Had I Been Consulted

Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856

"He's too independent for me!" said Matthew Page. "Far too independent. Had I been consulted, he would have done things very differently. But as it is, he will drive his head against the wall before he knows where he is."

"Why don't you advise him to act differently?"

"Advise him, indeed! Oh, no--let him go on in his own way, as he's so fond of it. Young men now-a-days think they know everything. The experience of men like me, goes for nothing with them. Advise him! He may go to the dogs; but he'll get no advice from me unasked."

"You really think he will ruin himself, if he goes on in the way he is now going?"

"I know it. Simple addition will determine that, in five minutes. In the first place, instead of consulting me, or someone who knows all about it--he goes and buys that mill for double what it is worth, and on the mere representation of a stranger, who had been himself deceived, and had an interest in misleading him, in order to get a bad bargain off of his hands. But that is just like your young chaps, now-a-days. They know everything, and go ahead without talking to anybody. I could have told him, had he consulted me, that, instead of making money by that business, he would sink all he had in less than two years."

"He is optimistic as to the result."

"I know. He told me, yesterday, that he expected not only to clear his land for nothing, but to make two or three thousand dollars a year out of the lumber for the next ten years. Preposterous!"

"Why didn't you enlighten him of his error, Mr. Page? It was such a good opportunity."

"Let him ask for my advice, if he wants it. It's a commodity I never throw away."

"You might save him from the loss of his little patrimony."

"He deserves to lose it, for being such a fool. Buy a steam saw-mill two miles from his land, and expect to make money by clearing it? Ridiculous!"

"Your age and experience will give your advice weight with him, I am sure, Mr. Page. I really think you ought to give a word or two of warning, at least, and thus make an effort to prevent his running through with what little he has. A capital to start with in the world is not so easily obtained, and it is a pity to see Jordan waste his as he is doing."

"No, sir!" replied Page. "I shall have nothing to say to him. If he wants my opinion, and asks for it, he is welcome to it--but not without first asking."

The individuals about whom these people were conversing was a young man named Jordan, who, at majority, came into the possession of fifty acres of land and about six thousand dollars. The land was still in forest and lay about two miles from a flourishing town in the West, which stood on the bank of a small river that emptied into the Ohio some fifty miles below.

As soon as Jordan became the possessor of the property, he began to turn his thoughts toward its improvement, in order to increase its value. The land did not lie contiguous to his native town, but near to Cashmere, where he was a stranger. To Cashmere he went, and staying at one of the hotels, met with a very pleasant old gentleman who had just built a steam saw-mill on the banks of the river, and was getting in the engine preparatory to putting it in operation. This man's name was Barnaby. He had conceived the idea that a steam saw-mill at that point would be a fortune to anyone, and had proceeded to the erection of one forthwith. Logs were to be cut some miles up the river and floated down to the mill, and, after being there, manufactured into lumber, to be rafted to a market somewhere between that and New Orleans. Mr. Barnaby had put the whole thing down upon paper, and saw at a glance that it was an operation in which any man's fortune was certain. But, before his mill was completed, he had good reason to doubt the success of his new scheme. He had become acquainted with Matthew Page, a shrewd old resident of Cashmere, who satisfied him, after two or three interviews, that, instead of making a fortune, he would stand a fair chance of losing his whole investment.

Barnaby was about as well satisfied as he wished to be on this head, when young Jordan arrived in Cashmere. His business there was soon known, and Barnaby saw a chance of getting out of his unpromising speculation. To Jordan he became at once very attentive and polite; and gradually drew from him a full statement of the business that brought him to Cashmere. It did not take a very long time for Barnaby to satisfy him, that, by purchasing his mill and sawing up the heavy timber with which his land was covered, he would make a great deal of money, and double the price of his land at the same time. Figures showed the whole result as plain as daylight, and Jordan saw it written out before him as distinctly as he ever saw in his multiplication table, that two plus two equal four. The fairness of Barnaby, he did not think of doubting for an instant. His age, address, intelligence, and asseveration of strict honor in every transaction in life, were enough to win his entire confidence.

Five thousand dollars was the price of the mill. The terms upon which it was offered to Jordan were, three thousand dollars in cash, a thousand in six months, and the balance in twelve months.

Shortly after Jordan arrived in the village, he became acquainted with Mr. Page into whose family, a very pleasant one, he had been introduced by a friend. For the old gentleman, he felt a good deal of respect; and although it did not occur to him to consult him in regard to his business, thinking that he understood what he was about very well, yet, if Mr. Page had volunteered a suggestion--he would have listened to it and made it the subject of reflection. In fact, a single seriously expressed doubt as to the safety of the investment he was about making, coming from a man like Mr. Page, would have effectually prevented its being made, for Jordan would not have rested until he understood the very nature and groundwork of the objection. He would then have seen a new statement of figures, heard a new relation of facts and probabilities, and learned that Barnaby was selling at the suggestion of Mr. Page, after being fully convinced of the folly of proceeding another step.

But no warning came. The self-esteem of old Matthew Page, who felt himself to be something of an oracle in Cashmere, was touched, because the young man had not consulted him; and now he might go to the dogs, for all he cared.

The preliminaries of sale were soon arranged. Jordan was as eager to enter upon his money-making scheme, as Barnaby was to get rid of his money-losing scheme. Three thousand dollars cash were paid, and notes given for the balance. An overseer, or manager of the whole business to be entered upon, was engaged at five hundred dollars a year; some twenty hands to cut timber, haul it to the mill, and saw it up when there, were hired; and twenty yokes of oxen bought for the purpose of hauling the logs from the woods, a distance of two miles. The price of a dollar a log, which Barnaby expected to pay for timber floated down the river, had been considered so dear a rate as to preclude all hope of profit in the business. The great advantages which Jordan felt that he possessed, was in himself owning the timber, which had only to be cut and taken to the mill. He had, strangely enough, forgotten to make a calculation of what each log would cost him to cut and haul two miles. There were the wood-choppers at a dollar a day, the teamsters at seventy-five cents a day, and four pairs of oxen to each log to feed. Eight logs a day, he was told that each team would haul, and he believed it. But two or three logs were the utmost that could be accomplished, for in the whole distance there was not a quarter of a mile of good solid road.

Six months in time, and a thousand dollars in money, over and above wages to his men, were spent in getting the mill into running order. Jordan had bought under the representation that it was all ready for starting. After he had got in possession, he learned that Barnaby had tried, but in vain, to get the mill to work.

In the mean time, the young man was extending his circle of acquaintance among the families of the place, in most of which he was well received and well liked. Old Matthew Page had an only daughter, a beautiful young girl, who was the pride of the village. The first time she and Jordan met, they took a fancy to each other. But as Jordan was rather a modest young man, he did not make very bold advances toward the maiden, although he felt as if he would like to do so, were there any hope of his advances being met in a right spirit.

At the end of a year, all the young man's money was gone, and his last note to Barnaby was due. There was a small pile of lumber by his mill--a couple of hundred dollars worth, perhaps--for which he had found no sale, as the place was fully supplied, and had been for years, by a small mill that was worked by the owner with great economy. The sending of his lumber down the river was rather a serious operation for him, and required a good deal more lumber than he had yet been able to procure from his mill, which had never yet run for twenty-four hours without something going wrong. These two or three hundred dollars' worth of lumber had cost him about fifteen hundred dollars in wages, etc. Still he was optimistic, and saw his way clear through the whole of it, if it were not for the fact that his capital was exhausted.

Matthew Page was looking on very coolly, and saying to himself, "If he had consulted me," but not offering the young man a word of voluntary counsel.

To continue his operations and bring out the ultimate prosperous result, Jordan threw one-half of his land into market and forced the sale at five dollars an acre. The proceeds of this sale did not last him over six months. Then he got a raft afloat, containing about a thousand dollars' worth of lumber, and sent it off under charge of his overseer, who sold it at Cincinnati, and absconded with the money.

In the mean time, Barnaby was pressing for the payment of the last note, which had been protested, and after threatening to sue, time after time, finally put his claim into the hands of an attorney, who had a writ served upon Jordan.

By this time, old Mr. Page began to think it best, even though not consulted, to volunteer a little advice to the young man. The reason of this may be inferred. Jordan was beginning to be rather particular in attention to Edith, his daughter; and apart from the fact that he had wasted his money in an unprofitable scheme, and had not been prudent enough to consult him--old Matthew Page had no particular objection to him as a son-in-law. His family stood high in the State, and his father, previous to his death, had been for many years in the State senate. The idea that Jordan would take a fancy to his daughter, had not once crossed the mind of Mr. Page, or he would not have stood so firmly upon his dignity in the matter of being consulted.

Rather doubting as to the reception he would meet from the young man, he called upon him, one day, when the following conversation took place:

"I'm afraid, Mr. Jordan," said Page, after some commonplace chitchat, "that your saw-mill business is not going to turn out as well as you expected."

"It has not, so far, certainly," replied Jordan, frankly. "But this is owing to the fact of my having been deceived in the mill, and in the integrity of my manager; not to the nature of the business itself. I am still optimistic of success."

"Will you allow me to make a suggestion or two? I think I can show you that you are in error in regard to the business itself."

"Most gladly will I receive any suggestion," returned Jordan. "Though I am not apt to seek advice--a fault of character, perhaps--I am ever ready to listen to it and weigh it dispassionately, when given. A doubt as to the result of the business, if properly carried out, has never yet crossed my mind."

"I have always doubted it from the first. Indeed, I knew that you could not succeed."

"Then, my dear sir, why did you not tell me so?" said Jordan, earnestly.

"If you had consulted me, I would--"

"I never dreamed of consulting any one about it. I had confidence in Mr. Barnaby's statements; but more in my own judgment, based upon the data he furnished me."

"But I have none in either Barnaby or his data."

"I have none in him, for he has shamefully deceived me; but his data are fixed facts, and therefore cannot lie."

"There you err again. Barnaby knew that the data he gave you was incorrect. I had, myself, demonstrated this to him before he went far enough to involve himself seriously. Something led him to doubt the success of his project, and he came and consulted me on the subject. I satisfied him in ten minutes that it wouldn't do, and he at once abandoned it. Unfortunately, you arrived just at this time, and were made to bear the loss of his mistake."

"You are certainly not serious in what you say, Mr. Page!"

"I never was more serious in my life," returned the old gentleman.

"And you permitted me to be made the victim, upon your own acknowledgment, of a shameful swindle--and did not expend even a breath to save me!"

"I am not used to be spoken to in that way, young man," replied Mr. Page, coldly, and with a slightly offended air. "Nor am I in the habit of forcing my advice upon everybody."

"If you saw a man going blindfold towards the brink of a precipice, wouldn't you force your advice upon him?"

"Perhaps I might. But as you were not going blindfold over a precipice, I did not see that it was my business to interfere."

A cutting reply was on the lips of Jordan, but a thought of Edith cooled him off suddenly, and he in a milder and more respectful tone of voice, "I would be glad, Mr. Page, if you would demonstrate the error under which I have been laboring in regard to this business. If there is an error, I wish to see it; and can see it as quickly as anyone, if it really exists, and the proper means of seeing it are furnished."

The change in the young man's manner softened Mr. Page, and he sat down, pencil in hand, and by the aid of the answers which the actual experience of Jordan enabled him to give, showed him, in ten minutes, that the more land he cleared and the more logs he sawed up--the poorer he would become.

"And you knew all this before?" said Jordan.

"Certainly I did. In fact, I built the saw-mill owned by Tompkins, and after sinking a couple of thousand dollars, was glad to get it off of my hands at any price. Tompkins makes a living with it, and nothing more. But then he is his own engineer, manager, clerk, and almost everything else, and lives with the closest economy in his family--much closer than you or I would like to live."

"And you let me go on blindly and ruin myself--when a word from you might have saved me!"

There was something indignant in the young man's manner.

"You didn't consult me on the subject. It is not my place to look after everybody's business; I have enough to do to take care of my own concerns."

Both were getting excited. Jordan retorted still more severely, and then they parted in anger, each feeling that he had just cause to be offended.

On the next day, Jordan, who was too well satisfied that Mr. Page was right, stopped his mill, discharged his hands, and sold his oxen. On looking over his accounts, he found that he was over a thousand dollars in debt. In order to pay this, he sold the balance of his land, and then advertised his saw-mill for sale in all the county papers, and in the State Gazette.

Meantime, the suit which had been instituted on the note given to Barnaby came up for trial, and Jordan made an effort to defend it on the plea that appropriate value had not been received. His fifty acres of land were gone, and all that remained of his six thousand dollars, were a half-weatherboarded, frame building, called a saw-mill, in which were a second-hand steam-engine, some rough gearing, and a few saws. This stood in the center of a small piece of ground--perhaps a fourth of an acre--upon which there was the moderate annual rent of one hundred dollars a year--more than the whole building, leaving out the engine, would sell for.

After waiting for two months, and not receiving an offer for the mill, he sold the engine for a hundred and fifty dollars, and abandoned the old frame building in which it had stood, to the owner of the land for rent, on condition of his cancelling the lease, that had still three years and a half to run.

His defense of the suit availed nothing. Judgment was obtained upon the note, an execution issued, and, as there was no longer any property in the young man's possession--he was seized and thrown into the county prison.

From the time old Mr. Page considered himself insulted by Jordan, all fellowship between them had ceased. The latter had not considered himself free to visit any longer at his house, and therefore no meeting between him and Edith had taken place for three months.

The cause of so sudden a cessation of her lover's visits, all unknown to Edith, was a great affliction to the maiden. Her father noticed that her countenance wore a troubled aspect, and that she scarcely tasted food when at the table. This did not, in any way, lessen the number of his self-reproaches for having allowed the young man to ruin himself, when a word from him might have saved him.

Edith was paying a visit to a friend one day, the daughter of a lawyer. While conversing, the friend said--

"Poor Jordan? Have you heard of his misfortunes?"

"No! What are they?" And Edith turned pale. The friend was not aware of her interest in him.

"He was terribly cheated in some saw-mill property he bought," she made answer, "and has since lost every dollar he had. Yesterday he was sent to prison for debt which he is unable to pay."

Edith heard no more, but, starting up, rushed from the house, and flew, rather than walked, home. Her father was sitting in his private office when she entered with pale face and quivering lips. Uttering an exclamation of surprise and alarm, he rose to his feet. Edith fell against him, sobbing as she did so, while the tears found vent, and poured over her cheeks--

"Oh, father! He is in prison!"

"Who? Jordan?"

"Yes," was the maiden's lowly-murmured reply.

"Good heavens! Is it possible?"

With this exclamation, Mr. Page pushed his daughter from him, and leaving the house instantly, took his way to the office of the attorney who had conducted the suit in favor of Barnaby.

"I will pay bail for this young man, whom you have thrown into prison," said he as soon as he met the lawyer.

"Very well, Mr. Page. We will take you. But you will have to pay the amount--he has nothing."

"I said I would pay his bail," returned the old man, impatiently.

In less than twenty minutes, Mr. Page entered the cell where the young man was confined. Jordan looked at him angrily. He had just been thinking of the cruel neglect to warn him of his errors, of which Mr. Page had been guilty, and of the consequences, so disastrous and so humbling to himself.

"You are at liberty," said the old gentleman, as he approached him and held out his hand.

Jordan stood like one half-stupified, for some moments.

"I have paid your security, my young friend," Mr. Page added kindly. "You are at liberty."

"You have paid my security!" returned Jordan, taking the offered hand, but not grasping it with a hearty pressure. He felt as if he couldn't do that. "I am sorry you have done so," said he, after a slight pause, "I am not worth a dollar, and you will have my debt to pay."

"It's no time to talk about that now, Mr. Jordan. I have paid your security, because I thought it right to do so. Come home with me, and we will soon arrange all the rest."

Jordan felt passive. A child could have led him anywhere. He did not refuse to go with Mr. Page.

Edith was sitting in the room where her father left her, when the opening of the door caused her to startle. There was an exclamation of delight and surprise; a movement forward, and then deep blushes threw a crimson veil over the maiden's face, as she sank back in her chair and covered her face with her hands. But the tears could not be hidden; they came trickling through her fingers.

Enough, further to say, that within two months there was a wedding at the house of Mr. Page, and Edith was the bride.

It has been noticed since, that the old gentleman does not stand so much on his dignity, when there is a chance of doing good by volunteering a word of advice in season. "Had I been consulted," is a form of speech which he is now rarely, if ever known to use.