From The Wit and Humor of America, edited by Marshall P. Wilder, Volume III, New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls and Company, 1911; pp. 409-413.
BY MAJOR JACK DOWNING
In the fall of the year 1829 I took it into my head I’d go to Portland. I had heard a good deal about Portland, what a fine place it was, and how the folks got rich there proper fast; and that fall there was a couple of new papers come up to our place from there, called the “Portland Courier” and “Family Reader,” and they told a good many queer kind of things about Portland, and one thing and another; and all at once it popped into my head, and I up and told father, and says, —
“I’m going to Portland, whether or no; and I’ll see what this world is made of yet.”
Father stared a little at first and said he was afraid I would get lost; but when he see I was bent upon it, he give it up, and he stepped to his chist, and opened the till, and took out a dollar and gave it to me; and says he, —
“Jack, this is all I can do for you; but go and lead an honest life, and I believe I shall hear good of you yet.”
He turned and walked across the room, but I could see the tears start into his eyes. And mother sat down and had a hearty crying-spell.
This made me feel rather bad for a minit or two, and I almost had a mind to give it up; and then again father’s dream came into my mind, and I mustered up courage and declared I’d go. So I tackled up the old horse, and packed in a load of axe-handles and a few notions; and 410 mother fried me some doughnuts, and put ’em into a box, along with some cheese, and sausages, and ropped me up another shirt, for I told her I didn’t know how long I should be gone. And after I got rigged out, I went round and bid all the neighbors good-by and jumped in and drove off for Portland.
Aunt Sally had been married two or three years before, and moved to Portland; and I inquired round till I found out where she lived, and went there, and put the old horse up, and eat some supper and went to bed.
And the next morning I got up, and straightened right off to see the editor of the “Portland Courier,” for I knew by what I had seen in his paper, that he was just the man to tell me which way to steer. And when I come to see him, I knew I was right; for soon as I told him my name, and what I wanted, he took me by the hand as kind as if he had been a brother, and says he, —
“Mister,” says he, “I’ll do anything I can to assist you. You have come to a good town. Portland is a healthy, thriving place, and any man with a proper degree of enterprise may do well here. But,” says he, “stranger,” and he looked mighty kind of knowing, says he, “if you want to make out to your mind, you must do as the steamboats do.”
“Well,” says I, “how do they do?” for I didn’t know what a steamboat was, any more than the man in the moon.
“Why,” says he, “they go ahead. And you must drive about among the folks here just as though you were at home, on the farm among the cattle. Don’t be afraid of any of them, but figure away, and I dare say you’ll get into good business in a very little while. But,” says he, “there’s one thing you must be careful of; and that is, not to get into the hands of those are folks that trades up 411 round Hucklers’ Row, for there’s some sharpers up there, if they get hold of you, would twist your eye-teeth out in five minits.”
Well, arter he had giv me all the good advice he could, I went back to Aunt Sally’s ag’in, and got some breakfast; and then I walked all over the town, to see what chance I could find to sell my axe-handles and things and to get into business.
After I had walked about three or four hours, I come along toward the upper end of the town, where I found there were stores and shops of all sorts and sizes. And I met a feller, and says I, —
“What place is this?”
“Why, this,” says he, “is Hucklers’ Row.”
“What!” says I, “are these the stores where the traders in Hucklers’ Row keep?”
And says he, “Yes.”
“Well, then,” says I to myself, “I have a pesky good mind to go in and have a try with one of these chaps, and see if they can twist my eye-teeth out. If they can get the best end of a bargain out of me, they can do what there ain’t a man in our place can do; and I should just like to know what sort of stuff these ’ere Portland chaps are made of.” So I goes into the best-looking store among ’em. And I see some biscuit on the shelf, and says I, —
“Mister, how much do you ax apiece for them ’ere biscuits?”
“A cent apiece,” says he.
“Well,” says I, “I shan’t give you that, but, if you’ve a mind to, I’ll give you two cents for three of them, for I begin to feel a little as though I would like to take a bite.”
“Well,” says he, “I wouldn’t sell ’em to anybody else so, but, seeing it’s you, I don’t care if you take ’em.”412
I knew he lied, for he never seen me before in his life. Well, he handed down the biscuits, and I took ’em, and walked round the store awhile, to see what else he had to sell. At last says I, —
“Mister, have you got any good cider?”
Says he, “Yes, as good as ever ye see.”
“Well,” says I, “what do you ax a glass for it?”
“Two cents,” says he.
“Well,” says I, “seems to me I feel more dry than I do hungry now. Ain’t you a mind to take these ’ere biscuits again and give me a glass of cider?”
And says he, —
“I don’t care if I do.”
So he took and laid ’em on the shelf again and poured out a glass of cider. I took the glass of cider and drinkt it down, and, to tell the truth about it, it was capital good cider. Then says I, —
“I guess it’s time for me to be a-going,” and so I stept along towards the door; but says he, —
“Stop, mister: I believe you haven’t paid me for the cider?”
“Not paid you for the cider!” says I. “What do you mean by that? Didn’t the biscuits that I give you just come to the cider?”
“Oh, ah, right!” says he.
So I started to go again, and says he, —
“But stop there, mister: you didn’t pay me for the biscuits.”
“What!” says I, “do you mean to impose upon me? do you think I am going to pay you for the biscuits, and let you keep them, too? Ain’t they there now on your shelf? What more do you want? I guess, sir, you don’t whittle me in that way.”
So I turned about and marched off, and left the feller 413 staring and scratching his head, as though he was struck with a dunderment.
Howsomever, I didn’t want to cheat him, only jest to show ’em it wa’n’t so easy a matter to pull my eye-teeth out; so I called in next day and paid him two cents.
1 This story is included in another humor anthology published by The Review of Reviews, in 1906, also on this site, The World’s Wit and Humor, Volume I, American. That version has some small differences in punctuation and words when compared with this one. Major Jack Downing is noted as the author, and there is no mention that it is the pseudonym for Seba Smith. — Elf.Ed.