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Wanted, A Young Man from the Country by Jonathan F. Kelley


All of our mercantile cities are overrun with young men who have been bred for the counter or desk, and thousands of these genteel young gents find it any thing but an easy matter to find bread or situations half their time, in these crowded marts of men and merchandise. An advertisement in a New York or New Orleans paper, for a clerk or salesman, rarely fails to “turn up” a hundred needy and greedy applicants, in the course of a morning! In New York, where a vast number of these misguided young men are “manufactured,” and continue to be manufactured by the regiment, for an already surfeited market, there are wretches who practise upon these innocent victims of perverted usefulness, a species of fraud but slightly understood.

By a confederacy with some experienced dry goods dealer, the proprietor of one of those agencies for procuring situations for young men, victims of misplaced confidence are put through at five to ten dollars each, somewhat after this fashion: Sharp, the keeper of the Agency, advertises for two good clerks, one book-keeper, five salesmen, ten waiters, &c., &c.; and, of course, as every steamboat, car and stage, running into New York, brings in a fresh importation of young men from the country, all fitted out in the knowledge box for salesmen, book-keepers and clerk-ships,—every morning, a new set are offered to be taken in and done for. Sharp demands a fee of five or ten dollars for obtaining a situation; victim forks over the amount, and is sent to Sharp number two, who keeps the dry goods shop; he has got through with a victim of yesterday, and is now ready for the fresh victim of to-day; for he makes it a point to put them through such a gamut of labor, vexatious man[oe]uvres and insolence, that not one out of fifty come back next day, and if they do—he don't want them! If the unsuspecting victim returns to the “Agency,” he is lectured roundly for his incapacity or want of energy!—and advised to return to the country and recuperate.

Jeremiah Bumps having graduated with all the honors of Sniffensville Academy, and having many unmistakable longings for becoming a Merchant Prince, and seeing sights in a city; and having read an account of the great fortunes piled up in course of a few years, by poor, friendless country boys, like Abbot Lawrence, John Jacob Astor, he up and came right straight to Boston, having read it in the papers that clerks, salesmen, book-keepers, and so on, were wanted, dreadfully—“young men from the country preferred”—so he called on the suffering agent for the public, and paying down his fee, was sent off to an Importing House, on ——street, where a clerk and salesman were wanted. Jeremiah found his idea of an Importing House knocked into a disarranged chapeau, by finding the one in the “present case,” a large and luminous store, filled up with paper boxes and sham bundles; while gaudily festooned, were any quantity of calicoes, cheap shawls, ribbons, tapes, and innumerable other tuppenny affairs.

Nebuchadnezzar Cheatum, the proprietor of this importing and jobbing house, was a keen, little, slick-as-a-whistle, heavy-bearded, shaved and starched genus, of six-and-thirty, more or less; and received Jeremiah with a rather patronizing survey personelle, and opened the engagement with a few remarks.

“From the country, are you?”

“Sniffensville, sir,” said Jeremiah; “County of Scrub-oak, State of New Hampshire.”

“Ah, well, I prefer country-bred young men; they are better trained,” said Cheatum, “to industry, perseverance, honest frugality, and the duties of a Christian man. I was brought up in the country myself. I've made myself; carved out, and built up my own position, sir. Yes, sir, give me good, sound, country-bred young men; I've tried them, I know what they are,” said Cheatum; and he spoke near enough the truth to be partly true, for he had “tried them;” he averaged some fifty-two clerks and an equal number of salesmen—yearly.

Jeremiah Bumps grew red in the face at the complimentary manner in which Nebuchadnezzar Cheatum was pleased to review the country and its institutions.

“What salary did you think of allowing?” says Jeremiah.

“Well,” said Cheatum, “I allow my salesmen three dollars a week the first year, (Jeremiah's ears cocked up,) and three per cent. on the sales they make the second year.”

By cyphering it up “in his head,” Jeremiah came to the conclusion that the first year wouldn't add much to his pecuniary elevation, whatever the second did with its three per cents. But he was bound to try it on, anyhow.

“Now,” said Cheatum, “in the first place, Solomon——”

“Jeremiah, if you please, sir,” said the young man.

“Ah, yes, Thomas—pshaw!—Jediah, I would say,” continued Cheatum, correcting himself—

“Jeremiah—Jeremiah Bumps, sir,” sharply echoed Mr. Bumps.

“Oh, yes, yes; one has so many clerks and salesmen in course of business,” said Cheatum, “that I get their names confused. Well, Jeremiah, in the first place, you must learn to please the customers; you must always be lively and spry, and never give an offensive answer. Many women and girls come in to price and overhaul things, without the remotest idea of buying anything, and it's often trying to one's patience; but you must wait on them, for there is no possible means of telling a woman who shops for pastime, from one who shops in earnest; so you must be careful, be polite, be lively and spry, and never let a person go without making a purchase, if you can possibly help it. If a person asks for an article we have not got, endeavor to make them try something else. If a woman asks whether four-penny calico, or six-penny delaines will wash, say 'yes, ma'am, beautifully; I've tried them, or seen them tried;' and if they say, 'are these ten cent flannels real Shaker flannels? or the ninepence hose all merino?' better not contradict them; say 'yes, ma'am, I've tried them, seen them tried, know they are,' or similar appropriate answers to the various questions that may be asked,” said Cheatum.

“Yes, sir,” Jeremiah responded, “I understand.”

“And, William——”

“Jeremiah, sir, if you please.”

“Oh, yes; well, Jediah—Jeremiah, I would say—when you make change, never take a ten cent piece and two cents for a shilling, but give it as often as practicable; look out for the fractions in adding up, and beware of crossed six-pences, smooth shillings, and what are called Bungtown coppers,” said Cheatum, with much emphasis.

“I'm pooty well posted up, sir, in all that,” said Jeremiah.

“And, Jeems—pshaw!—Jacob—Jeremiah! I would say, in measuring, always put your thumb so, and when you move the yardstick forward, shove your thumb an inch or so back; in measuring close you may manage to squeeze out five yards from four and three-quarters, you understand? And always be watchful that some of those nimble, light-fingered folks don't slip a roll of ribbon, or a pair of gloves or hose, or a piece of goods, up their sleeves, in their bosoms, pockets, or under their shawls. Be careful, Henry—Jeems, I should say,” said Cheatum.

Being duly rehearsed, Jeremiah Bumps went to work. The first customer he had was a little girl, who bought a yard of ribbon for ninepence, and Jeremiah not only stretched seven-eighths of a yard into a full yard, but made twelve cents go for a ninepence, which feat brought down the vials of wrath of the child's mother, a burly old Scotch woman, who “tongue-lashed” poor Jeremiah awfully! His next adventure was the sale of a dress pattern of sixpenny de-laine, which he warranted to contain all the perfections known to the best article, and in dashing his vigorous scissors through the fabric, he caught them in the folds of a dozen silk handkerchiefs on the counter, and ripped them all into slitters! The young woman who took the dress pattern, upon reaching home, found it contained but eight yards, when she paid for nine. She came back, and Jeremiah Bumps got another bombasting! He sold fourpenny calico, and warranted it to wash; next day it came back, and an old lady with it; the colors and starch were all out, by dipping it in water, and the woman went on so that Cheatum was glad to refund her money to get rid of her. Two dashing young ladies, out “shopping” for their own diversions, gave Jeremiah a call; he labored hand and tongue, he hauled down and exhibited Cheatum's entire stock; the girls then were leaving, saying they would “call again,” and Jeremiah very amiably said, “do, ladies, do; call again, like to secure your custom!” The young ladies took this as an insult. Their big brothers waited on Mr. Bumps, and nothing short of his humble apologies saved him from enraged cowhides! Jeremiah saw a suspicious woman enter the store, and after overhauling a box of gloves, he thought he saw her pocket a pair. He intercepted the lady as she was going out—he grabbed her by the pocket—the lady resisted—Jeremiah held on—the lady fainted, and Jeremiah Bumps nearly tore her dress off in pulling out the gloves! The lady proved to be the wife of a distinguished citizen, and the gloves purchased at another store! A lawsuit followed, and Mr. Bumps was fined $100, and sent to the House of Correction for sixty days.

How many new clerks Nebuchadnezzar Cheatum has put through since, we know not; but Jeremiah Bumps is now engaged in the practical science of agriculture, and shudders at the idea of a young man from the country being wanted in a dry goods shop, if they have got to see the elephant that he observed—in Boston.


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