Chapter XX. On the Road
 

On a small common, near the center of the village of Brandon--for special reasons I do not give the real names of places visited by the travelers--Professor Robinson halted his wagon and signed to Walter to commence playing.

"Give 'em something popular," he said.

Walter struck up "Annie Rooney," and followed it up with "McGinty."

Within ten minutes fifty persons were gathered about the wagon. Then the professor held up his hand and Walter stopped.

"Gentlemen," began the professor, "my young assistant will soon charm you again with the dulcet strains of his violin. But it is necessary for me to combine business with pleasure, and it affords me satisfaction to call your attention to the surpassing merits of my Liquid Balm, only twenty-five cents a bottle. It is a sovereign remedy for most of the diseases that flesh is heir to. All diseases of the stomach, liver, and lungs are, if not cured, very greatly mitigated by this wonderful medicine. It is the only remedy for consumption that can be relied upon. Why, gentlemen, a year since I was selling in a small town in Ohio. Among those who gathered about me was a hollow- cheeked man with a churchyard cough. He asked me if I would undertake to cure him. I answered that I would guarantee nothing, but was convinced that his life would be prolonged by the use of my balm. He bought half-a-dozen bottles. Where do you think that man is now?"

Voice in the crowd: "In the grave."

"Not a bit of it, gentlemen. He is hale and hearty, his face is full, his color healthy, and he tips the scales at one hundred and seventy- five pounds. I was myself surprised at the extraordinary efficacy of my wonderful medicine. He used in all a dozen bottles, giving me a second order later on, and so for the paltry sum of three dollars was drawn back from the brink of the grave, and restored to life and health. Now, who will buy a bottle?"

This appeal sold eight bottles.

A saffron-faced man came forward and asked if the balm could cure liver-complaint.

"My friend," said the professor, "if you will try the balm--you ought to have half-a-dozen bottles, as it is uncertain when I shall come this way again--your liver will become O. K. and your face will be as fresh and blooming as that of a twelve-year-old boy."

This prospect seemed so encouraging that the saffron-faced man bought four bottles, and took the professor's address.

At the end of about twenty minutes Walter struck up again, a lively dancing tune, and was listened to with evident pleasure.

When all who desired the balm seemed to have invested, the professor brought out a supply of toilet soaps, and sold to the amount of a couple of dollars.

At the end of two hours he packed up his wares, Walter took a seat beside him, and they started for the next village.

"You had a pretty good sale, professor," said Walter.

"Yes; as well as I can calculate I took in about ten dollars."

Walter reflected with pleasure that his commission would amount to a dollar.

The professor had another way of utilizing remedies. When he put up for the night at a hotel, he usually succeeded in paying a part of his hotel bill in medicine or toilet articles. As his average profits on the former were seventy per cent., and on the latter forty, it may be seen that this was greatly to his advantage. Walter did not wonder that he had already accumulated a small competence.

On the fourth evening, as Walter was leaving the supper-table, a tall young man, looking something like the stock pictures of Uncle Sam, came up to him.

"Say, young fellow," he commenced, "some of us young people are going to have a dance at the schoolhouse hall, but we haven't got no fiddler. Peter Jackson, who generally plays for us, has got the lumbago and can't play. What'll you charge?"

"What do you generally pay Mr. Jackson?" asked Walter.

"Three dollars an evening."

"Do you think I can play as well as he?"

"You kin play enough sight better. He can't play no tunes that ain't fifty years old."

"Very well, I will charge you the same, that is, if the professor doesn't object."

"Go ahead and see him and let me know."

Walter sought the professor and laid the matter before him.

"All right!" was the answer. "I've no objection. You can give me one- third of the money and keep the rest yourself. Is that satisfactory?"

"Perfectly so, sir." Walter played till one o'clock. He felt rather tired when he got through, but he saw that he was making a favorable impression, and the two dollars which he would receive for himself would be of great service.

The man who first spoke to him paid him the money.

"I hope I gave satisfaction," said Walter.

"Yes, you did, and no mistake; but some of the girls were sorry they couldn't have you for a partner."

Walter blushed.

"I am afraid," he said, "that I couldn't play and dance, too."

At his age few young men are indifferent to the favorable opinion of young ladies, and Walter would have been glad to have participated in the dancing. However, just at present, money was more acceptable to him than anything else.

When the week was concluded, the professor looked over his accounts and ascertained that Walter's commission amounted to nine dollars and sixty cents. The two dollars he had received for outside services carried his week's earnings to nearly twelve dollars.

He had been out with Professor Robinson a month when he had a surprise. It was in the town of Glenwood. His violin drew the usual crowd, who were listening with complimentary attention, when a young man, who casually paused to judge of the musician's merits, started in amazement.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed to a young lady who accompanied him. "That's my classmate, Sherwood."

"What do you mean, Hugh?" asked the young lady.

"I mean that the young man who is playing the violin is my college classmate, Walter Sherwood."

"But what on earth can have put him in such a position? Is he poor?"

"He had the reputation of being rich in college, but I remember that at the close of the sophomore year he was reported to have lost his money."

"He is nice-looking!" said the young lady, after a critical examination of Walter.

"Yes, and he's no end of a nice fellow. I am truly sorry that he is so reduced."

"Shall you go and speak to him?"

"Yes; but I shall have to wait till he is at leisure."

"Then I will go home by myself and leave you to confer together; and, by the way, Hugh, you know we are to have a little company to-night. Do you think your friend would play for us? He really plays uncommonly well."

"I will invite him as a guest. I shouldn't want to treat him as a professional performer. We can afford to treat him as an equal, for he is of good family, and brought up as a gentleman."

"I am quite willing to receive him as such."

Hugh Longwood remained in the crowd, and when the playing was over pushed up to the wagon. Walter was assisting the professor in serving out bottles of the famous balm.

"You may give me a bottle, Walter," said Longwood.

"By gracious, Hugh Longwood!" exclaimed Walter. "Who would have expected to see you here?"

"This is my home. But we certainly do meet under strange circumstances. What on earth led you into this business?"

"Thrift, thrift, Hugh," answered Walter, with a smile. "Let me tell you that I am making a good living and benefiting my fellow men."

"But it is such a change from Euclid College."

"True."

"Such a come down!"

"I don't know about that. I am afraid my career there was not particularly creditable. Now I am working and earning my own living. Can you wait till we get through here? Then I will talk with you as long as you like."

"Agreed. I am curious to hear of your adventures." Professor Robinson proposed to stay in Glenwood overnight, so that Walter had plenty of time to see his friend.

"My sister is to have a party of friends this evening, and she commissions me to invite you."

"But," hesitated Walter, "I have no dress suit here."

"You look well enough."

"Besides, I am filling a very humble position."

"We know who you are, and that you are a gentleman. That is enough. Will you come?"

"Yes, I will," answered Walter, heartily. "It will be like a taste of the old life."

"And if we should ask you to favor us on the violin?"

"I shall be glad to contribute to the pleasure of the evening. But you haven't told me why you are not back at college."

"My father is anxious to have me help him in his business. His health is not what it was. Not being likely to set the river on fire in any literary profession, I decided to give up the college for the counting-room."

"I think you did right."