"Give me your draft and I'll get it cashed at the Sherman House."
He replied that it was in the hotel safe. I came near fainting, then finally said:
"Ladies, please excuse me one moment. I'll call a carriage."
So saying I stepped across the street, wondering on the way what I would do. I had no watch to leave as security, nor a piece of jewelry of any kind. Every thing of this sort was used by me as stock in trade. I knew better than to ask for credit, and realized that my life would be in danger to hire a carriage and undertake to "stave them off" afterwards.
So the reader will readily understand that I was at my wits' end; but at the last moment my senses came to me, and I instantly thought of a scheme to help us out. I asked a hack-man what he would charge to take us to a certain street and number on the West Side. He said two dollars. He might as well have said two hundred. I at once found fault with the price, and managed to get into an altercation with him and three or four others, and talked loud enough for Albert and the young ladies to hear.
As I approached them I did so in a very excited manner, with my hat in one hand and a large empty pocket-book in the other, and roundly cursing all the cab-men in Chicago.
"What's the matter?" asked one of the girls.
"Matter? Great Heavens! Do you suppose I'll give seven dollars to one of these robbers to carry us over on the West Side?"
"Indeed you will not," shouted the brave little lady. "We'll walk."
"That's just what we will do," I cried, as I took her by the arm and hus'led her down street, fearing she might change her mind, followed by the other couple; and we made a rapid trip, pattering through the rain and mud, congratulating ourselves on our shrewdness and courage in getting even with the Chicago cab-men.
And now, after this digression, to resume:
After receiving the twenty-five dollars from Albert, I bought a few necessaries, and a ticket for Chicago, where I arrived June fifteenth, 1881, with but a few dollars. I called immediately on a firm I had dealt with a little the year before, and of whom I could buy goods at twenty-five per cent. less than from the one I first began dealing with.
After explaining my circumstances, giving references and asking the proprietor if he would sell me some stock on credit, he said he would limit me to fifty dollars, to begin with; and would increase it as my capital increased. I considered this reasonable, and selected forty dollars' worth. I made it a point to select just this amount on account of it having exactly the amount of my very first jewelry investment years before at Columbus, Ohio, when I started out peddling.
I then a Goodrich steamer for Muskegon, Michigan, arriving there the following morning.
I started out with a determination to sell a bill of goods; and although every merchant laughed me in my face when I showed up my stock, I kept "hus'ling," and finally struck one man who bought twenty dollars' worth. This enabled me to take a fifteen-dollar package from the express office which I had ordered C.O.D. from the wholesaler, after buying my first stock on credit.
I now began traveling over precisely the same territory and visiting the same towns and merchants that I had called upon the year before, when on my first trip.
On my second day out, at Holton, Michigan, while sitting in the hotel, a traveling man remarked that the firm across the street was the best in the country to do business with, if a drummer could only manage to show his goods to them; but as they visited the Chicago market every two weeks they would not under any circumstances look at a drummer's goods.
Owing to the fact that I very much enjoyed calling on those who were the hardest to be convinced, I took special delight in making this firm a visit. I carried my case with me, and after setting it on the counter in front of the proprietor, asked permission to show him my goods. He flew into a rage, and declared he would not buy from any drummer. I still persisted, and he continued to sizzle around at a fierce rate. The more he did so the more I insisted on showing him my goods.
Finally, seeing the utter uselessness of trying to get his attention, I very quietly put the key in the lock of my case and unlocked it, and returned the key to my pocket. I then took hold of the case and as I bade him good-bye swung it around off the counter as if to leave the store. Of course the top raised up and the side lid fell down, letting the trays fall out on the floor, the same as occurred on the railroad track. The jewelry scattered all over the floor, and I began to apologize, and told him of my wretched disaster once before with the same case. I was very sorry to annoy him with such an accident. He saw at once that I was to all appearances very much embarrassed, and in a sympathetic manner assured me that there was no harm done, so far as he was concerned, and began helping me to gather up the goods.
As I picked up one piece after another I would call his attention to them, and say: "That is one of the best sellers I ever saw;" "this is the latest style;" and "here is an article of the most peculiar design I ever saw."
In the meantime he became interested, and began asking prices; and finally gave me an order for from one-half to a dozen each of a nice assortment of goods. I at once saw that he supposed I was selling by sample, and took his order for about three times the amount of my stock in trade. I sent the order in to the house, and they filled it and gave me my commission, which amounted to nearly fifty dollars.
When I returned to the hotel and informed the gentleman whom I had gotten my information from that I had taken such an order, he was much surprised. Of course I was not so indiscreet as to relate how I had accomplished it. After I had become better acquainted with this firm, and they had become regular customers, I related the facts to them, much to their amusement.
I continued to hus'le, as before. My health was not first-class, but I improved rapidly, and was very soon in a better condition physically than I had been for years. My success was fair during the summer. I visited Chicago frequently, and succeeded in establishing a limited credit of two hundred dollars with my new firm, but found it a hard matter to accomplish that much. I made good use of it, however, and when the busy season was approaching for the fall and holiday trade I determined to strike for a larger credit. This was not only with a view to extending my business, but I realized that at the rate I was progressing, I would soon want to establish a business of my own, and unless there was some wholesale jeweler to whom I could refer the Eastern manufacturers, I would have a hard time to get a start.
When I asked the manager of the concern for an extension of credit he said I could extend it a little. I therefore began selecting a stock of goods, which I insisted on having billed as fast as I picked them out. That night, when I had finished and had the goods in my cases (I now carried two), and had them charged on the books and the bills for them in my pocket, and was about ready to start for the train, the proprietor chanced to discover that I had bought nearly one thousand dollars worth. He threw up both hands in holy horror and declared I should never leave the store with all those goods.
I informed him that the goods had been properly billed and charged to me, and I had legal possession of them; and as my train was to leave soon it was my intention to take my departure.
I pointed to the front windows and reminded him and about twenty clerks who stood looking on, that we were about three stories up, and the first man who laid a hand on me or my goods would land through one of those windows on the sidewalk below, if I had to go down with him.
Saying which, I grabbed my cases, and with the further remark: "Gentlemen, make room for me now; I am ready to start," passed out with not a word spoken, and everything as quiet as death.
Two or three of the clerks were good friends of mine, and were only too glad to see me force a credit for myself; and I doubt if they could have been induced to interfere had Mr. Streicher demanded it.
The first town I visited on this trip was Oconto, Wisconsin, which I reached the following morning; and before nine o'clock I had made a cash sale of one hundred and fifty dollars, and went immediately to the express office and remitted it to the house. And as business was brisk I remitted from one to three hundred dollars per day to them. In a few days I received a letter from Mr. S. offering me a credit of two or three thousand dollars, if I needed it.
I congratulated myself, and no one else, for this much-needed and desirable credit, realizing that had I let him have his way I would have been ten years gaining his confidence to this extent.
I now began to "turn myself loose," and with my nice line of goods there was no such thing as failure. I found it as easy to make a hundred dollars now, as one dollar at any previous time in my life. I visited Chicago often to buy new stock.
While speaking of Mr. Streicher (pronounced Striker), a little incident connected with his name occurred about this time, which may prove interesting to the reader.
He was about to make a trip to New York, and as Albert and myself were contemplating a visit home we concluded to accompany him that far on his journey. My folks had often heard us speak of the gentleman, so when we arrived at Toledo, Albert said he would telegraph them to meet us at the depot, as they would no doubt be glad to see him. He therefore sent a message as follows: "Meet us at the noon train with Streicher."
The telegraph operator at Clyde "bulled" the message, and copied it, "Meet us at the noon train with stretcher."
It so happened that I met some friends at Toledo who persuaded me to remain there till the next day. Albert and Mr. Streicher went on, and when they alighted from the train at Clyde the platform was packed with people. It being Sunday, every one had turned out. The undertaker, Mr. Terry, with his ambulance, and a stretcher placed on the platform near where the express car usually stopped, Mr. Keefer and my half-sisters greatly agitated, and my mother crying, as Albert and Mr. S. approached them, both wondering at the unusual excitement.
"Where is Perry? What has happened to Perry? Is he dead, or only hurt?"
These inquiries were made hurriedly, and when informed that nothing had happened they asked why he had telegraphed for a stretcher.
"Stretcher," said Albert, "you're crazy! I didn't telegraph for a stretcher, but said meet Streicher and me at the noon train."
When the facts became known, the assemblage seemed to look upon the matter as a good joke upon themselves, and wended their way homeward looking disgusted and disappointed, plainly showing that their morbid curiosity had not been quite satisfied.
The next day, when I arrived and had been told of the occurrence, I asked Albert what my mother said.
"Well, she said she expected Perry would be killed sooner or later any how."
"What did Mr. Keefer say?"
"Oh, he said, 'It beat the devil.'"
We spent a few days pleasantly at home, then returned to Chicago and to business.
I continued to travel over the same territory, visiting my old customers, whom I soon became better acquainted with, and secured as regular patrons. I visited them about once every sixty days, and at the same time worked up as much new trade as possible.
I will here tell how I made my first sale to a merchant who was notorious for "firing agents out," and who has been my customer ever since.
I was traveling through Minnesota, and when at the hotel in a small town, became engaged In conversation with several drummers, who were all loud in their condemnation of one of the leading merchants there, who had never treated any one of them civilly. I remarked that I believed I could sell him a bill of goods. One of them said if I could he would buy me a new hat.
I went out on the street and stepped up to the first country fellow I met, and handing him a two-dollar bill, said:
"I want you to go down to Mr. ——'s store and wait till I come in, and as I am about to leave the store, you ask me to sell you a finger ring, and when I offer to do so you select one and pay for it with this money, and I will give you the ring for your trouble."
He agreed to my proposition and immediately went over to the store.
With my two cases I followed directly after him, and setting them down stepped up to the proprietor and asked permission to show my goods. He was very gruff, and refused to listen to me at all. I picked up my cases saying, "Good-bye sir," when my country friend stepped up and said: "Mister, you are selling jewelry, I see. Can't you sell me a ring?"
"Well, yes, I can if Mr. —— is willing to let me show it to you in his store."
The merchant said he had no objection, as he had no jewelry to sell and never expected to have.
I then opened the case that contained all of my carded goods, and spread all the trays out on his counter. Not finding any rings in that case, I was obliged to open the other; and as the rings were at the very bottom I was compelled to take out every tray before reaching them. These I also spread out on his counter, and finally sold the young man a ring.
In the meantime nearly all of his customers—and the store was crowded—were looking at my goods and handling them over. I stepped up to the merchant, and thanking him for his kindness handed him one dollar, merely mentioning the fact very quietly that I had only one price, and that I had sold the ring at just twice the wholesale price, and the dollar belonged to him. He cried out, as he took the money:
"Good gracious! I hope you didn't charge the man that much profit."
I assured him that such a thing was a very common occurrence; and to further satisfy him I made several sales right then and there, and in each instance gave him half the receipts.
Again thanking him for his kindness, I began packing up when he said:
"Just wait a moment," and stepping to the stair-way, opened the door and called to his wife to come down. She did so, and in less than two hours I had sold and delivered to them nearly three hundred dollars worth, and had the cash in my pocket.
When I reported this sale to the traveling men at the hotel they could hardly believe me, and were not wholly convinced till they called at the store and saw the jewelry.
My trade continued to be first-class during the holidays, clearing me considerable money.
I lost no time after the holidays, but kept on traveling while other drummers were laying off for the dull season, and succeeded well.
When the following spring trade opened, my business increased, and continued to be good till late in the summer, when I began to think some of opening an office in Chicago, and buying direct from the manufacturers, who are almost exclusively located at Providence, Rhode Island, and Attleboro, Massachusetts.
In July I was at Escanaba, Michigan, and happened to meet Mr. Weil, of Henry Weil & Co., wholesale jewelers of Chicago; and after half an hour's conversation with him he showed me a line of gold rings, and sold and delivered to me right on the spot, nearly five hundred dollars' worth on four months' time.
I then made known to him my anxiety to open an office in Chicago, and buy direct. He said he could and would help me to do so, and offered me desk room in his office till I could afford to rent a room of my own.
The following month I visited the city and called on him, and he gave me a letter of recommendation to the eastern manufacturers. I also procured letters from several others, with whom I had had either a business or social acquaintance, and started for New York, where the manufacturers all had representatives.
On my way there I stopped at Bronson, Michigan, and at Clyde, Ohio, and paid all of my old debts, with eight per cent. per annum interest for the whole time I had owed them. I paid one man two hundred and nine dollars for a note of one hundred and forty dollars, and another man one hundred and seventy-five dollars for a note of one hundred and twenty-two; and still another ninety dollars for a note of fifty, besides various open accounts for merchandise bought, and for borrowed money; in all amounting to nearly one thousand dollars.
One gentleman I called on had almost forgotten me as well as the debt I owed him, and when I said:
"I believe you have an account against me," he looked up over his spectacles and remarked, as though he considered me foolish to refer to it:
"Yes, but it has been outlawed for some time."
"Did the law balance your books?" I asked.
"No sir, but it canceled the debt."
"Indeed it did not, so far as I am concerned; and for once I'll prove myself more powerful than the law by balancing up your books, which is something it can't or at least won't do."
So saying I produced a roll of bills, and after figuring up and adding eight per cent. per annum for the entire time the account had been running, paid the amount over to him.
He said he had often censured himself for having trusted me to so much; but he was now only too sorry that it hadn't been a great deal more, as it was the first and only money he had ever drawn interest on, and in consequence had never realized how fast it accumulated.
After settling everything up in full, I let Mr. Keefer have, at his request, one hundred and fifty dollars, and proceeded on to New York. I called at my uncle's store immediately, for the first time since my three weeks' stay with him when a boy. He was away on a business trip, but "the old stand," with all its fixtures, looked exactly as they did the day I left, seventeen years before.
There seemed to be no necessity, however, for any change, as trade appeared to be more brisk than ever. I was anxious to meet my uncle and have him go with me to the manufacturers' offices and introduce me, but as he would not be home for a couple of days I considered life too short to wait, and concluded to introduce myself.
I went down town, and the first man I met in Maiden Lane was a traveling agent, a Mr. Medbury, who visited Chicago regularly, and who recognized me while I was standing on the corner, reading signs and looking for numbers. He came up and asked if I wasn't the fellow who carried off the bulk of Mr. Streicher's store in my endeavor to establish a credit. I told him I was. He then took me into the office of his firm, S. & B. Lederer, and after introducing me, went on to recount what Mr. Streicher used to say whenever I visited his store.
This man, Streicher, was a little sharp Hebrew, who was always looking for the best end of the bargain, but would sell goods cheaper than any other wholesaler in the country. I saw his nature at once, and immediately became as aggressive as possible, and always ready to take my own part. The result was, it seems, that I succeeded in making it very unpleasant for him. The boys used to relate that whenever my name was mentioned, he would throw up both hands and say:
"Oh, mine Gott! Every time dot fellow come in mine store he drive me crazy. I lose my head. He carry off all my nice goods and tell me to charge; and when I say I don't do it, he say, 'I trow you out dot tree-story window;' and if my clerks don't suit him he discharge them and hire new ones; if I don't buy to suit him when agents call, then he buy to suit himself and charge to me. To the devil with such a man!"
After receiving an introduction to this firm, I presented my letters, and explained what I wanted.
They assured me that my reference was perfectly satisfactory, and they would be glad to sell me all the goods I needed in their line, and thereupon sold me the first bill of goods I purchased from the manufacturers.
During the interview I mentioned that Johnston the jeweler, on the Bowery, was an uncle of mine. One of the firm replied that that was in my favor. Thereafter I did not forget to mention him to every manufacturer I called upon; and soon learned that his original scheme of buying "Duplicate Wedding Presents" had made him widely known. I was then ready to forgive him for not having made any changes in his store during my seventeen years' absence.
I found no difficulty in buying all the goods I needed on credit, amounting to several thousand dollars' worth, to be shipped at once, and to be paid for in from sixty days to four months.
After receiving my stock from New York, I opened up with headquarters at Mr. Weil's office, Number 57 Washington street, and was ready to start out on the nineteenth of September. Now came the necessity for greater hus'ling than ever, as I must be prompt in the payment of my bills, if I expected to establish myself in the confidence of the manufacturers.
With this thought uppermost in my mind I worked almost day and night, and I believe I sold as many, if not more, goods in my special line in one month than was ever sold by any one man before or since. At any rate, later on, when I had seven agents on the road, not a single one of them ever sold as many goods in a whole year as I sold the first month I traveled, after establishing business for myself.
The result was, that before my bills were due I had paid up half of my indebtedness, and when the balance came due I had the money to pay up in full, and did so. Thereafter my trade was catered for by the best of manufacturers.
To give the reader a better understanding of the hard work put in by me during that first month, I will relate one instance in which I called one of my customers out at a very dubious hour and sold him a bill of goods.
It was at Boyne City, where I had arrived at one o'clock in the morning, after having worked hard all the day and evening before in selling a couple of very large bills. On reaching there I learned that the only boat leaving for Charlevoix within the next twenty-four hours was to leave at six o'clock in the morning; and as I must make that town next, I determined to rout my Boyne City customer up at once, sell him what he needed, and take the first boat.
He lived over his store, and as there was an outside stair-way, I went up and called and rapped loudly on the door.
The dog barked furiously, and judging from the noise, must have knocked the cook-stove down, and the cat got covered up in a tin boiler and made a terrible racket; the children began screaming, and my customer's wife shouted "murder!" at the top of her voice. I stood my ground, and kept rapping. He grabbed the old shot-gun and yelled:
"Who is there?"
"Johnston the fisherman?"
"Johnston from the lumber camp?"
"No sir, Johnston the jewelry-man."
"Yes sir, from Chicago; and I want to sell you a bill of jewelry right away."
"Goodness' sakes! Can't you call to-morrow?"
"No sir; business is too brisk. I must sell to you to-night so I can leave on the morning boat."
The whole family got up and came down stairs in the store, and I finished up with them about five o'clock in the morning, after selling a large bill of goods.
On my arrival at Charlevoix I found several traveling men at the hotel, and among them one who was traveling for a wholesale grocery house. While I was busy arranging my jewelry before calling on my customers, I heard this man say:
"I had big sales yesterday. I sold a car-load each of rice, nutmegs, cinnamon and pepper, besides three hundred barrels of flour, and as many chests of tea."
On hearing this statement I immediately recognized the voice, and remembered having heard the same story before, somewhere. Upon looking at the speaker I also recognized his face, and turning to those present, said:
"Gentlemen, I know this man sold that many goods, for I heard him tell the same story at St. Mary's, Ohio, about four years ago, and I know it's true or he wouldn't keep telling it."
Of course he was offended and insulted, and denied the charge; but when I recalled to his mind the hat trade I made with him and the dollar he paid me to boot, he laughed, and said he remembered it; but he laughed more heartily when I told him it was a put-up job, and how glad I was to get the dollar. I then gave him a nice rolled-plate vest-chain—an article he very much needed, and which made him feel that his dollar had been well invested.
When the first of January came I found myself in very good shape, with a satisfactory profit for my year's work.
I now began thinking about opening an establishment of my own. About this time Mr. Weil, with whom I still made my headquarters, informed me that he was going to retire from the jewelry business, and offered to sell his large safe, all the office fixtures and a large stock of jewelry, to me, and give me all the time I needed to pay for them. As his prices were low enough, and terms all that could be desired, I jumped at the chance, and in a few days found myself in his debt several thousand dollars.
When I saw his shrewdness in picking me up—a total stranger—and helping to push me "to the front," and to where he could make good use of me himself, I could but admire him for it, and felt more than ever like patronizing him, as it seemed to me like encouraging enterprise to do so. I have never had reason to regret my dealings with him, and as he is a man of large means and wide influence, and has repeatedly given me to understand that he stood ready to back me for any amount, I have reason to believe that he has no complaints to make of my business transactions.
After buying him out I rented an office and store room of my own at 243 State street where I am still located, and began a genuine wholesale jewelry business.
EMPLOYING TRAVELING SALESMEN—DEPRESSION IN TRADE—HEAVILY IN DEBT—HOW I PRESERVED MY CREDIT—I TAKE TO THE ROAD AGAIN—TRAVELING BY TEAM—DECIDING A HORSE-TRADE—MY BOOK-KEEPER PROPOSES AN ASSIGNMENT—I REJECT THE PROPOSITION—COLLECTING OLD DEBTS BY STRATAGEM.
While traveling in Northern Michigan I came across a young man clerking in a dry-goods store in a small iron-mining town, who expressed a desire to go on the road for me as traveling agent. His employer said:
"Oh, Bert is thoroughly honest and trustworthy, and naturally a capable fellow; but I think he is rather too unsophisticated to act in that capacity, as I don't believe he has ever visited a town of over three hundred inhabitants in his life."
I replied that he was just the sort of chap I was looking for. I wanted a man who would be likely to listen to my advice and instructions, and a man of wide experience would not be apt to do so.
I made arrangements with the young man to return to Chicago with me. His manner at once convinced me that he meant business, and was determined to succeed. But for all that, and with the most kindly feelings towards him, I must admit that every move he made, after arriving in the city, reminded me of myself on my first trip to New York. In fact, with the exception of the difference in ages, he was a regular Joshua Whitcomb. I felt almost obliged to lasso him to prevent him from following off band wagons and chasing fire engines around town. He was particularly fond of dime museums and the "knock-'em-down and drag-'em-out" Wild-western plays; and I saw the necessity of getting him started on the road as soon as possible, before he should become stage-struck. I had two sample-cases made, and took him on the road with me through Michigan. I took particular pains to impress upon his mind the necessity of curtailing expenses, and often reminded him that the occasional saving of 'bus and carriage fares from the hotel to the depot, when he had plenty of time to walk, would be no disgrace to him or his House. I also pointed out the foolishness of spending money with merchants in treating, or in other words, attempting to bribe them by treating, as that was something I had never yet done myself, and would not be responsible for any such expense. I fully believed that the average salesman lost as often as he gained by this practice. (I still believe it.)
He was rather inclined to rebel against this, and said he was certain that it would often become almost necessary to spend a little money in that way in order to hold trade. I persisted that business should be conducted on business principles only, and not socially or on the strength of friendship; and it would only be necessary to call on a merchant, introduce his business at the very earliest possible moment, get through as soon as possible, and immediately take his departure; and if he had any loafing to do, do it at the hotel; and above all, to spend very little time in trying to become better acquainted. By these methods, if he didn't make a good impression he would be quite certain not to make a bad one.
His penchant for telling funny stories made him known to those with whom he came in contact as "the man of infinite but unpointed jest," so as a matter of precaution I requested him to always defer telling stories till his next trip.
I convinced him that all successful salesmen worked from early morning till late at night, and that a dollar-a-day hotel, in a small country town, would not be a disgraceful place to spend a Sunday. The result was, he traveled the first year at a wonderfully light expense, and sold more goods than the average high-salaried salesman.
He was not long, however, in becoming sophisticated, and was soon able to roll up as nice an expense account as any of the boys.
The second year after I began business for myself who should call at my office one day and apply for a position as traveling agent but my old friend, Dr. Frank, who, it will be remembered, traveled through Ohio with me selling the "Incomprehensible," and whom I dubbed Doctor after we set the old lady's ankle. I had not heard from him for years, but he had been in Michigan all the time since he left me; and in consequence of having received a letter from me addressing him as Dr. Frank he had been called Doctor by every one, and so concluded to become a physician, and had spent one winter at Ann Arbor, in the Medical College, attending lectures. I hired him at once, and sent him on the road. I also engaged five other men, later in the season, and sent each of them out with a large stock of goods. They were all certain of an immense holiday trade, and were extravagant in their demands for a large stock to supply it.
I had been prompt in the payment of all bills, and had become quite well acquainted with all the manufacturers. They called on me in large numbers, urging me to buy, and wouldn't take no for an answer. Each was positive that I could not run another month without their special styles, and as I could buy on long time and sell on short time I could easily see my way out.
About two months before the holidays, the bottom fell completely out of the fall trade. My agents began to complain, and each advised me not to buy any more goods. They were too late, however, as I had bought goods enough to supply a dozen agents. Their sales amounted to simply nothing. A day or two before Christmas they began straggling in, one after another, with their trunks and sample-cases full of goods.
My safe, and every nook and corner of my office, were all filled with goods; and when my bills became due I had nothing but goods. Two weeks after the holidays I sent my men out again and kept them hus'ling. Of course they were bound to sell more or less goods, but it was up-hill work.
I gave my particular attention to satisfying Eastern creditors, and managed to do so more by writing letters and acknowledging my indebtedness, and promising fair dealing, than by making remittances. As fast as any one of the last five agents I had hired would sell off his goods I would order him in and discharge him. In this way I reduced my stock without having to buy but few new goods, and very soon had but two men on the road. These two were Dr. Frank and Bert, who were both good men, and perfectly reliable.
On the seventeenth of January, this same year—1884—I was married to Miss Anna H. Emmert, of Chicago, (my present wife), having long since been legally separated from my first, and she already married again.
My second wife had received a thorough business education, although but eighteen years of age, and immediately began taking an interest in the management of my office affairs; and from that time until the present has been of incalculable help to me.
I had no knowledge whatever of book-keeping, while she was an expert; and since my force of clerks, book-keepers and type-writers has run up to between thirty and fifty, there has never been a time when she couldn't more than acceptably fill any of their positions; and during our last holiday trade in our busiest season she took the place and kept up the work of three different employees during their temporary absence. And this in addition to a general oversight of the entire force, which she makes her regular line of duty.
The summer following our marriage my wife's health began failing. As I had already become convinced that it was necessary that I should again go on the road, I decided to buy a pair of horses and carriage and travel with them, and let my wife accompany me. Our physician said nothing could be more beneficial to her than such a campaign.
So after employing competent help to take charge of our office, we were ready to start out. Soon after our decision to travel I traded a diamond ring for a horse, harness and buggy, and not being able to buy a mate to the animal in Chicago at a satisfactory price, we shipped our stock of goods and horse and buggy to Grand Haven, Michigan, by boat. I also bought a double harness in Chicago and shipped with the rig, and we crossed on the same boat.
On our arrival there I began searching for another horse, and succeeded in finding one to suit me, which I bought in less than ten minutes after the owner showed him to me. I then had a pole fitted to my carriage, and by noon of that day we were under full sail for Northern Michigan.
The first excitement I furnished my wife on that trip occurred about an hour after our departure from Grand Haven, and, was in the shape of a horse trade. We were traveling through a thick, heavy wood, when we met a sewing-machine agent. I saw at once that he was driving an animal that exactly matched the one we brought from Chicago.
I bantered him for a trade.
He stopped, and after looking over the horse I had just bought, said he'd trade for seventy-five dollars.
"I'll give you fifty dollars."
He then offered to trade for sixty. I still offered fifty.
"Make it five dollars more, and it's a trade," said he.
"I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll wrestle you, run a foot-race, or spit at a mark, to see whether I shall pay five dollars extra or not."
He "sized me up" for a moment, and said he guessed he'd wrestle with me; and asked me to name my hold. I proposed "rough-and-tumble."
We then laid off our coats and took hold, and in much less time than it takes to tell it my heels and hat were flying in the air, and a second later I found myself sprawling in the middle of the road on my back.
After rising to his feet he was about to put his coat on, when I asked if he was going to give up.
"Give up? Great Caesar! didn't I throw you fair and square?"
"Yes, you did that time; but the best three in five is what wins where I came from."
"All right, sir. Three in five goes, then."
By this time we had gotten rested, and took hold again. I felt in my bones that my five dollars was a goner, but determined to do my best, and managed to make it pretty lively for him. Finally, however, he landed me again squarely on my back.
While taking a rest he remarked that "side-hold" was his favorite way to wrestle.
I told him that I also preferred "side-hold."
The fact was, I preferred almost anything for a change. I couldn't see that I was likely to lose much, at any rate, and was glad to accept almost anything. A moment later my wife called time, and we took "side-hold."
For some unaccountable reason I felt more confident, and in less than two seconds I had him on his back. I then began laughing and told him I had only been fooling with him, and asked how he'd like to divide the five dollars and call it a draw. He was extremely good-natured, and seemed to enjoy the sport as much, if not more, than I did, but said he wasn't the "draw" kind; and if I expected to get any part, or the whole of that five dollars I'd have to do some tall wrestling. I have often thought since that the fellow must have known what he was talking about, for when he took hold of me the fourth round, one would have thought he was about to decide a bet of thousands of dollars.
I took in the situation at once, and the thought uppermost in my mind was to try to save my neck, regardless of the five dollars.
I was not mistaken when I thought I saw "blood in his eye," for sure enough he proved himself a terror, and in less time than any previous round he again had my heels in the air and landed me on my back the third time.
I acknowledged myself vanquished, and after paying him the fifty-five dollars, we exchanged horses and separated on the best of terms.
A few moments later, after my wife and I had started on with our new horse, I asked her how she liked traveling. She laughed heartily at the absurdity of our plan for deciding the trade, and replied that with the recreation, excitement and change of climate, she thought that I would improve in health whether she did or not.
I soon discovered that my scheme of traveling by team was going to be just the thing to help me sell off the large surplus of goods which I still had on hand. I had always done the bulk of my business with general-store merchants.
On this trip we learned that there was a general stagnation in trade, and especially with this class of goods; and to undertake to push more jewelry on those who then had more than they needed and more than they could pay for, would be foolish and unbusiness-like. I also found that my agent who had been traveling through that section, had sold to anybody and everybody, regardless of credit-standing, or responsibility.
I quickly decided to adopt a new system of operation.
On referring to my map and commercial book I found any number of what are termed Cross-Road stores,—that is, merchants residing and doing business off the railroads, and in very small towns where traveling agents were not likely to stop. I could find any number of these right on the lines of roads where my agents had been traveling, and where I had considerable money due me, which I was anxious to collect.
I began at once by calling on this class of trade. Business was exceedingly dull with all of them, and as I hardly ever found a single one who had experimented with the sale of jewelry, I found but little difficulty in convincing the majority that the only thing they lacked to boom their trade was a stock of my goods. At any rate, I found my sales running four or five times as high as any one of my agents had been making. I managed to keep in range of the larger towns where money was due me from old customers, and would make it a point to call on them and demand an immediate settlement of some kind. If they couldn't pay cash, I would take notes, which could be used as trade paper with my creditors, by endorsing the same.
About this time I received a long confidential letter from my book-keeper, saying he had been looking over the books carefully, and found that I was owing twenty-six thousand dollars which was past due, besides what was not yet due; and as there wasn't a dollar in the bank, and the majority of our customers were not prompt in the payment of their bills, he couldn't see how I ever expected to pull through; then after apologizing for offering me advice, suggested that I return at once, and make a clean breast of it by making an assignment; and after settling up for from twenty-five to fifty cents on the dollar, I could commence on a new and firmer basis.
I replied to this letter as soon as I could get hold of pen and paper. I reminded him that I had never thus far received an unpleasant communication from a single one of my creditors.
In other words, I had never yet received what might be considered a dunning letter, but on the contrary nearly every one of them had, in one way or another, given me to understand that they had implicit confidence in me, and were willing and glad to favor me all they could. I also explained to him my new system of operating, and showed him how I expected to sell goods and collect money too.
I then closed my letter by saying that in the future, if he entertained an idea that I had got to fail in business, I wished he would kindly keep it to himself, as there would be time enough for me to consider the matter after my creditors had become dissatisfied; and added that as far as I was personally concerned, I intended to stick to the wreck as long as there was a hand-hold left; and that I'd pay one hundred cents on the dollar if I had to collect my bills at the muzzle of a shot-gun. I then cautioned him about keeping up my plan of letter-writing, and assured him that at that particular stage of the game a good letter would often take the place of a small check; and that I should depend upon him to "hold them down," while I would keep hus'ling and turn our stock into cash, as well as to collect up closely; and with this system properly manipulated there would very soon be a perceptible change.
In answer to this he said he was going to treat it as a personal letter, and intended to keep it for future reference, in case he or any of his friends should ever get in close quarters; he believed that as I had now hit on a plan for unloading our large stock of goods, and with my determination and bull-dog tenacity, he felt certain of success.
This was the last time I ever heard the word "assignment" used in connection with my business, and I hope circumstances will never bring it up again.
My wife and I continued on through the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan, and I must say, that although my business affairs were considerably muddled, I never made a more enjoyable trip than this. After my separation with Flo. I had often declared that I would never marry again; and I now saw where I might have made a serious mistake, had I adhered to that declaration. With a wife full of hope, and a determination to do all in her power for my comfort and happiness, and a particular faculty for working hand in hand with me, I could see a bright future, even in the darkest days of my financial trouble.
We continued to trade horses occasionally, or at least often enough to break the monotony; and after we had been out a few weeks, I traded jewelry for a handsome pair of ponies, harness and carriage. My wife's health improved rapidly; she found considerable amusement at first in driving this team, following after me. Very often, when we would find it convenient to do so, I would give her a case of goods and let her drive to some distant store and make a sale while I would drive to another town, and we would meet at still another point at night.
I agreed to give her ten per cent. on all the goods she could sell to any new customer, and on all they would buy in the future. She made several customers in this way, and as we are still selling them lots of goods, they are known to our book-keepers as Anna's customers, and she never fails to call regularly for her commissions. When she became tired of driving the ponies I traded them off.
We had some queer experiences that summer in making collections. One firm had been owing me one hundred and twenty dollars for a long time, and at last the entire establishment was turned over to the man's wife and the business carried on in her name. This was at Farwell, Michigan.
We drove up in front of the store, and I went in to see what the chances were for collecting.
I was informed by the wife that her husband was absent from the store. I told her my name, and called her attention to the fact that she had in her show-case a lot of jewelry my agent had sold her husband on credit.
She said that didn't make any difference; she had bought him out, and those goods were hers.
I then said:
"Madam, I am going to have you arrested."
"For grand larceny."
Her clerk laughed me in the face; but she changed color, and calling me into the back room, said:
"Where did you ever know me before? Were you ever in Pittsburg?"
"Where did I know you? Were I ever in Pittsburg? Well, you'll find out where I knew you, and whether I was ever in Pittsburg, before you get through with me. I'll have you locked up inside of ten minutes if you don't settle with me," saying which I started out.
She called me back, and in much agitation said:
"Now see here; there is not a soul in this town knows that I have ever been married before, and if I have committed larceny by not getting a divorce from my first husband, it will do you no good to have me arrested, and will only make me lots of trouble."
I saw that I had her cornered, and immediately took advantage of it, and said:
"Madam, just think of it! a woman with two husbands! Don't you know that larceny is one of the worst offenses a person can be guilty of, in this state? I am surprised that a woman of your intelligence should take the desperate chance of committing larceny, and grand larceny at that."
She asked what the difference was between larceny and grand larceny, in a case. I replied:
"Grand larceny is a case where a woman leaves her first husband in one state and marries her second in another without a divorce; and twenty years in the penitentiary is a very common sentence for grand larceny in Michigan."
By this time she was trembling with fear, and said she would pay me in full if I would agree never to mention her name in connection with that larceny affair.
I assured her that all I wanted was my pay, and I would never molest her again.
She then returned to the store and paid me the cash. I had just given her a receipt in full when her husband made his appearance and asked what she was doing.
She replied that I was Johnston, the proprietor of the wholesale jewelry house that he had been dealing with.
He turned to me and said:
"See here! I paid your agent for those goods when I bought them."
"Did you? Well, your wife has been kind enough to pay for them again, and I guess the receipt I just gave her is about the only one you can produce."
She then called her husband and myself to the adjoining room, and quickly turning to him, said very excitedly:
"See here, John. This man knows me, and knows that I committed larceny, and grand larceny at that, and was going to have me arres—"
"Larceny, did you say?" he interrupted, "what in —— have you been stealin'?"
"Well, I hain't stole nothin', John; but you know I hain't got no divorce from Uriah," she answered.
"Oh, divorce be ——! you infernal fool. That's bigamy, you idiot; not larceny."
I then began to laugh, and said to him:
"Mr. ——, do you remember writing me a letter, once upon a time, telling me to go to the devil for that account, and that it would be a cold day when I got my pay; and I answered you, saying that I would some day catch you napping and get even with you?"
His wife saw her mistake at once, and looked and acted silly enough.
He ripped and tore and swore, and threatened to throw me out; but I told him he needn't be to that trouble, as I was ready to leave, and would go out alone.
The next hard case I had came up a few days later. We drove into Reed City, and soon learned that our customer had sold out three days before. We then went to the hotel, and after putting our team out I began a search for my man, and was informed that he was carrying about two thousand dollars around in his pocket, and had refused to pay any one. There were any number of creditors at the hotel, who had been trying to collect, but were not successful.
I called on the man who had bought him out, and was assured that he had paid him eighteen hundred dollars cash, and furthermore, that he carried that money in his pocket.
Half an hour later I met the delinquent, and said:
"How are you, Mr. ——? Come into the hotel and take a cigar."
He did so, and I said:
"It's too bad you have had such poor success. What are you going to do now?"
He looked very serious, and said he didn't know.
I then invited him up to my room, where I was going to fix up some trays of jewelry. He followed me, and as soon as we were inside I closed the door, locked it, put the key in my pocket, threw off my hat and coat, took out my watch, and holding it in my hand, said:
"Mr. ——, I'll give you just two minutes by my watch to pay me ninety-nine dollars, and if you don't do so within that time I'll not promise that there will be a grease-spot left of you when I get through. I want you to distinctly understand that I am out on a collecting tour, and I mean money or blood; so now, sir, take your choice: either settle or the consequences; you have less than two minutes to decide in."
He turned pale, and became much excited and declared he hadn't a cent with him.
"Then it's your misfortune, sir. I'm going to 'do you up' or collect ninety-nine dollars right now, whether you have a cent with you or not; you deserve it anyhow."
"Johnston, what can I do?" said he.
"Settle; settle, of course; and you now have but one minute to do it in, and I'm not certain but it will be your last minute on earth if you don't."
"Well, Johnston, suppose I settle with you, will you agree not to let my other creditors know it?"
"No sir, I'll not agree to anything of the kind; on the contrary, I shall tell every one just how I brought you to terms, and you have but a half minute left."
He then produced a leather pocket-book filled with bills of large denomination, and counted me out ten ten-dollar bills.
I thanked him, and told him I'd just keep the extra dollar for interest, and then wrote him a receipt in full. He said he intended to pay me, anyhow. I told him I intended he should, and asked how he liked my system.
He looked foolish, and said he thought I'd come out winner, if I didn't get killed some day in trying to collect. He further said that he'd bet I'd run across some one some day who would give me a good trouncing.
I told him I had it all figured out that I could afford to take one good threshing for every five dead beats, provided I could collect from the other four.
ANOTHER HORSE TRADE—A HEAVY LOSS—PLAYING DETECTIVE—MY VISIT HOME—A RETROSPECT—CALLING IN MY AGENTS—A NEW SCHEME—IT'S A WINNER—MR. KEEFER AND MY MOTHER VISIT CHICAGO—HIS VERDICT, "IT DOES BEAT THE DEVIL."
We continued to travel by team, and my great stronghold was to collect bad debts, many of which I collected almost by force.
On this trip one of our horses became lame, and one morning just as we were ready to start out from the hotel a gentleman came driving up with a fine-looking span of horses, that, although appearing rather green and awkward, made a very handsome and stylish pair. He stopped near our carriage, and I inquired how old his horses were. He said four years. I asked:
"How will you trade teams with me?"
After looking my horses over carefully, and without leaving his carriage, he replied:
"For one hundred and twenty-five dollars to boot."
"All right, sir. Here is your money," and I counted it out and handed it over to him.
"But what sort of a team are you trading me?"
"No matter, sir. You have got your money, so unhitch, and I'll do the same."
He hesitated a moment, but when the crowd of men standing by began laughing at him, he commenced to unhitch.
Before leaving him I remarked that I had too much business on hand to spend any time with a lame horse, nor did I care to dicker a minute on a horse trade.
Ten minutes later we were driving off with a pair of colts that had never been hitched or driven but three times.
We finished our business in Northern Michigan, and drove this team home, where I broke them to drive tandem.
The following spring I started on the road with my team hitched tandem to a two-wheeled cart with my advertisement on the side and back.
A few weeks later I hired a Mr. Rhodes to travel for me, and he took charge of the tandem team and traveled with them. They made a splendid advertisement for my business and it was looked upon by our customers as quite a novel way to travel.
I now remained at home and had my hands full looking after the failures that were coming thick and fast. It seemed to me that every other man who failed was owing me.
Dr. Frank was still with me and rendered very valuable service in the collection of hard accounts. He had not entirely gotten over his pugilistic propensities, and whenever I found it necessary to instruct him to call on a dead beat and "bring something back with him," he generally returned with a wad of money or a wad of hair.
About this time I had a little experience myself, at a town in Ohio, which might be worth mentioning. One of my customers, a retail jeweler, was owing me over eleven hundred dollars. As we could get no word from him in answer to our request for a remittance, we made a draft on him, and were informed by the banker that the firm had "gone up" three or four weeks before; also that the store was being run by a man who had bought it at sheriff's sale to satisfy a chattel mortgage. Only two months before, I had received a statement from the proprietor, who claimed that the stock was free from incumbrance, and everything in good shape. So I concluded that an open swindle had been perpetrated.
I took the train for the town where he was doing business, and on my arrival learned that the other creditors had been there ahead of me, and not one had succeeded in getting the least satisfaction. I visited the store, and could not see a single article in the show-cases that I could identify as goods I had sold him. This alone convinced me more than ever that I had been swindled completely out of my goods.
I instituted a vigorous search for a clew of some kind which might lead to their discovery, but without success; and was just about to leave town when I inquired if the late jewelry firm had employed any clerks or errand boys before collapsing.
Upon learning that they had employed a small boy then residing with the ex-manager, and realizing that my chances for getting information from that quarter would be pretty slim, I inquired if the lad had any relatives living there. The hotel clerk told me that his father and sister were living but a short distance away, and pointed out the house to me. I called at once, but with not an inkling of an idea of what I would say or do when I should be admitted; and trusting implicitly to the inspiration of the moment.
When I rapped at the door, it was opened by a tall, lank, angular and cadaverous-looking young woman of about eighteen, who by the way was big enough to peddle grind-stones.
I was surprised to learn that she was a sister of the lad referred to, as I had gotten the impression that she was much younger.
The instant I saw the style of person I had to deal with, it occurred to me that a little stratagem might be worth several hundred dollars to me, if properly directed, just at that particular time. Without a moment's reflection, and before she had time to offer me a chair, I stepped back as if greatly amazed, and said:
"Miss ——, I never was more surprised—I never saw anything like it—I can't believe my own eyes—it seems like a dream."
"What do you mean?"
"Why, do you know, you are the exact image of a young lady I was once engaged to; and she died on the very day set for the wedding. I never saw anything like it!"
I then told her my name and business. She had often heard her brother speak of such a wholesale jewelry house; and I could see that she was on her guard, and probably knew more than she intended to convey. Convinced of this, I felt certain that I had made a good beginning, and that the first thing for me to do was to pour love into her ear, and win her over to my side if possible. So I returned to my former subject without delay, and after repeating the statement that she was the image of my deceased love, I told her that she was the first and only person I had ever met since that sad day, who interested me.
She smiled serenely, and did not seem displeased.
I next asked her if she was married.
She was not, and declared there was no favorable prospect.
I replied that perhaps her prospects were better than she supposed.
She smiled again, and seemed even less displeased than before, and moved her chair nearer mine.
I then began talking at a rapid rate, giving her no chance whatever to express herself, and directing my remarks in a way that would cause her to think I matrimonially inclined. By this time she had finished chewing off one corner of her apron and had tackled the other. Her eyes were fairly dancing with delight.
Her cheeks had flushed considerably, and she seemed at a loss to know what to do with her brawny hands and ponderous feet.
I quickly observed that my scheme was working to a charm and continued my love-making, asserting myself boldly; then to test her feeling in the matter, I asked her to express herself freely, without hesitation, as I didn't care to have my affections trifled with.
Then drawing her chair nearer mine, she remarked, in her most fascinating manner, that the only feller she ever did like had red hair and a large red moustache; then, having finished up the apron, she blurted out:
"How many times you ben married? Mebbe you got one or two wives neow."
"For gracious' sake! do you think I look as though I'd ever been married? I guess I'll leave."
"Well, I don't know's you do; but you look like you'd make an awful nice man."
She moved her chair still closer to mine.
I now thought it the proper time to spring a little tragedy on her. Suddenly changing the subject by referring to the late jewelry firm's failure, I confidentially informed her of my great loss. Then I jumped to my feet, and a moment later began prancing around the room, raving like a maniac. After that I related to her how I had placed confidence in those scoundrels, and as my loss was so severe unless I should be fortunate enough to get my goods back, I would soon be a ruined man financially.
Her sympathies were at once aroused, and she began to show signs of a desire to say or do something in my behalf, when suddenly she changed her mind and became silent. I talked more love, and immediately got another spell on, and pranced around but a few times when she made a dash for me; and as I caught her before she had time to make a complete fall, she straightened up, and placing her hands on my shoulders, said:
"Mr. Johnston, dare I tell you what I know?"
"Yes, you dare."
"Well, I'll tell you something; but please don't give me away."
I assured her that her name would never be mentioned. So she told me that I would find several packages of jewelry and watches in the bureau drawers, at the house of a certain family then in town. Her brother had told her this. I thanked her, and would have kissed her had she not been so beastly homely.
I bade her good-bye, promising to return soon, and started for my lawyer's office, consoling myself as I went with the thought that an hour and a half courtship would not be likely to break her heart or drive her crazy, when she should learn the facts of the case.
After detailing to the lawyer the information I had gained, we decided to proceed to a Justice of the Peace and get out a search warrant for the goods and a State warrant for the arrest of the ex-manager. My legal adviser explained to me that the searching of a person's residence without finding what we were after, might result seriously, as the owner could enter suit against me for damages.
While I was not desirous of getting into trouble by such procedure, I was nevertheless anxious to procure my goods, and determined to risk it.
While the lawyers were making out the papers I went to the hotel, and while there, was called upon by the ex-manager, who apparently realized that there was something in the wind, and showed plainly that he was nervous and excited.
He asked my intentions, telling me he would aid me all he could in finding the former proprietor.
I requested him to accompany me to the Justice's office; and there I showed him the warrants, and told him they would be ready to serve in about one minute. As we had an officer present to serve the papers, he began to feel himself getting into close quarters. So calling me to one side he asked if I would be willing to drop the matter if he would turn over to me eleven hundred dollars' worth of goods.
"I'll take fifteen hundred dollars' worth, and drop it; that amount will pay me for all my trouble and expense."
"But I haven't got only thirteen hundred and fifty dollars' worth. I'll give you all I have, and the stock consists of the choicest line of solid gold jewelry and watches."
I accepted his offer, of course. The goods were as he represented, the very choicest line of watches and jewelry.
I then selected a handsome present for my new girl, and returned with it to her house. Before letting her know just how I had fooled her, I determined to ascertain, if possible, the whereabouts of the former proprietor of the store, as I wanted a bill of sale from him fearing that the ex-manager's title might not be good, and the acceptance of a bill of sale from him would be taking chances.
Upon arriving at the girl's house I told her of my success, and asked if she would not see her brother at once, and try and get the information desired. She surprised me by saying that her brother had left the house but a few moments before, and had told her that the man I wanted was at Salina, Kansas. I then surprised her by the information of the fact that I had been playing detective.
After assuring her that no one in town knew or should know from what source I got my information, I atoned for all the deception used, and for what prevaricating I had done, by handing her the gift of jewelry, which made her eyes fairly pop out of her head. She seemed to have instantly forgotten all about our previous love-making, which convinced me that she was better satisfied with the present than she would have been with me.
On my way home I stopped off at Clyde to visit my folks, staying one night. I carried the watches and jewelry with me; and having telegraphed that I was coming, Mr. Keefer met me at the train with a horse and carriage, and we took the goods to the house. I had a nice visit with the old folks and my little son; and after showing them the watches and jewelry, related the incidents of my trip, how I got possession of the goods, and "just how it all happened."
My mother said she had always thought I would make a better detective than anything else. Mr. Keefer said "it did beat the devil."
That night we reviewed the past eighteen years, with much interest. We recalled the many ups and downs I had met with; and my parents congratulated me, not only on the pluck and energy I had persistently shown, but also for being able to stand prosperity.
Mr. Keefer repeated what I had often heard him say years before, that "he knew I'd make it win some day." He said he had always contended that as long as I kept from spending money foolishly, and only lost it in trying to make money, that I must certainly some day profit by my experience, and come out ahead.
He evinced great interest in my affairs by wanting to talk continually with reference to my business, and would converse about nothing else the whole evening.
My mother didn't know what to say.
On my arrival home I wrote to the Salina, Kansas, man, telling him that I had a lot of goods in my possession turned over to me by his ex-manager; and unless he came on to Chicago within five days, and gave me a bill of sale for them, I would have him brought back by officers. He came, and did as I requested.
This late experience, in connection with several other large losses I had sustained through the sales of traveling agents, convinced me more than ever that my business was being constantly jeopardized by their carelessness in conducting sales.
I had for some time been figuring on an original plan of advertising, by which I felt certain of success. So I decided to call my agents in and discharge them. Then I began at once to spend time and money liberally in advertising. The result was that my business grew rapidly, and to such an extent that I was compelled to increase my force of clerks, and to keep renting and adding on more room every few months, till at present I employ a very large force of help, and occupy ten times as much room as when I first commenced at my present location, and am supplying jewelry to the leading merchants in all parts of the United States.
When I called my agents in to discharge them, with a view to experimenting with my advertising scheme, Bert, (who by this time had become thoroughly sophisticated, and had proved himself a competent and trustworthy young man,) said that, as he had laid up a few hundred dollars, he would like to buy goods from me and sell for himself, the same as I had done, and the same as Albert was then doing. I agreed to sell to him on similar terms.
He began at once, and was very successful—so much so that on the first of January of the present year he also opened an office of his own in the same building where I am located; he buys direct from the manufacturers, and conducts a wholesale business for himself. So much for the unsophisticated country lad who had pluck and energy enough to strike out upon the world, and aim for something better than a clerkship in a country store.
Dr. Frank was still traveling for me when I ordered the agents in, and was the last to respond, being about three days late. When I inquired the reason, he replied that the last man he called upon to collect from had shown a disposition to get out of paying the bill; and as that was to be his last chance, he concluded to stay till he got either the fellow's scalp or the amount due me. He got the latter. He then remarked that while traveling through Dakota he had found a quarter-section of Government land which he had taken as a homestead. He then returned there.
The following fall who should turn up again but Dr. Frank, from Pierre, Dakota, and on arriving here found himself "broke." He called on me and said:
"Now, Johnston, you were the first to get me mixed up in this Doctor business, and but for our experience in setting the old woman's ankle and your dubbing me Doctor, I never would have thought of becoming a physician. As it is, I am anxious to remain here during the winter and attend medical lectures at Hahnemann College, and I know of no one better able to loan me the money to do it with, than you."
"All right, Dr. Frank; you can call around every Saturday, when we are paying off our help, and draw enough to meet your weekly expenses."
It is not necessary to say that he never missed a pay day.
It will be remembered that he had previously spent one winter attending lectures at Ann Arbor. The following spring myself and wife by invitation attended the commencement exercises of the college, and had the pleasure of seeing him graduate, a full-fledged Doctor.
As I witnessed this little scene, the picture of Frank while pulling the old woman's leg, and the knowing look he gave her after the ankle popped back into its socket, came vividly before me. It seemed more like a dream than a reality, when I shook him by the hand and congratulated him on being a genuine M. D. He is now a successful practitioner at Baldwin, Michigan, and has made an especially good record as a surgeon. Experiencing but little difficulty in building up a lucrative practice, he was not long in repaying me the amount borrowed for college expenses.
About this time Mr. Keefer made his first and only visit to Chicago, accompanied by my mother and my son Frankie. Mr. Keefer had been desirous for some time of visiting the city, to see how "that boy" managed his business. On their arrival, I escorted them to my store, when, after looking over the several clerks and book-keepers, Mr. Keefer asked:
"Who are all these people working for?"
"Why, they are working for me."
Just then the postman came in with a large package of letters, and when I began opening them, and extracting money orders, drafts, checks and currency, he gazed steadily for a few moments and said:
"Is that all money, Perry?"
"Certainly; checks and drafts are as good as cash."
"But where do you get it from?"
"From Maine to California, and from Manitoba to Mexico."
He looked on quietly for a few moments, and turning to my mother, said:
"Well, it does beat the devil."
I took a great deal of pleasure in showing him the city, and escorting him to the many places of interest and amusement. My mother had often visited the larger cities, and was not so much interested as he was.
Although it was his first visit, I paid him the compliment of appearing more accustomed to city life than any person I had ever seen who had never before been away from his own neighborhood. From his cool, unexcitable, matter-of-fact way, one would have supposed that he had always been inured to the excitement and bustle of the city.
On the first pleasant day after their arrival, I took Mr. Keefer a whirl down the boulevard, behind a handsome pair of chestnut-sorrel horses which I had dealt for a few days before. As we went dashing along at a lively rate he hung to his hat with one hand and to the buggy with the other, and asked what such a team cost me. When I answered his question, he said:
"That team is worth more than all the horses we ever had on our farm at any one time. Well, I always said you'd 'get there' some day, Perry."
A few days prior to his visit, I had made a trade for a half interest in a livery and sale stable, owned and run by an old acquaintance named Kintz, who is mentioned in the seventh chapter of this book. He is the man who was running a bakery at Clyde, and whose gold watch I traded to the Telegraph Operator, receiving five dollars to boot from each of them, which I placed to my own credit as middleman.
John had come on to Chicago and opened this stable, after several years' experience in a Michigan town in the same business, and I had made a deal with him for a half interest.
After Mr. Keefer and I had finished our ride, I drove the team to our barn, and jumping out, ordered them taken care of; and as my partner was away, I also began giving orders about the general business, and reprimanded one of the hostlers for neglecting his work.
Mr. Keefer was unable to understand the meaning of this, and finally asked what right I had to be ordering those men around.
I told him I owned a half interest in the business.
He gazed at me a moment, and in his usual good-natured manner, said:
"Well it does beat the devil."
The recollection of this visit affords me a great deal of satisfaction now, as he died about a year afterwards. When visiting me he showed the keenest interest in my success, and declared that since his own had not been what he had desired, he was now only anxious to live long enough to see what the outcome of my business would be, and he continued to evince this same interest up to the very day of his death.
After the Physicians had given him up he requested them to telegraph me at once, which they did, and he fought for forty-eight hours against falling asleep, fearing, as he claimed, that he might not arouse sufficiently to recognize "that boy" when he should arrive.
A few months after Mr. Keefer's visit to Chicago my wife and I were out riding one Saturday evening, and drove to Woodlawn Park—a Chicago suburb. She casually remarked that she would like to own a home out there, and go to housekeeping, as she was tired of boarding. Just as she had finished expressing herself, we met a gentleman on the street, and I asked him if he knew of any property for sale there.
He replied: "My name is W. D. True; I am a real estate man and have three houses right near by for sale," and though it was then quite dark, he offered to show us one of them if we would drive over on Sheridan avenue.
We did so and he showed us through the house, to a great disadvantage, however, as we had no light except an occasional match which he would strike when calling our attention to some special feature.
I asked his price and terms, and in less than fifteen minutes from the time I first met him, I had bargained for the property, and instructed him to call at my office Monday morning with papers to sign, and get a check for the amount of the first payment.
He appeared rather incredulous, and seemed doubtful of my sincerity, and when he called on Monday morning as requested, and closed the deal as agreed upon, he looked me over carefully as though not quite certain of my sanity, and finally said:
"Well, Mr. Johnston, I have been in the real estate business for a long time and have transacted business with many different men, but there are two things I have done with you that I never did before."
"What are they?" I asked.
"Well, I never sold a house in the dark before, nor have I ever closed a deal of this kind in fifteen minutes before, and never heard of a similar case, especially with entire strangers."
We took possession on the first of September, and immediately began the building of a barn which was completed in due time.
We very soon became dissatisfied with suburban life, and anxious to return to the city; but having expended considerable money in building the barn, and other improvements, we decided to remain at all hazards.
Six months later one of my most valuable horses was taken sick, and died on a Saturday morning. On the following Monday, just as I had gotten settled down to business in my office, I received a telephone message from a friend at Woodlawn Park, to the effect that my barn was on fire, but that my horses, harnesses and carriages were all safe.
I immediately said to my wife:
"Well, you can get ready to move now. A horse died Saturday, the barn burned Monday and we'll move Tuesday."
So saying, I called up my printer, Mr. G. M. D. Libby, by telephone, and dictated a hand-bill to be printed immediately, advertising all of our household furniture to be sold at auction.
The bills were run off at once, and before the fire engines and crowds had left the scene of the fire, I was on the ground distributing circulars.
The question was frequently asked, who was going to be the auctioneer. I would reply that I thought of trying it myself. This amused the questioners and I had a large crowd in attendance, many of whom no doubt came to hear me in my first effort at auctioneering. The evening after the sale I called at of the grocery stores in the town, and several men were discussing me as an auctioneer, and all agreed that for a beginner I did mighty well. One man said that a person would naturally suppose that the fellow had had years of experience as an auctioneer.
We moved immediately after making the sale, and found a tenant for the house without any trouble; and as I have been offered an advance of several hundred dollars on the price I paid for the place, I have had no reason to regret my hasty purchase. I lost but little on the sale of my household goods, and collected insurance for a portion of the loss on the barn, so I came out pretty well after all.
We were glad enough, however, to get back to the city, and rented a suite of rooms at the Pullman Building, which we still occupy; and being located near my place of business, we find it much pleasanter, and waste no time running after and waiting for, suburban trains.
During our residence at Woodlawn Park, we became so accustomed to running to catch trains, that through force of habit, no matter where we were, or how far from a Railroad track, the moment we would hear the sound of a bell ringing, or a steam whistle blowing, our first impulse was to start on the dead run.
I will here mention the particulars of a trade I made for the barber's shop, while residing in the suburb.
One day I traded for a small, handsome horse, and the following morning saddled him and went out for a horse-back ride. On my return I happened to stop in front of the barber shop, when the tonsorial artist asked how I'd trade my horse for the shop.
"I'll leave it with you," was my reply.
"I'll trade even."
"All right, sir; it's a bargain. Come and get the horse, and give me the keys."
So saying, I dismounted and took possession. After mounting the animal, he said he'd take it to the barn, and return in a few moments and continue to run the shop for me till I could hire another barber. He then left me in charge. No sooner had he done so than a well-dressed stranger came rushing into the shop, threw off his hat and coat, took a seat in the chair, and said:
"Please hurry up, Mr. Barber, as I want to catch the next train for the city."
Expecting the barber to return at once, I thought it a good idea to try and hold my first customer till he should arrive. I therefore threw off my hat and coat, grabbed the mug, made a lot of lather, and began daubing it on as thick as possible all over his face. I then wiped it off, and lathered him again, expecting the barber in every minute to take the job off my hands.
As he did not come, I was obliged to resort to the towel the second time, and lather him once more. Then stepping to the door to see if the barber was visible, and discovering that he was not I returned to my customer, and wiping off his face began lathering him again. I now saw that he was getting nervous and anxious, and concluded to try and entertain him with some sort of a "ghost story." Just as I was trying to conjure up something to "spring on him" he remarked that I wasn't very sparing of my soap.
"No, sir. I am not stingy with soap; and by the way, this soap is different from any you ever saw before. This, sir, is the homa-jona, radical, tragical, incomprehensible compound extract of the double-distilled rute-te-tute shaving soap."
I then went on with my auction talk on soap already familiar to the reader, and spun it out to him as rapidly as I could, without a pause, or the least hesitation.
While doing so, instead of making my usual gestures, I kept the brush full of lather, and with increased enthusiasm slashed it on, first on one side and then on the other, till I had gone through a large part of my auction talk.
Meanwhile I had been constantly thinking of a story told me, when but a small boy, of a young man in a country town who had been placed in almost exactly the same predicament that I was in at that moment. I made up my mind, if worse came to worse, I would get out of my scrape the same as the other fellow did.
Therefore, having nearly finished my soap talk, I wiped his face once more, and had made up a lot of new lather to give him one more round, when I squared myself in front of him in a confidential way, and said:
"And another thing about this soap that I haven't told you about, is——"
"Well, by Heavens! man," he interrupted, "you have got to hurry."
I saw that the poor fellow was fairly paralyzed, and didn't know whether to try and make his escape or not.
"Sure enough," I replied, as I lathered him up again, and went on with more talk about my soap. I felt certain that the barber would return before I could finish lathering him this time; but he did not and I was obliged to wipe off his face again, and had succeeded in giving one more coat of lather, when he raised up in the chair and said:
"Great guns! ain't you ever going to shave me?"
"Oh!" I answered, with apparent surprise, "do you want to get shaved?"
"Why, of course I do, you infernal fool! What do you suppose I——?"
"Oh, well," I replied, recalling the aforesaid story to mind, "you get shaved across the street. We only lather, here."
He jumped from the chair, snatched a towel from the rack, wiped off part of the lather, seized his hat and coat, and was swearing like a pirate, as he rushed out with his ears and neck full of lather.
Just as he passed out the barber came in, and I called, "Next!" at the top of my voice. After crossing the street he started for the depot, but continued to gaze towards the barber shop with a look of vengeance, as he wiped off the lather with his handkerchief.
The barber was at a loss to understand the meaning of such actions on the part of a customer; but I readily explained to him that the fellow was mad because he didn't like our kind of soap.
A few moments later one of the regular customers came in, and had just taken his seat in the chair, when I noticed marked on the mirror in front of him, "Shaving, 10 cents."
I stepped to the glass and wiping the cipher off, made a 5 in its place. Our customer quickly asked what that meant. I replied:
"That means that this shop has changed hands, and from this time on, prices on all work done here will be sufficient to warrant success."
He jumped to his feet, declaring that he would not allow any man to come such a game on him, and that he'd never pay fifteen cents for a shave. He left the shop in high dudgeon, and the barber declared I'd ruin the business in less than ten days.
I kept the price up, however, and after hiring a man to run it, made it a paying investment. A few months later I sold out to the man who now runs it. About a week after my experience in the barber shop, my horses and carriage had been driven around in front of my place of business, and myself and wife were about to take a drive. Two or three acquaintances happened along, and we conversed with them for a few moments before driving away. I noticed my late victim standing on the sidewalk staring at me with all the eyes he had. We drove away, leaving him still staring.
Not long after this, one of these friends just referred to came to my office, and asked if I had anything to do with a barber shop at Woodlawn Park.
With apparent surprise, I asked the meaning of the inquiry. He said the day we went out for a drive a strange gentleman stepped up to him and asked what that man's name was, and what he was doing with such a team. My friend answered, "Why, that is Johnston, the wholesale jeweler, and he owns that team."
"Wholesale nothing!" was the reply. "He is the barber at Woodlawn, or thinks he is, at least, and I'll bet he never owned a dog, to say nothing of a team like that."
He was assured that he was mistaken.
He became excited, and offered to bet any amount that that fellow was the barber at Woodlawn, and he guessed he knew what he was talking about, and that he would know that fellow among a million.
* * * * *
Before bringing this volume to a close I wish to say for the benefit of those who may have met with reverses, and are possibly on the verge of giving up all hope of achieving success, that during my "twenty years of hus'ling" I found the great secret of every success I met with was energy. Never quit, never give up, never look on the dark side, and no matter how dismal the prospects seemed, or how rocky the past had been, I never allowed myself to become disheartened or in any way discouraged. The average man is too willing to let well enough alone. Instead of making his business a constant study with a view of devising some new method of conducting it, he is liable to sit down with a self-satisfied conviction that so long as he is holding his own he should be satisfied. No man can make a greater mistake than to adopt these old-fogy ideas. The idea of being satisfied with their lot, I believe has kept many men from progressing; it requires no energy whatever to conclude to let well enough alone; it is a very easy resolution to make and not a hard one to keep, and like the bad-luck excuse, is likely to afford much satisfaction to those who are not ambitious to push ahead.
I believe every man should build up his hopes and aspirations, not to extremes, but so far as to elevate his ideas to a realization that a mere living should not satisfy him through life, and nothing short of the best paying and most prominent position would gratify him.
The young man starting out in life who for a while only succeeds in holding his own or possibly meets with reserves, should be manly enough to find no fault, but he should be too much of a man to remain satisfied with a bare living.
It pays to be reasonably aggressive in all things. The man who shows a disposition to look out for his own welfare and not be imposed upon by others, will invariably receive the most attention and be taken the best care of under all circumstances. He should not allow false pride or dudish notions to interfere in the least with his business.
He should realize that the mere comforts of life with a respectable appearance is sufficient for one starting out, and that a few years hence when he has established for himself a lucrative business with a reputation for honesty and business integrity, there will be no likelihood of any one ever reminding him of his former humble circumstances.
He should never attempt to mingle in a social way with those whose financial standing and expensive habits of living far exceed his own. While he should cultivate the acquaintance of business men of the highest standing, it should only be done in a business way.
When his business shows an increase of profits, he should improve in his mode of living, as a matter of social advancement.
The young man as a beginner should avoid stingy and penurious methods. This is as often an acquired habit as it is a natural one, and will always work more or less detrimental to a business. No man can afford to be close and trifling in his deal. It not only belittles him in the eyes of the world, but he very soon recognizes in himself a person of narrow ideas; and the man with a poor opinion of himself will surely not prove a success in the business world. While I believe in judicious economy, I despise penuriousness.
If a man has but a dollar to spend, I believe he should spend it in as princely a style as though he had a million left. But if he hasn't the dollar to spare, he should make no pretensions whatever.
Opportunity has no doubt frequently played a large part in man's success. In my opinion, however, the most acceptable theory in the science of commercial success is that every man takes his own.
That is, the man who is the most sagacious and energetic will never lose a chance to take advantage of opportunities, and there is no doubt that what many complain of as being ill luck, is simply the result of their failure to grasp the situation that a shrewder man would have taken advantage of and thereby gained success.
The average young man in starting out usually endeavors to form a co-partnership with his best friend or nearest neighbor, regardless of capital or ability, the result of which is, that each will depend on the other to make the business a success, and neither will be likely to develop his fullest capacity for doing business.
The man who has force of character enough to assert his own rights and to carry out his own independent thoughts will usually be the most successful without a partner.
The old adage, "A rolling stone gathers no moss," has not in my experience always proved a true saying. Nor have I found it to be so in the experience of many successful men with whom I have come in contact.
My observation of others has shown me that in many instances men have lost their last dollar in the vain endeavor to successfully carry out a business that a short experimental trial should have convinced them would be a failure.
As for myself, I am always willing to investigate and experiment, but not to the extent of risking my last dollar on what a reasonable test proves unprofitable, simply through fear of being considered "a rolling stone."
I have at present, and have had for some time what might be considered many irons in the fire, and have thus far never had any of them seriously burned, owing no doubt to the fact that I always endeavor to surround myself with competent help, and especially with a good lieutenant at the head of each business.
And I have adopted the plan of pushing to its utmost capacity that which, after a reasonable test, showed elements of success, and dropping as I would a hot coal that which proved the reverse.
My latest business enterprise—although still running the jewelry business with more force than ever—is my connection with the Johnston Car-seat Company, manufacturing the Emmert Coach and Reclining Car-seat, which has been adopted by many of the leading Railroad companies.
I mention this to show that I do not believe in the old-fogy theory of our forefathers, to "let well enough alone;" and were I the possessor of fifty times the wealth of Croesus I would never quit, but still keep hus'ling.