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


Three days later I borrowed a saddle and started on horseback toward the west, leaving Frank to dispose of the buggy and harness.

I returned to Elmore the second night out, about nine o’clock. After putting my horse out, called at the hotel to visit my wife and see the boy.

The next day, while we were sitting in our room, the landlord, Mr. Hineline, came up, saying that a detective was down in the office, or at least a man claiming to be one, making all sort of inquiries about us.

I instructed the landlord, who was a sharp, shrewd little gentleman, how to act and what to say, and instructed my wife to enclose a letter in an envelope, and, after addressing it “J. P. Johnston, Mt. Vernon, O. If not called for in 5 days forward to Columbus; if not called for in 5 days forward to Dayton,” she slipped down to the office and asked the landlord to please mail it for her. He carelessly laid it down on the desk near the detective, who lost no time in jotting down the full directions.

The last we saw of him he had bought a ticket and was taking the first train for Mt. Vernon.

In a couple of days I started towards the west.

I came very near making two or three horse-trades, and no doubt would have succeeded, if I hadn’t felt every minute that some one was going to swoop down upon me, and capture me and my horse.

I didn’t feel as if I ought to stop a minute anywhere. I could look ahead to certain places where I thought no detective on earth could discover me till I could make a deal; but when I would reach there I invariably felt the same as at all other places, and was constantly on the alert watching the corners, which alone was enough for any one man to busy himself at.

I arrived the following Sunday at Grand Rapids, Ohio, a small town on the Maumee River, and also on a canal. I put my horse up, and took dinner at the hotel; after which a very hard-looking character, claiming to have lost all his money gambling with his chums, the river men, stepped up to me in the barn and asked if I would give him money to pay for his dinner.

“Certainly,” I said, handing him twenty-five cents, saying, as I did so, “I’ll give you half of all I possess.” He thanked me, and said:

“Say, you’re a gentleman, and I’ll give you a pointer: There’s an officer here after you.”

That was all he had to say. I then said:

“Here, help saddle and bridle my horse, quick!”

He did so, and helped me to mount, and with a long stick which he picked up, struck my horse across the hip and yelled:

“Now you’re all right!” as I passed out on a full gallop. Just as I was leaving the barn I heard a voice cry out:

“Stop that man! Stop that man!”

“Go it, you son-of-a-gun!” my new friend yelled; and I did “go it.”

I steered my course toward Swanton, arriving there that night, with just twenty-five cents in my pocket.

I had an old friend living there who was a painter by trade, besides numerous acquaintances. It will be remembered that it was at this same town I had resigned my position as Telegraph operator a few years before.

I very soon called on my old landlord, who gave me a hearty welcome. After putting my horse out, I settled down for the night.

The next morning I called on my friend, who had just finished a job of painting, but could not collect his bill at once, and being a little short himself, was unable to assist me.

I asked if he had a good credit there, and he replied that he could buy anything he wanted on time.

I then asked if he could hire a horse and buggy on those terms, and he said he could.

“Well then, you come to a drug store with me and we will buy some patent medicine, or something that we can sell to the farmers, and we will travel through the country with your hired rig, leading my horse behind, and peddle from house to house on our way to Adrian, Mich., where I can possibly sell my horse, and you can then return home.”

He then suggested that it would be a good scheme to take a pot of copal varnish and brush along, and take jobs of the farmers to varnish pieces of furniture, charging a certain price for each piece.

“Well,” said I, “why not sell them the varnish, and let them do the work themselves?”

“But they can buy all the varnish they want right here where we buy it.”

“That’s true,” I answered, “but they can’t buy our kind at any drug store.”

He laughed, and said he guessed I’d find people in that country up to the times.

“Very well, then, so much the better, if they are, for they’ll want something new; and I don’t think there has been any one along selling them ounce bottles of copal varnish for fifty cents!”

No, he said he hadn’t heard of any one doing so, and didn’t think it could be done.

I insisted it could be done.

We then called on the druggist, who had plenty of varnish, but only four empty bottles in stock.

We got a tin pail, and bought one gallon of varnish and the four bottles.

The druggist exhibited some brushes, saying we would have to use one to apply the varnish while showing it up.

“No, thank you,” I replied. “All I want is a piece of Canton flannel. It won’t do to apply it with a brush. I understand your people here are up with the times. If so, they want something new.”

He said he thought it extremely new to apply varnish with a cloth.

We started immediately after dinner, and commenced operations one mile out of town.

The very first house we stopped at and an old log one, at that I sold the lady three bottles for one dollar, one each for herself, her mother and her sister.

When I delivered them out of my coat pocket (we had no valise or sample case), I said to her:

“Madam, I put up this preparation myself, and I have run short of bottles. Can’t you empty the polish into something else and let me retain these?”

“Certainly,” she answered, and stepping to the pantry, she opened the door, when I noticed several bottles on the shelf.

“Now, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I will trade you some more of my preparation for a few of those bottles.”

“All right. It’s a trade.”

I returned to the buggy loaded down with bottles of all sizes, shapes and colors, and a dollar bill, which looked the size of a barn door to both of us.

I then carried our pail of varnish into the house and paid her liberally for the bottles.

I called at every house thereafter, and never missed making a sale till the eighth was reached, when the old lady declared emphatically that she didn’t have fifty cents in the house.

Then I asked if she had any eggs. She said she had.

“Very well; I’ll allow you twenty cents per dozen for them, but you must give me an old box of some kind to put them in.”

She was anxious to trade, and when I started off with two and one-half dozen, she said she believed I might have the other five dozen if I’d give her two more bottles. I accommodated her, and as I left she said she was sorry John hadn’t gathered the eggs the night before, so she could let me have more of them, as I was paying more than they had been getting.

I told her I’d wait while she gathered them.

She started to do so, but suddenly changed her mind, saying she thought
I had sold her enough of my patent staff, anyhow.

When I rejoined my new partner and friend he was delighted, and asked why I didn’t trade for the chickens.

We met with flattering success, making frequent trades as well as many cash sales. Among other trades was one I made with a lady for a sheep-pelt. Although I had not dealt in them since my early experience, I ventured to make an offer of one bottle of my preparation, which was accepted.

We staid that night with a German farmer, who looked suspiciously at our extra horse; and when we retired to a little six-by-eight room, way up in the garret, he took the pains to lock us in.

My partner said he guessed the old Dutchman took us for horse-thieves.

“Well,” I answered, “I guess he will take us for wholesale varnish peddlers before I get through with him.”

The next morning, after we were liberated, I began at once to ingratiate myself in the confidence of the old lady, in order to effect a sale.

Immediately after breakfast I introduced the patent furniture lustre, and before I had half finished my story the old lady cried out:

“I take ’em, I take ’em; how much?”

I then said:

“How much do I owe you?”

“How many oats did your horses eat?”

“Oh, about a bushel.”

“One dollar,” she said.

“Very well,” said I, “my price is one dollar, but you have been very kind to lock us up for the night, and I’ll give you two bottles for your trouble.”

Before leaving, I traded her some extra lustre for some empty bottles; and this plan I kept up during the day.

We arrived at Blissfield, Mich., where we disposed of our eggs at ten cents per dozen, and realized forty cents for the sheep-pelt, after which we replenished our stock of varnish.

I had now become more interested in my new business than in the sale of my horse; and concluded to abandon the trip to Adrian, and return to Swanton, where I could dissolve partnership with my friend, and continue the business alone, on horseback if necessary.

On our return trip to Swanton I continued to trade for eggs, where customers were short of cash; and one lady said she couldn’t understand how I could afford to pay twenty cents per dozen when the market price was but ten cents.

“Well, madam, you see, that’s the trick of the trade.”

“But,” said she, “the merchant we deal with is as tricky as any one; but he won’t pay only ten cents a dozen for eggs.”

“Yes,” I answered, “and he makes you take groceries and dry goods for them, too, while I give you something you need in exchange for them.”

She said, “That’s so.”

When we returned to Swanton we had nearly twenty dollars in cash, and that many dollars’ worth of stock on hand at retail price.

I now felt very anxious to sell my horse, as my patent-right experience was quite sufficient to convince me that such a business was no business at all.

My horse was a handsome dapple grey, and my friend said he could paint him a dark color, and so completely disguise him that no man could detect him.

I suggested that it might also be a good idea to paint me, or at least my auburn hair.

He said he wouldn’t undertake that job, but he knew he could fix the horse.

“Very well,” said I, “go ahead and paint him.”

He did so, and a first-class job it was.

I then started for Toledo on horse-back, but before I had traveled far, was caught in a heavy rain-storm. I hitched my horse in front of a school-house and went inside for shelter, by permission of the teacher.

The rain continued for about two hours, and when I returned to my horse he was absolutely the homeliest and oddest-colored brute I ever saw. The paint had run down his legs in streaks, and had formed a combination of colors more easily imagined than described. On arriving at Toledo I put my horse in a sale stable and ordered him to be sold.

The proprietor looked us both over with much suspicion, and asked from which direction I had come.

“From the west, sir,” I answered.

“From the far west?” he still further inquired.

“You’d think so, if you’d followed me,” I replied.

“Well, what in the dl ails your horse?”

“Well, sir, he fell in the Chicago River,” was my answer.

Stepping to the animal, he rubbed his fingers over the rough, sticky hair, and then placing them to his nose, said:

“Don’t smell bad, looks’s though he’d been dyed.”

“Well, I wish to he’d died before I ever saw him.”

Upon registering at a hotel to await results, I met an old acquaintance who was boarding there, and explained to him my predicament.

He said he didn’t think I would ever be able to sell my horse with all that daub on him, unless I explained just how I had traded for him. I replied that to make a full statement would surely result in a writ of replevin being served and the horse being taken from me.

A couple of days later, my friend came rushing into the hotel and informed me that two men, one a policeman, were at the barn carefully scrutinizing the horse.

I waited a few moments, when I walked leisurely to the barn, and after paying for his keeping, ordered him saddled, and immediately started out on the jump. Just as I passed from the barn I noticed a man coming on the run towards me. I put spurs to the animal, when the man yelled, “Halt! halt!” but I wasn’t halting, and kept on down the street, looking back at the gentleman as my horse sped rapidly along.

He then yelled: “Stop that man! stop that man!”

I kept looking back, and had just begun to congratulate myself on my success, when suddenly my horse came to a full stop, and I landed forward astride his neck, hanging on by his mane. I then discovered a large policeman holding him by the bit.

I dismounted, and as the gentleman who had been running behind came up to where we were, the police officer said to him:

“Mr. Cavanaugh, what shall I do with the horse?”

“Take him back to the stable, for the time being,” was the answer.

I then said:

“I now recognize you as the gentleman and detective whom I was introduced to a few weeks ago by an acquaintance from Bronson, Mich., at which place I believe you formerly resided, and where I married my wife.”

“Sure enough,” he answered. “Your wife and I were school children together. Johnston is your name.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, great Heavens! you’re no horse-thief!”

“Well, who in thunder said I was? I am sure I never said so,” was my reply.

“What have you painted this horse for?” he inquired.

“Well, I guess I’ll have to tell you privately,” I answered.

We then walked along together, and I explained everything.

“Well, this case,” said he, “has been reported to the Captain of Police; and I guess you’d better go over to his office and explain matters, and a note from him to the proprietor of the sale-stable will help you to dispose of the horse.”

We visited the Captain, to whom I explained, and as proof of my statement produced my papers and some newspaper clippings.

The Captain said if I was sleek enough to trade a lightning-rod agent out of a horse with a patent right, I ought to be pensioned. He said he’d send word to the stable-man that it was all right, which I suppose he did. At any rate, I sold out to the proprietor inside of an hour.

I then decided to go immediately to Findlay and see what grounds they had for wanting to arrest us.

On arriving there I spent about three hours in trying to find an officer who would recognize me, and possibly place me under arrest. Not successful in this, I looked for and found an officer, with whom I managed to get into conversation, and was obliged to tell him plainly who I was, before he would “take a tumble,” as the saying is.

He then said he knew all about the trade, and was acquainted with the men, and the circumstances of their offering the reward.

“Well, now,” said I, “you arrest me, and we’ll get the reward.”

“But,” said he, “the men you traded with have left town.”

I asked if he knew why they had offered a reward for us.

He said it was because the Patentee had arrived on the scene the day after our trade, and had remarked that Johnston had no authority to deed away territory in his patent; for the reason that the Power of Attorney had a clause in it which read as follows: “This Power of Attorney is revocable in thirty days from the day it is given by the said Patentee.” They then concluded to try and arrest us, and if successful possibly make us pay handsomely, or prosecute us.

This bit of information was relished by me, for I at once saw that the Patentee had gotten things badly mixed. The clause he referred to, which was the one mentioned in another chapter, read as follows: “This Power of Attorney is revocable on thirty days’ notice from the said Patentee.”

Having satisfied myself, and several acquaintances of the men we had dealt with, that we had not violated the law, I returned to Toledo, where I met Frank, who had disposed of the carriage and harness.

He left me there; and one evening at the supper table I entered into conversation with several gentlemen, one of whom related a few incidents of his experience, when I also related my late experience in selling copal varnish.

An old gentleman across the table from me then said that he had a recipe for making a furniture and piano polish that was immense. He said it would leave a beautiful hard lustre, was not sticky or gummy to the fingers, and would remove all white stains from furniture, and become perfectly dry in less than one minute from the time it was applied.

“Well, sir,” I said, “I am looking for some thing of that kind, and

“Very well,” he interrupted; “it will cost you twenty-five dollars.”

I said: “I’ll you five dollars before testing it.”

“No, sir; not one dollar less than my price.”

But he would make up a small bottle, and show me how it worked. He did so, and I was at once convinced.

I then dickered a while with him, and after satisfying myself that I could buy it for no less than his price, purchased it; and have always considered it a good investment. An Incorporated Manufacturing Company of this city now use the same recipe, supplying agents in all parts of the country.

I immediately visited Elmore, where my wife and boy still remained. After paying their board and a doctor’s bill for the boy, I took a run down to Clyde, arriving there “broke.”

I had a long talk with my folks, and explained “just how it all happened.”

My mother said she thought I had made a splendid record for a boy with a family.

Mr. Keefer said, “It did beat the devil.”