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Tales of the Scottish Peasantry
Jonathan Moudiwort


Chapter IV.

Poetical Justice—Untoward Accidents, and the Conclusion.

In this age of wonders, a most foolish idea has somehow or other gone abroad—namely, that such meritorious persons as Mr. Moudiwort are fitting subjects for what is called " poetical justice." That is to say, it would gratify certain fanciful individuals to hear that he had been visited with some terrible misfortune; because, forsooth, he did not give Duncan Todleben a great deal more money than was necessary for his cow; and did not keep his refractory servants and pay them their full wages when the law—the very fountain of justice—justified him in turning them off and giving them nothing; and, finally, because, after having walked and talked so much with Miss Evergreen, and actually gone so far as to solicit a private conference, he did not run through fire and water to marry her! The reader, however, may, rest assured that in reality, and in all veracious history, as well as in the experience of every sensible man and woman throughout the length and the breadth of the land, there is no such thing as poetical justice. Indeed, poetical justice is to be found nowhere except in the heads of the poets, and unless some new invention in the sciences, or some new application of steam should enable the philosopher to expand these heads into the world, or rather to make a "new moral world" out of them, there can be no hopes of its ever being found anywhere else. Really the "Novelists" must begin to delineate "Nature," as the thing is called, in a more natural way, or nobody will believe a word of the histories which they send forth.

Accidents, however, sometimes do occur, which sadly derange the plans even of the wisest men; and from these it were rather too much to expect that Mr. Moudiwort should be wholly exempted. Accordingly, we do find that the remaining part of his history presents some untoward occurrences; and to these we must now proceed with all convenient brevity; but first, in the -true spirit of philosophy and history, we must give some account of the causes which led thereto.

Having now secured a wife with a fortune amounting to "between four and five thousand," together with sundry spare "thousands" of his own, and the stocking of a large farm, the produce of which was every year pouring into his pocket a shower of golden guineas, Mr. Moudiwort began to consider how he might best dispose of all this riches so as to ensure its due increase. Now it had so happened a good many years before that the gentlemen, together with the farmers, and the great men generally of the county of Fiddlesticks, had laid their heads together, and in the wisdom which sprung out of this combination of brains had established a concern called "The Fiddlesticks Bank"—the purpose whereof was to enable the tenants to borrow money wherewith to pay their rents without selling the produce of their lands until they had attained to a reasonable price, and also to enable the lairds to put any spare "bawbees" which they might possess, in the way of becoming profitable not only to themselves, but to the farmers and merchants, and more especially to the labouring portion of the community. The last proposition of this beautiful theory appeared rather a little misty or so to some individuals; but they succeeded in making it perfectly clear by looking at it in a logical way.

"By investing their capital," they said, "in the shares of a provincial bank, which would give accommodation to their tenants, they would enable these tenants to keep their grain till they got a high price for it; and when they got a high price for their grain, the natural conclusion was that they would be able to give high wages to their servants, and to employ more of the said servants, in improving their land,— which would be a great benefit to labouring people, inasmuch as it would be the means of giving them high wages, and bread for themselves and their families."

This was, no doubt, a most important truth, which has been too much overlooked by recent writers—seeing that it proves, in the most satisfactory manner, that the political economists babble sheer nonsense when they talk about "the omnipotent principle of demand and supply regulating the price of every thing;" and about "people always selling their grain, and whatever else they may have to dispose of, as dear—and purchasing labour, and whatever else they may require, as cheap as possible; without any regard to the interests of their neighbours." This vile, and sordid maxim, may indeed hold among an ignorant and selfish rabble; but the foregoing will show that it could have no place among the enlightened and philanthropic inhabitants of the county of Fiddlesticks.

To return from this digression, the Fiddlesticks bank was supposed to have prospered greatly, and to have done much good. Yet, nevertheless, some individuals, who hitherto had been the principal supports thereof, now wished to dispose of their shares; and as they said, and it was believed by others, that these shares had brought them a great many per cents., Mr. Moudiwort did not see how he could do better than buy them, and get a great many per cents, also for the "capital" which he should thus invest. He accordingly bought shares of the Fiddlesticks bank with the whole of Mrs. Moudiwort's "four or five thousand," and as many of his own thousands as he could conveniently spare—which thing being done, he began, with good reason, to suppose himself a very great man. To this sentiment his helpmate responded with the greatest cordiality: to account for which, it must be understood, that she entertained a very strong desire to be thought, and to become— not merely a lady, for she was that already, but—a, fine lady, or a great lady, or something or other of that sort—this being an exaltation whereunto she had not previously attained, she, as already stated, having been originally only a dominie's daughter.

They accordingly laid their heads together, and, with the assistance of the factor, succeeded in persuading Lord Cripple-donky to build a "new wing" to the house; after which they got a "gig," and hired sundry additional domestic servants. They also began to make festivities, and to invite gentle folks to come and eat bread and drink wine with them: and it was truly wonderful to see- how these gentle folks came, and how they called their host and hostess, Mr. Moudiwort and Mrs. Moudiwort, as often as they had occasion to speak to them, and looked upon them with a great deal of respect, while they talked about the "pretensions" and "pride of vulgar upstarts" with a great deal of contempt—thus making it perfectly evident that they could not endure any thing except "genteel society."

While the greatest liberality and the greatest hospitality was going on within doors, it was pleasing to see what strict economy was practised without, and how Mr. Moudiwort was still as careful to exact obedience, and a good day's work from his servants, and to turn them off without their wages if they disobeyed, as ever he had been at any former period. Mrs. Moudiwort, too, was sharp-eyed: and, notwithstanding her attention to the gentle folks, she looked well to the labour of her handmaids; and all things seemed to prosper exceedingly for a season.

Alas ! that there should ever be a necessity for making "history change its tune." Among all the inventions of the present age, could nothing be devised for bringing people's affairs "to an anchor" when they are in a moderately prosperous condition? As yet science has done nothing in this respect, but let us hope that it may be able to do something by and by.

In the course of a few years after Mr. Moudiwort's marriage, the lease of Fodderrigs expired. In the interval his uncle, the factor, and the old Lord Crippledonky, had both died. The estate had consequently fallen to the management of a new factor, and into the hands of a new laird, who—if patronymics could be changed to make them suit the dispositions of those who bear them—might have been most appropriately called Lord Suppledonky! Mr. Moudiwort had thus no "friends" at "a court" which was beset with a whole host of offerers for the farm of Fodderrigs—each and all of whom had been tempted by the idea that they could hardly offer too much for a place in which such a splendid fortune had already been realized. His Lordship, moreover, had declared that he would prefer "the highest bidder;" and, in this untoward state of affairs, Mr. Moudiwort had no alternative but either to offer a very high rent for Fodderrigs, or to depart therefrom. His wife— Mrs. Moudiwort we should say—thought that it would be a pity to leave the place after they had got "a new wing" to the house, and a gig and a gig house, and everything comfortable and convenient; and, influenced by these considerations, as it would seem, Mr. Moudiwort promised the high rent, and was preferred.

The farm, however, had been thoroughly scourged, as it is technically called, during the last years of the previous lease, and it now produced comparatively little. But instead of prosecuting new improvements, and purchasing materials wherewith to make the land again productive, Mr. Moudiwort was now obliged to lay out considerable sums of money in buying

312 TALES OF THE SCOTTISH PEASANTRY.

bread and wine for the gentle folks, who still continued to visit him in increasing numbers, and to talk about "vulgar things " and "vulgar people" with increasing complacency. Thus stuck upon the horns of more than one dilemma, in his heart he sometimes well nigh cursed Fodderrigs, the "new wing," the gig, the gentle folks, and the bread and the wine which they consumed, outright! but, upon these occasions, his loving wife comforted him with the prospect of "better times," and told him that they must "keep up their dignity." They did, accordingly, endeavour to keep up their dignity, and, that it might be kept up, a stricter system of economy was introduced into the kitchen: the domestic servants were made to work more conscientiously, and eat less gluttonously, than they had done heretofore; while the outdoor servants were deprived of all extrqficial allowances, as Mrs. Moudiwort called them, and made to rise half an hour earlier than was their wont. In short, everything which human ingenuity could suggest was done to put things in a fair way again; and, had it not been for matters which must shortly be brought under the reader's notice, there is every reason to suppose that the attempt would have been eminently successful.

Other untoward occurrences, however, were now impending. By this time the reputation of the Fiddlesticks Bank had greatly declined; and, what was worse, the great many per cents., which it was supposed to have paid to its shareholders, were now reduced to no per cents, at all. In this state of affairs, to enable him to pay his rent, for which Lord Crippledonky had become a little clamorous, and also to ascertain what they might be worth, Mr. Moudiwort determined to sell several of his shares; and, with a view thereto, he mentioned the thing to a certain Mr. Gledsclaw, who was understood to have some money for which he wished to find a profitable investment. This individual manifested no great reluctance to engage in the speculation; but, before he would advance the money, he determined to have some satisfactory evidence as to the solvency of the concern in which it was to be invested. He accordingly set his brains to work, and by operating upon the fears of some of the principal shareholders he induced them to call a "general meeting," and to issue orders for the "accounts" to be made up before the day on which it was to take place.

To this meeting Mr. Moudiwort had his own reasons for looking forward with considerable anxiety, not without some impatience; and there were seasons at which he almost wished that time would either get better wings or borrow a balloon to help him over the intervening space. The old rogue, however, kept on in his usual way without hastening his flight a bit on this account. But, notwithstanding this tardiness on his part, the day did at last arrive, and the parties concerned assembled, at the appointed hour, in the Black Lion Inn at Fiddlesticks. The hour at which business was to commence passed over, and still the cashier was not there. At last a messenger was sent to summon him, when it was found that he had been from home the whole of the preceding day. This looked suspicious; and, upon farther inquiry, it was discovered that nobody knew anything about where he had gone. This looked more suspicious still; and, after waiting for some hours more, without being able to learn anything of his whereabouts, it was at last determined to proceed with an examination of the books, aided by such information as could be procured from the underlings employed about the establishment.

Almost at the very commencement of this examination it was discovered that the accounts were in a most fearful state of disorder; but, in so far as they served to elucidate the subject, it appeared that the notes issued, and other liabilities of the bank, amounted to some two hundred thousand pounds or thereby—against which there was almost nothing to set as a balance.

On the following day it was farther discovered that the cashier had absconded, carrying the whole of the "specie" and the "types," or engraved plate, from which the notes had previously been taken, along with him. "While the shareholders, and others concerned, were busily engaged in devising and putting in execution a number of schemes for capturing the fugitive—who, it was soon found, was beyond their reach on his way to America—the report of the insolvency of the bank spread like lightning; claims from all quarters came pouring in; and Mr. Moudiwort, or Jonathan, as we may again call him, instead of being able to sell his shares, soon found that the whole sum thus invested, and all he had in the world beside, would not suffice to clear off his liabilities. To, add to this misfortune Lord Orippledonky, who wished to make sure of "the rent," placed the whole of his effects under sequestration; and Poor Jonathan was now a ruined man!

As soon as this was known the gentle folks at once forsook him, and soon after began to talk of him as "a vulgar upstart," who had met the fate which he deserved. Mrs. Evergreen lamented pathetically over his "backslidings," which, she said, had been evident to her ever since his marriage; and which, whatever a profane world might say to the contrary, had been the cause of his ruin! The Misses Evergreen tossed their heads, and "wondered what his useless thing of a wife would do now?" and Mr. Evergreen acted the most philosophic part of the whole by forgetting that such a creature was in existence all at once.

And what does the reader himself expect that Jonathan should do now 1 break his heart, perhaps, or die of disappointment, or that foolish feeling called despair! No such thing. He only scolded his helpmate a little for having led him astray, as he called it. This made her take to drinking in good earnest, which, fortunately for her husband—as her fortune was now gone, and she had no children—soon terminated her existence.

Thus freed from all encumbrances, Jonathan removed to a different part of the country, and commenced the world again in the capacity of a cow-couper. In following this vocation, it is said, that he speaks just as much truth as is indispensable, and, when more speaking is necessary, that he supplies the deficiency in the best manner he can from other sources. He has already made several bargains, which, for "tact," and a knowledge of business, fairly threw into shade that which he effected with Duncan Todleben. But, as it is the general opinion, that the world is now less favourably constituted for getting forward in it than it was at the commencement of his career, it still remains to be seen whether or not he will succeed in raising himself to eminence a second time.


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