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THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN'

An Autobiography
BY JACOB A. RIIS

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With Illustrations by Thomas Fogarty Chapter V.-A Start at Last furniture. If once they got the grip in that

country, reasoned the furniture-makers, OMEWHAT suddenly and quite un- they would get rich quickly with the rest. expectedly, a business career opened The thing was to get it. To do that they for me that winter. Once I had

needed a man who could talk. Perhaps tried to crowd into it uninvited, but the they remembered the creation of the world result was not good. It was when I had

the year before. At all events, they sent observed that, for the want of the window

up to Buffalo and asked me if I would try. reflectors which were much in use in the

I slammed my tool-box shut and started old country, American ladies were at a

for Jamestown on the next train. Twentydisadvantage in their homes in not being four hours later saw me headed for the oil able to make out undesirable company at country, equipped with a mighty album a distance, themselves unseen, and con- and a price-list. The album contained veniently forgetting that they were “in." pictures of the furniture I had for sale. This civilizing agency I set about supply. All the way down I studied the price-list, ing forth with. I made a model and took and when I reached Titusville I knew to it to a Yankee business man, to whom I

a cent what it cost my employers per foot explained its use. He listened attentively; to make ash extension tables. I'only took the model, and said he had a good wish they had known half as well. mind to have me locked up for infringing My first customer was a grumpy old the patent laws of other lands; but because shopkeeper who needed neither tables I had sinned from ignorance he would

nor bedsteads, so he said. But I had refrain. His manner was so impressive thought it all over and made up my mind that he really made me uneasy lest I had that the first blow was half the battle. broken some kind of a law I knew not of. Therefore I knew better. I pushed my From the fact that not long after window album under his nose, and it fell open at reflectors began to make their appearance the extension tables. Cheap, I said, and in Buffalo, I infer that, whatever the rattled off the price. I saw him prick up enactment, it did not apply to natives, or

his ears, but he only growled that probably else that he was a very fearless man, will- they were no good. ing to take the risk from which he would

What! my extension tables no good ? save me—a sort of commercial philanthro- I dared him to try them, and he gave me pist. However, by that time I had other

an order for a dozen, but made me sign things to think of, being a drummer and a

an agreement that they were to be every very energetic one.

way as represented. I would have backed It came about in this way: some coun- my tables with an order for the whole tryman of mine had started a co-operative shop, so sure was I that they could not be furniture-factory in Jamestown, where beaten. The idea! With the fit of rightthere were water-power and cheap lumber.

eous indignation upon me, I went out and They had no capital, but just below was sold every other furniture-dealer in Titusthe oil country, where everybody had ville a bill of tables; not one of them money, slathers of it. New wells gushed escaped. At night, when I had sent the every day, and boom towns were springing order home, I set out for Oil City, so as up along the Alleghany valley. Men were

to lose no valuable time. streaming into it from all over, and needed

It was just the same there. For "Copyright, 1901, the Outlook Company.

some reason they were suspicious of the

name.

would perform what this one promised, or Grant) that I stuck it out, hoping as iron the skirt and fute the flounce too. we went to come somewhere upon my hat, In three days the iron came and proved which had been lost in the sudden attack; good. I started in canvassing Jamestown but I never saw it again. with it, and in a week had secured orders Speaking of parading, my old desire to for one hundred and twenty, upon which roam, that kept cropping out at intervals, my profit would be over $80. Something paid me a characteristic trick at this time. of business ways must have stuck to me I was passing through a horse-market after all from my one excursion into the when I saw a fine-looking, shapely young realm of trade; for when it came to deliv. horse put up at what seemed a ridiculously ering the goods and I had no money, I low price. Eighteen dollars was the bid, went boldly to a business man whose wife and it was about to be knocked down at was on my books, and offered, is he would that. The October sun was shining warm send for the irons, to pay for them as I and bright. A sudden desire to get on took them out of the store. He made no the horse and ride out into the wide world, bones about it, but sent for the irons and away from the city and the haunts of men, handed them over to me to pay for when never to come back, seized me. I raised I could. So men are made. Commercial the bid to nineteen dollars. Almost before character, as it is rated on 'change, I had I knew, the beast was knocked down to none before that; but I had after. How me and I had paid over the money. It could I disappoint a man like that? left me with exactly six dollars to my

The confidence of the community I had not lost through my too successful Leading the animal by the halter, I went trip as a drummer, at all events. Prop- down the street and sat on the stoop of ositions came speedily to me to "travel the Robinson House to think. With every in ” pianos and pumps for local concerns. step perplexities I hadn't thought of It never rains but it pours. An old school- sprang up. In the first place, I could not mate who had been ordained a clergyman ride. I had always wanted to, but had wrote to me from Denmark to find him a never learned. Even if I had been able charge among the Danish settlements out to, where was I going, and to do what? I West. But neither pumps, pianos, nor couldn't ride around and sell flat-irons. parsons had power to swerve me from my The wide world seemed suddenly a cold chosen course. With them went bosses and far-off place, and six dollars but and orders; with the flat-iron cherished small backing in an attack upon it, with a independence. When I had sold out hungry horse waiting to be fed.

That was Jamestown, I made a bee-line for Pitts- only too evident. The beast was tearing burg, a city that had taken my fancy the hitching-post with its teeth in a way because of its brisk business ways. They that brooked no delay. Evidently it had were brisk indeed. Grant's second cam- a healthy appetite. The conclusion was paign for the Presidency was in full slowly dawning upon me that I had made swing. On my second night in town I a fool of myself, when the man who had went to hear Horace Greeley address an bid eighteen dollars came by and saw me open-air meeting. I can see his noble sitting there. He stopped to ask what old head yet above the crowd, and hear was the matter, and I told him frankly. his opening appeal. Farther I never got. He roared, and gave me eighteen dollars A marching band of uniformed shouters for the beast. I was glad enough to give for Grant had cut right through the it up. I never owned a horse before or crowd. As it passed I felt myself sud- since, and I had that less than fifteen mindenly seized; an oilcloth cape was thrown utes; but it was the longest quarter of an over my head, a campaign cap jammed hour since I worked in the coal-mine. after, and I found myself marching away The flat-iron did not go in Pittsburg. with a torch on my shoulder to the tune It was too cheap. During a brief interval of a brass band just ahead. How many I peddled campaign books, but shortly others of Mr. Greeley's hearers fared as I found a more expensive iron, and had five did I do not know. The thing seemed so counties in western Pennsylvania allotted ludicrous (and if I must march I really to me as territory. There followed a cared very little whether it was for Greeley winter of great business. Before it was

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" I WENT TO HEAR HORACE GREELEY ADDRESS AN OPEN-AIR MEETING” half over I had achieved a bank account, undoing. Puffed up by my success as a though how I managed it is a mystery to salesman, I yielded in an evil hour to the me till this day. Simple as the reckoning blandishments of my manufacturers and of my daily trade ought to be, by no accepted the general agency of the State chance could I ever make it foot up as it of Illinois, with headquarters in Chicago. should. I tried honestly every night, but It sounded well, but it did not work well. the receipts would never square with the Chicago had not yet got upon its feet expenditures, do what I might. I kept after the great fire; and its young men them carefully apart in different pockets, were too sharp for me. In six weeks but mixed they would get in spite of all. they had cleaned me out bodily, had run I had to call it square, however far the away with my irons and with money they footing was out of the way, or sit up all borrowed of me to start them in business. night, which I would not. I remember I returned to Pittsburg as poor as ever, well the only time I came out even. I to find that the agents I had left behind was so astonished that I would not believe in my Pennsylvania territory had dealt it, but had to go all over the account with me after the same fashion. The again. That night I slept the sleep of firm for which I worked had connived at the just. The next morning, when I was the frauds. My friends had left me. The starting out on my route with a clean con- one I spoke of was in the army. Ronne science and a clean slate, a shopkeeper had given up in discouragement, and was rapped on his window as I went by to tell at work in a rolling-mill. In the utter me that I had given him the previous day wreck of all my hopes I was alone again. a twenty-dollar bill for a ten, in making Angry and sore, I went up the Allechange. After that I gave up trying. ghany River, with no definite purpose in

I was no longer alone. From Buffalo mind except to get away from everybody my old chum Ronne had come, hearing I knew. At Franklin I fell ill with a that I was doing well, to join me, and sneaking fever. It was while I lay help from Denmark an old schoolfellow whose less in a lonely tavern by the riverside life at twenty-two had been wrecked by that the crushing blow fell. Letters from drink and who wrote begging to be allowed · home, sent on from Pittsburg, told me to come. His mother pleaded for him that Elizabeth was to be married. A too, but it was not needed. He had cavalry officer who was in charge of the inclosed in his letter the strongest talis- border police, a dashing fellow and a good man of all, a letter written by Elizabeth soldier, had won her heart. The wedding in the long ago when we were children was to be in the summer. It was then together. I have it yet. He came, and I the last week in April. At the thought I tried hard to break him of his failing. But turned my face to the wall, and hoped I had undertaken a job that was too big that I might die. for me. Upon my return from a Western But one does not die of love at twentytrip I found that he had taken to drinking four. The days that passed slowly saw again, and in his cups had enlisted. His me leave my sick-bed and limp down to curse followed him into the army. He the 'river on sunny days, 'to sit and watch rose to the rank of sergeant, only to fall the stream listlessly 'for hours, hoping again and suffer degradation. The other nothing, grasping nothing, except that it day he shot himself at the post where he was all over. · In all my misadventures was stationed, after nearly thirty years of that was the one thing I had never dreamed service. Yet in all his ups and downs he of. · If I did, I 'as quickly banished the never forgot his home. While his mother thought as preposterous. That she should lived he helped support her in far-off be another's bride'seemed so utterly imDenmark; and when she was gone, no possible that, sick and feeble as I was, I month passed that he did not send home laughed it to scorn even then ; whereat I the half of his wages for the support of his fell to reading the fatal letter again, and crippled sister in the old town. Charles trying to grasp its meaning. It made it was not bad. He was a poor, helpless, all only the more perplexing that I should unhappy boy, who came to me for help and not know who he was, or what he was. I had none to give. God pity him and me. I had never heard of him before, in that

The Western trip I spoke of was my town where I thought I knew every living

was

soul. That he must be a noble fellow I the back door, very far back at that, when knew, or he could not have won her; but I joined the staff of the“ Review.” Signs who-why-what-what had come over of that appeared speedily, and multiplied everything in such a short time, and what day by day. On the third day of my emwas this ugly dream that was setting my ployment i beheld the editor-in-chief being brain awhirl and shutting out the sunlight thrashed down the street by an irate coachand the day? Presently I was in a re- · man whom he had offended, and when, in lapse, and it was all darkness to me, and a spirit of loyalty, I would have cast in oblivion.

my lot with him, I was held back by one When at last I got well enough to of the printers with the laughing statement travel, I set my face toward the east, and that that was his daily diet and that it journeyed on foot through the northern was good for him. That was the only coal regions of Pennsylvania by slow way any one ever got any satisfaction or stages, caring little whither I went, and anything else out of him. Judging from earning just enough by peddling flat-irons the goings on about the office in the two to pay my way. It was spring when I weeks I was there, he must have been started; the autumn tints were on the extensively in debt to all sorts of people leaves when I brought up in New York who were trying to collect. When, on my at last, as nearly restored as youth and second deferred pay-day, I met him on the long tramp had power to do. But the stairs, propelled by his washerwoman, the restless energy that had made of me who brought her basket down on his head a successful salesman gone. I with every step he took, calling upon the thought only, if I thought at all, of finding populace (the stairs were outside the buildsome quiet place where I could sit and ing) to witness just punishment meted out see the world go by that concerned me to him for failing to pay for the washing no longer. With the vague notion of of his shirts, I rightly concluded that the being sent into the farthest wilds as an city editor's claim stood no show. I left operator, I went to a business college on him owing me two weeks' pay, but I Fourth Avenue and paid twenty dollars freely forgive him. I think I got my to learn telegraphing. It was the last money's worth of experience. I did not money I had. I attended the school in let grass grow under my feet as “city the afternoon. In the morning I peddled editor.” Hunter's Point had received for flat-irons, earning money for my board, once a thorough raking over, and I my first and so made out.

lesson in hunting the elusive item and, One day, while I was so occupied, I saw when found, making a note of it. among the “want ” advertisements in a Except for a Newfoundland pup which newspaper one offering the position of some one had given me, I went back over city editor on a Long Island City weekly the river as poor as I had come. The to a competent man. Something of my dog proved rather a doubtful possession old ambition stirred within me. It did as the days went by. Its appetite was not occur to me that city editors were not tremendous, and its preference for my usually obtained by advertising, still less society embarrassingly unrestrained. It that I was not competent, having only the would not be content to sleep anywhere vaguest notions of what the functions of else than in my room. If I put it out in a city editor might be. I applied for the the yard, it forthwith organized a search job, and got it at once. Eight dollars a for me in which the entire neighborhood week was to be my salary; my job, to fill was compelled to take part, willy-nilly. the local column and attend to the affairs Its manner of doing it boomed the local of Hunter's Point and Blissville generally, trade in hair-brushes and mantel bric-àpolitics excluded. The editor attended brac, but brought on complications with to that. In twenty-four hours I was hard the landlord in the morning that usually at work writing up my then most ill-favored resulted in the departure of Bob and mybailiwick. It is none too fine yet, but in self for other pastures. Part with him I those days, when every nuisance crowded could not; for Bob loved me. Once I out of New York found refuge there, it tried, when it seemed that there was no stunk to heaven.

choice. I had been put out for perhaps Certainly I had entered journalism by the tenth time, and I had no more money

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