July 1990

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A New Home: Who'll Follow

Life in the Clearings


Caroline M. Kirkland

First published in 1839
Click here for an index to the chapters of A New Home.

Chapter 32

Tinkerville's Bubble Bursts

All too soon came the period when I must part with my pleasant neighbor Mrs. Rivers, the opening brilliancy of whose lot seemed to threaten a lasting separation, from those whose way led rather through the "cool, sequestered vale," so much praised, and so little coveted.

Mr. Rivers had for some time found abundant leisure for his favorite occupations of hunting and fishing. The signing of bills took up but little time, and an occasional ride to the scene of future glories, for the purpose of superintending the various improvements, was all that necessarily called him away. But now, final preparations for a removal were absolutely in progress; and I had begun to feel really sad at the thought of losing the gentle Anna, when the Bank Commissioners again paced in official dignity up Main-street, and, this time, alighted at Mr. Rivers' door.

The President and Greenhorn had trotted to Tinkerville that morning, and the old gentleman was not in town; so our men of power gravely wended their way towards the newly painted and pine-pillared honors of the Merchants' and Manufacturers' Banking-house, not without leaving behind them many a surmise as to the probable object of this new visitation.

It was Mr. Skinner's opinion, and Mr. Skinner is a long-headed Yankee, that the Bank had issued too many bills; and for the sincerity of his judgment, he referred his hearers to the fact, that he had for some time been turning the splendid notes of the Merchants' and Manufacturers' Bank of Tinkerville into wheat and corn as fast as he conveniently could.

A sly old farmer, who had sold several hundred bushels of wheat to Mr. Skinner, at one dollar twenty-five cents a bushel, winked knowingly as the merchant mentioned this proof of his own far-seeing astuteness; and informed the company that he had paid out the last dollar long ago on certain outstanding debts.

Mr. Porter knew that the Tinkerville black-smith had run up a most unconscionable bill for the iron doors, &c. &c., which were necessary to secure the immense vaults of the Bank; that would give, as he presumed, some hint of the probable object of the Commissioners.

Mr. Simeon Jenkins, if not the greatest, certainly the most grandiloquent man in Montacute, didn't want to know any better than he did know, that the Cashier of the Bank was a thick-skull; and he felt very much afraid that the said Cashier had been getting his principals into trouble. Mr. Bite's manner of writing his name was, in Mr. Jenkins' view, proof positive of his lack of capacity; since "nobody in the universal world" as Mr. Jenkins averred, "ever wrote such a hand as that, that know'd anything worth knowing."

But conjectures, however positively advanced, are, after all, not quite satisfactory; and the return of the commissioners was most anxiously awaited even by the very worthies who knew their business so well.

The sun set most perversely soon, and the light would not stay long after him; and thick darkness settled upon this mundane sphere, and no word transpired from Tinkerville. Morning came, and with it the men of office, but oh! with what lengthened faces!

There were whispers of "an injunction"—horrid sound!—upon the Merchants' and Manufacturers' Bank of Tinkerville.

To picture the dismay which drew into all sorts of shapes the universal face of Montacute, would require a dozen Wilkies. I shall content myself with saying that there was no joking about the matter.

The commissioners were not very communicative, but in spite of their dignified mystification, something about broken glass and tenpenny nails did leak out before their track was fairly cold.

And where was Harley Rivers? "Echo answers, where!" His dear little wife watered her pillow with her tears for many a night before he returned to Montacute.

It seemed, as we afterwards learned, that the commissioners had seen some suspicious circumstances about the management of the Bank, and returned with a determination to examine into matters a little more scrupulously. It had been found in other cases that certain "specie-certificates" had been loco-motive. It had been rumored, since the new batch of Banks had come into operation, that "Thirty steeds both fleet and wight Stood saddled in the stables day and night—" ready to effect at short notice certain transfers of assets and specie. And in the course of the Tinkerville investigation the commissioners had ascertained by the aid of hammer and chisel, that the boxes of the "real stuff" which had been so loudly vaunted, contained a heavy charge of broken glass and tenpenny nails, covered above and below with half-dollars, principally "bogus." Alas! for Tinkerville, and alas, for poor Michigan!

The distress among the poorer classes of farmers which was the immediate consequence of this and other Bank failures, was indescribable. Those who have seen only a city panic, can form no idea of the extent and severity of the sufferings on these occasions. And how many small farmers are there in Michigan who have not suffered from this cause?

The only adequate punishment which I should prescribe for this class of heartless adventurers, would be to behold at one glance all the misery they have occasioned; to be gifted with an Asmodean power, and forced to use it. The hardiest among them could scarcely, I think, endure to witness the unroofing of the humble log-huts of Michigan, after the bursting one of these Dead-sea apples. Bitter indeed were the ashes which they scattered!

How many settlers who came in from the deep woods many miles distant where no grain had yet grown, after travelling perhaps two or three days and nights, with a half-starved ox-team, and living on a few crusts by the way, were told when they offered their splendid-looking banknotes, their hard-earned all, for the flour which was to be the sole food of wife and babes through the long winter, that these hoarded treasures were valueless as the ragged paper which wrapped them! Can we blame them if they cursed in their agony, the soul-less wretches who had thus drained their best blood for the furtherance of their own schemes of low ambition? Can we wonder that the poor, feeling such wrongs as these, learn to hate the rich, and to fancy them natural enemies?

Could one of these heart-wrung beings have been introduced, just as he was, with the trembling yet in his heart, and the curses on his lips, into the gilded saloon of his betrayer, methinks the dance would have flagged, the song wavered, the wine palled for the moment at least. "Light is the dance and doubly sweet the lays When for the dear delight another pays." But the uninvited presence of the involuntary paymaster, would have been "the hand on the wall" to many a successful (!) banker.

After public indignation had in some measure subsided, and indeed such occurrences as I have described became too common to stir the surface of society very rudely, Mr. Harley Rivers returned to Montcute, and prepared at once for the removal of his family. I took leave of his wife with most sincere regret, and I felt at the time as if we should never meet again. But I have heard frequently from them until quite lately; and they have been living very handsomely (Mr. Rivers always boasted that he would live like a gentleman) in one of the Eastern cities on the spoils of the Tinkerville Wild Cat.

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