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Read Wilson’s Tales of the Borders and of Scotland Volume XXI Part 23

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And there they were, to be sure. Half-a-dozen rattling fellows all in a lump. In they poured into Walkinshaw’s room with hilarious glee.

“Ah, doctor. Oh, doctor. Here too, doctor. Hope you’re well, doctor.

Glad to see you, doctor!” resounded in all quarters; for they were all intimate acquaintances of our medical friend, and were really delighted to see him.

To this running fire of salutation, the doctor replied by a series of becks, bows, and smiles, and a shaking of hands, right and left, in rapid succession.

All these, and such like preliminaries, gone through, the party took their seats around the table, and the business of the evening began. It soon did more: it progressed, and that most joyously. Jug followed jug in rapid succession. The doctor got into exuberant spirits, and sung several of his best songs, in his best manner. But alas!–

“Pleasures are,” etc. etc.

They are, sweet poet, and no man could be more strongly impressed with, or would have more readily allowed the truth and happy application of thy beautiful similes, than the doctor, on the occasion of which we are speaking. Enjoyment was quickly succeeded by satiety; and alert apprehension, and quick perception, by that doziness and obfuscation of the faculties which marks the _quantum suff._ at the festive board.

The doctor was a man who could have said with the face of clay–

“And cursed be he who first cries, Hold, enough!”

But, being but mortal, after all, his powers were not illimitable. There was a boundary which even he could not pa.s.s, and at the same time lay his hand on his breast and say, “I’m sober.”

That boundary the doctor had now pa.s.sed by a pretty good way. In plain language, he was cut, very much cut, as was made sufficiently evident by various little symptoms,–such as a certain thickness of speech; a certain diffusion of dull red over the whole countenance, extending to and including the ears, which seemed to become transparent, like a pair of thin, flat, red pebbles; a certain look of stupidity and non-comprehension; and a certain heaviness and lackl.u.s.treness of eye, that gave these organs a strong resemblance to a couple of parboiled gooseberries.

Sensible of his own condition, sensible that he could hold out no longer, the doctor now moved, in the most intelligible language which he could conveniently command, that the diet should be deserted _pro loco et tempore_.

The motion was unanimously approved of; this unanimity having been secured by the inability of several of the party, who had been rendered _hors de combat_, to express dissent.

A general break up, then, was the consequence of the doctor’s motion.

Candle in hand, Mr. Walkinshaw rose and accompanied his guests to the door, towards which they moved in a long irregular file, he leading the way. In the pa.s.sage, however, a momentary halt was called. It was to allow the doctor to don himself in his walking gear. With some a.s.sistance from his host, this was soon accomplished. His hat was stuck on his head, his martial cloak thrown around him, and his immense comforter, like a red blanket, coiled around his neck. Thus accoutred, the doctor and his friends evacuated the premises of their worthy host, Mr. Walkinshaw.

THE RETURN HOME, AND INCIDENTS THEREFROM ARISING.

The doctor had not proceeded far on his way home, until he found himself alone. One after another, his friends had popped off; some disappearing mysteriously, others giving fair warning of their departure, by shaking him by the hand, and wishing him

—-“good night, And rosy dreams and slumbers light.”

Left to his own reflections, and, we may add, to his own exertions, the doctor stumped bravely homeward, and, without meeting with anything particularly worthy of notice, arrived safely at his own _close_ mouth.

In another part of this history, we have mentioned that there were one or two difficulties that always awaited the doctor on his return home when in the particular state in which he was at this moment. The first of these difficulties was to climb the dark tortuous staircase, on the third story of which was his domicile. The second was to discriminate between his neighbours’ door and his own. The reader will recollect that, to obviate this last difficulty, the doctor fell upon the ingenious expedient of counting the landing-places as he ascended, his own being number three.

The reader’s memory refreshed as to these particulars, we proceed to say that the doctor, having traversed the close with a tolerably firm and steady step, commenced his laborious ascent of the stair in his usual manner, but with evidently fully more difficulty, as some of the neighbours, who heard his struggles, remarked, than ordinary,–a circ.u.mstance from which they inferred–and correctly enough, as we have seen–that the doctor was more than ordinarily overcome.

The first flight of steps the doctor accomplished with perfect success, and with perfect accuracy recorded it as number one. This done, he commenced the ascent of number two; and, after a severe struggle, accomplished it also. But by the time he had done so, the doctor had lost his reckoning, and, believing that he had gained his own landing-place, from which, we need hardly remind the reader, he was yet an entire flight of stairs distant, he deliberately pulled out his check-key, and applied it to the door of the neighbour who lived right under him,–a certain Mr. Thomson, who pursued the intellectual calling of a cheesemonger.

Having inserted the key in the lock, the doctor gave it the necessary twitch; and, obedient to the hint, the bolt rose, the door opened, and the doctor walked in.

Being pitch-dark, and the two houses–that is, the doctor’s and Mr.

Thomson’s–being of precisely the same construction within, nothing presented itself to the unconscious burglar to inform him of the blunder he had made.

Satisfied, or rather never doubting, that all was right, the doctor shut the door, and, groping along the pa.s.sage, sought the door of a small apartment on the left, which, in his own house, was his bedroom. This room he readily found; and it so happened that in Mr. Thomson’s house this same apartment was also a bedroom; so that the doctor, under all circ.u.mstances, could not be blamed for feeling perfectly at ease as to his situation. In this feeling, he planted himself down in a chair, and began deliberately to unb.u.t.ton his waistcoat, preparatory to tumbling in. While thus employed, the doctor indulged in a sort of soliloquy, embracing certain reflections and reminiscences connected with his present condition and recent revelries.

“All right, then,” said the doctor, referring to his present position.

“Snug in my own bedroom. Capital song yon of Ned’s; one of Gilfirian’s, I think. Writes a beautiful song, Gil–a pretty song–very pretty. Good feeling, sweet natural sentiment, and all that sort of thing. Must get his new edition, and learn half-a-dozen of them. Hah! confoundedly drunk though–that lee-lurch ugly. Never mind: dead sober in the morning; sound as a roach. Take a seidlitz, and all right.”

While thus expressing the ideas that were crowding through his addled brain, the doctor’s attention was suddenly attracted by a noise at the outer door. He paused to listen. It was some one, with a key, endeavouring to gain access. What could it mean? Thieves, robbers, no doubt of it. The doctor did not doubt it. So, grasping a huge, thick crab-stick, which he always carried at night, and which he had on the present occasion laid against the wall close by where he sat, the doctor stole on tiptoe towards the door, and taking up a position about a yard distant from it, raised his crab-stick aloft, and in this att.i.tude slily awaited the entrance of the thief, whom he proposed to knock quietly down the moment he pa.s.sed the door-way.

Leaving the doctor in this gallant position for a few seconds, we step aside to inform the reader of a circ.u.mstance or two with which it is right he should be made acquainted. In the first place, he should be, as he now is, informed that the person at the door, and whom the doctor took to be a midnight robber, was no other than the doctor’s neighbour, Mr. Thomson himself, the lawful occupant of the house of which the former had taken possession. He had happened, like the doctor, to have been out late that night; and, like the doctor, too, was several sheets in the wind. However, that is neither here nor there to our story. But it is of some consequence to it to add, inasmuch as it accounts for the non-appearance of any one to avert the impending catastrophe, that there was no one residing in Mr. Thomson’s house at the particular period of which we speak, but Mr. Thomson himself; his wife, children, and servant, being at sea-bathing quarters. Thus, then, it was that the doctor had been allowed to take and keep such undisturbed possession of the premises.

Again, the doctor being a bachelor, kept no servant at all; the domestic duties of his establishment being performed by an old woman, who came at an early hour of the morning, remained all day, and left at night.

There was thus no family circ.u.mstance connected with his own domestic establishment, the absence of which, on the present occasion, might have excited his suspicions as to his real position. Everything, then, favoured the unlucky chance now in progress. To resume: The doctor having placed himself in the hostile att.i.tude already described, coolly and courageously awaited the entrance of the supposed burglar. He had not to wait long. The door opened; and, all unconscious of what was awaiting him, Thomson entered. It was all he was allowed to do, however; for, in the next instant, a well-directed blow from the doctor’s crab-stick laid him senseless on the floor.

“Take that, you burglarious villain,” shouted the doctor triumphantly, on seeing the success of his a.s.sault; “and that, and that, and that,” he added, plunging sundry forcible kicks into the body of his prostrate victim with the points of his little stumpy Hessians.

Having settled his man, as he imagined, the doctor stooped down, and, seizing him by the neck of his coat, proceeded to drag him to the outside of the door. This was a work of some difficulty, as Thomson was rather a heavy man; but it was accomplished. The doctor exerted himself, and succeeded in hauling the unconscious body of his unfortunate neighbour on to the landing-place on the outside. Having got him there, he edged him towards the descent, and, giving him a shove with his foot, sent him rolling down the stairs.

The housebreaker thus disposed of, and put, as the doctor believed, beyond all power of doing any more mischief in this world, the latter, highly satisfied with what he had done, and not a little vain of his prowess, re-entered the house, carefully secured the door after him with chain and bolt, and retired to the little bedroom of which he had been before in possession.

Somewhat sobered by the occurrence which had just taken place, the doctor now discovered various little circ.u.mstances which rather surprised him. He could not, for instance, find his nightcap; it was not in the place where it used to be. Neither could he find the boot-jack; it was not where it used to be either. The bed, too, he thought, had taken up a strange position; it was not in the same corner of the room, and the head was reversed. The head of his bed used to be towards the door; he now found the foot in that direction.

All these little matters the doctor noted, and thought them rather odd; but he set them all down to the debit of his housekeeper,–some as the results of carelessness–such as the absence of the nightcap and boot-jack; others–the shifting of the bed and altering its position–to the whim of some new arrangement.

Thus satisfactorily accounting for the little omissions and discrepancies he noted, the doctor began to peel; and, in a short time after, was snugly buried beneath the blankets, with his red comforter round his head in place of a nightcap.

Leaving the doctor for a time, thus comfortably quartered, we will look after the unfortunate victim of his prowess, whose rights he was now so complacently usurping.

For fully half an hour after he had been bundled down stairs by the doctor in the way already described, poor Thomson lay without sense or motion. At about the end of that time, however, he so far recovered as to be able to emit two or three dismal groans, which happening to be overheard by the policeman on the station, who was at the moment going his rounds, he hastened towards the quarter from whence the alarming sounds proceeded, and found the ill-used cheesemonger lying at full length on the stair, head downwards, and, of course, feet uppermost.

The policeman held his lantern close to the face of the unfortunate man, to see if he could recognise him; but this he could not, and that for two reasons: First, being newly come to the station, he did not know Thomson at all; and, second, the countenance of the latter was so covered with blood, and otherwise disfigured, that, suppose he had, he could not possibly have recognised him.

Seeing the man in a senseless state, and, as he thought, perhaps mortally injured, the policeman hastened to the office to give notice of his situation, and to procure a.s.sistance to have him carried there; all of which was speedily done. A bier was brought, and on this bier the person of the unfortunate cheesemonger was placed, and borne to the police office.

Medical aid being here afforded to the sufferer, he was soon brought so far round as to be able to give some account of himself, and of the misfortune which had befallen him. His face, too, having been cleared of the blood by which it was disguised, he was recognised by several persons in the office; and being known to be a respectable man, the wonder was greatly increased to see him in so lamentable a condition.

Mr. Thomson’s account, however, of the occurrences of the night explained all.

He stated that, on returning home to his own house, in which there was no one living at present but himself, he was encountered by some one in the pa.s.sage, and knocked down the instant he entered the door. Who or what the person was he could not tell, but he had no doubt that it was some one who had entered the house for the purpose of robbing it; and added his belief that the house was filled with robbers, who, he had no doubt, had plundered it of every portable article worth carrying away.

How he came to be found on the stair he could not tell, but supposed that he had been dragged there after he had been knocked down–that proceeding having deprived him of all consciousness.

Here ended Mr. Thomson’s deposition; and great was the sensation, great the commotion which it excited in the police office. So daring a burglary–so daring an a.s.sault. The like had not been heard of for years. In a twinkling, eight or ten men were mustered, lanterned, and bludgeoned; and, headed by a sergeant, were on their march to the scene of robbery.

On arriving at Mr. Thomson’s door, they found it fast, and all quiet within. What was to be done? Force open the door? Perhaps some of the villains were still in the house. At any rate, it was proper to see what state things were in.

A smith was accordingly sent for, the lock picked, and the door thrown open, when, headed by the sergeant with a pistol in his hand, in rushed a mob of policemen, a constellation of lanterns, a forest of bludgeons.

The guardians of the night now dispersed themselves over the house; but, to their great surprise, found no trace whatever of the thieves. There appeared to have been nothing disturbed, and the doors and windows remained all fast.

Puzzled by these circ.u.mstances, the police had begun to abate somewhat of that zeal with which they had first commenced their search, and were standing together in knots, some in one room and some in another, discussing the probabilities and likelihoods of the case, when those in the doctor’s apartment were suddenly startled by a loud snore or grunt, proceeding from the bed, which was followed by a restless movement, and the exclamation–“Thieves, robbers!” muttered in the thick indistinct way of a person dreaming.

In an instant, half a dozen policemen rushed towards the bed, drew aside the curtains, and there beheld the unconscious face of the heroic little doctor just peering out of the blankets, and a section of the red comforter in which his head was entombed in the manner already set forth. We have said that the face on which the astonished policemen now looked was an unconscious one. So it was; for, notwithstanding the grunt he had emitted, the movement he had made, and the exclamations he had uttered, the doctor was still sound asleep; the former having been merely the result of dreamy reminiscences of the past, awakened by an indistinct sense of the presence of some person or persons in the house.

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