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Wilson's Border Tales
Mr Samuel Ramsay Thriven

Chapter 5

"Well, my dear," said Mr Bairnsfather to his wife, when he came home to tea on that same afternoon of which we have now been narrating the incidents, "I hope you are getting over our losses; yet I have no very good news for you to-day, for all that Thriven intends to offer of dividend is five shillings in the pound."

"It is but a weary world this we live in!" said the disconsolate wife. "We are all pilgrims; and there is for each of us some slough of despond, through which we must struggle to the happy valley."

"What, ho!" rejoined the husband, "I have come home to tea, and you are giving me a piece of Bunyan. Come, lay down your book, for Mr Wrench and Mr Homer are to be here to get some of your souchong."

"And I," replied the goodwife, "asked Miss Angelina M’Falzen to come back and get a cup with us. I could not do less to the devout creature, for she took the trouble of going to Mr Thriven’s to-day, and getting from him the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ that she might bring it to me to reconcile me to the evils of life, and, among the rest, the loss which we have sustained by her friend’s failure."

"Poh! I hate all Pilgrim’s-Progress-reading insolvents!" rejoined the husband, taking the book out of his wife’s hands. "Go, love, and get ready the tea, while I sojourn with the Elstow tinker, in the valley of humiliation, out of which a cup of China brown stout and some converse will transport me to the ‘house beautiful."

And Mr Bairnsfather, while his wife went to prepare tea, and his many children were dispersed here and there and everywhere, got very rapidly into "Vanity Fair," of the which being somewhat aweary as he said, with a yawn, he turned the leaves over and over, and at last fixed his eyes on the leaf that had once been, though it was now no longer, blank. The awl of the Elstow tinker himself never could have gone with greater determination through the leather of a pair of bellows, than did Mr Bairnsfather’s eye seem to penetrate that written page. Like the seer of the vision of a ghost in the night, he drew his head back, and he removed it forwards, and he shut his eyes, and opened his eyes, and rubbed his eyes, and the more he did all this, the more he was at a loss to comprehend what the writing on the said blank leaf was intended to carry to the eyes of mortals. It was of the handwriting of Mr Samuel Ramsay Thriven, for a certainty—he could swear to it; for the bill he had in his possession—and whereby he would lose three-fourth parts of two hundred pounds—was written in the same character. What could it mean?

"What can it mean," he said, again and again.

"How should I, if you, who are a cleverer man, do not know, Mr Bairnsfather," said Mr Wrench, who was standing at his back, having entered in the meantime. "I have read the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ which Mrs B. says you are reading, more than once, and fairly admit that there are obscure passages in it. But here comes Mr Homer, who can perhaps unravel the mystery, if you can point out what limb of the centipede allegory it is which appears to you to have a limp."

"By my faith it is in the tail," said Mr Bairnsfather, as he still bored his eyes into the end of the book.

"Let me see the passage," said Mr Homer.

And all the three began to look at the writing, which set forth the heads and particulars of Mr Samuel Thriven’s gain by his bankruptcy.

"A very good progress for a pilgrim," said Mr Homer; and they looked at each other knowingly, and winked their six eyes, and nodded their three heads.

Miss M’Falzen and the tea came in at this moment. The three creditors were mute, and the devout spinster was talkative. Mrs Bairnsfather then filled up and handed round the tea-cups, (they sat all close to the table,) and her husband handed round to his two friends the book.

"What an interest that book does produce," said Miss Angelina, apparently piqued by the attention shown to the genius of the tinker.

"Come now, Miss Angelina," said Mrs Bairnsfather, "confess that that copy produces no small interest in yourself, considering the hands it was in to-day."

"Fie, fie! ma’am," rejoined the blushing spinster. "How could the touch of a man’s fingers impart a charm to mere paper. If Mr Thriven had appended some pretty piece of devout or poetical sentiment to it, why, you know, that would have made all the difference in the world, ma’am. He is really an excellent man, Mr Thriven; though we have all suffered in consequence of his loss, yet, I daresay, we all feel for his unmerited misfortune."

The three creditors were too much absorbed in Bunyan even to smile.

"When did you lend this copy to Mr Thriven?" inquired Mr Wrench; "and the two others fixed their eyes, filled with awful import, on the face of the devout spinster."

"Just the day before the fire!" replied she; "and, ah, sir, how delighted I am that I did it, for he assures me that it has sustained him wonderfully in his affliction."

The three men smiled, rose simultaneously, and retired to a parlour, taking Bunyan with them. Their looks were ominous; and Mrs Bairnsfather could not, for the world, understand the mystery. After some time, they returned, and looked more ominously than before.

"It is worth three thousand pounds, if it is worth a penny," said Mr Homer, seriously.

"Every farthing of it," rejoined Mr Wrench. "The most extraordinary book I ever saw in my life."

"An exposition miraculous, through the agency of Heaven," added Mr Bairnsfather.

Now all this time their tea was cooling, and the hostess examined and searched the eyes of her husband and guests. Have they all got inspired or mad, thought she; but her thought produced no change, for the men still looked and whispered, and shook their heads, and nodded, and winked, and left their tea standing, till she began to think of the state of the moon.

"How delighted I am," ejaculated Miss M’Falzen; "for I never saw such an effect produced by the famous allegory in any family into which I ever introduced it. You see the effect of agitation in devout matters, Mrs Bairnsfather."

"You know not half the effect it has produced on us, ma’am," said Mr Homer. "It has electrified us—so much so indeed, that we cannot remain longer to enjoy your excellent society. You will, therefore, ladies, excuse us if we swallow our tea cleverly, and go to promulgate in the proper quarters the information afforded us by this wonderful production."

"The sooner we are away the better," added Mr Wrench, drinking off his cup. "We must call a private meeting, and lay it secretly before them."

"Certainly," added Mr Bairnsfather; "and you, Miss M’Falzen, authorise us to tell the peregrinations of the book, into whose hands it has been, and how it came here."

"Bless you, sir," cried the devout spinster—while Mrs Bairnsfather kept staring at her husband and guests, unable to solve the strange mystery—"You do not know a tithe of the good that this little book has achieved. It has been in half the houses in the Cowgate and Canongate. It is relished by the poor, and sought after by the rich; it mends the heart, improves the understanding, and binds up the wounds of those that are struck by the hands of the archers. Oh! I agitate in the good cause mightily with it, and others of the same class; and may all success attend your efforts, also in so excellent a cause. Call meetings by all means, read, expound, examine, exhort, entreat, and, hark ye, take Mr Samuel Thriven with you, for his heart is in the cause of the improvement of his fellow-creatures, and he knows the value of the allegory of the devout tinker of Elstow."

"We cannot do without Mr Thriven," replied Mr Bairnsfather, with a smile; and while Mrs Bairnsfather was calling out to them to take another cup, and explain to her the meaning of their conduct, the creditors rose altogether, and, taking their hats and Bunyan, were in the point of leaving the room in great haste and manifest excitement, when the door opened, and the soft voice of Widow Mercer saluted them.

"Have you heard the news?" said she.

"Does it concern Mr Thriven?" replied more than one.

"Yes, to be sure it does," rejoined she. "We will all now get full payment of our debts, what think ye of that, sirs."

"Hush, hush," said Mr Bairnsfather, in the ear of the Widow. "Say nothing of the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ You know Miss M’Falzen is a friend of Mr Thriven’s."

"The ‘Pilgrim’s Progress," ejaculated the widow.

"Alas! he is, of a verity, mad," rejoined Mrs Bairnsfather.

"The ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’" again cried Mrs Mercer.

"Tush, we knew all about it," whispered Mr Wrench. "You also have seen the book."

"Yes," replied the widow, "I have, as who hasn’t? but Lord bless me!"—and she whispered in his ear—"what, in the name of wonder has the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ to do with Mr Thriven having got ten thousand pounds left him by Mrs Grizel M’Whirter."

The whisper was communicated to the two of their creditors by Mr Wrench. The three merchants, stimulated at the same moment by the same impulse of joy, laid hold of the good widow, and whirled her like a top round the room, snapping their fingers the while, and exhibiting other perfectly innocent demonstrations of gladness.

"The most extraordinary method of proselytising," said the spinster, "that I, who have carried on the trade of mending the species for many years, have ever yet seen."

"It is all beyond my poor wits together," added the wife.

And beyond her poor wits the creditors allowed it to remain, for they immediately went forth upon their intended mission. In some hours afterwards, accordingly, there was a secret meeting in "The White Horse," not less dangerous to Mr Samuel Thriven than was that held in the Trojan one to old Troy.

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