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


We held frequent consultations, and discussed the situation with a feeling that our prospects were not the brightest. I again ventured to suggest that I ought to get out and “hus’le,” as winter would soon be upon us, and my family would need money.

This threw him into a frenzy at once, and he reminded me that to leave him there in that predicament would be a violation of faith and true business principles. He seemed determined that we should live or die together.

One day I said to him:

“Doctor, the old landlady ought to have some one to manage her business, and

“Well,” he quickly answered, “I’d make a devilish fine appearance trying to run this dizzy old house, wouldn’t I?”

“No, but why couldn’t I run it, and you be my ‘star’ boarder?”

“Well, that’ll do, that’ll do; that’s different, quite different.”

“You know, Doctor,” said I, “we are in debt for board, and whatever we undertake must be done with much care and precision. Now, you go to the old landlady and tell her I am a practical hotel man, and the most trustworthy, energetic, economical and pushing sort of fellow you ever knew; and that she ought to hire me to take full charge of the house.”

This idea pleased him mightily, and he said he believed he could fix it, and would try.

“Yes, I believe you can, if it can be done, for I know the old lady is a little bit gone on you, any how. I remember of seeing you and her in the up-stairs hall, the other day, talking in a way that showed pretty plainly how things stand.”

“Well there!” he screamed, “that’s the latest. Now you’ll have something else to harp on, you young scapegrace, and without the slightest foundation for it. Do you think I am a fool? Do you think I’d recommend you to that old lady, when you are on the verge of scandalizing both her and myself? Not much not much, sir; and I’ll sue you for slander if you ever hint such a thing; and I’ll get judgment, too, and

“Yes,” I interrupted, “and I suppose you would attach my dozen bottles of Incomprehensible Compound to satisfy the judgment.”

I then convinced him that I was only joking. Shortly afterwards he called on the old lady, and did as I requested.

She called me into the sitting-room and asked how I thought I would like to take charge of her house.

I told her I would take the position provided I could have full charge of everything, the same as if I owned the house.

She said that was just what she would like, and inquired what salary I wanted. I told her one hundred dollars per month, and board for family. She offered me seventy-five, and agreed to sign papers.

I accepted, and the next morning took possession.

My first move was to call the help all together and promptly discharge them. The old lady came running down stairs, as soon as she heard of this, and demanded an explanation.

I reminded her that I was landlord, and that if she would retire to her room and remain there quietly, all would come out right. The Doctor said I knew less about running a hotel than I did about medicine, or I never would have done such a trick as that.

I waited till the discharged help were ready to leave, and had called at the office for their pay, when I began a compromise, and succeeded in hiring all over again except two dining-room girls, at less than their regular wages. But I promised an increase to those who took an interest and worked for an advancement.

The Doctor was elated with the prospects, and fairly danced with delight.

“And now, Johnston, for some of those cream biscuit you have told us about. Now you have a chance to see how it is yourself, to be landlord.”

The second day of my experience, we had about forty extra come to dinner men in attendance at a Convention. I was short of help in the dining room, and also short of prepared victuals.

I immediately visited the Doctor in his apartment, explained the situation, and asked why he couldn’t come into the dining room and help wait on table. He protested against it, but I gave him to understand that it was a case of absolute necessity.

He swore a few oaths, and said it showed how much sense I had, to discharge my help the first thing.

As an incentive for him to act, I ventured the remark that the landlady was going to help, and would like him to do so if he could.

“Is she going to help? Well, then, all right. I’ll help you out this one time, but never again.”

I took him to the dining room, and after he took his coat off, put a large white apron on him and gave him a few instructions. We had five kinds of meat, and I posted him thoroughly as to what he should say to the guests.

Directly I called dinner, and the tables were soon filled.

The Doctor watched from the kitchen for the cue from me to make a start. When I gave it he entered in his shirt-sleeves, with the large apron on, carrying an immense tray in one hand and his gold-headed cane in the other, and had forgotten to take his plug hat off. It was setting on the back of his head, and his appearance was grotesque in the extreme.

He gave me a look of disgust as he marched in, and faltered for a moment, as though not quite certain where to commence. Then he made another start, and stepping up to the nearest man, rested the tray on the back of his chair, and stood partially leaning on his cane; and looking over his glasses, said:

“Roast beef, roast mutton, roast well, roast mutton, roast meat, roast it! we have twenty-one different kinds of meat. What’ll you have?”

By this time I had been forced to leave the room for laughter, returning as soon as I could command myself. The Doctor was up to his ears in business. Perspiring profusely, and much excited, he still hung to his cane and plug hat. He was absolutely the most comical sight I had ever witnessed.

When I met the Doctor at the kitchen door, with the tray piled up with several orders, he took time to say:

“ it! I thought you said the landlady was going to help.”

For fear he would quit, I ran to the stair-way and called her. She came down, and I explained as quickly as possible, and she said she would help; and putting on an apron, began work immediately.

We had Lima beans for dinner, and being a little short on them, were obliged to dish them out in small quantities. The Doctor served one man who, with one swoop, took into his mouth all he had, in one spoonful, and immediately handed his dish back to the Doctor, saying:

“Here, waiter, bring me another bean!”

The Doctor struck a dramatic attitude, and glared over his spectacles one hand clasped the middle of his cane, and his plug hat poised side-wise on the back of his head, and he shouted excitedly:

“Sir, I want you to understand we know how many beans there was in that dish. Besides, I’m I’m I’m no table waiter, and I demand that you address me differently. In short, I demand satisfaction for your cussed insolence, sir!”

Every man in the dining room dropped his knife and fork and looked on in astonishment. The gentleman addressed by the Doctor apologized to his entire satisfaction, and matters went on smoothly until just as the Doctor was making for the dining room with a tray full for two newcomers. The landlady, with a tray full of dirty dishes, met him at the kitchen door. She had attempted to pass back through the wrong passage-way, and a general collision was the result. The Doctor had gotten just far enough along so that every dish on his tray went crashing on the dining-room floor, and a cup of hot tea went into the top of one shoe. Before he fairly realized whom he had collided with, he broke out with a volley of oaths sufficient to turn the old lady’s hair white in a few seconds.

I hastened to the rescue, and instantly reminded him of the awful fact that he was cussing the landlady. He lost no time in apologizing politely, and assured her that he alone was to blame for the mishap.

The man who had been forced to make an apology to the Doctor a few moments before, was immensely pleased, and when about to leave the table, cried out:

“Professor, had you counted those beans before you dropped the dishes?”

The Doctor then said he guessed the rush was over now, and he would leave it for us to finish; after which he repaired to his room, and after making his toilet preparatory to eating dinner, sent for me and requested that I arrange with the landlady to dine with him, which of course I did, and also promised him that I would have my favorite cream biscuit for tea that night.

Matters went on very nicely, with the exception of experiencing considerable trouble in getting good chambermaids and table-waiters. The Doctor declared point blank that he would never, under any circumstances, wait on table again; so I saw the necessity of securing suitable help at once.

A few days later, two young men came to the hotel, registered, and began hus’ling around in a manner that reminded me of my late patent-right partner and myself in Indiana.

I spotted them at once and began taking notes on their manners. We had had cream biscuit for supper twice; and as all were unanimous in pronouncing them very fine, I had given orders to have them again on the day of the arrival of my two hus’lers. I gave my opinion of them to the Doctor, and remarked that they would have to settle in advance before I would give them a room.

He reminded me that I should not forget how convenient I had found it to be confided in by the different landlords, and that I should not be too rough on them. I fully agreed with him; but I had experienced the truth of the fact that only a small percentage of men were ever able to pay such bills, after getting behind, even though they had a disposition to do so. Consequently, I determined to commence right, and try and keep right.

That night, while the Doctor and several others were in the office, and while I was behind the counter, one of the young men came in from up town, having just visited the barber shop; and with his silk hat slightly tipped to one side of his head, and one kid glove on, stepped over near me, and after telling the latest story in his blandest and most fascinating manner, turned to me and said:

“Landlord, how about cream biscuit for supper? I hear you have

He was interrupted right then and there; for laying my hand gently on his shoulder, I said in a firm voice:

You have got to pay in advance, sir.”

“What’s up?” he asked, excitedly.

“There is nothing up, sir,” I answered, “but you have got to settle right off. The cream biscuit racket don’t go, with me. Pay up, or you can’t stay.”

He said he would pay up till the next day, which he did, and then went in to supper.

During this interview the Doctor had commenced to laugh, and almost danced the Highland Fling in his gleeful excitement, and attempt to leave the room. As soon as the door had closed on the young man, he returned, and laughed and hopped around in his characteristic manner, and said:

“Why the cussed fool might have known that he couldn’t have said a thing on earth that would have put you onto him as quick as to flatter the cream biscuit.”

In less than three minutes the other hus’ler came in, and rushed up to the wash-stand to make his toilet. The Doctor looked at him over his specs, with a broad grin on his countenance.

After washing and combing his hair, he told a funny story, and said:

“Put us down for a good room, landlord. You have a nice hotel, landlord. It’s everything in knowing how to run a house.”

He then placed his hands behind him and backed up to the stove.

I glanced over towards the Doctor, who by this time was in the farther corner of the office, with one hand over his mouth, and the other holding his hat and cane; and one foot in the air, ready to make a break for out of doors.

I answered the young man by saying:

“Yes, sir, it’s everything in knowing how to run a hotel; and you have got to pay in advance if you stay here.”

“Well, I am surprised, landlord; but I supposed you were a good enough judge of character to know the difference between a gentleman and a dead beat.”

I assured him that I didnt doubt his honesty, but I was willing to wager that he hadnt money enough to pay one week in advance. And as it took money to keep things running and

And buy cream biscuit, shouted the Doctor,

I had got to have my pay in advance.

He then acknowledged that he was a little short, but would probably be able to pay the next day. I told him he could have his supper, lodging and breakfast, but nothing more.

The next morning they both came to me and owned up that they were “broke.”

I then hired one of them for hostler and the other for clerk.

About this time I succeeded in getting the landlady’s consent to re-model a part of the house. She said she didn’t care to be bothered with it, nor to remain there and listen to the noise; so she would go and visit her friends in Detroit, and leave me to fix things to suit myself. She said also she had all confidence in me, and felt certain I would do even better than she could.

Before leaving, she instructed me to go ahead and get what I wanted, as her credit was good anywhere.

By the time had fairly reached the depot to take the train, I had engaged several carpenters, painters, plasterers, bricklayers, and teams to do our hauling.

I very soon had the old hotel in a condition suitable for business, by tearing down old partitions, building up new ones, papering and painting thoroughly, and adding a lot of new furniture and carpets.

I had the whole outside of the old shell painted, a portion of which I ordered done in brick-color, and penciled.

The latter part, the neighbors claimed, fooled the landlady so badly, when she returned a few weeks later, that she didn’t know when she arrived home, and kept right on up street, making inquiries and looking for her hotel. How much truth there was in this statement I do not know, but I well remember the expression on her countenance when I answered her query of how much the whole thing would cost, by informing her that I didn’t think it would amount to over fifteen hundred dollars. I remember how she fell back on the sofa in a sort of swoon, and when she recovered herself, faltered out that she was ruined forever.

I very soon convinced her, however, that the improvements had greatly enhanced the value of her property; and she seemed to appreciate my services more than ever.

During her absence of several weeks, the Doctor and I had some very interesting times.

The day after her departure our chambermaid eloped with one of the boarders. I advertised for help immediately, but without success.

About this time a young Teutonic fellow came along, and asked for something to eat. After giving him his dinner, I asked if he was looking for work. He said he was, and would work mighty cheap.

I asked if he would like to be a chambermaid, and make up beds, and sweep. He exclaimed:

“Oh, yah, yah; I youst so goot a shampermait as notting else.”

“Well then, Dutchy, I’ll give you four dollars per week, provided I can find a coat and vest for you to wear, as yours is too rough-looking for that business.”

I then took him up-stairs and made a vigorous search for second-hand clothes, but found none. I next entered the room previously occupied by the late runaway maid, and found three old dresses and a hoop skirt left by her. I took a dress from the nail, and picking up the hoop skirt said:

“Here, Dutchy, put these on.”

He shook his head slowly, and indicated to me that he wouldn’t do it. I reminded him that he was in my employ, and must obey me.

Then he took off his coat and vest, and was about to divest himself of his other garments, when I instructed him to leave them on, and told him how nice the dress would be to keep his comparatively new pants clean.

After donning the dress, which fitted him well and was quite becoming to him, I borrowed the Doctor’s razor, and he shaved himself clean, and parted his fair, bushy hair in the middle; and there, before me, to all appearances was a typical German girl. He entered upon his duties at once. The Doctor said he guessed we would have no more serious trouble with chambermaid elopements. I told him I wasn’t so certain about that, and invited him up-stairs to see Dutchy.

When we came to the room where I had left him, I said: “Go right in, Doctor; you will find Dutchy there. I’ll be back in a minute.”

The Doctor bolted in, and immediately dodged back, and cried out:

“Johnston, there is a woman in there!”

“Oh, thunder! you have lost your head, since the landlady left.”

This was enough; and he opened up on me with several volleys of oaths, and offered to bet me the price of a new hat that there was a woman in that room making up beds. I took the bet and entered the room, the Doctor following, and immediately crying out:

“There, smarty, there! Guess you will learn to believe what I tell you, once in a while.”

“But I have won, Doctor.”

“Johnston, do you claim now you bet there was a woman in here?”

“No, sir; but I’ll bet the price of another hat that I can prove to you that I have won.”

“All right, sir; I’ll take you.”

We shook hands on it, and I said:

“Dutchy, come around here and show the Doctor your pants.”

He did so; and the Doctor didn’t know whether to believe his own eyes or not. I asked when he would buy me the two hats. He said: “Never! I’ll be if I will be taken in on any confidence game.”

I agreed to let it go, if he would keep still about Dutchy’s dress, and furnish a razor for him to shave with every morning. He promised, and we had a hearty laugh over the matter.

The next day, as I was passing through the hall-way, Dutchy came to the door of the room where he was working, and said:

“Mr. Johnston, I find a pair of pants here youst exactly like mine.”

I stepped in, and sure enough, there hung a pair in the Irish shoemaker’s room, the exact counterpart of Dutchy’s.

I explained to Dutchy that we would have a little fun with the Irishman, and told him to wait for instructions from me before he attempted to play his part.

I then took the pants down to the office, and let the Doctor into the secret.

The next Saturday the Irishman came rushing down stairs in great excitement, and reported the loss of his pants. I said:

“Well, Irish, if you don’t find them, I’ll go with you to pick out another pair.”

“But, be the Howly Moses! will yez pay for thim?”

I told him I’d see that he paid for them. He threatened to leave, but the Doctor helped to quiet him down.

I then found Dutchy and told him to try and call at the Irishman’s room the next day when he was in, and manage in some way to raise his dress, so that the Irishman would get a glimpse of his pants. He assured me he would fix that all right.

On Sunday morning, about ten o’clock, Irish came rushing down stairs on the jump, rushed up to me, and said:

“Be the Howly St. Crispin and Moses in the bulrushes! May the divil fly away wid me if I haven’t found moy pants!”

“Good! Good! Where were they?”

“Howly Moses! come wid me to wan side. I’ll tell yez on the quiet.”

“Never mind about the quiet, Irish. Sing out; tell everybody.”

“Oh, be jabers! ye’d laste expect to find thim where I seed thim.”

“Well, tell us.”

“Yes, tell us,” said the Doctor.

“Well,” he hesitatingly said, “be the howly shmoke, the ould chambermaid has thim on, as sure as I’m a loive Irishman!”

“Oh, nonsense!” I replied. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, to come down here in the presence of these men and try to injure the character of that poor chambermaid.”

“By the great horned spoon! but she has the pants on, and Oi’ll have thim, charackther or no charackther, Misther Landlord!”

“Well, now, see here, Irish, I’ll bet the cigars for the crowd, that she hasn’t got your pants on.”

“All right, sir, all right, sir; I’ll take that bet.”

While we were shaking hands on the bet, the Doctor took a bundle from under the counter containing the pants and ran up to the Irishman’s room, and hung them up.

We then went up-stairs, accompanied by several bystanders, and after reaching the Irishman’s room, I called to the chambermaid to come in.

Irish stood waiting for me to introduce the subject to the maid, and I waited for him. I then turned to him and said:

“Well, Irish, prove your case.”

“Well, be jabers! d’ye s’pose I am going to insult this lady? Not by a dang sight, pants or no pants.”

I turned to Dutchy and said:

“Have you got Irish’s pants on?”

“Nix; I youst got my own pants.”

“Well, come around here, Dutchy, and show Irish your pants.”

Obeying my order, the dress was raised, exposing the pants to view.

Irish straightened himself up, and in a very triumphant manner, said:

“Well, there, Misther Landlord, I giss yez are quite well satisfied. I’ll take the cigars, and the pay for thim pants, if yez plaise.”

I turned round and said:

“Whose pants are these hanging here, Irish? Did you have two pair alike?”

He looked at them and said:

“Be gobs! she took thim off while me back was turned.”

I then offered to bet him the cigars that she didn’t.

He said he’d bet no more, but he knew there was some chicanery, or dom hy-pocritical prognostication, somewhere.

I then asked the chambermaid to raise the dress again, which was done, and Irish left the room disgusted, and muttering a few oaths to himself. Afterwards he paid the cigars for the crowd.

He then asked if I wud explain what the divil right any chambermaid had to wear pants, anyhow.

I answered that it was none of my business, and I hoped I was too much of a gentleman to meddle with other people’s private affairs.

This last assertion offended him very much, and he quickly gave me to understand that he was as much of a gintleman as I was and niver failed to moind his own business.

I told him that might be, but it was very strange to me how he should make such singular discoveries.

He then made a full explanation, and I overlooked it all.