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I felt that to settle down on a salary in such a business would be the means of falling into a certain rut, from which it would be hard to extricate myself. And I have thus far never had occasion to regret having taken that position.
About this time I received a letter from my mother anxiously inquiring what business I had engaged in after quitting the hotel, and if we were all comfortably fixed for the winter.
She closed by saying that as she had no picture of me since I was eighteen years of age she wished I would have my photograph taken and sent to her.
[Illustration: THE PHOTOGRAPH OF THE SITUATION.--PAGE 388.]
On reading this letter I remarked to my wife that I would send her a likeness that would make her sick. I replied to her, agreeing to send it as soon as I could have some taken. I also answered her questions as to my business engagements and how we were situated, by saying that I occasionally fell back on the furniture polish and did considerable canvassing with it, but my principal business was hauling coke, and had been all winter; and as for comfort, we had never before experienced any thing equal to it.
After mailing my letter to her I wrote to the landlord at Adrian, where I had left the old carpet-bag which had been my companion to New York as well as on my first polish tour, and asked him to get it from the attic of his hotel, and forward to me by express. He did so immediately.
I then borrowed a long linen duster about three sizes too small for me from the "man Friday" employed in the drug store, and repaired to a photograph gallery. I pulled my suspenders up as much as possible in order to make my pants ridiculously short. I donned the linen duster and with tight squeezing managed to button it around me, and turning up the collar pinned it over with a long black shawl-pin. I put on my straw hat, ear muffs, and heavy woolen mittens, struck as awkward an attitude as possible with my toes turned in, and with the old carpet-bag in hand was duly photographed.
While they were being printed I received another letter from my mother congratulating us on our splendid success in making ourselves comfortable during such a hard winter, and said we ought to be thankful that the Lord had blessed us with so many comforts. But one thing in my letter puzzled them all, and that was, what in the world I meant by saying that my principal business was hauling coke. They couldn't imagine that I had hired out as a teamster, and if I had, they couldn't see how I could work for some one else and sell polish too. She said when she read my letter Mr. Keefer declared that "that boy would keep hustling and die with his boots on before he would ever hire out as a teamster or any thing else." And he wanted her to find out at once what on earth it meant. I answered in a few days, stating that I had spent the greater portion of the winter hauling coke a distance of about a mile in a wheel-barrow for our own use and that it took about a bushel a minute to keep us comfortable. I enclosed my photograph, saying that I had stopped on my way home from canvassing one afternoon and had it taken just as I appeared on the street.
I also explained that at the last house where I had stopped they had set the dog on me and he had torn a piece out of my linen ulster and I hadn't noticed it till after the picture was taken.
I received an immediate reply to this letter acknowledging the receipt of the photograph and making a few comments.
About the first thing she said was that her advice to me would be never to let another winter catch me in Michigan, but to start South and try to reach a locality where linen ulsters and straw hats were more adapted to the climate.
She said she thought the mittens and ear mufflers were very becoming and her first impulse was to send me a pair of Mr. Keefer's old rubber boots, but on second thought had made up her mind that the tops would hardly reach the bottom of my pants and had concluded that the shoes I was wearing would be more becoming and much easier to walk in.
She concluded her remarks by saying she didn't see what objection I had to burning wood or nice hard coal, instead of hauling coke so far in a wheel-barrow; and asked how I liked "hus'ling" by this time. She also said that I had carried the old carpet-bag so long that it bore a strong resemblance to myself; and advised me to hang to it, as it might some day be considered a valuable relic, especially if I should ever get rich by "hus'ling," or become a member of Congress.
Although I felt that she had shown herself equal to the occasion, by replying as she did, my answer to this letter was sufficient to let her know that I asked no favors, and had no intention of doing so.
As soon as spring opened and moving and house-cleaning became the order of the day, my business began to improve, and I made money fast. I bought myself a nice suit of clothes, and other necessary wearing apparel; and I moved my family back to Bronson, where I paid their board and left them sufficient means to procure clothing and pay incidental expenses.
I went to Toledo, expecting to canvass with my polish, and very soon called on an old acquaintance who was telegraphing. While chatting with him a gentleman came in and wrote a message to be sent to an auctioneer at Cleveland, asking him to come to Toledo and travel with him. The operator asked me if I would like to send the message, for a little practice. I told him I would, and stepped inside the office to do so.
After reading it, I stepped forward and accosted the stranger with: "What kind of an auctioneer do you wish to employ, sir?"
He replied that he was traveling with a large wagon that cost him fifteen hundred dollars, drove four fine horses, employed two musicians, was selling Yankee Notions, and needed a good man who could sell goods on the down-hill plan, or "Dutch Auction," as some termed it. I told him that I was an auctioneer, and would engage with him.
He asked me to step out and take a drink. I said: "Thank you, I don't care for anything to drink."
"Well, come and take a cigar."
"Thank you. I never smoke, either."
He asked if there was anything I did to pass the time pleasantly. I said:
"Yes, sir. I attend to business, when I have any to attend to."
He inquired what I was engaged in at the present time. I opened my valise and showed him, and several others standing by, what I was selling, and polished up an office desk to show its superior qualities.
He asked the price, and on being told, handed me a dollar and took two bottles, after which I sold three more bottles to different gentlemen in the office.
The auction man looked at me a moment, and then laughingly inquired if I could talk as well on Yankee Notions as I could on polish. Then he added that he couldn't understand how any man could make a living with such a thing, and foolishly asked if I ever sold any of it.
I answered his question by asking if I had not sold him two bottles, as well as three other men in his presence; and asked if he was in the habit of buying everything he saw, whether he needed it or not. He said he bought it because he thought it a valuable article to have in the house, and was going to send it to his wife.
He asked what my price would be per week to work for him. I told him it was strictly against my principles to work on a salary and would prefer to engage on commission even if I didn't make as much money.
He explained that he usually remained in a town from three days to a week and sold on the street during the evening and Saturday afternoons.
He offered me twenty-five dollars per week and all expenses, or five per cent. on all my gross sales and all expenses. I accepted the latter, provided he would not expect me to do anything but sell goods at the times specified. This suited him and I started with him that afternoon for the West. He informed me that the auctioneer he had been employing drank too much liquor and was in consequence unfit for duty half the time. I assured him that he would experience no such trouble with me.
He said that was one reason why he concluded to take me, and confessed that had I accepted his invitation to take a drink he would never have given me the position.
During our first ten miles' ride I was racking my brain for something to say when I should jump up to make my first sale. I had never sold a dollars' worth of goods of any kind at auction, and the only experience of a similar nature that I had ever had was the four days' sale of prize soap.
However, I valued that four days' experience very highly at that juncture as I felt that it was experience, at any rate, and would no doubt help me in the way of giving me self-confidence.
Fortunately for me, the first town we stopped at had the license so very high that we could not afford to pay it, and decided to continue westward and postpone our first sale till the next night. This gave me an opportunity for further study, which I grasped eagerly.
I slept but little that night, but spent the time in manufacturing a line of talk on the different kinds of goods handled by my employer, and the preparation of a suitable opening speech.
At any rate, the next evening when we drove into Blissfield, Michigan, I determined that it should be a success, although I dreaded the opening of my first sale.
After supper we seated our musicians at the rear end of the wagon-box and started on our parade around town.
Loud singing and the sweet strains of music routed every body in town.
[Illustration: MY FIRST AUCTION SALE AT BLISSFIELD MICH.--PAGE 398.]
I remember one song they used to sing that always took immensely. It was to the tune of "Marching Through Georgia." The chorus was:
"Come out, come out, you hungry wearied souls.
Come out, come out, we're here to do you good.
We've marched from East to West, and North, and now we're going South, To supply the wants of those way down in Georgia."
When we drove back to a convenient corner and lighted our immense torches it seemed to me that the towns-people had turned out _en masse_ and gathered around us.
After one or two more pieces by the musicians my proprietor handed me the keys and directed me to open up. I removed the covers from the top of the goods and then began sorting them over carefully. I then laid off my coat and again went through the goods.
Next I threw off my vest and sorted over more goods, till at last realizing that the time had come when something must be said, I looked knowingly over the vast concourse of people and then removed my hat.
A death-like stillness prevailed.
The cold perspiration stood out on my forehead in big drops.
Something about the size of a watermelon appeared to be in my throat.
I feared the sound of my own voice. My knees were weak, and knocking together.
I looked over my audience the second time, and was about to venture to say something, when I happened to think that I hadn't taken off my cuffs and collar, and proceeded to do so, when to my horror I heard a young man in the audience say, in a tone loud enough for all to hear: