From The Wit and Humor of America, edited by Marshall P. Wilder, Volume IV, New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls and Company, 1911; pp. 729-739.
HOW WE BOUGHT A SEWIN’ MACHINE AND ORGAN
BY JOSIAH ALLEN’S WIFE
We done dretful well last year. The crops came in first-rate, and Josiah had five or six heads of cattle to turn off at a big price. He felt well, and he propsed to me that I should have a sewin’ machine. That man, — though he don’t coo at me so frequent as he probable would if he had more encouragement in it, is attached to me with a devotedness that is firm and almost cast-iron, and says he, almost tenderly: “Samantha, I will get you a sewin’ machine.”
Says I, “Josiah, I have got a couple of sewin’ machines by me that have run pretty well for upwards of — well it haint necessary to go into particulars, but they have run for considerable of a spell anyway” — says I, “I can git along without another one, though no doubt it would be handy to have round.”
But Josiah hung onto that machine. And then he up and said he was goin’ to buy a organ. Thomas Jefferson wanted one too. They both seemed sot onto that organ. Tirzah Ann took hern with her of course when she was married, and Josiah said it seemed so awful lonesome without any Tirzah Ann or any music, that it seemed almost as if two girls had married out of the family instead of one. He said money couldn’t buy us another Tirzah Ann, but it would buy us a new organ, and he was determined to have one. He said it would be so handy for 730 her to play on when she came home, and for other company. And then Thomas J. can play quite well; he can play any tune, almost, with one hand, and he sings first-rate, too. He and Tirzah Ann used to sing together a sight; he sings bearatone and she sulfireno — that is what they call it. They git up so many new-fangled names nowadays, that I think it is most a wonder that I don’t make a slip once in a while and git things wrong. I should, if I hadn’t got a mind like a ox for strength.
But as I said, Josiah was fairly sot on that machine and organ, and I thought I’d let him have his way. So it got out that we was goin’ to buy a sewin’ machine, and a organ. Well, we made up our minds on Friday, pretty late in the afternoon, and on Monday forenoon I was a washin’, when I heard a knock at the front door, and I wrung my hands out of the water and went and opened it. A slick lookin’ feller stood there, and I invited him in and sot him in a chair.
“I hear you are talkin’ about buyin’ a musical instrument,” says he.
“No,” says I, “we are goin’ to buy a organ.”
“Well,” says he, “I want to advise you, not that I have any interest in it at all,, only I don’t want to see you so imposed upon. It fairly makes me mad to see a Methodist imposed upon; I lean towards that perswasion myself. Organs are liable to fall to pieces any minute. There haint no dependence on ’em at all, the insides of ’em are liable to break out at any time. If you have any regard for your own welfare and safety, you will buy a piano. Not that I have any interest in advising you, only my devotion to the cause of Right; pianos never wear out.”
“Where should I git one?” says I, for I didn’t want Josiah to throw away his property.
“Well,” says he, “as it happens, I guess I have got one 731 out here in the wagon. I believe I threw one into the bottom of the wagon this mornin’, as I was a comin’ down by here on business. I am glad now I did, for it always makes me feel ugly to see a Methodist imposed upon.”
Josiah came into the house in a few minutes, and I told him about it, and says I:
“How lucky it is Josiah, that we found out about organs before it was too late.”
But Josiah asked the price, and said he wasn’t goin’ to pay out no three hundred dollars, for he wasn’t able. But the man asked if we was willin’ to have it brought into the house for a spell — we could do as we was a mind to about buyin’ it; and of course we couldn’t refuse, so Josiah most broke his back a liftin’ it in, and they set it up in the parlor, and after dinner the man went away.
Josiah bathed his back with linement, for he had strained it bad a liftin’ that piano, and I had jest got back to my washin’ again (I had had to put it away to git dinner) when I heerd a knockin’ again to the front door, and I pulled down my dress sleeves and went and opened it, and there stood a tall, slim feller; and the kitchen bein’ all cluttered up I opened the parlor door and asked him in there, and the minute he catched sight of that piano, he jest lifted up both hands, and says he:
“You haint got one of them here!”
He looked so horrified that it skairt me, and says I in almost tremblin’ tones:
“What is the matter with ’em?” And I added in a cheerful tone, “we haint bought it.”
He looked more cheerful too as I said it, and says he “You may be thankful enough that you haint. There haint no music in ’em at all; hear that,” says he, goin’ up and strikin’ the very top note. It did sound flat enough.732
Says I, “There must be more music in it than that, though I haint no judge at all.”
“Well, hear that, then,” and he went and struck the very bottom not. “You see just what it is, from top to bottom. But it haint its total lack of music that makes me despise pianos so, it is because they are so dangerous.”
“Dangerous?” says I.
“Yes, in thunder storms, you see;” says he, liftin’ up the cover, “here it is all wire, enough for fifty lightnin’ rods — draw the lightnin’ right into the room. Awful dangerous! No money would tempt me to have one in my house with my wife and daughter. I shouldn’t sleep a wink thinkin’ I had exposed ’em to such danger.”
“Good land!” says I, “I never thought on it before.”
“Well, now you have thought of it, you see plainly that a organ is jest what you need. They are full of music, safe, healthy and don’t cost half so much.”
Says I, “A organ was what we had sot our mines on at first.”
“Well, I have got one out here, and I will bring it in.”
“What is the price?” says I.
“One hundred and ninety dollars,” says he.
“There won’t be no need of bringin’ it in at that price,” says I, “for I have heerd Josiah say, that he wouldn’t give a cent over a hundred dollars.”
“Well,” says the feller, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. Your countenance looks so kinder natural to me, and I like the looks of the country round here so well, that if your mind is made up on the price you want to pay, I won’t let a trifle of ninety dollars part us. You can have it for one hundred.”
“Well, the end on’t was, he brung it in and sot it up the other end of the parlor, and drove off. And when Josiah come in from his work, and Thomas J. come home from Jonesville, they liked it first rate.733
But the very next day, a new agent come, and he looked awful skairt when he katched sight of that organ, and real mad and indignant too.
“That villain haint been a tryin’ to get one of them organs off onto you, has he?” says he.
“What is the trouble with ’em?” says I, in a awe-struck tone, for he looked bad.
“Why,” says he, “there is a heavy mortgage on every one of his organs. If you bought one of him, and paid for it, it would be liable to be took away from you any minute when you was right in the middle of a tune, leavin’ you a settin’ on the stool; and you would lose every cent of your money.”
“Good gracious!” says I, for it skairt me to think what a narrow chance we had run. Well, finally, he brung in one of hisen, and sot it up in the kitchen, the parlor bein’ full on ’em.
And the fellers kep’ a comin’ and a goin’ at all hours. For a spell, at first, Josiah would come in and talk with ’em, but after a while he got tired out, and when he would see one a comin’ he would start on a run for the barn, and hide, and I would have to stand the brunt of it alone. One feller see Josiah a runnin’ for the barn, and he follered him in, and Josiah dove under the barn, as I found out aftewards. I happened to see him a crawlin’ out after the feller drove off. Josiah come in a shakin’ himself — for he was all covered with straw and feathers — and says he:
“Samantha there has got to be a change.”
“How is there goin’ to be a change?” says I.
“I’ll tell you,” says he, in a whisper — for fear some on ’em was prowlin’ round the house yet — “we will git up before light to-morrow mornin’, and go to Jonesville and buy a organ right out.”734
I fell in with the idee, and we started for Jonesville the next mornin’. We got there jest after the break of day, and bought it of the man to the breakfast table. Says Josiah to me afterwards, as we was goin’ down into the village:
“Let’s keep dark about buyin’ one, and see how many of the creeters will be a besettin’ on us to-day.”
So we kep’ still, and there was half a dozen fellers follerin’ us round all the time a most, into stores and groceries and the manty makers, and they would stop us on the sidewalk and argue with us about their organs and pianos. One feller, a tall slim chap, never let Josiah out of his sight a minute; and he follered him when he went after his horse, and walked by the side of the wagon clear down to the store where I was, a arguin’ all the way about his piano. Josiah had bought a number of things and left ’em to the store, and when we got there, there stood the organ man by the side of the things, jest like a watch dog. He knew Josiah would come and git ’em, and he could git the last word with him.
Amongst other things, Josiah had bought a barrel of salt, and the piano feller that had stuck to Josiah so tight that day, offered to help him on with it. And the organ man — not goin’ to be outdone by the other — he offered too. Josiah kinder winked to me, and then he held the old mare, and let ’em lift. They wasn’t used to such kind of work, and it fell back on ’em once or twice, and most squashed ’em; but they nipped to, and lifted again, and finally got it on; but they was completely tuckered out.
And then Josiah got in, and thanked ’em for the liftin’; and the organ man, a wipin’ the sweat offen his face — that had started out in his hard labor — said he should be down to-morrow mornin’; and the piano man, a pantin’ for breath, told Josiah not to make up his mind till he 735 came; he should be down that night if he got rested enough.
And then Josiah told ’em that he should be glad to see ’em down a visitin’ any time, but he had jest bought a organ.
I don’t know but what they would have laid holt of Josiah, if they hadn’t been so tuckered out; but as it was, they was too beat out to look anything but sneakin’; and so we drove off.
The manty maker had told me that day, that there was two or three new agents with new kinds of sewin’ machines jest come to Jonesville, and I was tellin’ Josiah on it, when we met a middle-aged man, and he looked at us pretty close, and finally he asked us as he passed by, if we could tell him where Josiah Allen lived.
Says Josiah, “I’m livin’ at present in a Democrat.”
Says I, “In this one-horse wagon, you know.”
Says he, “You are thinkin’ of buyin’ a sewin’ machine, haint you?”
Says Josiah, “I am a turnin’ my mind that way.”
At that, the man turned his horse round, and follered us, and I see he had a sewin’ machine in front of his wagon. We had the old mare and the colt, and seein’ a strange horse come up so close behind us, the colt started off full run towards Jonesville, and then run down a cross-road and into a lot.
Says the man behind us, “I am a little younger than you be, Mr. Allen; if you will hold my horse I will go after the colt with pleasure.”
Josiah was glad enough, and so he got into the feller’s wagon; but before he started off, the man, says he:
“You can look at that machine in front of you while I am gone. I tell you frankly, that there haint another machine equal to it in America; it requires no strength at 736 all; infants can run it for days at a time; or idiots; if anybody knows enough to set and whistle, they can run this machine; and it’s especially adapted to the blind — blind people can run it jest as well as them that can see. A blind woman last year, in one day, made 43 dollars a makin’ leather aprons; stitched them all around the age two rows. She made two dozen of ’em, and then she made four dozen gauze veils the same day, without changin’ the needle. That is one of the beauties of the machine, its goin’ from leather to lace, and back agin, without changin’ the needle. It is so tryin’ for wimmen, every time they want to go from leather to gauze and book muslin, to have to change the needle; but you can see for yourself that it haint got its equal in North America.”
He heerd the colt whinner, and Josiah stood up in the wagon, and looked after it. So he started off down the cross road.
And we sot there, feelin’ considerable like a procession; Josiah holdin’ the stranger’s horse, and I the old mare; and as we sot there, up driv another slick lookin’ chap, and I bein’ ahead, he spoke to me, and says he:
“Can you direct me, mom, to Josiah Allen’s house?”
“It is about a mile from here,” and I added in a friendly tone, “Josiah is my husband.”
“Is he?” says he, in a genteel tone.
“Yes,” says I, “we have been to Jonesville, and our colt run down that cross-road, and —”
“I see,” says he interruptin’ of me, “I see how it is.” And then he went on in a lower tone, “If you think of buyin’ a sewin’ machine, don’t git one of that feller in the wagon behind you — I know him well; he is one of the most worthless shacks in the country, as you can plainly see by the looks of his countenance. If I ever see a face in which knave and villain is wrote down, it is on hisen. 737 Any one with half an eye can see that he would cheat his grandmother out of her snuff handkerchief, if he got a chance.”
He talked so fast that I couldn’t git a chance to put in a word age ways for Josiah.
“His sewin’ machines are utterly worthless; he haint never sold one yet; he cant. His character has got out — folks know him. There was a lady tellin’ me the other day that her machine she bought of him, all fell to pieces in less than twenty-four hours after she bought it; fell onto her infant, a sweet little babe, and crippled it for life. I see your husband is havin’ a hard time of it with that colt. I will jest hitch my horse here to the fence, and go down and help him; I want to have a little talk with him before he comes back here.” So he started off on the run.
I told Josiah what he said about him, for it madded me, but Josiah took it cool. He seemed to love to set there and see them two men run. I never did see a colt act as that one did; they didn’t have time to pass a word with each other, to find out their mistake, it kep’ ’em so on a keen run. They would git it headed towards us, and then it would kick up its heels, and run into some lot, and canter round in a circle with its head up in the air, and then bring up short ag’inst the fence; and then they would leap over the fence. The first one had white pantaloons on, but he didn’t mind ’em; over he would go, right into sikuta or elderbushes, and they would wave their hats at it, and holler, and whistle, and bark like dogs, and the colt would whinner and start off again right the wrong way, and them two men would go a pantin’ after it. They had been a runnin’ nigh onto half an hour, when a good lookin’ young feller came along, and seein’ me a settin’ still and holdin’ the old mare, he up and says:738
“Are you in any trouble that I can assist you?”
Says I, “We are goin’ home from Jonesville, Josiah and me, and our colt got away and —”
But Josiah interrupted me, and says he, “And them two fools a caperin’ after it, are sewin’ machine agents.”
The good lookin’ chap see all through it in a minute, and he broke out into a laugh it would have done your soul good to hear, it was so clear and hearty, and honest. But he didn’t say a word; he drove out to go by us, and we see then that he had a sewin’ machine in the buggy.
“Are you a agent?” says Josiah.
“Yes,” says he.
“What sort of a machine is this here?” says Josiah, liftin’ up the cloth from the machine in front of him.
“A pretty good one,” says the feller, lookin’ at the name on it.
“Is yours as good?” says Josiah.
“I think it is better,” says he. And then he started up his horse.
“Hello! stop!” says Josiah.
The feller stopped.
“Why don’t you run down other feller’s machines, and beset us to buy yourn?”
“Because I don’t make a practice of stoppin’ people on the street.”
“Do you haunt folks day and night; foller ’em up ladders, through trap-doors, down sullers, and under barns?”
“No,” says the young chap, “I show people how my machine works; if they want it, I sell it; and if they don’t, I leave.”
“How much is your machine?” says Josiah.
“Can’t you,” says Josiah, “because I look so much like your old father, or because I am a Methodist, or because 739 my wife’s mother used to live neighbor to your grandmother — let me have it for 25 dollars?”
The feller got up on his wagon, and turned his machine round so we could see it plain — it was a beauty — and says he:
“You see this machine, sir; I think it is the best one made, although there is no great difference between this and the one over there; but I think what difference there is, is in this one’s favor. You can have it for 75 dollars if you want it; if not, I will drive on.”
“How do you like the looks on it, Samantha?”
Says I, “It is the kind I wanted to git.”
Josiah took out his wallet, and counted out 75 dollars, and says he:
“Put that machine into that wagon where Samantha is.”
The good lookin’ feller was jest liftin’ of it in, and countin’ over his money, when the two fellers come up with the colt. It seemed that they had had a explanation as they was comin’ back; I see they had as quick as I catched sight on ’em, for they was a walkin’ one on one side of the road, and the other on the other, most tight up to the fence. They was most dead the colt had run ’em so, and it did seem as if their faces couldn’t look no redder nor more madder than they did as we catched sight on ’em and Josiah thanked ’em for drivin’ back the colt: but when they see that the other feller had sold us a machine, their faces did look redder and madder.
But I didn’t care mite; we drove off tickled enough that we had got through with our sufferin’s with agents. And the colt had got so beat out a runnin’ and racin’, that he drove home first-rate, walkin’ along by the old mare as stiddy as a deacon.