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