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Words For The Wise by T. S. Arthur


JACOB JONES was clerk in a commission store at a salary of five hundred dollars a year. He was just twenty-two, and had been receiving his salary for two years. Jacob had no one to care for but himself; but, somehow or other, it happened that he did not lay up any money, but, instead, usually had from fifty to one hundred dollars standing against him on the books of his tailors.

|How much money have you laid by, Jacob?| said, one day, the merchant who employed him. This question came upon Jacob rather suddenly; and coming from the source that it did was not an agreeable one -- for the merchant was a very careful and economical man.

|I haven't laid by any thing yet,| replied Jacob, with a slight air of embarrassment.

|You haven't!| said the merchant, in surprise. |Why, what have you done with your money?|

|I've spent it, somehow or other.|

|It must have been somehow or other. I should think, or somehow else,| returned the employer, half seriously, and half playfully. |But really, Jacob, you are a very thoughtless young man to waste your money.|

|I don't think I waste my money,| said Jacob.

|What, then, have you done with it?| asked the merchant.

|It costs me the whole amount of my salary to live.|

The merchant shook his head.

|Then you live extravagantly for a young man of your age and condition. How much do you pay for boarding?|

|Four dollars a week.|

|Too much by from fifty cents to a dollar. But even paying that sum, four more dollars per week ought to meet fully all your other expenses, and leave you what would amount to nearly one hundred dollars per annum to lay by. I saved nearly two hundred dollars a year on a salary no larger than you receive.|

|I should like very much to know how you did it. I can't save a cent; in fact, I hardly ever have ten dollars in my pocket.|

|Where does your money go, Jacob? In what way do you spend a hundred dollars a year more than is necessary?|

|It is spent, I know; and that is pretty much all I can tell about it,| replied Jacob.

|You can certainly tell by your private account-book.|

|I don't keep any private account, sir.|

|You don't?| in surprise.

|No, sir. What's the use? My salary is five hundred dollars a year, and wouldn't be any more nor less if I kept an account of every half cent of it.|


The merchant said no more. His mind was made up about his clerk. The fact that he spent five hundred dollars a year, and kept no private account, was enough for him.

|He'll never be any good to himself nor anybody else. Spend his whole salary -- humph! Keep no private account -- humph!|

This was the opinion held of Jacob Jones by his employer from that day. The reason why he had inquired as to how much money he had saved was this. He had a nephew, a poor young man, who, like Jacob, was a clerk, and showed a good deal of ability for business. His salary was rather more than what Jacob received, and, like Jacob, he spent it all; but not on himself. He supported, mainly, his mother and a younger brother and sister. A good chance for a small, but safe beginning, was seen by the uncle, which would require only about a thousand dollars as an investment. In his opinion it would be just the thing for Jacob and the nephew. Supposing that Jacob had four or five hundred dollars laid by, it was his intention, if he approved of the thing, to furnish his nephew with a like sum, in order to join him and to enter into business. But the acknowledgment of Jacob that he had not saved a dollar, and that he kept no private account, settled the matter in the merchant's mind, as far as he was concerned.

About a month afterward, Jacob met his employer's nephew, who said,

|I am going into business.|

|You are?|


|What are you going to do?|

|Open a commission store.|

|Ah! Can you get any good consignments?|

|I am to have the agency for a new mill, which has just commenced operations, besides consignments of goods from several small concerns at the East.|

|You will have to make advances.|

|To no great extent. My uncle has secured the agency of the new mill here without any advance being required, and eight hundred or a thousand dollars will be as much as I shall need to secure as many goods as I can sell from the other establishments of which I speak.|

|But where will the eight hundred or a thousand dollars come from?|

|My uncle has placed a thousand dollars at my disposal. Indeed, the whole thing is the result of his recommendation.|

|Your uncle! You are a lucky dog. I wish I had a rich uncle. But there is no such good fortune for me.|

This was the conclusion of Jacob Jones, who made himself quite unhappy for some weeks, brooding over the matter. He never once dreamed of the real cause of his not having had an equal share in his young friend's good fortune. He had not the most distant idea that his employer felt nearly as much regard for him as for his nephew, and would have promoted his interests as quickly, if he had felt justified in doing so.

|It's my luck, I suppose,| was the final conclusion of his mind; |and it's no use to cry about it. Anyhow, it isn't every man with a rich uncle, and a thousand dollars advanced, who succeeds in business, nor every man who starts without capital that is unsuccessful. I understand as much about business as the old man's nephew, any day; and can get consignments as well as he can.|

Three or four months after this, Jacob notified the merchant that he was going to start for himself, and asked his interest as far as he could give it, without interfering with his own business. His employer did not speak very encouragingly about the matter, which offended Jacob.

|He's afraid I'll injure his nephew,| said he to himself. |But he needn't be uneasy -- the world is wide enough for us all, the old hunks!|

Jacob borrowed a couple of hundred dollars, took a store at five hundred dollars a year rent, and employed a clerk and porter. He then sent his circulars to a number of manufactories at the East, announcing the fact of his having opened a new commission house, and soliciting consignments. His next move was, to leave his boarding-house, where he had been paying four dollars a week, and take lodgings at a hotel at seven dollars a week.

Notwithstanding Jacob went regularly to the post-office twice every day, few letters came to hand, and but few of them contained bills of lading and invoices. The result of the first year's business was an income from commission on sales of seven hundred dollars. Against this were the items of one thousand dollars for personal expenses, five hundred dollars for store-rent, seven hundred dollars for clerk and porter, and for petty and contingent expenses two hundred dollars; leaving the uncomfortable deficit of seventeen hundred dollars, which stood against him in the form of bills payable for sales effected, and small notes of accommodation borrowed from his friends.

The result of the first year's business of his old employer's nephew was very different. The gross profits were three thousand dollars, and the expenses as follows: personal expense, seven hundred dollars -- just what the young man's salary had previously been, and out of which he supported his mother and her family -- store rent, three hundred dollars; porter, two hundred and fifty; petty expenses, one hundred dollars -- in all thirteen hundred and fifty dollars, leaving a net profit of sixteen hundred and fifty dollars. It will be seen that he did not go to the expense of a clerk during the first year. He preferred working a little harder, and keeping his own books, by which an important saving was effected.

At the end of the second year, notwithstanding Jacob Jones's business more than doubled itself, he was compelled to wind up, and found himself twenty-five hundred dollars worse than nothing. Several of his unpaid bills to eastern houses were placed in suit, and as he lived in a state where imprisonment for debt still existed, he was compelled to go through the forms required by the insolvent laws, to keep clear of durance vile.

At the very period when he was driven under by adverse gales, his young friend, who had gone into business about the same time, found himself under the necessity of employing a clerk. He offered Jones a salary of four hundred dollars, the most he believed himself yet justified in paying. This was accepted, and Jacob found himself once more standing upon terra firma, although the portion upon which his feet rested was very small; still it was terra firma -- and that was something.

The real causes of his ill success never for a moment occurred to the mind of Jacob. He considered himself an |unlucky dog.|

|Every thing that some people touch turns into money,| he would sometimes say. |But I was not born under a lucky star.|

Instead of rigidly bringing down his expenses, as he ought to have done, to four hundred dollars, if he had to live in a garret and cook his own food, Jacob went back to his old boarding-house, and paid four dollars a week. All his other expenses required at least eight dollars more to meet them. He was perfectly aware that he was living beyond his income -- the exact excess he did not stop to ascertain -- but he expected an increase of salary before long, as a matter of course, either in his present situation or in a new one. But no increase took place for two years, and then he was between three and four hundred dollars in debt to tailors, boot-makers, his landlady, and to sundry friends, to whom he applied for small sums of money in cases of emergency.

One day, about this time, two men were conversing together quite earnestly, as they walked leisurely along one of the principal streets of the city where Jacob resided. One was past the prime of life, and the other about twenty-two. They were father and son, and the subject of conversation related to the wish of the latter to enter into business. The father did not think the young man was possessed of sufficient knowledge of business or experience, and was, therefore, desirous of associating some one with him who could make up these deficiencies. If he could find just the person that pleased him, he was ready to advance capital and credit to an amount somewhere within the neighbourhood of twenty thousand dollars. For some months he had been thinking of Jacob, who was a first-rate salesman, had a good address, and was believed by him to possess business habits eminently conducive to success. The fact that he had once failed was something of a drawback in his mind, but he had asked Jacob the reason of his ill-success, which was so plausibly explained, that he considered the young man as simply unfortunate in not having capital, and nothing else.

|I think Mr. Jones just the right man for you,| said the father, as they walked along.

|I don't know of any one with whom I had rather form a business connection. He is a man of good address, business habits, and, as far as I know, good principles.|

|Suppose you mention the subject to him this afternoon.|

This was agreed to. The two men then entered the shop of a fashionable tailor, for the purpose of ordering some clothes. While there, a man having the appearance of a collector came in, and drew the tailor aside. The conversation was brief but earnest, and concluded by the tailor's saying, so loud that he could be heard by all who were standing near,

|It's no use to waste your time with him any longer. Just hand over the account to Simpson, and let him take care of it.|

The collector turned away, and the tailor came back to his customers.

|It is too bad,| said he, |the way some of these young fellows do serve us. I have now several thousand dollars on my books against clerks who receive salaries large enough to support them handsomely, and I can't collect a dollar of it. There is Jacob Jones, whose account I have just ordered to be placed in the hands of a lawyer, he owes me nearly two hundred dollars, and I can't get a cent out of him. I call him little better than a scamp.|

The father and son exchanged glances of significance, but said nothing. The fate of Jacob Jones was sealed.

|If that is the case,| said the father, as they stepped into the street, |the less we have to do with him the better.|

To this the son assented. Another more prudent young man was selected, whose fortune was made.

When Jacob received Lawyer Simpson's note, threatening a suit if the tailor's bill was not paid, he was greatly disturbed.

|Am I not the most unfortunate man in the world?| said he to himself, by way of consolation. |After having paid him so much money, to be served like this. It is too bad. But this is the way of the world. Let a poor devil once get a little under the weather, every one must have a kick at him.|

In this dilemma poor Jacob had to call upon the tailor, and beg him for further time. This was humiliating, especially as the tailor was considerably out of humour, and disposed to be hard with him. A threat to apply for the benefit of the insolvent law again, if a suit was pressed to an issue, finally induced the tailor to waive legal proceedings for the present, and Jacob had the immediate terrors of the law taken from before his eyes.

This event set Jacob to thinking and calculating, which he had never before deemed necessary in his private affairs. The result did not make him feel any happier. To his astonishment, he ascertained that he owed more than the whole of his next year's salary would pay, while that was not in itself sufficient to meet his current expenses.

For some weeks after this discovery of the real state of his affairs, Jacob was very unhappy. He applied for an increase of salary, and obtained one hundred dollars per annum. This was something, which was about all that could be said. If he could live on four hundred dollars a year, which he had never yet been able to do, the addition to his salary would not pay his tailor's bill within two years; and what was he to do with boot-maker, landlady, and others?

It happened about this time that a clerk in the bank where his old employer was director died. His salary was one thousand dollars. For the vacant place Jacob made immediate application, and was so fortunate as to secure it.

Under other circumstances, Jacob would have refused a salary of fifteen hundred dollars in a bank against five hundred in a counting-room, and for the reason that a bank-clerk has little or no hope beyond his salary all his life, while a counting-house clerk, if he have any aptness for trade, stands a fair chance of getting into business sooner or later, and making his fortune as a merchant. But a debt of four hundred dollars hanging over his head was an argument in favour of a clerkship in the bank, at a salary of a thousand dollars a year, not to be resisted.

|I'll keep it until I get even with the world again,| he consoled himself by saying, |and then I'll go back into a counting-room. I've an ambition above being a bank-clerk all my life.|

Painful experience had made Jacob a little wiser.

For the first time in his life he commenced keeping an account of his personal expenses. This acted as a salutary check upon his bad habit of spending money for every little thing that happened to strike his fancy, and enabled him to clear off his whole debt within the first year. Unwisely, however, he had, during this time, promised to pay some old debts, from which the law had released him. The persons holding these claims, finding him in the receipt of a higher salary, made an appeal to his honour, which, like an honest but imprudent man, he responded to by a promise of payment as soon as it was in his power. But little time elapsed after these promises were made before he found himself in the hands of constables and magistrates, and was only saved from imprisonment by getting friends to go his bail for six and nine months. In order to secure them, he had to give an order in advance for his salary. To get these burdens off his shoulders, it took twelve months longer, and then he was nearly thirty years of age.

|Thirty years old!| said he to himself on his thirtieth birth-day. |Can it be possible? Long before this I ought to have been doing a flourishing business, and here I am, nothing but a bank-clerk, with the prospect of never rising a step higher as long as I live. I don't know how it is that some people get along so well in the world. I'm sure I am as industrious, and can do business as well as any man; but here I am still at the point from which I started twenty years ago. I can't understand it. I'm afraid there's more in luck than I'm willing to believe.|

From this time Jacob set himself to work to obtain a situation in some store or counting-room, and finally, after looking about for nearly a year, was fortunate enough to obtain a good place, as bookkeeper and salesman, with a wholesale grocer and commission merchant. Seven hundred dollars was to be his salary. His friends called him a fool for giving up an easy place at one thousand dollars a year, for a hard one at seven hundred. But the act was a much wiser one than many others of his life.

Instead of saving money during the third year of his receipt of one thousand dollars, he spent the whole of his salary, without paying off a single old debt. His private account-keeping had continued through a year and a half. After that it was abandoned. Had it been continued, it might have saved him three or four hundred dollars, which were now all gone, and nothing to show for them. Poor Jacob! Experience did not make him much wiser.

Two years passed, and at least half a dozen young men, here and there around our friend Jacob, went into business, either as partners in some old houses or under the auspices of relatives or interested friends. But there appeared no opening for him.

He did not know, that, many times during that period, he had been the subject of conversation between parties, one or both of which were looking out for a man, of thorough business qualifications, against which capital would be placed; nor the fact, that either his first failure, his improvidence, or something else personal to himself, had caused him to be set aside for some other one not near so capable.

He was lamenting his ill-luck one day, when a young man with whom he was very well acquainted, and who was clerk in a neighbouring store, called in and said he wanted to have some talk with him about a matter of interest to both.

|First of all, Mr. Jones,| said the young man, after they were alone, |how much capital could you raise by a strong effort?|

|I am sure I don't know,| replied Jacob, not in a very cheerful tone. |I never was lucky in having friends ready to assist me.|

|Well! perhaps there will be no need of that. You have had a good salary for four or five years; how much have you saved? Enough, probably, to answer every purpose -- that is, if you are willing to join me in taking advantage of one of the best openings for business that has offered for a long time. I have a thousand dollars in the Savings Bank. You have as much, or more, I presume?|

|I am sorry to say I have not,| was poor Jacob's reply, in a desponding voice. |I was unfortunate in business some years ago, and my old debts have drained away from me every dollar I could earn.|

|Indeed! that is unfortunate. I was in hopes you could furnish a thousand dollars.|

|I might borrow it, perhaps, if the chance is a very good one.|

|Well, if you could do that, it would be as well, I suppose,| returned the young man. |But you must see about it immediately. If you cannot join me at once, I must find one who will, for the chance is too good to be lost.|

Jacob got a full statement of the business proposed, its nature and prospects, and then laid the matter before the three merchants with whom he had at different times lived in the capacity of clerk, and begged them to advance him the required capital. The subject was taken up by them and seriously considered. They all liked Jacob, and felt willing to promote his interests, but had little or no confidence in his ultimate success, on account of his want of economy in personal matters. It was very justly remarked by one of them, that this want of economy, and judicious use of money in personal matters, would go with him in business, and mar all his prospects. Still, as they had great confidence in the other man, they agreed to advance, jointly, the sum needed.

In the mean time, the young man who had made the proposition to Jacob, when he learned that he had once failed in business, was still in debt, and liable to have claims pushed against him, (this he inferred from Jacob's having stretched the truth, by saying that his old debts drained away from him every dollar, when the fact was he was freed from them by the provisions of the insolvent law of the State,) came to the conclusion that a business connection with him was a thing to be avoided rather than sought after. He accordingly turned his thoughts in another quarter, and when Jones called to inform him that he had raised the capital needed, he was coolly told that it was too late, he having an hour before closed a partnership arrangement with another person, under the belief that Jones could not advance the money required.

This was a bitter disappointment, and soured the mind of Jacob against his fellow man, and against the fates also, which he alleged were all combined against him. His own share in the matter was a thing undreamed of. He believed himself far better qualified for business than the one who had been preferred before him, and he had the thousand dollars to advance. It must be his luck that was against him, nothing else; he could come to no other conclusion. Other people could get along in the world, but he couldn't. That was the great mystery of his life.

For two years Jacob had been waiting to get married. He had not wished to take this step before entering into business, and having a fair prospect before him. But years were creeping on him apace, and the fair object of his affections seemed weary of delay.

|It's no use to wait any longer,| said he, after this dashing of his cup to the earth. |Luck is against me. I shall never be any thing but a poor devil of a clerk. If Clara is willing to share my humble lot, we might as well be married first as last.|

Clara was not unwilling, and Jacob Jones entered into the estate connubial, and took upon him the cares of a family, with a salary of seven hundred dollars a year, to sustain the new order of things. Instead of taking cheap boarding, or renting a couple of rooms, and commencing housekeeping in a small way, Jacob saw but one course before him, and that was to rent a genteel house, go in debt for genteel furniture, and keep two servants. Two years were the longest that he could bear up under this state of things, when he was sold out by the sheriff, and forced |to go through the mill again,| as taking the benefit of the insolvent law was facetiously called in the State where he resided.

|Poor fellow! he has a hard time of it. I wonder why it is that he gets along so badly. He is an industrious man and regular in his habits. It is strange. But some men seem born to ill-luck.|

So said some of his pitying friends. Others understood the matter better.

Ten years have passed, and Jacob is still a clerk, but not in a store. Hopeless of getting into business, he applied for a vacancy that occurred in an insurance company, and received the appointment, which he still holds at a salary of twelve hundred dollars a year. After being sold out three times by the sheriff, and having the deep mortification of seeing her husband brought down to the humiliating necessity of applying as often for the benefit of the insolvent law, Mrs. Jones took affairs, by consent of her husband, into her own hands, and managed them with such prudence and economy, that, notwithstanding they have five children, the expenses, all told, are not over eight hundred dollars a year, and half of the surplus, four hundred dollars, is appropriated to the liquidation of debts contracted since their marriage, and the other half deposited in the Savings Bank, as a fund for the education of their children in the higher branches, when they reach a more advanced age.

To this day it is a matter of wonder to Jacob Jones why he could never get along in the world like some people; and he has come to the settled conviction that it is his |luck.|

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