Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 20

“WHAT will ye give me, and I’ll tell ye?” said Maxley to Alfred Hardie.

“Five pounds.”

“That is too much.”

“Five shillings, then.”

“That is too little. Lookee here; your garden owes me thirty shillings for work: suppose you pays me, and that will save me from going to your Dad for it.”

Alfred consented readily, and paid the money. Then Maxley told him it was Captain Dodd he had been talking with.

“I thought so! I thought so!” cried Alfred joyfully, “but I was afraid to believe it: it was too delightful. Maxley, you’re a trump you don’t know what anxiety you have relieved me of. Some fool has gone and reported the Agia wrecked; look here!” and he showed him his Lloyd’s. “Luckily it has only just come, so I haven’t been miserable long.”

“Well, to be sure, news flies fast now-a-days. He have been wrecked for that matter.” He then surprised Alfred by telling him all he had just learned from Dodd; and was going to let out about the  L. 4,000, when he recollected this was the banker’s son, and while he was talking to him, it suddenly struck Maxley that this young gentleman would come down in the world should the bank break, and then the Dodds, he concluded, judging others by himself, would be apt to turn their backs on him. Now he liked Alfred, and was disposed to do him a good turn, when he could without hurting James Maxley. “Mr. Alfred,” said he, “I know the world better than you do: you be ruled by me, or you’ll rue it. You put on your Sunday coat this minute, and off like a shot to Albyn Villee; you’ll get there before the Captain; he have got a little business to do first; that is neither here nor there: besides, you are young and lissom. You be the first to tell Missus Dodd the good news; and, when the Captain comes, there sits you aside Miss Julee: and don’t you be shy and shamefaced, take him when his heart is warm, and tell him why you are there: ‘I love her dear,’ says you. He be only a sailor and they never has no sense nor prudence; he is a’most sure to take you by the hand, at such a time: and once you get his word, he’ll stand good, to his own hurt. He’s one of that sort, bless his silly old heart.”

A good deal of this was unintelligible to Alfred, but the advice seemed good — advice generally does when it squares with our own wishes. He thanked Maxley, left him, made a hasty toilet, and ran to Albion Villa.

Sarah opened the door to him in tears.

The news of the wreck had come to Albion Villa just half an hour ago, and in that half hour they had tasted more misery than hitherto their peaceful lot had brought them in years. Mrs. Dodd was praying and crying in her room; Julia had put on her bonnet, and was descending in deep distress and agitation, to go down to the quay and learn more if possible.

Alfred saw her on the stairs, and at sight of her pale, agitated face flew to her.

She held out both hands piteously to him: “O Alfred!”

“Good news!” he panted. “He is alive — Maxley has seen him — I have seen him — he will be here directly — my own love, dry your eyes — calm your fears — he is safe — he is well: hurrah! hurrah!”

The girl’s pale face flushed red with hope, then pale again with emotion, then rosy red with transcendent joy. “Oh, bless you! bless you!” she murmured, in her sweet gurgle so full of heart: then took his head passionately with both her hands, as if she was going to kiss him: uttered a little inarticulate cry of love and gratitude over him, then turned and flew up the stairs, crying “Mamma! mamma!” and burst into her mother’s room. When two such Impetuosities meet as Alfred and Julia, expect quick work.

What happened in Mrs. Dodd’s room may be imagined: and soon both ladies came hastily out to Alfred, and he found himself in the drawing-room seated between them, and holding a hand of each, and playing the man delightfully, soothing and assuring them. Julia believed him at a word, and beamed with unmixed delight and anticipation of the joyful meeting. Mrs. Dodd cost him more trouble: her soft hand trembled still in his, and she put question upon question. But when he told her he with his own eyes had seen Captain Dodd talking to Maxley, and gathered from Maxley he had been shipwrecked on the coast of France, and lost his chronometer and his sextant, these details commanded credit. Bells were rung: the Captain’s dressing-room ordered to be got ready; the cook put on her mettle, and Alfred invited to stay and dine with the long-expected one: and the house of mourning became the house of joy.

“And then it was he who brought the good news,” whispered Julia to her mother, “and that is so sweet.”

“Yes, dear,” said Mrs. Dodd, “he will make even me love him. The L. 14,000! I hope that was not lost in the wreck.”

“Oh, mamma! who cares when his own dear, sweet, precious life has been in danger, and is mercifully preserved? Why does he not come? I shall scold him for keeping us waiting. You know I am not a bit afraid of him, though he is papa. Indeed, I am ashamed to say I govern him with a rod of — no matter what. Do, do, do let us all three put on our bonnets, and run and meet him. I want him so to love somebody the very first day.”

Mrs. Dodd said, “Well, wait a few minutes, and then, if he is not here, you two shall go. I dare hardly trust myself to meet my darling husband in the open street.”

Julia ran to Alfred: “If he does not come in ten minutes, you and I may go and meet him.”

“You are an angel,” murmured Alfred.

“You are another,” said Julia haughtily. “Oh, dear, I can’t sit down, and I don’t want flattery: I want papa. A waltz! a waltz! then one can go mad with joy without startling propriety. I can’t answer for the consequences if I don’t let off a little, little happiness.”

“That I will,” said Mrs. Dodd; “for I am as happy as you, and happier.” She played a waltz.

Julia’s eyes were a challenge: Alfred started up and took her ready hand, and soon the gay young things were whirling round, the happiest pair in England.

But in the middle of the joyous whirl, Julia’s quick ear, on the watch all the time, heard the gate swing to: she glided like an eel from Alfred’s arm and ran to the window. Arrived there, she made three swift vertical bounds like a girl with a skipping rope, only her hands were clapping in the air at the same time; then down the stairs, screaming, “His chest his chest! he is coming, coming, come!”

Alfred ran after her.

Mrs. Dodd, unable to race with such antelopes, slipped quietly out into the little balcony.

Julia had seen two men carrying a trestle with a tarpauling over it, and a third walking beside. Dodd’s heavy sea-chest had been more than once carried home this way. She met the men at the door, and overpowered them with questions:—

“Is it his clothes? Then he wasn’t so much wrecked after all. Is he with you? Is he coming directly?. Why don’t you tell me?”

The porters at first wore the stolid impassive faces of their tribe; but when this bright young creature questioned them, brimming over with ardour and joy, their countenances fell and they hung their heads.

The little sharp-faced man, who was walking beside the others stepped forward to reply to Julia.

He was interrupted by a terrible scream from the balcony.

Mrs. Dodd was leaning wildly over it, with dilating eyes and quivering hand, that pointed down to the other side of the trestle: “Julia!! Julia!!”

Julia ran round, and stood petrified, her pale lips apart, and all her innocent joy frozen in a moment

The tarpauling was scanty there, and a man’s hand and part of his arm dangled helpless out.

The hand was blanched, and wore a well-known ring.

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