Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 12

IN the narrative of home events I skipped a little business, not quite colourless, but irrelevant to the love passages then on hand. It has, however, a connection with the curious events now converging to a point: so, with the reader’s permission, I will place it in logical sequence, disregarding the order of time. The day Dr. Sampson splashed among the ducks, and one of them hid till dinner, the rest were seated at luncheon, when two patients were announced as waiting — Mr. and Mrs. Maxley. Sampson refused to see them, on this ground: “I will not feed and heal.” But Mrs. Dodd interceded, and he yielded. “Well, then, show them in here. They are better cracters than pashints.” On this, a stout fresh-coloured woman, the picture of health, was ushered in and curtseyed all round. “Well, what is the matter now?” inquired Sampson rather roughly. “Be seated, Mrs. Maxley,” said Mrs. Dodd, benignly.

“I thank ye kindly, ma’am;” and she sat down. “Doctor, it is that pain.”

“Well, don’t say ‘that pain.’ Describe it. Now listen all of ye; ye’re goen to get a clinical lecture.”

“If you please, ma’am,” said the patient, “it takes me here under my left breest, and runs right to my elbow, it do; and bitter bad ’tis while it do last; chokes me mostly; and I feel as I must die: and if I was to move hand or fut, I think I should die, that I do.”

“Poor woman!” said Mrs. Dodd.

“Oh, she isn’t dead yet,” cried Sampson cheerfully. “She’ll sell addled eggs over all our tombstones; that is to say, if she minds what I bid her. When was your last spasm?”

“No longer agone that yestereen, ma’am; and so I said to my master, ‘The doctor he is due tomorrow, Sally up at Albion tells me; and ——’”

“Whist! whist! who cares what you said to Jack, and Jill said to you? What was the cause?”

“The cause! What, of my pain? He says, ‘What was the cause?’”

“Ay, the cause. Just obsairve, jintlemen,” said Sampson, addressing imaginary students, “how startled they all are if a docker deviates from profissional habits into sceince, and takes the right eend of the stick for once b’ asking for the cause.”

“The cause was the will of God, I do suppose,” said Mrs. Maxley.

“Stuff!” shouted Sampson angrily. “Then why come to mortal me to cure you?”

Alfred put in his oar. “He does not mean the ‘final cause;’ he means the ‘proximate cause.

“My poor dear creature, I bain’t no Latiner,” objected the patient.

Sampson fixed his eyes sternly on the slippery dame. “What I want to know is, had you been running up-stairs? or eating fast? or drinking fast? or grizzling over twopence? or quarrelling with your husband! Come now, which was it?”

“Me quarrel with my man! We haven’t never been disagreeable, not once, since we went to church a pair and came back a couple. I don’t say but what we mayn’t have had a word or two at odd times, as married folk will.”

“And the last time you had a word or two — y’ infairnal quibbler — was it just before your last spasm, eh?”

“Well, it might; I am not gainsaying that: but you said quarrel, says you. ‘Quarrel’ it were your word; and I defy all Barkton, gentle and simple, to say as how me and my master ——”

“Whisht! whisht! Now, jintlemen, ye see what the great coming sceince — the sceince of Healing — has to contind with. The dox are all fools, but one: and the pashints are lyres, ivery man Jack. N’ listen me; y’ have got a disease that you can’t eradicate; but you may muzzle it for years, and die of something quite different when your time’s up.”

“Like enough, sir. If you please, ma’am, Dr. Stephenson do blame my indigestion for it.”

“Dr. Stephenson’s an ass.”

“Dear heart, how cantankerous you be. To be sure Dr. Osmond he says no: it’s muscular, says he.”

“Dr. Osmond’s an ijjit. List me; You mustn’t grizzle about money; you mustn’t gobble, nor drink your beer too fast.”

“You are wrong, doctor; I never drink no beer: it costs ——”

“Your catlap, then. And above all, no grizzling! Go to church whenever you can without losing a farthing. It’s medicinal; soothes the brain, and takes it off worldly cares. And have no words with your husband, or he’ll outlive you; it’s his only chance of getting the last word. Care killed a cat, a nanimal with eight lives more than a chatterbox. If you worry or excite your brain, little Maxley, you will cook your own goose — by a quick fire.”

“Dear heart, these be unked sayings. Won’t ye give me nothing to make me better, sir?”

“No, I never tinker; I go to the root: you may buy a vile of chlorofm and take a puff if you feel premonory symps: but a quiet brain is your only real chance. Now slope, and send the male screw.”

“Anan?”

“Your husband.”

“That I will, sir. Your sarvant, doctor; your sarvant, ma’am; sarvant, all the company.

Mrs. Dodd hoped the poor woman had nothing very serious the matter.

“Oh, it is a mortal disease,” replied Sampson, as cool as a cucumber. “She has got angina pictoris or brist-pang, a disorder that admirably eximplifies the pretinsions of midicine t’ seeince.” And with this he dashed into monologue.

Maxley’s tall gaunt form came slouching in, and traversed the floor, pounding it with heavy nailed boots. He seated himself gravely at Mrs. Dodd’s invitation, took a handkerchief out of his hat, wiped his face, and surveyed the company, grand and calm. In James Maxley all was ponderous: his head was huge, his mouth, when it fairly opened, revealed a chasm, and thence issued a voice naturally stentorian by its volume and native vigour; but, when the owner of this incarnate bassoon had a mind to say something sagacious, he sank at once from his habitual roar to a sound scarce above a whisper; a contrast mighty comical to hear, though on paper nil.

“Well, what is it Maxley! Rheumatism again?”

“No, that it ain’t,” bellowed Maxley defiantly.

“What then? Come, look sharp.”

“Well, then, doctor, I’ll tell you. I’m sore troubled — with — a — mouse.”

This malady, announced in the tone of a proclamation, and coming after so much solemn preparation, amused the party considerably, although parturient mountains had ere then produced muscipular abortions.

“A mouse!” inquired Sampson disdainfully. “Where? Up your sleeve? Don’t come to me: go t’ a sawbones and have your arm cut off. I’ve seen ’em mutilate a pashint for as little.”

Maxley said it was not up his sleeve, worse luck.

On this Alfred hazarded a conjecture. “Might it not have gone down his throat? Took his potato-trap for the pantry-door. Ha! ha!”

“Ay, I hear ye, young man, a-laughing at your own sport,” said Maxley, winking his eye; “but ‘tain’t the biggest mouth as catches the most. You sits yander fit to bust; but (with a roar like a lion) ye never offers me none on’t, neither sup nor bit.”

At this sudden turn of Mr. Maxley’s wit, light and playful as a tap of the old English quarter-staff, they were a little staggered; all but Edward, who laughed and supplied him zealously with sandwiches.

“You’re a gentleman, you are,” said Maxley, looking full at Sampson and Alfred to point the contradistinction.

Having thus disposed of his satirists, he contemplated the sandwiches with an inquiring and philosophic eye. “Well,” said he, after long and thoughtful inspection, “you gentlefoiks won’t die of hard work; your sarvants must cut the very meat to fit your mouths.” And not to fall behind the gentry in a great and useful department of intelligence, he made precisely one mouthful of each sandwich.

Mrs. Dodd was secretly amazed, and, taking care not to be noticed by Maxley, said confidentially, “Monsieur avait bien raison; le souris a passe: par la.

The plate cleared, and washed down with a tumbler of port, Maxley resumed, and informed the doctor that the mouse was at this moment in his garden eating his bulbs. “And I be come here to put an end to her, if I’ve any luck at all.”

Sampson told him he needn’t trouble. “Nature has put an end to her as long as her body.”

Mr. Maxley was puzzled for a moment, then opened his mouth from ear to ear in a guffaw that made the glasses ring. His humour was perverse. He was wit-proof and fun-proof; but at a feeble jest would sometimes roar like a lion inflated with laughing-gas. Laughed he ever so loud and long, he always ended abruptly and without gradation — his laugh was a clean spadeful dug out of Merriment. He resumed his gravity and his theme all in an instant. “White arsenic she won’t look at for I’ve tried her; but they tell me there’s another sweetmeat come up, which they call it striek nine”

“Hets! let the poor beasty alone. Life’s as sweet tit as tus.”

“If you was a gardener, you’d feel for the bulbs, not for the varmin,” remonstrated Maxley rather arrogantly.

“But bein’ a man of sceince, I feel for th’ higher organisation. Mice are a part of Nature, as much as market-gardeners.”

“So be stoats, and adders, and doctors.”

Sampson appealed: “Jintlemen, here’s a pretty pashint: reflects on our lairned profission, and it never cost him a guinea, for the dog never pays.”

“Don’t let my chaff choke ye, doctor. That warn’t meant for you altogether. So if you have got a little bit of that ’ere about you ——”

“I’m not a ratcatcher, my man: I don’t go with dith in my pocket, like the surgeons that carry a lancet. And if I had Murder in both pockets, you shouldn’t get any. Here’s a greedy dog! got a thousand pounds in the bank, and grudges his healer a guinea, and his mouse a stand-up bite.”

“Now, who have been a telling you lies?” inquired Maxley severely. “My missus, for a farthing. I’m not a thousand-pound man; I’m a nine-hundred-pound man; and it’s all safe at Hardie’s.” Here he went from his roar to his whisper, “I don’t hold with Lunnon banks; they be like my missus’s eggs: all one outside, and the rotten ones only known by breaking. Well (loud) I be pretty close, I don’t deny it; but (confidentially) my missus beats me. I look twice at a penny; but she looks twice at both sides of a halfpenny before she will let him go: and it’s her being so close have raised all this here bobbery; and so I told her; says I, ‘Missus, if you would but leave an end of a dip, or a paring of cheese, about your cupboard, she would hide at home; but you hungers her so, you drives her afield right on atop o’ my roots.’ ‘Oh,’ says my missus, ‘if I was to be as wasteful as you be, where should we be come Christmas day? Every tub on its own bottom,’ says she; ‘man and wife did ought to keep theirselves to theirselves, she to the house, and I to the garden.’ ‘So be it, says I, ‘and by the same toaken, don’t let me catch them “Ns” in my garden again, or I’ll spoil their clucking and scratching,’ says I, ‘for I’ll twist their dalled necks: ye’ve got a yard,’ says I, ‘and a roost, and likewise a turnpike, you and your poultry: so bide at home the lot, and don’t come a scratching o’ me,’ and with that we had a ripput; and she took one of her pangs; and then I behoved to knock under; and that is allus the way if ye quarrel with woman-folk; they are sworn to get the better of ye by hook or by crook. Now dooe give me a bit of that ere, to quiet this here, as eats me up by the roots and sets my missus and me by the ears.”

“Justum ac tenacem propositi virum,” whispered Alfred to Edward.

Sampson told him angrily to go to a certain great personage.

“Not afore my betters,” whispered Mr. Maxley, smit with a sudden respect for etiquette “Won’t ye, now?”

“I’ll see ye hanged first, ye miserly old assassin.”

“Then I have nothing to thank you for,” roared Maxley, and made his adieux, ignoring with marked contempt the false physician who declined to doctor the foe of his domestic peace and crocuses.

“Quite a passage of arms,” said Edward.

“Yes,” said Mrs. Dodd, “and of bludgeons and things, rather than the polished rapier. What expressions to fall from two highly educated gentlemen! Slope — Potato-trap — Sawbones — Catlap —je n’en finirais pas.

She then let them know that she meditated a “dictionary of jargon;” in hopes that its bulk might strike terror into honest citizens, and excite an anti-jargon league to save the English language, now on the verge of dissolution.

Sampson was pleased with this threat. “Now, that is odd,” said he. “Why, I am compilin’ a vocabulary myself. I call ’t th’ ass-ass-ins’ dickshinary; showing how, by the use of mealy-mouthed and d’exotic phrases, knaves can lead fools by th’ ear a vilent dith. F’r instance; if one was to say to John Bull, ‘Now I’ll cut a great gash in your arm and let your blood run till ye drop down senseless,’ he’d take fright and say, ‘Call another time!’ So the profissional ass-ass-in words it thus: ‘I’ll bleed you from a large orifice till the occurrence of syncope.’ All right sis John: he’s bled from a lar j’orifice and dies three days after of th’ assassin’s knife hid in a sheath o’ goose grease. But I’ll bloe the gaff with my dictionary.”

“Meantime there is another contribution to mine,” said Mrs. Dodd.

And they agreed in the gaiety of their hearts to compare their rival Lexicons.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/reade/charles/hard-cash/chapter11.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33