Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 15

CHRONOLOGY. — The Hard Cash sailed from Canton months before the boat race at Henley recorded in Chapter I., but it landed in Barkington a fortnight after the last home event I recorded in its true series.

Now this fortnight, as it happens, was fruitful of incidents, and must be dealt with at once. After that, “Love” and “Cash,” the converging branches of this story, will flow together in one stream.

Alfred Hardie kept faith with Mrs. Dodd, and, by an effort she appreciated, forbore to express his love for Julia except by the pen. He took in Lloyd’s shipping news, and got it down by rail, in hopes there would be something about the Agra; then he could call at Albion Villa. Mrs. Dodd had given him that loophole: meantime he kept moping for an invitation, which never came.

Julia was now comparatively happy, and so indeed was Alfred; but then the male of our species likes to be superlatively happy, not comparatively; and that Mrs. Dodd forgot or perhaps had not observed.

One day Sampson was at Albion Villa, and Alfred knew it. Now, though it was a point of honour with poor Alfred not to hang about after Julia until her father’s return, he had a perfect right to lay in wait for Sampson and hear something about her; and he was so deep in love that even a word at second-hand from her lips was a drop of dew to his heart.

So he strolled up towards the villa. He had nearly reached it, when a woman ran past him making the most extraordinary sounds: I can only describe it as screaming under her breath. Though he only saw her back, he recognised Mrs. Maxley. One back differeth from another, whatever you may have been told to the contrary in novels and plays. He called to her: she took no notice, and darted wildly through the gate of Albion Villa. Alfred’s curiosity was excited, and he ventured to put his head over the gate. But Mrs. Maxley had disappeared.

Alfred had half a mind to go in and inquire if anything was the matter: it would be a good excuse.

While he hesitated, the dining-room window was thrown violently up, and Sampson looked out. “Hy! Hardie! my good fellow! for Heaven’s sake a fly, and a fast one!”

It was plain something very serious had occurred: so Alfred flew towards the nearest fly-stand. On the way, he fell in with a chance fly drawn up at a public-house; he jumped on the box and drove rapidly towards Albion Villa. Sampson was hobbling to meet him — he had sprained his ankle or would not have asked for a conveyance — to save time he got up beside Alfred, and told him to drive hard to Little Friar Street. On the way he explained hurriedly: Mrs. Maxley had burst in on him at Albion Villa to say her husband was dying in torment: and indeed the symptoms she gave were alarming, and, if correct, looked very like lockjaw. But her description had been cut short by a severe attack, which choked her and turned her speechless and motionless, and white to the very lips.

“‘Oho,’ sis I, ‘brist-pang!’ And at such a time, ye know. But these women are as unseasonable as they are unreasonable. Now, angina pictoris or brist-pang is not curable through the lungs, nor the stomick, nor the liver, nor the stays, nor the saucepan, as the bunglintinkerindox of the schools pretind, but only through that mighty mainspring the Brain; and instid of going meandering to the Brain round by the stomick, and so giving the wumman lots o’ time to die first, which is the scholastic practice, I wint at the Brain direct, took a puff o’ chlorofm put m’ arm round her neck, laid her back in a chair — she didn’t struggle, for, when this disorrder grips ye, ye cant move hand nor foot — and had my lady into the land of Nod in half a minute; thin off t’ her husband; so here’s th’ Healer between two stools — spare the whipcord, spoil the knacker! — it would be a good joke if I was to lose both pashints for want of a little unbeequity, wouldn’t it — Lash the lazy vagabin! — Not that I care: what interest have I in their lives? they never pay: but ye see custom’s second nature; an d’Ive formed a vile habit; I’ve got to be a Healer among the killers: an d’a Triton among — the millers. Here we are at last, Hiven be praised.” And he hopped into the house faster than most people can run on a good errand. Alfred flung the reins to a cad and followed him.

The room was nearly full of terrified neighbours: Sampson shouldered them all roughly out of his way, and there, on a bed, lay Maxley’s gaunt figure in agony.

His body was drawn up by the middle into an arch, and nothing touched the bed but the head and the heels; the toes were turned back in the most extraordinary contortion, and the teeth set by the rigour of the convulsion, and in the man’s white face and fixed eyes were the horror and anxiety, that so often show themselves when the body feels itself in the grip of Death.

Mr. Osmond the surgeon was there; he had applied a succession of hot cloths to the pit of the stomach, and was trying. to get laudanum down the throat, but the clenched teeth were impassable.

He now looked up and said politely, “Ah! Dr. Sampson, I am glad to see you here. The seizure is of a cataleptic nature, I apprehend. The treatment hitherto has been hot epithems to the abdomen, and ——”

Here Sampson, who had examined the patient keenly, and paid no more attention to Osmond than to a fly buzzing, interrupted him as unceremoniously —

“Poisoned,” said he philosophically.

“Poisoned!!” screamed the people.

“Poisoned!” cried Mr. Osmond, in whose little list of stereotyped maladies poisoned had no place. “Is there any one you have reason to suspect?”

“I don’t suspect, nor conject, sir: I know. The man is poisoned, the substance strychnine. Now stand out of the way you gaping gabies, and let me work. Hy, young Oxford! you are a man: get behind and hold both his arms for your life! That’s you!”

He whipped off his coat laid hold of Osmond’s epithems, chucked them across the room, saying, “You may just as well squirt rose-water at a house on fire;” drenched his handkerchief with chloroform, sprang upon the patient like a mountain cat and chloroformed him with all his might.

Attacked so skilfully and resolutely, Maxley resisted little for so strong a man; but the potent poison within fought virulently: as a proof, the chloroform had to be renewed three times before it could produce any effect. At last the patient yielded to the fumes and became insensible.

Then the arched body subsided and the rigid muscles relaxed and turned supple. Sampson kneaded the man like dough by way of comment.

“It is really very extraordinary,” said Osmond.

“Mai — dearr — sirr, nothing’s extraornary t’ a man that knows the reason of iverything.”

He then inquired if any one in the room had noticed at what intervals of time the pains came on.

“I am sorry to say it is continuous,” said Osmond.

“Mai — dearr — sirr, nothing on airth is continuous: iverything has paroxysms and remissions — from a toothache t’ a cancer.”

He repeated his query in various forms, till at last a little girl squeaked out, “If —you—— please, sir, the throes do come about every ten minutes, for I was a looking at the clock; I carries father his dinner at twelve.”

“If you please, ma’am, there’s half a guinea for you for not being such an’ ijjit as the rest of the world, especially the Dockers.” And he jerked her half a sovereign.

A stupor fell on the assembly. They awoke from it to examine the coin, and see if it was real, or only yellow air.

Maxley came to and gave a sigh of relief. When he had been insensible, yet out of pain, nearly eight minutes by the clock, Sampson chloroformed him again. “I’ll puzzle ye, my friend strych,” said he. “How will ye get your perriodical paroxysms when the man is insensible? The Dox say y’ act direct on the spinal marrow. Well, there’s the spinal marrow where you found it just now. Act on it again, my lad! I give ye leave — if ye can. Ye can’t; bekase ye must pass through the Brain to get there: and I occupy the Brain with a swifter ajint than y’ are, and mean to keep y’ out of it till your power to kill evaporates, being a vigitable.”

With this his spirits mounted, and he indulged in a harmless and favourite fiction: he feigned the company were all males and medical students, Osmond included, and he the lecturer. “Now, jintlemen,” said he, “obsairve the great Therey of the Perriodeecity and Remitteney of all disease, in conjunckshin with its practice. All diseases have paroxysms and remissions, which occur at intervals; sometimes it’s a year, sometimes a day, an hour, ten minutes; but whatever th’ interval, they are true to it: they keep time. Only when the disease is retirin, the remissions become longer, the paroxysms return at a greater interval, and just the revairse when the pashint is to die. This, jintlemen, is man’s life from the womb to the grave: the throes that precede his birth are remittent like ivery thing else, but come at diminished intervals when he has really made up his mind to be born (his first mistake, sirs, but not his last); and the paroxysms of his mortal disease come at shorter intervals when he is really goon off the hooks: but still chronometrically; just as watches keep time whether they go fast or slow. Now, jintlemen, isn’t this a beautiful Therey?”

“Oh, mercy! Oh, good people help me! Oh, Jesus Christ have pity on me!” And the sufferer’s body was bent like a bow, and his eyes filled with horror, and his toes pointed at his chin.

The Doctor hurled himself on the foe. “Come,” said he, “smell to this, lad! That’s right! He is better already, jintlemen, or he couldn’t howl, ye know. Deevil a howl in um before I gave um puff chlorofm. Ah! would ye? would ye?”

“Oh! oh! oh! oh! ugh! —— ah!”

The Doctor got off the insensible body, and resumed his lecture calmly, like one who has disposed of some childish interruption. “And now to th’ application of the Therey: If the poison can reduce the tin minutes’ interval to five minutes, this pashint will die; and if I can get the tin minutes up t’ half hour, this pashint will live. Any way, jintlemen, we won’t detain y’ unreasonably: the case shall be at an end by one o’clock.”

On hearing this considerate stipulation, up went three women’s aprons to their eyes.

“Alack! poor James Maxley! he is at his last hour: it be just gone twelve, and a dies at one.”

Sampson turned on the weepers. “Who says that, y’ ijjits? I said the case would end at one: a case ends when the pashint gets well or dies.”

“Oh, that is good news for poor Susan Maxley; her man is to be well by one o’clock, Doctor says.”

Sampson groaned, and gave in. he was strong, but not strong enough to make the populance suspend an opinion.

Yet, methinks it might be done: by chloroforming them.

The spasms came at longer intervals and less violent, and Maxley got so fond of the essence of Insensibility, that he asked to have some in his own hand to apply at the first warning of the horrible pains.

Sampson said, “Any fool can complete the cure; and, by way of practical comment, left him in Mr. Osmond’s charge; but with an understanding that the treatment should not be varied; that no laudanum should be given; but, in due course, a stiff tumbler of brandy and water, or two. “If he gets drunk, all the better; a little intoxication weakens the body’s memory of the pain it has endured, and so expedites the cure. Now off we go to th’ other.”

“The body’s memory!” said Mr. Osmond to himself: “what on earth does the quack mean?”

The driver de jure of the fly was not quite drunk enough to lose his horse and vehicle without missing them. He was on the look out for the robber, and as Alfred came round the corner full pelt, darted at the reins with a husky remonstrance, and Alfred cut into him with the whip: an angry explanation — a guinea — and behold the driver sitting behind complacent and nodding.

Arrived at Albion Villa, Alfred asked Sampson submissively if he might come in and see the wife cured.

“Why, of course,” said Sampson, not knowing the delicate position.

“Then ask me in before Mrs. Dodd,” murmured Alfred coaxingly.

“Oo, ay,” said the Doctor knowingly: “I see.”

Mrs. Maxley was in the dining-room: she had got well of herself, but was crying bitterly, and the ladies would not let her go home yet; they feared the worst and that some one would blurt it out to her.

To this anxious trio entered Sampson radiant. “There, it’s all right. Come, little Maxley, ye needn’t cry; he has got lots more mischief to do in the world yet; but, O wumman, it is lucky you came to me and not to any of the tinkering dox. No more cat and dog for you and him but for the Chronothairmal Therey. And you may bless my puppy’s four bones too: he ran and stole a fly like a man, and drove hilter-skilter. Now, lf I had got to your house two minutes later, your Jamie would have lairned the great secret ere this.” He threw up the window. “Haw you! come away and receive the applause due from beauty t’ ajeelity.”

Alfred came in timidly, and was received with perfect benignity and self-possession by Mrs. Dodd, but Julia’s face was dyed with blushes, and her eyes sparkled the eloquent praise she was ashamed to speak before them all. But such a face as her scarce needed the help of a voice at such a time. And indeed both the lovers’ faces were a pretty sight and a study. How they stole loving glances, but tried to keep within bounds, and not steal more than three per minute! and how unconscious they endeavoured to look the intervening seconds! and what windows were the demure complacent visages they thought they were making shutters of! Innocent love has at least this advantage over melodramatic, that it can extract exquisite sweetness out of so small a thing. These sweethearts were not alone, could not open their hearts, must not even gaze too long; yet to be in the same room even on such terms was a taste of Heaven.

“But, dear heart!” said Mrs. Maxley, “ye don’t tell me what he ailed. Ma’am, if you had seen him you would have said he was taken for death.”

“Pray what is the complaint?” inquired Mrs. Dodd.

“Oh, didn’t I tell ye? Poisoned.”

This intelligence was conveyed with true scientific calmness, and received with feminine ejaculations of horror. Mrs. Maxley was indignant into the bargain: “Don’t ye go giving my house an ill name! We keeps no poison.”

Sampson fixed his eyes sternly on her: “Wumman, ye know better: ye keep strychnine, for th’ use and delectation of your domestic animal.”

“Strychnine! I never heard tell of it. Is that Latin for arsenic?”

“Now isn’t this lamentable? Why, arsenic is a mital; strychnine a vigitable. N’hist me! Your man was here seeking strychnine to poison his mouse; a harmless, domistic, necessary mouse. I told him mice were a part of Nature as much as Maxleys, and life as sweet tit as tim: but he was dif to scientific and chrisehin preceps; so I told him to go to the Deevil: ‘I will,’ sis he, and went t’ a docker. The two assassins have poisoned the poor beastie between ’em; and thin, been the greatest miser in the world, except one, he will have roasted his victim, and ate her on the sly, imprignated with strychnine. ‘I’ll steal a march on t’other miser,’ sis he; and that’s you: t’ his brain flew the strychnine: his brain sint it to his spinal marrow: and we found my lorrd bent like a bow, and his jaw locked, and nearer knowin the great secret than any man in England will be this year to live: and sairves the assassinating old vagabin right.”

“Heaven forgive you, Doctor,” said Mrs. Maxley, half mechanically.

“For curin a murrderer? Not likely.”

Mrs. Maxley, who had shown signs of singular uneasiness during Sampson’s explanation, now rose, and said in a very peculiar tone she must go home directly.

Mrs. Dodd seemed to enter into her feelings, and made her go in the fly, taking care to pay the fare and the driver out of her own purse. As the woman got into the fly, Sampson gave her a piece of friendly and practical advice. “Nixt time he has a mind to breakfast on strychnine, you tell me; and I’ll put a pinch of arsenic in the salt-cellar, and cure him safe as the bank. But this time he’d have been did and stiff long before such a slow ajint as arsenic could get a hold on um.”

They sat down to luncheon, but neither Alfred nor Julia fed much, except upon sweet stolen looks; and soon the active Sampson jumped up, and invited Alfred to go round his patients. Alfred could not decline, but made his adieux with regret so tender and undisguised, that Julia’s sweet eyes filled, and her soft hand instinctively pressed his at parting to console him. She blushed at herself afterwards, but at the time she was thinking only of him.

Maxley and his wife came up in the evening with a fee. They had put their heads together, and proffered one guinea. “Man and wife be one flesh, you know, Doctor,” said the rustic miser.

Sampson, whose natural choler was constantly checked by his humour, declined this profuse proposal. “Here’s vanity!” said he. “Now do you really think your two lives are worth a guinea? Why, it’s 252 pence! 1008 farthings!”

The pair affected disappointment — vilely.

At all events, he must accept this basket of gudgeons Maxley had brought along. Being poisoned was quite out of Maxley’s daily routine, and had so unsettled him, that he had got up, and gone fishing — to the amazement of the parish.

Sampson inspected the basket. “Why, they are only fish,” said he; “I was in hopes they were pashints.” He accepted the gudgeons, and inquired how Maxley got poisoned. It came out that Mrs. Maxley, seeing her husband set apart a portion of his Welsh rabbit, had “grizzled,” and asked what that was for; and being told “for the mouse,” and to “mind her own business,” had grizzled still more, and furtively conveyed a portion back into the pan for her master’s own use. She had been quaking dismally all the afternoon at what she had done, but finding Maxley — hard but just — did not attack her for an involuntary fault, she now brazened it out, and said, “Men didn’t ought to have poison in the house unbeknown to their wives. Jem had got no more than he worked for,” &c. But, like a woman, she vowed vengeance on the mouse: whereupon Maxley threatened her with the marital correction of neck-twisting if she laid a finger on it.

“My eyes be open now to what a poor creature do feel as dies poisoned. Let her a be: there’s room in our place for her and we.”

Next day he met Alfred, and thanked him with warmth, almost with emotion. “There ain’t many in Barkington as ever done me a good turn, Master Alfred; you be one on ’em: you comes after the Captain in my book now.”

Alfred suggested that his claims were humble compared with Sampson’s.

“No, no,” said Maxley, going down to his whisper, and looking, monstrous wise: “Doctor didn’t go out of his business for me: you did.”

The sage miser’s gratitude had not time to die a natural death before circumstances occurred to test it. On the morning of that eventful day which concluded my last chapter, he received a letter from Canada. His wife was out with eggs; so he caught little Rose Sutton, that had more than once spelled an epistle for him; and she read it out in a loud and reckless whine: “‘At — noon — this — very — daie — Muster — Hardie’s a-g-e-n-t, aguent — d-i-s dis, h-o-n — honoured — dishonoured— a — bill; and sayed.’” Here she made a full stop. Then on to the next verse.

“‘There — were no — more — asses.’”

“Mercy on us! but it can’t be asses, wench: drive your spe-ad into’t again.”

“‘A-s-s-e-t-s. Assets.’”

“Ah! Go an! go an!”

“‘Now — Fatther — if — you — leave — a s-h-i-l-l-i-n-g, shilling — at — Hardie’s — after — this — b-l-a-m-e, ble-am — your — self — not — me — for — this — is — the — waie — the r-o-g-u-e-s, rogews — all — bre-ak — they — go — at — a — d-i-s-t-a-n-c-e, distance — first — and — then — at — h-o-m-e, whuoame. — Dear — fatther’ — Lawk o’ daisy, what ails you, Daddy Maxley? You be as white as a Sunday smock. Be you poisoned again, if you please?”

“Worse than that — worse!” groaned Maxhey, trembling all over. “Hush! — hold your tongue! Give me that letter! Don’t you never tell nobody nothing of what you have been a reading to me, and I’ll — I’ll — It’s only Jem’s fun: he is allus running his rigs — that’s a good wench now, and I’ll give ye a halfpenny.”

“La, Daddy,” said the child, opening her eyes, “I never heeds what I re-ads: I be wrapped up in the spelling. Dear heart, what a sight of long words folks puts in a letter, more than ever drops out of their mouths; which their fingers be longer than their tongues, I do suppose.”

Maxley hailed thus information characteristically. “Then we’ll say no more about the halfpenny.”

At this, Rose raised a lamentable cry, and pearly tears gushed forth.

“There, there!” said Maxley, deprecatingly; “here’s two apples for ye; ye can’t get them for less: and a halfpenny or a haporth is all one to you, but it is a great odds to me. And apples they rot; halfpence don’t.”

It was now nine o’clock. The bank did not open till ten; but Maxley went and hung about the door, to be the first applicant.

As he stood there trembling with fear lest the bank should not open at all, he thought hard, and the result was a double resolution: he would have his money out to the last shilling; and, this done, would button up his pockets and padlock his tongue. It was not his business to take care of his neighbours; nor to blow the Hardies, if they paid him his money on demand. “So not a word to my missus, nor yet to the town-crier,” said he.

Ten o’clock struck, and the bank shutters remained up. Five minutes more, and the watcher was in agony. Three minutes more, and up came a boy of sixteen whistling, and took down the shutters with an indifference that amazed him. “Bless your handsome face!” said Maxley with a sigh of relief.

He now summoned up all his firmness, and, having recourse to an art in which these shrewd rustics are supreme, made his face quite inexpressive, and so walked into the bank the every-day Maxley externally, but within a volcano ready to burst if there should be the slightest hesitation to pay him his money.

“Good morning, Mr. Maxley,” said young Skinner.

“Good morning, sir.”

“What can we do for you?”

“Oh, I’ll wait my turn, sir.”

“Well, it is your turn now, if you like.”

“How much have you got of mine, if you please, sir?”

“Your balance? I’ll see. Nine hundred and four pounds.”

“Well, sir, then, if you please, I’ll draa that.

(“It has come!” thought Skinner.) “What, going to desert us?” he stammered.

“No,” said the other, trembling inwardly, but not moving a facial muscle: “it is only for a day or two, sir.”

“Ah! I see, going to make a purchase. By-the-bye, I believe Mr. Hardie means to offer you some grounds he is buying outside the town: will that suit your book?”

“I dare say it will, sir.”

“Then perhaps you will wait till our governor comes in?”

“I have no objection.”

“He won’t be long. Fine weather for the gardens, Mr. Maxley.”

“Moderate, sir. I’ll take my money if you please. Counting it out, that will help pass the time till Muster Hardie comes. You han’t made away with it?”

“What d’ye mean, sir?”

“Hardies bain’t turned thieves, be they?”

“Are you mad or intoxicated, Mr. Maxley?”

‘Neither, sir; but I wants my own, and I wool have it too: so count out on this here counter, or I’ll cry the town round that there door.”

“Henry, score James Maxley’s name off the books,” said Skinner with cool dignity. But when he had said this, he was at his wits’ end: there were not nine hundred pounds of hard cash in the bank, nor anything like it.

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