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


As cold weather was approaching, my wife concluded to return to Chicago, and I proceeded towards the Northwest. At Duluth I received two large packages of new goods, which came C.O.D., and which took nearly my last dollar.

I carried with me a leather trunk in which to keep my reserved stock, and as I had but a few moments’ spare time, after receiving the goods at Duluth, before the train left for Aiken, Minnesota, I put all of my new goods in the leather trunk, leaving but a small stock in my sample case. I then checked the trunk to Aiken, where I arrived at one o’clock in the morning.

From force of habit I had become accustomed to stepping forward towards the baggage car, whenever I alighted at a depot, to see that my baggage was taken off; and this time not being an exception, I remained standing by till I saw my trunk taken off and set to one side, when I proceeded to the hotel.

I expected to have a porter return to the depot and assist me in carrying it to the hotel, but on reaching there found a cheap fourth-rate house, with not less than fifty or sixty drunken woodsmen, and at once decided that the jewelry would be safer at the depot than there, and retired without it.

The next morning I presented my check and was informed that there was no piece of baggage there with a corresponding number. I told the baggage-man that I saw him take it off and set it on the platform.

He was sure he had never seen it, and at once accompanied me to Brainerd, where the general baggage-agent’s report showed that the trunk had been reported taken off at Aiken; the agent at this place then produced the duplicate to my check, and stated that the conductor of the train on which I had come from Duluth had found it on the rear end of the hind car, just after leaving Aiken. The superintendent took immediate steps towards having the matter ferreted out, and very kindly gave me a pass over the road.

It was plain to be seen that the baggage-man at Aiken had gathered up some other pieces of baggage and carried them inside, and left mine on the outside, when a couple of men picked it up, and putting it on the rear end of the car, rode a mile or two upgrade to an Indian camp, where they threw it off and then jumped off themselves. These men were traced to the head of the Mississippi River, where they took a canoe and started down stream. Nothing more was ever heard of them or the goods; and as the State laws made the Railroad Company responsible for wearing apparel only, I could collect nothing from them. But as the trunk happened to contain a small compartment in which I carried my shirts, underwear, handkerchiefs, socks, etc., I made Mr. Superintendent smile, a few weeks later, when I handed in my bill for them, at Fargo. He laughed, and said he had never happened to meet a man before who wore such high-priced shirts and underwear.

After giving up my trunk and goods as lost, I looked over my stock of jewelry in the case; and although it was badly in need of a few extras to make it complete, I considered it enough to commence with again, and started out to see what I could do.

I was unable to do anything at Brainerd, and concluded to visit smaller towns, where my little stock would look larger. I took an evening train, arriving at a small hamlet a few miles west, in time to work the town that evening. But fate seemed to be against me, for I couldn’t make a sale, and to make time I would have to get up the next morning about half past two to get a local freight train going west.

The landlord called me, and after making my toilet I started for the depot, a few rods distant across the track. He had cautioned me about the fast express, which would be due in a few minutes going west, and which did not stop there, but passed through at lightning speed. On passing out I discovered that a terrible snow and wind storm was raging, and with much difficulty found my way towards the depot. Just as I was crossing the Railroad track the lock on my case gave way and the side lid fell down, and the top cover to which the handle was fastened raised up, letting every tray of jewelry fall in a heap in the middle of the track. I stopped to pick it up, but at that instant heard the engine whistle close by, and had no sooner gained a foothold on the platform of the depot than the engine came dashing along, with its bright head-light, and the sparks flying from it in all directions, and the steam whistle blowing and screeching like a demon, and struck my pile of trays and jewelry and sent them skyward and entirely out of existence.

A million things ran through my mind in an instant, but I think about the first I thought of was the “Incomprehensible.”

I saw the utter foolishness of trying to find any of the jewelry, as the storm was raging furiously; besides, it was long before daylight. But I decided to return to the hotel and remain till morning.

When I walked into the office with my sample case still in the shape as when it “busted,” the landlord gazed at me a moment, and asked what in thunder I’d been doing with my jewelry. I explained, and he said he supposed the jewelry, trays and all were still flying through the air, and if the storm kept up they probably would never stop.

His idea was about correct, I think. At any rate I never saw one dollar’s worth of my goods afterwards. Of course the heavy fall of snow would very soon cover it up any how, but it is very doubtful if any of it was ever found any where in the vicinity of the depot.

The next day after satisfying myself that my stock of jewelry had vanished and that I was again “busted,” I took the train for Brainerd, where I once more resorted to selling furniture polish.

While at this town I called at a house, rang the door bell and was admitted by a person whom I at once recognized as an old school teacher who had taught our district school at Galetown Corners years before. As he did not recognize me I thought I would have a little fun with him, and after introducing my polish, I produced a small book containing the names of my patrons at Brainerd, and said:

“Mister, I have here the names of those who have been buying, which I will read, to show you that it is an article of value and one that is appreciated by almost every housekeeper.”

So saying I began to read off the names of people living in the old Galetown school-district, such as Mrs. M. Keefer, Mrs. John Bartlett, Mrs. Curt Dirlam, Mrs. R. E. Betts, Mrs. Alfred Hutchinson, Mrs. James Drown, Mrs. John Lefever, Mrs. Dave Ramsey, Mrs. Sidney Tuck, Mrs. Calif Luce, Mrs. Samuel Chapin, Mrs.

“Great Scott! Do all those people live in this town?”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Why not? Cæsar-ation! I used to teach school in Ohio. In a neighborhood which contained the sir names, given names, initials and all, of every person you have mentioned.”

I slipped the book into my pocket and told him I could not help that, and then began to show the polish to him and the lady of the house. He was too much excited to give any attention to it, but as he was only a visitor, that did not signify much. He soon asked me to read those names over again. When I had finished he inquired of his hostess if she knew any of those people. She said no, but as she had not lived there long she would not be likely to know them. He became more excited than ever, and putting on his overcoat and hat declared his intention of calling on some of them.

Then I said to him:

“Well, this Mr. Keefer, who lives over here on the back street has a step-son by the name of Johnston. Perry, I believe, is his given name.”

“Yes sir, yes sir, that’s right. He was a red-headed lad and came to school to me. Say, show me where they live.”

“And,” I remarked, “another name I remember; the son of one of these families is Willard.”

“Was it Willard Luce?” he asked.

“That’s it?”

“My , is it possible all those families have moved here?”

I then said:

“Do I look any like that Perry Johnston?”

He looked me over carefully and said he believed I did.

I then explained that I had recognized him at first sight and decided to have a little sport with him. After a short visit I went on my way rejoicing.

After one week’s time I left Brainerd for Fargo, Dakota, where I had requested my mail to be sent. I had cleared thirty-three dollars over and above expenses during that time. After sending ten of it home to my wife I reached Fargo with twenty-three dollars, having made the trip with my pass. Here I received a letter from the wholesaler expressing sympathy for my loss, and saying he had sent me a large package of goods on sixty days’ time.

After spending two dollars for a few necessaries which left me just twenty-one dollars, I accompanied three traveling men to the theatre, one of whom had a pass admitting himself and friends to a box. During the evening this gentleman mentioned the fact that an actress who would shortly sing was an old school-mate of his, and as she had had all her wardrobe burnt at Bismarck, a few days before, suggested that we each throw a silver dollar on the stage when she appeared. We all agreed.

I had forgotten that I had that day accommodated a gentleman by giving him four five-dollar bills for a twenty-dollar gold piece, and when the time came I carelessly reached my hand in my pocket and taking out the gold piece, threw it on the stage and was unconscious of what I had done till I saw it bound and heard it ring and received a bow of recognition and thanks from the actress. It was too late, however, and managing to instantly recover myself from the shock of having fully realized the awful fact that I was again totally collapsed, I shook hands with my three friends who were very enthusiastic over my generosity, remarking that they hadn’t the slightest idea of my intention of giving so much. I told them I didn’t believe in doing things by halves.

At the hotel the next day I was introduced to the pretty actress who thanked me for my generous gift, and declared that success was sure to reward men of such liberal principles, but added that she had always noticed, however, that those who gave the most freely were those who had the most to give, or at any rate, those who experienced but little difficulty in making money fast.

I had but little to say in reply to her assertion, but took special pains to jingle the last three twenty-five cent pieces I had in my pocket, and assumed an air of independence sufficient, no doubt, to convince her that I possessed my share of this world’s goods.

When I took the train at Brainerd for Fargo, who should make his appearance as conductor but my old friend Johnny, whom the reader will remember as being my partner and companion at the neat, nice, tidy boarding-house while selling auction goods.

The moment I discovered his identity I pulled my hat down over my eyes and turned up my coat collar so he would not recognize me, and as he approached me I began talking very loud as though in conversation with some one near me and said: “Well sir, the place where I stopped was a neat, nice, clean, tidy boarding-house, the children were well-bred, the old lady a good conversationalist, a mighty good cook, and everything was so home-like.”

Johnny seemed almost paralyzed on hearing these remarks and instantly began to scrutinize me very closely, but as I had raised quite a moustache and goatee since our dissolution, he failed to recognize me. He then demanded my ticket, and without turning my face towards him, but rather turning it from him I declared I had no ticket. He asked where I was going. I answered: “Well sir, I am going to Fargo, and if I can prevail upon my wife to sell another house and lot and send me the money, I am going to either start a stave and barrel factory, or go into the auction business.”

At this he began laughing, and taking hold of my hat and raising it from my head, said: “Well you infernal vender of the Incomprehensible compound, double-distilled furniture and piano luster, what are you giving me? Produce your ticket, or off you go, bag and baggage.”

We had a nice visit, and when I related my experience of a few days before about the stolen trunk and the final collapse, he said he had heard all about it, but was surprised to hear that I was the unfortunate loser. He frankly confessed that the last house and lot had been sold and the money spent before he had settled down to business. The last I heard of him he was still holding his position and working hard for a promotion.

A few days after my arrival at Fargo, I received over two hundred dollars’ worth of goods from Chicago, which came at a very opportune time.

The few days I had to wait there I put in with the “Incomprehensible,” with good results.

The holiday trade was now approaching and I made money fast. I again adopted my old tactics of opening up to every one, from the hotel porter and chambermaids to the merchant of the highest standing; and I never lost an hour or even a minute when there was the slightest prospect for making a sale. The result was, that after closing out my stock just before Christmas and returning to Chicago, I brought back over nine hundred dollars, which left me six hundred clear after paying the wholesale house the last bill of two hundred and an old account of one hundred dollars.

A few weeks after my arrival in Chicago, I made over six hundred dollars in one day in a way that will perhaps be worth relating. An old acquaintance of mine who was in the auction business was in the city buying goods. I accompanied him to a large wholesale house to buy notions, and while picking out the stock, a messenger-boy delivered a telegram to the manager of that department. After reading it he said to us that it conveyed the information that the manufacturers of cheap shears had formed a combination and had advanced the price nearly one half. I excused myself immediately and started on the run to the different wholesale houses with which I had previously dealt, and bought all the shears they had at the old prices, and after making a payment down took a receipt as payment on a certain number of dozen shears at a certain price to be delivered on a certain day. I made the rounds as rapidly as possible and bought out several dealers before they had received their telegrams. The next day all I had to do was to call at their stores and sell out to them at the advanced price, receiving my money back and a good round profit besides.

It was my intention to start out on the road again as soon as the dull season after the holidays was over; but I began having chills and fever and night sweats which very soon reduced me several pounds in weight, and I could plainly see was fast reducing my physical strength.

My wife and I then visited her parents at Bronson, Michigan.

And now I am obliged to make mention of one fact that heretofore has not been necessary to speak of. My domestic life had not proved a success, and a separation occurred on the nineteenth of March, 1881, my wife remaining with her parents. Our little boy had been living with my mother at Clyde, during the preceding two years, where we mutually agreed to have him remain; and he has continued to reside there up to the present time. In due course of time the Courts annulled the marriage.

I reached Clyde on the evening of the day of our final separation, and was so ill that my physical system seemed about prostrated.

Our old family physician, Dr. Brown, was at that time down sick, and I chanced to call on a physician who had recently moved there. He seemed much pleased with my condition, and after a thorough examination, informed me that one of my lungs was entirely destroyed and the other one almost gone; and if I had good luck I might live a couple of years.

When I went home and reported my bright prospects my mother began to cry, and said she always thought I would die with consumption. Mr. Keefer looked sad and solemn, and said: “It does beat the devil.”