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Wilson's Border Tales
Mr Samuel Ramsay Thriven

Chapter 6


Now all this time, while Mr Thriven’s creditors were in "The White Horse," he himself was in heaven; for Sharp and he having found all right at Cockenzie, returned and sat down to finish the claret which had been forestalled by the attorney before setting out. They resolved upon consigning Mrs Grizel M’Whirter to the cold earth a day sooner than custom might have warranted; and the reason for this especial care was simply that Mr Samuel wished, with all the ardour inspired by the Bourdeaux waters, to make a grand and glorious display of his honesty, by calling all creditors together, and paying them principal and interest--twenty shillings in the pound. They even, at this early period, set about making a draft of the circular letter which was to announce the thrilling intelligence.

"Heavens! what a commotion this will produce among the trade!" said Samuel, as he threw himself back in his chair, and fixed his enchanted eye on Sharp’s copy. "It will electrify them; and, sir, the editors of the newspapers are bound, as patrons of public virtue, to set it forth as an example to others to induce them to do the same in time coming. And now, since we have discussed so much business and claret, we will retire to our beds; I to enjoy the satisfaction of having resolved on a noble action, and you the hope of making a few six-and-eightpences by the death of Grizel M’Whirter of Cockenzie."

"A few!" cried Sharp, in an attorney’s heroics. "You will see, when you count them, I am not less honest or generous than yourself."

The friends thereupon separated, to enjoy in their beds the two pleasures incident to their peculiar situations.

At the end of the period—less, by one day, than the customary time of corpses being allowed to remain on the face of the earth—Mrs Grizel M’Whirter was buried; and as her will contained a specific assignation to the greater part of her money, the same was, in a day or two afterwards, got hold of by Mr Thriven, and out went the round of circulars to the creditors, announcing that, on the following Thursday, Mr Thriven would be seated in his house, ready to pay all his creditors their debts, and requesting them to attend and bring with them their receipts. Among these Miss Angelina M’Falzen—the very woman he had promised, before he succeeded to Miss Grizel M’Whirter’s fortune, to make a wife of; a pretty plain proof that now, when he had become rich, he intended to shake off the devout spinster who had attempted to reform him by lending him a copy of the allegory of the tinker of Elstow. The eventful day at length arrived, when Mr Thriven was to enjoy the great triumph he had panted for—viz., to pay his creditors in full every farthing, with their own money; and, at the hour appointed, a considerable number arrived at his house, among whom not a few knew, as well as they did the contents of their own Bibles, the nefarious device of the haberdasher. When the creditors were seated—

"It ill becomes a man," said Mr Thriven, affecting a comely modesty—"It ill becomes one who resolves merely to do an act of ordinary justice, to take credit to himself for the possession of uncommon honesty. Therefore, I say, away with all egotistical assumption of principles, which ought to belong to a man, merely (as we say in trade) as part and parcel of humanity; for, were it a miracle to be honest, why should we not tolerate dishonesty, which yet is, by the voice of all good men, condemned and put down. The debts due to you I incurred, why then should I not pay them? It makes not a nail of difference that I lost three-fourths of the amount thereof by fire; because, what had you to do with the fire? You were not the incendiaries. No; the fault lay with me; I should have insured my stock, in gratitude for the credit with which you honoured me. It is for these reasons that I now disdain to take any credit to myself for coming thus cleverly forward to do you an act of justice, which the will of Heaven has put in my power, by the demise of that lamented woman, Mrs Grizel M’Whirter, and which you could by law have forced me to do, though, probably, not so soon as I now propose to do it of my own free will and accord."

Mr Thriven paused for a burst of applause; and Mr Bairnsfather, with a smile on his face, stood up.

"It is all very well," said he, glancing to his friends "for Mr Thriven to pretend that no merit attaches to one who acts in the noble and generous way he has resolved to follow on this occasion. Every honest act deserves applause, were it for nothing else in the world than to keep up the credit of honesty. No doubt we might have compelled Mr Thriven to pay us out of the money to which he has succeeded, and to this extent we may admit his plea of no merit, but the readiness, if not precipitancy, he has exhibited on the measure, is not only in itself worthy of high commendation, but, by a reflex effect, it satisfies us all of that of which we probably were not very sceptical, that his failure was an honest one, and that he is not now making a display of paying us out of any other money than his own."

"Shall we not accord to these sentiments of our brother creditor?" said Mr Wrench, rising with great seriousness. "How seldom is it, in the ordinary affairs of life, that we find the true Mr Greatheart of the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress;’ but when we do find him, shall we not say to him, Let him have his reward?—and what shall that reward be? Empty praise? No! Mr Thriven needs not that, because he has the voice of conscience sounding within him—far more musical, I deem, to the ear of honesty than the hollow notes of external applause. A piece of plate? very good for praise-devouring politicians to place on the table when the clique is carousing and settling the affairs of the State, but altogether unsuitable for the gratification of meek, self-denied, retiring honesty. A book of morals? what say ye to that, friends? I throw it out merely as a hint."

"And I second the suggestion," said Mr Homer, "with the amendment, that there shall be an inscription on a blank leaf, setting forth, in detail, the merits of the individual, and where could we find a better than the allegory of the progress of the pilgrim, written by the tinker of Elstow?"

A round of applause, fully suitable to the appetite of Mr Samuel, followed Mr Homer’s amendment. The process of payment commenced, and was completed to the satisfaction of all parties; and when the creditors went away, Mr Thriven sat down to consider the position in which he stood. He had got applause, but he did not well understand it. Above all, he could not comprehend the allusion to the book written by John Bunyan. "Well," he said, as he took up the Mercury, "it is beyond my comprehension; and, after all, the good people may only mean to present me with some suitable gift in consideration of the act of justice I have this day done them. Let me see if there be any news;" and he fell back in his chair in that delightful langueur d’esprit to which a newspaper of all things is the most acceptable. "Why," he continued, as he still searched for some racy bit, "did not Sharp undertake to get a notice inserted, by way of an editor’s advertisement, of three lines, to immortalise me, and pave my way to the hand of Miss Clarinda Pott?" And he wrung the muscles of his face as if they had been like a dishclout filled with the humour of his bile. At length his eye stood in his head, his mouth opened, and he became what artists would call "a living picture." The part of the paper which produced this strange effect, consisted of merely a few lines to this import:—"New Light.—The matter which the fire in -----Street failed to illumine, has, we understand, been illustrated by no less an individual than John Bunyan, tinker at Elstow. Everything may be reduced to an allegory; the world itself is an allegory; and this scrap of ours is nothing but an allegory."

Samuel laid down the paper. "What can this mean?’ said he. "If this be not an allegory, I know not what is."

"Ah, sir, you are a man this day to be envied," said Miss M’Falzen, who now entered. "You have proved yourself to be an honest man. I was sure of it; and you know, Samuel, when all deserted you, I stuck fast by you, and even gave the—the—excuse me, sir—the consent you asked of me, while you had no prospect before you in this bad world other than beggary."

"What consent, ma’am?" replied Mr Thriven, with a face that displayed no more curiosity than it did love.

"Bless me, Mr Thriven, do you forget?—Is it possible that you can have forgotten so interesting an occasion?"

"I believe, by the by, ma’am, you have called for your debts," said Mr Thriven.

"Debt!" ejaculated the devout spinster. "Why should there be any debt between two people situated as we are. Why should not all claims be extinguished by the mixture of what Mr Sharp calls the goods in communion.. If I take this money from you to-day, won’t I be giving it back after the ceremony? True, my small fortune is now nothing to yours; yet I will remember with pleasure, and you will never surely forget, that all I had was at your service when you had lost all you had in the world so, you see, my dear Samuel, if you have this day proved yourself to have a noble spirit, I am not behind you."

"What is the exact amount of your claim, Miss M’Falzen?" said Mr Thriven, with a determination to distance sentiment.

"And would you really pay it, cruel, cruel man,’ said she, somewhat alarmed.

"Certainly, ma’am," replied he, drily.

"Are you serious?" said she again, looking him full and searchingly in the face.

"Yes," answered he, more drily than ever.

"Can it be possible that your sentiments towards me have undergone a change, Mr Thriven?" rejoined she. "Ah! I forgot. You are now a man of ten thousand pounds, and I have only one. The film is falling off my eyes. O deluded Angelina!"

"Then you will see the better to count the money I am to pay you," said he, attempting to laugh. "Fifty pounds, ma’am. Here it is; I will thank you for Mr Mercer’s bill."

"Well, sir, since it has come to this, I will none of the money. Alas! this is the effects of John Bunyan’s famous book. Good-day—good-day, Mr Samuel;" and the spinster, covering her face with her handkerchief, rushed out of the room.


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