"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
"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
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
"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
"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?"
"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.