“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.