Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 25

MR. HARDIE was taken by surprise for once, and had not a word to say, but looked in his son’s face, mute and gasping as a fish.

During this painful silence his children eyed him inquiringly, but not with the same result; for one face is often read differently by two persons. To Jane, whose intelligence had no aids, he seemed unaffectedly puzzled; but Alfred discerned beneath his wonder the terror of detection rising, and then thrust back by the strong will: that stoical face shut again like an iron door, but not quickly enough: the right words, the “open sesame,” had been spoken, and one unguarded look had confirmed Alfred’s vague suspicions of foul play. He turned his own face away: he was alienated by the occurrences of the last few months, but Nature and tender reminiscences still held him by some fibres of the heart — in a moment of natural indignation he had applied the touchstone, but its success grieved him. He could not bear to go on exposing his father; so he left the room with a deep sigh, in which pity mingled with shame and regret. He wandered out into the silent night, and soon was leaning on the gate of Albion Villa, gazing wistfully at the windows, and sore perplexed and nobly wretched.

As he was going out, Mr. Hardie raised his eyebrows with a look of disinterested wonder and curiosity; and touched his forehead to Jane, as much as to say, “Is he disordered in his mind?”

As soon as they were alone, he asked her coolly what Alfred meant. She said she had no idea. Then he examined her keenly about this fourteen thousand pounds, and found, to his relief, Alfred had never even mentioned it to her.

And now Richard Hardie, like his son, wanted to be alone, and think over this new peril that had risen in the bosom of his own family, and, for once, the company of his favourite child was irksome: he made an excuse and strolled out in his turn into the silent night. It was calm and clear: the thousand holy eyes, under which men prefer to do their crimes — except when they are in too great a hurry to wait — looked down and seemed to wonder anything can be so silly as to sin; and beneath their pure gaze the man of the world pondered with all his soul. He tormented himself with conjectures: through what channel did Alfred suspect him? Through the Dodds? Were they aware of their loss? Had the pocket-book spoken? If so, why had not Mrs. Dodd or her son attacked him? But then perhaps Alfred was their agent: they wished to try a friendly remonstrance through a mutual friend before proceeding to extremities; this accorded with Mrs. Dodd’s character as he remembered her.

The solution was reasonable; but he was relieved of it by recollecting what Alfred had said, that he had not entered the house since the bank broke.

On this he began to hope Alfred’s might be a mere suspicion he could not establish by any proof; and at all events, he would lock it in his own breast like a good son: his never having given a hint even to his sister favoured this supposition.

Thus meditating, Mr. Hardie found himself at the gate of Albion Villa.

Yet he had strolled out with no particular intention of going there. Had his mind, apprehensive of danger from that quarter, driven his body thither?

He took a look at the house, and the first thing he saw was a young lady leaning over the balcony, and murmuring softly to a male figure below, whose outline Mr. Hardie could hardly discern, for it stood in the shadow. Mr. Hardie was delighted.

“Aha, Miss Juliet,” said he, “if Alfred does not visit you, some one else does. You have soon supplied your peevish lover’s place.” He then withdrew softly from the gate, not to disturb the intrigue, and watched a few yards off; determined to see who Julia’s nightly visitor was, and give Alfred surprise for surprise.

He had not long to wait: the man came away directly, and walked, head erect, past Mr. Hardie, and glanced full in his face, but did not vouchsafe him a word. It was Alfred himself.

Mr. Hardie was profoundly alarmed and indignant. “The young traitor! Never enter the house? no; but he comes and tells her everything directly under her window on the sly; and, when he is caught — defies me to my face.” And now he suspected female cunning and malice in the way that thunderbolt had been quietly prepared for him and launched, without warning, in his very daughter’s presence, and the result just communicated to Julia Dodd.

In a very gloomy mood he followed his son, and heard his firm though elastic tread on the frosty ground, and saw how loftily he carried his head; and from that moment feared, and very, very nearly hated him.

The next day he feigned sick and sent for Osmond. That worthy prescribed a pill and a draught, the former laxative, the latter astringent. This ceremony performed, Mr. Hardie gossipped with him; and, after a detour or two, glided to his real anxiety. “Sampson tells me you know more about Captain Dodd’s case than he does: he is not very clear as to the cause of the poor man’s going mad.”

“The cause? Why, apoplexy.”

“Yes, but I mean what caused the apoplexy?”

Mr. Osmond replied that apoplexy was often idiopathic.14 Captain Dodd, as he understood, had fallen down in the street in a sudden fit: “but as for the mania, that is to be attributed to an insufficient evacuation of blood while under the apoplectic coma.”

14 “Arising of itself.” A term rather hastily applied to disorders the coming signs of which have not been detected by the medical attendant.

The birth of Topsy was idiopathic — in that learned lady’s opinion. ——

“Not bled enough! Why, Sampson says it is because he was bled too much.”

Osmond was amused at this, and repeated that the mania came of not being bled enough.

The discussion was turned into an unexpected quarter by the entrance of Jane Hardie, who came timidly in and said, “Oh, Mr. Osmond, I cannot let you go without telling you how anxious I am about Alfred. He is so thin, and pale, and depressed.”

“Nonsense, Jane,” said Mr. Hardie; “have we not all cause to be dejected in this house?” But she persisted gently that there was more in it than that; and his headaches were worse, and she could not be easy any longer without advice.

“Ah! those headaches,” said Mr. Osmond, “they always made me uneasy. To tell the truth, Miss Hardie, I have noticed a remarkable change in him, but I did not like to excite apprehensions. And so he mopes, does he? seeks solitude, and is taciturn, and dejected?”

“Yes. But I do not mind that so much as his turning so pale and thin.”

“Oh, it is all part of one malady.”

“Then you know what is the matter?”

“I think I do; and yours is a wise and timely anxiety. Your brother’s is a very delicate case of hyperaesthetic character; and I should like to have the advice of a profound physician. Let me see, Dr. Wycherley will be with me tomorrow: may I bring him over as a friend?”

This proposal did not at all suit Mr. Hardie. He put his own construction on Alfred’s pallor and dejection, and was uneasy at the idea of his being cross-questioned by a couple of doctors:

“No, no,” said he; “Taff has fancies enough already. I cannot have you gentlemen coming here to fill his head with many more.”

“Oh, he has fancies, has he?” said Osmond keenly. “My dear sir, we shall not say one word to him: that might irritate him: but I should like you to hear a truly learned opinion.”

Jane looked so imploringly that Mr. Hardie yielded a reluctant assent, on those terms.

So the next day, by appointment, Mr. Osmond introduced his friend Dr. Wycherley: bland and bald with a fine bead, and a face naturally intelligent, but crossed every now and then by gleams of vacancy; a man of large reading, and of tact to make it subserve his interests. A voluminous writer on certain medical subjects, he had so saturated himself with circumlocution, that it distilled from his very tongue: he talked like an Article, a Quarterly one; and so gained two advantages: 1st, he rarely irritated a fellow-creature; for if he began a sentence hot, what with its length, and what with its windiness, he ended it cool: item, stabs by polysyllables are pricks by sponges. 2ndly, this foible earned him the admiration of fools; and that is as invaluable as they are innumerable.

Yet was there in the mother-tongue he despised one gem of a word he vastly admired: like most Quarterly writers. That charming word, the pet of the polysyllabic, was “OF.”

He opened the matter in a subdued and sympathising tone well calculated to win a loving father, such as Richard Hardie — was not.

“My good friend here informs me, sir, you are so fortunate as to possess a son of distinguished abilities, and who is at present labouring under some of those precursory indications of incipient disease of the cerebro-psychical organs, of which I have been, I may say, somewhat successful in diagnosing the symptoms. Unless I have been misinformed, he has, for a considerable time, experienced persistent headache of a kephalalgic or true cerebral type, and has now advanced to the succeeding stage of taciturnity and depression, not15 unaccompanied with isolation, and probably constipation: but as yet without hallucination, though possibly, and, as my experience of the great majority of these cases would induce me to say, probably he is not16 undisturbed by one or more of those latent, and, at first, trifling aberrations, either of the intelligence or the senses, which in their preliminary stages escape the observation of all but the expert nosologist.”

15 Anglice, “accompanied.”

16 Anglice, “disturbed.”

“There, you see,” said Osmond, “Dr. Wycherley agrees with me: yet I assure you I have only detailed the symptoms, and not the conclusion I had formed from them.”

Jane inquired timidly what that conclusion was.

“Miss Hardie, we think it one of those obscure tendencies which are very curable if taken in time ——” Dr. Wycherley ended the sentence: “But no longer remediable if the fleeting opportunity is allowed to escape, and diseased action to pass into diseased organisation.”

Jane looked awestruck at their solemnity; but Mr. Hardie, who was taking advice against the grain, turned satirical. “Gentleman,” said he, “be pleased to begin by moderating your own obscurity; and then perhaps I shall see better how to cure my son’s disorder. What the deuce are you driving at?”

The two doctors looked at one another inquiringly, and so settled how to proceed. Dr. Wycherley explained to Mr. Hardie that there was a sort of general unreasonable and superstitious feeling abroad, a kind of terror of the complaint with which his son was threatened; “and which, instead of the most remediable of disorders, is looked at as the most incurable of maladies:” it was on this account he had learned to approach the subject with singular caution, and even with a timidity which was kinder in appearance than in reality; that he must admit.

“Well, you may speak out, as far as I am concerned,” said Mr. Hardie, with consummate indifference.

“Oh, yes!” said Jane, in a fever of anxiety; “pray conceal nothing from us.”

“Well, then, sir, I have not as yet had the advantage of examining your son personally, but, from the diagnostics, I have no doubt whatever he is labouring under the first fore-shadowings of cerebro-psychical perturbation. To speak plainly, the symptoms are characteristic of the initiatory stage of the germination of a morbid state of the phenomena of intelligence.

His unprofessional hearers only stared.

“In one word, then,” said Dr. Wycherley, waxing impatient at their abominable obtuseness, “it is the premonitory stage of the precursory condition of an organic affection of the brain.”

“Oh!” said Mr. Hardie, “the brain!17 I see; the boy is going mad.”

17 What a blessing there are a few English words left in all our dialects.

The doctors stared in their turn at the prodigious coolness of a tender parent. “Not exactly,” said Dr. Wycherley; “I am habitually averse to exaggeration of symptoms. Your son’s suggest to me ‘the Incubation of Insanity,’ nothing more.”

Jane uttered an exclamation of horror; the doctor soothed her with an assurance that there was no cause for alarm. “Incipient aberration” was of easy cure: the mischief lay in delay. “Miss Hardie,” said he paternally, “during a long and busy professional career, it has been my painful province to witness the deplorable consequences of the non-recognition, by friends and relatives, of the precedent symptoms of those organic affections of the brain, the relief of which was within the reach of well-known therapeutic agents if exhibited seasonably.”

He went on to deplore the blind prejudice of unprofessional persons, who choose to fancy that other diseases creep, but Insanity pounces, on a man; which he expressed thus neatly: “that other deviations from organic conditions of health are the subject of clearly defined though delicate gradations, but that the worst and most climacteric forms of cerebro-psychical disorder are suddenly developed affections presenting no evidence of any antecedent cephalic organic change, and unaccompanied by a premonitory stage, or by incipient symptoms.”

This chimera he proceeded to confute by experience: he had repeatedly been called in to cases of mania described as sudden, and almost invariably found the patient had been cranky for years; which he condensed thus: “His conduct and behaviour for many years previously to any symptom of mental aberration being noticed, had been characterised by actions quite irreconcilable with the supposition of the existence of perfect sanity of intellect.”

He instanced a parson, whom he had lately attended, and found him as constipated and as convinced he was John the Baptist engaged to the Princess Mary as could be. “But,” continued the learned doctor, “upon investigation of this afflicted ecclesiastic’s antecedent history, I discovered that, for years before this, he had exhibited conduct incompatible with the hypothesis of a mind whose equilibrium had been undisturbed. He had caused a number of valuable trees to be cut down on his estate, without being able to offer a sane justification for such an outrageous proceeding; and had actually disposed of a quantity of his patrimonial acres, ’and which’ clearly he never would have parted with had he been in anything resembling a condition of sanity.”

“Did he sell the land and timber below the market price?” inquired Mr. Hardie, perking up, and exhibiting his first symptoms of interest in the discussion.

“On that head, sir, my informant, his heir-at-law, gave me no information: nor did I enter into that class of detail. You naturally look at morbid phenomena in a commercial spirit, but we regard them medically — and all this time most assiduously visiting the sick of his parish and preaching admirable serious.

The next instance he gave was of a stockbroker suffering under general paralysis and a rooted idea that all the specie in the Bank of England was his, and ministers in league with foreign governments to keep him out of it. “Him,” said the doctor, “I discovered to have been for years guilty of conduct entirely incompatible with the hypothesis of undisordered mental functions. He had accused his domestics of peculation, and had initiated legal proceedings with a view of prosecuting in a court of law one of his oldest friends.”

“Whence you infer that, if my son has not for years been doing cranky acts, he is not likely to be deranged at present.”

This adroit twist of the argument rather surprised Dr. Wycherley. However, he was at no loss for a reply. “it is not Insanity, but the Incubation of Insanity, which is suspected in your intelligent son’s case: and the best course will be for me to enumerate in general terms the several symptoms of ‘the Incubation of Insanity:’” he concluded with some severity. “After that, sir, I shall cease to intrude what I fear is an unwelcome conviction.”

The parent, whose levity and cold reception of good tidings he had thus mildly, yet with due dignity, rebuked, was a man of the world, and liked to make friends, not enemies: so he took the hint, and made a very civil speech, assuring Dr. Wycherley that, if he ventured to differ from him, he was none the less obliged by the kind interest he took in a comparative stranger: and would be very glad to hear all about the “Incubation of Insanity.”

Dr. Wycherley bowed slightly and complied:

“One diagnostic preliminary sign of abnormal cerebral action is Kephalalgia, or true cerebral headache; I mean persistent headache not accompanied by a furred tongue, or other indicia significant of abdominal or renal disorder as its origin.”

Jane sighed. “He has sad headaches.”

“The succeeding symptom is a morbid affection of sleep. Either the patient suffers from Insomnia, or else from Hypersomnia, which we subdivide into sopor, carus, and lethargus; or thirdly from Kakosomnia, or a propensity to mere dozing, and to all the morbid phenomena of dreams.”

“Papa,” said Jane, “poor Alfred sleeps very badly: I hear him walking at all hours of the night.”

“I thought as much,” said Dr. Wycherley; “Insomnia is the commonest feature. To resume; the insidious advance of morbid thought is next marked by high spirits, or else by low spirits; generally the latter. The patient begins by moping, then shows great lassitude and ennui, then becomes abstracted, moody, and occupied with a solitary idea.”

Jane clasped her hands and the tears stood in her eyes; so well did this description tally with poor Alfred’s case.

“And at this period,” continued Dr. Wycherley, “my experience leads me to believe that some latent delusion is generally germinating in the mind, though often concealed with consummate craft by the patient: the open development of this delusion is the next stage, and, with this last morbid phenomenon, Incubation ceases and Insanity begins. Sometimes, however, the illusion is physical rather than psychical, of the sense rather than of the intelligence. It commences at night: the incubator begins by seeing nocturnal visions, often of a photopsic18 character, or hearing nocturnal sounds, neither of which have any material existence, being conveyed to his optic or auricular nerves not from without, but from within, by the agency of a disordered brain. These the reason, hitherto unimpaired, combats at first, especially when they are nocturnal only; but being reproduced, and becoming diurnal, the judgment succumbs under the morbid impression produced so repeatedly. These are the ordinary antecedent symptoms characteristic of the incubation of insanity; to which are frequently added somatic exaltation, or, in popular language, physical excitability — a disposition to knit the brows — great activity of the mental faculties — or else a well-marked decline of the powers of the understanding — an exaggeration of the normal conditions of thought — or a reversal of the mental habits and sentiments, such as a sudden aversion to some person hitherto beloved, or some study long relished and pursued.”

18 Luminous.

Jane asked leave to note these all down in her note-book.

Mr. Hardie assented adroitly; for he was thinking whether he could not sift some grain out of all this chaff. Should Alfred blab his suspicions, here were two gentlemen who would at all events help him to throw ridicule on them.

Dr. Wycherley having politely aided Jane Hardie to note down the “preliminary process of the Incubation of disorders of the Intellect,” resumed: “Now, sir, your son appears to be in a very inchoate stage of the malady: he has cerebral Kephalalgia and Insomnia ——”

“And, oh, doctor,” said Jane, “he knits his brows often and has given up his studies; won’t go back to Oxford this term.”

“Exactly; and seeks isolation, and is a prey to morbid distraction and reverie: but has no palpable illusions, has he?”

“Not that I know of,” said Mr. Hardie.

“Well, but,” objected Jane, “did not he say something to you very curious the other night about Captain Dodd and fourteen thousand pounds?”

Mr. Hardie’s blood ran cold. “No,” he stammered, “not that I remember.”

“Oh, yes, he did, papa: you have forgotten it: but at the time you were quite puzzled what he could meant: and you did so.” She put her finger to her forehead, and the doctors interchanged a meaning glance.

“I believe you are right, Jenny,” said Mr. Hardie, taking the cue so unexpectedly offered him: “he did say some nonsense I could not make head nor tail of; but we all have our crotchets. There, run away, like a good girl, and let me explain all this to our good friends here: and mind, not a word about it to Alfred.”

When she was gone, he said, “Gentlemen, my son is over head and ears in love; that is all.”

“Ay, Erotic monomania is a very ordinary phase of insanity,” said Dr. Wycherley.

“His unreasonable passion for a girl he knows he can never marry makes him somewhat crotchety and cranky: that, and over-study, may have unhinged his mind a little. Suppose I send him abroad? My good brother will find the means; or we could advance it him, I and the other trustees; he comes into ten thousand pounds in a month or two.”

The doctors exchanged a meaning look. They then dissuaded him earnestly from the idea of Continental travel.

“Coelum non animam mutant qui trans mare currunt,” said Wycherley, and Osmond explained that Alfred would brood abroad as well as at home, if he went alone; and Dr. Wycherley summed up thus: “The most advisable course is to give him the benefit of the personal superintendence of some skilful physician possessed of means and appliances of every sort for soothing and restraining the specific malady.

Mr. Hardie did not at first see the exact purport of this oleaginous periphrasis. Presently he caught a glimpse; but said he thought confinement was hardly the thing to drive away melancholy.

“Not in all respects,” replied Dr. Wycherley; “but, on the other hand, a little gentle restraint is the safest way of effecting a disruption of the fatal associations that have engendered and tend to perpetuate the disorder. Besides, the medicinal appliances are invaluable, including, as they do, the nocturnal and diurnal attendance of a Psycho-physical physician, who knows the Psychosomatic relation of body and mind, and can apply physical remedies, of the effect of which on the physical instrument of intelligence, the grey matter of the brain, we have seen so many examples.”

The good doctor then feelingly deplored the inhumanity of parents and guardians in declining to subject their incubators to opportune and salutary restraint under the more than parental care of a Psychosomatic physician. On this head he got quite warm, and inveighed against the abominable cruelty of the thing. “It is contrary,” said he, “to every principle of justice and humanity, that a fellow-creature, deranged perhaps only on one point, should, for the want of the early attention of those whose duty it is to watch over him, linger out his existence separated from all who are dear to him, and condemned without any crime to be a prisoner for life.”

Mr. Hardie was puzzled by this sentence, in which the speaker’s usual method was reversed, and the thought was bigger than the words.

“Oh,” said he at last, “I see. We ought to incarcerate our children to keep them from being incarcerated.”

“That is one way of putting it with a vengence,” said Mr. Osmond staring. “No; what my good friend means ——”

“Is this; where the patient is possessor of an income of such a character as to enable his friends to show a sincere affection by anticipating the consequences of neglected morbid phenomena of the brain, there a lamentable want of humanity is exhibited by the persistent refusal to the patient, on the part of his relatives, of the incalculable advantage of the authoritative advice of a competent physician accompanied with the safeguards and preventives of ——”

But ere the mellifluous pleonast had done oiling his paradox with fresh polysyllables, to make it slip into the banker’s narrow understanding, he met with a curious interruption. Jane Hardie fluttered in to say a man was at the door accusing himself of being deranged.

“How often this sort of coincidence occurs,” said Osmond philosophically.

“Do not refuse him, dear papa; it is not for money: he only wants you to give him an order to go into a lunatic asylum.”

“Now, there is a sensible man,” said Dr. Wycherley.

“Well, but,” objected Mr. Hardie, “if he is a sensible man, why does he want to go to an asylum?”

“Oh, they are all sensible at times,” observed Mr. Osmond.

“Singularly so,” said Dr. Wycherley, warmly. And he showed a desire to examine this paragon, who had the sense to know he was out of his senses.

“It would be but kind of you, sir,” said Jane; “poor, poor man!” She added, he did not like to come in, and would they mind just going out to him?

“Oh no, not in the least: especially as you seem interested in him.”

And they all three rose and went out together, and found the petitioner at the front door. Who should it be but James Maxley!

His beard was unshaven, his face haggard, and everything about him showed a man broken in spirit as well as fortune: even his voice had lost half its vigour, and, whenever he had uttered a consecutive sentence or two, his head dropped on his breast pitiably: indeed, this sometimes occurred in the middle of a sentence, and then the rest of it died on his lips.

Mr. Richard Hardie was not prepared to encounter one of his unhappy creditors thus publicly, and, to shorten the annoyance, would have dismissed him roughly: but he dared not; for Maxley was no longer alone nor unfriended. When Jane left him to intercede for him, a young man joined him, and was now comforting him with kind words, and trying to get him to smoke a cigar; and this good-hearted young gentleman was the banker’s son in the flesh, and his opposite in spirit, Mr. Alfred Hardie.

Finding these two in contact, the Doctors interchanged demurest glances.

Mr. Hardie asked Maxley sullenly what he wanted of them.

“Well, sir,” said Maxley despondingly, “I have been to all the other magistrates in the borough; for what with losing my money, and what with losing my missus, I think I bain’t quite right in my head; I do see such curious things, enough to make a body’s skin creep at times.” And down went his head on his chest

“Well?” said Mr. Hardie, peevishly: “go on: you went to the magistrates, and what then?”

Maxley looked up, and seemed to recover the thread: “Why they said ‘no,’ they couldn’t send me to the ‘sylum, not from home: I must be a pauper first. So then my neighbours they said I had better come to you.” And down went his head again.

“Well, but,” said Mr. Hardie, “you cannot expect me to go against the other magistrates.”

“Why not, sir? You have had a hatful o’ money of me: the other gentlemen han’t had a farthing. They owes me no service, but you does: nine hundred pounds’ worth, if ye come to that.”

There was no malice in this; it was a plain broken-hearted man’s notion of give and take; but it was a home-thrust all the same; and Mr. Hardie was visibly discountenanced, and Alfred more so.

Mr. Osmond, to relieve a situation so painful, asked Maxley rather hastily what were the curious things he saw.

Maxley shuddered. “The unreasonablest beasts, sir, you ever saw or heard tell on: mostly snakes and dragons. Can’t stoop my head to do no work for them, sir. Bless your heart, if I was to leave you gentlemen now, and go and dig for five minutes in my garden, they would come about me as thick as slugs on cabbage. Why ’twas but yester’en I tried to hoe a bit, and up come the fearfullest great fiery sarpint: scared me so I heaved my hoe and laid on un’ properly: presently I seemed to come out of a sort of a kind of a red mist into the clear: and there laid my poor missus’s favourite hen; I had been and killed her for a sarpint!” He sighed, then, after a moment’s pause, lowered his voice to a whisper: “Now suppose I was to go and take some poor Christian for one of these gre-at bloody dragons I do see at odd times, I might do him a mischief, you know, and not mean him no harm neither. Oh, dooee take and have me locked up, gentlemen, dooee now: tellee I ain’t fit to be about, my poor head is so mazed.”

“Well, well,” said Mr. Hardie, “I’ll give you an order for the Union.”

“What, make a pauper of me?”

“I cannot help it,” said the magistrate: “it is the routine; and it was settled at a meeting of the bench last month that we must adhere to the rule as strictly as possible; the asylum is so full: and you know, Maxley, it is not as if you were dangerous.”

“That I be, sir: I don’t know what I’m a looking at or a doing. Would I ha’ gone and killed my poor Susan’s hen if I hadn’t a been beside myself? and she in her grave, poor dear: no, not for untold gold: and I be fond of that too — used to be, however: but now I don’t seem to care for money nor nothing else.” And his head dropped.

Look here, Maxley, old fellow,” said Alfred sarcastically, “you must go to the workhouse, and stay there till you hoe a pauper; take him for a crocodile and kill him; then you will get into an asylum whether the Barkington magistrates like it or not: that is the routine, I believe; and as reasonable as most routine.”

Dr. Wycherley admired Alfred for this, and whispered Mr. Osmond, “How subtly they reason.”

Mr. Hardie did not deign to answer his son, who indeed had spoken at him, and not to him.

As for poor Maxley, he was in sad and sober earnest, and could not relish nor even take in Alfred’s irony. He lifted his head and looked Mr. Hardie in the face.

“You be a hard man,” said he, trembling with emotion. “You robbed me and my missus of our all; you ha’ broke her heart, and turned my head, and if I was to come and kill you, ‘twould only be clearing scores. ‘Stead of that, I comes to you like a lamb, and says give me your name on a bit of paper, and put me out of harm’s way. ‘No,’ says you, ‘go to the workhouse!’ Be you in the workhouse — you that owes me nine hundred pounds and my dead missus?” With this he went into a rage, took a packet out of his pocket, and flung L. 900 of Mr. Hardie’s paper at Mr. Hardie’s head before any one could stop him.

But Alfred saw his game, stepped forward, and caught it with one hand, and with the dexterity of a wicket-keeper, within a foot of his father’s nose. “How’s that, Umpire?” said he: then, a little sternly, “Don’t do that again, Mr. Maxley, or I shall have to give you a hiding — to keep up appearances. He then put the notes in his pocket, and said quietly, “I shall give you your money for these before the year ends.”

“You won’t be quite so mad as that, I hope,” remonstrated his father. But he made no reply: they very seldom answered one another now.

“Oh,” said Dr. Wycherley, inspecting him like a human curiosity, “nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementiae.”

“Nec parvum sine mixtura stultitiae,” retorted Alfred in a moment and met his offensive gaze with a point-blank look of supercilious disdain.

Then having shut him up, he turned to Osmond: “Come,” said he, “prescribe for this poor fellow, who asks for a hospital, so Routine gives him a workhouse. Come, you know there is no limit to your skill and good nature: you cured Spot of the worms, cure poor old Maxley of his snakes: oblige me.”

“That I will, Mr. Alfred,” said Osmond heartily: and wrote a prescription on a leaf of his memorandum-book, remarking that though a simple purgative, it had made short work of a great many serpents and dragons, and not a few spectres and hobgoblins into the bargain.

The young gentleman thanked him graciously, and said kindly to Maxley, “Get that made up — here’s a guinea — and I’ll send somebody to see how you are tomorrow.”

The poor man took the guinea, and the prescription, and his head drooped again, and he slouched away.

Dr. Wycherley remarked significantly that his conduct was worth imitating by all persons similarly situated: and concluded oracularly: “Prophylaxis is preferable to therapeusis.”

“Or, as Porson would say, ‘Prevention is better than cure.’”

With this parting blow the Oxonian suddenly sauntered away, unconscious, it seemed, of the existence of his companions.

“I never saw a plainer case of Incubation,” remarked Dr. Wycherley with vast benevolence of manner.

“Maxley’s?”

“Oh, no; that is parochial. It is your profoundly interesting son I alluded to. Did you notice his supercilious departure? And his morbid celerity of repartee?

Mr. Hardie replied with some little hesitation, “Yes; and, excuse me, I thought he had rather the best of the battle with you.”

“Indubitably so,” replied Dr. Wycherley: “they always do: at least such is my experience. If ever I break a lance of wit with an incubator! I calculate with confidence on being unhorsed with abnormal rapidity, and rare, indeed, are the instances in which my anticipations are not promptly and fully realised. By a similar rule of progression the incubator is seldom a match for the confirmed maniac, either in the light play of sarcasm, the coruscations of wit or the severer encounters of dialectical ratiocination.”

“Dear, dear, dear! Then how is one to know a genius from a madman?” inquired Jane.

“By sending for a psychological physician.

“If I understand the doctor right, the two things are not opposed,” remarked Mr. Hardie.

Dr. Wycherley assented, and made a remarkable statement in confirmation: “One half of the aggregate of the genius of the country is at present under restraint; fortunately for the community; and still more fortunately for itself.”

He then put on his gloves, and, with much kindness but solemnity, warned Mr. Hardie not to neglect his son’s case, nor to suppose that matters could go on like this without “disintegrating or disorganising the grey matter of the brain. I admit” said he, “that in some recorded cases of insanity the brain on dissection has revealed no signs of structural or functional derangement, and, that, on the other hand, considerable encephalic disorganisation has been shown to have existed in other cases without aberration or impairment of the reason: but such phenomena are to be considered as pathological curiosities, with which the empiric would fain endeavour to disturb the sound general conclusions of science. The only safe mode of reasoning on matters so delicate and profound is a priori: and, as it may safely be assumed as a self-evident proposition, that disturbed intelligence bears the same relation to the brain as disordered respiration does to the lungs, it is not logical, reasoning a priori, to assume the possibility that the studious or other mental habits of a Kephalalgic, and gifted youth, can be reversed, and erotic monomania germinate, with all the morbid phenomena of isolation, dejection of the spirits, and abnormal exaltation of the powers of wit and ratiocination, without some considerable impairment, derangement, disturbance, or modification, of the psychical, motorial, and sensorial functions of the great cerebral ganglion. But it would be equally absurd to presuppose that these several functions can be disarranged for months, without more or less disorganisation of the medullary, or even of the cineritious, matter of the encephialon. Therefore— dissection of your talented son would doubtless reveal at this moment either steatonatous or atheromatous deposits in the cerebral blood-vessels, or an encysted abscess, probably of no very recent origin, or, at the least, considerable inspissation, and opacity, of the membranes of the encephalon, or more or less pulpy disorganisation of one or other of the hemispheres of the brain: good morning!!”

“Good morning, sir: and a thousand thanks for your friemidly interest in my unhappy boy.”

The Psycho-cerebrals “took their departure” (Psycho-cerebral for “went away”), and left Jane Hardie brimful of anxiety. Alfred was not there to dispose of the tirade in two words “Petitio principii,” and so smoke on; and, not being an university woman, she could not keep her eye on the original assumption while following the series of inferences the learned doctor built so neatly, story by story, on the foundation of the quicksand of a loose conjecture.19

19 So novices sitting at a conjuror see him take a wedding-ring, and put it in a little box before a lady; then cross the theatre with another little box, and put that before another lady: “Hey! presto! pass!” in box 2 is discovered a wedding-ring, which is instantly assumed to be the ring: on this the green minds are fixed, and with this is sham business done: Box 1, containing the real ring all the time, is overlooked: and the confederate, in livery or not, does what he likes with it; imprisons it in an orange — for the good of its health.

So poor Argan, when Fleurant enumerates the consequences of his omitting a single — dose shall I say? — is terrified by the threatened disorders, which succeed to each other logically enough: all the absurdity being in the first link of the chain; and from that his mind is diverted. ——

“Now not a word of this to Alfred,” said Mr. Hardie. “I shall propose him a little foreign tour, to amuse his mind.”

“Yes, but papa, if some serious change is really going on inside his poor head.”

Mr. Hardie smiled sarcastically. “Don’t you see that if the mind can wound the brain, the mind can cure it?” Then, after a while, he said parentally, “My child, I must give you a lesson: men of the world use enthusiasts — like those two I have just been drawing out — for their tools; we don’t let them make tools of us. Osmond, you know, is jackal to an asylum in London; Dr. Wycherley, I have heard, keeps two or three such establishments by himself or his agents: blinded by self-interest and that of their clique — what an egotistical world it is, to be sure! — they would confine a melancholy youth in a gloomy house, among afflicted persons, and give him nothing to do but brood; and so turn the scale against his reason. But I have my children’s interest at heart more than my own: I shall send him abroad, and so amuse his mind with fresh objects, break off sad associations, and restore him to a brilliant career. I count on you to second me in my little scheme for his good.”

“That I will, papa.”

“Somehow, I don’t know why, he is coolish to me.”

“He does not understand you as I do, my own papa.”

“But he is affectionate with you, I think.”

“Oh yes, more than ever: trouble has drawn us closer. Papa, in the midst of our sorrow, how much we have to be thankful for to the Giver of all good things!”

“Yes, little angel: and you must improve Heaven’s goodness by working on your brother’s affection, and persuading him to this continental tour.”

Thus appealed to, Jane promised warmly: and the man of the world, finding he had a blind and willing instrument in the one creature he loved, kissed her on the forehead, and told her to run away, for here was Mr. Skinner, who no doubt wanted to speak on business.

Skinner, who had in fact been holding respectfully aloof for some time, came forward on Jane’s retiring, and in a very obsequious tone requested a private interview. Mr. Hardie led the way into the little dining-room.

They were no sooner alone than Skinner left off fawning, very abruptly; and put on a rugged resolute manner that was new to him: “I am come for my commission,” said he sturdily.

Mr. Hardie looked an inquiry.

“Oh, you don’t know what I mean, of course,” said the little clerk almost brutally: “I’ve waited, and waited, to see if you would have the decency, and the gratitude, and the honesty, to offer me a trifle out of It; but I see I might wait till dooms-day before you would ever think of thinking of anybody but yourself. So now shell out without more words or I’ll blow the gaff” The little wretch raised his voice louder and louder at every sentence.

“Hush! hush! Skinner,” said Mr. Hardie anxiously, “you are under some delusion. When did ever I decline to recognise your services? I always intended to make you a present, a handsome present.”

“Then why didn’t ye do it without being forced? Come, sir, you can’t draw the wool over Noah Skinner’s eyes. I have had you watched, and you are looking towards the U. S., and that is too big a country for me to hunt you in. I’m not to be trifled with: I’m not to be palavered: give me a thousand pounds of It this moment or I’ll blow the whole concern and you along with it.”

“A thousand pounds!”

“Now look at that!” shrieked Skinner. “Serves me right for not saying seven thousand. What right have you to a shilling of it more than I have? If I had the luck to be a burglar’s pal instead of a banker’s, I should have half. Give it me this moment, or I’ll go to Albion Villa and have you took up for a thief; as you are.”

“But I haven’t got it on me.”

“That’s a lie: you carry it where he did; close to your heart: I can see it bulge: there, Job was a patient man, but his patience went at last.” With this he ran to the window and threw it open.

Hardie entreated him to be calm. “I’ll give it you, Skinner,” said he, “and with pleasure, if you will give me some security that you will not turn round, as soon as you have got it, and be my enemy.”

“Enemy of a gent that pays me a thousand pounds? Nonsense! Why should I? We are in the same boat: behave like a man, and you know you have nothing to fear from me: but I will — not — go halves in a theft for nothing: would you? Come, how is it to be, peace or war? Will you be content with thirteen thousand pounds that don’t belong to you, not a shilling of it, or will you go to jail a felon, and lose it every penny?”

Mr. Hardie groaned aloud, but there was no help for it. Skinner was on sale: and must be bought.

He took out two notes for five hundred pounds each, and laid them on the table, after taking their numbers.

Skinner’s eyes glistened: “Thank you, sir,” said he. He put them in his pocket. Then he said quietly, “Now you have taken the numbers, sir; so I’ll trouble you for a line to make me safe against the criminal law. You are a deep one; you might say I robbed you.”

“That is a very unworthy suspicion, Skinner, and a childish one.”

“Oh, it is diamond cut diamond. A single line, sir, just to say that in return for his faithful services, you have given Noah Skinner two notes for L. 500, Nos. 1084 and 85.”

“With all my heart — on your giving me a receipt for them.”

It was Skinner’s turn to hesitate. After reflecting, however, on all the possible consequences, he saw nothing to fear; so he consented.

The business completed, a magic change took place in the little clerk. “Now we are friends again, sir: and I’ll give you a piece of advice. Mind your eye with Mr. Alfred: he is down on us.”

“What do you mean?” inquired Mr. Hardie with ill-disguised anxiety.

“I’ll tell you, sir. He met me this morning: and says he to me, ‘Skinner, old boy, I want to speak a word to you.’ He puts his hands on my shoulder, and turns me round, and says he all at one time, ‘The fourteen thousand pounds!’ You might have knocked me down with a feather. And he looked me through like a gimlet mind ye. ‘Come now,’ says he, ‘you see I know all; make a clean breast of it.’ So then I saw he didn’t know all, and I brazened up a bit: told him I hadn’t a notion what he meant. ‘Oh yes, I did,’ he said, ‘Captain Dodd’s fourteen thousand pounds! It had passed through my hands.’ Then I began to funk again at his knowing that: perhaps he only guessed it after all: but at the time I thought he knew it; I was flustered, ye see. But I said, ‘I’d look at the books; but I didn’t think his deposit was anything like that.’ ‘You little equivocating humbug,’ says he: ‘and which was better, to tell the truths at once and let Captain Dodd, who never did me any harm, have his own, or to hear it told me in the felon’s dock?’ Those were his words, sir: and they made my blood run cold; and if he had gone on at me like that, I should have split, I know I should: but he just said, ‘There, your face has given your tongue the lie: you haven’t brains enough to play the rogue.’ Oh, and another thing — he said he wouldn’t talk to the sparrow-hawk any more, when there was the kite hard by: so by that I guess your turn is coming, sir; so mind your eye. And then he turned his back on me with a look as if I was so much dirt. But I didn’t mind that; I was glad to be shut of him at any price.”

This intelligence discomposed Mr. Hardie terribly; it did away with all hope that Alfred meant to keep his suspicions to himself. “Why did you not tell me this before?” said he reproachfully.

Skinner’s sharp visage seemed to sharpen as he replied, “Because I wanted a thousand pounds first.”

“Curse your low cunning!”

Skinner laughed. “Good-bye, sir: take care of yourself and I’ll take care of mine. I’m afraid of Mr. Alfred and the stone jug, so I’m off to London, and there I’ll unSkinner myself into Mr. Something or other, and make my thousand pounds breed ten.” And he whipped out, leaving his master filled with rage and dismay.

“Outwitted even by this little wretch!”

He was now accountable for fourteen thousand pounds, and had only thirteen thousand left, if forced to reimburse; so that it was quite on the cards for him to lose a thousand pounds by robbing his neighbour and risking his own immortal jewel. This galled him to the quick; and altogether his equable temper began to give way; it had already survived half the iron of his nerves. He walked up and down the parlour chafing like an irritated lion. In which state of his mind the one enemy he now feared and hated walked quietly into the room, and begged for a little serious conversation with him.

“It is like your effrontery,” said Mr. Hardie: “I wonder you are not ashamed to look your father in the face.”

“Having wronged nobody I can look anybody in the face,” replied Alfred, looking him in the face point-blank.

At this swift rejoinder, Mr. Hardie felt like a too confident swordsman, who, attacking in a passion suddenly receives a prick that shows him his antagonist is not one to be trifled with. He was on his guard directly, and said coldly, “You have been belying me to my very clerk.”

“No, sir: you are mistaken; I have never mentioned your name to your clerk.”

Mr. Hardie reflected on what Skinner had told him, and found he had made another false move. He tried again: “Nor to the Dodds?” with an incredulous sneer.

“Nor to the Dodds,” replied Alfred calmly.

“What, not to Miss Julia Dodd?”

“No, sir, I have seen her but once, since — I discovered about the fourteen thousand pounds.”

“What fourteen thousand pounds?” inquired Mr. Hardie innocently.

“What fourteen thousand pounds!” repeated the young man disdainfully. Then suddenly turning on his father, with red brow and flashing eyes: “The fourteen thousand pounds Captain Dodd brought home from India: the fourteen thousand pounds I heard him claim of you with curses: ay, miserable son, and miserable man, that I am, I heard my own father called a villain; and what did my father reply? Did you hurl the words back into your accuser’s throat? No: you whispered, ‘Hush! hush! I’ll bring it you down.’ Oh, what a hell Shame is!”

Mr. Hardie turned pale, and almost sick: with these words of Alfred’s fled all hope of ever deceiving him.

“There, there,” said the young man, lowering his voice from rage to profound sorrow: “I don’t come here to quarrel with my father, nor to insult him, God knows: and I entreat you for both our sakes not to try my temper too hard by these childish attempts to blind me: and, sir, pray dismiss from your mind the notion that I have disclosed to any living soul my knowledge of this horrible secret: on the contrary, I have kept it gnawing my heart and almost maddening me at times. For my own personal satisfaction I have applied a test both to you and Skinner; but that is all I have done: I have not told dear Julia, nor any of her family; and now, if you will only listen to me, and do what I entreat you to do, she shall never know; oh, never.”

“Oho!” thought Mr. Hardie, “he comes with a proposal: I’ll hear it, anyway.”

He then took a line well known to artful men: he encouraged Alfred to show his hand; maintaining a complete reserve as to his own; “You say you did not communicate your illusion about this fourteen thousand pounds to Julia Dodd that night: May I ask then (without indiscretion) what did pass between you two?”

“I will tell you, sir. She saw me standing there, and asked me in her own soft angel voice if I was unhappy. I told her I must be a poor creature if I could be happy. Then she asked me, with some hesitation I thought, why I was unhappy. I said, because I could not see the path of honour and duty clear: that at least was the purport. Then she told me that in all difficulties she had found the best way was to pray to God to guide her; and she begged me to lay my care before Him and ask His counsel. And then I thanked her; and bade her good-night, and she me; and that was all that passed between us two unhappy lovers, whom you have made miserable; and even cool to one another; but not hostile to you. And you played the spy on us, sir; and misunderstood us, as spies generally do. Ah, sir! a few months ago you would not have condescended to that.”

Mr. Hardie coloured, but did not reply. He had passed from the irritable into the quietly vindictive stage.

Alfred then deprecated further discussion of what was past, and said abruptly, “I have an offer to make you: in a very short time I shall have ten thousand pounds; I will not resign my whole fortune; that would be unjust to myself, and my wife; and I loathe and despise Injustice in all its forms, however romantic or plausible. But, if you will give the Dodds their L. 14,000, I will share my little fortune equally with you: and thank you, and bless you. Consider, sir, with your abilities and experience five thousand pounds may yet be the nucleus of a fortune; a fortune built on an honourable foundation. I know you will thrive with my five thousand pounds ten times more than with their fourteen thousand; and enjoy the blessing of blessings, a clear conscience.”

Now this offer was no sooner made than Mr. Hardie shut his face, and went to mental arithmetic, like one doing a sum behind a thick door. He would have taken ten thousand: but five thousand did not much tempt him: besides, would it be five thousand clear? He already owed Alfred two thousand five hundred. It flashed through him that a young man who loathed and despised Injustice — even to himself — would not consent to be diddled by him out of one sum while making him a present of another: and then there was Skinner’s thousand to be reimbursed. He therefore declined in these terms:

“This offer shows me you are sincere in these strange notions you have taken up. I am sorry for it: it looks like insanity. These nocturnal illusions, these imaginary sights and sounds, come of brooding on a single idea, and often usher in a calamity one trembles to think of. You have made me a proposal: I make you one: take a couple of hundred pounds (I’ll get it from your trustees) and travel the Continent for four months; enlarge and amuse your mind with the contemplation of nature and manners and customs; and if that does not clear this phantom L. 14,000 out of your head, I am much mistaken.”

Alfred replied that foreign travel was his dream: but he could not leave Barkington while there was an act of justice to be done.

“Then do me justice, boy,” said Mr. Hardie, with wonderful dignity, all things considered. “Instead of brooding on your one fantastical idea, and shutting out all rational evidence to the contrary, take the trouble to look through my books: and they will reveal to you a fortune, not of fourteen thousand, but of eighty thousand pounds, honourably sacrificed in the vain struggle to fulfil my engagements: who, do you think, will believe, against such evidence, the preposterous tale you have concocted against your poor father? Already the tide is turning, and all who have seen the accounts of the Bank pity me; they will pity me still more if ever they hear my own flesh and blood insults me in the moment of my fall; sees me ruined by my honesty and living in a hovel, yet comes into that poor but honest abode, and stabs me to the heart by accusing me of stealing fourteen thousand pounds: a sum that would have saved me, if I could only have laid my hands on it.”

He hid his face, to conceal its incongruous expression: and heaved a deep sigh.

Alfred turned his head away and groaned.

After a while he rose from his seat and went to the door; but seemed reluctant to go: he cast a longing, lingering look on his father, and said beseechingly: “Oh think! you are not my flesh and blood more than I am yours; is all the love to be on my side? Have I no influence even when right is on my side?” Then he suddenly turned and threw himself impetuously on his knees: “Your father was the soul of honour; your son loathed fraud and injustice from his cradle; you stand between two generations of Hardies, and belong to neither; do but reflect one moment how bright a thing honour is, how short and uncertain a thing life is, how sure a thing retribution is, in this world or the next: it is your guardian angel that kneels before you now, and not your son: oh, for Christ’s sake, for my mother’s sake, listen to my last appeal. You don’t know me: I cannot compound with injustice. Pity me, pity her I love, pity yourself!”

“You young viper!” cried the father, stung with remorse, but not touched with penitence. “Get away, you amorous young hypocrite; get out of my house, get out of my sight, or I shall spurn you and curse you at my feet.”

“Enough!” said Alfred, rising and turning suddenly calm as a statue: “let us be gentlemen, if you please, even though we must be enemies. Good-bye, my father that was.

And he walked gently out of the room, and, as he passed the window Mr. Hardie heard his great heart sob.

He wiped his forehead with his handkerchief. “A hard tussle,” thought he, “and with my own unnatural, ungrateful flesh and blood, but I have won it: he hasn’t told the Dodds; he never will; and, if he did, who would believe him, or them?”

At dinner there was no Alfred; but after dinner a note to Jane informing her he had taken lodgings in the town, and requesting her to send his books and clothes in the evening. Jane handed the note to her father: and sighed deeply. Watching his face as he read it, she saw him turn rather pale, and look more furrowed than ever.

“Papa!” said she, “what does it all mean!”

“I am thinking.”

Then, after a long pause, he ground his teeth and said, “It means — War: War between my own son and me.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/reade/charles/hard-cash/chapter24.html

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