Legal Advice by
Old Ben. Franklin said it was his opinion that, between imprisonment
and being at large in debt to your neighbor, there was no difference
worthy the name of it. Some people have a monstrous sight of courage in
debt, more than they have out of it, while we have known some, who,
though not afraid to stand fire or water, shook in their very
bootswilted right down, before the frown of a creditor! A man that
can dun to death, or stand a deadly dun, possesses
talents no Christian need envy; for, next to Lucifer, we look upon the
confirmed diddler and professional dun, for every ignoble
trait in the character of mankind. A friend at our elbow has just
possessed us of some facts so mirth-provoking, (to us, not to him,)
that we jot them down for the amusement and information of suffering
mankind and the rest of creation, who now and then get into a scrimmage
with rogues, lawyers and law. And perhaps it may be as well to let the
indefatigable tell his own story:
You see, Cutaway dealt with me, and though he knew I was dead set
against crediting anybody, he would insist, and didget into my
books. I let it run along until the amount reached sixty dollars, and
Cutaway, instead of stopping off and paying me up, went in deeper!
Getting in debt seemed to make him desperate, reckless! One day he came
in when I was out; he and his wife look around, and, by George! they
select a handsome tea-set, worth twenty dollars, and my fool clerk
sends it home.
'Tell him to charge it!' says Cutaway, to the boy who took
the china home; and I did charge it.
The upshot of the business was, I found out that Cutaway was a
confirmed diddler; he got all he wanted, when and where he
could, upon the 'charge it' principle, and had become so callous to
duns, that his moral compunctions were as tough as sole
I was vexed, I was mad, I determined to break one of my
'fixed principles,' and go to law; have my money, goods, or a
row! I goes to a lawyer, states my case, gave him a fee and told him to
go to work.
Cutaway, of course, received a polite invitation to step up to Van
Nickem's office and learn something to his advantage; and he attended.
A few days afterwards I dropped in.
'Your man's been here,' says Van Nickem, smilingly.
'Has, eh? Well, what's he done?' said I.
'O, he acknowledges the debt, says he thinks you are rather
hurrying up the biscuits, and thinks you might have sent the bill to
him instead of giving it to me for collection,' says the lawyer.
'Send it to him!' says I. 'Why I sent it fifty times;sent my
clerk until he got ashamed of going, and my boy went so often that his
boots got into such a way of going to Cutaway's shop, that he
had to change them with his brother, when he was going anywhere
'He appears to be a clever sort of a fellow,' said Van.
'He is,' said I, 'the cleverest, most perfectly-at-home
diddler in town.'
'Well,' said Van Nickem, 'Cutaway acknowledges the debt, says he's
rather straightened just now, but if you'll give him a little more
time, he'll fork up every cent; so if I were you, I'd wait a little
Well, I did wait. I didn't want to appear more eager for law than a
lawyer, so I waitedthree months. At the end of that time, early one
Saturday morning, in came Cutaway. 'Aha!' says I, 'you are going to
fork now, at last; it's well you come, for I'd been down on
you on Monday, bright and early!'
You didn't say that to him, did you? we observed.
O, bless you, no. I said that to myself, but I
met him with a smile, and with a 'how d'ye do, Cutaway?' and in
my excitement at the prospect of receiving the $80, which I then wanted
the worst kind, I shook hands with him, asked how his family was, and
got as familiar and jocular with him as though he was the most
cherished friend I had in the world! Well, now what do you suppose was
the result of that interview with Cutaway?
Paid you a portion, or all of your bill against him, we suppose,
was our response.
Not by a long shot; with the coolness of a pirate he asked me to
credit him for a handsome wine-tray, a dozen cut goblets and glasses,
and a pair of decanters; he expected some friends from New York that
evening, was going to give them a 'set out' at his house, and one of
the guests, in consideration of former favors rendered by him, was
pledgedbeing a man of wealthto loan him enough funds to pay his
debts, and take up a mortgage on his residence.
You laughed at his impudence, and kicked him out into the street?
I hope I may be hung if I didn't let him have the goods, and he
took them home with him, swearing by all that was good and bad, he
would settle with me early the following Monday morning. I saw no more
of him for two weeks! I went to Van Nickem's, he laughed at me.
The bill was now $100. I was raging. I told Van Nickem I'd have my
money out of Cutaway, or I'd advertise him for a villain, swindler, and
'He'd sue you for libel, and obtain damages,' said Van.
'Then I'll horsewhip him, sir, within an inch of his life, in the
open street!' said I, in a heat.
'You might rue that,' said Van. 'He'd sue you for an
assault, and give you trouble and expense.'
'Then I suppose I can do nothing, eh?the law being made
for the benefit of such villains!'
'We will arrest him,' said Van.
'Well, then what?' said I.
'We will haul him up to the bull ring, we will have the money,
attach his property, goods or chattels, or clap him in jail, sir!' said
Van Nickem, with an air of determination.
I felt relieved; the hope of putting the rascal in jail, I confess,
was dearer to me than the $100. I told Van to go it, give the rascal
jessy, and Van did; but after three weeks' vexatious litigation,
Cutaway went to jail, swore out, and, to my mortification, I learned
that he had been through that sort of process so often that, like the
old woman's skinned eels, he was used to it, and rather liked the
sensation than otherwise! Well, saddled with the costs, foiled, gouged,
swindled, and laughed at, you may fancy my feelinks, as Yellow Plush
So you lost the $100got whipped, eh? we remarked.
No, sir, said our litigious friend. I cornered him, I got
old Cutaway in a tight place at last, and that's the pith of the
transaction. Cutaway, having swindled and shaved about half the
community with whom he had any transactions,got his affairs
all fixed smooth and quiet, and with his family was off for California.
I got wind of it,Van Nickem and I had a conference.
'We'll have him,' says Van. 'Find out what time he sails, where the
vessel is, &c.; lay back until a few hours before the vessel is to cut
loose, then go down, get the fellow ashore if you can, talk to him,
soft soap him, ask him if he won't pay if he has luck in California,
&c., and so on, and when you've got him a hundred yards from the
vessel, knock him down, pummel him well; I'll have an officer ready to
arrest both of you for breach of the peace; when you are brought up,
I'll have a charge made out against Cutaway for something or
other, and if he don't fork out and clear, I'm mistaken,' said Van. I
followed his advice to the letter; I pummelled Cutaway well; we were
taken up and fined, and Cutaway was in a great hurry to say but little
and get off. But Van and the writ appeared. Cutaway looked
streakedhe was alarmed. In two hours' time he disgorged not only my
bill, but a bill of forty dollars costs! He then cut for the ship, the
meanest looking white man you ever saw!
If Mr. Cutaway don't take the force of that moral, salt
won't save him.