THE HOTEL EXPERIENCE OF MR. PINK FLUKER
BY RICHARD MALCOLM JOHNSTON (1822-1898)
Humorous Short Stories
[From The Century Magazine, June, 1886; copyright, 1886, by The
Century Co.; republished in the volume, Mr. Absalom Billingslea, and
Other Georgia Folk (1888), by Richard Malcolm Johnston (Harper &
Mr. Peterson Fluker, generally called Pink, for his fondness for as
stylish dressing as he could afford, was one of that sort of men who
habitually seem busy and efficient when they are not. He had the
bustling activity often noticeable in men of his size, and in one way
and another had made up, as he believed, for being so much smaller
than most of his adult acquaintance of the male sex. Prominent among
his achievements on that line was getting married to a woman who,
among other excellent gifts, had that of being twice as big as her
"Fool who?" on the day after his marriage he had asked, with a look at
those who had often said that he was too little to have a wife.
They had a little property to begin with, a couple of hundreds of
acres, and two or three negroes apiece. Yet, except in the natural
increase of the latter, the accretions of worldly estate had been
inconsiderable till now, when their oldest child, Marann, was some
fifteen years old. These accretions had been saved and taken care of
by Mrs. Fluker, who was as staid and silent as he was mobile and
Mr. Fluker often said that it puzzled him how it was that he made
smaller crops than most of his neighbors, when, if not always
convincing, he could generally put every one of them to silence in
discussions upon agricultural topics. This puzzle had led him to not
unfrequent ruminations in his mind as to whether or not his vocation
might lie in something higher than the mere tilling of the ground.
These ruminations had lately taken a definite direction, and it was
after several conversations which he had held with his friend Matt
Mr. Matt Pike was a bachelor of some thirty summers, a foretime clerk
consecutively in each of the two stores of the village, but latterly a
trader on a limited scale in horses, wagons, cows, and similar objects
of commerce, and at all times a politician. His hopes of holding
office had been continually disappointed until Mr. John Sanks became
sheriff, and rewarded with a deputyship some important special service
rendered by him in the late very close canvass. Now was a chance to
rise, Mr. Pike thought. All he wanted, he had often said, was a start.
Politics, I would remark, however, had been regarded by Mr. Pike as a
means rather than an end. It is doubtful if he hoped to become
governor of the state, at least before an advanced period in his
career. His main object now was to get money, and he believed that
official position would promote him in the line of his ambition faster
than was possible to any private station, by leading him into more
extensive acquaintance with mankind, their needs, their desires, and
their caprices. A deputy sheriff, provided that lawyers were not too
indulgent in allowing acknowledgment of service of court processes, in
postponing levies and sales, and in settlement of litigated cases,
might pick up three hundred dollars, a good sum for those times, a
fact which Mr. Pike had known and pondered long.
It happened just about then that the arrears of rent for the village
hotel had so accumulated on Mr. Spouter, the last occupant, that the
owner, an indulgent man, finally had said, what he had been expected
for years and years to say, that he could not wait on Mr. Spouter
forever and eternally. It was at this very nick, so to speak, that Mr.
Pike made to Mr. Fluker the suggestion to quit a business so far
beneath his powers, sell out, or rent out, or tenant out, or do
something else with his farm, march into town, plant himself upon the
ruins of Jacob Spouter, and begin his upward soar.
Now Mr. Fluker had many and many a time acknowledged that he had
ambition; so one night he said to his wife:
"You see how it is here, Nervy. Farmin' somehow don't suit my talons.
I need to be flung more 'mong people to fetch out what's in me. Then
thar's Marann, which is gittin' to be nigh on to a growd-up woman; an'
the child need the s'iety which you 'bleeged to acknowledge is sca'ce
about here, six mile from town. Your brer Sam can stay here an' raise
butter, chickens, eggs, pigs, an'—an'—an' so forth. Matt Pike say he
jes' know they's money in it, an' special with a housekeeper keerful
an' equinomical like you."
It is always curious the extent of influence that some men have upon
wives who are their superiors. Mrs. Fluker, in spite of accidents, had
ever set upon her husband a value that was not recognized outside of
his family. In this respect there seems a surprising compensation in
human life. But this remark I make only in passing. Mrs. Fluker,
admitting in her heart that farming was not her husband's forte,
hoped, like a true wife, that it might be found in the new field to
which he aspired. Besides, she did not forget that her brother Sam had
said to her several times privately that if his brer Pink wouldn't
have so many notions and would let him alone in his management, they
would all do better. She reflected for a day or two, and then said:
"Maybe it's best, Mr. Fluker. I'm willin' to try it for a year,
anyhow. We can't lose much by that. As for Matt Pike, I hain't the
confidence in him you has. Still, he bein' a boarder and deputy
sheriff, he might accidentally do us some good. I'll try it for a year
providin' you'll fetch me the money as it's paid in, for you know I
know how to manage that better'n you do, and you know I'll try to
manage it and all the rest of the business for the best."
To this provision Mr. Fluker gave consent, qualified by the claim that
he was to retain a small margin for indispensable personal exigencies.
For he contended, perhaps with justice, that no man in the responsible
position he was about to take ought to be expected to go about, or sit
about, or even lounge about, without even a continental red in his
The new house—I say new because tongue could not tell the amount of
scouring, scalding, and whitewashing that that excellent housekeeper
had done before a single stick of her furniture went into it—the new
house, I repeat, opened with six eating boarders at ten dollars a
month apiece, and two eating and sleeping at eleven, besides Mr. Pike,
who made a special contract. Transient custom was hoped to hold its
own, and that of the county people under the deputy's patronage and
influence to be considerably enlarged.
In words and other encouragement Mr. Pike was pronounced. He could
commend honestly, and he did so cordially.
"The thing to do, Pink, is to have your prices reg'lar, and make
people pay up reg'lar. Ten dollars for eatin', jes' so; eleb'n for
eatin' an' sleepin'; half a dollar for dinner, jes' so; quarter
apiece for breakfast, supper, and bed, is what I call reason'ble bo'd.
As for me, I sca'cely know how to rig'late, because, you know, I'm a'
officer now, an' in course I natchel has to be away sometimes an' on
expenses at 'tother places, an' it seem like some 'lowance ought by
good rights to be made for that; don't you think so?"
"Why, matter o' course, Matt; what you think? I ain't so powerful good
at figgers. Nervy is. S'posen you speak to her 'bout it."
"Oh, that's perfec' unuseless, Pink. I'm a' officer o' the law, Pink,
an' the law consider women—well, I may say the law, she deal 'ith
men, not women, an' she expect her officers to understan' figgers,
an' if I hadn't o' understood figgers Mr. Sanks wouldn't or darsnt' to
'p'int me his dep'ty. Me 'n' you can fix them terms. Now see here,
reg'lar bo'd—eatin' bo'd, I mean—is ten dollars, an' sleepin' and
singuil meals is 'cordin' to the figgers you've sot for 'em. Ain't
that so? Jes' so. Now, Pink, you an' me'll keep a runnin' account, you
a-chargin' for reg'lar bo'd, an' I a'lowin' to myself credics for my
absentees, accordin' to transion customers an' singuil mealers an'
sleepers. Is that fa'r, er is it not fa'r?"
Mr. Fluker turned his head, and after making or thinking he had made a
"That's—that seem fa'r, Matt."
"Cert'nly 'tis, Pink; I knowed you'd say so, an' you know I'd never
wish to be nothin' but fa'r 'ith people I like, like I do you an' your
wife. Let that be the understandin', then, betwix' us. An' Pink, let
the understandin' be jes' betwix' us, for I've saw enough o' this
world to find out that a man never makes nothin' by makin' a blowin'
horn o' his business. You make the t'others pay up spuntial, monthly.
You 'n' me can settle whensomever it's convenant, say three months
from to-day. In course I shall talk up for the house whensomever and
wharsomever I go or stay. You know that. An' as for my bed," said Mr.
Pike finally, "whensomever I ain't here by bed-time, you welcome to
put any transion person in it, an' also an' likewise, when transion
custom is pressin', and you cramped for beddin', I'm willin' to give
it up for the time bein'; an' rather'n you should be cramped too bad,
I'll take my chances somewhars else, even if I has to take a pallet at
the head o' the sta'r-steps."
"Nervy," said Mr. Fluker to his wife afterwards, "Matt Pike's a
sensibler an' a friendlier an' a 'commodatiner feller'n I thought."
Then, without giving details of the contract, he mentioned merely the
willingness of their boarder to resign his bed on occasions of
"He's talked mighty fine to me and Marann," answered Mrs. Fluker.
"We'll see how he holds out. One thing I do not like of his doin', an'
that's the talkin' 'bout Sim Marchman to Marann, an' makin' game o'
his country ways, as he call 'em. Sech as that ain't right."
It may be as well to explain just here that Simeon Marchman, the
person just named by Mrs. Fluker, a stout, industrious young farmer,
residing with his parents in the country near by where the Flukers had
dwelt before removing to town, had been eying Marann for a year or
two, and waiting upon her fast-ripening womanhood with intentions
that, he believed to be hidden in his own breast, though he had taken
less pains to conceal them from Marann than from the rest of his
acquaintance. Not that he had ever told her of them in so many words,
but—Oh, I need not stop here in the midst of this narration to
explain how such intentions become known, or at least strongly
suspected by girls, even those less bright than Marann Fluker. Simeon
had not cordially indorsed the movement into town, though, of course,
knowing it was none of his business, he had never so much as hinted
opposition. I would not be surprised, also, if he reflected that there
might be some selfishness in his hostility, or at least that it was
heightened by apprehensions personal to himself.
Considering the want of experience in the new tenants, matters went on
remarkably well. Mrs. Fluker, accustomed to rise from her couch long
before the lark, managed to the satisfaction of all,—regular
boarders, single-meal takers, and transient people. Marann went to the
village school, her mother dressing her, though with prudent economy,
as neatly and almost as tastefully as any of her schoolmates; while,
as to study, deportment, and general progress, there was not a girl in
the whole school to beat her, I don't care who she was.
During a not inconsiderable period Mr. Fluker indulged the honorable
conviction that at last he had found the vein in which his best
talents lay, and he was happy in foresight of the prosperity and
felicity which that discovery promised to himself and his family. His
native activity found many more objects for its exertion than before.
He rode out to the farm, not often, but sometimes, as a matter of
duty, and was forced to acknowledge that Sam was managing better than
could have been expected in the absence of his own continuous
guidance. In town he walked about the hotel, entertained the guests,
carved at the meals, hovered about the stores, the doctors' offices,
the wagon and blacksmith shops, discussed mercantile, medical,
mechanical questions with specialists in all these departments,
throwing into them all more and more of politics as the intimacy
between him and his patron and chief boarder increased.
Now as to that patron and chief boarder. The need of extending his
acquaintance seemed to press upon Mr. Pike with ever-increasing
weight. He was here and there, all over the county; at the
county-seat, at the county villages, at justices' courts, at
executors' and administrators' sales, at quarterly and protracted
religious meetings, at barbecues of every dimension, on hunting
excursions and fishing frolics, at social parties in all
neighborhoods. It got to be said of Mr. Pike that a freer acceptor of
hospitable invitations, or a better appreciator of hospitable
intentions, was not and needed not to be found possibly in the whole
state. Nor was this admirable deportment confined to the county in
which he held so high official position. He attended, among other
occasions less public, the spring sessions of the supreme and county
courts in the four adjoining counties: the guest of acquaintance old
and new over there. When starting upon such travels, he would
sometimes breakfast with his traveling companion in the village, and,
if somewhat belated in the return, sup with him also.
Yet, when at Flukers', no man could have been a more cheerful and
otherwise satisfactory boarder than Mr. Matt Pike. He praised every
dish set before him, bragged to their very faces of his host and
hostess, and in spite of his absences was the oftenest to sit and chat
with Marann when her mother would let her go into the parlor. Here and
everywhere about the house, in the dining-room, in the passage, at the
foot of the stairs, he would joke with Marann about her country beau,
as he styled poor Sim Marchman, and he would talk as though he was
rather ashamed of Sim, and wanted Marann to string her bow for higher
Brer Sam did manage well, not only the fields, but the yard. Every
Saturday of the world he sent in something or other to his sister. I
don't know whether I ought to tell it or not, but for the sake of what
is due to pure veracity I will. On as many as three different
occasions Sim Marchman, as if he had lost all self-respect, or had not
a particle of tact, brought in himself, instead of sending by a negro,
a bucket of butter and a coop of spring chickens as a free gift to
Mrs. Fluker. I do think, on my soul, that Mr. Matt Pike was much
amused by such degradation—however, he must say that they were all
first-rate. As for Marann, she was very sorry for Sim, and wished he
had not brought these good things at all.
Nobody knew how it came about; but when the Flukers had been in town
somewhere between two and three months, Sim Marchman, who (to use his
own words) had never bothered her a great deal with his visits, began
to suspect that what few he made were received by Marann lately with
less cordiality than before; and so one day, knowing no better, in his
awkward, straightforward country manners, he wanted to know the reason
why. Then Marann grew distant, and asked Sim the following question:
"You know where Mr. Pike's gone, Mr. Marchman?"
Now the fact was, and she knew it, that Marann Fluker had never
before, not since she was born, addressed that boy as Mister.
The visitor's face reddened and reddened.
"No," he faltered in answer; "no—no—ma'am, I should say. I—I
don't know where Mr. Pike's gone."
Then he looked around for his hat, discovered it in time, took it into
his hands, turned it around two or three times, then, bidding good-bye
without shaking hands, took himself off.
Mrs. Fluker liked all the Marchmans, and she was troubled somewhat
when she heard of the quickness and manner of Sim's departure; for he
had been fully expected by her to stay to dinner.
"Say he didn't even shake hands, Marann? What for? What you do to
"Not one blessed thing, ma; only he wanted to know why I wasn't
gladder to see him." Then Marann looked indignant.
"Say them words, Marann?"
"No, but he hinted 'em."
"What did you say then?"
"I just asked, a-meaning nothing in the wide world, ma—I asked him if
he knew where Mr. Pike had gone."
"And that were answer enough to hurt his feelin's. What you want to
know where Matt Pike's gone for, Marann?"
"I didn't care about knowing, ma, but I didn't like the way Sim
"Look here, Marann. Look straight at me. You'll be mighty fur off your
feet if you let Matt Pike put things in your head that hain't no
business a-bein' there, and special if you find yourself a-wantin' to
know where he's a-perambulatin' in his everlastin' meanderin's. Not a
cent has he paid for his board, and which your pa say he have a'
understandin' with him about allowin' for his absentees, which is all
right enough, but which it's now goin' on to three mont's, and what is
comin' to us I need and I want. He ought, your pa ought to let me
bargain with Matt Pike, because he know he don't understan' figgers
like Matt Pike. He don't know exactly what the bargain were; for I've
asked him, and he always begins with a multiplyin' of words and never
On his next return from his travels Mr. Pike noticed a coldness in
Mrs. Fluker's manner, and this enhanced his praise of the house. The
last week of the third month came. Mr. Pike was often noticed, before
and after meals, standing at the desk in the hotel office (called in
those times the bar-room) engaged in making calculations. The day
before the contract expired Mrs. Fluker, who had not indulged herself
with a single holiday since they had been in town, left Marann in
charge of the house, and rode forth, spending part of the day with
Mrs. Marchman, Sim's mother. All were glad to see her, of course, and
she returned smartly, freshened by the visit. That night she had a
talk with Marann, and oh, how Marann did cry!
The very last day came. Like insurance policies, the contract was to
expire at a certain hour. Sim Marchman came just before dinner, to
which he was sent for by Mrs. Fluker, who had seen him as he rode into
"Hello, Sim," said Mr. Pike as he took his seat opposite him. "You
here? What's the news in the country? How's your health? How's crops?"
"Jest mod'rate, Mr. Pike. Got little business with you after dinner,
ef you can spare time."
"All right. Got a little matter with Pink here first. 'Twon't take
long. See you arfter amejiant, Sim."
Never had the deputy been more gracious and witty. He talked and
talked, outtalking even Mr. Fluker; he was the only man in town who
could do that. He winked at Marann as he put questions to Sim, some of
the words employed in which Sim had never heard before. Yet Sim held
up as well as he could, and after dinner followed Marann with some
little dignity into the parlor. They had not been there more than ten
minutes when Mrs. Fluker was heard to walk rapidly along the passage
leading from the dining-room, to enter her own chamber for only a
moment, then to come out and rush to the parlor door with the gig-whip
in her hand. Such uncommon conduct in a woman like Mrs. Pink Fluker of
course needs explanation.
When all the other boarders had left the house, the deputy and Mr.
Fluker having repaired to the bar-room, the former said:
"Now, Pink, for our settlement, as you say your wife think we better
have one. I'd 'a' been willin' to let accounts keep on a-runnin',
knowin' what a straightforrards sort o' man you was. Your count, ef I
ain't mistakened, is jes' thirty-three dollars, even money. Is that
so, or is it not?"
"That's it, to a dollar, Matt. Three times eleben make thirty-three,
"It do, Pink, or eleben times three, jes' which you please. Now here's
my count, on which you'll see, Pink, that not nary cent have I charged
for infloonce. I has infloonced a consider'ble custom to this house,
as you know, bo'din' and transion. But I done that out o' my respects
of you an' Missis Fluker, an' your keepin' of a fa'r—I'll say, as
I've said freckwent, a very fa'r house. I let them infloonces go to
friendship, ef you'll take it so. Will you, Pink Fluker?"
"Cert'nly, Matt, an' I'm a thousand times obleeged to you, an'—"
"Say no more, Pink, on that p'int o' view. Ef I like a man, I know how
to treat him. Now as to the p'ints o' absentees, my business as dep'ty
sheriff has took me away from this inconsider'ble town freckwent,
"It have, Matt, er somethin' else, more'n I were a expectin', an'—"
"Jes' so. But a public officer, Pink, when jooty call on him to go, he
got to go; in fack he got to goth, as the Scripture say, ain't that
"I s'pose so, Matt, by good rights, a—a official speakin'."
Mr. Fluker felt that he was becoming a little confused.
"Jes' so. Now, Pink, I were to have credics for my absentees 'cordin'
to transion an' single-meal bo'ders an' sleepers; ain't that so?"
"I—I—somethin' o' that sort, Matt," he answered vaguely.
"Jes' so. Now look here," drawing from his pocket a paper. "Itom one.
Twenty-eight dinners at half a dollar makes fourteen dollars, don't
it? Jes' so. Twenty-five breakfasts at a quarter makes six an' a
quarter, which make dinners an' breakfasts twenty an' a quarter.
Foller me up, as I go up, Pink. Twenty-five suppers at a quarter makes
six an' a quarter, an' which them added to the twenty an' a quarter
makes them twenty-six an' a half. Foller, Pink, an' if you ketch me in
any mistakes in the kyarin' an' addin', p'int it out. Twenty-two an' a
half beds—an' I say half, Pink, because you 'member one night when
them A'gusty lawyers got here 'bout midnight on their way to co't,
rather'n have you too bad cramped, I ris to make way for two of 'em;
yit as I had one good nap, I didn't think I ought to put that down but
for half. Them makes five dollars half an' seb'n pence, an' which
kyar'd on to the t'other twenty-six an' a half, fetches the whole
cabool to jes' thirty-two dollars an' seb'n pence. But I made up my
mind I'd fling out that seb'n pence, an' jes' call it a dollar even
money, an' which here's the solid silver."
In spite of the rapidity with which this enumeration of
counter-charges was made, Mr. Fluker commenced perspiring at the first
item, and when the balance was announced his face was covered with
It was at this juncture that Mrs. Fluker, who, well knowing her
husband's unfamiliarity with complicated accounts, had felt her duty
to be listening near the bar-room door, left, and quickly afterwards
appeared before Marann and Sim as I have represented.
"You think Matt Pike ain't tryin' to settle with your pa with a
dollar? I'm goin' to make him keep his dollar, an' I'm goin' to give
him somethin' to go 'long with it."
"The good Lord have mercy upon us!" exclaimed Marann, springing up and
catching hold of her mother's skirts, as she began her advance towards
the bar-room. "Oh, ma! for the Lord's sake!—Sim, Sim, Sim, if you
care _any_thing for me in this wide world, don't let ma go into that
"Missis Fluker," said Sim, rising instantly, "wait jest two minutes
till I see Mr. Pike on some pressin' business; I won't keep you over
two minutes a-waitin'."
He took her, set her down in a chair trembling, looked at her a moment
as she began to weep, then, going out and closing the door, strode
rapidly to the bar-room.
"Let me help you settle your board-bill, Mr. Pike, by payin' you a
little one I owe you."
Doubling his fist, he struck out with a blow that felled the deputy to
the floor. Then catching him by his heels, he dragged him out of the
house into the street. Lifting his foot above his face, he said:
"You stir till I tell you, an' I'll stomp your nose down even with the
balance of your mean face. 'Tain't exactly my business how you cheated
Mr. Fluker, though, 'pon my soul, I never knowed a trifliner,
lowdowner trick. But I owed you myself for your talkin' 'bout and
your lyin' 'bout me, and now I've paid you; an' ef you only knowed it,
I've saved you from a gig-whippin'. Now you may git up."
"Here's his dollar, Sim," said Mr. Fluker, throwing it out of the
window. "Nervy say make him take it."
The vanquished, not daring to refuse, pocketed the coin, and slunk
away amid the jeers of a score of villagers who had been drawn to the
In all human probability the late omission of the shaking of Sim's and
Marann's hands was compensated at their parting that afternoon. I am
more confident on this point because at the end of the year those
hands were joined inseparably by the preacher. But this was when they
had all gone back to their old home; for if Mr. Fluker did not become
fully convinced that his mathematical education was not advanced quite
enough for all the exigencies of hotel-keeping, his wife declared that
she had had enough of it, and that she and Marann were going home. Mr.
Fluker may be said, therefore, to have followed, rather than led, his
family on the return.
As for the deputy, finding that if he did not leave it voluntarily he
would be drummed out of the village, he departed, whither I do not
remember if anybody ever knew.