Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 32

AT two o’clock an attendant stole on tiptoe to the strong-room, unlocked the door, and peeped cautiously in. Seeing the dangerous maniac quiet, he entered with a plate of lukewarm beef and potatoes, and told him bluntly to eat. The crushed one said he could not eat. “You must,” said the man. “Eat!” said Alfred; “of what do you think I am made! Pray put it down and listen to me. I’ll give you a hundred pounds to let me out of this place; two hundred; three.”

A coarse laugh greeted this proposal. “You might as well have made it a thousand when you was about it.”

“So I will,” said Alfred eagerly, “and thank you on my knees besides. Ah, I see you don’t believe I have money. I give you my honour I have ten thousand pounds: it was settled on me by my grandfather, and I came of age last week.”

“Oh, that’s like enough,” said the man carelessly. “Well, you are green. Do you think them as sent you here will let you spend your money? No, your money is theirs now.”

And he sat down with the plate on his knee and began to cut the meat in small pieces; while his careless words entered Alfred’s heart, and gave him such a glimpse of sinister motives and dark acts to come as set him shuddering.

“Come none o’ that,” said the man, suspecting this shudder. He thought it was the prologue to some desperate act; for all a chained madman does is read upon this plan: his terror passes for rage, his very sobs for snarls.

“Oh, be honest with me,” said Alfred imploringly; “do you think it is to steal my money the wretch has stolen my liberty?”

“What wretch?”

“My father.”

“I know nothing about it,” said the man sullenly, “in course there’s mostly money behind, when young gents like you come to be took care of. But you musn’t go thinking of that, or you’ll excite yourself again. Come you eat your vittles like a Christian, and no more about it.”

“Leave it, that is a good fellow; and then I’ll try and eat a little by-and-bye. But my grief is great — oh Julia! Julia! what shall I do? And I am not used to eat at this time. Will you, my good fellow?”

“Well, I will, now you behave like a gentleman,” said the man.

Then Alfred coaxed him to take off the handcuffs. He refused, but ended by doing it; and so left him.

Four more leaden hours rolled by, and then this same attendant (his name was Brown) brought him a cup of tea. It was welcome to his parched throat; he drank it, and ate a mouthful of the meat to please the man, and even asked for some more tea.

At eight four keepers came into his room, undressed him, compelled him to make his toilette, &c., before them, which put him to shame — being a gentleman — almost as much as it would a woman. They then hobbled him, and fastened his ankles to the bed, and put his hands into muffles, but did not confine his body; because they had lost a lucrative lodger only a month ago, throttled at night in a strait-waistcoat.

Alfred lay in this plight, and compared with anguish unspeakable his joyful anticipations of this night with the strange and cruel reality. “My wedding night! my wedding night!” he cried aloud, and burst into a passion of grief.

By-and-bye he consoled himself a little with the hope that he could not long be incarcerated as a madman, being sane; and his good wit told him his only chance was calmness. He would go to sleep and recover composure to bear his wrongs with dignity, and quietly baffle his enemies.

Just as he was dropping off’ he felt something crawl over his face. Instinctively he made a violent motion to put his hands up. Both hands were confined; he could not move them. He bounded, he flung, he writhed. His little persecutors were quiet a moment, but the next they began again. In vain he rolled and writhed, and shuddered with loathing inexpressible. They crawled, they smelt, they bit.

Many a poor soul these little wretches had distracted with the very sleeplessness the madhouse professed to cure, not create, in conjunction with the opiates, the confinement and the gloom of Silverton House, they had driven many a feeble mind across the line that divides the weak and nervous from the unsound.

When he found there was no help, Alfred clenched his teeth and bore it:—“Bite on, ye little wretches,” he said “bite on, and divert my mind from deeper stings than yours — if you can.”

And they did; a little.

Thus passed the night in mental agony, and bodily irritation and disgust. At daybreak the feasters on his flesh retired, and utterly worn out and exhausted, he sank into a deep sleep.

At half-past seven the head keeper and three more came in, and made him dress before them. They handcuffed him, and took him down to breakfast in the noisy ward; set him down on a little bench by the wall like a naughty boy, and ordered a dangerous maniac to feed him.

The dangerous maniac obeyed, and went and sat beside Alfred with a basin of thick gruel and a great wooden spoon. He shovelled the gruel down his charge’s throat mighty superciliously from the very first; and presently, falling into some favourite and absorbing train of thought, he fixed his eye on vacancy, and handed the spoonfuls over his left shoulder with such rapidity and recklessness that it was more like sowing than feeding. Alfred cried out “Quarter! I can’t eat so fast as that, old fellow.”

Something in his tone struck the maniac; he looked at Alfred full, Alfred looked at him in return, and smiled kindly but sadly.

“Hallo!” cried the maniac.

“What’s up now?” said a keeper fiercely.

“Why this man is sane. As sane as I am.”

At this there was a horse laugh.

“Saner,” persisted the maniac; “for I am a little queer at times, you know.”

“And no mistake, Jemmy. Now what makes you think he is sane?”

“Looked me full in the face, and smiled at me.”

“Oh, that is your test, is it?”

“Yes, it is. You try it on any of those mad beggars there and see if they can stand it.”

“Who invented gunpowder?” said one of the insulted persons, looking as sly and malicious as a magpie going to steal.

Jemmy exploded directly: “I did, ye rascal, ye liar, ye rogue, ye Baconian!” and going higher, and higher in this strain, was very soon handcuffed with Alfred’s handcuffs, and seated on Alfred’s bench and tied to two rings in the wall. On this his martial ardour went down to zero: “Here is treatment, sir,” said he piteously to Alfred. “I see you are a gentleman; now look at this. All spite and jealousy because I invented that invaluable substance, which has done so much to prolong human life and alleviate human misery.”

Alfred was now ordered to feed Jemmy; which he did: so quickly were their parts inverted.

Directly after breakfast Alfred demanded to see the proprietor of the asylum.

Answer: Doesn’t live here.

The Doctor then.

Oh, he has not come.

This monstrosity irritated Alfred: “Well, then,” said he, “whoever it is that rules this den of thieves, when those two are out of it.”

“I rule in Mr. Baker’s absence,” said the head keeper, “and I’ll teach you manners, you young blackguard. Handcuff him.”

In five minutes Alfred was handcuffed and flung into a padded room.

“Stay there till you know how to speak to your betters,” said the head keeper.

Alfred walked up and down grinding his teeth with rage for five long hours.

Just before dinner Brown came and took him into a parlour, where Mrs. Archbold was seated writing. Brown retired. The lady finished what she was doing, and kept Alfred standing like a schoolboy going to be lectured. At last she said, “I have sent for you to give you a piece of advice: it is to try and make friends with the attendants.”

“Me make friends with the scoundrels! I thirst for their lives. Oh, madam, I fear I shall kill somebody here.”

“Foolish boy; they are too strong for you. Your worst enemies could wish nothing worse for you than that you should provoke them.” In saying these words she was so much more kind and womanly that Alfred conceived hopes, and burst out, “Oh, madam, you are human then; you seem to pity me; pray give me pen and paper, and let me write to my friends to get me out of this terrible place; do not refuse me.”

Mrs. Archbold resumed her distant manner without apparent effort: she said nothing, but she placed writing materials before him. She then left the room, and locked him in.

He wrote a few hasty ardent words to Julia, telling her how he had been entrapped, but not a word about his sufferings — he was too generous to give her needless pain — and a line to Edward, imploring him to come at once with a lawyer and an honest physician, and liberate him.

Mrs. Archbold returned soon after, and he asked her if she would lend him sealing-wax: “I dare not trust to an envelope in such a place as this,” said he. She lent him sealing-wax.

“But how am I to post it?” said he.

“Easily: there is a box in the house; I will show you.”

She took him and showed him the box: he put his letters into it, and in the ardour of his gratitude kissed her hand. She winced a little and said, “Mind, this is not by my advice; I would never tell my friends I had been in a madhouse; oh, never. I would be calm, make friends with the servants — they are the real masters — and never let a creature know where I had been.”

“Oh, you don’t know my Julia,” said Alfred; “she will never desert me, never think the worse of me because I have been entrapped illegally into a madhouse.”

“Illegally, Mr. Hardie! you deceive yourself; Mr. Baker told me the order was signed by a relation, and the certificates by first-rate lunacy doctors.”

“What on earth has that to do with it, madam, when I am as sane as you are?”

“It has everything to do with it. Mr. Baker could be punished for confining a madman in this house without an order and two certificates; but he couldn’t for confining a sane person under an order and two certificates.”

Alfred could not believe this, but she convinced him that it was so.

Then he began to fear he should be imprisoned for years: he turned pale, and looked at her so piteously, that to soothe him she told him sane people were never kept in asylums now; they only used to be.

“How can they?” said she. “The London asylums are visited four times a year by the commissioners, and the country asylums six times, twice by the commissioners, and four times by the justices. We shall be inspected this week or next; and then you can speak to the justices: mind and be calm; say it is a mistake; offer testimony; and ask either to be discharged at once or to have a commission of lunacy sit on you. Ten to one your friends will not face public proceedings: but you must begin at the foundation, by making the servants friendly — and by — being calm.” She then fixed her large grey eyes on him and said, “Now if I let you dine with me and the first-class patients, will you pledge me your honour to ‘be calm,’ and not attempt to escape?” Alfred hesitated at that. Her eye dissected his character all the time. “I promise,” said he at last with a deep sigh. “May I sit by you? There is something so repugnant in the very idea of mad people.”

“Try and remember it is their misfortune, not their crime,” said Mrs. Archbold, just like a matronly sister admonishing a brother from school.

She then whistled in a whisper for Brown, who was lurking about unseen all the time. He emerged and walked about with Alfred, and by-and-bye, looking down from a corridor, they saw Mrs. Archbold driving the second-class women before her to dinner like a flock of animals. Whenever one stopped to look at anything, or try and gossip, the philanthropic Archbold went at her just like a shepherd’s dog at a refractory sheep, caught her by the shoulders, and drove her squeaking headlong.

At dinner Alfred was so fortunate as to sit opposite a gentleman, who nodded and grinned at him all dinner with a horrible leer. He could not, however, enjoy this to the full for a little distraction at his elbow: his right hand neighbour kept forking pieces out of his plate and substituting others from his own. There was even a tendency to gristle in the latter. Alfred remonstrated gently at first; the gentleman forbore a minute, then recommenced. Alfred laid a hand very quietly on his wrist and put it back. Mrs. Archbold’s quick eye surprised this gesture: “What is the matter there?” said she.

“Oh, nothing serious, madam,” replied Alfred; “only this gentleman does me the honour to prefer the contents of my plate to his own.”

“Mr. Cooper!” said the Archbold sternly.

Cooper, the head keeper, pounced on the offender, seized him roughly by the collar, dragged him from the table, knocking his chair down, and bundled him out of the room with ignominy and fracas, in spite of a remonstrance from Alfred, “Oh, don’t be so rough with the poor man.

Then the novice laid down his knife and fork, and ate no more. “I am grieved at my own ill-nature in complaining of such a trifle,” said he when all was quiet

The company stared considerably at this remark: it seemed to them a most morbid perversion of sensibility; for the deranged, thin-skinned beyond conception in their own persons, and alive to the shadow of the shade of a wrong, are stoically indifferent to the woes of others.

Though Alfred was quiet as a lamb all day, the attendants returned him to the padded room at night, because he had been there last night. But they only fastened one ankle to the bed-post: so he encountered his Lilliputians on tolerably fair terms — numbers excepted: they swarmed. Unable to sleep, he put out his hand and groped for his clothes. But they were outside the door, according to rule.

Day broke at last: and he took his breakfast quietly with the first-class patients. It consisted of cool tea in small basins instead of cups, and table-spoons instead of tea-spoons; and thick slices of stale bread thinly buttered. A few patients had gruel or porridge instead of tea. After breakfast Alfred sat in the first-class patients’ room and counted the minutes and the hours till Edward should come. After dinner he counted the hours till tea-time. Nobody came; and he went to bed in such grief and disappointment as some men live to eighty without ever knowing.

But when two o’clock came next day, and no Edward, and no reply, then the distress of his soul deepened. He implored Mrs. Archbold to tell him what was the cause. She shook her head and said gravely, it was but too common; a man’s nearest and dearest were very apt to hold aloof from him the moment he was put into an asylum.

Here an old lady put in her word. “Ah, sir, you must not hope to hear from anybody in this place. Why, I have been two years writing and writing, and can’t get a line from my own daughter. To be sure she is a fine lady now: but it was her poor neglected mother that pinched and pinched to give her a good education, and that is how she caught a good husband. But it’s my belief the post in our hall isn’t a real post: but only a box; and I think it is contrived so as the letters fall down a pipe into that Baker’s hands, and so then when the postman comes ——” The Archbold bent her bushy brows on this chatty personage. “Be quiet, Mrs. Dent; you are talking nonsense, and exciting yourself: you know you are not to speak on that topic. Take care.”

The poor old woman was shut up like a knife; for the Archbold had a way of addressing her own sex that crushed them. The change was almost comically sudden to the mellow tones in which she addressed Alfred the very next moment, on the very same subject: “Mr. Baker, I believe, sees the letters: and, where our poor patients (with a glance at Dent) write in such a way as to wound and perhaps terrify those who are in reality their best friends, they are not always sent. But I conclude your letters have gone. If you feel you can be calm, why not ask Mr. Baker? He is in the house now; for a wonder.”

Alfred promised to be calm; and she got him an interview with Mr. Baker.

He was a full-blown pawnbroker of Silverton town, whom the legislature, with that keen knowledge of human nature which marks the British senate, permitted, and still permits, to speculate in Insanity, stipulating, however, that the upper servant of all in his asylum should be a doctor; but omitting to provide against the instant dismissal of the said doctor should he go and rob his employer of a lodger — by curing a patient.

As you are not the British legislature, I need not tell you that to this pawnbroker insanity mattered nothing, nor sanity: his trade lay in catching, and keeping, and stinting, as many lodgers, sane or insane, as he could hold.

There are certain formulae in these quiet retreats, which naturally impose upon greenhorns such as Alfred certainly was, and some visiting justices and lunacy commissioners would seem to be. Baker had been a lodging-house keeper for certified people many years, and knew all the formulae: some call them dodges: but these must surely be vulgar minds. Baker worked “the see-saw formula.”

“Letters, young gentleman?” said he: “they are not in my department They go into the surgery, and are passed by the doctor, except those he examines and orders to be detained.”

Alfred demanded the doctor.

“He is gone,” was the reply. (Formula.)

Alfred found it as hard to be calm as some people find it easy to say that word over the wrongs of others.

The next day, but not till the afternoon, he caught the doctor: “My letters! Surely, sir, you have not been so cruel as to intercept them?”

“I intercept no letters,” said the doctor, as if scandalised at the very idea. “I see who writes them, and hand them to Mr. Baker, with now and then a remark. If any are detained, the responsibility rests with him.”

“He says it rests with you.”

“You must have misunderstood him.”

“Not at all, sir. One thing is clear; my letters have been stolen either by him or you; and I will know which.”

The doctor parried with a formula.

“You are excited, Mr. Hardie. Be calm, sir, be calm: or you will be here all the longer.”

All Alfred obtained by this interview was a powerful opiate. The head-keeper brought it him in bed. He declined to take it. The man whistled, and the room filled with keepers.

“Now,” said Cooper, “down with it, or you’ll have to be drenched with this cowhorn.”

“You had better take it, sir,” said Brown; “the doctor has ordered it you.”

“The doctor? Well, let me see the doctor about it.”

“He is gone.”

“He never ordered it me,” said Alfred. Then fixing his eyes sternly on Cooper, “You miscreants, you want to poison me. No, I will not take it. Murder! murder!”

Then ensued a struggle, on which I draw a veil: but numbers won the day, with the help of handcuffs and a cowhorn.

Brown went and told Mrs. Archbold, and what Alfred had said.

“Don’t be alarmed,” said that strong-minded lady: “it is only one of the old fool’s composing draughts. It will spoil the poor boy’s sleep for one night, that is all. Go to him the first thing in the morning.”

About midnight Alfred was seized with a violent headache and fever: towards morning he was light-headed, and Brown found him loud and incoherent: only he returned often to an expression Mr. Brown had never heard before —

“Justifiable parricide. Justifiable parricide. Justifiable patricide.”

Most people dislike new phrases. Brown ran to consult Mrs. Archbold about this one. After the delay inseparable from her sex, she came in a morning wrapper; and they found Alfred leaning over the bed and bleeding violently at the nose. They were a good deal alarmed, and tried to stop it: but Alfred was quite sensible now, and told them it was doing him good.

“I can manage to see now,” he said; “a little while ago I was blind with the poison.”

They unstrapped his ankle and made him comfortable, and Mrs. Archbold sent Brown for a cup of strong coffee and a glass of brandy. He tossed them off; and soon after fell into a deep sleep that lasted till tea-time. This sleep the poor doctor ascribed to the sedative effect of his opiate. It was the natural exhaustion consequent on the morbid excitement caused by his cursed opiate.

“Brown,” said Mrs. Archbold, “if Dr. Bailey prescribes again, let me know. He shan’t square this patient with his certificates, whilst I am here.”

This was a shrewd, but uncharitable, speech of hers. Dr. Bailey was not such a villain as that.

He was a less depraved, and more dangerous animal: he was a fool.

The farrago he had administered would have done an excited maniac no good, of course, but no great harm. It was dangerous to a sane man: and Alfred to the naked eye was a sane man. But then Bailey had no naked eye left: he had been twenty years an M. D. The certificates of Wycherley and Speers were the green spectacles he wore — very green ones — whenever he looked at Alfred Hardie.

Perhaps in time he will forget those certificates, and, on his spectacles dropping off, he will see Alfred is sane. If he does, he will publish him as one of his most remarkable cures.

Meanwhile the whole treatment of this ill-starred young gentleman gravitated towards insanity. The inner mind was exasperated by barefaced injustice and oppression; above all, by his letters being stopped; for that convinced him both Baker and Bailey, with their see-saw evasions, knew he was sane, and dreaded a visit from honest, understanding men: and the mind’s external organ, the brain, which an asylum professes to soothe, was steadily undermined by artificial sleeplessness. A man can’t sleep in irons till he is used to them and, when Alfred was relieved of these, his sleep was still driven away by biting insects and barking dogs, two opiates provided in many of these placid Retreats, with a view to the permanence rather than the comfort of the lodgers.

On the eighth day Alfred succeeded at last in an object he had steadily pursued for some time: he caught the two see-saw humbugs together.

“Now,” said he, “you say he intercepts my letters; and he says it is you who do it. Which is the truth?”

They were staggered, and he followed up his advantage: “Look me in the face, gentlemen,” said he. “Can you pretend you do not know I am sane? Ah, you turn your heads away. You can only tell this bare-faced lie behind my back. Do you believe in God, and in a judgment to come? Then, if you cannot release me, at least don’t be such scoundrels as to stop my letters, and so swindle me out of a fair trial, an open, public trial.”

The doctor parried with a formula. “Publicity would be the greatest misfortune could befall you. Pray be calm.”

Now, an asylum is a place not entirely exempt from prejudices: and one of them is, that any sort of appeal to God Almighty is a sign or else forerunner of maniacal excitement.

These philosophers forget that by stopping letters, evading public trials, and, in a word, cutting off all appeals to human justice, they compel the patient to turn his despairing eyes, and lift his despairing voice to Him, whose eye alone can ever really penetrate these dark abodes.

However, the patient who appealed to God above a whisper in Silverton Grove House used to get soothed directly. And the tranquillising influences employed were morphia, croton oil, or a blister.

The keeper came to Alfred in his room. “Doctor has ordered a blister.”

“What for? Send for him directly.”

“He is gone.”

This way of ordering torture, and then coolly going, irritated Alfred beyond endurance. Though he knew he should soon be powerless, he showed fight; made his mark as usual on a couple of his zealous attendants; but not having room to work in was soon overpowered, hobbled, and handcuffed: then they cut off his hair, and put a large blister on the top of his head.

The obstinate brute declined to go mad. They began to respect him for this tenacity of purpose: a decent bedroom was allotted him; his portmanteau and bag were brought him, and he was let walk every day on the lawn with a keeper; only there were no ladders left about, and the trap-door was locked, i.e. the iron gate.

On one of these occasions he heard the gatekeeper whistle three times consecutively; his attendant followed suit, and hurried Alfred into the house, which soon rang with treble signals.

“What is it?” inquired Alfred.

“The visiting justices are in sight: go into your room, please.”

“Yes, I’ll go,” said Alfred, affecting cheerful compliance, and the man ran off.

The whole house was in a furious bustle. All the hobbles, and chains, and instruments of restraint were hastily collected and bundled out of sight, and clean sheets were being put on many a filthy bed whose occupant had never slept in sheets since he came there, when two justices arrived and were shown into the drawing-room.

During the few minutes they were detained there by Mrs. Archbold, who was mistress of her whole business, quite a new face was put on everything and everybody; ancient cobwebs fell; soap and water explored unwonted territories: the harshest attendants began practising pleasant looks and kind words on the patients, to get into the way of it, so that it might not come too abrupt and startle the patients visibly under the visitors’ eyes: something like actors working up a factitious sentiment at the wing for the public display, or like a racehorse’s preliminary canter. Alfred’s heart beat with joy inexpressible. He had only to keep calm, and this was his last day at Silverton Grove. The first thing he did was to make a careful toilet.

The stinginess of relations, and the greed of madhouse proprietors, make many a patient look ten times madder than he is, by means of dress. Clothes wear out in an asylum, and are not always taken off, though Agriculture has long and justly claimed them for her own. And when it is no longer possible to refuse the Reverend Mad Tom or Mrs. Crazy Jane some new raiment, then consanguineous munificence does not go to Pool or Elise, but oftener to paternal or maternal wardrobes, and even to the ancestral chest, the old oak one, singing:

“Poor things, they are out of the world: what need for them to be in the fashion!” (Formula.)

This arrangement keeps the bump of self-esteem down, especially in women, and so cooperates with many other little arrangements to perpetuate the lodger.

Silverton Grove in particular was supplied with the grotesque in dress from an inexhaustible source. Whenever money was sent Baker to buy a patient a suit, he went from his lunacy shop to his pawnbroker’s, dived headlong into unredeemed pledges, dressed his patient as gentlemen are dressed to reside in cherry-trees; and pocketed five hundred per cent. on the double transaction. Now Alfred had already observed that many of the patients looked madder than they were — thanks to short trousers and petticoats, holey gloves, ear-cutting shirt-collars, frilled bosoms, shoes made for and declined by the very infantry: coats short in the waist and long in the sleeves, coalscuttle bonnets, and grand-maternal caps. So he made his toilet with care, and put his best hat on to hide his shaven crown. He then kept his door ajar, and waited for a chance of speaking to the justices. One soon came: a portly old gentleman, with a rubicund face and honest eye, walked slowly along the corridor, looking as wise as he could, cringed on by Cooper and Dr. Bailey; the latter had arrived post haste, and Baker had been sent for. Alfred came out, touched his hat respectfully, and begged a private interview with the magistrate. The old gentleman bowed politely, for Alfred’s dress, address, and countenance, left no suspicion of insanity possible in an unprejudiced mind.

But the doctor whispered in his ear, “Take care, sir. Dangerous!”

Now this is one of the most effective of the formulae in a private asylum. How can an inexperienced stranger know for certain that such a statement is a falsehood? And even the just do not love justice —to others— quite so well as they love their own skins. So Squire Tollett very naturally declined a private interview with Alfred; and even drew back a step, and felt uneasy at being so near him. Alfred implored him not to be imposed upon. “An honest man does not whisper,” said he. “Do not let him poison your mind against me; on my honour, I am as sane as you are, and he knows it. Pray, pray use your own eyes and ears, sir, and give yourself a chance of discovering the truth in this stronghold of lies.”

“Don’t excite yourself, Mr. Hardie,” put in the doctor parentally. (Formula.)

“Don’t you interrupt me, doctor; I am as calm as you are. Calmer; for, see, you are pale at this moment; that is with fear that your wickedness in detaining a sane man here is going to be exposed. Oh, sir,” said he, turning to the justice, “fear no violence from me, not even angry words; my misery is too deep for irritation, or excitement. I am an Oxford man, sir, a prize man, an Ireland scholar. But, unfortunately for me, my mother left me ten thousand pounds, and a heart. I love a lady whose name I will not pollute by mentioning it in this den of thieves. My father is the well-known banker, bankrupt, and cheat, of Barkington. He has wasted his own money, and now covets his neighbour’s and his son’s. He had me entrapped here on my wedding-day, to get hold of my money, and rob me of her I love. I appeal to you, sir, to discharge me, or, if you have not so much confidence in your own judgment as to do that, then I demand a commission of lunacy, and a public inquiry.”

Dr. Bailey said, “That would be a most undesirable exposure, both to yourself and your friends.” (Formula.)

“It is only the guilty who fear the light, sir,” was the prompt reply.

Mr. Tollett said he thought the patient had a legal right to a commission of lunacy if there was property, and he took note of the application. He then asked Alfred if he had any complaint to make of the food, the beds, or the attendants.

“Sir,” said Alfred, “I leave those complaints to the insane ones: with me the gigantic wrong drives out the petty worries. I cannot feel my stings for my deep wound.”

“Oh, then, you admit you are not treated unkindly here?”

I admit nothing of the kind, sir. I merely decline to encumber your memory with petty injuries, when you are good enough to inquire into a monstrous one.”

“Now that is very sensible and considerate,” said Mr. Tollett. “ I will see you, sir, again before we leave.”

With this promise Alfred was obliged to be content. He retired respectfully, and the justice said, “He seems as sane as I am.” The doctor smiled. The justice observed it, and not aware that this smile was a formula, as much so as a prizefighter’s or a ballet-dancer’s, began to doubt a little: He reflected a moment, then asked who had signed the certificates.

“Dr. Wycherley for one.”

“Dr. Wycherley? that is a great authority.”

“One of the greatest in the country, sir.”

“Oh, then one would think he must be more or less deranged.”

“Dangerously so at times. But in his lucid intervals you never saw a more quiet gentlemanly creature.” (Formula.)

“How sad!”

“Very. He is my most interesting patient (formula), though terribly violent at times. Would you like to see the medical journal about him?”

“Yes; by-and-bye.”

The inspection then continued: the inspector admired the clean sheets that covered the beds, all of them dirty, some filthy: and asked the more reasonable patients to speak freely and say if they had any complaint to make. This question being, with the usual sagacity of public inspectors, put in the presence of Cooper and the doctor, who stuck to Tollett like wax, the mad people all declared they were very kindly treated. The reason they were so unanimous was this: they knew by experience that, if they told the truth, the justices could not at once remedy their discomforts, whereas the keepers, the very moment the justices left the house, would knock them down, beat them, shake them, strait-jacket them, and starve them: and the doctor, less merciful, would doctor them. So they shook in their shoes, and vowed they were very comfortable in Silverton Grove.

Thus, in later days, certain Commissioners of Lunacy inspecting Accomb House, extracted nothing from Mrs. Turner, but that she was happy and comfortable under the benignant sway of Metcalf the mild — there present. It was only by a miracle the public learned the truth, and miracles are rare.

Meantime, Alfred had a misgiving. The plausible doctor had now Squire Tollett’s ear, and Tollett was old, and something about him reminded the Oxonian of a trait his friend Horace had detected in old age:

“Vel quod res omnes timide gelide que ministrat.
Dilator, spe longus, iners,” &c.

He knew there was another justice in the house, but he knew also he should not be allowed to get speech with him, if by cunning or force it could be prevented. He kept his door ajar. Presently Nurse Hannah came bustling along with an apronful of things, and let herself into a vacant room hard by. This Hannah was a young woman with a pretty and rather babyish face, diversified by a thick biceps muscle in her arm that a blacksmith need not have blushed for. And I suspect it was this masculine charm, and not her feminine features, that had won her the confidence of Baker and Co., and the respect of his female patients: big or little, excited or not excited, there was not one of them this bicipital baby-face could not pin by the wrists, and twist her helpless into a strong-room, or handcuff her unaided in a moment; and she did it, too, on slight provocation. Nurse Hannah seldom came into Alfred’s part of the house; but when she did meet him, she generally gave him a kind look in passing; and he had resolved to speak to her, and try if he could touch her conscience, or move her pity. He saw what she was at, but was too politic to detect her openly and irritate her. He drew back a step, and said softly, “Nurse Hannah! Are you there?”

“Yes, I am here,” said she sharply, and came out of the room hastily, and shut it. “What do you want, sir?”

Alfred clasped his hands together. “If you are a woman, have pity on me.”

She was taken by surprise. “What can I do?” said she in some agitation. “I am only a servant.”

“At least tell me where I can find the Visiting Justice, before the keepers stop me.”

“Hush! Speak lower,” said Hannah. “You have complained to one, haven’t you?”

“Yes, but he seems a feeble old fogy. Where is the other? Oh, pray tell me?”

“I mustn’t: I mustn’t In the noisy ward. There, run.”

And run he did.

Alfred was lucky enough to get safe into the noisy ward without being intercepted. And then he encountered a sunburnt gentleman, under thirty, in a riding-coat, with a hunting-whip in his hand: it was Mr. Vane, a Tory squire and large landholder in the county.

Now, as Alfred entered at one door, Baker himself came in at the other, and they nearly met at Vane. But Alfred saluted him first, and begged respectfully for an interview.

“Certainly, sir,” said Mr. Vane.

“Take care, sir; he is dangerous,” whispered Baker. Instantly Mr. Vane’s countenance changed. But this time Alfred overheard the formula, and said quietly: “Don’t believe him, sir. I am not dangerous; I am as sane as any man in England. Pray examine me, and judge for yourself.”

“Ah, that is his delusion,” said Baker. “Come, Mr. Hardie, I allow you great liberties, but you abuse them. You really must not monopolise his Worship with your fancies. Consider, sir, you are not the only patient he has to examine.”

Alfred’s heart sank: he turned a look of silent agony on Mr. Vane.

Mr. Vane, either touched by that look, or irritated by Baker’s pragmatical interference, or perhaps both, looked that person coolly in the face, and said sternly: “Be silent, sir; and let the gentleman speak to me.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/reade/charles/hard-cash/chapter31.html

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