As there are many ways of
contracting debts, so there are many ways of liquidating them. Good honest
people know only of the true legitimate mode of "coming down with the
dust," and getting a receipt upon a proper stamp. Simple-hearted beings!
how little do they know of the ways of the world or the subtleties of man!
The scheme of the cessio, whereby, as by a well-filled sponge,
thousands of pounds may be liquidated in a day, or the exquisite device of
the negative oath, by which a debt may be paid in a few
minutes—both beautiful expedients—are equally unknown to them; but there
are other modes of discharging debts not so well known or so much resorted
to as those we have now mentioned—and one of these we will now lay before
our readers with the assurance that the facts are absolutely true.
In the town of —, (if the
cap does not fit, do not put it on,) a poor woman, whose maiden name was
Finlayson, and who had a daughter married to an industrious tradesman,
named Gibb, died of a putrescent fever. Her son-in-law had been for some
time out of employment, and all his earnings had been consumed during that
unproductive period. He had no money, and his mother-in-law had left not a
farthing. Who then was to bury her? The parish would not interfere,
because the deceased’s brother, an undertaker in the same town, and
a very rich man, was the very person apparently pointed out, by nature and
circumstances, to do the last offices to his dead sister. But the brother
was not bound by law to bury his sister, and natural affection had no
influence with him, as well from an original hardness of heart, as from
the citadel of the passions having been laid hold of and occupied by the
love of filthy lucre. He would not undertake the funeral of his sister. It
is a fact—we pledge ourselves for it—he would not furnish a coffin to her,
except upon one condition, and that was that the poor industrious
daughter’s husband should become bound to pay her uncle the price of the
"dead-kist" for his own sister. Much time was occupied in the negotiation,
and poor Gibb was subjected to the heart-rending condition of seeing his
wife’s mother lying beyond "nature’s time," a corpse in his house, while
he was wrangling with her miserable wretch of a brother about the
conditions on which he would furnish the coffin. It was at last arranged.
Gibb granted his obligation—the coffin came—the old woman was put into her
"fir-fecket" and buried, and the £3, 15s., as the price of the box, became
a debt. Thus, poor Gibb must pay or go to jail. In the first place, he
collected from all quarters three thousand six hundred pieces of the
current coin of Great Britain, called farthings. These he carefully tied
up in a leather-bag, and, taking with him two trusty sooth-fast witnesses,
away he went, like a bold and independent man, to pay his debt. He chose a
very particular time for his visit, the hour of lifting of a very
rich burgher, whose funeral, conducted by the creditor, was to take place
"I’m come to pay my debt,
Mr Finlayson," said Gibbs stepping forward to the undertaker, who was
dressing himself for the funeral.
"I’m glad o’ that, John,"
replied the other, "as weel for yer ain sake as mine, for nae man can haud
up his head in society, if he’s awin a single farthing."
"An’ far less if he is
awing three thousand six hundred," said John, with a chuckle and a shake
of the bag.
"Feth, an’ ye’re a perfect
Cocker, John," rejoined the undertaker. "I daresay that is just the number
in £3, 15s.; but come away, man—ye see I’ve ae stocking on and anither aff.
It wants twenty minutes o’ the hour, and Bailie Adamson mauna lie a minute
after the liftin time."
"Your sister lay a week
after nature’s time," responded Gibb. "I am here to pay my debt, and have
nae concern wi’ the funeral o’ Bailie Adamson, wha wouldna hae paid a
single farthing for me, let alane three thousand six hundred, if he had
been leevin and I had been starvin."
"Weel, weel," cried
Finlayson, impatiently, "come awa, come awa. Here’s a stamp, and I’ll
write the receipt. We’ll sune knock it aff. Ane’s fingers are nimbler at
writing receipts than signing bills."
And he set about getting
pen and ink in a great hurry, with one leg still bare, and the stocking on
the other half rolled down. The receipt was written and lay unsigned on
the table, till the money was counted.
"Noo, noo, John—down wi’
the dust, lad, as quick as ye like," said the old hunks.
Gibb obeyed. The bag was
thrown with a loud noise upon the table. The undertaker started at the
"What’s this, man?" said
"My debt," calmly replied
John, proceeding at the same time gravely to open the bag, and pour the
three thousand four hundred farthings upon the table, to the great
surprise of the creditor, who could not at first comprehend the nature of
"There’s ane," said John,
taking up a farthing, and laying it carefully on the farthest corner of
the table, as if he intended to cover the entire board in the progress of
his laborious enumeration.
"There’s twa," he was
proceeding, when the creditor, on recovering himself, stopped him.
"What’s this o’t?" said he,
getting angry, as the truth became more apparent—"what do you mean, sir?"
"To pay my debt, in the
current coin o’ the realm," was the answer.
"It’s no a lawfu tender,"
cried the undertaker. "Besides, I hae nae time to stand and see ye count
that bagfu’ o’ bodles. I canna wait. Tak them awa, and bring me the usual
respectable circulating medium o’ the country, and ye’ll get yer receipt."
"I hereby offer ye, in
presence o’ these witnesses, payment o’ my debt, in the king’s coin,"
rejoined the determined debtor. "I am ready to proceed with my
enumeration.— There’s three."
"I canna submit to this
now," cried the undertaker, in an impatient tone. "The hour o’ Bailie
Adamson’s funeral is at hand. They’re waiting for me. Come back in the
afternoon, and we’ll no cast out about the kind o’ coin. I’ll gie ye a
discount for respectable looking cash."
"I want nae discount,"
"But I canna even speak
about it at present, man," replied the other. "See, there’s a message frae
the widow. Come, come—tak awa the bag, and come again in the afternoon."
And he breathlessly
proceeded in his operation of dressing; muttering deep curses as he drew
on the reluctant clothes, and stamping about the floor in a state of great
excitement. John remained immoveable, with the fourth farthing between his
finger and thumb.
"Do you refuse payment o’
yer debt, sir?" said he, with a provoking gravity.
"Curse your farthings!"
cried the undertaker, now getting to the height of fury, as he looked for
articles of dress he had, in his confusion and anger, mislaid, and went
raging through the room like one demented.
"Mrs. Adamson has sent for
ye, Mr. Finlayson," said the servant, now entering.
"Will ye no tak payment o’
yer debt, sir?" rejoined Gibb, in a softer tone.
"May the big-horned Mahoun
tak you and your debt thegither!" vociferated the now completely roused
undertaker. "I’ll hae nane o’t. Awa wi’ ye!" And, twisting his cravat
round his throat, he hurried out of the house.
The witnesses heard the
declaration. John gathered up his coins and proceeded home. In a week
after, he was cited before the bailies for payment of the debt. He
appeared with his witnesses. The natureof the debt was set
forth, and, indeed, the bailie had heard of the infamous transaction
previously, and was predisposed to favour the defender.
"Are you due the pursuer
the price of this coffin?" said the judge, to Gibb.
"In order to get my
mother-in-law buried," replied Gibb, "I did become bound to pay to her
brother, the pursuer, the price of the coffin. I offered him payment, and
Ian ready to prove that he refused it."
"Is this true, Mr.
Finlayson?" asked the judge.
"Partly, and partly no,"
replied the creditor. "He insulted me by offering me a bagfu o’
farthings—no a legal tender for sic a sum."
"And you refused the king’s
coin?" rejoined the judge. "What say the witnesses?"
The witnesses were
examined, and swore that Finlayson not only refused the farthings, but the
"I am bound to receive the
evidence of these men," said the judge, addressing the pursuer. "It is
indeed partly corroborated by your own statement. I say nothing of the
extraordinary nature of the debt itself—that lies between you and your
conscience; but you have refused the king’s coin in payment of your claim;
and this would be enough, although it was unsupported by the fact that
(perhaps in anger—I care not) you refused the debt altogether. No man is
bound to offer payment of a debt twice, and I therefore discharge the
defender, and declare that this coffin debt no longer exists."
A clap of hands from the
people in the court followed this sentence, and John Gibb was
congratulated by many on the result of his ingenuity.
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