Every one is more apt to hear an unpleasant rumor than those whom it immediately affects. Thus Eudosia and her mother were the only persons at Mrs. Trotter’s ball who were ignorant of what had happened; one whispering the news to another, though no one could presume to communicate the fact to the parties most interested. In a commercial town, like New York, the failure of a reputed millionaire, could not long remain a secret, and every body stared at the wife and daughter, and me; first, as if they had never seen the wives and daughters of bankrupts before; and second, as if they had never seen them surrounded by the evidences of their extravagance.
But the crisis was at hand, and the truth could not long be concealed. Eudosia was permitted to cloak and get into the carriage unaided by any beau, a thing that had not happened to her since speculation had brought her father into notice. The circumstance, more than any other, attracted her attention; and the carriage no sooner started than the poor girl gave vent to her feelings.
“What can be the matter, Ma?” Eudosia said, “that every person in Mrs. Trotter’s rooms should stare so at me, this evening? I am sure my dress is as well made and proper as that of any other young lady in the rooms, and as for the handkerchiefS, I could see envy in fifty eyes, when their owners heard the price.”
“That is all, dear — they did envy you, and no wonder they stared — nothing makes people stare like envy. I thought this handkerchief would make a commotion. Oh! I used to stare myself when envious.”
“Still it was odd that Morgan Morely did not ask me to dance — he knows how fond I am of dancing, and for the credit of so beautiful a handkerchief, he ought to have been more than usually attentive to-night.”
Mrs. Halfacre gaped, and declared that she was both tired and sleepy, which put an end to conversation until the carriage reached her own door.
Both Mrs. Halfacre and Eudosia were surprised to find the husband and father still up. He was pacing the drawing-room, by the light of a single tallow candle, obviously in great mental distress.
“Bless me!” exclaimed the wife — “ you up at this hour? — what can have happened? what has come to our door?”
“Nothing but beggary,” answered the man, smiling with a bitterness which showed he felt an inhuman joy, at that fierce moment, in making others as miserable as himself. “Yes, Mrs. Henry Halfacre — yes, Miss Eudosia Halfacre, you are both beggars — I hope that, at least, will satisfy you.”
“You mean, Henry, that you have failed?” For that was a word too familiar in New York not to be understood even by the ladies. “Tell me the worst at once — is it true, have you failed?”
“It is true — I have failed. My notes have been this day protested for ninety-five thousand dollars, and I have not ninety-five dollars in bank. To-morrow, twenty-three thousand more will fall due, and this month will bring round quite a hundred and thirty thousand more. That accursed removal of the deposits, and that tiger, Jackson, have done it all.”
To own the truth, both the ladies were a little confounded. They wept, and for some few minutes there was a dead silence, but curiosity soon caused them both to ask questions.
“This is very dreadful, and with our large family!” commenced the mother — “and so the general has it all to answer for — why did you let him give so many notes for you?”
“No — no — it is not that — I gave the notes myself; but he removed the deposits, I tell you.”
“It’s just like him, the old wretch! To think of his removing your deposits, just as you wanted them so much yourself! But why did the clerks at the bank let him have them — they ought to have known that you had all this money to pay, and people cannot well pay debts without money.”
“You are telling that, my dear, to one who knows it by experience. That is the very reason why I have failed. I have a great many debts, and I have no money.”
“But you have hundreds of lots — give them lots, Henry, and that will settle all your difficulties. You must remember how all our friends have envied us our lots.”
“Ay, no fear, but they’ll get the lots, my dear — unless, indeed,” added the speculator, “I take good care to prevent it. Thank God! I’m not a declared bankrupt. I can yet make my own assignee.”
“Well, then, I wouldn’t say a word about it — declare nothing, and let ‘em find out that you have failed, in the best manner they can. Why tell people your distresses, so that they may pity you. I hate pity, above all things — and especially the pity of my own friends.”
“Oh, that will be dreadful!” put in Eudosia. “For Heaven’s sake, Pa, don’t let any body pity us.”
“Very little fear of that, I fancy,” muttered the father; “people who shoot up like rockets, in two or three years, seldom lay the foundations of much pity in readiness for their fall.”
“Well, I declare, Dosie, this is too bad in the old general, after all. I’m sure it must be unconstitutional for a president to remove your father’s deposits. If I were in your place, Mr. Halfacre, I wouldn’t fail just to spite them. You know you always said that a man of energy can do any thing in this country; and I have heard Mr. Munny say that he didn’t know a man of greater energy than yourself.”
The grin with which the ruined speculator turned on his wife was nearly sardonic.
“Your men of energy are the very fellows to fail,” he said; “however, they shall find if I have had extraordinary energy in running into debt, that I have extraordinary energy, too, in getting out of it. Mrs. Halfacre, we must quit this house this very week, and all this fine furniture must be brought to the hammer. I mean to preserve my character, at least.”
This was said loftily, and with the most approved accents.
“Surely it isn’t necessary to move to do that, my dear! Other people fail, and keep their houses, and furniture, and carriages, and such other things. Let us not make ourselves the subjects of unpleasant remarks.”
“I intend that as little as you do yourself. We must quit this house and bring the furniture under the hammer, or part with all those lots you so much esteem and prize.”
“Oh! If the house and furniture will pay the notes I’m content, especially if you can contrive to keep the lots. Dosie will part with her handkerchief, too, I dare say, if that will do any good.”
“By George! that will be a capital idea — yes, the handkerchief must be sent back to-morrow morning; that will make a famous talk. I only bought it because Munny was present, and I wanted to get fifty thousand dollars out of him, to meet this crisis. The thing didn’t succeed; but, no matter, the handkerchief will tell in settling up. That handkerchief, Dosie, may be made to cover a hundred lots.”
In what manner I was to open so much, like the tent of the Arabian Nights, was a profound mystery to me then, as well as it was to the ladies; but the handsome Eudosia placed me in her father’s hand with a frank liberality that proved she was not altogether without good qualities. As I afterwards discovered, indeed, these two females had most of the excellences of a devoted wife and daughter, their frivolities being the result of vicious educations or of no educations at all, rather than of depraved hearts. When Mr. Halfacre went into liquidation, as it is called, and compromised with his creditors, reserving to himself a pretty little capital of some eighty or a hundred thousand dollars, by means of judicious payments to confidential creditors, his wife and daughter saw all they most prized taken away, and the town was filled with the magnitude of their sacrifices, and with the handsome manner in which both submitted to make them. By this ingenious device, the insolvent not only preserved his character, by no means an unusual circumstance in New York, however, but he preserved about half of his bona fide estate also; his creditors, as was customary, doing the paying.
It is unnecessary to dwell on the remainder of this dialogue, my own adventures so soon carrying me into an entirely different sphere. The following morning, however, as soon as he had breakfasted, Mr. Halfacre put me in his pocket, and walked down street, with the port of an afflicted and stricken, but thoroughly honest man. When he reached the shop-door of Bobbinet & Co., he walked boldly in, and laid me on the counter with a flourish so meek, that even the clerks, a very matter-of-fact caste in general, afterwards commented on it.
“Circumstances of an unpleasant nature, on which I presume it is unnecessary to dwell, compel me to offer you this handkerchief, back again, gentlemen,” he said, raising his hand to his eyes in a very affecting manner. “As a bargain is a bargain, I feel great reluctance to disturb its sacred obligations, but I cannot suffer a child of mine to retain such a luxury, while a single individual can justly say that I owe him a dollar.”
“What fine sentiments!” said Silky, who was lounging in a corner of the shop — “wonderful sentiments, and such as becomes a man of honesty.”
Those around the colonel approved of his opinion, and Mr. Halfacre raised his head like one who was not afraid to look his creditors in the face.
“I approve of your motives, Mr. Halfacre,” returned Bobbinet, “but you know the character of the times, and the dearness of rents. That article has been seen in private hands, doubtless, and can no longer be considered fresh — we shall be forced to make a considerable abatement, if we consent to comply.”
“Name your own terms, sir; so they leave me a single dollar for my creditors, I shall be happy.”
“Wonderful sentiments!” repeated the colonel — “we must send that man to the national councils!”
After a short negotiation, it was settled that Mr. Halfacre was to receive $50, and Bobbinet & Co. were to replace me in their drawer. The next morning an article appeared in a daily paper of pre-eminent honesty and truth, and talents, in the following words: —
“ Worthy of Imitation. — A distinguished gentleman of this city, H ------ H ------. Esquire, having been compelled to suspend, in consequence of the late robbery of the Bank of the United States by the cold-blooded miscreant whose hoary head disgraces the White House, felt himself bound to return an article of dress, purchased as recently as yesterday by his lovely daughter, and who, in every respect, was entitled to wear it, as she would have adorned it, receiving back the price, with a view to put it in the fund he is already collecting to meet the demands of his creditors. It is due to the very respectable firm of Bobbinet & Co. to add, that it refunded the money with the greatest liberality, at the first demand. We can recommend this house to our readers as one of the most liberal in OUR city, (by the way the editor who wrote this article didn’t own a foot of the town, or of any thing else,) and as possessing a very large and well selected assortment of the choicest goods.”
The following words — “we take this occasion to thank Messrs. Bobbinet & Co. for a specimen of most beautiful gloves sent us,” had a line run through in the manuscript; a little reflection, telling the learned editor that it might be indiscreet to publish the fact at that precise moment. The American will know how to appreciate the importance of this opinion, in relation to the house in question, when he is told that it was written by one of those inspired moralists, and profound constitutional lawyers, and ingenious political economists, who daily teach their fellow creatures how to give practical illustrations of the mandates of the Bible, how to discriminate in vexed questions arising from the national compact, and how to manage their private affairs in such a way as to escape the quicksands that have wrecked their own.
As some of my readers may feel an interest in the fate of poor Eudosia, I will take occasion to say, before I proceed with the account of my own fortunes, that it was not half as bad as might have been supposed. Mr. Halfacre commenced his compromises under favorable auspices. The reputation of the affair of the pocket-handkerchief was of great service, and creditors relented as they thought of the hardship of depriving a pretty girl of so valuable an appliance. Long before the public had ceased to talk about the removal of the deposits, Mr. Halfacre had arranged every thing to his own satisfaction. The lots were particularly useful, one of them paying off a debt that had been contracted for half a dozen. Now and then he met an obstinate fellow who insisted on his money, and who talked of suits in chancery. Such men were paid off in full, litigation being the speculator’s aversion. As for the fifty dollars received for me, it answered to go to market with until other funds were found. This diversion of the sum from its destined object, however, was apparent rather than real, since food was indispensable to enable the excellent but unfortunate man to work for the benefit of his creditors. In short, every thing was settled in the most satisfactory manner, Mr. Halfacre paying a hundred cents in the dollar, in lots, however, but in such a manner as balanced his books beautifully.
“Now, thank God! I owe no man a sixpence,” said Mr. to Mrs. Halfacre, the day all was concluded, “and only one small mistake has been made by me, in going through so many complicated accounts, and for such large sums.”
“I had hoped all was settled,” answered the good woman in alarm. “It is that unreasonable man, John Downright, who gives you the trouble, I dare say.”
“He — oh! he is paid in full. I offered him, at first, twenty-five cents in the dollar, but that he wouldn’t hear to. Then I found a small error, and offered forty. It wouldn’t do, and I had to pay the scamp a hundred. I can look that fellow in the face with a perfectly clear conscience.”
“Who else can it be, then?”
“Only your brother, Myers, my dear; somehow or other, we made a mistake in our figures, which made out a demand in his favor of $100,000. I paid it in property, but when we came to look over the figures it was discovered that a cypher too much had been thrown in, and Myers paid back the difference like a man, as he is.”
“And to whom will that difference belong?”
“To whom — oh! — why, of course, to the right owner.”