From The Rise and Fall of the Mustache, and other “Hawk-eyetems,” by Robert J. Burdette, illustrated by R. W. Wallis; Burlington Publishing Company, Burlington, Iowa; 1877; pp. 70-73.
ONE morning, just as the rush of house cleaning days was beginning to abate, a robust tramp called at a house on Barnes Street, and besought the inmates to give him something to eat, averring that he had not tasted food for nine days.
“Why don’t you go to work?” asked the lady to whom he preferred his petition.
“Work!” he ejaculated. “Work! And what have I been doing ever since the middle of May but hunting work? Who will give me work? When did I ever refuse work?”
“Well,” said the women, “I guess I can give you some employment. What can you do?”
“Anything!” he shouted, in a kind of delirious joy. “Anything that any man can do. I’m sick for something to fly at. Why, only yesterday I worked all day, carrying water in an old sieve from Flint river and emptying it into the Mississippi, just because I was so tired of having nothing to do, that I had to work at something or I would have gone ravin’ crazy. I’ll do anything, from cleaning house to building a steamboat. Jest give me some work, ma’am, an’ you’ll never hear me ask for bread agin.”
The lady was pleased at the willingness and anxiety of this industrious man to do something, and she led him to the wood pile.
“Here,” she said, “you can saw and split this wood, and if you are a good, industrious worker, I will find work for you to do, nearly all Winter.”71
“Well, now,” said the tramp, while a look of disappointment stole over his face, “that’s just my luck. Only three days ago I was pullin’ a blind cow out of a well for a poor widow woman who had nothin’ in the world but that cow to support her, an’ I spraint my right wrist till I hain’t been able to lift a pound with it sinst. You kin jest put our hand on it now and feel it throb, it’s so painful and inflamed. I could jest cry of disappointment, but it’s a Bible fact, ma’am, that I couldn’t lift that ax above my head ef I died fur it, and I’d jest as lief let you pull my arm out by the roots as to try to pull that saw through a lath. Jest set me at something I kin do, though, if you want to see the dust fly.”
“Very well,” said the lady, “then you can take these flower beds, which have been very much neglected, and weed them very carefully for me. You can do that with your well hand, but I want you to be very particular with them, and get them very clean, and not injure any of the plants, for they are all very choice and I am very proud of them.”
The look of disappointment that had been chased away from the industrious man’s face when he saw the prospect of something else to do, came back deeper than ever as the lady described the new job, and when she concluded, he had to remain quiet for a moment before he could control his emotion sufficiently to speak.
“If I ain’t the most onfortnit man in Ameriky,” he sighed. “I’m jest dyin’ for work, crazy to get something’ to do, and I’m blocked out of work at every turn. I jest love to work among flowers and dig in the ground, but I never dassent do it fur I’m jest blue ruin among the posies. Nobody ever cared to teach me anythin’ about flowers, and it’s a Gospel truth, ma’am, I can’t tell a violet from a sunflower nor a red rose from a dog fennel. 72 Last place I tried to git work at, woman of the house set me to work weedin’ the garden, an’ I worked about a couple of house, monstrous glad to get work, now you bet, an’ I pulled up every last livin’ green thing in that yard. Hope I may die ef I didn’t. Pulled up all the grass, every blade of it. Fact. Pulled up a vine wuth seventy-five dollars, that had roots reachin’ cl’ar under the cellar and into the cistern, and I yanked ’em right up, every fiber of ’em. Woman was so heart broke when she come out and see the yard just as bare as the floor of a brick yard that they had to put her to bed. Bible’s truth, they did, ma’am; and I had to work for that house three months for nothin’ and find my board, to pay fur the damage I done. Hope to die ef I didn’t. Jest gimme suthin’ I kin do, I’ll show you what work is, but I wouldn’t dare to go foolin’ around no flowers. You’ve got a kind heart ma’am, gimme some work; don’t send a desparin’ man away hungry for work.”
“Well,” the lady said, “you can beat my carpets for me. They have just been taken up, and you can beat them thoroughly, and by the time they are done, I will have something else ready for you.”
The man made a gesture of despair and sat down on the ground, the picture of abject helplessness and disappointed aspirations.
“Look at me now,” he exclaimed. “What is goin’ to become o’ me? did you ever see a man so down on his luck like me? I tell you ma’am, you must give me somethin’ I can do. I wouldn’t no more dare to tech them carpets than nothin’ in the world. I’d tear ’em to pieces. I’m a awful hard hitter, an’ the last time I beat any carpets was for a woman out at Creston, and I just welted them carpets into strings and carpet rags. I couldn’t help it. I can’t hold in my strength. I’m too 73 glad to get work, that’s the trouble with me, ma’am, it’s a Bible fact. I’ll beat them carpets if you say so, but I won’t be responsible fur ’em; no makin’ me work for nothin’ fur five or six weeks to pay fur tearin ’em into slits yer know. I’ll go at ’em if you’ll say the word and take the responsibility, but the fact is, I’m too hard a worker to go foolin’ around carpets, that’s just what I am.”
The lady excused the energetic worker from going at the carpets, but was puzzled what to set him at. Finally she asked him what there was he would like to do and could do, with safety to himself and the work.
“Well, now,” he said, “that’s considerit in ye. That’s real considerit, and I’ll take a hold and do something that’ll give ye the wuth of your money, and won’t give me no chance to destroy nothin’ by workin’ too hard at it. If ye’ll jest kindly fetch me out a rockin’ chair, I’ll set down in the shade and keep the cows from liftin’ the latch of the front gate and getting’ into the yard. An’ I’ll do it well and only charge you reasonable for it, fur the fact is I’m so dead crazy fur work that it isn’t big pay I want so much as a steady job.”
And when he was rejected, and sent forth, jobless and breakfastless, to wander up and down the cold, unfeeling world in search of work, he cast stones at the house and said, in dejected tones,
“There, now, that’s just the way. They call us a bad lot, and say we’re lazy and thieves, and won’t work, when a feller is just crazy to work and nobody won’t give him nary a job that he kin do. Won’t work! Land alive, they won’t give us work, an’ when we want to an’ try to, they won’t let us work. There ain’t a man in Ameriky that’d work as hard an’ as stiddy as I would if they’d gimme a chance.”