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Twenty Years of Hus'ling.
by J. P. Johnston.
After finis.h.i.+ng all that I had intended for publication in my book ent.i.tled "THE AUCTIONEER'S GUIDE," I was advised by a few of my most intimate friends to add a sketch of my own life to ill.u.s.trate what had been set forth in its pages.
This for the sole purpose of stimulating those who may have been for years "pulling hard against the stream," unable, perhaps, to ascertain where they properly belong, and possibly on the verge of giving up all hope, because of failure, after making repeated honest efforts to succeed.
The sketch when prepared proved of such magnitude that it was deemed advisable to make it a separate volume. Hence, the "TWENTY YEARS OF HUS'LING."
J. P. JOHNSTON.
I was born near Ottawa, Illinois, January 6th, 1852, of Scotch-Irish descent. My great-great-grandfather Johnston was a Presbyterian clergyman, who graduated from the University of Edinburg, Scotland. My mother's name was Finch. The family originally came from New England and were typical Yankees as far as I have been able to trace them. My father, whose full name I bear, died six months previous to my birth.
When two years of age my mother was married to a Mr. Keefer, of Ohio, a miller by trade and farmer by occupation. Had my own father lived he could not possibly have been more generous, affectionate, kind-hearted and indulgent than this step-father.
And until the day of his death, which occurred on the 10th of July, 1887, he was always the same. This tribute is due him from one who reveres his memory.
He had a family of children by his former wife, the youngest being a year or two older than myself. Two daughters were born of this marriage.
A mixed family like the Keefer household naturally occasioned more or less contention. More especially as the neighborhood contained those who took it upon themselves to regulate their neighbors' domestic affairs in preference to their own.
Consequently, in a few years, Mr. Keefer was severely criticised for not compelling me to do more work on the farm, and for the interest he took in schooling me.
As for myself, had I been hanged or imprisoned as often as those neighbors prophesied I would be, I would have suffered death and loss of freedom many times.
The farm life was distasteful to me from my earliest recollection. I cannot remember ever having done an hour's work in this capacity except under protest.
From this fact I naturally gained the reputation for miles around, of being the laziest boy in the country, with no possible or probable prospect of ever amounting to anything.
But they failed to give me credit for the energy required to walk three miles night and morning to attend the village school, which afforded better advantages than the district school.
When but a small lad my step-father gave me a cosset lamb which I raised with a promise from him to give me half the wool and all of the increase.
This, in a few years, amounted to a flock of over one hundred sheep. The sale of my share of the wool, together with the yield from a potato patch, which was a yearly gift from Mr. Keefer, was almost sufficient to clothe me and pay my school expenses.
I should here add, that the potatoes above mentioned were the product of the old gentleman's labor in plowing, planting, cultivating, digging and marketing.
While I was expected to do this work, I was seldom on hand except on the day of planting to superintend the job and see that the potatoes were actually put into the ground, and again on market day to receive the proceeds. During all my life on the farm, one great source of annoyance and trouble to my step-father was my constant desire to have him purchase everything that was brought along for sale, and to sell everything from the farm that was salable.
In other words, I was always anxious to have him go into speculation. I could not be too eager for a horse trade or the purchase of any new invention or farm implement that had the appearance of being a labor-saving machine.
Even the advent of a lightning-rod or insurance man delighted me, for it broke the monotony and gave me some of the variety of life.
The rapid growth and development of my flock of sheep were partially due to my speculative desires. I was persistent in having them gratified, and succeeded, by being allowed the privilege of selling off the fat wethers whenever they became marketable, and replacing them with young ewes, which increased rapidly. These could be bought for much less than the wethers would sell for.
My step-father was a man of more than ordinary common sense, and often suggested splendid ideas, but was altogether too cautious for his own good, and too slow to act in carrying them out.
While he and I got along harmoniously together, I am forced to admit that my mother and myself had frequent combats.
There, perhaps, was never a more affectionate, kind-hearted mother than she, and I dare say but few who ever possessed a higher-strung temper or a stronger belief in the "spare the rod and spoil the child" doctrine.
At least, this was my candid, unprejudiced belief during those stormy days. Why, I had become so accustomed to receiving my daily chastis.e.m.e.nt, as to feel that the day had been broken, or something unusual had happened, should I by chance miss a day.
The principle difficulty was, that I had inherited a high-strung, pa.s.sionate temper from my mother, and a strong self-will from my father, which made a combination hard to subdue. In my later days I have come to realize that I must have tantalized and pestered my mother beyond all reason, and too often, no doubt, at times when her life was hara.s.sed, and her patience severely tried by the misconduct of one or more of her step-children, who, by the way, I never thought were blessed with the sweetest of all sweet tempers, themselves. At any rate, whenever I got on the war path, I seldom experienced any serious difficulty in finding some one of the family to accommodate me. Notwithstanding, I usually "trimmed" them, as I used to term it, to my entire satisfaction, and no matter whether they, or I were to blame, it was no trouble for them to satisfy my mother that I was the guilty one, despite my efforts to prove an "alibi." For this I was sure to be punished, as I was also for every fight I got into with the neighbor boys, whose great stronghold was to twit me of being "lazy and red-headed."
I was, however, successful at last in convincing my mother that those lads whom I was frequently fighting and quarreling with, were taking every advantage of her action in flogging me every time I had difficulty with them. They could readily see and understand that I was more afraid of the "home rule" than I was of them, and would lose no opportunity to say and do things to provoke me.
One day I came home from school at recess in the afternoon, all out of sorts, and greatly incensed at one of the boys who was two years older than myself, and who had been, as I thought, imposing upon me. I met Mr.
Keefer at the barn, and declared right _there and then_ that I would never attend school another day, unless I could receive my parents' full and free consent to protect myself, and to go out and fight that fellow as he pa.s.sed by from school that evening.
"Do you think you can get satisfaction?" he asked.
"I am sure I can," I answered.
"Well, then," he said, "I want you to go out and flog him good this evening, and I'll go along and see that you have fair play."
"All right, I'll show you how I'll fix him," I answered.
About fifteen or twenty minutes later Henry and one of his chums came from school to our barn-yard well for a pail of water.
I came to the barn door just in time to see them coming through the gate. Mr. Keefer's consent that I should "do him up" gave me courage to begin at once. I went to the pump, and throwing my cap on the ground, said:
"See here, my father tells me to trim every mother's son of you that twits me of being lazy and red-headed. Now, I'm going to finish you first."
He was as much scared as he was surprised.
I buckled into him, and kick, bite, scratch, gouge, pull hair, twist noses, and strike from the shoulder were the order of the day. I felt all-confident and sailed in for all I was worth, and finished him in less than three minutes, to the evident satisfaction of Mr. Keefer, whom, when the fight was waxing hot, I espied standing on the dunghill with a broad smile taking in the combat. I had nearly stripped my opponent of his clothing, held a large wad of hair in each hand, his nose flattened all over his face, two teeth knocked down his throat, his s.h.i.+ns skinned and bleeding, and both eyes closed. After getting himself together he started down our lane, appearing dazed and bewildered. I first thought he was going to a stone pile near by, but as he pa.s.sed it I began to realize his real condition, when I hurried to his rescue and led him back to the water trough, and there helped to soak him out and renovate him. After which his comrade returned to school alone with the water, and he proceeded homeward.
After that I had no serious trouble with those near my own age, as it was generally understood and considered that I had a license to fight and a disposition to do so when necessary to protect my own rights.
When my mother heard of this she said I was a regular "tough."
Mr. Keefer said I could whip my weight in wild cats anyhow.
She said I deserved a good trouncing.
He said I deserved a medal and ought to have it.
My mother never seemed to understand me or my nature until the timely arrival of an agent selling patent hay-forks, who professed to have a knowledge of Phrenology, Physiognomy, and human nature in general. In course of a conversation relative to family affairs, my mother remarked that, with but one exception, she had no trouble in managing and controling her children. He turned suddenly to me and said, "I see, this is the one."
At this he called me to him and began a delineation of my character.