"Why not?" was asked.
"He's begun wrong."
"In what way?"
"His connection is bad."
"Yes. Dalton is either a knave or a fool. The former, I believe; but in either case the result will be the same to his partner. Before two years, unless a miracle takes place, you will see Eldridge, at least, coming out at the little end of the horn. I could have told him this at first, but it was none of my business. I never meddle with things that don't concern me."
"You know Dalton, then?"
"I think I do."
"Has he been in business before?"
"Yes, half a dozen times; and somehow or other, he has always managed to get out of it, with cash in hand, long enough before it broke down to escape all odium and responsibility."
"I'm sorry for Eldridge. He's a clever young man, and honest into the bargain."
"Yes; and he has energy of character and some business talents. But he is too confiding. And here is just the weakness that will prove his ruin. He will put too much faith in his plausible associate."
"Some one should warn him of his danger. Were I intimate enough to venture on the freedom, I would certainly do so."
"I don't meddle myself with other people's affairs. One never gets any thanks for the trouble he takes on this score. At least, that is my experience. And, moreover, it's about as much as I can do to take good care of my own concerns. This is every man's business."
"I wish you had given the young man a word of caution before he was involved with Dalton."
"I did think of doing so; but then I reflected that it was his look-out, and not mine. Each man has to cut his eye-teeth for himself, you know."
"True; but when we see a stumbling-block in the way of a blind man, or one whose eyes are turned in another direction, we ought at least to utter a warning word. It seems to me that we owe that much good-will to our fellows."
"Perhaps we do. And I don't know that it would have been any harm if I had done as you suggest. However, it is too late now."
"I think not. A hint of the truth would put him on his guard."
"I don't know."
"Oh, yes, it would."
"I am not certain. Dalton is a most plausible man; and I am pretty sure that, in the mind of a person like Eldridge, he can inspire the fullest confidence. To suggest any thing wrong, now, would not put him on his guard, and might lead the suggester into trouble."
Much more was said on both sides, but no good result flowed from the conversation. Mr. Hueston did not hesitate to declare that he knew how it would all be in the end; but at the same time said that it was none of his business, and that "every man must look out for himself."
The character of Dalton was by no means harshly judged by Mr. Hueston. He was, at heart, a knave; yet a most cunning and specious one. Eldridge, on the contrary, was the very soul of integrity; and, being thoroughly honest in all his intentions, it was hard for him to believe that any man who spoke fair to him, and professed to be governed by right principles, could be a scoundrel. With a few thousand dollars, his share of his father's estate, he had come to Boston for the purpose of commencing some kind of business. With creditable prudence, he entered the store of a merchant and remained there for a year, in order to obtain a practical familiarity with trade. During this period he fell in with Dalton, who was in a small commission way that barely yielded him enough to meet his expenses. Dalton was not long in discovering that Eldridge had some cash, and that his ultimate intention was to engage in business for himself. From that time he evinced towards the young man a very friendly spirit, and soon found a good reason for changing his boarding-place, and making his home under the same roof with Eldridge. To win upon the young man's confidence was no hard matter. Before six months, Dalton was looked upon as a generous-minded friend, who had his interest deeply at heart. All his views in regard to business were freely communicated; and he rested upon the suggestions of Dalton with the confidence of one who believed that he had met a friend, not only fully competent to advise aright, but thoroughly unselfish in all his feelings.
Dalton possessed a large amount of business information, and was, therefore, the very man for Eldridge; particularly as he was communicative. In conversation, the latter obtained a great deal of information on subjects especially interesting to one who looked forward to engaging in some branch of trade for himself. One evening the two men sat conversing about business, as usual, when Eldridge said:
"It is time I was making some move for myself; but, for my life, I can't come to any decision as to what I shall do."
"It is better for a young man, if he can do so, to connect himself with some established house," replied Dalton to this. "It takes time to make a new business, and not unfrequently a very long time."
"I am aware of that; but I see no opportunity for an arrangement of the kind."
"How much capital can you furnish?"
"Ten thousand dollars."
"That's very good, and ought to enable you to make an arrangement somewhere. I don't know but I might be willing to give you an interest in my business. This, however, would require some reflection. I am turning out a very handsome surplus every year, without at all crowding sail."
"A commission business?"
"Yes. I am agent for three or four manufactories, and effect some pretty large sales during the year. If I were able to make liberal cash advances, I could more than quadruple my business."
"And, of course, your profits also?"
"Yes, that follows as a natural result."
"Would ten thousand dollars be at all adequate for such a purpose?"
"It would help very much. Ten thousand dollars in cash is, you know, a basis of credit to nearly four times that sum."
"Yes, I am aware of that."
"Is your capital readily available?" inquired Dalton.
"Yes, since I have been in the city I have invested every thing in government securities, as safe property, and readily convertible into cash."
Dalton mused for some time.
"Yes," he at length said, as if he had been thinking seriously of the effect of ten thousand dollars in his business. "The capital you have would put a new face on every thing. That's certain. Suppose you think the matter over, and I will do the same."
"I will, certainly. And I may say now, that there will hardly be any hinderance on my part to the arrangement, if you should see it to be advantageous all around."
Of course Mr. Dalton professed, after taking a decent time for pretended reflection, to see great advantage to all parties in a business connection, which in due time was formed. But few of those who knew Eldridge were apprized of what he intended doing, and those who did know, and were aware at the same time of Mr. Dalton's character, like Mr. Hueston, concluded to mind their own business.
And so, unwarned of the risk he was encountering, an honest and confiding young man was permitted to form a copartnership with a villain, who had already been the means of involving three or four unsuspecting individuals in hopeless embarrassment.
Confident that he had entered the road to fortune, Eldridge commenced his new career. The capital he had supplied gave, as Dalton had predicted, new life to the business, for the offer of liberal cash advances brought heavier consignments, and opened the way for more extensive operations. The general management of affairs was left, according to previous understanding, in the hands of the senior partner, as most competent for that department; while Eldridge gave his mind to the practical details of the business, which, by the end of a year, had grown far beyond his anticipations.
Accepting large consignments of goods, upon which advances had to be made, required the raising of a great deal of money; and this Dalton managed to accomplish without calling away the attention of his partner from what he was engaged in doing. Thus matters went on for about three years, when Dalton began to complain of failing health, and to hint that he would be compelled to retire from active business. Eldridge said that he must not think of this; but the senior partner did think of it very seriously. From that time his health appeared to break rapidly; and in a few months he formally announced his intention to withdraw. Finding both remonstrance and persuasion of no avail, the basis of a dissolution of the copartnership was agreed upon, in which the value of the business itself, that would now be entirely in the hands of Eldridge, was rated high as an offset to a pretty large sum which Dalton claimed as his share in the concern. Without due reflection, there being a balance of five thousand dollars to the credit of the firm in bank, which, by the way, was provided for special effect at the time by the cunning senior, Eldridge consented that, for his share of the business, Dalton should be permitted to take bills receivable amounting to six thousand dollars; a check for two thousand, and his notes for ten thousand dollars besides, payable in three to eighteen months. After all this was settled, a dissolution of the copartnership was publicly announced, and Eldridge, with some misgivings at heart, undertook the entire management of the business himself. It was but a very little while before he found himself embarrassed in making his payments. The withdrawal of two thousand dollars in cash, and six thousand in paper convertible into cash, created a serious disability. In fact, an earnest and thorough investigation of the whole business showed it to be so crippled that little less than a miracle would enable him to conduct it to a safe issue. Nevertheless, still unsuspicious to the real truth, he resolved to struggle manfully for a triumph over the difficulties that lay before him, and overcome them, if there was any virtue in energy and perseverance.
The first point at which the business suffered was in the loss of consignments. Inability to make the required advances turned from the warehouse of Eldridge large lots of goods almost weekly, the profits on the sales of which would have been a handsome addition to his income. At the end of three months, the first note of a thousand dollars held by Dalton fell due, and was paid. This was so much more taken from his capital. Another month brought a payment of a like amount, and at the end of six months a thousand dollars more were paid. Thus Dalton had been able to get eleven thousand dollars out of the concern, although three years before he was not really worth a dollar; and there were still due him seven thousand dollars.
By this time, the eyes of Eldridge were beginning to open to the truth. Suspicion being once finally awakened, he entered upon a careful examination of the business from the time of forming the copartnership. This occupied him for some weeks before he was able to bring out a clear and comprehensive exhibit of affairs. Then he saw that he had been the victim of a specious and cunning scoundrel, and that, so far from being worth a dollar, he had obligations falling due for over ten thousand dollars more than he had the means to pay.
A sad and disheartening result! And what added to the pain of Eldridge was the fact, that he should have been so weak and short-sighted as to permit himself to be thus duped and cheated.
"I knew how it would be," said Mr. Hueston, coolly, when he was told that Eldridge was in difficulties. "Nothing else was to have been expected."
"Why so?" inquired the person to whom the remark was made.
"Everybody knows Dalton to be a sharper. Eldridge is not his first victim."
"I did not know it."
"I did, then, and prophesied just this result."
"Yes, certainly I did. I knew exactly how it must turn out. And here's the end, as I predicted."
This was said with great self-complacency.
Soon after the conversation, a young man, named Williams, who had only a year before married the daughter of Mr. Hueston, came into his store with a look of trouble on his countenance. His business was that of an exchange-broker, and in conducting it he was using the credit of his father-in-law quite liberally.
"What's the matter?" inquired Mr. Hueston, seeing, by the expression of the young man's face, that something was wrong.
"Have you heard any thing about Eldridge?" inquired Williams, in an anxious voice.
"Yes, I understand that he is about making a failure of it; and, if so, it will be a bad one. But what has that to do with your affairs?"
"If he fails, I am ruined," replied the young man, becoming greatly excited.
"You?" It was now Mr. Hueston's turn to exhibit a disturbed aspect.
"I hold seven thousand dollars of his paper."
"Seven thousand dollars!"
"How in the name of wonder did it come into your possession?"
"I took it from Dalton at a tempting discount."
"From Dalton! Then his name is on the paper?"
"No, I hold it without recourse."
"What folly! How could you have done such a thing?"
"I believed Eldridge to be perfectly good. Dalton said that he was in the way of making a fortune."
"Why, then, was he anxious to part with his paper without recourse?"
"It was, he alleged, on account of ill-health. He wished to close up all his business and make an investment of what little he possessed previous to going south, in the hope that a change of air would brace up his shattered constitution."
"It was all a lie -- the scoundrel! His health is as good as mine. A greater villain than he is does not walk the earth. I wonder how you could have been so duped."
"How do you think Eldridge's affairs will turn out?" asked the young man.
"Worse than nothing, I suppose. I understand that he paid Dalton some eighteen thousand dollars for his half of the business. There was but ten thousand dollars capital at first; and, from the way things were conducted, instead of its increasing, it must have diminished yearly."
Here was an entirely new aspect in the case. Mr. Hueston's self-complacency was gone; he knew how it would be with Eldridge from the first, but he didn't know how it was going to be with himself. He didn't for a moment dream that when the fabric of the young man's fortune came falling around him, that any thing belonging to him would be buried under the ruins.
"Too bad! too bad!" he ejaculated, as, under a sense of the utter desperation of the case, he struck his hands together, and then threw them above his head. But it did no good to fret and scold, and blame his son-in-law; the error had been committed, and it was now too late to retrace a step. Six or seven thousand dollars would inevitably be lost; and, as Williams had no capital, originally, of his own, the money would have to come out of his pocket. The ruin of which the young man talked was more in his imagination than anywhere else, as Mr. Hueston was able enough to sustain him in his difficulty.
In the winding up of the affairs of Eldridge, who stopped payment on the day Williams announced to his father-in-law the fact that he held his notes, every thing turned out as badly as Mr. Hueston had predicted. The unhappy young man was almost beside himself with trouble, mortification, and disappointment. Not only had he lost every thing he possessed in the world; he was deeply involved in debt besides, and his good name was gone. A marriage contract, into which he had entered, was broken off in consequence; the father of the lady demanding of him a release of the engagement in a way so insulting, that the young man flung insult back into his teeth, and never after went near his house.
For months after the disastrous termination of his business, Eldridge lingered about the city in a miserable state of mind. Some friends obtained for him a situation as clerk, but he did not keep the place very long; it seemed almost impossible for him to fix his attention upon any thing. This neglect of the interests of his employer was so apparent, that he was dismissed from his place at the end of a few months. This increased the morbid despondency under which he was labouring, and led to an almost total abandonment of himself. In less than a year, he was travelling swiftly along the road to utter ruin.
One day, it was just twelve months from the time of Eldridge's failure, Mr. Hueston stood conversing with a gentleman, when the unhappy young man went reeling by, so much intoxicated that he with difficulty kept his feet.
"Poor fellow!" said the gentleman, in a tone of pity. "He was badly dealt by."
"There is no doubt of that," returned Mr. Hueston. "Dalton managed his cards with his usual skill. But I knew how it would be from the first. I knew that Dalton was a knave at heart, and would overreach him."
"You did?" was rejoined, with a look and tone of surprise.
"Oh, yes. I predicted, from the beginning, the very result that has come out."
"You warned the young man, of course?" inquired the gentleman.
"What! Saw him in the hands of a sharper, and gave him no warning?"
"I never meddle in other people's affairs. I find as much as I can do to take proper care of my own."
"And yet, if common report is true, had you taken a little care of this young man, you would have saved six or seven thousand dollars for yourself."
"That's my look-out," said Mr. Hueston.
"You knew how it would be," resumed the gentleman, in a severe, rebuking voice, "and yet kept silence, permitting an honest, confiding young man to fall into the clutches of a scoundrel. Mr. Hueston, society holds you responsible for the ruin of one of its members, equally responsible with the knave who was the agent of the ruin. A word would have saved the young man; but, in your indifference and disregard of others' good, you would not speak that word. When next you see the miserable wreck of a human being that but just now went staggering past, remember the work of your own hands is before you."
And saying this, the man turned abruptly away, leaving Mr. Hueston so much astonished and bewildered by the unexpected charge, as scarcely to comprehend where he was. Recovering himself in a moment or two, he walked slowly along, his eyes upon the ground, with what feelings the reader may imagine.
A few days afterwards, his son-in-law, at his instance, went in search of Eldridge for the purpose of offering him assistance, and making an effort to reclaim him. But, alas! he was too late; death had finished the work of ruin.