So down thy hill, romantic Ashbourn, glides
The Derby dilly, carrying six insides.
The times have changed in nothing more (we follow as we were wont the manuscript of Peter Pattieson) than in the rapid conveyance of intelligence and communication betwixt one part of Scotland and another. It is not above twenty or thirty years, according to the evidence of many credible witnesses now alive, since a little miserable horse-cart, performing with difficulty a journey of thirty miles per diem, carried our mails from the capital of Scotland to its extremity. Nor was Scotland much more deficient in these accommodations than our rich sister had been about eighty years before. Fielding, in his Tom Jones, and Farquhar, in a little farce called the Stage-Coach, have ridiculed the slowness of these vehicles of public accommodation. According to the latter authority, the highest bribe could only induce the coachman to promise to anticipate by half-an-hour the usual time of his arrival at the Bull and Mouth.
But in both countries these ancient, slow, and sure modes of conveyance are now alike unknown; mail-coach races against mail-coach, and high-flyer against high-flyer, through the most remote districts of Britain. And in our village alone, three post-coaches, and four coaches with men armed, and in scarlet cassocks, thunder through the streets each day, and rival in brilliancy and noise the invention of the celebrated tyrant:—
Demens, qui nimbos et non imitabile fulmen,
AEre et cornipedum pulsu, simularat, equorum.
Now and then, to complete the resemblance, and to correct the presumption of the venturous charioteers, it does happen that the career of these dashing rivals of Salmoneus meets with as undesirable and violent a termination as that of their prototype. It is on such occasions that the Insides and Outsides, to use the appropriate vehicular phrases, have reason to rue the exchange of the slow and safe motion of the ancient Fly-coaches, which, compared with the chariots of Mr. Palmer, so ill deserve the name. The ancient vehicle used to settle quietly down, like a ship scuttled and left to sink by the gradual influx of the waters, while the modern is smashed to pieces with the velocity of the same vessel hurled against breakers, or rather with the fury of a bomb bursting at the conclusion of its career through the air. The late ingenious Mr. Pennant, whose humour it was to set his face in stern opposition to these speedy conveyances, had collected, I have heard, a formidable list of such casualties, which, joined to the imposition of innkeepers, whose charges the passengers had no time to dispute, the sauciness of the coachman, and the uncontrolled and despotic authority of the tyrant called the guard, held forth a picture of horror, to which murder, theft, fraud, and peculation, lent all their dark colouring. But that which gratifies the impatience of the human disposition will be practised in the teeth of danger, and in defiance of admonition; and, in despite of the Cambrian antiquary, mail-coaches not only roll their thunders round the base of Penman-Maur and Cader-Idris, but
Frighted Skiddaw hears afar
The rattling of the unscythed car.
And perhaps the echoes of Ben Nevis may soon be awakened by the bugle, not of a warlike chieftain, but of the guard of a mail-coach.
It was a fine summer day, and our little school had obtained a half-holiday, by the intercession of a good-humoured visitor.1
I expected by the coach a new number of an interesting periodical publication, and walked forward on the highway to meet it, with the impatience which Cowper has described as actuating the resident in the country when longing for intelligence from the mart of news. —
The grand debate,
The popular harangue — the tart reply —
The logic, and the wisdom, and the wit,
And the loud laugh — I long to know them all —
I burn to set the imprisoned wranglers free,
And give them voice and utterance again.
It was with such feelings that I eyed the approach of the new coach, lately established on our road, and known by the name of the Somerset, which, to say truth, possesses some interest for me, even when it conveys no such important information. The distant tremulous sound of its wheels was heard just as I gained the summit of the gentle ascent, called the Goslin-brae, from which you command an extensive view down the valley of the river Gander. The public road, which comes up the side of that stream, and crosses it at a bridge about a quarter of a mile from the place where I was standing, runs partly through enclosures and plantations, and partly through open pasture land. It is a childish amusement perhaps — but my life has been spent with children, and why should not my pleasures be like theirs? — childish as it is then, I must own I have had great pleasure in watching the approach of the carriage, where the openings of the road permit it to be seen. The gay glancing of the equipage, its diminished and toy-like appearance at a distance, contrasted with the rapidity of its motion, its appearance and disappearance at intervals, and the progressively increasing sounds that announce its nearer approach, have all to the idle and listless spectator, who has nothing more important to attend to, something of awakening interest. The ridicule may attach to me, which is flung upon many an honest citizen, who watches from the window of his villa the passage of the stage-coach; but it is a very natural source of amusement notwithstanding, and many of those who join in the laugh are perhaps not unused to resort to it in secret.
On the present occasion, however, fate had decreed that I should not enjoy the consummation of the amusement by seeing the coach rattle past me as I sat on the turf, and hearing the hoarse grating voice of the guard as he skimmed forth for my grasp the expected packet, without the carriage checking its course for an instant. I had seen the vehicle thunder down the hill that leads to the bridge with more than its usual impetuosity, glittering all the while by flashes from a cloudy tabernacle of the dust which it had raised, and leaving a train behind it on the road resembling a wreath of summer mist. But it did not appear on the top of the nearer bank within the usual space of three minutes, which frequent observation had enabled me to ascertain was the medium time for crossing the bridge and mounting the ascent. When double that space had elapsed, I became alarmed, and walked hastily forward. As I came in sight of the bridge, the cause of delay was too manifest, for the Somerset had made a summerset in good earnest, and overturned so completely, that it was literally resting upon the ground, with the roof undermost, and the four wheels in the air. The “exertions of the guard and coachman,” both of whom were gratefully commemorated in the newspapers, having succeeded in disentangling the horses by cutting the harness, were now proceeding to extricate the insides by a sort of summary and Caesarean process of delivery, forcing the hinges from one of the doors which they could not open otherwise. In this manner were two disconsolate damsels set at liberty from the womb of the leathern conveniency. As they immediately began to settle their clothes, which were a little deranged, as may be presumed, I concluded they had received no injury, and did not venture to obtrude my services at their toilette, for which, I understand, I have since been reflected upon by the fair sufferers. The outsides, who must have been discharged from their elevated situation by a shock resembling the springing of a mine, escaped, nevertheless, with the usual allowance of scratches and bruises, excepting three, who, having been pitched into the river Gander, were dimly seen contending with the tide like the relics of AEneas’s shipwreck —
Rari apparent mantes in gurgite vasto.
I applied my poor exertions where they seemed to be most needed, and with the assistance of one or two of the company who had escaped unhurt, easily succeeded in fishing out two of the unfortunate passengers, who were stout active young fellows; and, but for the preposterous length of their greatcoats, and the equally fashionable latitude and longitude of their Wellington trousers, would have required little assistance from any one. The third was sickly and elderly, and might have perished but for the efforts used to preserve him.
When the two greatcoated gentlemen had extricated themselves from the river, and shaken their ears like huge water-dogs, a violent altercation ensued betwixt them and the coachman and guard, concerning the cause of their overthrow. In the course of the squabble, I observed that both my new acquaintances belonged to the law, and that their professional sharpness was likely to prove an overmatch for the surly and official tone of the guardians of the vehicle. The dispute ended in the guard assuring the passengers that they should have seats in a heavy coach which would pass that spot in less than half-an-hour, provided it were not full. Chance seemed to favour this arrangement, for when the expected vehicle, arrived, there were only two places occupied in a carriage which professed to carry six. The two ladies who had been disinterred out of the fallen vehicle were readily admitted, but positive objections were stated by those previously in possession to the admittance of the two lawyers, whose wetted garments being much of the nature of well-soaked sponges, there was every reason to believe they would refund a considerable part of the water they had collected, to the inconvenience of their fellow-passengers. On the other hand, the lawyers rejected a seat on the roof, alleging that they had only taken that station for pleasure for one stage, but were entitled in all respects to free egress and regress from the interior, to which their contract positively referred. After some altercation, in which something was said upon the edict Nautae caupones stabularii, the coach went off, leaving the learned gentlemen to abide by their action of damages.
They immediately applied to me to guide them to the next village and the best inn; and from the account I gave them of the Wallace Head, declared they were much better pleased to stop there than to go forward upon the terms of that impudent scoundrel the guard of the Somerset. All that they now wanted was a lad to carry their travelling bags, who was easily procured from an adjoining cottage; and they prepared to walk forward, when they found there was another passenger in the same deserted situation with themselves. This was the elderly and sickly-looking person, who had been precipitated into the river along with the two young lawyers. He, it seems, had been too modest to push his own plea against the coachman when he saw that of his betters rejected, and now remained behind with a look of timid anxiety, plainly intimating that he was deficient in those means of recommendation which are necessary passports to the hospitality of an inn.
I ventured to call the attention of the two dashing young blades, for such they seemed, to the desolate condition of their fellow-traveller. They took the hint with ready good-nature.
“O, true, Mr. Dunover,” said one of the youngsters, “you must not remain on the pave’ here; you must go and have some dinner with us — Halkit and I must have a post-chaise to go on, at all events, and we will set you down wherever suits you best.”
The poor man, for such his dress, as well as his diffidence, bespoke him, made the sort of acknowledging bow by which says a Scotsman, “It’s too much honour for the like of me;” and followed humbly behind his gay patrons, all three besprinkling the dusty road as they walked along with the moisture of their drenched garments, and exhibiting the singular and somewhat ridiculous appearance of three persons suffering from the opposite extreme of humidity, while the summer sun was at its height, and everything else around them had the expression of heat and drought. The ridicule did not escape the young gentlemen themselves, and they had made what might be received as one or two tolerable jests on the subject before they had advanced far on their peregrination.
“We cannot complain, like Cowley,” said one of them, “that Gideon’s fleece remains dry, while all around is moist; this is the reverse of the miracle.”
“We ought to be received with gratitude in this good town; we bring a supply of what they seem to need most,” said Halkit.
“And distribute it with unparalleled generosity,” replied his companion; “performing the part of three water-carts for the benefit of their dusty roads.”
“We come before them, too,” said Halkit, “in full professional force — counsel and agent”—
“And client,” said the young advocate, looking behind him; and then added, lowering his voice, “that looks as if he had kept such dangerous company too long.”
It was, indeed, too true, that the humble follower of the gay young men had the threadbare appearance of a worn-out litigant, and I could not but smile at the conceit, though anxious to conceal my mirth from the object of it.
When we arrived at the Wallace Inn, the elder of the Edinburgh gentlemen, and whom I understood to be a barrister, insisted that I should remain and take part of their dinner; and their inquiries and demands speedily put my landlord and his whole family in motion to produce the best cheer which the larder and cellar afforded, and proceed to cook it to the best advantage, a science in which our entertainers seemed to be admirably skilled. In other respects they were lively young men, in the hey-day of youth and good spirits, playing the part which is common to the higher classes of the law at Edinburgh, and which nearly resembles that of the young Templars in the days of Steele and Addison. An air of giddy gaiety mingled with the good sense, taste, and information which their conversation exhibited; and it seemed to be their object to unite the character of men of fashion and lovers of the polite arts. A fine gentleman, bred up in the thorough idleness and inanity of pursuit, which I understand is absolutely necessary to the character in perfection, might in all probability have traced a tinge of professional pedantry which marked the barrister in spite of his efforts, and something of active bustle in his companion, and would certainly have detected more than a fashionable mixture of information and animated interest in the language of both. But to me, who had no pretensions to be so critical, my companions seemed to form a very happy mixture of good-breeding and liberal information, with a disposition to lively rattle, pun, and jest, amusing to a grave man, because it is what he himself can least easily command.
The thin pale-faced man, whom their good-nature had brought into their society, looked out of place as well as out of spirits; sate on the edge of his seat, and kept the chair at two feet distance from the table; thus incommoding himself considerably in conveying the victuals to his mouth, as if by way of penance for partaking of them in the company of his superiors. A short time after dinner, declining all entreaty to partake of the wine, which circulated freely round, he informed himself of the hour when the chaise had been ordered to attend; and saying he would be in readiness, modestly withdrew from the apartment.
“Jack,” said the barrister to his companion, “I remember that poor fellow’s face; you spoke more truly than you were aware of; he really is one of my clients, poor man.”
“Poor man!” echoed Halkit —“I suppose you mean he is your one and only client?”
“That’s not my fault, Jack,” replied the other, whose name I discovered was Hardie. “You are to give me all your business, you know; and if you have none, the learned gentleman here knows nothing can come of nothing.”
“You seem to have brought something to nothing though, in the case of that honest man. He looks as if he were just about to honour with his residence the Heart of Mid-Lothian.”
“You are mistaken — he is just delivered from it. — Our friend here looks for an explanation. Pray, Mr. Pattieson, have you been in Edinburgh?”
I answered in the affirmative.
“Then you must have passed, occasionally at least, though probably not so faithfully as I am doomed to do, through a narrow intricate passage, leading out of the north-west corner of the Parliament Square, and passing by a high and antique building with turrets and iron grates,
Making good the saying odd,
‘Near the church and far from God’"—
Mr. Halkit broke in upon his learned counsel, to contribute his moiety to the riddle —“Having at the door the sign of the Red man”—
“And being on the whole,” resumed the counsellor interrupting his friend in his turn, “a sort of place where misfortune is happily confounded with guilt, where all who are in wish to get out”—
“And where none who have the good luck to be out, wish to get in,” added his companion.
“I conceive you, gentlemen,” replied I; “you mean the prison.”
“The prison,” added the young lawyer —“You have hit it — the very reverend Tolbooth itself; and let me tell you, you are obliged to us for describing it with so much modesty and brevity; for with whatever amplifications we might have chosen to decorate the subject, you lay entirely at our mercy, since the Fathers Conscript of our city have decreed that the venerable edifice itself shall not remain in existence to confirm or to confute its.”
“Then the Tolbooth of Edinburgh is called the Heart of Mid-Lothian?” said I.
“So termed and reputed, I assure you.”
“I think,” said I, with the bashful diffidence with which a man lets slip a pun in presence of his superiors, “the metropolitan county may, in that case, be said to have a sad heart.”
“Right as my glove, Mr. Pattieson,” added Mr. Hardie; “and a close heart, and a hard heart — Keep it up, Jack.”
“And a wicked heart, and a poor heart,” answered Halkit, doing his best.
“And yet it may be called in some sort a strong heart, and a high heart,” rejoined the advocate. “You see I can put you both out of heart.”
“I have played all my hearts,” said the younger gentleman.
“Then we’ll have another lead,” answered his companion. —“And as to the old and condemned Tolbooth, what pity the same honour cannot be done to it as has been done to many of its inmates. Why should not the Tolbooth have its ‘Last Speech, Confession, and Dying Words?’ The old stones would be just as conscious of the honour as many a poor devil who has dangled like a tassel at the west end of it, while the hawkers were shouting a confession the culprit had never heard of.”
“I am afraid,” said I, “if I might presume to give my opinion, it would be a tale of unvaried sorrow and guilt.”
“Not entirely, my friend,” said Hardie; “a prison is a world within itself, and has its own business, griefs, and joys, peculiar to its circle. Its inmates are sometimes short-lived, but so are soldiers on service; they are poor relatively to the world without, but there are degrees of wealth and poverty among them, and so some are relatively rich also. They cannot stir abroad, but neither can the garrison of a besieged fort, or the crew of a ship at sea; and they are not under a dispensation quite so desperate as either, for they may have as much food as they have money to buy, and are not obliged to work, whether they have food or not.”
“But what variety of incident,” said I (not without a secret view to my present task), “could possibly be derived from such a work as you are pleased to talk of?”
“Infinite,” replied the young advocate. “Whatever of guilt, crime, imposture, folly, unheard-of misfortunes, and unlooked-for change of fortune, can be found to chequer life, my Last Speech of the Tolbooth should illustrate with examples sufficient to gorge even the public’s all-devouring appetite for the wonderful and horrible. The inventor of fictitious narratives has to rack his brains for means to diversify his tale, and after all can hardly hit upon characters or incidents which have not been used again and again, until they are familiar to the eye of the reader, so that the development, enle’vement, the desperate wound of which the hero never dies, the burning fever from which the heroine is sure to recover, become a mere matter of course. I join with my honest friend Crabbe, and have an unlucky propensity to hope, when hope is lost, and to rely upon the cork-jacket, which carries the heroes of romance safe through all the billows of affliction.” He then declaimed the following passage, rather with too much than too little emphasis:—
Much have I feared, but am no more afraid,
When some chaste beauty by some wretch betrayed,
Is drawn away with such distracted speed,
That she anticipates a dreadful deed.
Not so do I— Let solid walls impound
The captive fair, and dig a moat around;
Let there be brazen locks and bars of steel,
And keepers cruel, such as never feel;
With not a single note the purse supply,
And when she begs, let men and maids deny;
Be windows there from which she dare not fall,
And help so distant, ’tis in vain to call;
Still means of freedom will some Power devise,
And from the baffled ruffian snatch his prize.
“The end of uncertainty,” he concluded, “is the death of interest; and hence it happens that no one now reads novels.”
“Hear him, ye gods!” returned his companion. “I assure you, Mr. Pattieson, you will hardly visit this learned gentleman, but you are likely to find the new novel most in repute lying on his table — snugly intrenched, however, beneath Stair’s Institutes, or an open volume of Morrison’s Decisions.”
“Do I deny it?” said the hopeful jurisconsult, “or wherefore should I, since it is well known these Delilahs seduce my wisers and my betters? May they not be found lurking amidst the multiplied memorials of our most distinguished counsel, and even peeping from under the cushion of a judge’s arm-chair? Our seniors at the bar, within the bar, and even on the bench, read novels; and, if not belied, some of them have written novels into the bargain. I only say, that I read from habit and from indolence, not from real interest; that, like ancient Pistol devouring his leek, I read and swear till I get to the end of the narrative. But not so in the real records of human vagaries — not so in the State Trials, or in the Books of Adjournal, where every now and then you read new pages of the human heart, and turns of fortune far beyond what the boldest novelist ever attempted to produce from the coinage of his brain.”
“And for such narratives,” I asked, “you suppose the History of the Prison of Edinburgh might afford appropriate materials?”
“In a degree unusually ample, my dear sir,” said Hardie —“Fill your glass, however, in the meanwhile. Was it not for many years the place in which the Scottish parliament met? Was it not James’s place of refuge, when the mob, inflamed by a seditious preacher, broke, forth, on him with the cries of ‘The sword of the Lord and of Gideon — bring forth the wicked Haman?’ Since that time how many hearts have throbbed within these walls, as the tolling of the neighbouring bell announced to them how fast the sands of their life were ebbing; how many must have sunk at the sound — how many were supported by stubborn pride and dogged resolution — how many by the consolations of religion? Have there not been some, who, looking back on the motives of their crimes, were scarce able to understand how they should have had such temptation as to seduce them from virtue; and have there not, perhaps, been others, who, sensible of their innocence, were divided between indignation at the undeserved doom which they were to undergo, consciousness that they had not deserved it, and racking anxiety to discover some way in which they might yet vindicate themselves? Do you suppose any of these deep, powerful, and agitating feelings, can be recorded and perused without exciting a corresponding depth of deep, powerful, and agitating interest? — Oh! do but wait till I publish the Causes Célébres of Caledonia, and you will find no want of a novel or a tragedy for some time to come. The true thing will triumph over the brightest inventions of the most ardent imagination. Magna est veritas, et praevalebit.”
“I have understood,” said I, encouraged by the affability of my rattling entertainer, “that less of this interest must attach to Scottish jurisprudence than to that of any other country. The general morality of our people, their sober and prudent habits”—
“Secure them,” said the barrister, “against any great increase of professional thieves and depredators, but not against wild and wayward starts of fancy and passion, producing crimes of an extraordinary description, which are precisely those to the detail of which we listen with thrilling interest. England has been much longer a highly civilised country; her subjects have been very strictly amenable to laws administered without fear or favour, a complete division of labour has taken place among her subjects, and the very thieves and robbers form a distinct class in society, subdivided among themselves according to the subject of the depredations, and the mode in which they carry them on, acting upon regular habits and principles, which can be calculated and anticipated at Bow Street, Hatton Garden, or the Old Bailey. Our sister kingdom is like a cultivated field — the farmer expects that, in spite of all his care, a certain number of weeds will rise with the corn, and can tell you beforehand their names and appearance. But Scotland is like one of her own Highland glens, and the moralist who reads the records of her criminal jurisprudence, will find as many curious anomalous facts in the history of mind, as the botanist will detect rare specimens among her dingles and cliffs.”
“And that’s all the good you have obtained from three perusals of the Commentaries on Scottish Criminal Jurisprudence?” said his companion. “I suppose the learned author very little thinks that the facts which his erudition and acuteness have accumulated for the illustration of legal doctrines, might be so arranged as to form a sort of appendix to the half-bound and slip-shod volumes of the circulating library.”
“I’ll bet you a pint of claret,” said the elder lawyer, “that he will not feel sore at the comparison. But as we say at the bar, ‘I beg I may not be interrupted;’ I have much more to say, upon my Scottish collection of Causes Célébres. You will please recollect the scope and motive given for the contrivance and execution of many extraordinary and daring crimes, by the long civil dissensions of Scotland — by the hereditary jurisdictions, which, until 1748, rested the investigation of crises in judges, ignorant, partial, or interested — by the habits of the gentry, shut up in their distant and solitary mansion-houses, nursing their revengeful Passions just to keep their blood from stagnating — not to mention that amiable national qualification, called the perfervidum ingenium Scotorum, which our lawyers join in alleging as a reason for the severity of some of our enactments. When I come to treat of matters so mysterious, deep, and dangerous, as these circumstances have given rise to, the blood of each reader shall be curdled, and his epidermis crisped into goose skin. — But, hist! — here comes the landlord, with tidings, I suppose, that the chaise is ready.”
It was no such thing — the tidings bore, that no chaise could be had that evening, for Sir Peter Plyem had carried forward my landlord’s two pairs of horses that morning to the ancient royal borough of Bubbleburgh, to look after his interest there. But as Bubbleburgh is only one of a set of five boroughs which club their shares for a member of parliament, Sir Peter’s adversary had judiciously watched his departure, in order to commence a canvass in the no less royal borough of Bitem, which, as all the world knows, lies at the very termination of Sir Peter’s avenue, and has been held in leading-strings by him and his ancestors for time immemorial. Now Sir Peter was thus placed in the situation of an ambitious monarch, who, after having commenced a daring inroad into his enemy’s territories, is suddenly recalled by an invasion of his own hereditary dominions. He was obliged in consequence to return from the half-won borough of Bubbleburgh, to look after the half-lost borough of Bitem, and the two pairs of horses which had carried him that morning to Bubbleburgh were now forcibly detained to transport him, his agent, his valet, his jester, and his hard-drinker, across the country to Bitem. The cause of this detention, which to me was of as little consequence as it may be to the reader, was important enough to my companions to reconcile them to the delay. Like eagles, they smelled the battle afar off, ordered a magnum of claret and beds at the Wallace, and entered at full career into the Bubbleburgh and Bitem politics, with all the probable “Petitions and complaints” to which they were likely to give rise.
In the midst of an anxious, animated, and, to me, most unintelligible discussion, concerning provosts, bailies, deacons, sets of boroughs, leets, town-clerks, burgesses resident and non-resident, all of a sudden the lawyer recollected himself. “Poor Dunover, we must not forget him;” and the landlord was despatched in quest of the pauvre honteux, with an earnestly civil invitation to him for the rest of the evening. I could not help asking the young gentlemen if they knew the history of this poor man; and the counsellor applied himself to his pocket to recover the memorial or brief from which he had stated his cause.
“He has been a candidate for our remedium miserabile,” said Mr. Hardie, “commonly called a cessio bonorum. As there are divines who have doubted the eternity of future punishments, so the Scotch lawyers seem to have thought that the crime of poverty might be atoned for by something short of perpetual imprisonment. After a month’s confinement, you must know, a prisoner for debt is entitled, on a sufficient statement to our Supreme Court, setting forth the amount of his funds, and the nature of his misfortunes, and surrendering all his effects to his creditors, to claim to be discharged from prison.”
“I had heard,” I replied, “of such a humane regulation.”
“Yes,” said Halkit, “and the beauty of it is, as the foreign fellow said, you may get the cessio, when the bonorums are all spent — But what, are you puzzling in your pockets to seek your only memorial among old play-bills, letters requesting a meeting of the Faculty, rules of the Speculative Society,2 syllabus’ of lectures — all the miscellaneous contents of a young advocate’s pocket, which contains everything but briefs and bank-notes?
Can you not state a case of cessio without your memorial? Why, it is done every Saturday. The events follow each other as regularly as clock-work, and one form of condescendence might suit every one of them.”
“This is very unlike the variety of distress which this gentleman stated to fall under the consideration of your judges,” said I.
“True,” replied Halkit; “but Hardie spoke of criminal jurisprudence, and this business is purely civil. I could plead a cessio myself without the inspiring honours of a gown and three-tailed periwig — Listen. — My client was bred a journeyman weaver — made some little money — took a farm —(for conducting a farm, like driving a gig, comes by nature)— late severe times — induced to sign bills with a friend, for which he received no value — landlord sequestrates — creditors accept a composition — pursuer sets up a public-house — fails a second time — is incarcerated for a debt of ten pounds seven shillings and sixpence — his debts amount to blank — his losses to blank — his funds to blank — leaving a balance of blank in his favour. There is no opposition; your lordships will please grant commission to take his oath.”
Hardie now renounced this ineffectual search, in which there was perhaps a little affectation, and told us the tale of poor Dunover’s distresses, with a tone in which a degree of feeling, which he seemed ashamed of as unprofessional, mingled with his attempts at wit, and did him more honour. It was one of those tales which seem to argue a sort of ill-luck or fatality attached to the hero. A well-informed, industrious, and blameless, but poor and bashful man, had in vain essayed all the usual means by which others acquire independence, yet had never succeeded beyond the attainment of bare subsistence. During a brief gleam of hope, rather than of actual prosperity, he had added a wife and family to his cares, but the dawn was speedily overcast. Everything retrograded with him towards the verge of the miry Slough of Despond, which yawns for insolvent debtors; and after catching at each twig, and experiencing the protracted agony of feeling them one by one elude his grasp, he actually sunk into the miry pit whence he had been extricated by the professional exertions of Hardie.
“And, I suppose, now you have dragged this poor devil ashore, you will leave him half naked on the beach to provide for himself?” said Halkit. “Hark ye,”— and he whispered something in his ear, of which the penetrating and insinuating words, “Interest with my Lord,” alone reached mine.
“It is pessimi exempli,” said Hardie, laughing, “to provide for a ruined client; but I was thinking of what you mention, provided it can be managed — But hush! here he comes.”
The recent relation of the poor man’s misfortunes had given him, I was pleased to observe, a claim to the attention and respect of the young men, who treated him with great civility, and gradually engaged him in a conversation, which, much to my satisfaction, again turned upon the Causes Célébres of Scotland. Imboldened by the kindness with which he was treated, Mr. Dunover began to contribute his share to the amusement of the evening. Jails, like other places, have their ancient traditions, known only to the inhabitants, and handed down from one set of the melancholy lodgers to the next who occupy their cells. Some of these, which Dunover mentioned, were interesting, and served to illustrate the narratives of remarkable trials, which Hardie had at his finger-ends, and which his companion was also well skilled in. This sort of conversation passed away the evening till the early hour when Mr. Dunover chose to retire to rest, and I also retreated to take down memorandums of what I had learned, in order to add another narrative to those which it had been my chief amusement to collect, and to write out in detail. The two young men ordered a broiled bone, Madeira negus, and a pack of cards, and commenced a game at picquet.
Next morning the travellers left Gandercleugh. I afterwards learned from the papers that both have been since engaged in the great political cause of Bubbleburgh and Bitem, a summary case, and entitled to particular despatch; but which, it is thought, nevertheless, may outlast the duration of the parliament to which the contest refers. Mr. Halkit, as the newspapers informed me, acts as agent or solicitor; and Mr. Hardie opened for Sir Peter Plyem with singular ability, and to such good purpose, that I understand he has since had fewer play-bills and more briefs in his pocket. And both the young gentlemen deserve their good fortune; for I learned from Dunover, who called on me some weeks afterwards, and communicated the intelligence with tears in his eyes, that their interest had availed to obtain him a small office for the decent maintenance of his family; and that, after a train of constant and uninterrupted misfortune, he could trace a dawn of prosperity to his having the good fortune to be flung from the top of a mail-coach into the river Gander, in company with an advocate and a writer to the Signet. The reader will not perhaps deem himself equally obliged to the accident, since it brings upon him the following narrative, founded upon the conversation of the evening.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00