Forester, by Maria Edgeworth

The Saddle and Bridle.

Scarcely had Archibald Mackenzie been two days in possession of the long-wished-for object of his mean soul, when he became dissatisfied with his own saddle and bridle, which certainly did not, as Sir Philip observed, suit his new horse. The struggles in Archibald’s mind, betwixt his taste for expense and his habits of saving, were often rather painful to him. He had received from Lady Catherine a ten-guinea note, when he first came to Dr. Campbell’s; and he had withstood many temptations to change it. One morning (the day that he had accompanied Henry and Forester to the watchmaker’s) he was so strongly charmed by the sight of a watch-chain and seals, that he actually took his bank-note out of his scrutoire at his return home, put it into his pocket, when he dressed for dinner, and resolved to call that evening at the watchmaker’s to indulge his fancy, by purchasing the watch-chain, and to gratify his family pride, by getting his coat of arms splendidly engraven upon the seal. He called at the watchmaker’s, in company with Sir Philip Gosling, but he could not agree with him respecting the price of the chain and seals; and Archibald consoled himself with the reflection, that his bank-note would still remain. He held the note in his hand, whilst he higgled about the price of the watch-chain.

“Oh, d — n the expense!” cried Sir Philip.

“Oh, I mind ten guineas as little as any man,” said Archibald, thrusting the bank-note, in imitation of the baronet, with affected carelessness, into his waistcoat-pocket. He was engaged that night to go to the play with Sir Philip, and he was much hurried in dressing. His servant observed that his waistcoat was stained, and looked out another for him.

Now this man sometimes took the liberty of wearing his master’s clothes; and, when Archibald went to the play, the servant dressed himself in the stained waistcoat, to appear at a ball, which was given that night in the neighbourhood, by some “gentleman’s gentleman.” The waistcoat was rather too tight for the servant: he tore it, and instead of sending it to the washerwoman’s, to have the stain washed out, as his master had desired, he was now obliged to send it to the tailor’s to have it mended.

Archibald’s sudden wish for a new saddle and bridle for Sawney could not be gratified without changing the bank-note; and, forgetting that he had left it in the pocket of his waistcoat the night that he went to the play, he searched for it in the scrutoire, in which he was accustomed to keep his treasures. He was greatly disturbed, when the note was not to be found in the scrutoire; he searched over and over again; not a pigeon-hole, not a drawer, remained to be examined. He tried to recollect when he had last seen it, and at length remembered, that he put it into his waistcoat-pocket, when he went to the watchmaker’s; that he had taken it out to look at, whilst he was in the shop; but whether he had brought it home safely or not he could not precisely ascertain. His doubts upon this subject, however, he cautiously concealed, resolved, if possible, to make somebody or other answerable for his loss. He summoned his servant, told him that he had left a ten-guinea bank-note in his waistcoat-pocket the night that he went to the play, and that, as the waistcoat was given into his charge, he must be answerable for the note. The servant boldly protested, that he neither could nor would be at the loss of a note which he had never seen.

Archibald now softened his tone; for he saw, that he had no chance of bullying the servant. “I desired you to send it to the washerwoman’s,” said he.

“And so I did, sir,” said the man.

This was true, but not the whole truth. He had previously sent the waistcoat to the tailor’s to have the rent repaired, which it received the night he wore it at the ball. These circumstances the servant thought proper to suppress; and he was very ready to agree with his master in accusing the poor washerwoman of having stolen the note. The washerwoman was extremely industrious, and perfectly honest; she had a large family, that depended upon her labour, and upon her character, for support. She was astonished and shocked at the charge that was brought against her, and declared, that if she were able, she would rather pay the whole money at once, than suffer any suspicion to go abroad against her. Archibald rejoiced to find her in this disposition; and he assured her, that the only method to avoid disgrace, a lawsuit, and ruin, was instantly to pay, or to promise to pay, the money. It was out of her power to pay it; and she would not promise what she knew she could not perform.

Archibald redoubled his threats; the servant stood by his master. The poor woman burst into tears; but she steadily declared that she was innocent; and no promise could be extorted from her, even in the midst of her terror. Though she had horrible, perhaps not absolutely visionary, ideas of the dangers of a lawsuit, yet she had some confidence in the certainty that justice was on her side. Archibald said, that she might talk about justice as much as she pleased, but that she must prepare to submit to the law. The woman trembled at the sound of these words; but, though ignorant, she was no fool, and she had a friend in Dr. Campbell’s family, to whom she resolved to apply in her distress. Henry Campbell had visited her little boy when he was ill, and had made him some small present; and, though she did not mean to encroach upon Henry’s good-nature, she thought, that he had so much learning, that he certainly could, without its costing her any thing, put her in the right way to avoid the law, with which she had been threatened by Archibald Mackenzie and his servant.

Henry heard the story with indignation, such as Forester would have felt in similar circumstances; but prudence tempered his enthusiastic feelings; and prudence renders us able to assist others, whilst enthusiasm frequently defeats its own purposes, and injures those whom it wildly attempts to serve. Henry, knowing the character of Archibald, governed himself accordingly; he made no appeal to his feelings; for he saw that the person must be deficient in humanity, who could have threatened a defenceless woman with such severity; he did not speak of justice to the tyrannical laird, but spoke of law. He told Archibald, that being thoroughly convinced of the woman’s innocence, he had drawn up a statement of her case, which she, in compliance with his advice, was ready to lay before an advocate, naming the first counsel in Edinburgh.

The young laird repeated, with a mixture of apprehension and suspicion, “Drawn up a case! No; you can’t know how to draw up cases; you are not a lawyer — you only say this to bully me.”

Henry replied, that he was no lawyer; that he could, notwithstanding, state plain facts in such a manner, he hoped, as to make a case intelligible to any sensible lawyer; that he meant to show what he had written to his father.

“You’ll show it to me, first, won’t you?” said Archibald, who wished to gain time for consideration.

Henry put the paper, which he had drawn up, into his hands, and waited with a determined countenance beside him, whilst he perused the case. Archibald saw that Henry had abilities and steadiness to go through with the business; the facts were so plainly and forcibly stated, that his hopes even from law began to falter. He therefore talked about humanity — said, he pitied the poor woman; could not bear to think of distressing her; but that, at the same time, he had urgent occasion for money; that, if he could even recover five guineas of it, it would be something. He added, that he had debts, which he could not, in honour, delay to discharge.

Now Henry had five guineas, which he had reserved for the purchase of some additions to his cabinet of mineralogy, and he offered to lend this money to Archibald, to pay the debts that he could not, in honour, delay to discharge, upon express condition, that he should say nothing more to the poor woman concerning the bank-note.

To this condition Archibald most willingly acceded; and as Henry, with generous alacrity, counted the five guineas into his hand, this mean, incorrigible being said to himself, “What fools these bookish young men are, after all! Though he can draw up cases so finely, I’ve taken him in at last; and I wish it were ten guineas instead of five!”

Fatigued with the recital of the various petty artifices of this avaricious and dissipated young laird, we shall now relieve ourselves, by turning from the history of meanness to that of enthusiasm. The faults of Forester we hope and wish to see corrected; but who can be interested for the selfish Archibald Mackenzie?

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Last updated Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 14:44