Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 27

“WE laid the poor proud creature on the sofa, and bathed his face with eau de Cologne. He spoke directly, and said that was nice, and ‘His head! his head!’ And I don’t think he was ever quite insensible, but he did not know what was going on, for presently he opened his eyes wide, and stared at us so, and then closed them with, oh such a sigh; it swelled my heart almost to bursting. And to think I could say nothing: but mamma soothed him and insisted on his keeping quiet; for he wanted to run away from us. She was never so good to him before: she said, ‘My dear child, you have my pity and my esteem; alas! that at your age you should be tried like this. How few in this sorry world would have acted like you: I should have sided with my own flesh and blood, for one.’

“‘What, right or wrong?’ he asked.

“‘Yes,’ said she, ‘right or wrong.’ Then she turned to me: ‘Julia, shall all the generosity be on his side?’

“I kissed her and clung to her, but dared not speak; but I was mad enough to hope, I scarcely know what, till she said in the same kind, sorrowful voice, ‘I agree with you; you can never be my son; nor Julia’s husband. But as for that money, it revolts me to proceed to extremes against one, who after all is your father, my poor, poor, chivalrous boy.’ But she would decide nothing without Edward; he had taken his father’s place in this house. So then I gave all up, for Edward is made of iron. Alfred was clearer sighted than I, and never had a hope: he put his arm round mamma and kissed her, and she kissed him: and he kissed my hand, and crept away, and I heard his step on the stair, and on the road ever so far, and life seemed ended for me when I heard it no more.

“Edward has come home. Mamma told him all: he listened gravely: I hung upon his hips; and at last the oracle spoke; and said ‘This is a nice muddle.’

“More we could not get from him; he must sleep on it. O suspense! you torture! He had seen a place he thinks will suit us: it is a bad omen his saying that so soon after. As I went to bed I could not help whispering, ‘If he and I are parted, so will you and Jane.’ The cruel boy answered me  out loud, ‘Thank you, little girl: that is a temptation; and you have put me on my guard.’

“Oh, how hard it is to understand a man! they are so impracticable with their justice and things. I came away with my cheeks burning, and my heart like a stone; to bed, but not to sleep. My poor, poor unhappy, noble Alfred!”

“Dec. 27th.— Mamma and Edward have discussed it: they say nothing to me. Can they have written to him? I go about my duties like a ghost; and pray for submission to the Divine will.”

“Dec. 28th— To-day as I was reading by main force to Mrs. Eagleton’s sick girl, came Sarah all in a hurry with, I was wanted, Miss. But I would finish my chapter, and O how hard the devil tried to make me gabble it; so I clenched my teeth at him, and read it as if I was spelling it; and then didn’t I fly?

“He was there; and they all sat waiting for me. I was hot and cold all at the same time, and he rose and bowed to me, and I curtseyed to him, and sat down and took my work, and didn’t know one bit what I was doing.

“And our new oracle, Edward, laid down the law like anything. ‘Look here, Hardie,’ said he, ‘if anybody but you had told us about this fourteen thousand pounds, I should have set the police on your governor before now. But it seems to me a shabby thing to attack a father on the son’s information, especially when it’s out of love for one of us he has denounced his own flesh and blood.’

“‘No, no,’ said Alfred eagerly, ‘out of love of justice.’

“‘Ah, you think so, my fine fellow, but you would not have done it for a stranger,’ said Edward. Then he went on: ‘Of all blunders, the worst is to fall between two stools. Look here, mamma: we decide, for the son’s sake, not to attack the father: after that it would be very inconsistent to turn the cold shoulder to the son. Another thing, who suffers most by this fraud? Why the man that marries Julia.’ Alfred burst out impetuously, ‘Oh, prove that to me, and let me be that sufferer.’ Edward turned calmly to mamma: ‘If the fourteen thousand pounds was in our hands, what should you do with it?’

“The dear thing said she should settle at least ten thousand of it on Me, and marry Me to this poor motherless boy, ‘whom I have learned to love myself,’ said she.

“‘There,’ said Edward, ‘you see it is you who lose by your governor’s — I won’t say what — if you marry my sister.’

“Alfred took his hand, and said, ‘God bless you for telling me this.’

“Then Edward turned to mamma and me; and said, ‘This poor fellow has left his father’s house because he wronged us: then this house ought to open its arms to him: that is only justice. But now to be just to our side; I have been to Mr. Crawford, the lawyer, and I find this Hardie junior has ten thousand pounds of his own. That ought to be settled on Julia, to make up for what she loses by Hardie senior’s — I won’t say what.’

“‘If anybody settles any of their trash on me, I’ll beat them, and throw it in the fire,’ said I; ‘and I hated money.’

“The oracle asked me directly did I hate clothes and food, and charity to the poor, and cleanliness, and decency? Then I didn’t hate money, ‘for none of these things can exist without money, you little romantic humbug; you shut up!’

“Mamma rebuked him for his expressions, but approved his sentiments. But I did not care for his sentiments: for he smiled on me, and said, ‘We two are of one mind; we shall transfer our fortune to Captain Dodd, whom my father has robbed. Julia will consent to share my honest poverty.’

“‘Well, we will talk about that,’ said Edward pompously.

“‘Talk about it without me, then,’ I cried, and got up, and marched out indignant: only it was partly my low cunning to hide my face that I could not keep the rapture out of. And, as soon as I had retired with cold dignity, off I skipped into the garden to let my face loose, and I think they sent him after me; for I heard his quick step behind me; so I ran away from him as hard as I could; so of course he soon caught me; in the shrubbery where he first asked me to be his; and he kissed both my hands again and again like wildfire, as he is, and he said, ‘You are right, dearest; let them talk of their trash while I tell you how I adore you; poverty with you will be the soul’s wealth; even misfortune, by your side, would hardly be misfortune: let all the world go, and let you and I be one, and live together; and die together; for now I see I could not have lived without you, nor without your love.’ And I whispered something on his shoulder — no matter what; what signifies the cackle of a goose? And we mingled our happy tears, and our hearts, and our souls. Ah, Love is a sweet a dreadful passion: what we two have gone through for one another in a few months! He dined with us, and Edward and he sat a long, long time talking; I dare say it was only about their odious money; still I envied Edward having him so long. But at last he came up, and devoured me with his lovely grey eyes, and I sang him Aileen Aroon, and he whispered things in my ear, oh, such sweet sweet, idiotic, darling things; I will not part with even the shadow of one of them by putting it on paper, only I am the blessedest creature in all the world; and I only hope to goodness it is not very wicked to be so happy as I am.”

“Dec. 31st.— It is all settled. Alfred returns to Oxford to make up for lost time; the time spent in construing me instead of Greek: and at the end of term he is to come of age and marry — somebody. Marriage! what a word to put down! it makes me tingle; it thrills me; it frightens me deliciously: no, not deliciously; anything but: for suppose, being both of us fiery, and they all say one of them ought to be cold blooded for a pair to be happy, I should make him a downright bad wife. Why then I hope I shall die in a year or two out of my darling’s way, and let him have a good one instead. I’d come back from the grave and tear her to pieces.

“Jan. 4th.— Found a saint in a garret over a stable. Took her my luncheon clandestinely; that is lady-like for ‘under my apron:’ and was detected and expostulated by Ned. He took me into his studio — it is carpeted with shavings — and showed me the ’Tiser digest, an enormous book he has made of newspaper cuttings all in apple-pie order; and out of this authority he proved vice and poverty abound most wherever there are most charities. Oh, ‘and the poor’ a set of intoxicated sneaks, and me a Demoralising Influence. It is all very fine: but why are there saints in garrets, and half-starved? That rouses all my evil passions, and I cannot bear it; it is no use.

“Jan. 6th.— Once a gay day; but now a sad one. Mamma gone to see poor papa, where he is. Alfred found me sorrowful, and rested my forehead on his shoulder; that soothed me, while it lasted. I think I should like to grow there. Mem! to burn this diary; and never let a creature see a syllable.

“As soon as he was gone, prayed earnestly on my knees not to make an idol of him. For it is our poor idols that are destroyed for our weakness. Which really I cannot quite see the justice of.”

“Jan. 8th.— Jane does not approve my proposal that we should praise now and then at the same hour instead of always praying. The dear girl sends me her unconverted diary ‘to show me she is “a brand.”’ I have read most of it. But really it seems to me she was always goodish: only she went to parties, and read novels, and enjoyed society.

“There, I have finished it. Oh dear, how like her unconverted diary is to my converted one!”

“Jan. 14th.— A sorrowful day: he and I parted, after a fortnight of the tenderest affection, and that mutual respect without which neither of us, I think, could love long. I had resolved to be very brave; but we were alone, and his bright face looked so sad; the change in it took me by surprise, and my resolution failed; I clung to him. If gentlemen could interpret, as we can, he would never have left me. It is better as it is. He kissed my tears away as fast as they came: it was the first time he had ever kissed more than my hand; so I shall have that to think of, and his dear promised letters: but it made me cry more at the time, of course. Some day, when we have been married years and years, I shall tell him not to go and pay a lady for every tear; if he wants her to leave off.

“The whole place so gloomy and vacant now.

“Jan. 20th.— Poverty stares us in the face. Edward says we could make a modest living in London; and nobody be the wiser: but here we are known, and ’must be ladies and gentlemen, and fools,’ he says. He has now made me seriously promise not to give money and things out of the house to the poor: it is robbing my mother and him. Ah, now I see it is nonsense to despise money: here I come home sad from my poor people; and I used to return warm all over. And the poor old souls do not enjoy my sermons half so much as when I gave them nice things to eat along with them.

“The dear boy, that I always loved dearly, but admire and love now that he has turned an intolerable tyrant and he used to be Wax, has put down two maids out of our three, and brings our dinner up himself in a jacket, then puts on his coat and sits down with us, and we sigh at him and he grins and derides us; he does not care one straw for Pomp. And mamma and I have to dress one another now. And I like it.”

“Jan. 30th.— He says we may now, by great economy, subsist honestly till my wedding-day; but then mamma and he must ’absquatulate.‘ Oh, what stout hearts men have. They can jest at sorrow even when, in spite of their great thick skins, they feel it. Ah, the real poor are happy: they marry, and need not leave the parish where their mother lives.”

“Feb. 4th.— A kind and most delicate letter from Jane. She says, ‘Papa and I are much grieved at Captain Dodd’s affliction, and deeply concerned at your loss by the Bank. Papa has asked Uncle Thomas for two hundred pounds, and I entreat you to oblige me by receiving it at my hands and applying it according to the dictates of your own affectionate heart.”

“Actually our Viceroy will not let me take it: he says he will not accept a crumb from the man who owes us a loaf.”

“Feb. 8th.— Jane mortified, and no wonder. If she knew how very poor we are, she would be surprised as well. I have implored her not to take it to heart, for that all will be explained one day, and she will see we could not.

“His dear letters! I feed on them. We have no secrets, no two minds. He is to be a first class and then a private tutor. Our money is to go to mamma: it is he and I that are to work our fingers to the bone (I am so happy!), and never let them be driven by injustice from their home. But all this is a great secret. The Viceroy will be defeated, only I let him talk till Alfred is here to back me. No; it is not just the rightful owner of fourteen thousand pounds should be poor.

“How shallow female education is: I was always led to suppose modesty is the highest virtue. No such thing! Justice is the queen of the virtues: He is justice incarnate.”

“March 10th.— On reperusing this diary, it is demoralising; very: it feeds self. Of all the detestable compositions: Me, Me, Me, from one end to another: for when it is not about myself, it is about Alfred, and that it is my he-Me though not my she-one. So now to turn over a new leaf: from this day I shall record only the things that happen in this house and what my betters say to me, not what I say; and the texts; and outline of the sermons; and Jane’s Christian admonitions.”

Before a resolve so virtuous all impure spirits retire, taking off their hats, and bowing down to the very ground, but apprehending Small Beer.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/reade/charles/hard-cash/chapter26.html

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