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"No matter, I did it anyhow, and all in the same speech, too."
And to prove the correctness of my statement, as the Doctor seemed a little incredulous, I jumped to my feet and delivered a part of my Republican speech and then a part of the Democratic, and then headed him off by relating my experience running a fruit stand, the three days with a side-show, besides one or two other ventures. When I told him I was an auctioneer he at once became interested in me, as he had been one himself in his younger days. I quickly satisfied him that I could sell at auction, and he likewise convinced me that he "had been there." I then narrated the ups and downs I had had, and showed up my books for the winter's losses, and how I had just sent my late partner about all the money I had. He asked my plans for the future. I told him about my furniture polish, and that it was always a sure thing. He listened attentively, and after a moment's reflection said:
"But the time of year is just coming when you could make money fast if you had a nice auction stock."
"I know that; and another thing I know is just how to do it now, as I have paid well for my experience."
"Well," said the Doctor, surprising me as he reached down into his pocket and produced a roll of bills, "I am going to loan you one hundred dollars, and I know you will pay it back before three months."
I thanked him, but told him fifty dollars would answer, as I could get along nicely and would prefer to commence as low down as I dared. He insisted that a hundred would be none too much, but I declined to accept more than fifty, and immediately sent to Chicago for a stock of just such goods as I felt certain would sell well and not be too bulky.
I a.s.sured the Doctor that if I were successful I would pay him back, and if I was not I would never cross the street to shun him when I came to Chicago, but would surely call on him and acknowledge the debt, anyhow.
I had heard and read of men like Doctor Ingraham, but he was the first of his kind that I had ever met; and realizing that such friendship could not be valued too highly, I determined to not only repay him, but to let him have the satisfaction of knowing sooner or later that the start he gave me had developed into something of consequence.
After he bade me farewell and started for home, I was at a loss to know what to do while waiting for my goods, and had almost concluded to have a few bottles of polish made up with which to make a few dollars, when a young man appeared at the hotel with a very peculiar-looking cylindrical instrument in a box. I was curious to know what it was, and as he looked rather tired and sorry, I ventured to inquire what he had in there. He answered:
"Oh, it's nothing but a 'talking machine.'"
I was fairly dumfounded, and thought perhaps he was casting a slur, as I had been doing considerable talking. At any rate I felt that whether he was telling the truth or not, I had a right to take exceptions.
[Ill.u.s.tration: EXHIBITING A PHONOGRAPH NEAR ELKHART, IND.--PAGE 505.]
If he had meant to slur me, I would be insulted.
If he had told the truth, I had a right to oppose unfair compet.i.tion.
I then demanded an explanation, and a.s.sured him that I did nothing else _but_ talk, and considered I had a perfect right to investigate any sort of a machine that would be at all likely to monopolize the business.
He then took the cover off the box and showed me an Edison phonograph, which he had gotten in exchange for a horse. He had come on there expecting to meet his cousin, who was to furnish the money, and they were going to travel and exhibit it.
I asked him to "set 'er going" and let me hear it spout an hour or two.
He said it would take several minutes to arrange it, besides he didn't like to use up any more tin foil than was necessary, as he hadn't much on hand.
I asked him what he thought of doing. He said he didn't know, but guessed he'd go back home if his cousin didn't come.
"Why can't you and I give an exhibition?" I asked.
"Where will we give it?"
"Suppose we go to some country school-house a few miles out and give a show to-morrow evening?"
"All right, I'm willing. I have plenty of small hand-bills."
"Then we'll hire a team to-morrow morning and drive out to some thickly-settled neighborhood and advertise it. You're sure it'll talk, are you?"
"Talk? You bet it'll talk!"
The next morning we were up and ready for business, and, after hiring a horse and wagon, started out.
After driving several miles, we found a place where we thought it would pay to stop, and upon inquiring for the school directors, were referred to a farmer living near by.
We called on him, and after stating our business and promising himself and family pa.s.ses, were given an order on the school-teacher for the key, when she had locked up for the day. We drove directly there, where we found nearly forty scholars in attendance.
After making the teacher's acquaintance and explaining our business, she gave us permission to deliver a circular to each one present, and to make an announcement.
This I managed to do, and stated to them that if I had time after the performance with the talking machine, I would deliver a lecture on Telegraphy, and explain the manner of sending messages, and how batteries were made, and how long it would take a message to travel from New York to San Francisco.
My idea, of course, was to represent as much of an attraction as possible, as I felt certain that if we got them there, and got the machine to talking once, they would forget all about Telegraphy.
On our way out my partner had drilled me on what to say to the Phonograph in order to have the words reproduced distinctly. He said it was necessary to use a certain set of words that I could speak very distinctly, and that would be penetrating, and recommended the following:
"d.i.c.kery-d.i.c.kery-dock, The-mouse-ran-up-the-clock, The-clock-struck-one, And the-mouse-ran-down, d.i.c.kery-d.i.c.kery-dock."
After making arrangements at this school-house, we started out and visited two other districts and advertised our performance. The result was that people came from all directions, in carriage and wagon loads.
They had all heard or read of Edison's talking machine, and were anxious to see and hear it.
The house was packed, and we took in over forty dollars at the door.
At eight o'clock I announced everything ready for the exhibition, and requested all to remain as quiet as possible throughout the performance.
Of course I was as ignorant of the manner of manipulating the talking machine as any one of the audience.
I didn't know whether the thing had to be "blowed up" or "wound up," and was obliged to leave it all with my partner, who seemed perfectly confident of its success.
After arranging the tin foil he took hold of the crank, began turning, and instructed me to place my mouth over the instrument and speak my little piece about the mouse and clock. After finishing, I stepped back to await results.
He turned the crank, and the thing gave just one unearthly, agonizing groan and, I imagined, rolled its eyes back, and gasping for breath, died a natural death.
The audience showed a look of disappointment. I endeavored to convince them by my careless, indifferent manner that it was only a common occurrence, and that all would soon be right.
My partner tried to laugh it off and make believe it was a good joke, but I noticed very quickly large drops of perspiration standing on his forehead as he busied himself in trying to fix the machine.
At last he was ready to try it again, and instructed me to speak louder and more distinctly than I did before. I was determined that he should not lay the blame to me for not talking loud enough, and therefore used all the strength and power of lungs and voice that I could command. The result was less satisfactory than before, for not a sound could we get from it.
The audience began to show impatience, and from different words and expressions that came from them we were convinced that they were not going to submit easily to anything but an exhibition of some kind.
By this time my partner had taken off his coat and vest, although it was really cold enough for an overcoat, and the perspiration was fairly dripping from him. He was much excited and I wasn't feeling any too gay myself.
We began working on the machine together, which gave us a chance to converse in an undertone. I asked if he had ever tried to run it before.
He said no, but he was certain he knew how.
I told him it really looked as though he must have boarded and roomed with Edison when he conceived the idea of making the thing.
"Are you positively certain it ever did talk?"