Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 21

IN the terror and confusion no questions were then asked: Alfred got to David’s head, and told Skinner to take his feet; Mrs. Dodd helped, and they carried him up and laid him on her bed. The servant girls cried and wailed, and were of little use: Mrs. Dodd hurried them off for medical aid, and she and Julia, though pale as ghosts, and trembling in every limb, were tearless and almost silent, and did all for the best. They undid a shirt button that confined his throat: they set his head high, and tried their poor little eau-deCologne and feminine remedies; and each of them held an insensible hand in both hers, clasping it piteously and trying to hold him tight, so that Death should not take him away from them.

“My son, where is my son?” sighed Mrs. Dodd.

Alfred threw his arm round her neck: “You have one son here: what shall I do?”

The next minute he was running to the telegraph office for her.

At the gate he found Skinner hanging about, and asked him hurriedly how the calamity had happened. Skinner said Captain Dodd had fallen down senseless in the street, and he had passed soon after, recognised him, and brought him home: “I have paid the men, sir; I wouldn’t let them ask the ladies at such a time.”

“Oh, thank you! thank you, Skinner! I will repay you; it is me you have obliged.” And Alfred ran off with the words in his mouth.

Skinner looked after him and muttered: “I forgot him. It is a nice mess. Wish I was out of it.” And he went back, hanging his head, to Alfred’s father.

Mr. Osmond met him. Skinner turned and saw him enter the villa.

Mr. Osmond came softly into the room, examined Dodd’s eye, felt his pulse, and said he must be bled at once.

Mrs. Dodd was averse to this. “Oh, let us try everything else first,” said she. But Osmond told her there was no other remedy: “All the functions we rely on in the exhibition of medicines are suspended.”

Dr. Short now drove up, and was ushered in.

Mrs. Dodd asked him imploringly whether it was necessary to bleed. But Dr. Short knew his business too well to be entrapped into an independent opinion where a surgeon had been before him. He drew Mr. Osmond apart, and inquired what he had recommended: this ascertained, he turned to Mrs. Dodd and said, “I advise venesection or cupping.”

“Oh, Dr. Short, pray have pity and order something less terrible. Dr. Sampson is so averse to bleeding.”

“Sampson? Sampson? never heard of him.”

“It is the chronothermal man,” said Osmond.

“Oh, ah! but this is too serious a case to be quacked. Coma with stertor, and a full, bounding pulse, indicates liberal bloodletting. I would try venesection; then cup, if necessary, or leech the temple. I need not say, sir, calomel must complete the cure. The case is simple, and, at present, surgical: I leave it in competent hands.” And he retired, leaving the inferior practitioner well pleased with him and with himself; no insignificant part of a physicians art.

When he was gone, Mr. Osmond told Mrs. Dodd that however crotchety Dr. Sampson might be, he was an able man, and had very properly resisted the indiscriminate use of the lancet: the profession owed him much. “But in apoplexy the leech and the lancet are still our sheet-anchor.”

Mrs. Dodd utter a faint shriek: “Apoplexy! Oh, David! Oh, my darling, have you come home for this?”

Osmond assured her apoplexy was not necessarily fatal; provided the cerebral blood-vessels were relieved in time by depletion.

The fixed eye and terrible stertorous breathing on the one hand, and the promise of relief on the other, overpowered Mrs. Dodd’s reluctance. She sent Julia out of the room on a pretext, and then consented with tears to David’s being bled. But she would not yield to leave the room. No; this tender woman nerved herself to see her husband’s blood flow, sooner than risk his being bled too much by the hard hand of custom. Let the peevish fools, who make their own troubles in love, compare their slight and merited pangs with this: she was his true lover and his wife, yet there she stood with eye horror-stricken yet unflinching, and saw the stab of the little lancet, and felt it deeper than she would a javelin through her own body, and watched the blood run that was dearer to her than her own.

At the first prick of the lancet David shivered, and, as the blood escaped, his eye unfixed, and the pupils contracted and dilated, and once he sighed. “Good sign that!” said Osmond.

“Oh, that is enough, sir,” said Mrs. Dodd: “we shall faint if you take any more.

Osmond closed the vein, observing that a local bleeding would do the rest. When he had staunched the blood, Mrs. Dodd sank half fainting in her chair. By some marvellous sympathy it was she who had been bled, and whose vein was now closed. Osmond sprinkled water on her face; she thanked him, and said sweetly, “You see I could not have lost any more.”

When it was over she came to tell Julia; she found her sitting on the stairs crying and pale as marble. She suspected. And there was Alfred hanging over her, and in agony at her grief: out came his love for her in words and accents unmistakable, and this in Osmond’s hearing and the maid’s.

“Oh, hush! hush!” cried poor Mrs. Dodd, and her face was seen to burn through her tears.

And this was the happy, quiet, little villa of my opening chapters.

Ah! Richard Hardie! Richard Hardie!

The patient was cupped on the nape of the neck by Mr. Osmond, and, on the glasses drawing, showed signs of consciousness, and the breathing was relieved. These favourable symptoms were neither diminished nor increased by the subsequent application of the cupping needles.

“We have turned the corner.” said Mr. Osmond cheerfully.

Rap! rap! rap! came a telegraphic message from Dr. Sampson, and was brought up to the sick-room.

“Out visiting patients when yours came. In apoplexy with a red face and stertorous breathing, put the feet in mustard bath and dash much cold water on the head from above. On revival give emetic: cure with sulphate of quinine. In apoplexy with a white face, treat as for a simple faint: here emetic dangerous. In neither apoplexy bleed. Coming down by train.”

This message added to Mrs. Dodd’s alarm; the whole treatment varied so far from what had been done. She faltered her misgivings. Osmond reassured her. “Not bleed in apoplexy!” said he superciliously; “why, it is the universal practice. Judge for yourself. You see the improvement.”

Mrs. Dodd admitted it.

“Then as to the cold water,” said Osmond, “I would hardly advise so rough a remedy. And he is going on so well. But you can send for ice; and meantime give me a good-sized stocking.”

He cut and fitted it adroitly to the patient’s head, then drenched it with eau-deCologne, and soon the head began to steam.

By-and-bye, David muttered a few incoherent words, and the anxious watchers thanked God aloud for them.

At length Mr. Osmond took leave with a cheerful countenance, and left them all grateful to him, and with a high opinion of his judgment and skill, especially Julia. She said Dr. Sampson was very amusing to talk to, but she should be sorry to trust to that rash, reckless, boisterous man in time of danger.

About two in the morning a fly drove rapidly up to the villa, and Sampson got out.

He found David pale and muttering, and his wife and children hanging over him in deep distress.

He shook hands with them in silence, and eyed the patient keenly. He took the nightcap off, removed the pillows, lowered his head, and said quietly, “This is the cold fit come on: we must not shut our eyes on the pashint. Why, what is this? he has been cupped!” And Sampson changed colour and his countenance fell.

Mrs. Dodd saw and began to tremble. “I could not hear from you; and Dr. Short and Mr. Osmond felt quite sure: and he seems better. Oh, Dr. Sampson, why were you not here? We have bled him as well. Oh, don’t, don’t, don’t say it was wrong! He would have died; they said so. Oh, David! David! your wife has killed you.” And she knelt and kissed his hand and implored his pardon, insensible.

Julia clung sobbing to her mother, in a vain attempt to comfort her.

Sampson groaned.

“No, no,” said he: “don’t go on so, my poor soul; you did all for the best; and now we must make the best of what is done. Hartshorn! brandy! and caution! For those two assassins have tied my hands.”

While applying these timid remedies, he inquired if the cause was known. They told him they knew nothing; but that David had been wrecked on the coast of France, and had fallen down senseless in the street: a clerk of Mr. Hardie’s had recognised him, and brought him home: so Alfred said.

“Then the cause is mintil,” said Sampson, “unless he got a blow on the hid in bein’ wrecked.”’

He then examined David’s head carefully, and found a long scar.

“But this is not it,” said he; “this is old.”

Mrs. Dodd clasped her hands, and assured him it was new to her: her David had no scar there when he left her last.

Pursuing his examination, Sampson found an open wound in his left shoulder.

He showed it them; and they were all as pale as the patient in a moment. He then asked to see his coat, and soon discovered a corresponding puncture in it, which he examined long and narrowly.

“It is a stab — with a one-edged knife.”

There was a simultaneous cry of horror.

“Don’t alarm yourselves for that,” said Sampson; “it is nothing: a mere flesh-wound. It is the vein-wound that alarms me. This school knows nothing about the paroxysms and remissions of disease. They have bled and cupped him for a passing fit. It has passed into the cold stage, but no quicker than it would have done without stealing a drop of blood. To-morrow, by disease’s nature, he will have another hot fit in spite of their bleeding. Then those ijjits would leech his temples; and on that paroxysm remitting by the nature of the disease, would fancy their leeches had cured it.”

The words were the old words, but the tone and manner was so different: no shouting, no anger: all was spoken low and gently, and with a sort of sad and weary and worn-out air.

He ordered a kettle of hot water and a quantity of mustard, and made his preparations for the hot fit, as he called it, maintaining the intermittent and febrile character of all disease.

The patient rambled a good deal, but quite incoherently, and knew nobody.

But about eight o’clock in the morning he was quite quiet and apparently sleeping: so Mrs. Dodd stole out of the room to order some coffee for Sampson and Edward. They were nodding, worn out with watching.

Julia, whose high-strung nature could dispense with sleep on such an occasion, was on her knees praying for her father.

Suddenly there came from the bed, like a thunder-clap, two words uttered loud and furiously —

“HARDIE! VILLAIN!”

Up started the drowsy watchers, and rubbed their eyes. They had heard the sound, but not the sense.

Julia rose from her knees bewildered and aghast: she had caught the strange words distinctly — words that were to haunt her night and day.

They were followed immediately by a loud groan, and the stertorous breathing recommenced, and the face was no longer pale, but flushed and turgid. On this Sampson hurried Julia from the room, and, with Edward’s help, placed David on a stool in the bath, and getting on a chair, discharged half a bucket of cold water on his head: the patient gasped: another, and David shuddered, stared wildly, and put his hand to his head; a third, and he staggered to his feet.

At this moment Mrs. Dodd coming hastily into the room, he looked steadily at her, and said, “Lucy!”

She ran to throw her arms round him, but Sampson interfered. “Gently! gently!” said he; “we must have no violent emotions.”

“Oh, no! I will be prudent.” And she stood quiet with her arms still extended, and cried for joy.

They got David to bed again, anti Sampson told Mrs. Dodd there was no danger now from the malady, but only from the remedies.

And in fact David fell into a state of weakness and exhaustion, and kept muttering unintelligibly.

Dr. Short called in the morning, and was invited to consult with Dr. Sampson. He declined. “Dr. Sampson is a notorious quack: no physician of any eminence will meet him in consultation.”

“I regret that resolution,” said Mrs. Dodd quietly, “as it will deprive me of the advantage of your skill.”

Dr. Short bowed stifly. “I shall be at your service, madam, when that empiric has given the patient up.” And he drove away.

Osmond, finding Sampson installed, took the politic line; he contrived to glide by fine gradations into the empiric’s opinions, without recanting his own, which were diametrically opposed.

Sampson, before he shot back to town, asked him to provide a good reliable nurse.

He sent a young woman of iron. She received Sampson’s instructions, and assumed the command of the sick-room, and was jealous of Mrs. Dodd and Julia, looked on them as mere rival nurses, amateurs, who, if not snubbed, might ruin the professionals. She seemed to have forgotten in the hospitals all about the family affections and their power of turning invalids themselves into nurses.

The second night she got the patient all to herself for four hours, from eleven till two.

The ladies having consented to this arrangement its order to recruit themselves for the work they were not so mad as to intrust wholly to a hireling, nurse’s feathers smoothed themselves perceptibly.

At twelve the patient was muttering and murmuring incessantly about wrecks, and money, and things: of which vain babble nurse showed her professional contempt by nodding.

At 12.30 she slept

At 1.20 she snored very loud, and woke instantly at the sound.

She took the thief out of the candle, and went like a good sentinel to look at her charge.

He was not there.

She rubbed her eyes, and held the candle over the place where he ought to be-where, in fact, he must be; for he was far too weak to move.

She tore the bedclothes down: she beat and patted the clothes with her left hand, and the candle began to shake violently in her right.

The bed was empty.

Mrs. Dodd was half asleep when a hurried tap came to her door: she started up in a moment and great dread fell on her; was David sinking?

“Ma’am! Ma’am! Is he here?”

“He! Who?” cried Mrs. Dodd, bewildered.

“Why, him! He can’t be far off”

In a moment Mrs. Dodd had opened the door, and her tongue and the nurse’s seemed to dash together, so fast came the agitated words from each in turn; and crying, “Call my son! Alarm the house!” Mrs. Dodd darted into the sickroom. She was out again in a moment, and up in the attics rousing the maids, while the nurse thundered at Edward’s door and Julia’s, and rang every bell she could get at. The inmates were soon alarmed, and flinging on their clothes: meantime Mrs. Dodd and the nurse scoured the house and searched every nook in it down to the very cellar: they found no David.

But they found something.

The street door ajar.

It was a dark drizzly night.

Edward took one road, Mrs. Dodd and Elizabeth another.

They were no sooner gone, than Julia drew the nurse into a room apart and asked her eagerly if her father had said nothing.

“Said nothing, Miss? Why he was a-talking all the night incessant.”

“Did he say anything particular? think now.”

“No, Miss: he went on as they all do just before a change. I never minds ’em; I hear so much of it.”

“Oh, nurse! nurse! have pity on me; try and recollect.”

“Well, Miss, to oblige you then; it was mostly fights this time — and wrecks — and villains — and bankers — and sharks.”

“Bankers??!” asked Julia eagerly.

“Yes, Miss, and villains, they come once or twice, but most of the time it was sharks, and ships, and money, and — hotch-potch I call it the way they talk. Bless your heart, they know no better: everything they ever saw, or read, or heard tell of — it all comes out higgledy-piggledy just before they goes off. We that makes it a business never takes no notice of what they says, Miss, and never repeats it out of one sick house into another, that you may rely on.”

Julia scarcely heard this: her hands were tight to her brow as if to aid her to think with all her force.

The result was, she told Sarah to put on her bonnet and rushed upstairs.

She was not gone three minutes, but in that short interval the nurse’s tongue and Sarah’s clashed together swiftly and incessantly.

Julia heard them. She came down with a long cloak on, whipped the hood over her head, beckoned Sarah quickly, and darted out. Sarah followed instinctively, but ere they had gone many yards from the house, said, “Oh, Miss, nurse thinks you had much better not go.”

“Nurse thinks! Nurse thinks! What does she know of me and my griefs?”

“Why, Miss, she is a very experienced woman, and she says — Oh, dear! oh, dear! And such a dark cold night for you to be out!”

“Nurse? Nurse? What did she say?”

“Oh, I haven’t the heart to tell you: if you would but come back home with me! She says as much as that poor master’s troubles will be over long before we can get to him.” And with this Sarah burst out sobbing.

“Come quicker,” cried Julia despairingly. But after a while she said, “Tell me; only don’t stop me.”

“Miss, she says she nursed Mr. Campbell, the young curate that died last harvest-time but one, you know; and he lay just like master, and she expecting a change every hour: and oh, Miss, she met him coming down-stairs in his nightgown: and he said, ‘Nurse, I am all right now,’ says he, and died momently in her arms at the stair-foot. And she nursed an old farmer that lay as weak as master, and just when they looked for him to go, lo! and behold him dressed and out digging potatoes, and fell down dead before they could get hands on him mostly: and nurse have a friend, that have seen more than she have, which she is older than nurse, and says a body’s life is all one as a rushlight, flares up strong momently just before it goes out altogether. Dear heart! where ever are we going to in the middle of the night?”

“Don’t you see? To the quay.”

“Oh, don’t go there, Miss, whatever! I can’t abide the sight of the water when a body’s in trouble.” Here a drunken man confronted them, and asked then if they wanted a beau; and on their slipping past him in silence, followed them, and offered repeatedly to treat them. Julia moaned and hurried faster. “Oh, Miss,” said Sarah, “what could you expect, coming out at this time of night? I’m sure the breath is all out of me, you do tear along so.”

“Tear? we are crawling. Ah! Sarah, you are not his daughter. There, follow me! I cannot go so slow.” And she set off to run.

Presently she passed a group of women standing talking at a corner of the street, and windows were open with nightcapped heads framed in them.

She stopped a moment to catch the words; they were talking about a ghost which was said to have just passed down the street, and discussing whether it was a real ghost or a trick to frighten people.

Julia uttered a low cry and redoubled her speed, and was soon at Mr. Richard Hardie’s door; but the street was deserted, and she was bewildered, and began to think she had been too hasty in her conjecture. A chill came over her impetuosity. The dark, drizzly, silent night, the tall masts, the smell of the river — how strange it all seemed: and she to be there alone at such an hour!

Presently she heard voices somewhere near. She crossed over to a passage that seemed to lead towards them; and then she heard the voices plainly, and among them one that did not mingle with the others, for it was the voice she loved. She started back and stood irresolute. Would he be displeased with her?

Feet came trampling slowly along the passage.

His voice came with them.

She drew back and looked round for Sarah.

While she stood fluttering, the footsteps came close, and there emerged from the passage into the full light of the gas-lamp Alfred and two policemen carrying a silent senseless figure in a night-gown, with a great-coat thrown over part of him.

It was her father, mute and ghastly.

The policemen still tell of that strange meeting under the gaslight by Hardie’s Bank; and how the young lady flung her arms round her father’s head, and took him for death, and kissed his pale cheeks, and moaned over him; and how the young gentleman raised her against her will, and sobbed over her; and how they, though policemen, cried like children. And to them I must refer the reader: I have not the skill to convey the situation.

They got more policemen to help, and carried him to Albion Villa.

On the way something cold and mysterious seemed to have come between Julia and Alfred. They walked apart in gloomy silence, broken only by foreboding sighs.

I pass over the tempest of emotions under which that sad burden entered Albion Villa, and hurry to the next marked event.

Next day the patient had lost his extreme pallor, and wore a certain uniform sallow hue; and at noon, just before Sampson’s return, he opened his eyes wide, and fixed them on Mrs. Dodd and Julia, who were now his nurses. They hailed this with delight, and held their breath to hear him speak to them the first sweet words of reviving life and love.

But soon, to their surprise and grief, they found he did not know them. They spoke to him, each in turn, and told him piteously who they were, and implored him with tears to know them and speak to them. But no; he fixed a stony gaze on them that made them shudder, and their beloved voices passed over him like an idle wind.

Sampson, when he came, found the ladies weeping by the bedside.

They greeted him with affection, Julia especially: the boisterous controversialist had come out a gentle, zealous artist in presence of a real danger.

Dr. Sampson knew nothing of what had happened in his absence. He stepped to the bedside cheerfully, and the ladies’ eyes were bent keenly on his face in silence.

He had no sooner cast eyes on David than his countenance fell, and his hard but expressive features filled with concern.

That was enough for Mrs. Dodd. “And he does not know me,” she cried: “he does not know my voice. His voice would call me back from the grave itself. He is dying. He will never speak to me again. Oh, my poor orphan girl!”

“No! no!” said Samson, “you are quite mistaken: he will not die. But ——”

His tongue said no more. His grave and sombre face spoke volumes.

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