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Tales from Blackwood.
HOW I STOOD FOR THE DREEPDAILY BURGHS.
BY PROFESSOR AYTOUN.
[_MAGA._ SEPTEMBER 1847.]
“My dear Dunshunner,” said my friend Robert M’Corkindale as he entered my apartments one fine morning in June last, “do you happen to have seen the share-list? Things are looking in Liverpool as black as thunder. The bullion is all going out of the country, and the banks are refusing to discount.”
Bob M’Corkindale might very safely have kept his information to himself.
I was, to say the truth, most painfully aware of the facts which he unfeelingly obtruded upon my notice. Six weeks before, in the full confidence that the panic was subsiding, I had recklessly invested my whole capital in the shares of a certain railway company, which for the present shall be nameless; and each successive circular from my broker conveyed the doleful intelligence that the stock was going down to Erebus. Under these circ.u.mstances I certainly felt very far from being comfortable. I could not sell out except at a ruinous loss; and I could not well afford to hold on for any length of time, unless there was a reasonable prospect of a speedy amendment of the market. Let me confess it–I had of late come out rather too strong. When a man has made money easily, he is somewhat p.r.o.ne to launch into expense, and to presume too largely upon his credit. I had been idiot enough to make my _debut_ in the sporting world–had started a couple of horses upon the verdant turf of Paisley–and, as a matter of course, was remorselessly sold by my advisers. These and some other minor amus.e.m.e.nts had preyed deleteriously upon my purse. In fact, I had not the ready; and as every tradesman throughout Glasgow was quaking in his shoes at the panic, and inconveniently eager to realise, I began to feel the reverse of comfortable, and was shy of showing myself in Buchanan Street.
Severaldoc.u.ments of a suspicious appearance–owing to the beastly practice of wafering, which is still adhered to by a certain cla.s.s of correspondents–were lying upon my table at the moment when Bob entered. I could see that the villain comprehended their nature at a glance; but there was no use in attempting to mystify him. The Political Economist was, as I was well aware, in very much the same predicament as myself.
“To tell you the truth, M’Corkindale, I have not opened a share-list for a week. The faces of some of our friends are quite long enough to serve as a tolerable exponent of the market; and I saw Grabbie pa.s.s about five minutes ago with a yard of misery in his visage. But what’s the news?”
“Everything that is bad! Total stoppage expected in a week, and the mills already put upon short time.”
“You don’t say so!”
“It is a fact. Dunshunner, this infernal tampering with the currency will be the ruin of every mother’s son of us!”–and here Bob, in a fit of indignant enthusiasm, commenced a vivid harangue upon the principles of contraction and expansion, bullion, the metallic standard, and the Bank reserves, which no doubt was extremely sound, but which I shall not recapitulate to the reader.
“That’s all very well, Bob,” said I–“very good in theory, but we should confine ourselves at present to practice. The main question seems to me to be this: How are we to get out of our present fix? I presume you are not at present afflicted with a remarkable plethora of cash?”
“Every farthing I have in the world is locked up in a falling line.”
“Not many; but quite enough to make me meditate a temporary retirement to Boulogne!”
“I believe you are better off than I am. I not only owe money, but am terribly bothered about some bills.”
“That’s awkward. Would it not be advisable to bolt?”
“I don’t think so. You used to tell me, Bob, that credit was the next best thing to capital. Now, I don’t despair of redeeming my capital yet, if I can only keep up my credit.”
“Right, undoubtedly, as you generally are. Do you know, Dunshunner, you deserve credit for your notions on political economy. But how is that to be done? Everybody is realising; the banks won’t discount; and when your bills become due, they will be, to a dead certainty, protested.”
“Well–and what then?”
“_Squalor carceris_, et cetera.”
“Hum–an unpleasant alternative, certainly. Come, Bob! put your wits to work. You used to be a capital hand for devices, and there must be some way or other of steering clear. Time is all we want.”
“Ay, to be sure–time is the great thing. It would be very unpleasant to look out on the world through a grating during the summer months!”
“I perspire at the bare idea!”
“Not a soul in town–all your friends away in the Highlands boating, or fishing, or shooting grouse–and you pent up in a stifling apartment of eight feet square, with n.o.body to talk to save the turnkey, and no prospect from the window except a deserted gooseberry stall!”
“O Bob, don’t talk in that way! You make me perfectly miserable.”
“And all this for a ministerial currency crotchet? ‘Pon my soul, it’s too bad! I wish those fellows in Parliament—-“
“Well? Go on.”
“By Jove! I’ve an idea at last!”
“You don’t say so! My dear Bob–out with it!”
“Dunshunner, are you a man of pluck?”
“I should think I am.”
“And ready to go the whole hog, if required?”
“The entire animal.”
“Then I’ll tell you what it is–the elections will be on immediately–and, by St Andrew, we’ll put you up for Parliament!”
“You. Why not? There are hundreds of men there quite as hard up, and not half so clever as yourself.”
“And what good would that do me?”
“Don’t you see? You need not care a farthing about your debts then, for the personal liberty of a member of the House of Commons is sacred. You can fire away right and left at the currency; and who knows, if you play your cards well, but you may get a comfortable place?”
“Well, you _are_ a genius, Bob! But then, what sort of principles should I profess?”
“That is a matter which requires consideration. What are your own feelings on the subject?”
“Perfect indifference. I am pledged to no party, and am free to exercise my independent judgment.”
“Of course, of course! We shall take care to stick all that into the address; but you must positively come forward with some kind of tangible political views. The currency will do for one point, but as to the others I see a difficulty.”
“Suppose I were to start as a Peelite?”
“Something may be said in favour of that view; but, on the whole, I should rather say not. That party may not look up for some little time, and then the currency is a stumbling block in the way. No, Dunshunner, I do not think, upon my honour, that it would be wise for you to commit yourself in that quarter at the present moment.”
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