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Wilson's Border Tales
Mr Samuel Ramsay Thriven

Chapter 3

Of all men in the world, a bankrupt requires to wear a lugubrious look. It is proper, too, that he should keep the house, hold out the flag of distress, and pretend that he is an unfortunate mortal, who has been the prey either of adverse fate or designing rogues. Of all this Mr Thriven was as well aware as ever man could be; no man could have acted the dyvour better than he, even though he had been upon the pillory, with the bankrupt’s yellow cap on his head. Creditors kept calling upon him—some threatening imprisonment, and some trying to cajole him out of a preference; but Mr Samuel was a match for them all.

"It is all very well to look thus concernedly," said Mr Homer, a large creditor; "but will this pay the two-hundred pounds you owe me?"

"Would to Heaven that it might!" replied Mr Thriven, drawing his hand over his eyes; "but, alas! it is the peculiar feature of the misfortune of bankruptcy, that a man who has been himself ruined—ay, burnt out of his stock by a fire, that he had no hand in raising, and thus made a beggar of, probably for ever—receives not a single drop of sympathy in return for all the tears he sheds for his unfortunate creditors. Your case concerns me, sir, most of all; and, were it for nothing in the wide world but to make up your loss, I will from the ends of my laborious fingers, and to the latest period of a wretched existence."

And Mr Homer being mollified, he was next attacked by Mr Wrench.

"It is but fair to inform you, sir," said the vulture-faced dealer in ginghams, "that I intend to try the effect of the prison upon you."

"That is because the most wicked of nature’s elements— fire—has rendered me a beggar," replied Mr Samuel, rubbing again his eyes. "it is just the way of this world: when fate has rendered a man unfortunate, his fellow-creature, man, falls upon him to complete his wretchedness; even like the creatures of the forest, who fall upon the poor stag that has been wounded by the fall from the crags, man is ever cruelest to him who is already down. Yet you, who threaten to put me in jail, are the creditor of all others whose case concerns me most. The feeling for my own loss is nothing to what I suffer for yours; and, I will never be satisfied till, by hard labour, I make up to you what I have been the unwilling and unconscious instrument of depriving you of."

And having got quit of Wrench, who declared himself not satisfied, though his threat, as he departed, was more feebly expressed, he was accosted by Mr Bairnsfather.

"Your face, sir, tortures me," said Mr Samuel, turning away his head, "even as one is tortured by the ghost of the friend he has murdered with a bloody and relentless hand. All my creditors put together do not furnish me matter of grief equal to your individual case. Do not I know that you are the father of ten children, whom probably I have ruined. Yet am I not also ruined, and all by a misfortune whose origin is beyond the ken of mortals."

"You have spoken a melancholy truth, Mr Thriven," replied the father; "but will that truth feed my children?"

"No, sir; but I will feed them, when once discharged under a sequestration," rejoined Mr Thriven. "Your case, above all the others, it shall be my care to assuage. Nor night nor day shall see my energies relaxed, till this wrong shall be made right."

"Our present necessities must be relieved," rejoined the parent. "Could you not give us a part of our debt, in the meantime?"

"And be dishonest in addition to being unfortunate!" ejaculated Mr Samuel. "That, sir, is the worst cut of all. No, no. I may be imprisoned, I may be fed on bread and water, I may be denied the benefit of the act of grace, but I shall never be forced to give an undue preference to one creditor over another. You forget, Mr Bairnsfather, that a bankrupt may have a conscience."

After much more of such converse, Mr Bairnsfather retired. And the next who came for the relief which she was not destined to receive, was Widow Mercer.

"This is a dreadful business, Mr Thriven," said she, as she ran forwards in the confusion of unfeigned anguish.

"Dreadful, indeed, my good lady," answered he; "and who can feel it more than myself—that is, after you?"

"You are a man, and I am a woman," rejoined the disconsolate creditor; "a woman, who has struggled since the death of her good husband, to support herself and a headless family, who, but for their mother’s industry, might have, ere now, been reduced to seek their bread as the boon of pity. But, ah, sir, it cannot be, that you are to class me with the rest of your creditors. They are men, and may make up their losses in some other way. To me the loss of fifty pounds would be total ruin. O sir, you will!—I know by that face of sympathy, you will make me an exception. Heaven will bless you for it; and my children will pray for you to the end of our lives.

"All this just adds to my misery," replied Mr Samuel, "and that misery, heaven knows, is great enough already. Your case is that of the mother and the widow; and what need is there for a single word, to tell me that it stands apart from all the others. But, madam, were I to pay your debt, do not you see that both you and I would be acting against the laws of our country. What supports me, think ye, under my misfortune, but the consciousness of innocence. Now, you would cruelly take away from me that consciousness, whereby, for the sake of a fifty-pound note, you would render me miserable here, and a condemned man hereafter. A hotter fire, of a verity, there is, than that which burnt up my stock. But I am bound to make amends for the loss I have brought upon you; and you may rest assured that, as soon as I am discharged, I will do my best for you and your poor bereaved sons and daughters."

And thus Mr Thriven managed these importunate beings, termed creditors, in a manner that he, doubtless; considered highly credible to himself, in so far as he thereby spread more widely the fact that he had been ruined by no fault of his own, at the same time that he proved himself to be a man of feeling, justice, and sentiment. Meanwhile, his agent, Mr Sharp, was as busy as ever an attorney could be, in getting out a sequestration, with the indispensable adjunct of a personal protection, which the Lords very willingly granted upon the lugubrious appeal, set forth in the petition, that Mr Thriven’s misfortunes were attributable to the element of fire. A fifty-pound note too, sent his shopman, Mr Joseph Clossmuns, over the Atlantic; and, the coast being clear, Mr Thriven went through his examinations with considerable eclat.

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