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A Vermonter in A Fix,

or A New Way to Collect an Old Debt

by Daniel P. Thompson

 

Young Hobson, not he of choice memory, but John Hobson, a plain, hardy, shrewd Vermont farmer, having by dint of delving and scrambling among the rugged rocks of his native hills, gathered a respectable share of the solid lucre, began to bethink him, with certain other secret motives, of rising a little faster in the world by way of a spec. For this purpose he laid out his little stock of cash in fat cattle, and, purchasing enough more on credit to make out a decentish kind of a drove, as he termed it, took up a line of march with his horned regiment through the long woods to Quebec. After undergoing his full share of fatigue and suffering from swimming rivers and worrying through the mud of ten-mile swamps, sustained only by the meagre fare of French taverns, which, but for the name of taverns had been hovels, which a decent farmer in Vermont would have been somewhat ashamed to have housed his hogs in, Hobson arrived safe and sound at the great Northern Market. He soon had a bid that exceeded his most sanguine expectations, and after receiving from a by-stander an assurance of the bidder's pecuniary ability for such a purchase, he struck off the whole lot; while the purchaser, directing him to his lodgings, told him to call the next day and he should receive his money. Chuckling with the thought of his great bargain, and in fact the price was a thumping one, Hobson returned to the Inn where he had bespoken quarters, and informed the landlord of his lucky sale.

"To whom did you sell, friend Hobson?" said the landlord.

"Derrick, he called himself, the good looking man of the Market, there"—

"And you did'nt trust him, man, did you?"

"To be sure, I did, till to-morrow, when he promises the money all on the nail—and another tall fellow told me Derrick was good for thousands."

"Bill Derrick," then said the landlord, "and Catch-Gull Luck, his everlasting surety, suppose they have made another haul. It may be as you expect, Mr. Hobson, but this much I will say, if you get your money to-morrow, or all of it ever, I will agree to keep Lent twelve months at least.`'

"But I shall though," said Hobson, "or by the hocus-pocus of my grand mother, I will soon teach him the true cost of cheating a Yankee."

The landlord shook his head, and Hobson retired for the night with his spirits wofully down towards zero; and though he still could not persuade himself but that the man would be punctual, yet he acknowledged to himself that he had been a little too fast among these city folks, in taking every thing for gold that shines, on their own word or the word of an abettor.

The next day Hobson waited on Derrick according to agreement, and was received with all possible politeness by the smooth tongued dealer—Mr. Hobson was very welcome, but really he had ten thousand pardons to beg, that in the great hurry he had entirely forgotten to make arrangements to meet his promise, but the man he was to receive the money from he supposed would require a day's notice or so, but he would see him immediately, and by calling again to-morrow, every thing would be regulated to Mr. Hobson's wishes, he presumed. All this, however, Hobson was not quite as ready to take for gospel now as before; and in order that he might know a little better the state in which he stood with this ready promise, he diligently betook himself to making inquiries into the man's situation and character.—

From these he soon learnt that Derrick had disposed of the cattle as soon as he had purchased, and that although in reality he might be worth some property, yet his promise was considered good for nothing, for he always contrived to conceal his effects from his crediters, and, acting the bankrupt as occasion required, he always put the law at defiance.—In fine, that he was an arrant knave and had before played the same game on several unwary drovers, who in their eagerness, to close a bargain at the great price which he was ever ready to offer, had neglected the precaution of making inquiries, and sold their cattle to him on a short credit, and after being amused and dallyed by his promises a few weeks, had given up their debts as lost and gone off in despair. "So ho! John," said our hero, soliloquizing along as he trudged back to his lodgings, with the feelings of one whose own folly had made him the dupe of a knave, and whose anger is so nearly balanced between himself for his own stupidity, and him who had taken advantage of it by an act of baseness, that he is perfectly at a loss on which he shall give vent to his laboring resentment. "So, ho! John, then it seems you're bit.—Yes, I John Hobson, who about home was thought to be up to any thing for a bargain, who out-witted old Clenchfist the shave, and Screwfast the pettifogger, I John Hobson, am bit, cursedly bit, like a great gull, as I am, by this palavering quintessence of a pack of d—d rascals, it's a good one though, by the pipers if it a'nt!

The next day Hobson renewed his visit to Derrick with no better success than before. The next, and the next, it was put off with some new and ingenious excuse, and, his hopes excited with a fresh promise of payment, till he entirely lost all faith in the fellow's promises. What must be done? He could never go back and face his neighbors in Vermont of whom he had purchased part of his drove on credit till he returned, without the money to pay them; besides, nearly all his own property was vested in the drove. Yes, said he to himself, something must be done to get me out of this dilemma—so now John Hobson for your wits, and let them be stretched to their prettiest. With this view of his case he sought the landlord.

"Is this evil genius of mine, this Derrick, said he, at all tinctured with notions of a religious or superstitious nature?"

"No! as it regards a future reckoning he neither fears God or Devil."

"Well, then, does he wish to be tho't a man of honor and honesty with any of the big fishes of your city?"

"No, he has nothing to hope from them, nor does he care what they think of him."

"And what say you of his courage, can he face?"

"No! he is said to be a great coward and always a sneak from danger."

"Ah! that is something," said Hobson, "hold easy and say nothing."

Our hero now mused awhile and retired to bed with a brightened look, and the air of one who has got a new maggot in his head, as he probably would have himself expressed it. The next morning he was stirring as soon as it was light. Sallying out into the town he soon came across a couple of Indians lazily lounging about the street."

"Sawnies, or whatever they call ye," says he, "I want to hire you to-day."

"Me go," said the spokesman of the two, "me go for the money or de rum."

"Well, then, do you know Derrick there about the market, with a white coat and a black cane?"

"Me know him."

"Very well, I will give you a broad shiner apiece if you will dog that fellow untill bed time; don't touch him, or say one word to him, but always keep your eyes on him; if he turns a corner, you turn too; if he goes into a house, you watch till he comes out, and if he comes near you, run till he stops and then turn and watch again. Will you do it?"

"Yes! me do him," was the reply.

Hobson now returned to his lodgings and remained there till night, when he set out for Derrick's, to see if his plan of operations had produced any effect; and if so, to give it such a turn as he might think best calculated to accomplish his purpose.

Derrick was at home, and obviously, in no very cheerful mood. After framing his usual excuses for not having the money ready, he soon fell into a sort of reverie. Hobson now began to have some hopes that his scheme would succeed; and while he was endeavoring, by various questions to draw out something which would open a way for him to act his own part in the plan, Derrick observed,—

"I have noticed a rather mysterious circumstance to day Mr. Hobson; a thing I can't exactly account for."

"What may that be," said Hobson, "if I may so bold with your honor?"

"Why there has been a couple of Indians dogging and spying me out in every spot and place I have been in since morning.— I tried to come up with them once or twice, and they vanished like apparitions, but as soon as I turned, I could see them peeping out after me from some other plaee; they kept at a distance, to be sure, but they looked d—n'd evil, and I don't know exactly what it all means."

"It is quite singular said Hobson, "but what kind of looking fellows were they?"

Derrick described them.

"Why, sir," said Hobson, "they must be the very fellows that helped me with my cattle through the long woods; I am rather sorry that I employed them, for I begin to suspect they are desperate and bloody minded fellows, though they stuck to me as close as brothers on the way, and I should have paid them, but I told them I could not until you paid me for the cattle; then I mean to pay them well and get rid of them, for they begin to look rather askew at me, and I confess, between you and I, that I feel rather shy of the imps myself; but I believe I must be jogging; you say I may call to-morrow?"

"Yes—yes, certainly," said Derrick.

Hobson retired, and signing to the Indians, who were lurking round the house to follow him, he took them aside.

"Well my lads, you have done well—here are your wheels— go and drink, then come back to your business; be seen once or twice more to night, and be at your post early to-morrow morning, and keep up the same game till to-morrow night; here are ofnother pair of shiners for you—will you do it?"

"Yes! me do him, was again the laconic answer.

The next day, Hobson again waited on Derrick and found him looking extremely ill and haggard, with the appearance of one who had been sadly disturbed of his rest.

"I am glad to see you, Mr. Hobson," said he, "I am very happy at length to be able to pay you; but you must be sensible Mr. Hobson, that the sum I promised you for your cattle was a hundred dollars over the market price; I made a losing go of it, and I think that you will discount the hundred dollars at least.,'

"I fear that cannot be," said Hobson, "for I have already made a contract to pay away all this money, before I leave the city, except enough to pay my expenses home and pay off the bloody Indians; perhaps I could get away, however, by dodging the knaves; could I not?"

"O no," said Derrick eagerly.

"No, for heaven's sake no; pay them well, why, last night, they waylaid my house and have been seen several times this morning, though I have been so unwell that I have not been out to-day; not that I fear them Mr. Hobson, but on your own account, pay them off to the last farthing, for otherwise, depend on it they will do you some cursed mischief, I was only in jest about the discount."

With this, Derrick brought out a bag of gold, and without further ceremony counted out the full sum to the inwardly exultiug Hobson, who, pocketing the guineas with great composure, bid Derrick good morning and marched off in triumph to his lodgings and recounting his good fortune to his admiring landlord, took a hearty breakfast, and departed, having good-naturedly absolved the landlord from his promise of perpetual secret, and leaving the Indians to earn their days wages to the sad discomfeiture of the nerves of poor Derrick. In two hours Hobson had crossed the great river, on his way homeward, and pronouncing his parting blessing on the walled city, "And you didn't knab John Hobson after all," said he, turning his head and spurring his pony into a round trot up the great road towords the States; "you didn't knab him so easily, ye mongrel, scurvy, rascalious crew of beef-eating John Bulls, and parley vou francez frigazee, frog-eating Frenchmen, so leaving this specimen of Vermont fashions in turning the tables on a rascal for your benefit, good bye says I and be hanged to you."

It was about a month after the occurrences we have described that a gay wedding party was assembled at the house of Esquire— at the Four corners in Slab City. The balance that had been, for more than a year, doubtfully trembling at equipoise between our young farmer and a more wealthy, but a less loved suitor of the Squire's fair daughter, had at length turned in favor of our hero, who always attributed his subsequent happiness to his lucky speculation at the walled city.