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Have You Got Any Old Boots? by Jonathan F. Kelley

 

No slight portion of the ills that flesh is heir to, in a city life, is the culinary item of rent day. Washing day has had its day—machines and fluid have made washing a matter of science and ease, and we are no longer bearded by fuming and uncouth women in the sulks and suds, as of yore, on the day set apart for renovating soiled dimities and dickeys. Another and more important matter, from the extent of its obnoxiousness to our nerves and temper, has come home to our very threshold and hearths, to disturb the even tenor of our domestic quietude and peace.

Have you got any ole boots?

Boston lost a good citizen by those bell-pulling, gate-whacking, back-door-pounding infernal collectors of time and care-worn boots. The old boot gatherers were almost as diverting as novel to me, when I first located in Boston; but I have long since learned to hate and abhor them, and their co-laborers in the tin-pan, tape, tea-pot, willow work, and white pine ware trade, with a most religious enthusiasm.

Have you got any ole boots?

How often—a hundred times at least, have I gone to the door and heard this inquiry—ten times in one day, for I kept count of it, and used enough “strong language” at each shutting—banging to of the door, to last a “first officer” through a gale of wind.

Have you got any ole boots?

The idea of jumping up from your beef steak and coffee, or morning paper—just as you had got into a deeply interesting bit of information on “breadstuff's,” California, or the Queen's last baby, to open your door, and espy a grim-visaged and begrimed son of the Emerald Isle, just rearing his phiz above the pyramid of ancient and defiled leather, and meekly asking—

Have yez got any ole boots?

These collectors are of course prepared for any amount of explosive gas you may shower down upon their uncombed crowns, as the cool and perfectly-at-home manner they descend your steps to mount those of your next-door neighbor plainly indicates. The “pedlers” and—

Have you got any ole boots?

Drove my respected—middle-aged friend Mansfield—clear out of town! Mr. Mansfield was a retired flour merchant; he was not rich, but well to do in the world. He had no children of his own, in lieu of which, however, he had become responsible for the “bringing up” of two orphans of a friend. One of these children was a boy, old enough to be devilish and mightily inclined that way. The boy's name was Philip, the foster father he called Uncle Henry, and not long after arriving in town, and opening house at the South End, Mr. Mansfield—who was given to quiet musings, book and newspaper reading—found that he was likely to become a victim to the aforesaid hawkers, pedlers and old boot collectors.

Uncle Henry stood it for a few months, with the firmness of an experienced philosopher, laying the flattering unction to his soul that, however harrowing—

Got any ole boots to-day?

might be to him, for the present, he could grin and bear and finally get used to it, as other people did. But Uncle Henry possessed an irritable and excitable temperament, that not one man in ten thousand could boast of, and hence he grew—at length sour, then savage, and, finally, quite meat-axish, towards every outsider who dared to ring his bell, and proffer wooden ware and tin fixins, for rags and rubbers, or make the never-to-be-forgotten inquiry—

Have you got any ole boots to-day?

Always at home, seated in his front parlor, and his frugal wife not permitting the expense of a servant, Uncle Henry, or Master Philip, were obliged to wait on the door. The old gentleman finally concluded that the pedlers and old boot collectors, more as a matter of daily amusement than profit or concern—gave him a call. And laboring under this impression, Uncle Henry determined to give the nuisances, as he called them, a reception commensurate with their impertinence and his worked up ire.

“Now, Philly,” said Uncle Henry, one morning after breakfast, “we'll fix these—

“'Got any ole boots?'

“We'll give the rascals a caution, they won't neglect soon, I'll warrant them. Bring me the hammer and nails; that's a man; now get uncle the high chair; so, that's it; now I'll fix this shelf up over the top of the door, on a pivot—bore this hole through here—put the string through that way, here, umph; oh, now we'll have a trap for the scoundrels. I'll learn them how to come pulling people's bells, clean out by the very roots, making us drop all, to come wait on them, rot them—

“'Got any ole boots?'

“I'll give you old boots, by the lord Harry; I'll give you a dose of something you won't forget, to your dying day.”

And thus jabbering, fixing and pushing about the revolving shelf, over his hall door, Mr. Mansfield worked away at his trap. Like that of most dwellings in Boston, Uncle Henry's front door was sunk some six or eight feet into the face of the house, reached by a flight of six granite steps—side and top lights to the door, in the ordinary way, with brass plate and bell pull. It was in a neighborhood not plebeian enough to induce butcher boys to enter the hall, with the pork and potatoes, nor admit of the servant girl heaving “slops” out of the front windows; yet not sufficiently parvenu to impress pedlers and

Got any ole boots?

with aristocratic or “respectable” awe, ere venturing to mount the steps, pull the bell, and mention tin pots, scrap iron, rags and old leather. Mr. Mansfield was inclined to chuckle in his sleeves at the ruse he would be enabled to give his tormentors through the agency of his revolving battery—charged with ground charcoal and brick dust, to be worked by himself or Philly, by means of a string on the inside. Philly was duly initiated into the modus operandi; when—

Got any ole boots?

made his appearance, amid his pyramid of leather, or a pedler's wagon was seen in the neighborhood, Philly was to be on the qui vive, inform Uncle Henry, and if they mounted the steps, he would give them a shower bath upon a new and astonishing principle.

It was perfect “nuts” for Master Phil; he was tickled at the idea, and readily agreed to Uncle Henry's propositions. Not long after arranging the “infernal machine,” Uncle Henry's attention was called to another part of the house; a dire calamity had befallen the Canary bird; a strange cat had pounced upon the cage—the door flew open, and puss nabbed the little warbler. Philly, on the look out, in front, discovers two old boot men approaching the neighborhood; desirous of showing his own skill, he did not call Uncle Henry, but posted himself behind the door—string in hand, awaiting the cue. Feet approach—quickly the feet mount the steps.

Ding al ling, ding de ding, ding, ding, ding!

Sh-i-i-s-swashe!” and down comes the avalanche of coal dust and refined brick, the bulk of a peck, fair measurement!

Uncle Henry reached the door just in time to see the penny postman covered from head to foot with the obnoxious composition! Philly took occasion to make a sudden exit, the postman swore—swore like a trooper, but Uncle Henry managed to pack the whole transaction upon the “devilish boy”—brushed the postman's clothes, and after some effort, so mollified him as to induce the sufferer to depart in peace. Uncle Henry tried to be very severe on Philly, but it was very evident to that hopeful that the old gentleman was more tickled than serious. Philly cleared the steps, and the old gentleman re-arranged the trap, admonishing Philly not to dare to meddle with it again, but call him when—

Got any ole boots?” made their appearance.

All was quiet up to noon next day; Uncle Henry had business down town, and left the house at 9 A. M. Philly was at school, but got home before Uncle Henry, and seeing the pedler wagon near the door—slipped in, and learning that the old gentleman was out, he gladly took charge of the battery again. Now, just as the pedler mounted the steps of the next door, Mr. Mansfield sees him, and hurries up his own steps, to be on the watch for the pedler. Philly had been peeking out the corner of the side curtain, and seeing the pedler coming, as he thought, right up the steps—nabbed the string, and as Uncle Henry caught the knob of the door—down came thundering the brick dust and charcoal both, in the most elegant profusion.

Phil was tricked. Uncle Henry's vociferations were equal to that of a drunken beggar—the trap was removed, Uncle Henry got disgusted with city life, and left—for rural retirement, without as much as giving one single rebuke to—

Got any ole boots to-day?

 
 
 

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