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


We then made a trip through Indiana, and met with virtually no success at all; and very soon paid out almost our last dollar for actual expenses.

One day we had occasion to go to a small station to take the cars for Fort Wayne, when the telegraph operator left his office for a few minutes to go after the mail.

I stepped to the instrument, called the Toledo office, and sent a message to our late landlord at Napoleon, as follows:

“Send to my partner and me two dozen cream biscuit to Fort Wayne, express prepaid. We need them.”

After checking the message dead head, signed my name, and returned to the waiting-room.

When the operator returned, the Toledo office, whose duty it was to transfer the message to Napoleon, called him up and asked who Johnston was; and wanted to know further, why his message should be dead-headed. The operator answered that he knew nothing about it, and didn’t think it was his business to inquire into other people’s affairs. They told him he had better wake up and know what he was doing; and said it was his duty to collect pay for messages, and not send them for nothing. I listened attentively to what passed between them; but finally our side won by his saying that he wanted them to understand he was running that office himself, and needed no advice.

The next day after reaching Fort Wayne, we received a letter from the landlord, in which he stated that it would be impossible for him to send cream biscuit by express, but said: “Please find enclosed the recipe for making them.” We gladly accepted it, and had the pastry cooks at different hotels make them for us, which greatly pleased every one else who partook of them, besides ourselves. Later on, I made use of the recipe by presenting it to my aunt, Mrs. Frances E. Owens, and it has long been one of the favorite recipes of Mrs. Owens’ Cook Book.

From Fort Wayne we went back through Ohio and stopped at Findlay, where, just as we were about to close a trade, I received a letter from the patentee saying he had bargained to sell out all his right to one man, and requested me to return the papers at once, and not to make another sale under any circumstances.

I complied with his request. The next day we met on the streets of Findlay a gentleman having a sample band-cutter an attachment for a two-tined fork, to be used when threshing.

The man who pitched the bundles from the stack to the machine cut the bands on each bundle at the same time he pitched them. This had just been patented, and he was anxious to have us take the agency for the United States. We concluded to do so, and went to a lawyer’s office and fixed up a Power of Attorney for the whole United States from him to me.

Profiting from my experience in losing a good sale, as just related, I had the following clause added: “This Power of Attorney is revocable upon thirty days notice from the said patentee.”

The attorney then informed me that according to the United States laws we would be compelled to have our Power of Attorney recorded at Washington, D. C. We therefore sent it on for that purpose, with instructions to the Recorder to mail it to Fort Wayne, Ind., as soon as possible.

On our way back to Fort Wayne we stopped off at Lima one day, and at that place had our valise stolen from the depot. It contained all the shirts and collars and cuffs belonging to both of us, except those we had on, besides other articles of value to us.

This left us in hard luck, as we had only about money enough to buy each of us another shirt, a box of paper collars and cuffs, and some cheap socks upon arrival at Fort Wayne.

It was economy to wear paper, so as to lighten our laundry bills.

Another exceedingly bad feature of our loss was the absence of a piece of baggage to help convince the landlord of our responsibility.

However, we ventured to a very respectable hotel, where we engaged a first-class room, and waited patiently for the return of our Power of Attorney from Washington. The landlord was a very pleasant, agreeable gentleman, quite suitable to our convenience. We made it as pleasant as possible for him. A stranger might easily have mistaken one of us for the proprietor and him for the guest.

By telling innumerable good stories, and constantly reminding him of his excellent qualities as a hotel-keeper, and the wide reputation he bore as such, we managed to “hold him down,” as we termed it, very satisfactorily.

In the meantime we were constantly on the alert for some one who would like to speculate, so we could make a deal without delay, after the arrival of our papers from Washington. After being there about three days, we concluded to change shirts, which brought our new ones into requisition. We then sent the ones we took off to a washerwoman, a few doors away. These we left with her until obliged to make another change. When that time came, three or four days later, we were at our wits’ end to know how to get possession of the clean ones, as we were completely stranded.

We held a consultation, and almost every imaginable scheme suggested itself. At last we hit upon one that seemed feasible.

A bright young boot-black frequented the hotel corner, and had taken quite a fancy to us, and given us an occasional complimentary shine.

We asked him to our room, and informing him that we had a great plot that needed his assistance, we required him to make an oath never to “give it away,” nor to betray us in any way, shape, form or manner. He agreed to swear.

I then procured a Bible from the landlord, and “the kid,” as we called him, placed his left hand on the Book, and raised his right, as I administered the oath.

He swore by all the Gods in Israel, and all the people in Indiana, that he would be true to his trust.

Frank and I then took off our shirts, and wrapping them in paper, informed “the kid” of our predicament, and of the fact that we would be obliged to remain shirtless in our room while he took the bundle to the washerwoman and left them as security for the laundered, without money and without price.

We gave him special instructions, just how to manipulate matters in order to be successful.

He said: “Oh, what cher giv’n us? Don’t yer s’pose I know how to ’fake de olé hen’?”

He scampered off, and returned very shortly with our laundry, when we hastened to make our toilet for the six o’clock dinner.

We expected our papers from Washington inside of ten days from the time we sent them. In this we were disappointed, and were compelled, to use “the kid” several times to carry out “de exchange act” “wid de olé hen,” as he called it.

After repeating it several times, he came in one evening very much excited, and said:

“Yer can bet yer life it was by de skin o’ my teeth I ever collar’d der wash dis time. De olé gal’s gittin’ dead on, an’ says if de gemmen are such big-bugs dey better settle; but I gin’ her a great song an’ dance, an’ squeared her up.”

We asked if he had any idea she would stand another deal of that kind.

“Yer can bet I’ll fix ’er,” he replied.

Frank then said: “Well, you young rascal, you can bet you’d better ’fix ‘er.’ Don’t you ever be guilty of leaving the dirty shirts unless you get the clean ones in their stead. If you ever come back here without any shirts, I’ll throw you out this window, as sure as you’re a live kid.”

The next Saturday, late in the afternoon, we called “the kid” in to do “the exchange act” again. We gave him some special instructions, desiring him to distinctly understand that it wouldn’t be healthy for him to venture back to us without two shirts of some kind.

He didn’t seem to have the same assurance and confidence as usual, but said “he’d fix ’er.” We remained in our room, sitting on the bed without shirts about the usual length of time, when, “the kid” not returning, we began to feel a little shaky.

Directly the door flew open, and in came the chambermaid, and rushed to the commode with clean towels. We had forgotten to lock the door. Frank, with his fund of ready wit, instantly jumped to the floor, and sang out: “Well, put on your gloves again; I’ll try you one more round before supper!”

When the door closed on us we had a good laugh, as we had frequently indulged in, when sitting there in that awkward, shirtless, expectant predicament.

Our laugh, although hearty, was of short duration, for we suddenly became serious and anxious about the return of “the kid.” An hour passed and no kid, and still worse no shirts.

We walked the floor, opened the door and looked towards the stair-way, then raised the window curtain and peeked out upon the street, hoping to get a glimpse of him.

Another half hour passed, and no “kid.” We imagined everything that could have befallen him.

Two hours passed; another half hour and we had been imprisoned two hours and-a-half and it was now about supper time.

A few moments later I opened the door, and looking towards the stair-way, discovered “the kid,” leaning over the bannister, gazing vacantly in the direction of our room.

I yelled:

“Come here, kid! For Heaven’s sake, what’s up?”

“Yer never’ll git me inter de room, ter be pitched out de winder,” he replied.

“No, no,” we said, “come in; come in and explain. We won’t harm you. Come in.”

He then ventured in, very cautiously, and explained:

“Well, sir gemmen, de olé gal nailed ’em all, spite of eb’ry ting I could do; she got de whole shootin’ match, and I didn’t know whedder to come back or not.”

“Heavens and earth! Frank; what are we going to do now?” I asked.

“Well,” said he, “this has been a great scheme of yours. That’s a great head, yours. Guess we’re stuck for good, this time.”

“The kid” said he guessed he’d have to go to supper.

We told him we guessed he’d not go to supper till he got us out of that shirt scrape. “Remember your oath, you young hyena,” I said.

He answered: “That’s so; guess I’ll have to go without my supper, to-night.”

At last, after many schemes had been devised and rejected, we hit upon one that helped us out. We demanded of “the kid” that he take off his shirt; and after donning his coat and vest, instructed him to throw back his coat-collar, and go down street to some furnishing-goods dealer, and either beg, or buy on credit, a shirt. We began telling him what to say, when he headed us off with:

“Oh, whatcher givin’ us? I guess I know how ter give ’em der stiff,” and started.

He called on several dealers; and after giving “De song and dance,” finally made a raise of a new shirt.

We asked what the man said when he called for such a large size?

Oh, de olé hoosier neber tumbled at all, but just planked ’er out, and said: ‘If yer eber git any money, come an’ pay fer it.’”

We asked if he thought he could manage to get another one in the same way.

He said he was afraid to try, because an officer was going to run him in “’cause he hadn’t any shirt on, and looked so tough.”

I then donned the shirt, also a paper collar and cuffs, and went down to supper, leaving Frank to silent meditation.

After eating, I returned to the room, took off the shirt, and Frank put it on and went to supper, while I remained and did the meditation act.

He staid away more than two hours, which worried me considerably.

I wondered what upon earth had become of him, but felt certain he was too true a friend to abscond with my half of the shirt.

Even if it wasn’t paid for, I knew by right that I owned half of that shirt.

When he did return he brought good news.

He had spent over an hour with a furnishing-goods dealer, “squaring him up” so as to buy some things on credit.

When asked with what luck, he answered:

“Well, I ordered six shirts, six pairs of socks, two dozen linen collars, one dozen pairs linen cuffs, and one dozen handkerchiefs, with instructions to send them to the hotel office, and Mr. Johnston would send them a check in a day or two,” and added that the goods would be delivered that evening.

“But, Frank,” I said, “you will get us into trouble. How can we fix the check business? You know I can’t send them one. It’ll make us trouble, sure.”

“Very well, it can’t make us any worse trouble than we are having. As for myself, I’d rather go to jail with a shirt on, than to sit here in this dingy, gloomy old room half of my time without any.”

“Yes,” I said, “that’s so. I’d rather go on the chain-gang for thirty days, than go through another such an ordeal as this.”

The goods were not sent as promised, and we spent a very restless night.

I dreamed of arriving home without any shirt on, and in my dream heard my mother’s voice saying: “Well, I am really glad you reached home with your pants on,” while Mr. Keefer remarked: “It does beat the dl!”

Frank dreamed he was in attendance at a swell entertainment, and suddenly discovered the absence of his shirt.

I insisted that Frank should not sleep in the shirt, in order to keep it clean as long as possible, and to keep peace he laid it off when retiring. In the morning I was the first one up, and proceeded to put it on.

As I was passing through the hall on my way to breakfast, I met the chambermaid. She smiled and asked if we made a practice of sparring every day.

I replied: “We always take our regular exercises.”

She said: “How nice it is to be rich. Just see how much pleasure you gentlemen take in your every-day amusements, while people like us have to work hard, and never have any pleasure.”

I told her that we always had great times, wherever we were. She said she guessed that was so.

After breakfast I returned to the room, and let Frank have the shirt to wear to breakfast; after which he came in with a large package containing his order.

I lost no time in getting into a shirt, and, in fact, to tell the truth, we each put on three shirts, for fear that some unforeseen accident might occur. I might also add that we resolved when we put those shirts on, that no outside one should ever be taken off unless it was actually soiled.

The old adage, “Misfortunes never come singly,” was well illustrated in our case; for before night I was interviewed by the landlord in quite an unexpected manner. While standing near the wash-room he came rushing up to me, and calling me to one side, said:

“Johnston, I want to ask a little favor of you.”

“Very well, landlord; I’ll be glad to grant it, if I can. What is it?”

“Well, I want to ask you to loan me twenty-five dollars for just two days, and I will

“Well, landlord,” I interrupted, “I’d let you have it, but

“Well, now, look here, Johnston, don’t think I am dunning you, don’t think I am afraid of you,” he hurriedly explained.

“Oh, no,” said I. “I understand that, landlord, but I’ll tell you how it is; you see

“Don’t think I am dunning you, Johnston, don’t think that, for I’ll hand it right back to you in a day or two,” he again assured me.

“That’s all right,” I said, “that’s all right. I was going to say, I’d let you have it in a minute, if I had it; but I haven’t got it.”

“Well! how much have you?” He asked in a much-surprised manner.

“I’ll tell you all about it,” I answered. “When we arrived here, nearly six weeks ago, we had about two dollars left, after buying each of us a shirt; and I don’t think we have over twenty cents between us, just at present.”

He gazed at me in silence for a moment, and then said:

“What on earth am I going to do?”

“Well, indeed, I don’t know; but perhaps you can borrow it from some friend of yours; at any rate, it won’t do any harm to try.”

“No, but, I mean what am I going to do about your board bill?”

“Oh, I see. Oh, well, landlord, you needn’t worry about that. We are well pleased with your accommodations, and haven’t the slightest thought of quitting you.”

“Yes; but the longer you stay the worse I am off,” said he.

“Well, I can’t see how you make that out. The longer we stay the more we will owe you.”

“Exactly so, and that’s where the trouble lies.”

“Well, the more we owe you the more you will have coming,” I suggested; “and I’ll just say this: That we have been traveling over a large scope of country, and yours is one of the best hotels we have ever stopped at; and I’ll give you my word as a gentleman that we’ll never leave till our bill is settled.”

“But, it!” He ejaculated. “I tell you the longer you stay the worse I am off, and the harder it will be to settle.”

“But,” said I, “you don’t understand the nature of our business. If you did you would know that it would be as easy for us to pay a large bill as a small one.” I then added:

“Rest assured, landlord, that until this bill is paid in full one hundred cents on the dollar you can always count on two Star boarders.”

We then stared at each other for about two minutes, when he began to laugh, and said:

“Well, you’re a dandy! Come and take a drink.”

“No, thank you; I never drink.”

“Take a cigar, then.”

“I never smoke, landlord.”

“Well, what on earth do you do? I’d like to show my appreciation of the style of man you are, by treating or doing something to please you.”

“Then I’ll tell you what you can do, landlord; while you are out borrowing the twenty-five dollars, suppose you make it about forty, and let us have the fifteen to settle up our wash bill, and pay a little bill we owe across the road.”

And to show him the necessity of helping us out, I plainly told him the facts about how we had been getting our laundry, and our experience of the previous day.

He laughed till he fell on the floor; and then took me to his wife’s apartments and asked me to relate the circumstances to her two lady friends.

He borrowed the fifteen dollars for us, and said we should make ourselves comfortable, which we were glad to do. We then relieved ourselves of the two extra shirts each, and again settled down to business.

Our papers at last arrived from Washington, and we began closing up a few trades we had been working up. They were mostly small ones, however, and usually for collaterals which we were obliged to convert into money at a sacrifice.

Finally we dealt for a horse and carriage, which was turned over to the landlord as settlement for board, and which he was just then in need of. After paying back the fifteen dollars he had loaned us, we took our departure.