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A Chapter on Misers by Jonathan F. Kelley


We all love, worship and adore that everlasting deity—money. The poor feel its want, the rich know its power. Virtue falls before its corrupting and seductive influence. Honor is tainted by it. Pride, pomp and power, are but the creatures of money, and which corrupt hearts and enslaved souls wield to the great annoyance—yea, curse of mankind in general.

It is well, that, though we are all fond of money, not over one in a thousand, prove miserable misers, and go on to amass dollar upon dollar, until the shining heaps of garnered gold and silver become a god, and a faith, that the rich wretch worships with the tenacious devotion of the most frenzied fanatic. In the accumulation of a competency, against the odds and chances of advanced life, a man may be pardoned for a degree of economical prudence; but for parsimonious meanness, there is certainly no excuse. I have heard my father speak of an old miserly fellow, who owned a great many blocks of buildings in Philadelphia, as well as many excellent farms around there, and who, though rich as a Jew (worth $200,000), was so despicably and scandalously mean, as to go through the markets and beg bones of the butchers, to make himself and family soup for their dinners! He resorted to a score of similar humiliating “dodges,” whereby to prolong his miserable existence, and add dime and dollar to his already bursting coffers.

At length, Death knocked at his door. The debt was one the poor wretch would fain have gotten a little more time on, but the Court of Death brooks no delay—there is no cunning devise of learned counsel, no writs of error, by which even a miserable miser, or voluptuous millionaire, can gain a moment's delay when death issues his summons. The miser was called for, and he knew his time had come. He sent for the undertaker, he bargained for his burial—

“They say I'm rich! it's a lie, sir—I'm poor, miserably poor. I want but three carriages. My children may want a dozen—I say but three; put that down. A very plain coffin; pine, stained will do, and no ornaments, hark ye. A cheap grave. I would be buried on one of my farms, but then the coach-drivers would charge so much to carry me out! Now, what will you ask for the job?”

“About thirty dollars, sir,” said the almost horrified undertaker.

“Thirty dollars! why, do you want to rob me? Say fifteen dollars—give me a receipt—and I'll pay you the cash down!

Poor wretch! by the time he had uttered this, his soul had flown to its resting-place in another world.

In the upper part of Boston, on what is called “the Neck,” there lived, some years ago, a wealthy old man, who resorted to sundry curious methods to live without cost to himself. His house—one of the handsomest mansions in the “South End,” in its day—stood near the road over which the gardeners, in times past, used to go to market, with their loads of vegetables, two days of each week. Old Gripes would be up before day, and on the lookout for these wagons.

“Halloo! what have you got there?” says the miser to the countryman.

“Well, daddy, a little of all sorts; potatoes, cabbages, turnips, parsnips, and so on. Won't you look at 'em?”

At this, the old miser would begin to fumble over the vegetables, pocket a potato, an onion, turnip, or—

“Ah, yes, they are good enough, but we poor creatures can't afford to pay such prices as you ask; no, no—we must wait until they come down.” The old miser would sneak into the house with his stolen vegetables, and the farmer would drive on. Then back would come the miser, and lay in ambush for another load, and thus, in course of a few hours, he would raise enough vegetables to give his household a dinner. Another “dodge” of this artful old dodger, was to take all the coppers he got (and, of course, a poor creature like him handled a great many), and then go abroad among the stores and trade off six for a fourpence, and when he had four fourpences, get a quarter of a dollar for them, and thus in getting a dollar, he made four per cent., by several hours' disgusting meanness and labor.

But one day the old miser ran foul of a snag. A market-man had watched him for some time purloining his vegetables, and on the first of the year, sent in a bill of several dollars, for turnips, potatoes, parsnips, &c. The old miser, of course, refused to pay the bill, denying ever having had “the goods.” But the countryman called, in propria persona, refreshed his memory, and added, that, if the bill was not footed on sight, he should prosecute him for stealing! This made the old miser shake in his boots. He blustered for awhile; then reasoned the case; then plead poverty. But the purveyor in vegetables was not the man to be cabbaged in that way, and the old miser called him into his sitting-room, and ordered his son, a wild young scamp, to go up stairs and see if he could find five dollars in any of the drawers or boxes up there. The young man finally called out—

“Dad, which bag shall I take it out of, the gold or silver?”

“Odd zounds!” bawled the old man—“the boy wants to let on I've got bags of gold and silver!”

And so he had, many thousands of dollars in good gold and silver; he hobbled up stairs, got nine half dollars, and tried to get off fifty cents less than the countryman's bill; but the countryman was stubborn as a mule, and would not abate a farthing—so the old miser had to hobble up stairs and fetch down his fifty cents more, and the whole operation was like squeezing bear's grease from a pig's tail, or jerking out eye-teeth.

The miser never waylaid the market-men again; and not long after this, he got a spurious dollar put upon him in one of his “exchanging” operations, and that wound up his penny shaving.

Time passed—Death called upon the wretched man of ingots and money bags,—but while power remained to forbid it, the old miser refused to have a physician. When, to all appearance, his senses were gone, his friends drew the miser's pantaloons from under his pillow, where he had always insisted on their remaining during his sleeping hours, and his last illness—but as one of the attendants slowly removed the garment, the poor old man, with a convulsive effort—a galvanic-like grab—threw out his bony, cold hand, and seized his old pantaloons!

The miser clutched them with a dying grasp; words struggled in his throat; he could not utter them; his jaw fell—he was dead!

Much curiosity was manifested by the friends and relatives to know what could have caused the poor old man to cling to his time-worn pantaloons; but the mystery was soon revealed—for upon examination of the linings of the waistbands and watch-fob, over $30,000 in bank notes were there concealed!

The Lord's pardon and human sympathy be with all such misguided and wretched slaves of—money, say we.


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