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The Man that knew 'em All by Jonathan F. Kelley


If you have ever “been around” some, and taken notice of things, you have doubtless seen the man who knows pretty much every thing and every body!

I've seen them frequently. As the old preacher observed to a venerable lady, in reference to forerunners, “I see 'em now.” Well, talking of that rare and curious specimen of the human family, the man that knows every body, I've rather an amusing reminiscence of “one of 'em.” Stopping over night at the Virginia House, in that jumping off place of Western Virginia, Wheeling, some years ago, I had the pleasure or pastime of meeting several of the big guns of the nation, on their way from Washington city, home. It was in August, I think, when, as is most generally the case, the Ohio river gets monstrous low and feeble; when all of the large steamers are past getting up so far, and travelling down the river becomes quite amusing to amateurs, and particularly tedious and monotonous to business people, bound home. Three hundred travellers, more or less, were laying back at the “Virginia” and “United States,” in the aforesaid hardscrabble of a city, or town, waiting for the river to get up, or some means for them to get down.

The session of Congress had closed at Washington, some time before, and as almost all of the M. C.'s, U. S. S.'s, wire pullers, hangers on, blacklegs, horse jockeys, etc., etc., came over “the National Road” to Wheeling, to take the river for Southern and Western destinations, of course the assemblage at that place, at that time, was promiscuous, and quite interesting; at least, Western and Southern men always make themselves happy and interesting, home or abroad, and particularly so when travelling. It was a glorious thing for the proprietors of the hotels, to have such a host of guests, as a house full of company always is a “host,” the guests having nothing else to do but lay back, eat, drink, and be merry, and foot the bills when ready, or when opportunity offers, to——go.

They drank and smoked, and drank again, and told jests, and played games and tricks, and thus passed the time along. Among the multitude was one of those ever-talkative and chanting men of the world, who knew all places and all men—as he would have it. Just after removing the cloth, at dinner, a knot of the old jokers, bacchanalians and wits, settled away in a cluster, at the far end of a long table, and were having a very pleasant time. The man of all talk was there; he was the very nucleus of all that was being said or done. He was from below, somewhere, on his way, as he informed the crowd, to Washington city, upon affairs of no slight importance to himself and the country in general.

“Oho!” says one of the party, a sly, winking, fat and rosy gentleman, whom we shall designate hereafter, “you're bound to the capital, eh?”

“Yes, sir,” responded the man of all talk.

“Of course you've been there before?” says the interrogator, nudging a friend, and winking at the rest.

What? Me been in Washington before? Ha, ha! me been there before! Bless you, me been in Washington city!”

“Oho! ha, ha!” says the interrogator, “you're one of the caucus folks, eh? One of them wire pullers we read about, eh?”

Me? Caucus? Ha, ha! Mum's the word, gents, (looking killingly cunning.) Come, gentlemen, let's fill up. Ha, ha! me pulling the—ha, ha! Well, here's to the old Constitution; let's hang by her, while there's a—a—a button on Jabe's coat.”

And they all responded, of course, to this eloquent sentiment.

“Here's to Jabe's buttons, coat, hat, and breeches.”

“Excuse me,” continued the first operator, after the toast was wet down, “you'll please excuse me, in behalf of some of my friends here; as you've been down in that dratted place, and must know a good deal of the goings on there, I'd like to inquire about a few things we Western folks don't more than get an inkling of, through the papers.”

“Certainly; go on, sir,” says the victim, assuming all the dignity and depth of a man that's appealed to to settle a ponderous matter.

“I'd like to inquire if those Kitchen Cabinet disclosures of the Pennsylvania Senator, were true. Had you ever any means of satisfying yourself that there is, or was, a real service of gold in the President's house?”

“Aye! that's what we'd all like to know,” says another.

“How many pieces were there?”

What were they?”

“Aye, and what their heft was?”

“Mum, gentlemen; let's drink—no tales out of school, ha, ha! No, no—mum's the word.” And looking funny and deep, merry and wise, all at one and the same time, the man of all talk proposed to drink and keep——mum.

But they wouldn't drink, and insisted on the secret being let out—they wanted a decided and positive answer, from a man who knew the ropes.

“Gentlemen,” said the victim, dropping his voice into a sort of melo-dramatic stage whisper, and stooping quite over the table, so as to collect the several heads and ears as close into a phalanx as possible: “gentlemen, it's a fact!

“What?” says the party.

“All gold!” says the victim.

“A gold service?” inquires the party.

Thirty-eight pieces!” continued the victim.

“Solid gold?” chimed the rest.

Just half a ton in heft!

“You don't tell us that?”

“Know it; eat out of 'em, then weighed 'em all!

“P-h-e-w!” whistled some, while others went into stronger exclamations.

Fact, by the great ——”

“Oh, it's all right, sir; no doubt of it now, sir,” said the mover of the business, grasping the victim's upraised arm.

“Then, of course, sir, you're well acquainted with Matty Van; on good terms with the little Magician,” continued the leading wag.

Me? me on good terms with Matty? Ha, ha! that is a good joke; never go to Washington without cracking a bottle with the little fox, and staying over night with him. Me on good terms with Matty? We've had many a spree together! Yes, sir!” and the knowing one winked right and left.

“Well, there's old Bullion,” continued one of the interrogators, a fine portly old gent, “you know him, of course?”

“What, Tom Benton? Bless your souls, I don't know my letters half as well as I know old Tom.”

“And Bill Allen, of Ohio?” asked another. “What sort of a fellow is Bill?”

“Bill Allen? Lord O! isn't he a coon? Bill Allen? I wish I had a dime for every horn, and game of bluff, we've had together.”

“Well, there's another of 'em,” inquiringly asked a fat, farmer-looking old codger: “Dr. Duncan, how's he stand down there about Washington?”

“Oh, well, he's a pretty good sort of an old chap, but, gents, between you and I, (with another whisper,) there is a good deal of the 'old fogie' senna and salts about him. But then he's death and the pale hoss on poker.”

“What, Doctor Duncan?” says they.

“Why, y-e-e-s, of course. Didn't he skin me out of my watch last winter, playing poker, at Willard's?”

“Well,” continued the fat farmer-looking man, “I didn't know Duncan gambled?”

“Mum, not a word out of school; ha, ha! Let's drink, gents. Gamble? Lord bless you, it's common as dish-water down there—I've played euchre for hours with old Tom Benton, Harry Clay and Gen. Scott, right behind the speaker's chair!

Then they all drank, of course, and some of the party liked to have choked. The company now proposed to adjourn to the smoking room, and they arose and left the table accordingly. The man of all talk promenaded out on to the steps, and in course of half an hour, says the leading spirit of the late dinner, or wine party, to him:—

“Mr. ——a—a—?”

“Ferguson, sir; George Adolphus Ferguson is my address, sir,” responded the victim.

“Mr. Ferguson, did you know that your friend Benton was in town?” inquired the wag.

“What, Tom Benton here?”

“And Allen,” continued the wag.

“What, Bill Allen, too?” says the victim.

“And Doctor Duncan.”

“You don't tell me all them fellows are here?”

“Yes, sir, your friends are all here. Come in and see them; your friends will be delighted,” says the wag, taking Mister Ferguson by the arm, to lead him in.

“Ha, ha! I'm a—a—ha, ha! won't we have a time? But you just step in—I a—I'll be in in one moment,” but in less than half the time, Mr. Ferguson mizzled, no one knew whither!

The gentlemen at the table, it is almost needless to say, were no others than Benton, Allen, Duncan, and some three or four other arbiters of the fate of our immense and glorious nation, in her councils, and fresh from the capital.

Ferguson has not been heard of since.


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