Read CHAPTER NINETEEN of Watch Yourself Go By , free online book, by Al G Field, on

Hang on! Cling on!
No matter what they say.
Push on! Work on!
Things will come your way.

“A person dunno till after they’ve fell intu a muddy ditch how meny roads they cud a took an’ kept out uf hit. But after ye’ve fell in the mud a time ur tu an’ then ye don’t no enuf tu keep outen hit, ye ain’t much; ye’re only gettin’ muddy an’ not larnen eny sense, an’ thar ain’t much hope fur ye.” This was Lin’s answer to Alfred’s declaration that he would never go out with another show unless it was first class.

If there ever lived a boy who has not experienced the feelings that must come to a rooster that has been in a hard battle and lost the greater part of his tail feathers, he is one who has never looked over his record and endeavored to rub out the punk spots. There are but few boys who have not an exaggerated ego, and it is well that they are so constituted, they will better battle with the rebuffs and the disappointments that youth always walks into.

If a boy is lacking in confidence conceit is confidence increased in a boy; conceit is ignorance in a man. Conceit renders a man so cock-sure that he ignores advice.

The first thing for which a boy should be operated upon is an overdeveloped bump of self-conceit. The earlier in life this protuberance is punctured the more quickly he will become useful to himself and family. It often requires several operations to effect a cure.

Over-zealous friends are responsible to an extent for the failure of many promising young men. Many persons regard exaggerated praise necessary to the advancement of youth. A boy entering almost any profession or trade can be unfitted for his labors by fulsome flattering.

Alfred’s best friends filled him with the false idea that he was a great actor, that he was being abused and thwarted. Had his friends been sincere, he could have side stepped many stiff punches that he walked straight into. Most fortunate is the boy who gets knocked through the ropes early in the bout of life; his youth will enable him to come back the stronger.

The King Solomon of showmen, P. T. Barnum, the father of fakes, originated the “Gift Show” the giving of presents to all who purchased tickets of admission. Everybody received a prize. Several hundred of the prizes were of little value. There was one that was valuable: a gold watch and chain, a diamond pin or other article of jewelry, was generally the capital prize as it was designated.

People flocked to Barnum’s museum to win the capital prize; Barnum reaped a harvest. Of course the idea of the “Gift Show” was immediately taken up by ignorant imitators who are always quick to appropriate the ideas of others. Numerous magicians were soon touring the country with their alluring advertisements promising presents far exceeding in value the receipts of the theaters in which they appeared, even though the prices of admission were doubled.

The circus concert adopted the “Gift Show” scheme, and when a circus side-show, or concert, adopts an innovation of this character, it is safe to wager that the yokel will “get his” good and plenty.

The “Gift Show” idea was worked so successfully that the numerous jewelry concerns that had sprung up in Maiden Lane and on the Bowery could not fill the orders for the brass ornaments required to supply the enterprises distributing them.

Everybody got a prize; there were no blanks. Alfred and another boy, George, did the distributing act. Stationed on either side of the stage, they received the tickets. Pretending to look at the number, they handed the prize out. Alfred had four packages of prizes; he was ordered to alternate. First a lady’s breast pin, then a gent’s collar button, then a stud, then a finger ring. The capital prize the boss awarded in person.

Since the days of Barnum’s “Gift Show,” no “sucker” has ever seen the capital prize except when the proprietor of the “Gift Show” was not looking.

The “Gift Show” man usually placed the capital prize in the show window of a prominent store. Everyone who bought a ticket hoped to capture the capital prize. The “Gift Show” always fixed the landlord of the hotel or some man about town to draw the capital prize, returning it to the “Gift Show” manager afterwards. It is amazing the many who were willing to play the part of capper in this game.

After a number of tickets were presented and not less than a peck of the cheap presents distributed, the capper would pass up his ticket, and the boss proclaim in a loud tone: “Four hundred and sixty-two wins the capital prize, a solid silver tea set.” The plate was set out on a table covered with a black velvet cloth to brighten the appearance of the ware.

“If the gentleman prefers we will gladly pay him one hundred and seventy-five dollars in gold for his ticket.” The money counted out to him in the presence of the gaping multitude whetted everybody’s desire to win the capital prize. The following night the hall was crowded again.

“Gift Shows” always remained three nights in each place. The entertainment offered was a secondary consideration; hence Alfred was the star of the show. He had unlimited opportunities. The fact was, the only reason the manager gave an entertainment at all was to escape the lottery laws.

Alfred was on the stage half a dozen times and would have gone on again had he had anything more to offer. Alfred imagined the more often he appeared the more he was appreciated, until one night a sailor heaved an orange from the gallery, landing it on Alfred’s head. The seeds flew all over the stage. Alfred did not regain his composure even when assured by others of the company that the seeds were not his brains.

A gentleman whom he had met while with Eli during their tour of Greene County he was only an acquaintance of a day called on Alfred. Alfred introduced him as his friend. Agreeable, intelligent and well dressed, he made an impression on the show people and without consulting Alfred, the “Gift Show” man fixed Alfred’s friend to cop the capital prize which he did very successfully.

When the boss called: “Ticket three hundred and nine wins the capital prize,” the rehearsed scene was gone through with, although Alfred’s friend made the play doubly strong by hesitating in accepting the cash in lieu of the tea set. “I would prefer the silverware; I wish to preserve it in our family.” After a little further parleying, he was handed one hundred and seventy-five dollars. He received congratulations, answered questions and smiled on everybody.

The night Alfred’s friend won the capital prize the audience was larger and more intelligent than usual. One gentleman remarked, as he passed back to Alfred the present tendered him: “Boy, keep this for me until I call for it. Write my name on it; I don’t want to lose it, I want to get it melted, we need a pair of candle sticks and brass is mighty high.”

An old lady opened her envelope containing a pair of ear-rings. Handing them to Alfred she remarked: “I hope there’s no mistake here, the ticket reads ear-rings, these are chandeliers.”

The stool pigeon, after receiving the money for the capital prize, wandered leisurely out of the hall. He was supposed to be met by the fixer of the “Gift Show”, to whom he was to return the money the boss had given him.

Alfred’s friend played his part capitally. He sauntered out leisurely; he did not saunter out of the main door, or, if he did, the fixer failed to meet him. The hall was empty save for the two or three stragglers and the manager.

The fixer entered hurriedly, looking sharply around the almost vacant room, he whispered with the boss. They turned their glances toward Alfred. It was an illusion of the boss and his staff that others of the company were ignorant of the deception practiced in the awarding of the capital prize.

The boss called Alfred to his room and questioned him at length as to the gentleman he had introduced as his friend. Alfred stated when the Eli minstrels were touring Greene County the gentleman accompanied them several days. His companionship was so agreeable that Eli remained behind in Carmichaelstown a day or two.

The boss had learned the fellow was a short card player, and he swore he would not allow a cheap poker player to do him.

“Fix the olly! I gave him broads to the show! He’s right as a guinea! Fix him! Have this cheap Greene County bilk pinched. I’ll land him in the quay.”

All of this, interpreted, meant that the boss wanted the winner of the capital prize arrested and thrown into jail. He did not dare proceed against him for holding out the money he had given him. To attempt to recover it by law would expose their nefarious practice.

There was hurrying to and fro and in hot haste but nothing as to the whereabouts of the gentleman could be learned. The constable searched all night, and the fixer remained with him as long as he could keep pace with the officer. Weary, blear-eyed, unsteady on his limbs, he finally lay down on a bench in the hotel sitting room and was awakened only by the breakfast bell.

Next morning he was very surly. He ordered Alfred in a very rude manner to remove two large boxes of jewelry from the hotel to the theatre and to remove the boxes as soon as he got through his breakfast: “and don’t eat all day either.”

Alfred did not eat all day; in fact he ate but little. He was choking with wrath over the insult the man had put upon him. Taking himself from the table he awaited the coming of the man. As he emerged from the dining room, Alfred halted him with: “I say, you ordered me to move some baggage from the hotel to the theatre. I just called upon you to tell you that you ain’t my boss; you didn’t hire me, you don’t pay me; furthermore, I did not hire out to this troupe to peddle brass jewelry or handle baggage. You move the boxes yourself.”

“Well, we’ll see if you don’t move them boxes, and I’ll give you a smack in the jaw, you jay, you!”

Alfred remembered Titusville, and a greatly subdued manner, said: “If you’re the boss, just hand me my money and I’ll skedaddle double quick.”

Later in the day the boss sent for Alfred to come to his room. As he entered, the boss said: “Well, you want your money, do you, eh?”

Alfred replied: “I couldn’t very well stay here after what’s passed between your manager and myself.”

“That’s so,” smilingly assented the boss. Turning his back on Alfred and pretending to look over his books, he continued: “Where do you expect to meet your friend?”

“What friend,” inquired Alfred.

“The smart young fellow you rung in on us yesterday. I’d thought you’d skipped without waiting for the few bones I hold of yours. You’re too fly to work for a salary. Talk about sure-thing men, there ain’t a strong arm game in the country can beat it; garroting is laid in the shade by your play.”

Alfred could not understand the man at all. He was completely confused: “What do you mean? Has that man who tried to boss me this morning been telling you anything about me?”

The man wheeled around in his chair, facing Alfred. Pointing his finger at Alfred, in a voice choking with anger, he exclaimed: “You’re not as slick as you imagine you are; you’ve been under cover ever since you came here. You made all my people think you were a straight guy; you played the rôle of a gilly kid to the queen’s taste. But I’m on to you bigger than a house; after you’ve worked me for a hundred and seventy-five dollars, now you want to wolf me for twenty-five more. I won’t shake down for one dime more. You think you’ll get your bit of the touch but I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that guy will double cross you and it will serve you right for doing the man you were working for. You can leave; I can’t hold you but you won’t get a case from me. I’ll stand pat on this proposition. Do you hear?”

Alfred understood the man, in some way, was endeavoring to connect him with the gentleman who won the capital prize.

“All I want is my money, the money you owe me and you’ll pay me before I leave this town,” was Alfred’s declaration as he left the room.

A bluff always unsettles a scoundrel. Spaff Hyman, the magician of the troupe, was after Alfred in a moment. He explained that the boss and one or two others were under the impression that Alfred and the gentleman whom Alfred had introduced as his friend were in cahoots, that Alfred had brought the stranger there to do the gift showman out of the money and that Alfred stood in with the play.

Alfred was indignant. Spaff assured the boy that he had implicit confidence in his honesty. “I know that Greene County gang,” continued Spaff, “Jim Kerr and Lias Flanagan had that old trotting horse sneak. This fellow that came on here was the brains of the gang; they skinned every sucker on the fair grounds where they entered this horse. He had this combination sized up; he came on here to trim the boss and he got away with the play. I know you had nothing to do with it, but if you leave now, those who suspect you will make others believe you are crooked. Hold down the job until you prove yourself right, then skip if you want to.”

Alfred began an explanation: “I never met this man but once. I heard several people say he was a young man with no bad habits: ’He does not drink a drop of liquor, he don’t smoke, chew tobacco, nor cuss.’ That’s what I heard in Carmichaelstown.”

“Huh! Yes, he’s a saint,” sarcastically mused the old sleight of hand man, “he’s a saint and that’s what makes him successful as a con. Sam Weller advised his son to ‘bevare of vidders,’ I advise you to beware of saints. Since the days of the Bible when saints were inspired, there have been but few of them roving the earth. Latter day saints are material, hence, susceptible to all the temptations and frailties of this world. When you get acquainted with a man who boasts that he has no bad habits, look out for him, he will spring something on you that will outweigh all the minor defects that scar the character of the ordinary man. I do not say there are no good men, there are; but the man who pretends to go through this world on a record of no bad habits accumulates a heap of inward secretiveness. It keeps growing. He gets swelled up, and some day he breaks out and the enormity of his break surprises all. ‘He had no bad habits,’ that’s what they all said. No, he had no bad habits that were apparent; he was a sneak. In order to conceal his little sins, he deceived himself and his friends. If he had been honest he would have gone through life like the average man. Go back in your mind and figure up the fellows that have fallen and see if the fellow with no bad habits isn’t in the majority. Mind, I’m not figuring on the poor devil without education or advantages, the fellow who robs hen-roosts or steals dimes. I’m talking about the fellow who walks off with one hundred and seventy-five dollars, robs the banks or post-offices, the fellow who touches the widow and orphan.”

“I can’t understand you,” ventured Alfred.

“Well, you can’t understand the fellow who had no bad habits.”

“But the boss is not playing fair with the public,” protested Alfred.

“Well, who on earth ever did play fair with the public? I know you, with your ideas bounded by Fayette County’s limitations, don’t understand these things. There’s men who would not take advantage of any man in a personal business transaction, who will get in on almost anything that will worst the public. The public is a cruel monster; the public condemned and crucified Christ; the public is behind every lynching. The public condemns and ostracizes a man, even though he has lived an upright life all his days, when some scalawag, for personal or financial reasons, assails him in a newspaper. When Commodore Vanderbilt gave utterance to the words, ‘The public be damned,’ he expressed the sentiment of four-fifths of those who have rubbed up against the public, as had the sturdy old man who acquired his estimate of human nature while rowing the public over the river. The public would ride across the river without paying him fare. The public will crowd into our show tonight without paying. The public will eat all the fruit that ripens, all the grain that grows, drink all the liquors malted and take anything they can get for nothing. I mean the public rabble, the mob, not the individual. The only time you can trust the public is when their sympathies are aroused over some great public calamity that brings death and desolation. Then the public is of one mind, the public then shows to best advantage.”

“Well, you are the funniest man I ever heard talk. Now what are you going to do to make the public what you consider it should be?”

“Educate it; educate it. Three-fourths of the public are suckers, one-fourth skinners. Now, I don’t mean to assert that one-fourth are dishonest men, but most of them are men a bit too fly for the others. You know there’s not one man in a thousand that considers it cheating to give himself a bit the best of it. Now you argue that the public is ignorant and that the only way to get it right is to educate it. Well, the fellow who walked off with the boss’s one hundred and seventy-five dollars is educated.”

“How do you account for his dishonesty” inquired Alfred.

“I don’t account for it.”

It was arranged that Spaff go to the boss, patch up matters between him and Alfred. Spaff requested Alfred remain in the hall that he might be near. The door closed on Spaff. Alfred remained near it; he wished afterwards he had not. The transom was open and every word uttered in the room floated through it.

Spaff began: “Say, boss, I’ve been talking to that fresh young nigger singer, and, while he don’t know much, it’s my opinion he knows nothing of the guy who done you for the capital prize. He’s purty handy around here and I thought you better keep him. I’ve got him going; I told him if he left now everybody would conclude he was in on the capital prize trick. So I think he’ll stick.”

“What the hell do I care whether he sticks or not? He may be straight but I doubt it. The only reason I want him to stay is that he will have trouble in finding the other guy; I’m certain they were to meet somewhere and split up the touch.”

Spaff was heard to say: “No, I think you’re wrong. I am sure this kid is not in on it. I know that fellow; he’s slick, he’s always been a sure thing man and he has been planning this touch for sometime. He simply used Alfred to get an introduction.”

“Well, he’s a good one. He did not want to draw the prize, he argued; all the best people in town knew him and it would be difficult to deceive them. Why, I thought he was a small town jay. He even cautioned me to have someone at the door to receive the money, he did not care to carry it about with him.” After a pause he continued: “Well, about this boy; what shall I say to him? I don’t think it’s a good play to let him go; not now, at any rate. You say he’s straight. Do you reckon he’s on to the capital prize fake?”

“Well, I dunno,” answered Spaff. “If he is, and he’s dirty, he could queer us in all these towns; he’s been through here with two or three Jim Crow minstrel shows; these rubes imagine he’s some pumpkins. Why, I have to go out of the house every time he comes on. He’s the rankest performer I ever saw; he can sing a little and that lets him out. Why don’t you cut his act down one-half at least? Half of the audience, green as they are, wouldn’t stay in the house if they were not waiting for their presents.”

“He comes on ahead of you and hurts your act,” the boss assured Spaff.

That gentleman said: “Well, we’ve got to give them something for their money and Alfred does pretty good; if he only had the stuff he would be all right.”

The boss agreed to this. “Yes, if he had something new. Those gags he springs were told before the flood. Lord, if I had the gall of some people I’d be rich. When he came here into this room and wanted money for that stuff he’s telling, I got up and opened the door and planted a kick on him and says: ’Now, leave, skip, git out of yere and don’t let me see you around yere agin.’”

“Why, he never told me one word of this,” and Spaff’s voice evidenced his surprise. “What do you say about keeping him?” questioned Spaff.

“Oh, we’ve got to have someone, but watch him.”

When Spaff came out of the room he found Alfred some distance from the door. “Now, I’ve had a hard time squaring this matter with the boss. Someone has got to him and he is sore on you, or was. I just told him you were all right and that I would be responsible for you and he said: ‘Well, I’ll let him stay on your account.’”

Alfred could not restrain his anger longer. Whirling around, facing Spaff, he said in tones neither low or slow: “You go back and tell that damn sneak that I don’t want to stay with him. You tell him he is a liar if he says he ever kicked me. You tell him if he says I had anything to do with the disappearance of his capital prize money, he’s another liar. You tell him I’ll meet him outside the hotel and he’ll take back everything he said to you.”

Spaff began to look scared. “Why, how do you know what he said to me,” he queried in a voice that showed his fear.

“I heard every word; the transom was open; I couldn’t help it. I’m glad I did hear. I know where you all stand. I’m only a boy, but I’ll clean up this capital prize swindle and I’m going after it tonight. ’Watch me,’ that’s what the boss ordered you to do.”

Poor old Spaff was thoroughly frightened. He coaxed and pleaded with Alfred to drop the matter, take his pay and he would endeavor to have his wages raised. At the first opportunity he slipped away from Alfred, ran around the back way and up to the boss’s room.

Alfred was seated at the supper table. The boss entered and, with a pleasant “good evening,” seated himself opposite Alfred, and familiarly inquired: “What they got for supper? They set a fairly good table here but the waiters are slow.”

Alfred sulkily ate in silence, never deigning to look at or answer the questions of the boss. That gentleman rattled on, first on one subject, then another. Finally, he carelessly asked Alfred the title of the new song he sang the night before. Never noticing the boy’s rude behavior in not replying to him, he continued, dipping a half doughnut in his coffee: “I want you to tell that gag about Noah being the first man to run a boat show; I think it’s the funniest thing I ever heard. Where did you get it? I always make it a point to be in the house when you tell that gag.”

Alfred did not understand that all this was flattery; he imagined the boss was guying him. His face was hot, his voice trembled. Leaning over the table, he sneered: “So you come in every night to hear the jokes that came over in Noah’s ark, do you? Well, you needn’t come in tonight, you won’t hear them. When you get through with your supper I want a settlement with you and if you think you can kick me, come out of this house and try it.” He left the table and passed out.

Instead, Spaff came to him, handing him twenty-five dollars. “Now, see here, young fellow, you’re too hot-headed, you’ll never get along if you keep this up. This man appreciates your work; he told me so. Say, you didn’t hear right. I was in the room, I didn’t hear the things you did. Come on, now, I’ll get you a raise of five dollars a week.”

Alfred walked away from the man. His baggage had been conveyed to the hotel from the theatre and his preparations completed. He left the “Gift Show.”

“I’ll never take another chance with a fly-by-night troupe. If I can’t get with the best I’ll stay right here in this town. I’ll paint hulls, houses or anything; I’ll go back to the tan-yard; I’ll go to the newspaper office; I’ll do anything, I don’t care what it is or how badly I hate to do it. I wouldn’t be caught dead with another troupe like the last one I was with.” So declared Alfred to Lin and Cousin Charley.

After Alfred was out of hearing, Cousin Charley, with a laugh, remarked he had “heard that story afore. It won’t be a month till he’s off agin with some kind of a show. He can’t git with a good one; they wouldn’t have him with a good show. (Cousin Charley had assured Alfred that very morning that he considered him the best actor he had ever seen). He’ll be out with a fly-by-night troupe afore the next month. Alfred’s a gone goslin’. He’s got no trade an’ he’ll hev to scratch to make a livin’. I sort of pity Uncle John an’ Aunt Mary, kase they think so much of the boy, an’ it’s a great pity for them. Uncle John ought to beat the foolishness out of him long ago. He never touches him, no matter what he does. Does he?”

Lin looked at Cousin Charley in a sort of pitying way as she asked: “How is hit thet all are agin Alfurd? Ye all like him, I no ye do, but durned ef ye evur lose a shot at him. No, his pap don’t whup him eny more, he nevur did beat him tu hurt; hit wus sort of a habit tu take him intu the celler to skur him but hit nevur done him a mite uf good, he jus laffed an’ made fun uf hit. Ye kin do more with reasonin’ with Alfurd.”

Cousin Charley agreed with Lin and declared that he always took Alfred’s part. “I told his father Alfred would go off some day and then they’d all be dog-goned sorry they hadn’t handled him different.”

“Well, Alfurd’s not goin’ off eny more till he goes rite; he’s gettin’ more sot in his ways every day, he’s mos’ like a man.”

Alfred’s family were greatly elated that he had settled down. Staid old Brownsville was stirred from center to sandy hollow. Peter Hunt, philosopher and photographer, leased Krepp’s Bottom for the announced purpose of converting it into a skating park or rink. Alfred was one of Peter’s right hand men. The creeks and rivers had furnished ample fields for the skaters of Brownsville heretofore, but Peter felt the time had come when the society people of the town, who did not care to skate with the common herd, should have a more exclusive place in which to enjoy this wholesome recreation.

Therefore Krepp’s Bottom was selected. The proposed park was the talk of the town. Dunlap’s Creek flowed in a circle, skirting three sides of the bottom land. Levees three feet high were thrown up along the banks of the creek, a rope stretched along the west side. An opening in the levee admitted the water. Two feet of water covered the bottom. The weather turned cold, ice formed, the park was opened, and three-fourths of the public walked in free. Alfred felt that Spaff was about right in his estimate of the public.

The creek fell, the dry, clay land absorbed the water, the ice sunk and cracked in places. The waters of the creek flowed six feet below and the glory of the skating park was a memory of the past.

Later on a promoter endeavored to rent Jeffries Hall for a roller skating rink. George Washington Frazee, who learned of the man renting Jeffries’ hall for a skating rink, said: “Huh! Another dam fool ’bout skeetin’. Jeffries Hall won’t hold water, an’ if it did hit wouldn’t freeze hard enuff to bear.”

For the winter the town went back to its time honored sport of sledding, “coasting” it is termed nowadays. Sleds of all kinds were seen on the hills and streets of the two towns. Even men engaged in the sport. The speed attained, especially on Scrabbletown Hill, was terrific. The big sleds, loaded with from four to eight persons, flew down the hills at the rate of a mile a minute. The sleds bore striking names, Alfred’s the “West Wind.” It was one of the speediest of the numerous fast ones.

Starting at the top of Town Hill, those on the Brownsville side would speed to the Iron Bridge, even across it into Bridgeport. Those sliding Scrabbletown Hill would often be sent, by the speed attained on this steep incline, across the Iron Bridge into Brownsville. Thus the coasters of the rival towns would at times, pass each other going in opposite directions.

The older men would sit in the stores and watch the sliders. The shoe-shops of McKernan and Potts were the scenes of many heated arguments as to the fleetness of the different sleds.

An old gentleman who had recently moved to Brownsville from Uniontown, endeavored to impress the shoe-shop crowds with the superiority of the sleds of the Uniontown boys over those of Brownsville. He related that a Uniontown boy slid down Laurel Hill through Uniontown and would have slid on down the pike to Searight’s only he was afraid he would ‘skeer’ somebody’s horses.

Shuban Lee, ever loyal to Brownsville and her sleds, related how Alfred had loaned his sled to a show fellow he brought home with him from somewhere. “The show chap did not know much about sliding. Alfred’s sled was a whirlwind when it got to goin’. The show feller hauled the sled to the top of Town Hill. He started down the hill. The sled run so fast it crossed the Iron Bridge up to the top of Scrabbletown Hill. Afore he cud git off she started back down the hill, across the Iron Bridge agin, up to the top of Town Hill an’ back she started. Half the men in town run out an’ tried to stop thet sled but hit wus so cold they couldn’t do hit. She just kept on a-goin’ down one hill an’ up tother.”

Here the Uniontown man, with a contemptuous snort, said: “I s’pose he just kept on slidin’ till he froze to death?”

“No,” Shuban answered, “he didn’t freeze, he just kept on slidin’ till they shot him to keep him from starvin’ to death. An’ I kin prove hit by olé man Smith an’ if you won’t believe him I kin show you the feller’s grave.”