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Chasing a Fugitive Subscriber by Jonathan F. Kelley

 

Printers, from time immemorial—back possibly to the days of Faust—have suffered martyrdom, more or less, at the hands of the people who didn't pay! Many of the long-established newspaper concerns can show a “black list” as long as the militia law, and an unpaid cash account bulky enough to take Cuba! Country publishers suffer in this way intensely. About one half of the “subscribers” to the Clarion of Freedom, or the Universal Democrat, or the Whig Shot Tower, seem to labor under the Utopian notion that printers were made to mourn over unpaid subscription lists; or that they “got up” papers for their own peculiar amusement, and carried them or sent them to the doors of the public for mere pastime! Every publisher, of about every paper we ever examined, about this time of year, has told his own story—requested his subscribers to come forward—pay over—help to keep the mill going—creditors easy—fire in the stove—meal in the barrel—children in bread, butter and shoes—Sheriff at bay, and other tragical affairs connected with the operations attendant upon unsettled cash accounts! But, how many heed such “notices?” Paying subscribers do not read them—such applications do not apply to them—they regret to see them in the paper, and, like honest, common-sensed people, don't probe or meddle with other people's shortcomings. The delinquent subscriber don't read such calls upon his humanity—they are distasteful to him; he may squint and grin over the notice to pay up, and chuckles to himself—“Ah, umph! dun away, old feller; I ain't one o' that kind that sends money by mail; it might be lost, and the man that duns me for two or three dollars' worth of newspapers, may get it if he knows how.”

Well, the good time has come. Printers now may wait no longer; the jig's up—they have found out a way to get their money just as easy as other laborers in the fields of science, art, mechanism, law, physic and religion, get theirs. Let the printer cry Eureka.

Doctor Pendleton St. Clair Smith, a patron of the fine arts, best tailors, barbers, boot blacks, and the newspaper press, was a tooth operator of some skill and great pretension. He lived and moved in modern style, and though no man could be more desirous of indulging in “short credit,” no man believed or acted more readily upon the principle—

    ——“base is the slave that pays.”

Dr. P. St. C. Smith “slipped up” one day, leaving the well done community of Boston and the environs, for fields more congenial to his peculiar talents. He stuck the printer, of course. His numerous subscription accounts to the various local news and literary journals, in the aggregate amounted to quite considerable; and the printers didn't begin to like it! Now, it takes a Yankee to head off a Yankee, and about this time a live, double-grand-action Yankee, named Peabody, possibly, happened in at one of the offices, where two brother publishers were “making a few remarks” over delinquent subscribers, and especially were they wrought up against and giving jessy to Dr. Pendleton St. Clair Smith!

“How much does the feller owe you?” quoth Peabody.

“Owe? More than he'll ever pay during the present generation.”

“Perhaps not,” says Peabody; “now if you'll just give me the full particulars of the man, his manners and customs, name and size, and sell me your accounts, at a low notch, I'll buy 'em; I'll collect 'em, too, if the feller's alive, out of jail, and any where around between sunrise and sunset!”

The publishers laughed at the idea, sensibly, but finding that Peabody was up for a trade, they traced out the accounts, &c., and for a five dollar bill, Mr. Peabody was put in possession of an account of some twenty odd dollars and cents against Dr. P. St. C. Smith.

Now Peabody had, some time previous to this transaction, established a peculiar kind of Telegraph, a human galvanic battery, or endless chain of them, extending all over the country, for collecting bad debts, and shocking fugitives, or stubborn creditors! By a continuation of faculties, causes and effects—shrewdness and forethought peculiar to a man capable of seeing considerably deep into millstones—Peabody couldn't be dodged. If he ever got his feelers on to a subject, the equivalent was bound to be turning up! It struck him that the collection of newspaper bills afforded him a great field for working his Telegraph, and he hasn't been mistaken.

The scene now changes; early one morning in the pleasant month of June, as the poet might say, Dr. Pendleton St. Clair Smith was to be seen before his toilet glass in the flourishing city of Syracuse,—giving the finishing stroke to his highly-cultivated beard. The satisfaction with which he made this demonstration, evinced the sereneness of his mind and the confidence with which he rested, in regard to his newspaper 'bills in Boston. But a tap is heard at his door, and at his invitation the servant comes in, announces a gentleman in the parlor, desirous of speaking to Dr. Smith. The Doctor waits upon the visitor—

“Dr. Pendleton St. Clair Smith, I presume?”

“Ye-e-s,” slowly and suspiciously responded that individual.

“I am collector, sir,” continued the stranger, “for the firm of Peabody, Grab, Catchem, and Co., Boston. I have a small (!) bill against you, sir, to collect.”

“What for?” eagerly quoth the Doctor.

“Newspaper subscriptions and advertising, sir!”

“I a—I a, you a—well, you call in this evening,” says the Doctor, tremulously fumbling in his pockets—“I'll settle with you; good morning.”

“Good morning, sir,” says the collector,—“I'll call.”

That afternoon, Dr. Pendleton St. Clair Smith vamosed! He had barely got located in Syracuse, before they had traced him; if he paid the printer, a cloud of other debts would follow, and so he up stakes and made a fresh dive!

“Now,” says Dr. P. St. C. Smith, as he dumped himself and baggage down in the beautiful city of Chicago, “Now I'll be out of the range of the duns; they won't get sight or hearing of me, for a while, I'll bet a hat!”

But, alas! for the delusion; the very next morning, a very suspicious, hatchet-faced individual, made himself known as the deputed collector of certain newspaper accounts, forwarded from Boston, by Peabody, Grab, Catchem, &Co. The Dr. uttered a very severe anathema ; he looked quite streaked, he faltered; he then desired the collector to call in course of the day, and the bill would be attended to. The collector hoped it would be attended to, and left; so did Dr. P. St. C. Smith in the next mail line.

About one month after the affair in Chicago, Dr. P. St. C. Smith was seen strutting around in Charters st., New Orleans, confident in his security, smiling in the brightness of the scenes around him; he had just negotiated for an office, had already concocted his advertisements, and subscribed for the papers, when lo! the same due bill from Boston appeared to him, in the hand of an agent of Peabody, Grab, Catchem & Co. The Dr. was almost tempted to pay the bill! But, then, perhaps the agent had a hat full of others—from the same place—for larger amounts! The next day the Doctor put for Texas! planting himself in the pleasant town of Bexar, and cursing duns from the bottom of his heart—he determined to keep clear of them, even if he had to bury himself away out here in Texas. But what was his horror to find, the first week of his hanging up in Bexar, that an agent of the firm of Peabody, Grab, Catchem &Co., was there! The Doctor stepped to Galveston; on the way he accidentally met a travelling agent of Peabody, Grab, Catchem &Co. The Doctor took the Sabine slide for Tampico; there he found the “black vomit.” He up and off again, for Mobile; his nervous system was much worked up and his pocket-book sadly depleted! There were two alternatives—change his name, size and profession, and live in a swamp; or settle with the firm of Peabody, Grab, Catchem &Co. Dr. Pendleton St. Clair Smith chose the latter; he sought and soon found in Mobile, a veritable agent, duly authorized to receive and forward funds for Peabody, Grab, Catchem &Co., and hunt up and down—fugitives from the printer! The Doctor paid up—felt better, and learned the moral fact that delinquent subscribers are no longer to be the printers' ghosts.

 
 
 

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