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THE YANKEE TRADING INSTINCT AND SOME AMUSING EXAMPLES
IN the ordinary processes of trade the Yankee is a firm believer in the old Roman Law of "caveat emptor" or "let the buyer beware." While there may be occasional instances of neighborhood disapproval where this principle has been worked out to the discomfiture of the too confiding, in general it is held in respect as the only basis for sound business. That there can be a new dispensation whereby business can be carried on safely on the basis of a tender altruistic regard for the financial safeguarding of those who lack the ability to think for themselves, and thus produce that utopia which certain enthusiasts would seem to regard as possible, has yet to be demonstrated,
Story of the Eccentric Cow
There was a man who wished to buy a cow. There was another man who had cows to sell. When the prospective buyer, known locally as "Ed," looked over the herd of the seller, his eye rested upon a certain cow which the latter was especially anxious to dispose of. He had indicated what he would take for several other cows, but had carefully refrained from making any reference to the particular cow. Noting this omission, the buyer gave the animal in question very special attention and asked the price. He was told that this cow was not for sale as she belonged to "Hannah," his wife. Ed immediately became convinced that Hannah's cow must be a very superior animal and lost all interest in the other quotations. However, he made very little headway at first, but finally the owner said he would go in and talk with his wife and see if she would consent to sell her cow. He went in the house and was gone quite some time, but finally appeared and said that his wife had consented to let the cow go, although it was apparent from his tone that she was very reluctant to part with it. The trade was soon made and Ed drove the cow home in triumph.
Shortly after the animal was established in her new home it was time to do the milking, and the proud owner proceeded to begin the operation. He soon found that the cow was quite reluctant to be milked and when she had kicked the milk pail across the stable two or three times, he called on his hired man for help. Together they attempted to mollify the fractious animal but the results were far from satisfactory.
The next morning the same comedy was enacted and Ed became quite pessimistic. He decided that it was sort of a mean trick for a neighbor to wheedle a woman into giving up her favorite cow and he drove to the farm of the original owner and told him so. He carefully refrained from making any reference to the eccentricities shown by the cow, believing that by a master stroke of diplomacy in showing such consideration for the other man's wife, he might negotiate an exchange. The former owner listened to his remarks and again said that he would talk the matter over with his wife. Ed waited .anxiously for the result. After an interval of ten or fifteen minutes the devoted husband once more made his appearance and informed Ed that Hannah had "got over feeling bad" and decided she would not be selfish in the matter.
The new owner of the temperamental cow greatly regretted his haste in concluding the bargain before he had inquired more definitely as to the cow's disposition. But, realizing that a trade was a trade, he made the best of the matter and no doubt derived enough amusement by telling the incident to his numerous acquaintances to offset his financial loss. Had he asked the original owner the plain question if the cow objected to being milked, he would have been told the facts without doubt. But, noticing his eagerness to buy, irrespective of all ordinary rules of prudence, the original Owner could not resist the temptation to drive a hard bargain.
In the earlier days of agriculture in New England, no farm of any size was regarded as properly equipped without a stalwart yoke of oxen, which were best adapted to the rough stumpy fields and relatively uneven highways. Although money was scarce, time was in adequate supply. There followed the necessity of that great empire building vehicle, the ox-cart.
Remarkable Incident of the Cart Wheels
There was a well-known resident of a certain rural community commonly referred to as "Uncle Reuben." Being a natural mechanic, he acquired an enviable reputation as a wheelwright who could turn out better cart-wheels than anyone in that region.
All the average farmer needed was the two wheels, which were built exactly alike; he could do the rest of the work himself in his spare time, the pole or "neap," as it was locally designated, being a simple affair, as also was the cart body.
To this master builder of cart-wheels there came one day a farmer from a remote mountain side and bargained for a pair which were to be paid for at some future time in farm products. The wheels were to be ready for delivery on the following Saturday week.
Uncle Reuben proceeded leisurely about his task, as work was rather slack, but completed his job on the Friday preceding the promised date and turned out a rather better job than usual. That very afternoon a well-to-do farmer from a nearby valley drove up to engage a pair of cart-wheels and as soon as he entered the shop, his eyes fell upon those just completed. They were exactly what he wanted and he insisted upon having them. Uncle Reuben told him the wheels were already sold and who was to have them. The man of affluence was urgent. Uncle Reuben could make the mountain farmer another pair and as a clinching argument proposed to pay cash for the wheels. Uncle Reuben hesitated but the temptation of ready cash payment instead of merchandise was too much. He accepted the offer, the money was paid and that evening the purchaser sent his man for the wheels.
All the next day Uncle Reuben worked feverishly on another pair of cart-wheels for the original purchaser. As he worked he formulated the excuse he must offer to allay the other man's disappointment. Along in the afternoon the mountaineer appeared to get his wheels. He did not get the wheels of course, but he carried away a most unique excuse. In his blandest manner Uncle Reuben explained the matter very clearly.
"Do you know," says he, "I don't see how in the world I could have done it, but when I had got the wheels all finished I found I had gone and built two right-hand wheels. A man came along who thought he could use them and I let them go."
There is probably no more effective form of the so-called "pitiless publicity" than that which throws its calcium moral rays upon the unconventional resident of a rural community in New England. There can be little that transpires that is not only well known but carefully weighed in the balances. There is an illuminating legend which tells of an unwise battle with rural public opinion.
Thrilling Experiences of a Mountain "Doctress"
A woman who with her husband and child had taken up her abode in a remote district was at first well received. She became interested in the little church and being of a bland disposition and an alert mind succeeded in passing the censorship with comparative credit. Unfortunately for herself and child the husband died and soon there were rumors that she was not showing a proper sense of bereavement. The local atmosphere became chilly and she decided that she must do something to indicate proper devotion to her husband's memory.
About fifteen miles away, there was a distant cousin of her late husband who was a dealer in monuments. To him she appeared one day and mournfully announced her desire to erect a monument to her late husband. She admitted that she had no money to pay for it, but said she had a piece of land with a house upon 'it and that she would willingly sacrifice that property to ensure the creation of a suitable memorial. The dealer and incidental relative was very favorably disposed, not only to the ingratiating widow, but to what apparently was a promising venture. A trade was soon made, the widow departed and in a short time the monument was properly erected in the cemetery. Nothing was said at that time as to a transfer of the real estate, but some weeks later the dealer being in the town where it was located, decided to take a look at his new property. He found a small irregular patch of rocks and bushes with a tumbledown rough board shanty upon it. A few inquiries soon made it clear that the joke was on him and he never made any move to secure a title. After a time the humor of the transaction overcame his disgust at the trick and he told the story on himself, to the great joy of those better acquainted with the characteristics of the widow.
It must be regretfully chronicled, however, that even the monument failed to reinstate the lady in the good graces of her feminine neighbors. She was lonely, very short of cash and possessed of an inventive mind; naturally there were developments. For years there was no lack of conversational topics in that community, at least among the women.
Shortly after the monument episode there appeared an imposing looking sign on the front of the widow's residence, containing her name with the very unusual title, "Doctress." Such medical knowledge as she possessed was not claimed to be the result of any special study but rather the evidence of some extraordinary intuition. There were plenty of similar instances in the days before the practice of medicine was legally restricted. It soon became apparent that the widow's patients were chiefly resident boarders, generally one or two lonely old widowers. In a vague sense, therefore, it may be seen that the widow had forecast in her mind the general idea of the sanitarium, then practically unknown- The hum of gossip reached a high crescendo and the sanitarium project was soon abandoned — not however, because of the gossip but for lack of sufficient clinical material to pay expenses. Thereupon the people of the township began to wonder what would happen next. They didn't have long to wait.
Although the possessor of extraordinary gifts in the healing art, the widow had other talents which were not kept in obscurity. She "dickered" in real estate in a necessarily small way and was a horse trader of recognized ability. But her ambition at this time was in the medical field and having removed to commodious quarters she announced her great discovery, "The Mountain Envigorator."
Although this panacea was widely heralded as calculated to relieve most of the physical ills of mankind, and although Emerson, the Sage, has pictured in graphic language the great procession of people who would eagerly penetrate the trackless wilderness to do business with the inventor of a better mouse trap than the one probably in use at the Philosopher's Concord residence, there was singular apathy manifest regarding the Envigorator. Sales were very, very slow and expenses large.
However, the widow was resourceful. She fitted out a two-horse pedlar's cart and engaged an assistant to travel about with her and help introduce her remedy.
Thereupon for a season the money began to flow back to the widow's purse. But such prosperity was too obvious to the assistant who soon began to clamor for an exorbitant salary. It was a crisis and must be met and was met.
At this time the widow's personal charms had become somewhat mellowed with age, but she decided to exercise them. The young man with a fortune in sight soon succumbed and they were married.
It will probably occasion no surprise to relate that the husband's financial demands soon exceeded his most preposterous claims as an employee. Dissensions arose, the business languished and the bridegroom departed- The widow also went away, never to return, but before leaving she accomplished a master stroke which aroused the admiration of the most censorious women of the countryside.
In a nearby village there was a woman who had succeeded in making herself feared for her vindictive type of gossip. She had long specialized on the widow's affairs. Not content with revealing what she knew, she finally surpassed herself with a story which could easily be shown to be false. The victim saw her opportunity and the romancer was given her choice of an immediate retraction or jail. A day or two later the widow and the gossiping dame made the rounds of the village and adjacent farms. At each call the hostess was informed by the widow that her companion had an explanation to make. Whereupon the woman of the poison tongue would proceed to relate that in telling the story in question, she had drawn wholly upon her imagination. Before the housewife could recover from her astonishment at such an unprecedented narrative, the widow and her victim would have departed to convey the glad tidings elsewhere.
While there are few who can surpass the typical New England Yankee as a natural shrewd trader, there are numerous residents of that section of Canadian-French, Irish or Italian ancestry, who are amply qualified to hold their own. A conspicuous example of this type of shrewdness is recorded in which an Irishman, widely known as "Tim," took the leading part.
Expedient of the Cow Buyer
"Tim" had a large farm and always had cows to sell to buyers, provided he could get his price, which was usually a stiff one. To replace animals thus disposed of, he would travel around the surrounding country, securing a cow here and there, as they could be picked up at his price. A fortunate sale left him very short of dairy cows, and hearing of a farmer living some distance away, who had some to sell, he lost no time in appearing on the scene.
The farmer in question had twenty good looking animals, but even Tim, with all his experience and judgment, could not for the life of him make up his mind which were the most desirable for his purpose. As he saw the farmer did not know who he was, he assumed the guise of the confiding novice. He asked the farmer to put a price on ten cows, as he might select from the herd. After some hesitation the seller named a figure which was a very fair price for good cows but a high price for most any other kind. Every herd has its star performers and just how to get the best from the herd was a problem. After much discussion and innocent talk on his part, Tim finally asked the farmer to recommend the cows that would be likely to be satisfactory to him, if he was to accept his offer. This idea seemed to be attractive to the seller, and he proceeded to point out a cow here and there in the herd until he had finally named the ten to make up the order. Tim's decision was immediate.
"All right," said he, "I'll take the other ten."
This was an unexpected turn of affairs to the seller, but he was a man of his word and Tim drove his ten best cows away with that deep sense of satisfaction which the skillful trader always experiences when things have come his way.
It may be assumed therefore that the modern form of sentimentalism, of which we hear so much in certain circles, whereby the energetic and thrifty are held in disapproval because they do not show a tender solicitude for the indolent and incapable, is not widely prevalent in rural New England. Every real Yankee who gets the losing end of a trade, under fair circumstances, accepts the results of his own incapacity and resolves to be more cautious in the future. As an example of this give and take state of public opinion may be mentioned the case of the man who had contracted with a mechanic for a new milk sled.
The History of a Milk Sled
The mechanic was well qualified. It could be taken for granted that a finished article from his hands would be satisfactory. The only difficulty was in getting him to complete the job. Being occupied with various details he was inclined to procrastinate. In this instance he made an excellent start, had the sled well near completion, and then for some unaccountable reason could not seem to get the time to finish it. The customer would inquire every day or two as to the prospects. There was an abundance of promises but very little action. Several weeks went by . The situation became very exasperating.
The builder of sleds had an excellent article of his own employed in his collateral enterprises. One day the customer whose old sled was now in the last stages of dilapidation, saw the mechanic on his way to town and came to an instant decision. He drove to the latter's home, changed his horses to the mechanic's sled and proceeded about his business. When he saw the owner he told him he could have his property back when he had finished the job promised weeks before. The mechanic grinned appreciatively, and in a very short time the contract was completed.