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Used Up by Jonathan F. Kelley


I am tempted to believe, that few—very few men can start in the world—say at twenty, with a replete invoice of honesty, free and easy—kind, generous—good-natured disposition, and keep it up, until they greet their fortieth year. There are, doubtless, plenty of men—I hope there are, who would be entirely and perfectly generous-hearted, if they could, with any degree of consistency; and I know there are multitudes who wouldn't exhibit an honorable or manly trait, of any human description, if they could. That class thrive best, it appears to me—if the accumulation of dollars and dimes be Webster, Walker, or Scriptural interpretation of that sense—in this sublunary world. Meanness and dishonesty win what good nature and honesty lose, hence the more thrift to the former, and the less gain, pecuniarily considered, to the latter. The subject is very prolific, and as my present purpose is as much to point a humorous sketch as to adorn a moral, I needs must cut speculative philosophistics for facts, in the case of my friend John Jenks, an emphatic—“used up” good fellow.

Jenks started in this world with a first-rate opinion of himself and the rest of mankind. No man ever started with a larger capital of good nature, human benevolence, and common honesty, than honest John. Few men ever started with better general prospects, for “a good time,” and plenty of it, than Jenks. He graduated with honor to himself and the Institute of his native State, and with but little knowledge beyond the college library and the social circles of his immediate friends. At twenty-three, John Jenks went into business on his own hook.

Of course John soon formed various and many business acquaintances; he learned that men were brothers—should love, honor, and respect one another, from precepts set him at his father's fireside. He formed the opinion, that this brotherhood was not to be alienated in matters of business, for he never refused to act kindly to all; he freely loaned his autograph and purse to his business acquaintances; but, being backed up by a snug business capital, he seldom felt the necessity of claiming like accommodation, or he would have gotten his eye teeth cut cheaper and sooner.

“Jenks,” said a business man, stopping in at Jenks' counting room one September morning, “Perkins &Ball, I see, have stopped—gone to smash!”

“Have they?” quickly responded Jenks.

“They have, and a good many fingers will be burnt by them,” replied the informant. “By the way, Barclay says you have some of their paper on hand; is it true?” continued the man.

“I have some, not much,” answered Jenks—“not enough at all events to create any alarm as to their willingness or ability to take it up.”

But in looking over his “accounts,” Jenks found a considerably larger amount of Perkins &Ball's paper on hand, than an experienced business man might have contemplated with entire Christian resignation. The gazette, in the course of a few days, gave publicity to the smash of the house of Perkins, Ball &Co. There was a buzz “on 'change;” those losers by the smash were bitter in their denunciatory remarks, while those gaining by the transaction snickered in their sleeves and kept mum. Jenks heard all, and said nothing. He reasoned, that if the firm were smashed by imprudences, or through dishonest motives, they were getting “an elegant sufficiency” of public and private vituperation, without his aid. Though far from his thoughts of entering into such “lists,” and inclined to hold on and see how things come out—Jenks, for the credit of common humanity, seldom recapitulated the amount, by discounting, &c.—he was likely to be in for, if P. &B. were really “done gone.” This resolve, like some rules, worked both ways.

As “honest John” was drawing on his gloves to leave his commercial institution, after the above occurrences had had some ten days' grace; one evening, the senior partner of the house of Perkins &Ball came in. Greetings were cordial, and in the private office of Jenks, an hour's discourse took place between the merchants; which, in brief transcription, may be summed up in the fact, that Jenks received a two-third indemnification on all his liabilities for the smashed house of P. &B., which the senior partner assured him, arose from the fact of his, Jenks', gentlemanly forbearance in not joining the clamor against them, in the adverse hour, nor pushing his claims, when he had reason to believe that they were down; quite down at the heel. Jenks “hoped” he should never be found on the wrong or even doubtful side of humanity, gentlemanly courtesy, or Christian kindness; they shook hands and parted; the senior partner of the exploded firm requesting, and Jenks agreeing, to say every thing he could towards sustaining the honor of the house of P. &B., and recreating its now almost extinguished credit. Those who fought the bankrupt merchants most got the least, and because Jenks preserved an undisturbed serenity, when it was known that he was as deeply a loser, they supposed, as any one, they were staggered at his philosophy, or amused at his extreme good nature. This latter result seemed the most popular and accepted notion of Jenks' character, and proved the ground-work of his pecuniary destruction.

The firm of Perkins &Ball crept up again; Jenks had, on all occasions, spoken in the most favorable terms of the firm; he not only freely endorsed again for them, but stood their referee generally. In the meantime, Jenks' celebrity for good nature and open-heartedness had drawn around him a host of patrons and admirers. Jenks' name became a circulating medium for half his business acquaintances. If Brown was short in his cash account, five hundred or a thousand dollars——

“Just run over to Jenks',” he'd say to his clerk; “ask him to favor me with a check until the middle of the week.” It was done.

“Terms—thirty days with good endorsed paper,” was sufficient for the adventurous Smith to buy and depend on Jenks' autograph to secure the goods. When in funds, Bingle went where he chose; when a little short, Jenks had his patronage. Jenks kept but few memorandums of acts of kindness he daily committed; hence when the evil effects of them began to revolve upon him—if not mortified or ashamed of his “bargains,” he at least was astounded at the results. Brown, whose due bills or memorandums Jenks held, to the amount of seven thousand dollars, accommodation loans, took an apoplectic, one warm summer's day, after taking a luxurious dinner. Jenks had hardly learned that Brown's affairs were pronounced in a state of deferred bankruptcy, when the first rumor reached him that Smith had bolted, after a heavy transaction in “woolens”—Jenks his principal endorser—Smith not leaving assets or assigns to the amount of one red farthing.

“By Jove!” poor Jenks muttered, as he tremulously seated himself in his back counting room—“that's shabby in Smith—very shabby.”

The next morning's Gazette informed the community that Bingle had failed—liabilities over $200,000—prospects barely giving hopes of ten per cent, all around; and even this hope, upon Jenks' investigation, proved a forlorn one; by a modus operandi peculiar to the heartless, self-devoted, they got all, Jenks and the few of his ilk, got nothing!

For the first time in his life, Jenks became pecuniarily moody. For the first time, in the course of his mercantile career, of some six years, the force of reflection convinced him, that he had not acted his part judiciously, however “well done” it might be, in point of honor and manliness.

The next day Jenks devoted to a scrutiny of his accounts in general with the business world. He found things a great deal “mixed up;” his balance-sheet exhibited large surplusages accumulated on the score of his leniency and good nature; by the credit of those with whom he held business relations. A council of war, or expediency, rather,—solus, convinced Jenks, he had either mistaken his business qualifications, or formed a very vague idea of the soul—manners and customs of the business world; and he broke up his council, a sadder if not a wiser man.

“By Jove, this is discouraging; I'll have to do a very disagreeable thing, very disagreeable thing: make an assignment!

“Who'd thought John Jenks would ever come to that?” that individual muttered to himself, as he proceeded to his hotel. And ere he reached his plate, at the tea-table, a servant whispered that a gentleman with a message was out in the “office” of the hotel, anxious to see Mr. Jenks.

“Mr. Jenks—John Jenks, I believe, sir?” began the person, as poor Jenks, now on the tapis for more ill news, approached the person in waiting.

“Precisely, that's my name, sir,” Jenks responded.

“Then,” continued the stranger, “I've disagreeable business with you, Mr. Jenks; I hold your arrest!

“Good God!” exclaimed Jenks; “my arrest? What for?”

“There's the writ, sir; you can read it.”

“A writ? Why, God bless you, man, I don't owe a dollar in the world, but what I can liquidate in ten minutes!”

“Oh, it's not debt, sir; you may see by the writ it's felony!

If the man had drawn and cocked a revolver at Jenks, the effect upon his nervous system could not have been more startling or powerful. But he recovered his self-possession, and learned with dismay, that he was arrested—yes, arrested as an accessory to a grand scheme of fraud and general villany, on the part of Smith, a conclusion arrived at, by those most interested, upon discovery that Jenks had pronounced Smith “good,” and endorsed for him in sums total, enormously, far beyond Jenks' actual ability to make good!

It was in vain Jenks declared, and no man before ever dreamed of doubting his word, his entire ability to meet all liabilities of his own and others, for whom he kindly become responsible; for when the bulk of Smith's paper with Jenks' endorsement was thrust at him, he gave in; saw clearly that he was the victim of a heartless forger.

But his calmness, in the midst of his affliction, triumphed, and he rested comparatively easy in jail that night, awaiting the bright future of to-morrow, when his established character, and “troops of friends” should set all right. But, poor Jenks, he reckoned indeed without his host; to-morrow came, but not “a friend in need;” they saw, in their far-reaching wisdom, a sinking ship, and like sagacious rats, they deserted it!

“I always thought Jenks a very good-natured, or a very deep man,” said one.

“I knew he was too generous to last long!” said another.

“I told him he was green to endorse as freely as he did,” echoed a third.

“Good fellow,” chimed a fourth—“but devilish imprudent.”

“He knows what he's at!” cunningly retorted a fifth, and so the good but misguided Jenks was disposed of by his “troops of friends!”

But Perkins &Ball—they had got up again, were flourishing; they, Jenks felt satisfied, would not show the “white feather,” and the thought came to him, in his prison, as merrily as the reverse of that fond hope made him sad and sorrowful, when at the close of day, his attorney informed him, that Perkins &Ball regretted his perplexing situation, but proffered him no aid or comfort. They said, sad experience had shown them, that there were no “bowels of compassion” in the world for the fallen; men must trust to fortune, God, and their own exertions, to defeat ill luck and rise from difficulties; they had done so; Mr. Jenks must not despair, but surmount his misfortunes with a stout heart and a clear conscience, and profit, as they had, by reverses!

“Profit!” said Jenks, in a bitter tone, “profit by reverses as they have!”

“Why, Powers,” he continued to his counsel, “do you know that if I had been a tithe part as base and conscienceless as they are now, Perkins &Ball would be beggars, if not inmates of this prison! Yes, sir, my casting vote, of all the rest, would have done it. But no matter; I had hoped to find, in a community where I had been useful, generous and just, friends enough for all practical purposes, without carrying my business difficulties to the fireside of my parents and other relations. But that I must do now; if, if they fail me, then——I cave!

Two days after that conference of the lawyer and the merchant, “honest John” learned, with sorrow, that his father was dead; estate involved, and his friends at home in no favorable mood in reference to what they heard of John Jenks and his “bad management” in the city.

John Jenks—heard no more—he “caved!” as he agreed to.

We pass over Jenks' Smithsonian difficulty, which a prudent lawyer and discerning jury brought out all right.

We come to 1850—some fifteen or eighteen years after John Jenks “caved.” The John Jenks of 183-had been ruined by his good nature, set adrift moneyless, in a manner, with even a spotted reputation to begin with; he “profited by his reverses,” he was now a man of family—fifty, fat, and wealthy, and altogether the meanest and most selfish man you ever saw!

Jenks freely admits his originality is entirely—“used up!” The reader may affix the moral of my sketch—at leisure.


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