Back to the Index Page


Getting Square by Jonathan F. Kelley


It seems to be just as natural for a subordinate in a “grocery” to levy upon the till, for material aid to his own pocket, as for the sparks to fly upwards or water run down hill. Innumerable stories are told of the peculations of these “light-fingered gentry,” but one of the best of the boodle is a story we are now about to dress up and trot out, for your diversion.

A tavern-keeper in this city, some years ago, advertised for a bar-keeper, “a young man from the country preferred!” Among the several applicants who exhibited themselves “for the vacancy,” was a decent, harmless-looking youth whose general contour at once struck the tavern-keeper with most favorable impressions.

“So you wish to try your hand tending bar?”

“Yes, sir,” said he.

“Have you ever tended bar?”

“No, sir; but I do not doubt my ability to learn.”

“Yes, yes, you can learn fast enough,” says the tavern-keeper. “In fact, I'm glad you are green at the business, you will suit me the better; the last fellow I had come to me recommended as one of the best bar-keepers in New Orleans; he was posted up in all the fancy drinks and fancy names, he wore fancy clothes and had a fancy dog, and I fancied pretty soon that the rascal had taken a fancy to my small change, so I discharged him in double quick time.”

“Served him right, sir,” said the new applicant.

“Of course I did. Well now, sir, I'll engage you; you can get the 'run' of things in a few weeks. I will give you twenty-five dollars a month, first month, and thirty dollars a month for the balance of the year.”

“I'll accept it, sir,” says the youth.

“Do you think it's enough?”

“O, yes, indeed, sir!”

“Well,” says Boniface. “Now mark me, young man, I will pay you, punctually, but you mustn't pay yourself extra wages!”

“Pay myself?” says the unsophisticated youth.

“Musn't take 'the run' of the till!”

“Run of the till?”

“No knocking down, sir!”

“O, bless you!” quoth the verdant youth, “I am as good-natured as a lamb; I never knocked any body down in all my life.”

“Ha! ha!” ejaculated the landlord; “he is green, so I won't teach him what he don't know. What's your name?”

“Absalom Hart, sir.”

“Good Christian-like name, and I've no doubt we shall agree together, for a long time; so go to work.”

Absalom “pitched in,” a whole year passed, Absalom and the landlord got along slick as a whistle. Another year, two, three, four; never was there a more attentive, diligent and industrious bar-keeper behind a marble slab, or armed with a toddy stick. He was the ne plus ultra of bar-keepers, a perfect paragon of toddy mixers. But one day, somehow or other, the landlord found himself in custody of the sheriff, bag and baggage. Business had not fallen off, every thing seemed properly managed, but, somehow or other, the landlord broke, failed, caved in, and the sheriff sold him out.

Who bought the concern? Absalom Hart—nobody else. Some of the people were astonished.

“Well, who would have thought it?”

“Hurrah for Absalom!”

“By George, that was quick work!” were the remarks of the outsiders, when the fact of the sale and purchase became known. The landlord felt quite humbled, he was out of house and home, but he had a friend, surely.

“Mr. Hart, things work queer in this world, sometimes.”

“Think so?” quietly responded the new landlord.

“I do, indeed; yesterday I was up, and to-day I am down.”

“Very true, sir.”

“Yesterday you were down, to-day you are up.”

“Very true; time works wonders, Mr. Smith.”

“It does indeed, sir. Now, Mr. Hart, I am out of employment—got my family to support; I always trusted I treated you like a man, didn't I?”

“A—ye-e-s, you did, I believe.”

“Now, I want you to employ me; I have a number of friends who of course will patronize our house while I am in it, and you can afford me a fair sort of a living to help you.”

“Well, Mr. Smith,” said Mr. Hart, “I suppose I shall have to hire somebody, and as I don't believe in taking a raw hand from the country, I will take one who understands all about it. I'll engage you; so go to work.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hart.” And so the master became the man, and the man the master.

“Poor Smith, he's down!” cries one old habitue of the 'General Washington' bar-room. “I carkelated he'd gin out afore long, if he let other people 'tend to his business instead of himself.”

“I didn't like that fellow Absalom, no how,” says another old head; “he's 'bout skin'd Smith.”

“Well, Smith kin be savin', he's larnt something,” says a third, “and oughter try to get on to his pegs again.”

But when Absalom gave his “free blow,” these fellows all “went in,” partook of the landlord's hospitality, and hoped—of course they did—that he might live several thousand years, and make a fortune!

Time slid on—Smith was attentive, no bar-keeper more assiduous and devoted to the toddy affairs of the house, than Jerry Smith, the pseudo-bar-keeper of Absalom Hart. Absalom being landlord of a popular drinking establishment, was surrounded by politicians, horse jockies, and various otherwise complexioned, fancy living personages. Ergo, Absalom began to lay off and enjoy himself; he had his horses, dogs, and other pastimes; got married, and cut it very “fat.” One day he got involved for a friend, got into unnecessary expenses, was sued for complicated debts, and so entangled with adverse circumstances, that at the end of his third year as landlord, the sheriff came in, and the “General Washington” again came under the hammer.

Now, who will become purchaser? Every body wondered who would become the next customer.

“I will, by George!” says Smith. And Smith did; he had worked long and faith_fully, and he had saved something. Smith bought out the whole concern, and once more he was landlord of the “General Washington.”

Absalom was cut down, like a hollyhock in November—he was dead broke, and felt, in his present situation, flat, stale, and unprofitable enough.

“Mr. Smith,” said Absalom, the day after the collapse, “I am once more on my oars.”

“Yes, Ab, so it seems; it's a queer world, sometimes we are up, and sometimes we are down. Time, Ab, works wonders, as you once very forcibly remarked.”

“It does, indeed, sir.”

“We have only to keep up our spirits, Ab, go ahead; the world is large, if it is full of changes.”

“True, sir, very true. I was about to remark, Mr. Smith—”

“Well, Ab.”

“That we have known one another—”

“Pretty well, I think!”

“A long time, sir—”

“Yes, Ab.”

“And when I was up and you down—”

“Yes, go on.”

“I gave you a chance to keep your head above water.”

“True enough, Ab, my boy.”

“Now, sir, I want you to give me charge of the bar again, and I'll off coat and go to work like a Trojan.”

“Ab Hart,” said Smith, “when you came to me, you was so green you could hardly tell a crossed quarter from a bogus pistareen—the 'run of the till' you learnt in a week, while in less than a month you was the best hand at 'knocking down' I ever met! There's fifty dollars, you and I are square; we will keep so—go!”

Poor Absalom was beat at his own game, and soon left for parts unknown.


Back to the Index Page