Chapter XIX. Walter Meets Professor Robinson
 

Two weeks passed. Walter applied for all sorts of situations, but obtained no engagement. Meanwhile his money steadily diminished, till he awoke one morning to find only seventy-five cents in his purse. Things were getting decidedly serious.

"I wonder if there is any poorhouse in Chicago," thought Walter, not wholly in jest. "It is not the sort of home I should prefer, but it is better than genteel starvation."

He went out, breakfasted, and at the restaurant picked up a copy of the Chicago Times. This was a piece of luck, for it saved him from the small expenditure necessary to secure it. He turned to the department of Help Wanted, and looking down the column came to this notice:

"WANTED--By a traveling lecturer, a young man who can make himself generally useful; one who plays the violin preferred. Apply to PROFESSOR ROBINSON, Hotel Brevoort."

Walter knew this hotel. It was located on Madison Street, and was on the European plan.

"That will suit me," he said to himself. "I must lose no time in making application. I can play the violin fairly well. If it will help me to a position, I will bless the violin."

In ten minutes he was at the hotel, inquiring for Professor Robinson.

"He is in his room," said the clerk, "You can go up at once."

Guided by a bell-boy, Walter reached the door of No. 65 and knocked.

"Come in!" said a deep bass voice.

Opening the door he found himself in the presence of a stout man, inclined to be tall, with a long, full beard, who glanced at him inquiringly.

"Professor Robinson, I believe?" said Walter.

"I am the man," answered the professor.

"I have come to apply for a position. I have read your advertisement in the Times."

"Just so! Let me look at you."

Walter blushed a little while the professor transfixed him with his glittering eye. He anxiously hoped that he would bear inspection.

"Humph! I think you'll do. How old are you?"

"Eighteen."

In fact, Walter's birthday had been passed in Chicago.

"You are rather young. Can you play on the violin?"

"Yes, sir."

"Let me hear you."

The professor pointed to a violin on the bed.

"I am glad he doesn't expect me to furnish the violin," Walter said to himself.

He took the instrument from its case, and trying the strings began to play a series of familiar airs. The violin was not a Stradivarius, but it was of good quality, and responded satisfactorily to the efforts of the young musician. Professor Robinson listened attentively, and nodded his approval.

"You play better than the last young man I had."

Walter was glad to hear it.

"I may as well tell you the nature of your duties, in case I engage you. I call myself a traveling lecturer, but this may convey an erroneous idea. I am the discoverer of Professor Robinson's Liquid Balm, which is warranted to cure more diseases than any other patent preparation in existence. I won't go into particulars, for these can be read in my circular. Now, it is my custom to go from one town to another, engage a hall if the weather requires, otherwise gather a crowd around me in a public place, and lecture about the merits of my remarkable preparation. You, besides assisting me in a general way, are expected to draw and entertain the crowd by your performance on the violin. Can you sing?"

Walter shook his head.

"I am afraid," he said, "that if I should undertake to sing it would drive away the crowd."

"Very well! It isn't necessary, though it would have helped. Now, what are your ideas as to compensation?"

As the professor spoke, he leaned back in his chair and awaited a reply.

"I hardly know what it would be right to ask," returned Walter hesitatingly. "How much did you pay your last assistant?"

"I paid him fifteen dollars a month and his traveling expenses."

This was a good deal more than Walter had made since he had undertaken to earn his own living, yet there seemed small chance of laying up anything out of it.

"May I ask, sir," he inquired, "do you meet with pretty good success in disposing of your balm?"

"Yes; the public knows a good thing when it is brought to its attention."

"Would you be willing to pay my expenses and ten per cent. commission on sales?"

"Why do you prefer this to a stated salary?"

"Because it would be an incentive to do my best. Then if I helped you to a successful sale I should be paid in proportion."

"I have an idea. You look blooming and healthy. Are you willing I should advertise you as one who has been snatched from death by my celebrated balm?"

"I don't think I would like it, sir. It would be imposing upon the public."

"I merely suggested it, but I won't insist upon it. I suppose you are thoroughly honest and reliable?"

Walter smiled.

"I don't know that my assurance will satisfy you, but I can truly say that I am."

"You look it, and I trust a good deal to appearances. I will accept your assurance."

"Thank you, sir."

"Can you join me at once?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then I will expect you to bring your baggage here during the day--the sooner the better. You will then receive your instructions."

Walter was very glad to hear this, for his purse was so nearly exhausted that it was comforting to think his lodging and meals would hereafter be paid by some one else. When he came to reflect upon the nature of his duties--general assistant to a quack doctor, playing on village commons and in country halls to draw a crowd of prospective customers, he felt that it was hardly a thing to be proud of. With his college training he ought to be qualified for something better, but the cold, hard fact stared him in the face that it was the only employment that offered, and he must accept it or starve. Walter had become practical. His limited acquaintance with the world had made him so, and he was not going to refuse bread and butter because it was offered by a quack doctor.

Within an hour Walter had given up his room--the rent had been paid in advance--and transferred his luggage to the Hotel Brevoort, where he was assigned a small apartment on the upper floor.

"I shall leave the city in two days," said the professor. "I have put an advertisement into the daily papers which brings customers to the hotel, but I depend chiefly upon my sales on the road."

"Do you travel on the cars?" asked Walter.

"No; I have a neat wagon in which I carry a supply of bottles of balm, and this enables me to stop where I like. I prefer villages to very large towns and cities. It is better for me to visit places where there are no drug-stores, as the people are more dependent on what is brought to them."

"When you are in the city shall I get my commission?"

"Ahem! I am not clear as to that," answered Professor Robinson thoughtfully. "You see you are not called upon to play."

"Suppose you give me five per cent. in Chicago and large places."

"Very well. I will do so. I will settle with you at the end of every week, if that will be satisfactory."

"Yes, sir."

Two days afterward a light wagon drew up in front of the hotel, drawn by a strong horse, and Walter helped the professor to put a trunk of medicine in the back part. Then he seated himself with Professor Robinson on the front seat, and they set out in the direction of the suburbs.

A new life was opening before Walter. What it would lead to he could not guess. At any rate, it promised him a living, and this was a practical advantage which he had learned to appreciate.

"How long have you been in this business, professor?" he asked.

"Ten years," answered the professor.

"How did you happen to go into it?"

"I'll tell you. Ten years ago I found myself in a tight place. I was on my uppers, as the actors say. A friend, who was a drug clerk, gave me the recipe for my balm, I borrowed a hundred dollars, had a quantity made up, and set out on the road."

"And now?"

"Now I am worth fifteen thousand dollars, well invested, and can make a good living every year."

All this was encouraging to Walter. He was eager to begin his work.