I shall not soon forget the family of Israel Day, who lived neighbor to my father when I was a boy. Mr. Day was working out as a laborer, and as he had a large family dependent on his earnings for support, and sometimes it was difficult in our neighborhood to find employment, the family was poor, and the strictest economy had to be practiced to furnish the bare necessities of life.
I often wondered how it happened that such a man as Mr. Day should be so poor. He had no intemperate or extravagant habits, and was a man of more than common education, and there was an air of intelligence and refinement about the entire family that commanded respect of their neighbors. Mr. Day was industrious, but always seemed to me a man who had no ambition in life, and who expected and desired no more than a mere subsistence for his family. No one in the neighborhood knew anything of his history. The man and his family had come from another state a few years previous, and while polite and friendly, they were very uncommunicative as to their former life, and there was something about them that forbade inquisitiveness.
I was at this time sixteen years old, and on very intimate terms with Mr. Day’s family. At the time of my story he was helping my father on the farm for a few days and boarding with us. One day when we came in from our forenoon work, we found ‘Squire Black was to take dinner with us, and as he was reputed to be the wealthiest man in the township, we felt quite honored. He was a very genial man and an excellent talker, and had an adroit way of flattering and making every one feel easy in his company.
On this occasion he made himself very agreeable; he praised the neat appearance of the farm and buildings, complimented mother on her good cooking, and called me a fine manly fellow, gave some small change to the children, and by the time dinner was over had gained the good will of the entire family.
After dinner Mr. Black asked to see the stock and arrangement of the barn and out buildings, and as father took pride in having good, well-fed stock and one of the most conveniently arranged barns in the country, he was glad to show him around, and was much pleased with the hearty commendation which Mr. Black bestowed upon them.
He finally made known the object of his visit; he had found a piece of very desirable property for sale, low, so that there was no question that within less than a year he could clear several thousand dollars on it, but he must pay all cash down and he lacked two thousand dollars of having enough money to pay for it. He wished father to become security for him for one year, as he had found a party who was willing to lend him the mount if his signature could be had to the note.
He did not give father time to think or scarcely to answer his question, but took out his pocketbook and handed him a paper, supposing it to be the note which he had drawn up, and signed by himself, all ready for father’s signature. I verily believe that if the paper had been what Squire Black thought it to be, father could not have refused to sign it; but it so happened that he had made a mistake and left the note at home and had substituted for it another paper.
A shade of vexation passed over the ‘Squire’s face when he discovered the mistake, but he at once recovered his good humor and said, “Never mind; I will call again this evening,” and hastily mounted his horse and rode away.
Father looked troubled, and turning to me, said, “I do not like to indorse for any one, but ‘Squire Black will be insulted if I refuse, and as he is rich I suppose there can be no risk about it. It is only complying with a legal form, and I suppose I shall be obliged to do it; but I wish he had not asked me to do so.”
Before I could reply, the barn door opened and Mr. Day came out: he was pale and deeply agitated; and when he spoke I should not have recognized his voice. Calling my father by name, he said, “I believe that you are in danger, and if you will listen to me I will give you a chapter from my own history that I had never intended should be known to any in this neighborhood.”
Father motioned for me to leave, thinking that Mr. Day wished to speak to him alone. He noticed it, however, and said, “No, let him stay, for one cannot learn too soon the lesson that my experience teaches. I would be willing that it should be published to the world if thereby some could be saved from my bitter experience. I overheard, as you know, what “Squire Black said to you. Listen to my story and then decide whether you will put your name on his note.
“Fifteen years ago, when I was married, I was not the poor man that you now know me to be. My father gave me as my share of his property two thousand dollars. We were both strong and willing to work, and ambitious to succeed in the world, and we bought a good farm, running in debt a few hundred dollars. For several years we were prospered. We had good health and the seasons were favor able, so that we grew heavy crops and obtained fair prices for them.
“At the end of five years we had paid off our debt and had nearly one thousand dollars in the bank, and we felt that it would be safe to build a new house, although we expected to put more than the amount of money on hand into it."
“In the meantime there had come into the neighborhood one of the most companionable men I ever met. He was familiarly known as Capt. Cole. He had been a lawyer, but had been appointed by the general Government to a lucrative office which he held for some years, and had the reputation of being very wealthy. He lived in good style, and was a general favorite in all the community.
When my house was finished I found myself in debt seven hundred dollars, and as I had given the contract to a carpenter, he to furnish everything, he needed all his money. I went to the bank to borrow the amount until I could find some one who would let me have it for one or two years, and not being accustomed to borrow money, it did not occur to me that an indorser would be necessary, until the cashier of the bank informed me that it was their invariable custom to require security. Capt. Cole who happen to be in at the time, overheard the conversation and came forward with a pleasant ‘Good morning,’ saying, ‘I shall be only too happy to indorse for my friend, Mr. Day.’ I felt both grateful and flattered, and when a few months later I happened to be in the bank when he wanted an indorser, I was glad to return the favor.
“We had two years of prosperity, and I paid the debt on my house. I now determined to build a fine barn, and as I had always paid my debts and could not well get along with my old barn until I had saved the money to build the new one, I determined to borrow one thousand dollars, and happening to meet Capt. Cole, I asked him where I could get that amount for three years. He told me he did, and offered to become my security. The money was borrowed and my barn began.
“A few weeks later Capt. Cole called to see me. Like ‘Squire Black to-day, he seemed delighted with everything he saw. His flattery put me in the best possible humor, and when he asked me to indorse a note of $5,000 for sixty days, and assure me that he could meet it (or even twice as much) promptly, to the day, I consented against my better judgment, and affixed my signature to the note. That act ruined me. Before the sixty days expired I learned that he was bankrupt. My farm was sold at a sacrifice, under the hammer, and when I paid the thousand dollars which I had borrowed to build the barn with I was left penniless.
“With my history in your possession, do you wonder that I was alarmed to-day when I saw you about to fall into the same trap? I tell you I have a right to feel deeply on this subject. Would that I could make my voice heard by every man in the land. I would say to him, shun as you would a serpent this evil which has brought ruin to so many families. I realize fully what it means to put my name on another man’s paper, and it is just this—that I assume all the risks of his business, without any voice in its management or any possible chance of profit if he is successful; but with a fearful certainty that if from any cause he makes a failure, my earnings must make it good, even if it reduces my family to beggary. Since my own misfortune I have made this a matter of study, and I find that a very large per cent, of business failures, of the country (and nearly all among farmers) are due to this practice.”
The remainder of my story is soon told. My father was deeply impressed by Mr. Day’s story, and before night I was dispatched to ’Squire Black’s with a note from father stating that after carefully considering the matter he had decided not to sign the note. In less than a year after this ’Squire Black was declared a bankrupt, and in the final settlement of his business it did not pay ten cents on the dollar.
Father felt he owed a debt of gratitude to Mr. Day, and he presented him with a good team and helped him to rent a farm. This encouraged him, and he worked so industriously and managed so prudently that in a few years he was able to buy a small farm and has since been able to support his family comfortably.
Many years have passed since these events occurred, and I am now past middle life, but I have never ceased to be thankful for the lesson taught me by Mr. Day, and in fulfilling his wish I would repeat the lesson which the story teaches—never indorse.
WATCH YOUR WORDS
Keep a watch upon your words, my darling
For words are wonderful things
They are sweet like the bee’s fresh honey—
Like the bees they have terrible stings
They can bless, like the warm, glad sunshine
And brighten a lonely life
They can cut in the strife of anger
Like an open two-edged knife.
Let them pass through your lips unchallenged
If their errand is true and kind
If they come to support the weary
To comfort and help the blind
If a bitter, revengeful spirit
Prompt the words, let them be unsaid
They may flash through a brain like lightening
Or fall on a heart like lead.
Keep them back, if they are cold and cruel
Under bar and lock and seal
Then wounds they make, my darling
Are always slow to heal
May peace guard your life, and ever
From the time of you early youth
May the words that you daily utter
Be the words of beautiful truth.