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Wilson's Border Tales
Cousin Henderson


"All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players."—

"How disagreeable you are, Mr Maxton!" said the better-half of that gentleman, as they sat at breakfast one day about eleven o’clock—no uncommon occurrence with them. "How disagreeable you are, always reminding me of those sums I lost at play. You forget the days when I win."

"But you should never lose, madam!" was Mr Maxton’s sensible observation.

"Come, come," said the lady, coaxingly, "you will run no risk in advancing me a hundred to-day. I’ll play with Lady Ramfoozle she is the most foolish creature possible. Give me hundred, I say, and I’ll engage to win a thousand."

"Well, well," said the complying husband, "but choose your adversaries Have nothing to do with your pruddent and attentive people, who observe every card, let your party consist of the giddy and the foolish—they are the best players for you."

"Oh, leave me alone!"

"But, madam, it is high time to reprimand you seriously for your other extravagances."

"My dear sir," answered Mrs Maxton, "how often must I repeat to you, that the only thing that could possibly induce me to marry you, was to get rid of the ennui that troubled me singly."

"Madam, I don’t wish to deprive you of any of the privileges due to a married woman. Run here, run there, invite to your house whom you please, but only have some mercy upon my purse."

Mr Maxton, who has thus unceremoniously been thrust on the reader’s attention, was the proprietor of an extensive mercantile establishment in Glasgow, to which he paid as little attention as it is the fashion for men of fashion to do— that is, he seldom looked near his warehouse, but entrusted the entire management of his affairs to his chief clerk, who, as is usual on like occasions, was daily enriching himself at his master’s expense. The business was consequently going to wreck and ruin; and Mr Maxton was just let into a sufficient knowledge of his affairs, at this time, for him to comprehend that he was on the verge of bankruptcy. Yet still he went on in his fashionable career. He kept his town house, and his country house, his horses, and his dogs, gave balls, routes, and parties innumerable; and, in short, did everything in his power to dissipate, as quickly as he could, the small part of his property which yet remained. All this grand style of living he had imbibed, from seeing it carried on by his wife’s father—a man who had given his daughters an education far beyond what they were entitled to, and brought them up in a manner which adapted them only as wives for men of fortune; and the result of which was, as might be anticipated, he died a bankrupt. It was a piece of good luck, therefore, when he got hold of Mr Maxton, the son of the steadiest merchant on ‘Change, as a husband for his daughter, Florence. The old merchant himself was just dead, and his son had come in for the greater share of his fortune. The residue was left to a daughter, who had married a man named Bernard, for a number of years one of the most faithful clerks in the old gentleman’s counting-house, and whom she knew to be a good and amiable man. But, as it often happens, the best servants are the worst masters; and this truth she found when her husband, embarking in business on his own account with her money, met with such losses, that he shortly died of a broken heart, leaving her with two children, and with nothing almost to keep them in life. As this marriage had been gone into with the entire disapprobation of her brother, Mrs Bernard knew that it was almost useless to apply to him for relief. She once attempted it, and met with a refusal. Indeed, Mrs Maxton was so rude to her, that she resolved rather to starve than again apply for assistance where she expected and could find it not.

The only other relation of Mr Maxton in life, was a cousin, who twenty years before, had gone to seek his fortune in America. Mr Maxton, however, was not quite sure whether he was still living, as he had not heard from him for a number of years; nay, when he began to give the matter due consideration, he was certain that his cousin must be dead, as, being poor when he left England, he had never solicited any favour from Mr Maxton. How greatly was he surprised therefore on the very day on which he and his wife sat at breakfast, as before mentioned, when a servant entered the room, immediately after the tea things had been removed, and announced that a man wished to speak with him, who had brought tidings of Mr Henderson, the very cousin of whose death he had so recently assured himself to his own content.

This announcement was quickly followed by the entrance of the man himself. He was meanly attired, and dejected in his look, so that Mr Maxton almost regretted that he had desired such a fellow—bearing the very appearance of one in want of money—to be shown in.

"Well, sir," Mr Maxton at length gained speech enough to say, "what is your business with me?"

"My name is Henderson," answered the man. "I am a near relation of yours."

"I remember, sir," was the rejoinder of Mr Maxton, "having a relation of that name, but I thought him dead long since.’

"He lives, sir; and you see him now."

"Sir," replied Mr Maxton, "it is so long since I have seen or indeed heard anything about you, that you can hardly expect I should remember you."

"Yet we were most intimate friends when young," said Henderson, in a tone of voice partaking more of sorrow than of anger.

"Ay, college friends; but your business?"

"I had amassed in America, with much labour, a small independence, and, having lost a wife and only child, I resolved to return to my native land. The vessel in which I embarked was wrecked, and I alone, of all the crew and passengers, was saved. I have since undergone many hardships; and I came hither merely to implore your benevolence and interest to get me placed in some office."

"I’ll give this fellow a crown to get rid of him," said Mr Maxton, apart to his wife.

"You’ll do no such thing," she answered. "This is the common cant of all beggars. Dismiss him immediately, and order him never to return. A pretty kind of relation indeed!"

"Sir, I can do nothing for you," said Mr Maxton, turning to his cousin; "and so I beg you will excuse me, for I have business to attend to."

"Yet ere I go," said the poor man, "be kind enough to favour me with your sister’s address."

"Indeed, it is such a long time since I have seen her, that I forget. My servant, I dare say, can inform you. But you need hardly go there, as she has nothing for herself."

"Forgive my importunities; I am driven indeed to extreme distress; if you then could do anything for me do it; I suffer severely."

To this appeal, however, neither Mr nor Mrs Maxton would vouchsafe a satisfactory reply; and the poor man was compelled to leave the house. This he did with the most seeming submission.

Having ascertained the address of Mrs Bernard, he hastened to call upon her, where a quite different reception, from what he had experienced at her brother’s hands, met him. Although scarcely earning, by her needlework, sufficient to keep herself and children in existence, Henderson had no sooner mentioned who he was, than she offered to share her pittance with him for such length of time as he was out of employment.

Things remained in this state for several weeks—Henderson was dependent upon the bounty of Mrs Bernard. Deeply impressed as he was with gratitude for her kindness, can it be wondered at that, knowing the goodness of her heart, this sense should have ripened into love. He avowed his passion, and was accepted; and it was agreed that they should be married the moment Henderson got into some sort of employment. A day had only elapsed after this arrangement, and Henderson made known to Mrs Bernard that he had at length obtained a situation; nay, more, that he had taken a house, and the clergyman was there waiting to perform the ceremony.

With some little heart-fluttering and agitation, Mrs Bernard donned her best walking gear, and sallied forth with her intended husband.

How great was her astonishment, when, after passing through various streets, Henderson stopped before an elegant mansion in one of the most fashionable squares at the west end of the town! He rang; the door was opened by a livery servant, who led the way in silence to the drawing-room, where a few friends were assembled to witness the marriage ceremony.

"Pardon this deception," said Mr Henderson, seeing Mrs Bernard’s surprise. "This house is mine—I am proud to welcome you home. My poverty was assumed only to try my relations, for I know the hope of fortune too often renders the face of man hypocritical, and makes it assume the appearance of benevolence."

Mrs Bernard was quite overpowered by this unexpected stroke of fortune, and she would fain have retired to her humble dwelling again; but Mr Henderson called on her for the fulfilment of her promise, and that very day they were united.

Mr and Mrs Maxton, who had been informed of the design practised against them by their cousin Henderson, went instantly to see him at his residence. They attempted to pass off the whole matter as an excellent joke, and to pretend that they knew him to be what he was from the first. This was too thinly veiled not to be seen through, and he dismissed them from his house in nearly as summary a manner as they had dismissed him from theirs.

Cousin Henderson, and she whom he had chosen as "the partner of his house and heart," lived, like the lovers in fairy tales, to a good old age, happy in seeing around them their children’s children. They died within a week of each other. The same grave sufficed to hold their ashes.

Their worthy relation, Mr Maxton, awakening, ere long, to a sense of his approaching ruin, collected all the ready money he could lay his hands on, and, leaving his town house, his country house, his warehouse, and his servants, to the mercy of his creditors, embarked with his wife for New Orleans, where, it is hoped, they found out that most invaluable of all secrets—The art of living within one’s income.

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