Read CHAPTER XII of Twenty Years of Hus'ling , free online book, by J. P. Johnston, on


Soon after my arrival home I received a letter from a horse-trainer then located at Springfield, Ohio, saying I had been recommended to him as a splendid horse-back rider, a general “hus’ler” in business, and possibly a good advertiser. As these were the requirements needed in his business, he would give me a half interest in the same if I would join him. He then went on to state the marvelous works he could do.

When I read this letter to my folks, my mother said she thought it a splendid chance to get my neck broke, and leave a young widow.

Mr. Keefer said he’d bet I could ride any horse the fellow had.

I then gave Mr. Keefer the wink, and he followed me to the barn, when I began negotiations for a small loan to take me to Springfield. He then explained to me for the first time, that his affairs had become somewhat embarrassed, through a bad investment, and it was almost impossible for him to make both ends meet; “but,” he added, “I have never yet refused you, because I have always had faith in you; and I believe in your ability to some day make lots of money, and I will see what I can do to help you once more.”

That day he called on a friend who loaned him the few dollars I needed, and as he handed it to me he said: “I know it will all come right some day.”

I now began to realize what a pleasure it would be could I embark in a well-paying business, just at the time when Mr. Keefer was in adverse circumstances.

As there was no other opening for me, I immediately started for Springfield, where I met the young horse-trainer, Prof. De Voe, with whom I at once proceeded to form a co-partnership. He was a conundrum to me, from the very outset. A short, thick-set young man, not over eighteen years of age, with bushy, black hair, and dark eyes, a large Roman nose, and extremely small hands and feet.

He was thoroughly posted in the science of Horse-training, first-class in giving instructions, but poor in execution. I immediately wrote some advertising matter, and after having it printed we started on our trip.

Our plan was to break unruly horses, and teach the method of doing it. We would select one of the handsomest horses in the town where we were operating, and I would first break him to ride under the saddle without a bridle; then we would teach him to drive to the carriage without reins, by the motion of the whip.

We had a splendid trade for about two weeks, and worked into the State of Kentucky. We very soon learned that the people there knew more about horses than we ever knew.

My partner and myself were frequently compelled to occupy the same room at the hotels, and he would often frighten me half out of my wits, in the middle of the night, by breaking out with a beautiful song, in a sweet soprano voice; and at other times would get up in his sleep and, after taking his position on a foot-stool, would strike out in a splendid lecture on either the anatomy of the horse, or the art of training him.

I would frequently wait and let him close his speech; after thanking his supposed audience, he would again retire, without ever waking, or realizing what he had done. There was no time when I ever heard him do half so well in his lectures as when asleep.

He wore a boot three sizes too large, and gave as a reason for this, that if a horse happened to step on his feet it wouldn’t hurt his toes.

I often laughed at this foolish whim, and failed to quite understand him. We remained together until we “collapsed,” at Bowling Green, when we decided to dissolve partnership.

He pawned a small lady’s gold watch, which he said his deceased wife had left him, and with the money bought a ticket for Cincinnati. I was undecided whether to continue horse-training, or try and strike something else.

After Prof. De Voe left, I remained at the hotel but a few days, when a gentleman arrived there from the East, selling County rights for a patent gate.

I remembered having had a conversation with a gentleman the day before, who said he wanted to invest a hundred dollars in a good paying business.

I asked the patent-right man what commission he would allow if I would find a customer. He said twenty-five per cent. In less than two hours I had sold a county for one hundred dollars. I received the twenty-five dollars, and after settling my board bill, started for home.

On my way I stopped off a day in Cincinnati. While passing by a cheap second-class hotel, a voice came from an upper window: “Halloo, Johnston!” I halted, looked up and “hallooed” back. A lady, with her head projecting out of the window, said: “Come up in the sitting-room.” I did as requested.

As I opened the door, she stepped forward and extended her hand, with the remark: “How are you, Prof. Johnston? Where did you leave Prof. De Voe?” I answered the question, adding: “Madam, you know me, but I can’t place you, although your countenance looks familiar.”

She then stepped to a door leading into a bedroom, and asked me to look inside and see if I saw anything that looked natural.

The very first article my eyes fell upon was a familiar-looking valise, with the name, “Prof. De Voe,” printed on it, and the same one that I had frequently carried and had checked, on our recent horse-training trip.

I then turned to the lady, and at once saw every expression of the Professor’s face in hers, and realized for the first time how I had been deceived. Standing there before me, with the form and countenance of Prof. De Voe, was one of the handsomest and most graceful young ladies I had ever met. Instantly there came to mind the small feet, and the flimsy excuse for wearing large boots. I also called to mind the sweet soprano voice while singing, the lady’s gold watch that was pawned, the fact of the Professor having always persisted in looking under the bed before retiring, and the timidity shown at the sudden appearance of a mouse in the room; and one time in particular, when the landlord where we stopped asked if we would occupy the same room and bed, I objected seriously, telling him that I didn’t like to sleep with any man.

The incident just related is very unusual, and far from the range of most people’s experience.

The old adage, “Truth is stranger than fiction” is ably illustrated here. And to prove its authenticity, I will say that I have letters in my possession from Prof. De Voe, who is living with her second husband, in Cincinnati, in which mention is made of our experience.

I of course felt humiliated that I had traveled six weeks with a lady as partner without discovering the fact, but felt nevertheless that it was not due to my stupidity, as I could readily see how perfect her disguise was.

She explained to me that her husband Prof. De Voe had skipped to Canada, through having financial trouble, and had left her with but little money, several suits of clothes which fitted her nicely, and a fair knowledge of horse-training, in which she felt certain to succeed. I will here add that since my residence in Chicago I purchased a very handsome balky horse for ninety dollars, which I succeeded in breaking within ten days by Prof. De Voe’s method, and afterwards sold him for five hundred dollars.

While at Cincinnati I received a message summoning me home, where I arrived the following morning, and two days later became the father of a bouncing eleven-pound boy.

On my arrival home I explained to my folks “just how it all happened.”

My mother said it showed just how bright I was, to travel six weeks with a man and not know he was a woman.

Mr. Keefer said he guessed there was no harm done.