention of returning a few minutes later to see that he followed our instructions.
In about twenty minutes we passed by the restaurant and saw him sitting at a table facing the door eating with as much energy and vigor as a harvest hand. We turned back, and dropping in, explained the facts to the restaurant-keeper, who informed us that he had ordered twenty-five cents' worth. He soon finished the meal and came to the cashier to settle. I asked if he had eaten everything brought him. He said not everything, but all he wanted.
"Then, sir," said I, "you march back there and finish eating everything, to the very last morsel."
He obeyed, but with an effort, as was plainly seen, for eating seemed to be out of his line. But we felt satisfied. At any rate we didn't feel that we had been absolutely swindled out of our money; so, after giving the fellow a good sound lecturing, we let him go.
Doctor Frank and I kept together several weeks, and, although we worked like troopers, were unable to lay up any money.
Finally he received a letter from an acquaintance in Northern Michigan, wanting him to come there and engage in business with him. Stocked with a valise full of polish, he bade me good-bye and started.
I continued on as usual until one night I stopped with a farmer who had sold his farm and advertised an auction sale of his live stock and farming utensils to take place the following day. I was anxious to remain and hear his auctioneer, (who, he said, was a good one,) and concluded to do so.
About ten o'clock the next forenoon a large crowd had gathered, and a few moments later the auctioneer, in company with three other men, arrived on the scene, all so intoxicated as to be scarcely able to sit in their wagons.
The farmer was very indignant, and came to me and asked if I had an idea I could sell off his property. I had spoken of my experience in that line the night before, and now told him I thought I could do as well as a drunken man, any how. In answer to his question of salary I told him I never worked on salary, but sold on commission. He said the other fellow had agreed to make the sale for ten dollars, and asked what commission I would want. I told him I had always received from ten to twenty per cent. on merchandise, but as he had horses and cattle which would run into money fast, and was going to sell on a year's time, I would charge him five per cent., to be paid in cash when the sale was over. He agreed, and I laid off my coat and went to work.
I saw at once from his actions that he was satisfied, and after the sale had progressed a while he said: