Off-Hand Sketches, a Little Dashed with Humour
Part 2 out of 4
"Ah! what business?"
"Don't know yet; haven't decided. Into your business, maybe."
"My business!" The Dutchman looked surprised.
"Yes; it appears to me like a very good business. Don't you think I
could start very fair on five hundred dollars?"
The Dutchman hesitated to answer that question; he didn't want to
say yes, and he was conscious that the Yankee knew too much of his
affairs to believe him if he said no. He, therefore, merely shrugged
his shoulders, looked stupid, and remained silent.
"You don't know of a large room that I could get anywhere, do you?"
The Dutchman shook his head, and gave a decided negative.
Jonathan said no more on that occasion. Two days afterwards, he
dropped in again. "Have you fount a room yet?" asked the Dutchman.
"I've seen two or three," replied Jonathan. "One of them will suit
me, I guess. But I'll tell you what I've been thinking about since I
saw you. If I open another establishment, the business will be
divided. Now, it has struck me, that, perhaps, it might be better,
all round, for me to put my five hundred dollars into your business
as a partner, and push the whole thing with might and main. How does
it strike you?"
"Vell, I can't say shust now; I'll dink of him. You put in fife
hunnard dollar, you say?"
"Yes; five hundred down, in hard cash--every dollar in gold."
"Fife hunnard. Let us see." And the Dutchman raised his chin and
dropped his eyes, and stood for some minutes in a deep study.
"Fife hunnard," he repeated several times.
"Come to-morrow," he at length said. "Den I tell you."
"Very well. I'll drop in to-morrow," replied the Yankee. "I'm not
very anxious about it, you see; but, as the thing occurred to me, I
thought I would mention it. Five hundred dollars will make a great
difference in your business."
On the next day, Jonathan appeared, looking quite indifferent about
the matter. The Dutchman had turned over the proposition, and
dreamed about it, both sleeping and waking. His final decision was
to take in the Yankee as a partner.
Now, a cool, thoughtful Dutchman, and a quick-witted Yankee, are not
a very bad match for each other, provided the former sees reason to
have his wits about him, which was the case in the present instance.
The Dutchman meant all fair; he had no thought of taking any
advantage: but he had suspicion enough of Jonathan to put him on his
guard, and look to see that no high-handed game was played off upon
"You put in fife hunnard dollar?" he said, when the Yankee appeared.
"Yes, in gold."
"All in half-eagles like these." And he drew a handful of gold coins
from his pocket.
"Very well; I dake you. You put in fife hunnard dollar, I put in all
I got here; den we joint owner."
"That is, I own half and you half."
"And we divide, equally, the profits?"
"Very well; that'll do, I guess. We'll have writings drawn to this
effect--articles of co-partnership, you know."
This settled, nothing remained but to have the articles drawn, the
money paid in, and the agreement signed and witnessed; all of which
was done in the course of a few weeks. Then Jonathan went into the
business, and infused some Yankee spirit: into every part of it; he
made things move ahead fast. In less than a year, the business was
much more than doubled, and the profits in proportion; thut Jonathan
was not satisfied with his half of these--he wanted the whole; and,
hedge-hog-like, he did all he could, by merely bristling up, to make
things unpleasant for his partner. But the Dutchman was by no means
thin-skinned; the sharp spikes of the Yankee's character annoyed him
but little. As for himself, he felt very well satisfied with his
share of the profits, and willing to go on as they were going.
At the end of the second year, when the establishment had grown into
quite an important and profitable concern, the Yankee had a visit
from an Eastern friend, a man of some capital.
"That's a stupid-looking. fellow, that partner of yours," said this
"And he is as stupid as a mule. I have to carry him on my back, and
the business, too."
"Why don't you get rid of him?"
"I've been wanting to do so for some time, but haven't seen my way
"Does your partnership expire at any time, by limitation?"
"No. It can only be dissolved by mutual consent."
"Won't he sell out his interest?"
"I don't know; but I've always intended to make him an offer to give
or take, as soon as I could see my way clear to do it."
"Don't you see your way clear now?"
"No. When such an offer is made, it must be of a sum that it is
impossible for him to raise; otherwise, he might agree to give the
amount proposed, and I don't want that. I wish to stick to the
business, for it's going to be a fortune. At present, I am not able
to raise what I think should be offered."
"How much is that?"
"About three thousand dollars. I only put in five hundred, two years
ago. You can see how the business has increased. The half is worth
five thousand in reality, and I would give, rather than take that
"You think your partner can't raise three thousand dollars?"
"Oh, no; he's got no friends, and he hasn't three hundred out of the
"How long would you want the sum mentioned?"
"A year or eighteen months."
"I reckon I can supply it," said the friend. "It's a pity for you to
be tied to this old Dutchman, when you can conduct the business just
as well yourself."
"A great deal better; he is only in my way."
"Very well. You make him the offer to give or take three thousand
dollars, and I will supply the money. But you ought, by all means,
to add a stipulation, that whoever goes out shall sign a written
agreement not to go into the same business for at least ten years to
come. If you don't do this, he can take his three thousand dollars
and start another establishment upon as large a scale as the one you
have, and seriously affect your operations."
"Such a stipulation must be signed, of course," remarked Jonathan.
"I've always had that in my mind; let me once get this business into
my hands, and I'll make it pay better than it ever has yet. Before
ten years roll over my head, if I a'n't worth forty or fifty
thousand dollars, then I don't know any thing."
"You think it will pay like that?"
"Yes, I know it. I haven't put out half my strength yet, for I
didn't want to let this Dutchman see what could be made of the
business. He'll catch at three thousand dollars like a trout at a
fly; it's more money than he ever saw in his life."
On the next day, Jonathan told his partner that he wanted to have
some talk with him; so they retired into their little private
office, to be alone.
"Vat you want?" said the Dutchman, when they were by themselves; for
he saw that his partner had something on his mind of graver import
"I'm tired of a co-partnership business," said the Yankee, coming
straight to the main point.
"Vell?" And the Dutchman looked at him without betraying the least
"Either of us could conduct this business as well as both together."
"Now, I propose to buy you out or sell you my interest, as you
"What will you give me for my half of the business, and let me go at
something else?" The Dutchman shook his head.
"At a word, then, to make the matter as simple as possible, and as
fair as possible, I'll tell you what I'll give or take."
"Of course, it would not be fair for the one who goes out to
commence the same business. I would not do it. There should be a
written agreement to this effect."
"Yes. Vell, vat vill you give or dake?"
I'll give or take three thousand dollars; I don't care which."
"Dree dousand dollar! You give dat?"
"Or take dat?"
"You pay down de monish?"
"Humph! Dree dousand dollar! Me tink about him."
"How long do you want to think?"
"Undil de mornin."
"Very well; we'll settle the matter to-morrow morning."
In the morning, Jonathan's friend came with three thousand dollars,
in order to pay the Dutchman right down, and have the whole business
concluded while the matter was warm.
Meantime, the Dutchman, who was not quite so friendless nor so
stupid as the Yankee supposed, turned the matter over in his mind
very coolly. He understood Jonathan's drift as clearly as he
understood it himself, and was fully as well satisfied as he was in
regard to the future value of the business which he had founded. Two
of their largest customers were Germans, and to them he went and
made a full statement of his position, and gave them evidence that
entirely satisfied them as to the business. Without hesitation, they
agreed to advance him the money he wanted, and to enable him to
strike while the iron was hot, checked him out the money on the next
morning. One of them accompanied him to his manufactory, to be a
witness in the transaction.
Jonathan and his friend were first on the spot.
In about ten minutes, the Dutchman and his friend arrived.
"Well, have you made up your mind yet?" asked the Yankee.
"De one who goes out ish not to begin de same business?"
"No, certainly not; it wouldn't be fair."
"No, I 'spose not."
"Suppose we draw up a paper, and sign it to that effect, before we
go any farther."
The paper was drawn, signed, and witnessed by the friends of both
"You are prepared to give or take?" said Jonathan, with same
eagerness in his manner.
"Well, which will you do?"
"I vill give," coolly replied the Dutchman.
"Give!" echoed the Yankee, taken entirely by surprise at so
unexpected a reply. "Give! You mean, take."
"I no means dake, I means give. Here ish de monish;" and he drew
forth a large roll of bank-bills. "You say give or dake--I say
With the best face it was possible to put upon the matter, Jonathan,
who could not back out, took the three thousand dollars, and, for
that sum, signed away, on the spot, all right, title, and claim to
benefit in the business, from that day henceforth and for ever.
With his three thousand dollars in his pocket, the Yankee started
off farther South, vowing that, if he lived to be as old as
Methuselah, he'd never have any thing to do with a Dutchman again.
A TIPSY PARSON.
IN a village not a hundred miles from Philadelphia, resided the Rev.
Mr. Manlius, who had the pastoral charge of a very respectable
congregation, and was highly esteemed by them; but there was one
thing in which he did not give general satisfaction, and in
consequence of which many excellent members of his church felt
seriously scandalized. He would neither join a temperance society,
nor omit his glass of wine when he felt inclined to take it. It is
only fair to say, however, that such spirituous indulgences were not
of frequent occurrence. It was more the principle of the thing, as
he said, that he stood upon, than any thing else, that prevented his
signing a temperance pledge.
Sundry were the attacks, both open and secret, to which the Reverend
Mr. Manlius was subjected, and many were the discussions into which
he was drawn by the advocates of total abstinence. His mode of
argument was very summary.
"I would no more sign a pledge not to drink brandy than I would sign
a pledge not to steal," was the position he took. "I wish to be free
to choose good or evil, and to act right because it is wrong to do
otherwise. I do not find fault with others for signing a pledge, nor
for abstaining from wine. If they think it right, it is right for
them. But as for myself, I would cut off my right hand before I
would bind myself by mere external restraint. My bonds are internal
principles. I am temperate because intemperance is sin. For men who
have abused their freedom, and so far lost all rational control over
themselves that they cannot resist the insane spirit of
intemperance, the pledge is all important. Sign it, I say, in the
name of Heaven; but do not sign it because this, that, or the other
temperate man has signed it, but because you feel it to be your only
hope. Do it for yourself, and do it if you are the only man in the
world who acts thus. To sign because another man, whom you think
more respectable, has signed, will give you little or no strength.
You must do it for yourself, and because it is right."
The parson was pretty ready with the tongue, and rarely came off
second best when his opponents dragged him into a controversy,
although his arguments were called by them, when he was not present,
"His love for wine and brandy is at the bottom of all this hostility
to the temperance cause," was boldly said of him by individuals in
and out of his church. But especially were the members of other
churches severe upon him.
"He'll turn out a drunkard," said one.
"I shouldn't be surprised to see him staggering in the streets
before two years," said another.
"He does more harm to the temperance cause than ten drunkards,"
alleged a third.
While others said--"Isn't it scandalous!"
"He's a disgrace to his profession!"
"_He_ pretend to have religion!"
"A minister indeed!"
And so the changes rang.
All this time, Mr. Manlius firmly maintained his ground, taking his
glass of wine whenever it suited him. At last, after the occurrence
of a dinner-party given by a family of some note in the place, and
at which the minister was present, and at which wine was circulated
freely, a rather scandalous report got abroad, and soon went buzzing
all over the village. A young man, who made no secret of being fond
of his glass, and who was at the dinner-party, met, on the day
after, a very warm advocate of temperance, and a member of a
different denomination from that in which Mr. Manlius was a
minister, and said to him, with mock gravity--"We had a _rara avis_
at our dinner-party yesterday, Perkins."
"Indeed. What wonderful thing was that?"
"A tipsy parson."
The man's eyes became instantly almost as big as saucers.
"A tipsy parson."
"Who? Mr. Manlius?" was eagerly inquired.
"I didn't say so. I call no names."
"He was present, I know; and drank wine, I am told, like a fish."
"I wasn't aware before that fishes drank wine," said the man
"It was Manlius, wasn't it?" urged the other.
"I call no names," was repeated. "All I said was, that we had a
tipsy parson--and so we had. I'll prove it before a jury of a
thousand, if necessary."
"It's no more than I expected," said the temperance man. "He's a
mere winebibber at best. He pretend to preach the gospel! I wonder
he isn't struck dead in the pulpit."
The moment his informant had left him, Perkins started forth to
communicate the astounding intelligence that Mr. Manlius had been
drunk on the day before, at Mr. Reeside's dinner-party. From lip to
lip the scandal flew, with little less than electric quickness. It
was all over the village by the next day. Some doubted, some denied,
but the majority believed the story--it was so likely to be true.
This occurred near the close of the week, and Sunday arrived before
the powers that be in the church were able to confer upon the
subject, and cite the minister to appear and answer for himself on
the scandalous charge of drunkenness. There was an unusual number of
vacant pews during service, both morning and afternoon.
Monday came, and, early in the day, a committee of two deacons
waited upon Mr. Manlius, and informed him of the report in
circulation, and of their wish that he would appear before them on
the next afternoon, to give an account of himself, as the church
deemed the matter far too serious to be passed lightly over. The
minister was evidently a good deal surprised and startled at this,
but he neither denied the charge nor attempted any palliation,
merely saying that he would attend, of course.
"It's plain that he's guilty," said Deacon Jones to Deacon Todd, as
they walked with sober faces away from the minister's dwelling.
"Plain? Yes--it's written in his face," returned Deacon Todd. "So
much for opposing temperance reforms and drinking wine. It's a
judgment upon him."
"But what a scandal to our church!" said Deacon Jones.
"Yes--think of that. He must be suspended, and not restored until he
signs the pledge."
"I don't believe he'll ever do that."
"He says he would cut off his right hand first."
"People are very fond of cutting off their right hand, you know. My
word for it, this will do the business for him. He will be glad
enough to get the matter hushed up so easily. I shall go for
suspending him until he signs the pledge."
"I don't know but that I will go with you. If he signs the pledge,
And so the two deacons settled the matter.
On the next day, in grave council assembled were all the deacons of
the church, besides sundry individuals who had come as the
minister's friends or accusers. Perkins, who had put the report in
circulation, was there, at the special request of one of the
deacons, who had ascertained that he had as much, or a little more
to say, in the matter, than any one.
Perkins was called upon, rather unexpectedly, to answer one or two
questions, immediately on the opening of the meeting, but as he was
a stanch temperance man, and cordially despised the minister, he was
bold to reply.
"Mr. Perkins," said the presiding deacon, "as far as we can learn,
this scandalous charge originated with you: I will, therefore, ask
you--did you say that the Rev. Mr. Manlius was drunk at Mr.
"I did," was the unhesitating answer.
"Were you present at Mr. Reeside's?"
"Did you see Mr. Manlius coming from the house intoxicated?"
"What evidence, then, have you of the truth of your charge? We have
conversed this morning with several who were present, and all say
that they observed nothing out of the way in Mr. Manlius, on the
occasion of which you speak. This is a serious matter, and we should
like to have your authority for a statement so injurious to the
reputation of the minister and the cause of religion."
"My authority is Mr. Burton, who was present."
"Did he tell you that Mr. Manlius was intoxicated?"
"He said there was a drunken minister there, and Mr. Manlius, I have
ascertained, was the only clergyman present."
"Was that so?" asked the deacon of an individual who was at Mr.
"Mr. Manlius was the only clergyman there," was replied.
"Then," said Perkins, "if there was a drunken minister there, it
must have been Mr. Manlius. I can draw no other inference."
"Can Mr. Burton be found?" was now asked.
An individual immediately volunteered to go in search of him. In
half an hour he was produced. As he entered the grave assembly, he
looked around with great composure upon the array of solemn faces
and eyes intently fixed upon him. He did not appear in the least
"You were at Mr. Reeside's last week, at a dinner-party, I believe?"
said the presiding deacon.
"Did you see Mr. Manlius intoxicated on that occasion?"
"Mr. Manlius! Good heavens! no! I can testify, upon oath, that he
was as solemn as a judge. Who says that I made so scandalous an
Burton appeared to grow strongly excited.
"I say so," cried Perkins in a loud voice.
"You say so? And, pray, upon what authority?"
"Upon the authority of your own words."
"But you did tell me so."
Perkins was much excited.
"On the day after the dinner-party. Don't you remember what you said
"That you had a drunken minister at dinner?"
"No, I never said that."
"But you did, I can be qualified to it."
"I said we had a 'tipsy parson.'"
"And, pray, what is the difference?"
At the words "tipsy parson," the minister burst into a loud laugh,
and so did two or three others who had been at Mr. Reeside's. The
grave deacon in the chair looked around with frowning wonder at such
indecorum, and felt that especially ill-timed was the levity of the
"I do not understand this," he said, with great gravity.
"I can explain it," remarked an individual, rising, "as I happened
to be at Mr. Reeside's, and know all about the 'tipsy parson.' The
cook of our kind hostess, in her culinary ingenuity, furnished a
dessert, which she called 'tipsy parson,'--made, I believe, by
soaking sponge-cake in brandy and pouring a custard over it. It is
therefore true, as our friend Burton has said, that there was a
'tipsy parson' at the table; but as to the drunken minister of Mr.
Perkins, I know nothing."
Never before, in a grave and solemn assembly of deacons, was there
such a sudden and universal burst of laughter, such a holding of
sides and vibration of bodies, as followed this unexpected speech.
In the midst of the confusion and noise, Perkins quietly retired. He
has been known, ever since, in the village, much to his chagrin and
scandalization, he being still a warm temperance man, as the "tipsy
"There goes the 'tipsy parson'" he hears said, as he passes along
the street, a dozen times in a week, and he is now seriously
inclined to leave the village, in order to escape the ridicule his
over-zealous effort to blast the minister's reputation has called
into existence. As for the Rev. Mr. Manlius, he often tells the
story, and laughs over it as heartily as any one.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING;
OR, THE REASON WHY MRS. TODD DIDN'T SPEAK TO MRS. JONES.
"DID you see that?" said Mrs. Jones to her friend Mrs. Lion, with
whom she was walking.
"Why, that Mrs. Todd didn't speak to me."
"No. I thought she spoke to you as well as to me."
"Indeed, then, and she didn't."
"Are you sure?"
"Sure? Can't I believe my own eyes? She nodded and spoke to you, but
she didn't as much as look at me."
"What in the world can be the reason, Mrs. Jones?"
"You certainly must be mistaken. Mrs. Todd would not refuse to speak
to one of her old friends in the street."
"Humph! I don't know; she's rather queer, sometimes. She's taken a
miff at something, I suppose, and means to cut my acquaintance. But
let her. I shall not distress myself about it; she isn't all the
"Have you done any thing likely to offend her?" asked Mrs. Lyon.
"Me?" returned her companion. "No, not that I am aware of; but
certain people are always on the lookout for something or other
wrong, and Mrs. Todd is just one of that kind."
"I never thought so, Mrs. Jones."
"She is, then. I know her very well."
"I'm sorry," said Mrs. Lyon, evincing a good deal of concern.
"Hadn't you better go to her in a plain, straight-forward way, and
ask the reason of her conduct? This would make all clear in a
"Go to her, Mrs. Lyon," exclaimed Mrs. Jones, with ill-concealed
indignation. "No, indeed, that I will not. Do you think I would
demean myself so much?"
"I am not sure that by so doing you would demean yourself, as you
say. There is, clearly, some mistake, and such a course would
correct all false impressions. But it was only a suggestion, thrown
out for your consideration."
"Oh, no, Mrs. Lyon," replied Mrs. Jones, with warmth. "You never
find me cringing to people, and begging to know why they are pleased
to cut my acquaintance. I feel quite as good as anybody, and
consider myself of just as much consequence as the proudest and
best. Mrs. Todd needn't think I care for her acquaintance; I never
valued it a pin."
Notwithstanding Mrs. Jones's perfect indifference toward Mrs. Todd,
she continued to talk about her, pretty much after this fashion,
growing more excited all the while, during the next half hour, at
the close of which time the ladies parted company.
When Mrs. Jones met her husband at the dinner-table, she related
what had happened during the morning. Mr. Jones was disposed to
treat the matter lightly, but his wife soon satisfied him that the
thing was no joke.
"What can be Mrs. Todd's reason for such conduct?" he asked, with a
serious air. "I can't tell, for my life."
"She must have heard some false report about you."
"It's as likely as not; but what can it be?"
"Something serious, to cause her to take so decided a stand as she
seems to have done."
Mr. Jones looked grave, and spoke in a grave tone of voice. This
made matters worse. Mrs. Jones's first idea was that Mrs. Todd had
heard something that she might have said about her, and that wounded
pride had caused her to do as she had done; but her husband's remark
suggested other thoughts. It was possible that reports were in
circulation calculated to injure her social standing, and that Mrs.
Todd's conduct toward her was not the result of any private pique.
"It is certainly strange and unaccountable," she said, in reply to
her husband's last remark, speaking in a thoughtful tone.
"Would it not be the fairest and best way for you to go and ask for
"No, I can't do that," replied Mrs. Jones, quickly. "I am willing to
bear undeserved contempt and unjust censure, but I will never humble
myself to any one."
For the rest of the day, Mrs. Jones's thoughts all flowed in one
channel. A hundred reasons for Mrs. Todd's strange conduct were
imagined, but none seemed long satisfactory. At last, she remembered
having spoken pretty freely about the lady to a certain individual
who was not remarkable for his discretion.
"That's it," she said, rising from her chair, and walking nervously
across the floor of her chamber, backward and forward, for two or
three times, while a burning glow suffused her cheek. "Isn't it too
bad that words spoken in confidence should have been repeated! I
don't wonder she is offended."
This idea was retained for a time, and then abandoned for some other
that seemed more plausible. For the next two weeks, Mrs. Jones was
very unhappy. She did not meet Mrs. Todd during that period, but she
saw a number of her friends, to whom either she or Mrs. Lyon had
communicated the fact already stated. All declared the conduct of
Mrs. Todd to be unaccountable; but several, among themselves, had
shrewd suspicions of the real cause. Conversations on the subject,
like the following, were held:--
"I can tell you what I think about it, Mrs. S--. You know, Mrs.
Jones is pretty free with her tongue?"
"You've heard her talk about Mrs. Todd?"
"I don't remember, now."
"I have, often; she doesn't spare her, sometimes. You know,
yourself, that Mrs. Todd has queer ways of her own."
"She is not perfect, certainly."
"Not by a great deal; and Mrs. Jones has not hesitated to say so.
There is not the least doubt in my mind, that Mrs. Todd has heard
"Perhaps so; but she is very foolish to take any notice of it."
"So I think; but you know she is touchy."
In some instances, the conversation assumed a grave form:--
"Do you know what has struck me, in this matter of Mrs. Jones and
Mrs. Todd?" says one scandal-loving personage to another, whose
taste ran parallel with her own.
"No. What is it?" eagerly asks the auditor.
"I will tell you; but you mustn't speak of it, for your life."
"Never fear me."
The communication was made in a deep whisper.
"Bless me!" exclaims the recipient of the secret. "It surely cannot
"There is not the least doubt of it. I had it from a source that
cannot be doubted."
"How in the world did you hear it?"
"In a way not dreamed of by Mrs. Jones."
"No doubt, Mrs. Todd has heard the same."
"Not the least in the world. But don't you think her to blame in
refusing to keep Mrs. Jones's company, or even to speak to her?"
"Certainly I do. It happened a long time ago, and no doubt poor Mrs.
Jones has suffered enough on account of it. Indeed, I don't think
_she_ ought to be blamed in the matter at all; it was her
misfortune, not her fault."
"So I think. In fact, I believe she is just as worthy of respect and
kindness as Mrs. Todd."
"No doubt of it in the world; and from me she shall always receive
"And from me also."
In this way the circle spread, so that before two weeks had elapsed,
there were no less than twenty different notions held about Mrs.
Todd's behaviour to Mrs. Jones. Some talked very seriously about
cutting the acquaintance of Mrs. Jones also, while others took her
side and threatened to give up the acquaintance of Mrs. Todd.
Thus matters stood, when a mutual friend, who wished to do honour to
some visitors from a neighbouring city, sent out invitations for a
party. Before these invitations were despatched, it was seriously
debated whether it would do to invite both Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Todd,
considering how matters stood between them. The decision was in
favour of letting them take care of their own difficulties.
"If I thought Mrs. Todd would be there, I am sure I wouldn't go,"
said Mrs. Jones, on receiving her card of invitation.
"I hardly think that would be acting wisely," replied her husband.
"You are not conscious of having wronged Mrs. Todd. Why, then,
should you shun her?"
"But it is so unpleasant to meet a person with whom you have been
long intimate, who refuses to speak to you."
"No doubt it is. Still we ought not to go out of our way to shun
that person. Let us, while we do not attempt to interfere with the
liberties of others, be free ourselves. Were I in your place, I
would not move an inch to keep out of her way."
"I have not your firmness. I wish I had. It was only yesterday that
I crossed the street to keep from meeting her face to face."
"You were wrong."
"I can't help it; it is my weakness. Three times already have I put
myself about to avoid her; and if I could frame any good excuse for
staying away from this party, I certainly should do so. I would give
any thing for a good sick-headache on Tuesday next."
"I am really ashamed of you, Ellen. I thought you more of a woman,"
said Mr. Jones.
The night of the party at length came round. During the whole day
preceding it, Mrs. Jones could think of nothing but the unpleasant
feelings she would have upon meeting with Mrs. Todd, and her "heart
was in her mouth" all the time. She wished a dozen times that it
would rain. But her wishes availed nothing; not a cloud was to be
seen in the clear blue firmament from morning until evening.
"Oh, if I only had some good excuse for staying at home!" she said
over and over again; but no good excuse offered.
Mr. Jones saw that his wife was in a very unhappy state of mind, and
tried his best to cheer her, but with little good effect.
"It is no use to talk to me, I can't help it," she replied to his
remonstrance, in a husky voice. "I am neither a stock nor a stone."
"There's Mrs. Jones," said one friend to another, on seeing the lady
they named enter Mrs.--'s well-filled parlours.
"Where is Mrs. Todd?" asked the lady addressed.
"Sure enough! where is she?" replied the other. "Oh, there she is,
in the other room. I wonder why it is that she does not speak to
"No one knows."
"It's very strange."
"I'll tell you what I've heard."
"That she's jealous of Mrs. Jones."
"I don't believe a word of it."
"Nor I. I only told you what I had heard."
"There must be some other reason."
"And doubtless is."
Meantime, Mrs. Jones found a seat in a corner, where she ensconced
herself, with the determination of keeping her place during the
evening, that she might avoid the unpleasantness of coming in
contact with Mrs. Todd. All this was, of course, very weak in Mrs.
Jones. But she had no independent strength of character, it must be
"Poor Mrs. Jones! How cut down she looks," remarked a lady who knew
all about the trouble that existed. "I really feel sorry for her."
"She takes it a great deal too much to heart," was the reply. "Mrs.
Todd might refuse to speak to me a dozen times, if she liked. It
wouldn't break my heart. But where is she?"
"In the other room, as gay and lively as ever I saw her. See, there
"Yes, I see her. Hark! You can hear her laugh to here. I must
confess I don't like it. I don't believe she has any heart. She must
know that Mrs. Jones is hurt at what she has done."
"Of course she does, and her manner is meant to insult her."
Seeing the disturbed and depressed state of Mrs. Jones's mind, two
or three of her friends held a consultation on the subject, and
finally agreed that they would ask Mrs. Todd, who seemed purposely
to avoid Mrs. Jones, why she acted towards her as she did. But
before they could find an opportunity of so doing, a messenger came
to say that one of Mrs. Todd's children had been taken suddenly ill.
The lady withdrew immediately.
Mrs. Jones, breathed more freely on learning that Mrs. Todd had gone
home. Soon after, she emerged from her place in the corner, and
mingled with the company during the rest of the evening.
Mrs. Todd, on arriving at home, found one of her children quite
sick; but it proved to be nothing serious. On the following morning,
the little fellow was quite well again.
On that same morning, three ladies, personal friends of Mrs. Todd,
met by appointment, and entered into grave consultation. They had
undertaken to find out the cause of offence that had occurred, of so
serious a character as to lead Mrs. Todd to adopt so rigid a course
towards Mrs. Jones, and, if possible, to reconcile matters.
"The sickness of her child will be a good excuse for us to call upon
her," said one. "If he is better, we can introduce the matter
"I wonder how she will take it?" suggested another.
"Kindly, I hope," remarked the third.
"Suppose she does not?"
"We have done our duty."
"True. And that consciousness ought to be enough for us."
"She is a very proud woman, and my fear is that, having taken an
open and decided stand, will yield to neither argument nor
persuasion. Last night she overacted her part. While she carefully
avoided coming in contact with Mrs. Jones, she was often near her,
and on such occasions talked and laughed louder than at any other
time. I thought, once or twice, that there was something of malice
exhibited in her conduct."
To this, one of the three assented. But the other thought
differently. After some further discussion, and an ineffectual
attempt to decide which of them should open the matter to Mrs. Todd,
the ladies sallied forth on their errand of peace. They found Mrs.
Todd at home, who received them in her usual agreeable manner.
"How is your little boy?" was the first question, after the first
salutations were over.
"Much better than he was last night, I thank you. Indeed, he is
quite as well as usual."
"What was the matter with him, Mrs. Todd?"
"It is hard to tell. I found him with a high fever, when I got home.
But it subsided in the course of an hour. Children often have such
attacks. They will be quite sick one hour, and apparently well the
"I am very glad to hear that it is nothing serious," said one of the
ladies. "I was afraid it might have been croup, or something as
There was a pause.
"It seemed a little unfortunate," remarked one of the visitors, "for
it deprived you of an evening's enjoyment."
"Yes, it does appear so, but no doubt it is all right. I suppose you
had a very pleasant time?"
"Oh, yes. Delightful!"
"I hadn't seen half my friends when I was summoned away. Was Mrs.
"And Mrs. Gray?"
"And Mrs. Elder?"
"I didn't see either of them."
"Not a word about Mrs. Jones," thought the ladies.
A light running conversation, something after this style, was kept
up, with occasional pauses, for half an hour, when one of the
visitors determined to come to the point.
"Mrs. Todd--a-hem!" she said in one of the pauses that always take
place in uninteresting conversation.
The lady's tone of voice had so changed from what it was a few
moments before, that Mrs. Todd looked up at her with surprise. No
less changed was the lady's countenance. Mrs. Todd was mistified.
But she was not long in doubt.
"A-hem! Mrs. Todd, we have come to--to--as friends--mutual
friends--to ask you"--
The lady's voice broke down; but two or three "a-hems!" partially
restored it, and she went on. "To ask why you refused to--to--speak
to Mrs. Jones?"
"Why I refused to speak to Mrs. Jones?" said Mrs. Todd, her cheek
"Yes. Mrs. Jones is very much hurt about it, and says she cannot
imagine the reason. It has made her very unhappy. As mutual friends,
we have thought it our duty to try and reconcile matters. It is on
this errand that we have called this morning. Mrs. Jones says she
met you for the last time about two weeks ago, and that you refused
to speak to her. May we ask the reason."
"You may, certainly," was calmly replied.
Expectation was now on tiptoe.
"What, then, was the reason?"
"_I did not see her_."
"What? Didn't you refuse to speak to her?"
"Never in my life. I esteem Mrs. Jones too highly. If I passed her,
as you say, without speaking, it was because I did not see her."
In less than half an hour, Mrs. Todd was at the house of Mrs. Jones.
What passed between the ladies need not be told.
ALMOST A TRAGEDY.
A REMINISCENCE OF MR. JOHN JONES.
IT is now about five years since I met with a little adventure in
the West, which may be worth relating. It caused me a good deal of
excitement at first; regrets afterward, for the temporary pain I
inflicted, and many a hearty laugh since. New things come up so
rapidly that it is almost impossible to keep the run of them, and it
is not at all surprising that those who are content to go along in
the good old way should now and then be caught napping. I own that I
Business took me out West, in the spring of 18--, and kept me in
Ohio for the entire summer of that year. After a hard day's ride, in
the month of August, I entered, just before nightfall, a certain
town lying on the National Road, where I expected to remain for a
week. After taking possession of my room at the hotel; shaving,
washing, and improving my appearance in other respects, I came down
and took a seat in the porch that ran along the front of the house.
I had not been here very long before the stage from the East drove
up, and the passengers, who were to take supper, as this was a
stage-house, alighted. Among them, I noticed a woman with a pale,
emaciated, and, I would have said, dying child in her arms. Her face
was anxious and haggard in its expression. She was accompanied by a
man, whom I rightly supposed to be her husband. He immediately went
to the bar and engaged a room, saying that his child was too sick to
permit them to continue their journey.
"Do you wish a doctor?" asked the landlord.
"No," replied the man. "We have medicine, prescribed by our own
physician before we left home. If that does no good, we have little
confidence in any other remedies."
No more was said. The man was shown to his room, whither he retired
with his wife and sick child. The room, it so happened, was next to
mine, and the two rooms communicated by a door, which was of course
closed and fastened.
The emaciated child and anxious mother presented a sight that fixed
itself upon my mind, and excited my liveliest sympathies. I could
not get them from my thoughts.
About ten o'clock that night, I took a candle and went to my room.
Before undressing myself, I sat down at a table to make some entries
of collections and expenses, and to think over and arrange my
business for the next day. All was still, except now and then a
slight movement in the next chamber, where the parents were sitting
up with their sick child.
"What did you give him last?" I heard the father say, in a low, but
"Aconite," was as distinctly replied.
This I knew to be a deadly poison. I listened, you may be sure, with
a more earnest attention.
"How many grains?" was next asked.
"Two," replied the mother.
Two grains of aconite! My hair began to rise. "I think we had better
increase the dose to five grains."
"It's an hour since he took the last, and I see no change," said the
mother. "Perhaps we had better try the arsenic."
My blood ran cold at this murderous proposition. I felt like
starting up, bursting open the door, and confronting them in their
dreadful work. But, as if spell-bound, I remained where I was. To
the last proposition, the man replied--"I would rather see the
aconite tried in a larger dose. If, in half an hour, there is no
visible effect from it, then we will resort to the arsenic."
"If you think it best," said the mother, in a low sad voice--(well
she might be sad over such awful work)--"let us try the aconite
again, but in a larger dose. You will find it on the mantelpiece."
I heard the deliberate tread of the man, as he crossed the room for
a larger dose of the poison, while I hurriedly deliberated the
question of what I should do. Before I could make up my mind to act,
I heard his returning step. A few moments of awful stillness
succeeded. I felt as if I were in the centre of a sphere, with the
gravitating forces from every point of the circumference upon me. I
don't think I could have moved a limb to save my life.
"There; let us see what they will do," came distinctly upon my ear.
Gracious Heaven! the deed was done. Five grains of aconite given to
the tender child, already on the verge of death! The cold sweat came
out over my whole body, and stood in clammy drops upon my forehead.
All was still. Death was doing his awful work in silence. I sat
motionless, under the influence of a strange irresolution or
imbecility of mind, unable to determine what steps to take in a
matter where all now seems as plain to me as days light. I do not
know what came over me. The fact only shows how, when placed in
certain positions, we become paralyzed, and unable to act even with
common decision. I remember saying to myself, as a justification for
not interfering at this stage of the proceedings--
"It is too late now. Five and three are eight. Eight grains of
aconite! There is no longer a vestige of hope for the child. Death
is as certain as if a bullet were fired through the sufferer's
I did not stir from where I sat, but tried to hush my deep
breathing, and quiet the loud pulsations of my heart, lest even they
should be heard and betray my proximity to the wretches.
Half an hour passed. There was a movement, and the murmuring sound
of voices,--but, though I listened eagerly, I was not able to make
out what was said. I heard the tread of a man across the floor, and
I also heard his return. I thought of the arsenic, and said to
myself, at the same time, "They will not need that." The woman was
speaking. I listened.
"Was that the arsenic?"
"How many grains did you give him?"
"I meant to give him three, but, in mistake, gave him six or seven."
It was too late, now, for any interference. But, I was determined
that the wretches should not escape. I was an ear-witness to their
murderous act, and I resolved to bring them to the light. While I
thus mused and resolved, I was thrilled by a long, tremulous cry
from the dying child. All was again still as death, save an
occasional deep sob, that seemed bursting up from the remnant of
stifled nature in the mother's bosom. Again that cry arose suddenly
on the air, but feebler and shorter. The mother's sob now became a
moan, and soon changed to a low, wailing cry. Her child was dead.
The fatal drugs had too surely done their murderous work. But why
should she weep over the precious babe her own hand had destroyed?
and why came there, now and then, from that chamber of death, a deep
sighing moan, struggling up in spite of all efforts to repress it,
from the breast of the miserable father? Strange enigma! I could not
read, satisfactorily to myself, the difficult solution.
I still remained quiet where I was. In a little while I heard the
father go out, and listened to his footsteps until they became lost
in silence. Soon the hasty tread of several feet were heard, and two
or three females entered the room. Their presence caused the woman
to cry bitterly.
"False-hearted, cruel wretch!" I could not help muttering to myself.
"Hypocritical cries and crocodile tears will not hide your sin. An
ear of which you dreamed not has heard your hellish plots, and been
witness to your hellish deeds upon the body of your poor babe. You
cannot escape. The voice of blood cries from the very ground. The
hope of the murderer is vain. He cannot hide himself from the
For half the night, I lay awake, thinking of what had occurred, and
settling in my mind the course of proceeding to adopt in the
morning. I was up long before sunrise--in fact, long before anybody
else was stirring--awaiting the appearance of the landlord, to whom
it was my intention to give information of the dreadful deed that
had been committed. Full an hour elapsed before he made his
appearance. I immediately drew him aside.
"There has been a death in the house," said I.
"Yes," he replied. "The poor sick child that was brought here by the
Eastern stage last evening died in the night. I did not suppose it
would live till morning. To me, it seemed in a dying state when its
"There has been foul play," said I, with emphasis. "That child has
not died a natural death."
"How so? What do you mean?" asked the landlord, with a look of
"I mean what I say," was my reply. "As sure as I am a living man,
that child has been murdered." I then related all I had heard, to
the horror and astonishment of the landlord.
"A deed like this must not go unpunished," he said, sternly and
angrily. "It is horrible to think of it."
After talking over the matter for some time, it was determined to
call a council of half a dozen of the regular boarders in the house,
as soon as breakfast was over, and decide upon the steps best to be
taken. Accordingly, after breakfast, a few of us assembled in a
private parlour, and I again related, with minuteness, all that I
had heard. After sundry expressions of horror and indignation, a
gentleman said to me--"Are you sure it was grains or granules of
aconite and arsenic that were given to the child?"
"Grains, sir," I replied, promptly.
"This is a serious matter," he added; "and if there should be any
mistake, it would be sad indeed to harrow the feelings of those
bereaved parents by so dreadful a charge as that of the murder of
their own offspring. My own impression is, that our friend here is
under a mistake."
"Can't I believe my own ears, sir?" said I, a little indignantly.
"Don't misunderstand me," returned the gentleman, politely. "I don't
doubt you have heard all you say, and it may be even to the word
grains; but I am under the impression that the arsenic and aconite
given were in the homťopathic preparations, and therefore no longer
There was a long pause after this was said; every one present seemed
to breathe more freely. I had heard of homťopathy, and something
about infinitesimal doses, but had never seen the medicine used,
neither did I know any thing about the mode in which it was
"Suppose we send for the man," suggested the landlord, "and question
him,--but in a way not to wound him, if he be innocent."
This, after some debate, was agreed upon, and a servant was sent to
his room with a request that he would come to the parlour. He obeyed
the summons instantly, but looked a good deal surprised when he saw
a grave assembly of six or seven persons. The gentleman who had
expressed the doubt in the man's favour, said to him, as soon as he
had taken his seat--"We have learned, sir, with sincere regret, that
you were so unfortunate as to lose your child last night--a severe
affliction. Though strangers, we deeply sympathize with you."
The man expressed his thanks, in a few words, for the kind feelings
manifested, and said that, as it was their only child, they felt the
affliction more severely, but were still willing to submit to the
loss, as a Divine dispensation, grievous to be borne, yet intended
"You did not call in a physician," said the individual who had at
first addressed him.
"No," replied the man. "Before starting for Cincinnati, yesterday
morning, we learned that, no matter how ill our child might become,
we could not get the advice of a homťopathic physician until we
reached home, and we were not willing to trust our child in the
hands of any other. We, therefore, before commencing our journey,
obtained medicine, and advice how to administer it should alarming
"In powders, I suppose?"
"No, sir; in little, grains or pellets, like these."
And he drew from his pocket a diminutive vial, the smallest I had
ever seen, in which were a number of little white granules, about
the size of the head of a pin. A printed label was wound around the
vial, and it bore the word "Arsenicum." It passed from hand to hand,
and all read it.
"You gave this?" said the volunteer spokesman.
"Yes, sir; that and aconite."
"How much is a dose?"
"From one to five or six grains."
The little bottle was returned to the man, who placed it in his
pocket. A pause ensued. The truth was plain enough to us all. The
individual whose sagacity, or better information about what was
going on in the world, had saved a most painful denouement to this
affair, said to the man, in a way as little as possible calculated
to wound his feelings--
"You are, of course, surprised at this proceeding--this seemingly
wanton intrusion upon your grief. But you will understand it when I
tell you, that a lodger, in a room adjoining yours, who knew nothing
of homťopathy, heard you speak of giving your child several grains
of aconite and arsenic. You can easily infer the impression upon his
mind. This morning, he related what he had heard, when an individual
here present, who suspected the truth, suggested that you be sent
for and asked the questions which you have so satisfactorily
answered. Do not, let me beg of you, feel hurt. What we have done
was but an act of justice to yourself."
The man smiled sadly, and, thanking us with eyes fast filling with
tears, rose up quickly to conceal his emotion, and retired from the
"Landlord," said I, an hour afterwards, "I want my valise taken out
of No. 10, and put into some other room."
"Why so? Isn't the room a pleasant one?"
"Oh, yes; but I'd like a change."
"Very well; we'll put you in No. 16."
I was the "lodger in the room adjoining," and didn't, therefore,
wish to appear on the premises and be known by the man, as the
getter up of a suspicion against him. I did not come home to dinner,
and kept out of the way till after dark.
When I returned to the hotel, I was relieved to find that the
bereaved parents had departed with the dead body of their child. But
the whole company were now at liberty to laugh at what had occurred
to their hearts' content, and to laugh at me in particular. I stood
it that evening, as well as I could; but finding, on the next day,
that it was renewed with as keen a zest as ever, concluded to close
up my business on the spot, and leave the place--which I did.
THAT JOHN MASON.
"WHAT kind of people have you here?" I asked of one of my first
acquaintances, after becoming a denizen of the pleasant little
village of Moorfield.
"Very clever people, with one or two exceptions," he replied. "I am
sure you will like us very well."
"Who are the exceptions?" I asked. "For I wish to keep all such
exceptions at a distance. Being a stranger, I will, wisely, take a
hint in time. It's an easy matter to shun an acquaintanceship; but
by no means so easy to break it off, after it is once formed."
"Very truly said, Mr. Jones. And I will warn you, in time, of one
man in particular. His name is John Mason. Keep clear of him, if you
wish to keep out of trouble. He's as smooth and oily as a whetstone;
and, like a whetstone, abrades every thing he touches. He's a bad
man, that John Mason."
"Who, or what is he?" I asked.
"He's a lawyer, and one of the principal holders of property in the
township. But money can't gild him over. He's a bad man, that John
Mason, and my advice to you and to every one, is to keep clear of
him. I know him like a book."
"I'm very much obliged to you," said I, "for your timely caution: I
will take care to profit by it."
My next acquaintance bore pretty much the same testimony, and so did
the next. It was plain that John Mason was not the right kind of a
man, and rather a blemish upon the village of Moorfield,
notwithstanding he was one of the principal property-holders in the
"If it wasn't for that John Mason," I heard on this hand, and, "If
it wasn't for that John Mason!" I heard on the other hand, as my
acquaintanceship among the people extended. Particularly bitter
against him was the first individual who had whispered in my ear a
friendly caution; and I hardly ever met with him, that he hadn't
something to say about that John Mason.
About six months after my arrival in Moorfield, I attended a public
meeting, at which the leading men of the township were present. Most
of them were strangers to me. At this meeting, I fell in company
with a very pleasant man, who had several times addressed those
present, and always in such a clear, forcible, and common-sense way,
as to carry conviction to all but a few, who carped and quibbled at
every thing he said, and in a very churlish manner. Several of those
quibblers I happened to know. He represented one set of views, and
they another. His had regard for the public good; theirs looked, it
was plain, to sectional and private interests.
"How do you like our little town, Mr. Jones?" said this individual
to me, after the meeting had adjourned, and little knots of
individuals were formed here and there for conversation.
"Very well," I replied.
"And the people?" he added.
"The people," I answered, "appear to be about a fair sample of what
are to be found everywhere. Good and bad mixed up together."
"Yes. That, I suppose, is a fair general estimate."
"Of course," I added, "we find, in all communities, certain
individuals, who stand out more prominent than the
rest--distinguished for good or evil. This appears to be the case
here, as well as elsewhere."
"You have already discovered, then, that, even in Moorfield, there
are some bad men."
"Oh, yes. There's that John Mason, for instance."
The man looked a little surprised, but remarked, without any change
of tone--"So, you have heard of him, have you?"
"As a very bad man?"
"Yes, very well. Have you ever met him?"
"No, and never wish to."
"You've seen him, I presume?"
"Never. Is he here?"
The man glanced round the room, and then replied--"I don't see him."
"He was here, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes, and addressed the meeting several times."
"In one of those sneering, ill-tempered answers to your remarks, no
The man slightly inclined his head, as if acknowledging a
"It's a pity," said I, "that such men as this John Mason often have
wealth and some shrewdness of mind to give them power in the
"Perhaps," said my auditor, "your prejudices against this man are
too strong. He's not perfect, I know; but even the devil is often
painted blacker than he is. If you knew him, I rather think you
would estimate him a little differently."
"I don't wish to know him. Opportunities have offered, but I have
always avoided an introduction."
"Who first gave you the character of this man?" asked the individual
with whom I was conversing.
"Mr. Laxton," I replied. "Do you know him?"
"Oh, yes, very well. He speaks hard of Mason, does he?"
"He has cause, I believe."
"Did he ever explain to you what it was?"
"Not very fully; but he gives him a general bad character, and says
he has done more to injure the best interests of the village than
any ten of its worst enemies that exist."
"Indeed! That is a sweeping declaration. But I will frankly own that
I cannot join in so broad a condemnation of the man, although he has
his faults, and no one knows them, I think, better than I do."
This made no impression upon me. The name of John Mason was
associated in my mind with every thing that was bad, and I replied
by saying that I was very well satisfied in regard to his character,
and didn't mean to have any thing to do with him while I lived in
Some one interrupted our conversation at this point, and I was
separated from my very agreeable companion. I met him frequently
afterwards, and he was always particularly polite to me, and once or
twice asked me if I had fallen in with that John Mason yet; to which
I always replied in the negative, and expressed myself as ever in
regard to the personage mentioned.
Careful as we may be to keep out of trouble, we are not always
successful in our efforts. When I removed to Moorfield, I supposed
my affairs to be in a very good way; but things proved to be
otherwise. I was disappointed, not only in the amount I expected to
receive from the business I followed in the village, but
disappointed in the receipt of money I felt sure of getting by a
When I first came to Moorfield, I bought a piece of property from
Laxton--this business transaction made us acquainted--and paid, cash
down, one-third of the purchase-money, the property remaining as
security for the two-thirds, which I was under contract to settle at
a certain time. My first payment was two thousand dollars.
Unfortunately, when the final payment became due, I was not in
funds, and the prospect of receiving money within five or six months
was any thing but good. In this dilemma, I waited upon Laxton, and
informed him of my disappointment. His face became grave.
"I hope it will not put you to any serious inconvenience."
"What?" he asked.
"My failure to meet this payment on the property. You are fully
secured, and within six months I will be able to do what I had hoped
to do at this time."
"I am sorry, Mr. Jones," he returned, "but I have made all my
calculations to receive the sum due at this time, and cannot do
"But I haven't the money, Mr. Laxton, and have fully explained to
you the reason why."
"That is your affair, not mine, Mr. Jones. If you have been
disappointed at one point, it is your business to look to another. A
contract is a contract."
"Will you not extend the time of payment?" said I.
"No, sir, I cannot."
"What will you do?"
"Do? You ask a strange question."
"Well, what will you do?"
"Why, raise the money on the property."
"How will you do that?"
"Sell it, of course."
I asked no further questions, but left him and went away. Before
reaching home, to which place I was retiring in order to think over
the position in which I was placed, and determine what steps to
take, if any were left to me, I met the pleasant acquaintance I had
made at the town-meeting.
"You look grave, Mr. Jones," said he, as we paused, facing each
other. "What's the matter?"
I frankly told him my difficulty.
"So Laxton has got you in his clutches, has he?" was the simple,
yet, I perceived, meaning reply that he made.
"I am in his clutches, certainly," said I. "And will not get out of
them very easily, I apprehend."
"What will he do?"
"He will sell the property at auction."
"It won't bring his claim under the hammer."
"No, I suppose not, for that is really more than the property is
"Do you think so?"
"Certainly I do. I know the value of every lot of ground in the
township, and know that you have been taken in in your purchase."
"What do you suppose it will bring at a forced sale?"
"Few men will bid over twenty-five hundred dollars."
"You cannot be serious?"
"I assure you I am. He, however, will overbid all, up to four
thousand. He will, probably, have it knocked down to him at three
thousand, and thus come into the unencumbered possession of a piece
of property upon which he has received two thousand dollars."
"But three thousand dollars will not satisfy his claim against me."
"No. You will still owe him a thousand dollars."
"Will he prosecute his claim?"
"He?" And the man smiled. "Yes, to the last extremity, if there be
hope of getting any thing."
"Then I am certainly in a bad way."
"I'm afraid you are, unless you can find some one here who will
befriend you in the matter."
"There is no one here who will lend me four thousand dollars upon
that piece of property," said I.
"I don't know but one man who is likely to do it," was answered.
"Who is that?" I asked, eagerly.
"John Mason! I'll never go to him."
"I might as well remain where I am as get into his hands--a sharper
and a lawyer to boot. No, no. Better to bear the evils that we have,
than fly to others that we know not of."
"You may get assistance somewhere else, but I am doubtful," said the
man; and, bowing politely, passed on, and left me to my own
Laxton made as quick work of the business as the nature of the case
would admit, and in a very short time the property was advertised at
public sale. As the time for the sale approached, the great desire
to prevent the sacrifice that I was too well assured would take
place, suggested the dernier resort of ailing upon Mason; but my
prejudice against the man was so strong, that I could not get my own
consent to do so.
On the day before the sale, I met the individual before alluded to.
"Have you been to see Mason?" he asked.
I shook my head.
"Then you have made up your mind to let that scoundrel, Laxton,
fleece you out of your property?"
"I see no way of preventing it."
"Why don't you try Mason?"
"I don't believe it would do any good."
"I think differently."
"If he did help me out of this difficulty," I replied, "it would
only be to get me into a more narrow corner."
"You don't know any such thing," said the man, a different tone from
any in which he had yet taken when Mason was the subject of our
"Think, for a moment, upon the basis of your prejudice; it lies
mainly upon the assertion of Laxton, from your own experience has
proved to be a scoundrel. The fact is, your estimate of Mason's
character is entirely erroneous. Laxton hates him, because he has
circumvented him more than a dozen times in his schemes of iniquity,
and will circumvent him again, if I do not greatly err, provided you
give him the opportunity of doing so."
There was force in the view. True enough; what confidence was there
to be placed in Laxton's words? And if Mason had circumvented him;
as was alleged, of course there was a very good reason for
"At what hour do you think I can see him?" said I.
"I believe he is usually in about twelve o'clock."
"I will see him," said I, with emphasis.
"Do so," returned the man; "and may your interview be as
satisfactory as you can desire."
At twelve, precisely, I called upon Mason, not without many
misgivings, I must own. I found my prejudices still strong; and as
to the good result, I could not help feeling serious doubts. On
entering his office, I found no one present but the individual under
whose advice I had called.
"Mr. Mason is not in," said I, feeling a little disappointed.
"Oh, yes, he is in," was replied. I looked around, and then turned
my eyes upon the man's face. I did not exactly comprehend its
"My name is John Mason," said he, bowing politely; "so be seated,
and let us talk over the business upon which you have called on me."
I needed no invitation to sit down, for I could not have kept my
feet if I had tried, so suddenly and completely did his words
astonish and confound me.
I will not repeat the confused, blundering apologies I attempted to
make, nor give his gentlemanly replies. Enough, that an hour before
the time at which the sale was advertised to take place on the next
day, I waited upon Laxton.
"Be kind enough," said I, "to let me have that obligation upon which
your present stringent measures are founded. I wish to take it up."
The man looked perfectly blank.
"Mr. John Mason," said I, "has generously furnished me with the
funds necessary to save my property from sacrifice, and will take
the securities you hold."
"Blast that John Mason!" ejaculated Laxton, with excessive
bitterness, turning away and leaving where I stood. I waited for ten
minutes, but did not come back. A suspicion that he meant let the
sale go on, if possible, crossed my mind, and I returned to Mason,
who saw the sheriff and the whole matter arranged.
Laxton has never spoken to me since. As for "That John Mason," I
have proved him to be fast friend, and a man of strict honour in
every thing. So much for slander.
A NEW WAY TO COLLECT AN OLD DEBT.
EARLY in life, Mr. Jenkins had been what is called unfortunate in
business. Either from the want of right management, or from causes
that he could not well control, he became involved, and was broken
all to pieces. It was not enough that he gave up every dollar he
possessed in the world. In the hope that friends would interfere to
prevent his being sent to jail, some of his creditors pressed
eagerly for the balance of their claims, and the unhappy debtor had
no alternative but to avail himself of the statute made and provided
for the benefit of individuals in his extremity. It was a sore trial
for him; but any thing rather than to be thrown into prison.
After this tempest of trouble and excitement, there fell upon the
spirits of Mr. Jenkins a great calm. He withdrew himself from public
observation for a time, but his active mind would not let him remain
long in obscurity. In a few months, he was again in business, though
in a small way. His efforts were more cautiously directed than
before, and proved successful. He made something above his expenses
during the first year, and after that accumulated money rapidly. In
five or six years, Mr. Jenkins was worth some nine or ten thousand
But with this prosperity came no disposition on the part of Mr.
Jenkins to pay off his old obligations. "They used the law against
me," he would say, when the subject pressed itself upon his mind, as
it would sometimes do, "and now let them get what the law will give
There was a curious provision in the law by which Jenkins had been
freed from all the claims of his creditors against him; and this
provision is usually incorporated in all similar laws, though for
what reason it is hard to tell. It is only necessary to promise to
pay a claim thus annulled, to bring it in full force against the
debtor. If a man owes another a hundred dollars, and, by economy and
self-denial, succeeds in saving twenty dollars and paying them to
him, he becomes at once liable for the remaining eighty dollars,
unless the manner of doing it be very guarded, and is in danger of a
prosecution, although unable to pay another cent. A prudent man, who
has once been forced into the unhappy alternative of taking the
benefit of the insolvent law, is always careful, lest, in an
unguarded moment, he acknowledge his liability to some old creditor,
before he is fully able to meet it. Anxious as he is to assure this
one and that one of his desire and intention to pay them, if ever in
his power, and to say to them that he is struggling early and late
for their sakes as well as his own, his lips must remain sealed. A
word of his intentions, and all his fond hopes of getting fairly on
his feet again are in danger of shipwreck.
Understanding the binding force of a promise of this kind, made in
writing or in the presence of witnesses, certain of the more selfish
or less manly and honorable class of creditors are ever seeking to
extort by fair or foul means, from an unfortunate debtor, who has
honestly given up every thing, an acknowledgment of his indebtedness
to them, in order that they may reap the benefit of his first
efforts to get upon his feet again. Many and many an honest but
indiscreet debtor has been thrown upon his back once more from this
cause, and all his hopes in life blasted for ever. The means of
approach to a debtor, in this situation, are many and various. "Do
you think you will ever be able to do any thing on that old
account?" blandly asked, in the presence of a third party, is
answered by, "I hope so. But, at present, it takes every dollar I
can earn for the support of my family." This is sufficient--the
whole claim is in full force. In the course of a month or two,
perhaps in a less period, a sheriff's writ is served, and the poor
fellow's furniture, or small stock in trade, is seized, and he
broken all up again. To have replied--"You have no claim against
me," to the insidious question, seemed in the mind of the poor, but
honest man, so much like a public confession that he was a rogue,
that he could not do it. And yet this was his only right course, and
he should have taken it firmly. Letters are often written, calling
attention to the old matter, in which are well-timed allusions to
the debtor's known integrity of character, and willingness to pay
every dollar he owes in the world, if ever able. Such letters should
never be answered, for the answer will be almost sure to contain
something that, in a court of justice, will be construed into an
acknowledgment of the entire claim. In paying off old accounts that
the law has cancelled, which we think every man should do, if in his
power, the acknowledgment of indebtedness never need go further than
the amount paid at any time. Beyond this, no creditor, who does not
wish to oppress, will ask a man to go. If any seek a further revival
of the old claim, let the debtor be aware of them; and also, let him
be on his guard against him who in any way alludes, either in
writing or personally, to the previous indebtedness.
But we have digressed far enough. Mr. Jenkins, we are sorry to say,
was not of that class of debtors who never consider an obligation
morally cancelled. The law once on his side, he fully made up his
mind to keep it for ever between him and all former transactions.
Sundry were the attempts made to get old claims against him revived,
after it was clearly understood that he was getting to be worth
money; but Jenkins was a rogue at heart, and rogues are always more
wary than honest men.
Among the creditors of Jenkins, was a man named Gooding, who had
loaned him five hundred dollars, and lost three hundred of
it--two-fifths being all that was realized from the debtor's
effects. Gooding pitied sincerely the misfortunes of Jenkins, and
pocketed his loss without saying a hard word, or laying the weight
of a finger upon his already too heavily burdened shoulders. But it
so happened, that as Jenkins commenced going up in the world,
Gooding began to go down. At the time when the former was clearly
worth ten thousand dollars, he was hardly able to get money enough
to pay his quarterly rent-bills. Several times he thought of calling
the attention of his old debtor to the balance still against him,
which, as it was for borrowed money, ought certainly to be paid. But
it was an unpleasant thing to remind a friend of an old obligation,
and Gooding, for a time, chose to bear his troubles, as the least
disagreeable of the two alternatives. At last, however, difficulties
pressed so hard upon him, that he forced himself to the task.
Both he and Jenkins lived about three-quarters of a mile distant
from their places of business, in a little village beyond the
suburbs of the city. Gooding was lame, and used to ride to and from
his store in a small wagon, which was used for sending home goods
during the day. Jenkins usually walked into town in the morning, and
home in the evening. It not unfrequently happened that Gooding
overtook the latter, while riding home after business hours, when he
always invited him to take a seat by his side, which invitation was
never declined. They were, riding home in this way, one evening,
when Gooding, after clearing his throat two or three times, said,
with a slight faltering in his voice--"I am sorry, neighbour
Jenkins, to make any allusion to old matters, but as you are getting
along very comfortably, and I am rather hard pressed, don't you
think you could do something for me on account of the three hundred
dollars due for borrowed money. If it had been a regular business
debt, I would never have said a word about it, but"--
"Neighbour Gooding," said Jenkins, interrupting him, "don't give
yourself a moment's uneasiness about that matter. It shall be paid,
every dollar of it; but I am not able, just yet, to make it up for
you. But you shall have it."
This was said in the blandest way imaginable, yet in a tone of
"How soon do you think you can do something for me?" asked Gooding.
"I don't know. If not disappointed, however, I think I can spare you
a little in a couple of months."
"My rent is due on the first of October. If you can let me have, say
fifty dollars, then, it will be a great accommodation."
"I will see. If in my power, you shall certainly have at least that
Two months rolled round, and Gooding's quarter-day came. Nothing
more had been said by Jenkins on the subject of the fifty dollars,
and Gooding felt very reluctant about reminding him of his promise;
but he was short in making up his rent, just the promised sum. He
waited until late in the day, but Jenkins neither sent nor called.
As the matter was pressing, he determined to drop in upon his
neighbour, and remind him of what he had said. He accordingly went
round to the store of Jenkins, and found him alone with his clerk.
"How are you to-day?" said Jenkins, smiling.
"Very well. How are you?"
Then came a pause.
"Business rather dull," remarked Jenkins.
"Very," replied Gooding, with a serious face, and more serious tone
of voice. "Nothing at all doing. I never saw business so flat in my
"Ahem! Mr. Jenkins," began Gooding, after a few moments, "do you
think you can do any thing for me to-day?"
"If there is any thing I can do for you, it shall be done with
pleasure," said Jenkins, in a cheerful way. "In what can I oblige
"You remember, you said that in all probability you would be able to
spare me as much as fifty dollars to-day?"
"_I_ said so?" Jenkins asked this question with an appearance of
"Yes. Don't you remember that we were riding home one evening, about
two months ago, and I called your attention to the old account
standing between us, and you promised to pay it soon, and said you
thought you could spare me fifty dollars about the time my quarter's
rent became due?"
"Upon my word, friend Gooding, I have no recollection of the
circumstance whatever," replied Jenkins with a smile. "It must have
been some one else with whom you were riding. I never said I owed
you any thing, or promised to pay you fifty dollars about this
"Oh, yes! but I am sure you did."
"And I am just as sure that I did not," returned Jenkins, still
perfectly undisturbed, while Gooding, as might be supposed, felt his
indignation just ready to boil over. But the latter controlled
himself as best he could; and as soon as he could get away from the
store of Jenkins, without doing so in a manner that would tend to
close all intercourse between them, he left and returned to his own
place of business, chagrined and angry.
On the same evening, as Gooding was riding home, he saw Jenkins
ahead of him on the road. He soon overtook him. Jenkins turned his
usual smiling face upon his old creditor, and said, "Good evening,"
in his usual friendly way. The invitation to get up and ride, that
was always given on like occasions, was extended again, and in a few
moments the two men were riding along, side by side, as friendly, to
all appearance, as if nothing had happened.
"Jenkins, how could you serve me such a scaly trick as you did?"
Gooding said, soon after his neighbour had taken a seat by his side.
"You know very well that you promised to pay my claim; and also
promised to give me fifty dollars of it to-day, if possible."
"I know I did. But it was out of my power to let you have any thing
to-day," replied Jenkins.
"But what was the use of your denying it, and making me out a liar
or a fool, in the presence of your clerk?"
"I had a very good reason for doing so. My clerk would have been a
witness to my acknowledgment of your whole claim against me, and
thus make me liable before I was ready to pay it. As my head is
fairly clear of the halter, you cannot blame me for wishing to keep
it so. A burnt child, you know, dreads the fire."
"But you know me well enough to know that I never would have pressed
the claim against you."
"Friend Gooding, I have seen enough of the world to satisfy me that
we don't know any one. I am very ready to say to you, that your
claim shall be satisfied to the full extent, whenever it is in my
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