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Wilson's Border Tales
Mr Samuel Ramsay Thriven

Chapter 4

"These men," said Mr Thriven, after he got home to dinner, "have worried me so by their questions, that they have imposed upon me the necessity of taking some cooling liquor to allay the fervour of my blood. I must drink to them besides, for they were, upon the whole, less severe than they might have been; and a bottle of cool claret will answer both ends. And now," he continued, after he drank off a bumper to the long lives of his creditors—"the greatest part of my danger being over, I can see no great risk of my failing in getting them to accept a composition of five shillings in the pound. But what then? I have no great fancy to the counter. After all, a haberdasher is at best but a species of man milliner; and I do not see why I should not, when I get my discharge in my pocket, act the gentleman as well as the best of them. All that is necessary is to get the devout Miss Angelina M’Falzen, who regenerates the species by distributing good books, to consent to be my wife. She has a spare figure, a sharp face, and a round thousand. Her fortune will be a cover to my idleness; and then I can draw upon the sum I have made by my failure, just as occasion requires."

At the end of this monologue, a sharp broken voice was heard in the passage; and Mr Samuel Thriven’s bottle of claret was, in the twinkling of an eye, replaced by a jug of cool spring water.

"Ah, how do you do, my dear, Miss M’Falzen?" cried Mr Samuel, as he rose to meet his devout sweetheart.

"Sir," responded the devout distributor of tracts, stiffly and coldly, "you are in far better spirits than becomes one who is the means of bringing ruin on so many families. I expected to have found you contrite of heart, and of a comely sadness of spirits and seriousness of look."

"And yet I am only feasting on cold water," replied Samuel, letting the muscles of his face fall, as he looked at the jug. "But you know, Miss Angelina, that I am innocoent of the consequences of the fire, and, when one has a clear conscience, he may be as happy in adversity over a cup of water, as he may be in prosperity over a bottle of claret."

"A pretty sentiment, Mr Thriven—la! a beautiful sentiment," replied Miss Angelina; "and, satisfied as I am of your purity, let me tell you that our intercourse shall not, with my will, be interrupted by your misfortune. I would rather, indeed, feel a delight in soothing you under your affliction, and administering the balm of friendship to the heart that is contrite, under the stroke which cannot be averted."

"And does my Angelina," cried Samuel, "regard me with the same kindness and tenderness in my present reduced circumstances, as when I was engaged in a flourishing trade, which might have emboldened me to hope for a still more intimate, ay, and sacred connexion?"

"Mr Thriven," replied the other, gravely, "I have called in behalf of Mrs Mercer."

Samuel’s face underwent some considerable change.

"I have called in behalf of Mrs Mercer, who has reported to me some sentiments stated by you to her, of so beautiful. and amiable a character, and so becoming a Christian, that I admire you for them. You promised to do your utmost, after you are discharged, to make amends to her and her poor family for the loss she will sustain by your bankruptcy. Ah, sir, that alone proves to me that you are an honest, innocent, and merely unfortunate insolvent; and to show you that I am not behind you in magnanimity, I have paid her the fifty pound wherein you were indebted to her, and got an assignation to her debt. You may pay me when you please; and, meanwhile, I will accept of the composition you intend to offer to your creditors."

"Fifty pound off her tocher," muttered Samuel between his teeth, and then took a drink of the cold water, in the full memory of the claret.

"It scarcely beseems a man," said he, "to be aught but a silent listener when his praise is spoken by one he loves and respects. But, is it possible, Miss M’Falzen, that my misfortune has not changed those feelings—those—excuse me, Miss Angelina—those intentions with which, I had reason to believe, you regarded me?"

And, with great gallantry, he seized the fair spinster round the waist, as he had been in the habit of doing before he was a bankrupt, to show, at least, that he was now no bankrupt in affection.

"To be plain with you, sir," replied she, wriggling herself out of his hands, "my intention once was to wait until I saw whether you would come unscathed and pure out of the fiery ordeal; but, on second thoughts, I conceived that this would be unfair to one whom I had always looked upon as an honest man, though, probably, not so seriously minded a Christian as I could have wished; therefore," she added, smiling—yet no smiling matter to Samuel—"I have, you see, trusted you fifty pounds—a pretty good earnest—he! he! that my heart is just where it was."

Mr Samuel Ramsay Thriven kissed Miss Angelina M’Falzen.

"But oh, sir," she added, by way of protest, "I hope and trust that not one single spot shall be detected in your fair fame and reputation, and that you will come forth out of trial as unsullied in the eyes of good men, as you were pure in the estimation of one who thus proves for you her attachment."

"Never doubt it," replied Mr Samuel. "Innocence gives me courage and confidence."

He placed, theatrically, his hand on his heart.

"And what think you," added Miss Angelina, "of John Bunyan’s book, which I lent you, and which I now see lying here? Is it not a devout performance—an extraordinary allegory? How much good I do by these kind of books! Ha, by the by, Mrs Bairnsfather, good creature, wishes to read it. So I shall just put it in my pocket. To be plain with you, she is much cast down, poor creature, by the loss her husband has sustained through your involuntary failure; and I have said that she will find much comfort in the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’"

"A stanch book, madam," replied Samuel, seriously—"an extraordinary allegory, worth a piece of the vellum of the old covenant. I have derived great satisfaction and much good from it. I have no doubt it will support her, as it has done me, under our mutual affliction."

"Oh, how I do love to hear you talk that way," replied Miss Angelina. "It is so becoming your situation. When do you think you will get a discharge? I will answer for Mr Bairnsfather agreeing to the composition; and you know I am now a creditor myself in fifty pounds. Of course you have my vote; but you will tell me all about it afterwards. Good day, Mr Thriven."

"Good day, Miss M’Falzen."

The which lady was no sooner out than was the bottle of claret. In a few minutes more Mr Thriven was laughing over his replenished glass, as totally oblivious of the secret carried away by his lover, on the blank leaf of the good old tinker’s book, as he was on that night when he made free with the two bottles of port as good as Ofleys.

"The matter looks well enough," said he. "I can make no manner of doubt that my composition will be accepted; and then, with the two thousand five hundred, at least, that I will make of my bankrupthy, and the round thousand possessed by Miss Angelina M’Falzen, I can perform the part of a walking gentleman on the great stage of the world."

"Is Mr Thriven within?" he now heard asked at the door.

"Ho, it is Sharp!" muttered he, as he shoved the bottle and the glass into a recess, and laid again hold of the water-jug.

"Water, Thriven!" cried the attorney, as he bounded forward and seized the bankrupt by the hand. "Water; and Miss Grizel M’Whirter of Cockenzie dead, of a dead certainty, this forenoon; and you her nephew, and a will in her drawers, written by Jem Birtwhistle, in your favour, and her fortune ten thousand; and the never a mortal thought the old harridan had more than a five hundred.

"The devil a drop!" cried Mr Samuel Thriven. "The devil a drop of water; for, have I not in this press a half bottle of claret, which I laid past there that day of the fire, and never had the courage to touch it since. But me her heir! Ho, Mr Joseph Sharp, you are, of a verity, fooling a poor bankrupt, who has not a penny in the world after setting aside his composition of five shillings in the pound. Me her heir! Why, I was told by herself that I was cut off with a shilling; and you must say it seriously ere I believe a word on ‘t.

"I say it as seriously," replied the writer; "as ever you answered a home-thrust to-day in the sheriff’s office, as to the amount of stock you lost by the burning of your premises—as sure as a decree of the fifteen. I say your loss had made her repent; so come away with the claret.’

Mr Thriven emptied the whole of the half bottle, at one throw, into a tumbler.

"Drink, thou pink of an attorney!" said he, and then fell back into his chair, his mouth wide open, his eyes fixed on the roof, and his two hands closed in each other, as if each had been two notes for five thousand each.

"Are you mad, Mr Thriven?" cried Sharp, after he had bolted the whole tumbler of claret.

"Yes!" answered Mr Samuel Ramsay Thriven.

"Have you any more of this Bourdeaux water in the house?"

"Yes!" answered Mr Thriven. "Open that lockfast," (pointing to a press,) "and drink till you are only able to shout ‘M’Whirter’‘—‘Cockenzie’—‘Thriven’—‘ten thousand’—‘hurra!’—and let never a word more come out of you, till you fall dead drunk on the floor."

The first part of the request, at least, was very quickly obeyed, and two bottles were placed on the table, one of which the attorney bored in an instant, and had a good portion of it rebottled in his stomach by the time that Mr Thriven got his eyes taken off the roof of the chamber.

"Hand me half a tumbler!" cried he, "that I may gather my senses, and see the full extent of my misfortune."

"Misfortune!" echoed Sharp.

"Ay!" rejoined Samuel, as he turned the bottom of the tumbler to the roof. "Why did Grizel M’Whirter die, sir, until I got my discharge?"

"Ah, sir!" replied Sharp, on whom the wine was already begun to operate—"You have thus a noble opportunity of being the architect of a reputation that might be the envy of the world. You can now pay your creditors in full—twenty shillings in the pound, and retain five thousand to yourself, with the character of being that noblest work of Nature—an honest man."

"When a thing is utterly beyond one’s reach," rejoined Samuel, looking, with a wry face, right into the soul of the attorney, "how beautiful it appears."

Sharp accepted coolly the cut, because he had claret to heal it, otherwise he would have assuredly knocked down Mr Samuel Thriven.

"I beg your pardon, Mr Sharp!" continued his friend; "but I felt a little pained, sir, at the high flown expression of the great good that awaits me, as if I were not already conscious of being, and known to be that noblest work of Nature. The cut came from you, Mr Sharp, and I only returned it. All I regret, sir, is, that my aunt did not live till I got my discharge, because then, not being bound to pay my creditors one farthing, I might have paid them in full, without obligation at all, and thereby have proved myself what I am—a generous man. No more of the claret. You must away with me to Cockenzie, to see that the repositories are sealed, and the will safe."

"By my faith, I forgot that!" replied Sharp; "a pretty good sign that, if you are a generous man, I am not a selfish one. We had better," he added, "let the claret alone till we return from Cockenzie. What think you?"

Now Samuel had already told Sharp that he was to have no more of the wine; and the question of the attorney, which was a clear forestaller, would have angered any man who was not an heir (five minutes old) of ten thousand. But Samuel knew better than to quarrel with the attorney at that juncture; so he answered him in the affirmative; and, in five minutes afterwards, the heir and the lawyer were in a coach, driving off to Cockenzie. The bankrupt was, in a few minutes more, in a dream—the principal vision of which was himself in the act of paying his creditors in full with their own money, and earning a splendid reputation for honesty. The sooner he performed the glorious act, the greater credit he would secure by it; his name would be in the Courant and the Mercury, headed by the large letters— "Praiseworthy instance of honesty, coming out, in full strength, from the ordeal of fire."

"What has Miss Angelina M’Falzen been doing at the house of Mrs Bairnsfather?" cried Sharp, as he turned from the window of the carriage (now in the Canongate) to the face of Samuel, whose eyes were fixed by the charm of his glorious hallucination.

"Lending her the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress!’" answered Samuel, as he started from his dream.

Now Sharp could not for the life of him understand this ready answer of his friend, for he had put the query to awaken him from his dream, and without the slightest hope of receiving a reply to a question, which savoured so much of the character of questions in general; so he left him to his dream, and, in a short time, they were at Cockenzie.

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