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You know I love a good rummage sale probably more than anyone – and so when I discovered forgotten humorist J.L. Harbour had a short story called “A Rural Rummage Sale” – well of course I had to track it down and read it!
In the story, all told from the viewpoint of the innkeeper Hiram Todd, a hustler comes to a rural village area and convinces everybody they will have a great rummage sale and everybody will be able to make money selling their old junk.
This hustler convinces the local businesses to pay to advertise in the flyers he passes out to farmers, and the farmers come from miles to sell at the event.
The hustler makes a ton of money from the advertisements, and everybody is excited for the opportunity to sell their old junk for money. Of course, the hustler skips town on the day of the sale because he neglected the most important part of any kind of successful sale – you need buyers!
I found the story to be a little hard to read because it’s written with a lot of dialect – as much of J.L. Harbour’s works are – but even still I thought it was pretty neat to take a glimpse into what kinds of things you might see at a rummage sale in the year 1901 – 5 foot wide hoop skirts from the 1860’s and half-used bottles of medicine.
I do have to say though, had I gone to that rummage sale – I for sure would have bought some of old Jake Baggley’s spinning wheels!
In the introduction, the storyteller Hiram Todd says if the food isn’t a “Delmonicky bill o’fare” – by this, he is referencing the Delmonico resturant in New York City, one of the first fine-dining restaurants in America. Of course, the famous Delmonico restaurant menu itself has its own controversy. Whether that would have been known back then by our author J.L. Harbour is hard to say.
In this story, we also see some words you probably will need to look up, unless you happen to read a lot of classic and historic literature! The word vouchsafed means to give or grant something to someone in a condescending manner. Now there’s a word we don’t hear too often today!
Another word in this story that is important to know the meaning of is the word handbill. A handbill is an advertisment flyer. If you’ve ever been handed a flyer that’s advertising or promoting something – that’s a handbill.
Lastly, I think it’s worth mentioning the meaning of the now somewhat obsolete saying “to pass in one’s checks” – this means that old Miss Tilly Bean was mighty close to dying. Saying she was a “close” woman was another way of saying she was closefisted, a tightwad – she did not like to spend money!
Anyways – enough from me, you should of course read the story and interpret the text yourself! 🙂
A Rural Rummage Sale
This short story was published on Thursday, April 25, 1901 in The Standard Union daily newspaper.
“I dunno just where the feller did hail from, He just appeared an’ he come an’ put up with me here at the Corners one day, like most folks do who come to the Corners. Good reason why – there ain’t no other place for ’em to stay. So I have kind o’ got the drop on ’em. But I don’t take no onfair advantage on that account. I give ’em good feed an’ plenty of it – if it hain’t no Delmonicky bill o’ fare, an’ if your room ain’t as clean an’ the bed ain’t as comfortable as you think it ought to be. why, you let me know an’ I’ll see to it. Todd’s tavern has allus had the reputation of bein’ a good stoppin’ place an’ got to keep it up.”
All this and other information was vouchsafed me by old Hiram Todd, keeper of the only public house of entertainment at Todd’s Corners, to which rural retreat I had been advised to come for two weeks of real rest, “far from the, madding crowd” of the great city in which I lived.
“Yep, this feller I set in to tell you about,” continued Hiram Todd as he relighted his pipe, tilted his chair back against the wall of thé house as we sat on the front “piazzy,” and folded his brawny arms across his chest. “He come here one day along in early September. He was a mighty smooth talkin’, real agreeable sort of feller an’ mighty good comp’ny. He’d been ev’rywhar an’ seen ev’rything an’ he could tell about it in a mighty entertainin’ way. He wa’n’t no trouble as a boarder. Hadn’t no fault to find with anything’ an the way he cracked up the vittles would o’ won him a place in the affeckshuns of any woman that had cooked ’em. I told my wife he never et no such riz biskits an’ slapjacks as hern. Never lost no chance to flatter, an’ was hailfeller-wedl-met with ev’rybody.” He was spry, now I tell you, an’ chock full o’ bizness. His particular bizness here was to git up a sale fer the benefit o’ all the farmers fer miles around the Corners. I’ll tell you how he get about it: He goes to work an’ he gits out handbills–great big red an’ yaller bills they was, most as big an’ giddy as circus bills., It said on them big, bills fer the farmers to bring here to the Corners on a certain day – Wens’ day, the 16th day o’ September, it was-anything an’ ev’rything they had that, they would like to sell; any old farm tools, old furniture, stock, farm products, old duds an’ things from their attics. La! they was told to bring in just anything they could rake an’ scrape up that they wanted to git rid of, no matter how triflin’ it might be in value. An’ they done it, la, yes, they done it fast enough.
“You see, it was to be a kind of neighborhood vandoo, a public auction or – well, I was readin’ the other day about them rummage sales they have in the city now, an’ that was what you might of called this-a rummage sale. This feller, his name was S. Stanley Rogerson, anyhow that was the way he writ it in my register, he was to auction off all the stuff that was brought in an’ he wa’n’t goin’ to charge the farmers a cent fer doin’ it, either.”
“Where was his profit to come from?”
“Oh, he got his profit all right. He wa’n’t doin’ it fer pure love o’ his feller men. You see, he went round to all 0′ the storekeepers here an’ to a lot of ’em over in Ripley an’ in Zoar village where lots o’ the farmers round here do their tradin’, and he got them to put their advertisements on the handbills tellin’ about the sale. He had the information about the sale in the middle o’ the bills, an’ all round the aidges he had these business cards, an’ made a real showy advertisement. He got out three or four thousand of ’em, an’ he scattered ’em far an’ wide. I reckon ev’ry farmer within five miles o’ here got ‘hold, o’ one o’ them bills, an, by cracky, when the sixteenth day September come it looked as if ev’ry farmer within five mile o’ the Corners had headed fer here with something to sell. Well, sir, you never in all your born days see such a mess o’ stuff as was dumped into the town square where the sale was to be held.
“I thought some folks, would split when old Jake Baggley come drivin’ into town. Looked as if he had just cleaned out the hull o’ the attic on the old Baggley place, where the stuff has been accumulatin’ fer the last hundred years. He had his wagon plum full of old spinnin’ wheels an’ cubberds an’ ricketty old cheers an’ old pots an’ pans an’ jars an’ old moth-eaten things. He fetched in a trunk full of old duds that must o’ been 50 years old. He fetched in a pair of old hoop skirts, them tiltin’ kind about five yards round that they used to wear nearly 40 year ago, an’ Lute Trimpy, the most mischievous boy here at the Corners, he swiped ’em off the wagon an’ put ’em on, an’ you never see a more comickelier sight than old Jake chasin’ after Lute all around the square with the old hoops tiltin’ up ev’ry jump Lute made. Lordy! how the crowd yelled an’ laughed an’ how mad Jake got!
“Then there was old Tilly Bean from over Zoar way. Close ain’t no name fer Tilly. Never was known to spend a penny she didn’t have to, an’ she’d git up in the dead o’ night an’ walk five miles fer five cents. Doc Deane, over there in Zoar, he tells a funny story ’bout Tilly. She got sick a couple o’ years ago an’ come mighty nigh passin’ in her checks. Doc he had a mighty hard tussle to pull her through. He stayed with her all o’ one night, an if he hadn’t ‘tended her right up to the handle she’d of petered out sure, so I reckon ‘that, seein’ that Tilly has plenty o’ money, Doc he put in quite a bill. They say it was fer twentyfour dollars an’ sixty cents, an’ when he give it to Tilly she glanced at it an’ fetched a turrible’ groan ‘an’ she say: ‘My land o’ livin’, Doc. Deane, why didn’t you let me die?’ That was Tilly all over.
Her husband, Rod Bean, failed away slowly. He was sick for, three months ‘fore he died, an’ when he knowed he couldn’t git well he made Tilly promise him that she would take him back to his old home in Pettis county an’ lay him side o’ his old father an’ mother. Tilly she hated to do it because o’ the expense, but she kep’ her word, la, yes, she kep’ her word. An’ how do you reckon she kep’ it an’ at the same time reduced the expense?”
“I am sure that I could not guess.”
“No, I reckon you couldn’t. Well, she watched pore Rod mighty close an’ just a week fore the end come what does she up an do but bundle Rod up an’ take him off over to Pettis County to some fer-away kin 0 his an’ he passed away there. Somebody asked Tilly what in tarnation she dragged him off over there’ for stid o’ lettin’ him pass away peaceful in his own home an’ If she didn’t up an’ say: ‘Because you know’ the railroad charges double fare to carry a corpse, an’ saved one fare by havin’ him die over there.’ Did you ever hear anything to beat that? Well, Tilly, she was on hand at the rummage sale, as you might call it with a lot of Rod’s old clothes an’ his shot gun an’ three or four bottles o’ medicine that he had only used a part of. She said she thought it might ‘bring a little something!’ Then she fetched in six jars o’ gooseberries an’ a spavined old horse half as old as she was, an’ wanted ’em sold.”
“And were they sold for her?”
Hiram Todd threw back his head and laughed immoderately. Then he said: “Sold? Lord bless you, man, not a blame thing that all them deluded old hayseeds had triled in was sold – not a blessed thing!
“Because that skeesicks of a feller (not to call him anything wuss) that got up the sale didn’t intend from the start to sell anything. You see he took a copy of the handbill after it was out, an he went ’round an’ got the money fer ev’ry advertisement that was on it, an’ then he lit out! He left here the day before the sale tellin’ me that he was goin’ over to Zoar village to stay that night an’ come from there to the sale the next day, but he never showed up when the time fer the sale come. He never showed up at all – no, he never! It was all a put-up job for him to git the money out o’ the advertisin’ on them handbills, an’ he got it! He was a slick one, he was! But wa’n’t them farmers mad? It was real comical to see ’em loadin’ their rubbish back into their wagons an’ puttin’ out fer home. Tilly Bean was madder nor a wet hen. She said that if she ever laid hands on that feller he’d think heaven an’ earth had bumped together an’ I reckon he would. Old Jake Baggley, he gathered up his old hoopskirt an’ the rest 0′ his stuff, an’ he set out fer home sayin’ things it wouldn’t be becomin’ fer a church member to repeat so I shan’t tell ’em to you. That was the only rummage sale we ever had here at the Corners, an’ reckon it wouldn’t be healthy for any one to try to git up another one. They’d better steer clear o’ Tilly Bean an’ Jake Baggley, anyhow.”
What do you think of this story? Share your thoughts in the comments below!