Pieces People Ask For/The Book Canvasser
THE BOOK CANVASSER.
He came into my office with a portfolio under his arm. Placing it upon the table, removing a ruined hat, and wiping his nose upon a ragged handkerchief that had been so long out of the wash that it was positively gloomy, he said,—
"Mr. ——, I'm canvassing for the National Portrait Gallery; very valuable work; comes in numbers, fifty cents apiece; contains pictures of all the great American heroes from the earliest times down to the present day. Everybody subscribing for it, and I want to see if I can't take your name.
"Now, just cast your eyes over that," he said, opening his book and pointing to an engraving. "That's—lemme see—yes, that's Columbus, perhaps you've heard sumfin' about him. The publisher was telling me to-day, before I started out, that he discovered—No; was it Columbus that dis—Oh, yes, Columbus, he discovered America—was the first man here. He came over in a ship, the publisher said, and it took fire, and he staid on deck because his father told him to, if I remember right, and when the old thing busted to pieces he was killed. Handsome picture, ain't it? Taken from a photograph, all of 'em are; done especially for this work. His clothes are kinder odd, but they say that's the way they dressed in them days.
"Look at this one. Now, isn't that splendid? That's William Penn, one of the early settlers. I was reading t'other day about him. When he first arrived, he got a lot of Indians up a tree, and, when they shook some apples down, he set one on top of his son's head, and shot an arrow plump through it and never grazed him. They say its truck them Indians cold; he was such a terrific shooter. Fine countenance, hasn't he? Face shaved clean; he didn't wear a mustache, I believe, but he seems to have let himself out on hair. Now, my view is, that every man ought to have a picture of that patriarch so's to see how the fust settlers looked, and what kind of weskets they used to wear. See his legs too. Trousers a little short, maybe, as if he was going to wade in a creek, but he's all there. Got some kind of a paper in his hand, I see. Subscription-list, I reckon. Now, how does that strike you?
"There's something nice. That, I think, is—is—that—a—a—yes, to be sure, Washington,—you recollect him, of course. Some people call him Father of his Country; George—Washington. Had no middle name, I believe. He lived about two hundred years ago, and he was a fighter. I heard the publisher telling a man about him crossing the Delaware River up yer at Trenton; and seems to me, if I recollect right, I've read about it myself. He was courting some girl on the Jersey side, and he used to swim over at nights to see her, when the old man was asleep. The girl's family were down on him, I reckon. He looks like a man to do that, don't he? He's got it in his eye. If it'd been me, I'd gone over on a bridge; but he probably wanted to show off afore her,—some men are so reckless, you know. Now, if you'll conclude to take this, I'll get the publisher to write out some more stories, and bring 'em round to you, so's you can study up on him. I know he did ever so many other things; but I've forgot 'em, my memory's so awful poor.
"Less see! Who have we next? Ah, Franklin! Benjamin Franklin! He was one of the old original pioneers, I think. I disremember exactly what he is celebrated for, but I think it was a—flying a—oh! yes, flying a kite, that's it. The publisher mentioned it. He was out one day flying a kite, you know, like boys do nowadays, and while she was a-flickering up in the sky, and he was giving her more string, an apple fell off a tree, and hit him on the head; then he discovered the attraction of gravitation, I think they call it. Smart, wasn't it? Now, if you or me'd 'a' been hit, it'd just 'a' made us mad, like as not, and set us a-ravin'. But men are so different! One man's meat's another man's pison. See what a double chin he's got. No beard on him, either, though a goatee would have been becoming to such a round face. He hasn't got on a sword, and I reckon he was no soldier; fit some when he was a boy, maybe, or went out with the home-guard, but not a regular warrior. I ain't one myself, and I think all the better of him for it.
"Ah, here we are! Look at that. Smith and Pocahontas! John Smith! Isn't that gorgeous? See how she kneels over him, and sticks out her hands while he lays on the ground, and that big fellow with a club tries to hammer him up! Talk about woman's love! There it is for you! Modocs, I believe. Anyway, some Indians out West there, somewheres; and the publisher tells me that Captain Shackanasty, or whatever his name is there, was going to bang old Smith over the head with a log of wood, and this here girl she was sweet on Smith, it appears, and she broke loose, and jumped forward, and says to the man with a stick, 'Why don't you let John alone? Me and him are going to marry, and if you kill him I'll never speak to you as long as I live,' or words like them; and so the man he give it up, and both of them hunted up a preacher, and were married, and lived happy ever afterward. Beautiful story, isn't it? A good wife she made him, too, I'll bet, if she was a little copper-colored. And don't she look just lovely in that picture? But Smith appears kinder sick, evidently thinks his goose is cooked; and I don't wonder, with that Modoc swooping down on him with such a discouraging club.
"And now we come to—to—ah—to—Putnam—General Putnam: he fought in the war, too; and one day a lot of 'em caught him when he was off his guard, and they tied him flat on his back on a horse, and then licked the horse like the very mischief. And what does that horse do but go pitching down about four hundred stone steps in front of the house, with General Putnam lying there nearly skeered to death! Leastways the publisher said somehow that way, and I once read about it myself. But he came out safe, and I reckon sold the horse, and made a pretty good thing of it. What surprises me is, he didn't break his neck; but maybe it was a mule, for they're pretty sure-footed, you know. Surprising what some of these men have gone through, ain't it?
"Turn over a couple of leaves. That's General Jackson. My father shook hands with him once. He was a fighter, I know. He fit down in New Orleans. Broke up the rebel legislature, and then, when the Ku Kluxes got after him, he fought 'em behind cotton breastworks, and licked 'em till they couldn't stand. They say he was terrific when he got real mad,—hit straight from the shoulder, and fetched his man every time. Andrew, his fust name was; and look how his hair stands up.
"And then, here's John Adams, and Daniel Boone, and two or three pirates, and a whole lot more pictures, so you see it's cheap as dirt. Lemme have your name, won't you?"