Back to the Index Page


Legal Advice by Jonathan F. Kelley


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 boots—wilted 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 did—get 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 leather—bullet-proof.

“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 else!'

“'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 and see.'

“Well, I did wait. I didn't want to appear more eager for law than a lawyer, so I waited—three 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 pledged—being a man of wealth—to 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?” said we.

“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 scoundrel.”

“'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 remarks.”

“So you lost the $100—got 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 streaked—he 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.


Back to the Index Page