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


I remained at home but a day or two, during which time Mr. Keefer was called away on business, leaving my mother and myself to discuss the future together. I told her of my varnish experience, and about my recipe for the piano and furniture polish, and assured her that I had made a firm resolution never to sell another patent right.

She said she was glad to hear that, as it had worried her night and day during the whole time I was in that business.

I then suggested that she loan me money enough to invest in a few bottles of polish.

“Not one cent, sir.”

“Well,” said I, “it won’t take but about

“No matter,” she interrupted, “if it won’t take but ten cents you will not get it from me. You have had the last cent from us you will ever get.”

I remarked that I was sorry pa had gone away.

She said it wouldn’t matter, anyhow, for she had laid down the law to him, and he would never let me have another dollar.

“Well,” I asked, “won’t you give me money enough to get out of town?”

“No, sir; if five cents would take you to California, you should walk it before I’d give you that amount.”

I then asked if she didn’t think I was getting in rather close quarters?

“Well,” she exclaimed, “you have always been determined to ‘hus’le,’ so now keep ‘hus’ling.’”

I then called on an old friend whom I had been owing for several years, and after explaining my circumstances, borrowed three dollars, with which I repaired to a drug store and procured a stock of ingredients and bottles required for my Furniture and Piano Polish.

I then returned home, and after explaining to my mother that it would take till the next day to prepare it, asked her if she would care if I staid at her house one more night.

She laughed, and said she guessed she could stand it that long.

I then said:

“By gracious, you will have to give me money enough to get to the next town, for I won’t dare commence peddling polish where I am acquainted.”

“Indeed I’ll not give you a penny, even though you have to commence at our next-door neighbor’s,” she answered.

The next day, when my bottles were filled ready for a start, I discovered that I had no valise.

My mother said I could have that old carpet-bag that I took to New York when I was a boy, and which had been expressed back to me with my old clothes. I told her I thought it would be about what I needed, but if she had the slightest idea she could sell it, or would ever need it to make me a visit in the far west when I got rich, that I might possibly get along without it.

She said I could rest assured that she wasn’t quite so hard up as to be obliged to sell it, and if she had to wait for me to get rich before using it, she probably would never have occasion to do so.

I then visited the garret, where my mother said I would find the old bag.

As I entered the dark, gloomy place, my vision encountered innumerable relics of my past life, in the shape of toys, books, papers, skates cart-wheels, pieces of hobby-horses, and remnants of garments made by my mother and worn by me years before.

I thought of the days gone by, and the many pleasant hours I had spent at the old farm house. While I was occupied with play and enjoyment, my mother busying herself with family cares, and endeavoring to draw from me my ideas of the business or profession I would adopt when I reached manhood.

There flitted through my mind the many kind things she had said and done for me, in trying to gratify my desires and boyish whims. I was reminded that although she had often opposed me in my ideas of “hus’ling,” and was at that very time refusing to aid me, she had always been a devoted mother, with a kind and forgiving disposition, and had never ceased to show her anxiety for my welfare.

I realized that there must be a reason, best known to herself, for withholding aid from me at this time.

I then began rummaging about for the old carpet-bag, which I found hanging in a remote corner, amongst cobwebs and bunches of balm and sage. As I gazed on the companion of my first railroad trip, there flashed through my mind, with lightning-like rapidity, the three weeks of joys and sorrows we had shared together while in New York. The many ups and downs I had experienced since that time, forced themselves upon my memory, while it had been silently resting and apparently awaiting my return to accompany me on another search for fortune.

Among other things I saw hanging there was a half-worn-out, dried-up bunch of blue-beech switches.

How many times had they tickled my young hide for a breach of home discipline!

I took them in my hand, and as I gazed upon those silent reminders of the past, I said triumphantly:

“You clung to me like a brother. Your reign is over. Your day is past, while mine is just dawning. Farewell; I cherish you not. No fond memories cling around my recollections of you. The lessons you endeavored to convey were no doubt good, but, alas! they fell on barren soil. Farewell, farewell.”

And heaving a heavy sigh, I hung them on the nail, picked up my carpet-bag, and descended from the garret.

After packing the old carpet-bag with bottles, I announced my readiness for the grand start. My mother commenced crying, and asked if I didn’t think I’d better take a lunch along, in case of necessity. I said I guessed not, as she might be robbing herself to give me so much all at one time.

I bade her good bye, and I when I had gotten to the front gate she called me back, and said if I would hitch one of the horses to the carriage she would take me to Green Creek bridge, five miles out, where I could begin operations among strangers.

This me pleased me immensely, and I lost no time in carrying out her suggestion.

She drove west on the pike to the bridge, when I announced my readiness and anxiety to commence business, as it was then four o’clock and I must make a raise of a few shillings for expenses for the night.

I shall never forget the expression of solicitude and determination shown in her face as she bade me good bye, and turned to leave me; and I have since congratulated her for the firm, decisive stand she took. I have often related this incident as one of the best things that ever happened to me.

As soon as she started homeward I took the other direction.

I was mad; and the more I thought of her treatment of me the madder I got, and the more I ‘hus’led.’

At the first house I called, the old lady said she hadn’t any money, but would tell my fortune for a bottle of polish.

“Well, great Heavens!” I yelled, “go ahead, you never can tell my fortune at a better time.”

She shuffled the cards, and said I’d never do manual labor, and I was going to be rich. I would have two wives, and no telling how many children. I had had a great many ups and downs, and would have some more; but would eventually settle down. I asked if I would ever be hung. She said, “No, sir.”

During the interview she learned from me of my father’s dying before I was born. That, she said, was always a sure sign of good fortune, and a bright future was always in store for a child born under such circumstances.

I finally asked her if she could tell where I was going to stay that night. She said she couldn’t, but would wager that I wouldn’t sleep in a freight car, nor go without my supper.

I gave her a bottle of polish, and made another start, calling at the next house just as the family were about to take supper.

I rushed in, set my carpet-bag down, and laying off my hat, said in a jocular manner:

“By gracious, I’m just in time, for once.”

“Yes, you are,” said the gentleman, as he was about to take his seat at the table. “Take that seat right over there,” pointing to the opposite side of the table.

I thanked him and accepted his kind invitation. After supper I showed them my preparation, which pleased them much.

His wife asked the price. I told her fifty cents, and said:

“I want to allow you half that amount for my supper, therefore you will owe me but twenty-five cents.”

She paid me, and I started on, much elated with my success, and convinced that the old fortune-teller knew her business, as the supper part had already come true.

I called at every house until too dark to operate, making a sale at nearly every one.

I walked on to Fremont, reaching there in time for the seven-thirty train bound west.

After buying a ticket for Lindsay, I had three dollars and fifty cents in cash, and plenty of stock on hand.

I remained there over night, and am almost certain there wasn’t a housekeeper in that burgh who didn’t get a bottle of my polish the next day.

After finishing the town, I learned that the westbound train was not due for an hour. As life was short, business brisk and time valuable, I started out on foot, walking to the next town, (meeting with fair success), where I took the train for Adrian, Michigan, arriving there the next day. A very impressive fact, to me, connected with this particular trip, was my traveling over five miles of road, peddling furniture polish at twenty-five and fifty cents per bottle, that a few weeks before I had driven over with the horse and buggy, and several hundred dollars in my pocket, during our patent-right experience.

Before leaving the subject of Patent Rights, I want to say a few words for the benefit of those who may be inclined to speculate in them. Although the selling of territory or State and County rights may be considered legitimate, it is by no means a suitable business for a reputable person to follow. The deeding of territory in a Patent Right is about equivalent to giving a deed to so much blue sky. At least, the purchaser usually realizes as much from the former as he would from the latter.

Those who invest in Patent Rights invariably do so at a time when their imagination is aroused to a point where all is sunshine and brightness.

But as soon as their ardor cools off their energies become dormant, and by the time they are ready to commence business they are as unfit to do so as they were visionary in making the purchase.

An invention of merit will never be sold by County or State rights. There are any number of capitalists ready and willing to invest in the manufacture of an invention of practical use. In such cases any territory would be considered too valuable to dispose of.

Hence it should be borne in mind that, as a rule, to invest in specified territory is to purchase an absolutely worthless invention.

The man who consummates the sale will seldom have the satisfaction of realizing that he has given value received.

And without giving value received, under all circumstances, (whether in Patent Rights or any other business), no man need look for or expect success.

As experience is a dear teacher, let the inexperienced take heed from one who knows, and give all business of this character a wide berth.

Upon reaching Adrian, I discarded the carpet-bag and bought a small valise, with which I at once began business; and that night prepared more stock for the next day.

I commenced by taking the most aristocratic portion of the city, canvassing every street and number systematically, with good success.

One day, after I had succeeded in making enough money to buy a baby carriage, which I forwarded to my wife, and had a few dollars left, I was arrested for selling from house to house without a license. I explained to the officer that I hadn’t the slightest idea that I was obliged to have one. He said I must go before the city magistrate, and demanded that I should accompany him, which I did.

The old wolf lectured me as if I had been a regular boodler, and then imposed a fine which exceeded the amount in my possession by about three dollars.

I asked what the penalty would be if I didn’t pay.

He said I would have to go to jail.

“Well,” said I, “I haven’t money enough to pay my fine, and guess you might as well lock me up for the whole thing as a part of it.”

In answer to the query “how much cash I had,” I laid it all on his desk; and as he counted and raked it in, he said:

“Very well, I will suspend your sentence.”

I then asked if I could have the privilege of selling the balance of the day, so as to take in money enough to get out of town with.

He said I could.

I invoiced my stock in trade and found I had just thirteen bottles of polish on hand, and immediately went to work.

The second house at which I called was a new and unfinished one, and I was obliged to enter from the back way. I found three or four very polite and pleasant ladies, to whom I showed my polish, without effecting a sale, however.

When ready to leave the house I noticed three doors in a row, exactly alike. I was certain that the middle one was the one through which I had entered. Accordingly, facing the ladies and politely thanking them for their kind attention, and when just about saying good-bye, I opened the door and stepped back to close it after me, when I heard one of the ladies scream at the top of her voice.

It was too late.

I had disappeared gone out of sight where, I didn’t know. But I realized when I struck that I had alighted full weight on my valise of furniture polish. It was total darkness, and I heard voices saying:

“What a pity! What a shame! Do send for some one.”

Then the outside cellar door opened, letting in daylight as well as a little light on the situation.

The lady of the house had quickly come to my rescue by this entrance.

She hastily explained that the house was unfinished, and that they had not yet put stairs in their cellar-way, from the inside.

I thanked her for the kind information, but reminded her that it was unnecessary to explain, as I fully comprehended the situation.

I then picked up a shovel standing by, and after digging a deep hole in the very spot where I had struck in a sitting posture, I emptied the broken bottles and polish into it. After covering it up, and shaping and rounding the top dirt like a grave, I said to the ladies, as they stood by watching the proceedings:

“Not dead, but busted. Here lie the remains of my last fortune. If you wish to erect a monument to the memory of this particular incident you have my consent to do so. Good day, ladies, good day.”

With my empty valise I then returned to Mr. Hart’s drug store, where I had previously bought my stock, and at once ordered a small lot put up, to be ready the next morning.

From there I went to the hotel, and in conversation with a scholarly looking gentleman, learned that he was a lawyer. I told him of my arrest, and the reasons assigned for it, when he informed me that no town in the United States had any legal right to exact a license from me if I manufactured my own goods.

I then decided to remain there as long as I could do well. The lawyer said if I would do so he would defend me gratuitously if I were molested again.

I thanked him, and said:

“My dear sir, it is very kind of you to offer your services should I need them very kind indeed; and as one good turn deserves another, suppose you loan me two dollars to pay the druggist for my stock in trade?”

“Certainly, sir, certainly. Glad to do so,” he answered, as he handed me a two-dollar bill.

He then asked me to “take something.”

“No, thank you; I never drink.”

“Well, take a cigar won’t you?”

“I never smoke, either,” I answered.

“The devil you don’t! Well, this certainly isn’t your first experience in business, is it?” was his next query.

“Hardly; but why should a man drink or smoke just because he may have been in business for some time?”

“True enough,” said he, “and had I always let drink alone I could have been a rich man; and I’ll never take another drop.”

“I hope you won’t,” I replied.

He then stepped forward, and taking me by the hand, said:

“Young man, I can’t remember of ever before asking a man to drink with me who abruptly refused; and I consider yours an exceptionally rare case, considering that I had just done you a favor, and would hardly expect you to refuse. Now, sir, although you are a much younger man than I am, your conduct in this particular instance will do me a world of good; and although you are not worth a single dollar to-day, if you will always refrain from drinking, keep your head level and attend to business, you will be a rich man some day. Now, remember what I tell you.”

I told him if I met with the same success in the future as in the past,
I felt certain of the need of a level head to manage my business.

He assured me that no matter what the past had been, the more rocky it had been, the smoother the future would be.

I worked in Adrian about two weeks, meeting with splendid success, which of course enabled me to return the two dollars to my newly-made friend. From there I went to Hillsdale, and at a drug store kept by French & Son, I bought the ingredients for the manufacture of my polish.

It was my custom to take down the names of every housekeeper who patronized me, and read them to the next person I called upon.

When I started out in the morning, on my first day’s work, Mr. French’s son laughed at me, and said he guessed I wouldn’t sell much of my dope in that town.

On returning to the store at noon he inquired with considerable interest how business was.

I reported the sale of over a dozen bottles, small ones at fifty cents and large ones at one dollar. He seemed to doubt my word, and asked to see my list of names. I read them to him, and as we came to the name of Mrs. French he threw up both hands and said:

“I’ll bet you never sold her a bottle. Why, she is my mother!”

“No matter if she is your grandmother; I sold her one of the dollar bottles.”

He cried out:

“Great Heavens! father, come here and see what this man has done. He has sold mother a four-ounce bottle of dope for a dollar, that he buys from us by the gallon!”

Mr. French, Sr. said he guessed there must be some mistake about that. I assured him it was true.

Then the young man suddenly exclaimed:

“See here, I wish you would go to my house and see if you can sell my wife a bottle. She always prides herself on getting rid of agents.”

“Well, I wonder if your mother doesn’t think she can ‘fire them out’ pretty well, too?” inquired the father.

“Yes, but I’ll bet he can’t sell to my wife,” ejaculated the young man.

“Tell me where you live.”

He pointed out the house, and said he would not go to dinner till I reported.

I made the call, and returned in about thirty minutes with two dollars of his wife’s money. She had taken one bottle for herself and one for her mother-in-law, Mrs. French.

This greatly pleased both the young man and his father; and the latter said it was worth ten times the price to them, as they would now have a case to present to their wives that would ever after cure them of patronizing agents.

I assured them that their wives had actually purchased an article superior to anything they could produce. They said it didn’t matter it had all come from their store, if they didn’t know how to make it.