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Autobiographical Reminiscences of David Johnston
Chapter XVI


LONDON.

"Each year to ancient friendship adds a ring as to an oak, more and more precious without the aid of any merit of our own."

TO resume such labor as falls to the lot of a journeyman baker in London after so delightful and extended a season of recreation I own was rather irksome to me. But necessity has no law, and our respective characters were such as to remove all obstacles in finding employment in the metropolis, and our exchequer pretty low, so we stripped to the inevitable. John went to work near Pentonville, I in Millbank street, Westminster. In my employer, Mr. Archibald Michie, I found the most extraordinary man it had ever been my lot to meet. He was a student, a deep thinker, in fact, a practical philosopher. In later years I never read Carlyle or any other luminary in the field of letters but my mind was involuntarily carried back to that Aberdonian sage. The only blemish I could discover in him was what in my maturer years I have been led to deem his chiefest attribute, his discipline, which I then thought partook somewhat too much of the tight disciplinarian to be tolerated, and actually was the means of severing a year's relationship which was both pleasurable and profitable to me. His public character is well worthy of imitation, and I make mention of one effort of his which resulted in much good to the community:

Previous to the county court system of reform, in the adjudication of small debts there existed a court called the court of requests, an institution of antiquity and of corresponding abuse. The accumulating funds were manipulated by commissioners in a very unsatisfactory manner for years, bidding defiance to the press and others who dared to counsel investigation. At length Mr. Michie undertook to cleanse the Augean stable single-handed. After struggling for years against all odds, among whom were many lawyers of ability whose interest made them inimical to any change, to the satisfaction and advantage of a discerning public, succeeded. Mr. Michie may justly be said to be the originator of the county court system now prevailing. Cautioned against living with and working for this gentleman, for the reason that in all his domestic matters his discipline was such that no man could conform to it long, my answer was that I should like to live with a disciplinarian in order to acquire a little knowledge of that quality, the lack of which has been the bane of my whole life. I took my own course and became so much attached to my employer that the feelings of respect and admiration ultimately partook of the character of a species of hero worship. During the twelve months I lived with Mr. Michie the nation was thrown into mourning by the death of the king, George the Fourth, who died in Windsor Cottage in 1830. Some scandal arose from the fact that the Marchioness of Conynghame, against the popular prejudice, persisted in remaining at the cottage to nurse the king till his last breath. There were those who scouted the idea of impropriety on the part of the Marchioness. Among such I think it proper to make mention that Sophia's mother, Mrs. Jones, who lived many years in the family of the Marquis of Conynghame and nursed their son, Lord Mount Charles, bore testimony that all the years she was in the family she never heard the breath of scorn advanced against the lady. Mrs. Grainger lost her husband while in the service of that family, and while yet Mount Charles was in infancy, and at the urgent request of the Marchioness, while the Marquis was raising a regiment for the service of the crown, was induced to remain in an easy and comfortable position. The widow's weeds were scarcely doffed when the serene decorum of Mr. Jones, himself a widower and many years butler of the castle, got so bewildered by daily contact with the smiling countenance of the buxom widow that it attracted the attention of the Marchioness, and as match-making formed one of the most successful features of her ladyship's pastime the opportunity could not be passed unembraced, so that in due time the mansion rung with joy at the changing a Scottish name for that of a Welsh one. The" couple desired to leave, but the heads of the house met the proposition with an emphatic veto, the marquis saying: "We must not leave our work half done. With your kind co-operation we have accomplished much; a little more exertion and we shall secure the complement of men necessary, and then think of the glory of presenting our noble king with as splendid a regiment of Irishmen as ever fought under the flag of the three united kingdoms. Stay and return to London with us, and share our laurels, a share to which you are justly entitled. I am not insensible to the popularizing effect of what. I often deemed an impertinent interference with the maintenance of discipline. I now see that, deprived of your active humanity, the recruiting sergeant would have perambulated in vain."

Mrs. Jones grew gray in the Conynghame family, but not so with Mr. Jones, who, in about a year after their marriage, was taken down with a fever that baffled the best skill within reach, and died about fifty years of age, very much respected. He left his widow, who was about forty, some property, which was judiciously invested, and on the proceeds of which she and her daughter Sophia frugally lived. Anything occurring to disturb the relationship between my employer and myself I thought impossible, but after twelve months' smooth sailing the sunken rock was struck at last. One Saturday evening I left the shop at seven o'clock for Somers Town, a good hour's walk, and leaving Sophia at forty-five minutes past nine, being fatigued, an hour and a quarter was consumed in the transit. I arrived at Mr. Michie's door as the clock at Lambeth Palace was striking eleven. The door was closed. I looked through the key-hole and there saw Mr. Michie standing with a lighted candle in his hand, which he instantly blew out. I knocked again and again, but no answer. I asked through the key-hole if he intended to let me in. No answer. The wind was high and cold, and I then told him that it was very bad treatment, but it was the last time he should have the power of closing his door against me on a Saturday night. I was glad to take shelter in a public house in the neighborhood, but sleep I could not. In the morning I made my appearance for work. We met. Calm generally follows the storm, but in this case we had the calm first, then came the storm:

DIALOGUE: "Why did you break the rule last night that you have kept so well?" "Sir, I beg your pardon; you broke the rule, and that in a heartless manner, not I. But you cannot again act so inhospitably to me, for I will never make application to get into your house again." "Do you mean to say that you give up your place?" "I did not say that, but if my situation as your foreman depends on the ridiculous Saturday night rule, our relationship terminates next Saturday." He seemed chagrined at the result. Each was too proud to yield, but in the course of the week he seemed more considerate, and on Friday he condescended to ask if it was my intention to leave on the morrow. I told him I had no desire to leave a place. I liked so well.

"Then, if you'll stay, I will raise your wages two shillings a week, but of course you must comply with my rules." In vain I told him that the lady I visited was respectable, and that she was about to become my wife, and that the only evening we could be together was Saturday, and to be dragged away from one you love simply to comply with a rule that should be more discriminating, and which amounts in my case to cruelty, and therefore not entitled to respect. I was sorry to perceive that the last remark hurt the feelings of the man whom I esteemed as a benefactor. We parted kindly, but parted in sorrow. I was gratified to find that my leaving was approved of by Mrs. Jones, who for the first time inquired into my prospects in the immediate future. I informed her that at the death of my mother I should be put into possession of two hundred pounds, but that the interim was gloomy. She then, to my astonishment, said that if so small a sum as two hundred pounds could be made available of getting me into business, I could have that amount tomorrow. In thanking her for such a munificent offer I said, I think it might be well to look around for a few days and consult the columns of the Times. A week had not elapsed when the business of Mr. Fair, of Holywell street, Westminster, was advertised for sale. To ascertain the true value of a business a few days are required to investigate. In doing so I had to pass Mr. Michie's shop. One day he called me in and asked if it were true that I possessed the sum of two hundred pounds and that I was taking steps to throw it away? In answer to his inquiries, seeing that he was actuated by a desire to serve me, I unbosomed myself. Then he gave me to understand the true value of character, and was pleased to say that my character, backed with the amount of cash in hand, would command the good will of any business in town to the extent of a thousand pounds. Even now there is in the market a business in Peckham worthy of your notice. You may step over there now and give my compliments to Mrs. Wighton, and offer her seven hundred pounds for the unexpired twelve years of her twenty-one years' lease. Entirely ignorant of the means to be employed in raising a sum so far beyond my present capacity, I ventured a query, which was met by, "Do as I tell you, and lose no time." Born to command, his fiat is law. In obedience to this mysterious dictum I found myself on Tanner's coach to Peckham, and presently in contact with a fine business lady, Mrs. Wighton.

DIALOGUE: "I am informed the good will of this business is for sale. Are you authorized to treat with a bidder?" "I am." (The reader is informed that the price of a business of this kind in London is mainly gauged by the number of sacks of flour consumed per week, each sack containing 280 pounds.) "How many sacks?" "Eight." "Length of lease?" "Twelve years to run." "Price?" "Eight hundred pounds." "That's high. Won't you take less?" "I would rather have more," she said; "but Mr. Wighton put the price down low in consequence of the distance between here and his new business at Chelsea." "If you will allow me to examine your books I will make you an offer." " Certainly, there are the books," which I found straight, and on the strength of this I offered seven hundred pounds. This would not do, and it required all of two minutes to dock the price to the extent of fifty pounds, and ten more minutes for the cleverest woman in business I had ever met, to handsomely tumble down to my terms.

On reporting progress to my mentor I waited instructions for the second act in the drama, but hadn't long to wait. "You want to raise five hundred pounds, for I take it for granted the terms of your offer are cash. You will therefore meet Mr.------, the miller, at the Bridge House Hotel, Blackfriars, to-morrow, at two o'clock." Ten minutes anterior to that hour I stood before a man in livery, who obsequiously asked my business. On being informed he seated me in a handsome parlor, saying Mr.------would be present in five minutes. Punctually the presence of Mr.------was felt as well as seen.

DIALOGUE: "Your name is David Johnston, I believe?" "Yes, sir." "And you want to borrow five hundred pounds of me, do you not?" " I really don't know, sir. Mr. Michie requested me to seek an interview with you, and it is true that I stand in need of that sum to enable me to complete the purchase of a business in Peckham." "That is just like Michie. What security have you to offer for the loan of five hundred pounds ? " "I have no security to offer." " If I should lend you that sum, at five per cent interest, how do you intend to pay it back?" "As soon as I can in order to get rid of the interest." "Any objection to leave the lease with me while you are under the obligation ?" "None whatever." "Or to insure your life for that sum?" "None." "When do you want this money?" "We have arranged with Mrs. Wighton to take possession on the day following my wedding, which will take place at St. Pancras Church on Monday next. I should like the money on the day of taking possession." "You shall have it. Good-day; I wish you joy, and prosperity in business."

On the following Monday was duly solemnized, in New St. Pancras Church, New Road, the rites of marriage between David Johnston and Sophia Grainger, and on the day following we took possession of a home in which we spent our honeymoon. I may say, indeed, that the cream of my existence was spent in Peckham, of which more anon.


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