Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 24

NOT many days after this a crowd of persons stood in front of the old bank, looking half stupefied at the shutters, and at a piece of paper pasted on them announcing a suspension, only for a months or so, and laying the blame on certain correspondents not specified.

So great was the confidence inspired by the old bank, that many said it would come round, it must come round in a month: but other of Mr. Hardie’s unfortunate clients recognised in the above a mere formula to let them down by degrees: they had seen many statements as hopeful end in a dividend of sixpence in the pound.

Before the day closed, the scene at the bank door was heart-rending: respectable persons, reduced to pauperism in that day, kept arriving and telling their fellow-sufferers their little all was with Hardie, and nothing before them but the workhouse or the almshouse: ruined mothers came and held up their ruined children for the banker to see; and the doors were hammered at, and the house as well as the bank was beleaguered by a weeping, wailing, despairing crowd.

But like an idle wave beating on a rock, all this human misery dashed itself in vain against the banker’s brick walls and shutters, hard to them as his very heart

The next day they mobbed Alfred and hissed him at the back-door. Jane was too ashamed and too frightened to stir out. Mr. Hardie sat calmly putting the finishing strokes to his fabricated balance-sheet.

Some innocent and excited victims went to the mayor for redress; to the aldermen, the magistrates — in vain.

Towards afternoon the banker’s cool contempt for his benefactors, whose lives he had darkened, received a temporary check. A heavy stone was flung at the bank shutters: this ferocious blow made him start and the place rattle: it was the signal for a shower; and presently tink, tink, went the windows of the house, and in came the stones, starring the mirrors, upsetting the chairs, denting the papered walls, chipping the mantelpieces, shivering the bell glasses and statuettes, and strewing the room with dirty pebbles, and painted fragments, and glittering ruin.

Hardie winced: this was the sort of appeal to touch him. But soon he recovered his sang froid. “Thank you,” said he, “I’m much obliged to you; now I’m in the right and you are in the wrong.” And he put himself under protection of the police; and fee’d them so royally that they were zealous on his behalf and rough and dictatorial even with those who thronged the place only to moan and lament and hold up their ruined children. “You must move on, you Misery,” said the police. And they were right: Misery gains nothing by stopping the way; nothing by bemoaning itself.

But if the banker, naturally egotistical, and now entirely wrapped in his own plans, and fears, and well-earned torments, was deaf to the anguish of his clients, there were others in his house who felt it keenly and deeply. Alfred and Jane were heart-broken: they sat hand in hand in a little room, drawn closer by misfortune, and heard the groans at their door; and the tears of pity ran down their own cheeks hot with shame; and Alfred wrote on the fly-leaf of his “Ethics” a vow to pay every shilling his father owed these poor people — before he died. It was like him, and like his happy age, at which the just and the generous can command, in imagination, the means to do kindred deeds.

Soon he found, to his horror, that he had seen but a small percentage of the distress his father had caused; the greater griefs, as usual, stayed at home. Behind the gadding woes lay a terrible number of silent, decent ruined homes and broken hearts, and mixed sorrows so unmerited, so complicated, so piteous, and so cruel, that he was ready to tear his hair, to know them and not be able to relieve them instantly.

Of that mere sample I give a mere sample: divine the bulk then; and revolve a page of human history often turned by the people, but too little studied by statisticians and legislators.

Mr. Esgar, a respectable merchant, had heavy engagements, to meet which his money lay at the old bank. Living at a distance, he did not hear the news till near dinner-time, and he had promised to take his daughters to a ball that night. He did so; left them there; went home, packed up their clothes and valuables, and next day levanted with them to America, taking all the money he could scrape together in London, and so he passed his ruin on to others. Esgar was one of those who wear their honesty long but loose: it was his first disloyal act in business. “Dishonesty made me dishonest,” was his excuse. Valeat quantum.

John Shaw, a steady footman, had saved and saved, from twenty-one years old to thirty-eight, for “Footman’s Paradise,” a public-house. He was now engaged to a comely barmaid, who sympathised with him therein, and he had just concluded a bargain for the “Rose and Crown” in the suburbs. Unluckily — for him — the money had not been paid over. The blow fell: he lost his all; not his money only, but his wasted life. He could not be twenty-one again; so he hanged himself within forty-eight hours, and was buried by the parish, grumbling a little, pitying none.

James and Peter Gilpin, William Scott, and Joel Paton, were poor fishermen and Anglo–Saxon heroes — that is, heroes with an eye to the main chance; they risked their lives at sea to save a ship and get salvage; failing there, they risked their lives all the same, like fine fellows as they were, to save the crew. They succeeded, but ruined their old boat. A subscription was raised, and prospered so, that a boat-builder built them a new one on tick, price L. 85; and the publicans said, “Drink, boys, drink; the subscription will cover all; it is up to L. 120 already.” The subscription money was swallowed with the rest, and the Anglo–Saxon heroes hauled to prison.

Doctor Phillips, aged seventy-four, warned by growing infirmities, had sold a tidy practice, with house, furniture, and good-will, for a fair price, and put it in the bank, awaiting some investment. The money was gone now, and the poor old doctor, with a wife and daughter and a crutch, was at once a pauper and an exile: for he had sold under the usual condition, not to practise within so many miles of his successor. He went to that successor, and begged permission to be his assistant at a small, small salary. “I want a younger man,” was the reply. Then he went round to his old patients, and begged a few half-guineas to get him a horse and chaise and keep him over the first month in his new place. They pitied him, but most of them were sufferers too by Hardie, and all they gave him did but buy a donkey and cart; and with that he and his went slowly and sadly to a village ten miles distant from the place where all his life had been spent in comfort and good credit. The poor old gentleman often looked back from his cart at the church spires of Barkington.

“From seventeen till now, almost fourscore,
There lived he, but now lived there no more.
At seventeen many their fortunes seek;
But at fourscore it is too old a week.”

Arrived at his village, he had to sell his donkey and trust to his crutch. And so Infirmity crept about begging leave to cure Disease — with what success may be inferred from this: Miss Phillips, a lady-like girl of eighteen, was taken up by Farmer Giles before Squire Langton for stealing turnips out of a field: the farmer was hard, and his losses in Hardie’s Bank had made him bitter hard; so the poor girl’s excuse, that she could not let her father starve, had no effect on him: to jail she should go.13

13 I find, however, that Squire Langton resolutely refused to commit Miss Phillips. The real reason, I suspect, was, that he had a respect for the Gospel, and not much for the law, except those invaluable clauses which restrain poaching. The reason he gave was: “Turnips be hanged! If she hadn’t eaten them, the fly would.” However, he found means to muzzle Giles, and sent the old doctor two couple of rabbits.

Took to the national vice, and went to the national dogs, Thomas Fisher, a saving tinman, and a bachelor: so I expect no pity for him.

To the same goal, by the same road, dragging their families, went the Rev. Henry Scudamore, a curate; Philip Hall, a linen-draper; Neil Pratt, a shoemaker; Simon Harris, a greengrocer; and a few more; but the above were all prudent, laborious men, who took a friendly glass, but seldom exceeded, until Hardie’s bankruptcy drove them to the devil of drink for comfort

Turned professional thief, Joseph Locke, working locksmith, who had just saved money enough to buy a shop and good-will, and now lost it every penny.

Turned atheist, and burnt the family Bible before his weeping wife and terrified children and gaping servant-girl, Mr. Williams, a Sunday-school teacher, known hitherto only as a mild, respectable man, a teetotaler, and a good parent and husband. He did not take to drinking; but he did to cursing, and forbade his own flesh and blood ever to enter a church again. This man became an outcast, shunned by all.

Three elderly sisters, the Misses Lunley, well born and bred, lived together on their funds, which, small singly, united made a decent competence. Two of them had refused marriage in early life for fear the third should fall into less tender hands than theirs. For Miss Blanche Lunley was a cripple: disorder of the spine had robbed her, in youth’s very bloom, of the power not only to dance, as you girls do, but to walk or even stand upright, leaving her two active little hands, and a heart as nearly angelic as we are likely to see here on earth.

She lay all day long on a little iron bedstead at the window of their back-parlour, that looked on a sunny little lawn, working eagerly for the poor; teaching the poor, young and old, to read, chiefly those of her own sex; hearing the sorrows of the poor, composing the quarrels of the poor, relieving their genuine necessities with a little money and much ingenuity and labour.

Some poor woman, in a moment of inspiration, called Miss Blanche “The sunshine of the poor.” The word was instantly caught up in the parish, and had now this many years gently displaced “Lunley,” and settled on her here below, and its echo gone before her up to Heaven.

The poor “sunshine of the poor” was happy: life was sweet to her. To know whether this is so, it is useless to inquire of the backbone or the limbs: look at the face! She lay at her window in the kindred sunshine, and in a world of sturdy, able, agile cursers, grumblers, and yawners, her face, pale its ashes, wore the eternal sunshine of a happy, holy smile.

But there came one to her bedside and told her the bank was broken, and all the money gone she and her sisters had lent Mr. Hardie.

The saint clasped her hands and said, “Oh, my poor people! What will become of them?” And the tears ran down her pale and now sorrowful cheeks.

At this time she did not know the full extent of their losses. But they had given Mr. Hardie a power of attorney to draw out all their consols. That remorseless man had abused the discretion this gave him, and beggared them — they were his personal friends, too — to swell his secret hoard.

When “the sunshine of the poor” heard this, and knew that she was now the poorest of the poor, she clasped her hands and cried, “Oh, my poor sisters! my poor sisters!” and she could work no more for sighing.

The next morning found “the sunshine of the poor” extinct in her little bed: ay, died of grief with no grain of egotism in it; gone straight to heaven without one angry word against Richard Hardie or any other.

Old Betty had a horror of the workhouse. To save her old age from it she had deposited her wages in the bank for the last twenty years, and also a little legacy from Mr. Hardie’s father. She now went about the house of her master and debtor, declaring she was sure he would not rob her, and, if he did, she would never go into the poorhouse. “I’ll go out on the common and die there. Nobody will miss me.

The next instance led to consequences upon consequences: and that is my excuse for telling it the reader somewhat more fully than Alfred heard it.

Mrs. Maxley one night found something rough at her feet in bed. “What on earth is this?” said she.

“Never you mind,” said Maxley: “say it’s my breeches; what then?”

“Why, what on earth does the man put his breeches to bed for?”

“That is my business,” roared Maxley, and whispered drily, “‘tain’t for you to wear ’em, howsever.”

This little spar led to his telling her he had drawn out all their money, but, when she asked the reason, he snubbed her again indirectly, recommending her to sleep.

The fact is, the small-clothes were full of bank-notes; and Maxley always followed them into bed now, for fear of robbers.

The bank broke on a Tuesday: Maxley dug on impassive; and when curious people came about him to ask whether he was a loser, he used to inquire very gravely, and dwelling on every syllable, “Do — you — see — anything — green — in this ere eye.”

Friday was club day; the clubsmen met at the “Greyhound” and talked over their losses. Maxley sat smoking complacently; and when his turn came to groan, he said drily: “I draad all mine a week afore. (Exclamations.) I had a hinkling: my boy Jack he wrote to me from Canada as how Hardie’s was rotten out there; now these here bankers they be like an oak tree; they do go at the limbs first and then at the heart.”

The club was wroth. “What, you went and made yourself safe and never gave any of us a chance? Was that neighbourly? was that — clubbable?”

To a hailstorm of similar reproaches, Maxley made but one reply, “‘Twarn’t my business to take care o’ you.” He added, however, a little sulkily, “I was laad for slander once: scalded dog fears lue-warm water.”

“Oh,” said one, “I don’t believe him. He puts a good face on it but his nine hundred is gone along with ourn.”

“‘Taiu’t gone far, then.” With this he put his hand in his pocket, and, after some delay, pulled out a nice new crisp note and held it up. “What is that? I ask the company.”

“Looks like a ten-pun note, James.”

“Welt the bulk ‘grees with the sample; I knows where to find eightscore and nine to match this here.”

The note was handed round: and on inspection each countenance in turn wore a malicious smile; till at last Maxley, surrounded by grinning faces, felt uneasy.

“What be ‘e all grinning at like a litter o’ Chessy cats? Warn’t ye ugly enough without showing of your rotten teeth ?”

“Haw! Haw!”

“Better say ‘tain’t money at all, but only a wench’s curl paper:” and he got up and snatched it fiercely out of the last inspector’s hand. “Ye can’t run your rigs on me,” said he. “What an if I can’t read words, I can figures; and I spelt the ten out on every one of them, afore I’d take it.”

A loud and general laugh greeted this boast.

Then Maxley snatched up his hat in great wrath and some anxiety, and went out followed by a peal.

In five minutes he was at home; and tossed the note into his wife’s lap. She was knitting by a farthing dip. “Dame,” said he, controlling all appearance of anxiety, “what d’ye call that?”

She took up the note and held it close to the candle.

“Why, Jem, it is a ten-pound note, one of Hardie’s —as was.

“Then what were those fools laughing at?” And he told her all that had happened.

Mrs. Maxley dropped her knitting and stood up trembling. “Why, you told me you had got our money all safe out!”

“Well, and so I have, ye foolish woman; and he drew the whole packet out of his pocket and flung them fiercely on the table. Mrs. Maxley ran her finger and eye over them, and uttered a scream of anger and despair.

“These! these be all Hardie’s notes,” she cried; “and what vally be Hardie’s notes when Hardie’s be broke?”

Maxley staggered as if he had been shot.

The woman’s eyes flashed fury at him. “This is your work, ye born idiot: ‘mind your own business,’ says you: you must despise your wedded wife, that has more brains in her finger than you have in all your great long useless carease: you must have your secrets: one day poison, another day beggary: you have ruined me, you have murdered me: get out of my sight! for if I find a knife I’ll put it in you, I will.” And in her ungovernable passion, she actually ran to the dresser for a knife: at which Maxley caught up a chair and lifted it furiously, above his head to fling at her.

Luckily the man had more self-command than the woman; he dashed the chair furiously on the floor, and ran out of the house.

He wandered about half stupid, and presently his feet took him mechanically round to his garden. He pottered about among his plants, looking at them, inspecting them closely, and scarce seeing them. However, he covered up one or two, and muttered, “I think there will be a frost to-night: I think there will be a frost” Then his legs seemed to give way. He sat down and thought of his wedding-day: he began to talk to himself out loud, as some people do in trouble. “Bless her comely face,” said he, “and to think I had my arm lifted to strike her, after wearing her so low?, and finding her good stuff upon the whole. Well, thank my stars I didn’t We must make the best on’t: money’s gone; but here’s the garden and our hands still; and ‘tain’t as if we were single to gnaw our hearts alone: wedded life cuts grief a two. Let’s make it up and begin again. Sixty come Martinmas, and Susan forty-eight: and I be a’most weary of turning moulds.”

He went round to his front door.

There was a crowd round it; a buzzing crowd with all their faces turned towards his door.

He came at their backs, and asked peevishly what was to do now. Some of the women shrieked at his voice. The crowd turned about; and a score of faces peered at him: some filled with curiosity, some with pity.

“Lord help us!” said the poor man, “is there any more trouble a foot today? Stand aside, please, and let me know.”

“No! no!” cried a woman, “don’t let him.”

“Not let me go into my own house, young woman?” said Maxley with dignity: “be these your manners?”

“Oh, James: I meant you no ill. Poor man!”

“Poor soul!” said another.

“Stand aloof!” said a strange man. “Who has as good a right to be there as he have?”

A lane was made directly, and Maxley rushed down between two rows of peering faces, with his knees knocking together, and burst into his own house. A scream from the women inside as he entered, and a deep groan from the strong man bereaved of his mate, told the tragedy. Poor Susan Maxley was gone.

She had died of breast-pang within a minute of his leaving her; and the last words of two faithful spouses were words of anger.

All these things, and many more less tragic, but very deplorable, came to Alfred Hardie’s knowledge, and galled and afflicted him deeply. And several of these revelations heaped discredit high upon Richard Hardie, till the young man, born with a keen sense of justice, and bred amongst honourable minds, began to shudder at his own father.

Herein he was alone; Jane, with the affectionate blindness of her sex, could throw her arms round her father’s neck, and pity him for his losses — by his own dishonesty — and pity him most when some victim of his unprincipled conduct died or despaired. “Poor papa will feel this so deeply,” was her only comment on such occasions.

Alfred was not sorry she could take this view, and left her unmolested to confound black with white, and wrong with right, at affection’s dictates; but his own trained understanding was not to be duped in matters of plain morality. And so, unable to cure the wrongs he deplored, unable to put his conscience into his pocket like Richard Hardie, or into his heart like Jane, he wandered alone, or sat brooding and dejected: and the attentive reader, if I am so fortunate as to possess one, will not be surprised to learn that he was troubled, too, with dark mysterious surmises he half dreaded, yet felt it his duty to fathom. These and Mrs. Dodd’s loss by the bank combined to keep him out of Albion Villa. He often called to ask after Captain Dodd, but was ashamed to enter the house.

Now Richard Hardie’s anxiety to know whether David was to die or live had not declined, but rather increased. If the latter, he was now resolved to fly to the United States with his booty, and cheat his alienated son along with the rest: he had come by degrees down to this. It was on Alfred he had counted to keep him informed of David’s state; but, on his putting a smooth inquiry, the young man’s face flushed with shame, or anger, or something, and he gave a very short, sharp, and obscure reply. In reality, he did not know much, nor did Sarah, his informant; for of late the servants had never been allowed to enter David’s room.

Mr. Hardie, after this rebuff, never asked Alfred again; but having heard Sampson’s name mentioned as Dodd’s medical attendant, wrote and asked him to come and dine next time he should visit Barkington.

“You will find me a fallen man,” said he; “tomorrow we resign our house and premises and furniture to the assignees, and go to live at a little furnished cottage not very far from your friends the Dodds. It is called ‘Musgrove Cottage.’ There, where we have so little to offer besides a welcome, none but true friends will come near us; indeed, there are very few I should venture to ask for such a proof of fidelity to your broken friend,

R. H.”

The good-hearted Sampson sent a cordial reply, and came to dinner at Musgrove Cottage.

Now all Hardie wanted of him in reality was to know about David; so when Jane had retired and the decanter circulated, he began to pump him by his vanity. “I understand,” said he, “you have wrought one of your surprising cures in this neighbourhood. Albion Villa!”

Sampson shook his head sorrowfully: Mr. Hardie’s eyes sparkled. Alfred watched him keenly and bitterly.

“How can I work a great cure after these ass-ass-ins Short and Osmond? Look, see! the man had been wounded in the hid, and lost blood: thin stabbed in the shoulder, and lost more blood.”— Both the Hardies uttered an ejaculation of unfeigned surprise. —“So, instid of recruiting the buddy thus exhausted of the great liquid material of all repair, the profissional ass-ass-in came and exhausted him worse: stabbed him while he slept; stabbed him unconscious, stabbed him in a vein: and stole more blood from him. Wasn’t that enough? No! the routine of profissional ass-ass-ination had but begun; nixt they stabbed him with cupping-needles, and so stole more of his life-blood. And they were goen from their stabs to their bites, goen to leech his temples, and so hand him over to the sixton.”

“But you came in and saved him,” cried Alfred.

“I saved his life,” said Sampson sorrowfully; “but life is not the only good thing a man may be robbed of by those who steal his life-blood, and so impoverish and water the contints of the vessels of the brain.”

“Doctor Sampson,” said Alfred, “what do you mean by these mysterious words? You alarm me.”

“What, don’t you know? Haven’t they told you?”

“No, I have not had the courage to enter the house since the bank ——” he stopped in confusion.

“Ay, I understand,” said Sampson: “however, it can’t be hidden now:—

“He is a maniac.”

Sampson made this awful announcement soberly and sorrowfully.

Alfred groaned aloud, and even his father experienced a momentary remorse; but so steady had been the progress of Corruption, that he felt almost unmixed joy the next instant; and his keen-witted son surprised the latter sentiment in his face, and shuddered with disgust.

Sampson went on to say that he believed the poor man had gone flourishing a razor; and Mrs. Dodd had said, “Yes, kill me, David: kill the mother of your children,” and never moved: which feminine, or in other words irrational, behaviour had somehow disarmed him. But it would not happen again: his sister had come; a sensible, resolute woman. She had signed the order, and Osmond and he the certificates, and he was gone to a private asylum. “Talking of that,” said Sampson, rising suddenly, “I must go and give them a word of comfort; for they are just breaking their hearts at parting with him, poor things. I’ll be back in an hour.”

On his departure, Jane returned and made the tea in the dining-room: they lived like that now.

Mr. Hardie took it from his favourite’s lithe white hand, and smiled on her: he should not have to go to a foreign land after all: who would believe a madman if he should rave about his thousands? He sipped his tea luxuriously, and presently delivered himself thus, with bland self-satisfaction:—

“My dear Alfred, some time ago you wished to marry a young lady without fortune. You thought that I had a large one; and you expected me to supply all deficiencies. You did not overrate my parental feeling, but you did my means. I would have done this for you, and with pleasure, but for my own coming misfortunes. As it was, I said ‘No,’ and when you demanded, somewhat peremptorily, my reasons, I said ‘Trust me.’ Well, you see I was right: such a marriage would have been your utter ruin. However, I conclude, after what Dr. Sampson has told us, you have resigned it on other grounds. Jane, my dear, Captain Dodd, I am sorry to say, is afflicted. He has gone mad.”

“Gone mad?! Oh, how shocking! What will become of his poor children?” She thought of Edward first.

“We have just heard it from Sampson. And I presume, Alfred, you are not so far gone as to insist on propagating insanity by a marriage with his daughter.”

At this conclusion, which struck her obliquely, though aimed at Alfred, Jane sighed gently, and her dream of earthly happiness seemed to melt away.

But Alfred ground his teeth, and replied with great bitterness and emotion: “I think, sir, you are the last man who ought to congratulate yourself on the affliction that has fallen on that unhappy family I aspire to enter, all the more that now they have calamities for me to share ——”

“More fool you,” put in Mr. Hardie calmly.

“— For I much fear you are one of the causes of that calamity.”

Mr. Hardie assumed a puzzled air. “I don’t see how that can be: do you, Jenny? Sampson told us the causes: a wound on the head, a wound in the arm, bleeding, cupping, &c.”

“There may be other causes Dr. Sampson has not been told of — yet”

“Possibly. I really don’t know what you allude to.”

The son fixed his eyes on the father, and leaned across the table to him, till their faces nearly met.

“The fourteen thousand pounds, sir.”

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