Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 39

DR. SHORT arrived, approved Dr. Phillips’s treatment, and said the case was severe but not hopeless, and he would call again. A bed was prepared in the house for Mr. Hardie: but neither he nor any of the Dodds closed an eye that sorrowful night.

About midnight, after a short slumber, the sufferer became uneasy, and begged to be left with Julia. Julia was sent for, and found her a good deal excited. She inquired more than once if they were quite alone, and then asked for paper and a pencil. She wrote a few lines, and made Julia put them in a cover and seal them. “Now. dear friend,” she said, “promise me not to open this, nor even to let your mother; it is not for your happiness that what I have written should be seen by her or you; no, no, much better not. Come; dear friend, pledge me your honour.” Julia pledged her honour.

Then Jane wrote on the cover, “From a dying sister.” Julia saw that; and wept sore.

Jane comforted her. “Do not weep for me, love: I am content to go, or stay. This is not my doing; so I know it must be for the best. He is leading me by a way that I know not. Oh, my beloved friend, how sweet it is to lie in His hands, and know no will but His. Ay, I thank Him for crossing my will, and leading me to Himself by His own good way, and not by poor blind, foolish mine.”

In this spirit of full resignation she abode constant, and consoled her weeping friends from time to time, whenever she was quite herself.

About daybreak, being alone with her father, she shed a few tears at his lonely condition. “I fear you will miss me,” said she. “Take my advice, dear; be reconciled with Alfred at once, and let Julia be your daughter, since I am leaving you. She is all humility and heart. Dying, I prize her and her affection more highly; I seem to see characters clearer, all things clearer, than I did before my summons came.”

The miserable father tried to be playful and scold her: “You must not talk nor think of death,” he said. “Your bridal-day is to come first; I know all; Edward Dodd has told me he loves you. He is a fine noble fellow; you shall marry him: I wish it. Now, for his sake, summon all your resolution, and make up your mind to live. Why, at your age, it needs but to say, ‘I will live, I will, I will;’ and when all the prospect is so smiling, when love awaits you at the altar, and on every side! If you could leave your poor doting father, do not leave your lover: and here he is with his mother crying for you. Let me comfort him; let me tell him you will live for his sake and mine.”

Even this could not disturb the dying Christian. “Dear Edward,” she said; “it is sweet to know he loves me. Ah, well, he is young; he must live without me till I become but a tender memory of his youth. And oh, I pray for him that he may cherish the words I have spoken to him for his soul’s good far longer than he can remember these features that are hastening to decay.”

At ten in the morning Mr. Hardie’s messenger returned without Alfred, and with a note from Dr. Wycherley to this effect, that, the order for Alfred’s admission into his asylum being signed by Mr. Thomas Hardie, he could not send him out even for a day except on Thomas Hardie’s authority; it would be a violation of the law. Under the circumstances, however, he thought he might venture to receive that order by telegraph. If, then, Mr. Hardie would telegraph Thomas Hardie in Yorkshire to telegraph him (Wycherley), Alfred should be sent with two keepers wherever Mr. T. Hardie should so direct,

Now Mr. Hardie had already repented of sending for Alfred at all. So, instead of telegraphing Yorkshire, he remained passive, and said sullenly to Mrs. Dodd, “Alfred can’t come, it seems.”

Thus Routine kept the brother from his dying sister.

They told Jane, with aching hearts, there was reason to fear Alfred could not arrive that day.

She only gave a meaning look at Julia, about the paper; and then she said with a little sigh, “God’s will be done.”

This was the last disappointment Heaven allowed Earth to inflict on her; and the shield of Faith turned its edge.

One hour of pain, another of delirium, and now the clouds that darken this mortal life seemed to part and pass, and Heaven to open full upon her. She spoke of her coming change no longer with resignation; it was with rapture. “Oh!” she cried, “to think that from this very day I shall never sin again, shall never again offend Him by unholy temper, by unChrist-like behaviour!”

The strong and healthy wept and groaned aloud; but she they sorrowed for was all celestial bliss. In her lifetime she had her ups and downs of religious fervour; was not without feverish heats, and cold misgivings and depression; but all these fled at that dread hour when the wicked are a prey to dark misgivings, or escape into apathy. This timid girl that would have screamed at a scratch, met the King of Terrors with smiles and triumph. For her the grave was Jordan, and death was but the iron gate of life everlasting. Mors janua vitae. Yet once or twice she took herself to task: but only to show she knew what the All–Pure had forgiven her. “I often was wanting in humility,” she said; “I almost think that if I were to be sent back again into this world of sin and sorrow I am leaving behind, I should grow a little in humility; for I know the ripe Christian is like the ripe corn, holds his head lower than when he was green; and the grave it seems to be ripening me. But what does it matter? since He who died for me is content to take me as I am. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, oh, come quickly! Relieve Thy servant from the burden of the flesh, and of the sins and foibles that cling to it and keep her these many years from Thee.”

This prayer was granted; the body failed more and more; she could not swallow even a drop of wine; she could not even praise her Redeemer; that is to say, she could not speak. Yet she lay and triumphed. With hands put together in prayer, and eyes full of praise and joy unspeakable, she climbed fast to God. While she so mounted in the spirit, her breath came at intervals unusually long, and all were sent for to see Death conquer the body and be conquered by the soul.

At last, after an unnaturally long interval, she drew a breath like a sigh. They waited for another; waited, waited in vain.

She had calmly ceased to live.

The old doctor laid down her hand reverently, and said “She is with us no more.” Then with many tears, “Oh, may we all meet where she is now, and may I go to her the first.”

Richard Hardie was led from the room in a stupor.

Immediately after death all the disfiguring effect of pain retired, and the happy soul seemed to have stamped its own celestial rapture on the countenance at the moment of leaving it; a rapture so wonderful, so divine, so more than mortal calm, irradiated the dead face. The good Christians she left behind her looked on and feared to weep, lest they should offend Him, who had taken her to Himself, and set a visible seal upon the house of clay that had held her. “Oh, mamma,” cried Julia with fervour, “look! look! Can we, dare we, wish that angel back to this world of misery and sin?” And it was some hours before she cooled, and began to hang on Edward’s neck and weep his loss and hers, as weep we mortals must, though the angels of Heaven are rejoicing.

Thus died in the flower of her youth, and by what we call a violent death, the one child Richard Hardie loved; member of a religious party whose diction now and then offends one to the soul: but the root of the matter is in them; allowance made for those passions, foibles, and infirmities of the flesh, even you and I are not entirely free from, they live fearing God, and die loving Him.

There was an inquest next day, followed in due course by a public trial of James Maxley. But these are matters which, though rather curious and interesting, must be omitted, or touched hereafter and briefly.

The effect of Jane’s death on Richard Hardie was deplorable. He saw the hand of Heaven; but did not bow to it: so it filled him with rage, rebellion, and despair. He got his daughter away and hid himself in the room with her; scarce stirring out by night or day. He spoke to no one; he shunned the Dodds: he hated them. He said it was through visiting their house she had met her death, and at their door. He would not let himself see it was he who had sent her there with his lie. He loathed Alfred, calling him the cause of all.

He asked nobody to the funeral: and, when Edward begged permission to come, he gave a snarl like a wild beast and went raging from him. But Edward would go: and at the graveside pitying Heaven relieved the young fellow’s choking heart with tears. But no such dew came to that parched old man, who stood on its other side like the withered Archangel, his eyes gloomy and wild, his white cheek ploughed deep with care and crime and anguish, his lofty figure bowed by his long warfare, his soul burning and sickening by turns, with hatred and rebellion, with desolation and despair.

He went home and made his will; for he felt life hang on him like lead, and that any moment he might kill himself to be rid of it. Strange to say, he left a sum of money to Edward Dodd. A moment before, he didn’t know he was going to do it: a moment after, he was half surprised he had done it, and minded to undo it; but would not take the trouble. He went up to London, and dashed into speculation as some in their despair take to drink. For this man had but two passions; avarice, and his love for his daughter. Bereaved of her, he must either die, or live for gain. He sought the very cave of Mammon; he plunged into the Stock Exchange.

When Mr. Hardie said, “Alfred can’t come, it seems,” Mrs. Dodd misunderstood him, naturally enough. She thought the heartless young man had sent some excuse: had chosen to let his sister die neglected rather than face Julia: “As if she would leave her own room while he was in my house,” said Mrs. Dodd, with sovereign contempt. From this moment she conceived a horror of the young man. Edward shared it fully, and the pair always spoke of him under the title of “the Wretch:” this was when Julia was not by. In her presence he was never mentioned. By this means she would in time forget him, or else see him as they saw him.

And as, after all, they knew little to Mr. Hardie’s disadvantage, except what had come out of “the Wretch’s” mouth, and as moreover their hearts were softened towards the father by his bereavement, and their sight of his misery, and also by his grateful words, they quite acquitted him of having robbed them, and felt sure the fourteen thousand pounds was at the bottom of the sea.

They were a little surprised that Mr. Hardie never spoke nor wrote to them again; but being high-minded and sweet tempered, they set it down to all-absorbing grief, and would not feel sore about it.

And now they must leave the little villa where they had been so happy and so unhappy.

The scanty furniture went first; Mrs. Dodd followed, and arranged it in their apartments. Julia would stay behind to comfort Edward, inconsolable herself. The auction came off. Most of the things went for cruelly little money compared to their value: and with the balance the sad young pair came up to London, and were clasped in their mother’s arms. The tears were in her tender eyes. “It is a poor place to receive my treasures,” she said: Edward looked round astonished: “It was a poor place,” said he, “but you have made a little palace of it, somehow or another.”

“My children’s love can alone do that,” replied Mrs. Dodd, kissing them both again.

Next day they consulted together how they were to live. Edward wished to try and get his father into a public asylum; then his mother would have a balance to live upon out of her income. But Mrs. Dodd rejected this proposal with astonishment. In vain Edward cited the ’Tiser that public asylums are patterns of comfort, and cure twice as many patients as the private ones do. She was deaf alike to the ’Tiser and to statistics. “Do not argue me out of my common sense,” said she. “My husband, your father, in a public asylum, where anybody can go and stare at my darling!”

She then informed them she had written to her Aunt Bazalgette and her Uncle Fountain, and invited them to contribute something towards David’s maintenance.

Edward was almost angry at this. “Fancy asking favours of them,” said he.

“Oh, I must not sacrifice my family to false pride,” said Mrs. Dodd; “besides they are entitled to know.”

While waiting for their answers, a word about the parties and their niece.

Our Mrs. Dodd, born Lucy Fountain, was left at nineteen to the care of two guardians: 1, her Uncle Fountain, an old bachelor, who loved comfort, pedigree, and his own way; 2, her Aunt Bazalgette, who loved flirting, dressing, and her own way; both charming people, when they got their own way; verjuice, when they didn’t: and, to conclude, egotists deep as ocean. From guardians they grew match-makers and rivals by proxy: uncle schemed to graft Lucy on to a stick called Talboys, that came in with the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, known in pedigrees as “the Norman Conquest.” Aunt, wife of a merchant of no Descent, except from a high stool, devoted her to Richard Hardie. An unlooked-for obstacle encountered both: Lucy was not amorous. She loved these two egotists and their quadrupeds; but there she stopped dead short. They persisted; and, while they pulled her to and fro and ruffled her native calm, David Dodd, first mate of the Something or other East Indiaman — brown cheek, honest speech, heart of gold — fell deep in love and worshipped her at a distance. His timidity and social insignificance made him harmless; so egotist Fountain had him in to dessert to spin yarns; egotist Bazalgette invited him to her house to flirt with. At this latter place he found Hardie and Talboys both courting Lucy; this drove him mad, and in his fury he popped. Lucy declined him secundum artem: he went away blessing her, with a manly sob or two. Lucy cried a little and took a feminine spite against his rivals, who remained to pester her. Now Talboys, spurred by uncle, had often all but popped; only some let, hindrance, or just impediment had still interposed: once her pony kept prancing at each effort he made towards Hymen; they do say the subtle virgin kept probing the brute with a hair pin, and made him caracole and spill the treacle as fast as it came her way. However, now Talboys elected to pop by sea. It was the element his ancestors had invaded fair England by; and on its tranquil bosom a lover is safe from prancing steeds, and the myriad anti-pops of terra firma. Miss Lucy consented to the water excursion demurely, designing to bring her sickly wooer to the point and so get rid of him for ever and ever. Plot and counter-plot were baffled by the elements: there came an anti-pop out of the south-west called a gale. Talboys boated so skilfully that he and his intended would have been united without ceremony by Father Nep, at the bottom of the British Channel, but for David Dodd, who was hovering near in jealous anguish and a cutter. He saved them both, but in the doing of it missed his ship, and professional ruin faced him. Then good-hearted Lucy was miserable, and appealed to Mr. Bazalgette, and he managed somehow to get David made captain of the Rajah. The poor girl thought she had squared the account with David; but he refused the ship unless she would go halves, and while her egotists bullied and vexed her, he wrought so upon her pity, and teased her so, that to get rid of his importunity she married him. In time she learned to love him ten times better than if she had begun all flames. Uncle and aunt cut her tolerably dead for some years. Uncle came round the first; some antiquarian showed him that Dodd was a much more ancient family than Talboys. “Why, sir, they were lords of sixteen manors under the Heptarchy, and hold some of them to this day.” Mrs. Bazalgette, too, had long corresponded with her periodically, and on friendly terms.

The answers came on the same day, curiously enough. Uncle Fountain, ruined by railway speculation, was living on an allowance from creditors; but his house was at their service, if they liked to live with him — and board themselves.

Mrs. Bazalgette’s was the letter of a smooth woman, who has hoarded imperishable spite. She reminded her niece after all these years, that her marriage with David was an act of disobedience and ingratitude. She then enumerated her own heavy expenses, all but the L. 400 a year she spent in bedizening her carcass, and finally, amidst a multitude of petty insults, she offered to relieve Mrs. Dodd of — Julia. Now Poetry has reconciled us to an asp in a basket of figs; but here was a scorpion in a bundle of nettles. Poor Mrs. Dodd could not speak after reading it. She handed it to Edward, and laid her white forehead wearily in her hand. Edward put the letter in an envelope and sent it back with a line in his own hand declining all further correspondence with the writer.

“Now then, ladies,” said he, “don’t you be cast down. Let this be a warning to us, never to ask favours of anybody. Let us look the thing in the face; we must work or starve: and all the better for us. Hard work suits heavy hearts. Come, have you any plan?”

“To be sure we have,” said Julia eagerly. “I mean to go for a governess, and then I shall cost mamma nothing, and besides I can send her the money the people give me.”

“A pretty plan!” said Edward sadly; “what! we three part company? Don’t you feel lonely enough without that? I do then. How can we bear our burdens at all, if we are not to be all together to cheer one another along the weary road? What! are we to break up? Is it not enough to be bereaved?”

He could say no more for the emotion his own words caused him; thinking of Jane, he broke down altogether, and ran out of the room.

However, he came back in an hour with his eyes red, but his heart indomitable; determined to play a man’s part for all their sakes. “You ladies,” said he, with something of his old genial way, that sounded so strange to one looking at his red eyes, and inspired a desire to hug him, “are full of talent, but empty of invention. The moment you are ruined or that sort of thing, it is, go for a governess, go for a companion, go here, go there, in search of what? Independence? No; dependence. Besides all this going is bosh. Families are strong if they stick together, and if they go to pieces they are weak. I learned one bit of sense out of that mass of folly they call antiquity; and that was the story of the old bloke with his twelve sons, and fagot to match. ‘Break ’em apart,’ he said, and each son broke his stick as easy as shelling peas. ‘Now break the twelve all tied together:’ devil a bit could the duffers break it then. Now we are not twelve, we are but three: easy to break one or two of us apart, but not the lot together. No; nothing but death shall break this fagot, for nothing less shall part us three.”

He stood like a colossus, and held out his hand to them; they clung round his neck in a moment, as if to illustrate his words; clung tight, and blessed him for standing so firm and forbidding them to part.

Mrs. Dodd sighed, after the first burst of enthusiastic affection, and said: “If he would only go a step further and tell us what to do in company.”

“Ay, there it is,” said Julia. “Begin with me. What can I do?”

“Why, paint.”

“What, to sell? Oh dear, my daubs are not good enough for that.”

“Stuff! Nothing is too bad to sell.

“I really think you might,” said Mrs. Dodd, “and I will help you.”

“No, no, mamma, I want you for something better than the fine arts. You must go in one of the great grooves: Female vanity: you must be a dressmaker; you are a genius at it.”

“My mamma a dressmaker,” cried Julia; “oh Edward, how can you. How dare you. Poor, poor mamma!”

“Do not be so impetuous, dear. I think he is right: yes, it is all I am fit for. If ever there was a Heaven-born dressmaker, it’s me.”

“As for myself,” said Edward, “I shall look out for some business in which physical strength goes further than intellectual attainments. Luckily there are plenty such. Breaking stones is one. But I shall try a few others first.”

It is easy to settle on a business, hard to get a footing in one. Edward convinced that the dressmaking was their best card, searched that mine of various knowledge, the ’Tiser, for an opening: but none came. At last one of those great miscellaneous houses in the City advertised for a lady to cut cloaks. He proposed to his mother to go with him. She shrank from encountering strangers. No, she would go to a fashionable dressmaker she had employed some years, and ask her advice. Perhaps Madame Blanch would find her something to do. “I have more faith in the ’Tiser,” said Edward, clinging to his idol.

Mrs. Dodd found Madame Blanch occupied in trying to suit one of those heart-breaking idiots, to whom dress is the one great thing, and all things else, sin included, the little ones. She had tried on a scarf three times; and it discontented her when on, and spoilt all else when off. Mrs. Dodd saw, and said obligingly, “Perhaps were I to put it on, you could better judge.” Mrs. Dodd, you must know, had an admirable art of putting on a shawl or scarf. With apparent nonchalance she settled the scarf on her shapely shoulders so happily that the fish bit, and the scarf went into its carriage; forty guineas, or so. Madame cast a rapid but ardent glance of gratitude Dodd-wards. The customer began to go, and after fidgeting to the door and back for twenty minutes actually went somehow. Then madame turned round, and said, “I’m sure, ma’am, I am much obliged to you; you sold me the scarf: and it is a pity we couldn’t put her on your bust and shoulders, ma’am, then perhaps a scarf might please her. What can I do for you, ma’am?”

Mrs. Dodd blushed, and with subdued agitation told Madame Blanch that this time she was come not to purchase but to ask a favour. Misfortune was heavy on her; and, though not penniless, she was so reduced by her husband’s illness and the loss of L. 14,000 by shipwreck, that she must employ what little talents she had to support her family.

The woman explored her from head to foot to find the change of fortune in some corner of her raiment: but her customer was as well, though plainly dressed as ever, and still looked an easy-going duchess.

“Could Madame Blanch find her employment in her own line? What talent I have,” said Mrs. Dodd humbly, “lies in that way. I could not cut as well as yourself, of course; but I think I can as well as some of your people.”

“That I’ll be bound you can,” said Madame Blanch drily. “But dear, dear, to think of your having come down so. Have a glass of wine to cheer you a bit; do now, that is a good soul.”

“Oh no, madam. I thank you; but wine cannot cheer me: a little bit of good news to take back to my anxious children, that would cheer me, madam. Will you be so good?”

The dressmaker coloured and hesitated; she felt the fascination of Dignity donning Humility, and speaking Music: but she resisted. “It won’t do, at least here. I shouldn’t be mistress in my own place. I couldn’t drive you like I am forced to do the rest; and, then, I should be sure to favour you, being a real lady, which is my taste, and you always will be, rich or poor; and then all my ladies would be on the bile with jealousy.”

“Ah, madam,” sighed Mrs. Dodd, “you treat me like a child; you give me sweetmeats, and refuse me food for my family.”

“No, no,” said the woman hastily, “I don’t say I mightn’t send you out some work to do at home.”

“Oh, thank you, madam.” N.B. The dressmaker had dropped the Madam, so the lady used it now at every word.

“Now stop a bit,” said Madame Blanch. “I know a firm that’s in want. Theirs is easy work by mine, and they cut up a piece of stuff every two or three days.” She then wrote on one of her own cards, Messrs. Cross, Fitchett, Copland, and Tylee, 11, 12, 13, and 14, Primrose Lane, City. “Say, I recommend you. To tell the truth, an old hand of my own was to come here this very morning about it, but she hasn’t kept her time; so this will learn her business doesn’t stand still for lie-a-beds to catch it.”

Mrs. Dodd put the card in her bosom and pressed the hand extended to her by Madame Zaire Blanch; whose name was Sally White, spinster. She went back to her children and showed them the card, and sank gracefully into a chair, exhausted as much by the agitation of asking favours as by the walk. “Cross, Fitchett, Copland? Why they were in the ’Tiser yesterday,” said Edward: “look at this; a day lost by being wiser than the ’Tiser.

“I’ll waste no more then,” said Mrs. Dodd, rising quietly from the chair. They begged her to rest herself first. No, she would not. “I saw this lost by half an hour,” said she. “Succeed or fail, I will have no remissness to reproach myself with.” And she glided off in her quiet way, to encounter Cross, Fitchett, Copland and Tylee, in the lane where a primrose was caught growing — six hundred years ago. She declined Edward’s company rather peremptorily. “Stay and comfort your sister,” said she. But that was a blind; the truth was, she could not bear her children to mingle in what she was doing. No, her ambition was to ply the scissors and thimble vigorously, and so enable them to be ladies and gentlemen at large. She being gone, Julia made a parcel of water-colour drawings, and sallied forth all on fire to sell them. But, while she was dressing, Edward started on a cruise in search of employment. He failed entirely. They met in the evening, Mrs. Dodd resigned, Edward dogged, Julia rather excited. “Now, let us tell our adventures, she said. “As for me, shop after shop declined my poor sketches. They all wanted something about as good, only a little different: nobody complained of the grand fault, and that is, their utter badness. At last, one old gentleman examined them, and oh! he was so fat; there, round. And he twisted his mouth so” (imitating him) “and squinted into them so. Then I was full of hope; and said to myself; ‘Dear mamma and Edward!’ And so, when he ended by saying, ‘No,’ like all the rest, I burst out crying like a goose.

“My poor girl,” cried Mrs. Dodd, with tears in her own eyes, “why expose yourself to these cruel rebuffs?”

“Oh, don’t waste your pity, mamma; those great babyish tears were a happy thought of mine. He bought two directly to pacify me; and there’s the money. Thirty shillings!” And she laid it proudly on the table.

“The old cheat,” said Edward; “they were worth two guineas apiece, I know.”

“Not they; or why would not anybody else give twopence for them?”

“Because pictures are a drug.”

He added that even talent was not saleable unless it got into the Great Grooves; and then looked at Mrs. Dodd, she replied that unfortunately those Grooves were not always accessible. The City firm had received her stiffly, and inquired for whom she had worked. “Children, my heart fell at that question. I was obliged to own myself an amateur and beg a trial. However, I gave Madame Blanch’s card: but Mr. — I don’t know which partner it was — said he was not acquainted with her: then he looked a little embarrassed, I thought, and said the Firm did not care to send its stuff to ladies not in the business. I might cut it to waste, or — he said no more; but I do really think he meant I might purloin it.”

“Why wasn’t I there to look him into the earth? Oh, mamma, that you should be subjected to all this!”

“Be quiet, child; I had only to put on my armour; and do you know what my armour is? Thinking of my children. So I put on my armour, and said quietly, we were not so poor but we could pay for a piece of cloth should I be so unfortunate as to spoil it; and I offered in plain terms to deposit the price as security. But he turned as stiff at that as his yard measure; ‘that was not Cross and Co.‘s way of doing business,’ he said. But it is unreasonable to be dejected at a repulse or two; and I am not out of spirits; not much:” with this her gentle mouth smiled; and her patient eyes were moist.

The next day, just after breakfast, was announced a gentleman from the City. He made his bow and produced a parcel, which proved to be a pattern cloak. “Order, ladies,” said he briskly, “from Cross, Fitchett, and Co., Primrose Lane. Porter outside with the piece. You can come in, sir.” Porter entered with a bale. “Please sign this, ma’am.” Mrs. Dodd signed a receipt for the stuff, with an undertaking to deliver it in cloaks, at 11 Primrose Lane, in such a time. Porter retreated. The other said, “Our Mr. Fitchett wishes you to observe this fall in the pattern. It is new.”

“I will, sir. Am I to trouble you with any money — by way of deposit, sir?”

“No orders about it, ma’am. Ladies, your most obedient. Good morning, sir.”

And he was away.

All this seemed like a click or two of City clock-work: followed by rural silence. Yet in that minute Commerce had walked in upon genteel poverty, and left honest labour and modest income behind her.

Great was the thankfulness, strange and new the excitement. Edward was employed to set up a very long deal table for his mother to work on, Julia to go and buy tailors’ scissors. Calculations were made how to cut the stuff to advantage, and in due course the heavy scissors were heard snick, snick, snicking all day long.

Julia painted zealously, and Edward, without saying a word to them, walked twenty miles a day hunting for a guinea a week; and finding it not. Not but what employment was often bobbed before his eyes: but there was no grasping it. At last he heard of a place peculiarly suited to him; a packing foreman’s in a warehouse at Southwark; he went there, and was referred to Mr. A.‘s private house. Mr. A. was in the country for a day. Try Mr. B. Mr. B. was dining with the Lord Mayor. Returning belated, he fell in with a fire; and, sad to say, life was in jeopardy: a little old man had run out at the first alarm, when there was no danger, and, as soon as the fire was hot, had run in again for his stockings, or some such treasure. Fire does put out some people’s reason; clean. While he was rummaging madly, the staircase caught, and the smoke cut off his second exit, and drove him up to a little staircase window at the side of the house. Here he stood, hose in hand, scorching behind and screeching in front. A ladder had been brought: but it was a yard short: and the poor old man danced on the window-ledge and dare not come down to a gallant fireman who stood ready to receive him at great personal peril. In the midst of shrieks and cries and shouts of encouragement, Edward, a practised gymnast, saw a chance. He ran up the ladder like a cat, begged the fireman to clasp it tight; then got on his shoulders and managed to grasp the window-sill. He could always draw his own weight up by his hands: so he soon had his knee on the sill, and presently stood erect. He then put his left arm inside the window, collared the old fellow with his right, and, half persuasion, half force, actually lowered him to the ladder with one Herculean arm amidst a roar that made the Borough ring. Such a strain could not long be endured; but the fireman speedily relieved him by seizing the old fellow’s feet and directing them on to the ladder, and so, propping him by the waist, went down before him, and landed him safe. Edward waited till they were down: then begged them to hold the ladder tight below; he hung from the ledge, got his eye well on the ladder below him, let himself quietly drop, and caught hold of it with hands of iron, and twisting round, came down the ladder on the inside hand over head without using his feet, a favourite gymnastic exercise of his learnt at the Modern Athens. He was warmly received by the crowd and by the firemen. “You should be one of us, sir,” said a fine young fellow who had cheered him and advised him all through. “I wish to Heaven I was,” said Edward. The other thought he was joking, but laughed and said, “Then you should talk to our head man after the business; there is a vacancy, you know.”

Edward saw the fire out, and rode home on the engine. There he applied to the head man for the vacancy.

“You are a stranger to me, sir,” said the head man. “And I am sure it is no place for you; you are a gentleman.”

“Well; is there anything ungentlemanly in saving people’s lives and property?”

“Hear! hear!” said a comic fireman.

The compliment began to tell, though. Others put in their word. “Why, Mr. Baldwin, if a gentleman ain’t ashamed of us, why should we be ashamed of him?”

“Where will ye get a better?” asked another; and added, “He is no stranger; we’ve seen him work.”

“Stop a bit,” said the comic fireman: “what does the dog say? Just call him, sir, if you please; his name is Charlie.”

Edward called the fire-dog kindly; he came and fawned on him; then gravely snuffed him all round, and retired wagging his tail gently, as much as to say, “I was rather taken by surprise at first, but, on the whole, I see no reason to recall my judgment.”

“It is all right,” said the firemen in chorus; and one that had not yet spoken to Edward now whispered him mysteriously, “Ye see that there dog — he knows more than we do.”

After the dog, a biped oracle at head-quarters was communicated with, and late that very night Edward was actually enrolled a fireman; and went home warmer at heart than he had been for some time. They were all in bed; and when he came down in the morning, Julia was reading out of the ’Tiser a spirited and magniloquent description of a fire in Southwark, and of the heroism displayed by a young gentleman unknown, but whose name the writer hoped at so much the line would never be allowed to pass into oblivion, and be forgotten. In short, the ’Tiser paid him in one column, for years of devotion. Now Edward, of course, was going to relate his adventure; but the journal told it so gloriously, he hesitated to say, “I did all that.” He just sat and stared, and wondered, and blushed, and grinned like an imbecile.

Unfortunately looks seldom escaped the Doddesses. “What is that for?” inquired Julia reproachfully. “Is that sheepish face the thing to wear when a sister is reading out an heroic action? Ah, these are the things that make one long to be a man, to do them. What are you thinking about, dear?”

“Well, I am thinking the ’Tiser is pitching it rather strong.”

“My love, what an expression!”

“Well, then, to be honest, I agree with you that it is a jolly thing to fight with fire and save men’s lives; and I am glad you see it in that light; for now you will approve the step I have taken. Ladies, I have put myself in the way of doing this sort of thing every week of my life. I’m a fireman.”

“You are jesting, I trust?” said Mrs. Dodd anxiously.

“No, mamma. I got the place late last night, and I’m to enter on my duties and put on the livery next Monday. Hurrah!”

Instantly the admirers of fiery heroes at a distance overflowed with grief and mortification at the prospect of one in their own family. They could not speak at all at first: and, when they did, it was only “Cruel! cruel!” from Julia; and “Our humiliation is now complete,” from Mrs. Dodd.

They soon dashed Edward’s spirits, and made him unhappy; but they could not convince him he had done wrong. However, in the heat of remonstrance, they let out at last that they had just begun to hope by dint of scissors and paint-brush to send him back to Oxford. He also detected, under a cloud of tender, loving, soothing, coaxing and equivocating expressions, their idea of a Man: to wit, a tall, strong, ornamental creature, whom the women were to cocker up, and pet, and slave for; and be rewarded by basking, dead tired, in an imperial smile or two let fall by their sovereign protege from his arm-chair. And, in fact, good women have often demoralised their idols down to the dirt by this process; to be sure their idols were sorryish clay, to begin.

Edward was anything but flowery, so he paraded no manly sentiments in reply; he just bluntly ridiculed the idea of his consenting to prey on them; and he said humbly, “I know I can’t contribute as much to our living as you two can — the petticoats carry the brains in our family — but, be a burden to you? Not if I know it.”

“Pride! pride! pride!” objected Julia, lifting her grand violet orbs like a pensive Madonna.

“And such pride! The pride that falls into a fire-bucket,” suggested prosaic mamma.

“That is cutting,” said Edward: “but, soyons de notre siecle; flunkeyism is on the decline. I’ll give you something to put in both your pipes:

‘Honour and rank from no condition rise.
Act well thy part; in that the honour lies.’”

“Yes, yes,” said Mrs. Dodd, “only first choose your part; and let your choice be reasonable.”

“Mine was Hobson’s, and he never chooses wrong. Come, come,” said he, and appealed calmly to their reason, by which means he made no impression at all. Then he happened to say, “Besides, I must do something. I own to you I am more cast down than I choose to show. Mother, I feel like lead ever since she died.” Now on this, their faces filled with sympathy directly. So encouraged he went on to say: “But when I got my hand on that old duffer’s collar, and lowered him to the ladder, and the fire shot roaring out of the window after him, too late to eat him, and the crowd cheered the fireman and me, I did feel warm about the waistcoat, and, for the first time this ever so long, life seemed not quite ended. I felt there was a little bit of good left, that even a poor dunce like me could do, and she could approve — if she can look down and see me, as I hope she can.”

“There, there,” said Mrs. Dodd tearfully, “I am disarmed, But, my darling, I do not know what you are talking about: Stay; why, Edward, surely — I hope — you were not the young gentleman in the paper, the one that risked his life so nobly, so foolishly — if it was you.

“Why, mother, didn’t I tell you it was me?” said Edward, colouring.

“No, that you did not,” said Julia. “Was it? was it? oh do be quick and tell one. There, it was.”

“Well, it was: ah, I remember now; that splendiferous account shut me up. Oh, I say, didn’t the ’Tiser pitch it strong?”

“Not at all,” cried Julia; “I believe every word, and ever so much more. Mamma, we have got a hero, and here he is at breakfast with us, like an ordinary mortal.” She rose suddenly with a burst of her old fire and fell upon him and kissed him, and said earnestly how proud she was of him; “And so is mamma. She may say what she likes.”

“Proud of him! ah, that I am; very proud, and very unhappy. Heroes are my horror. How often, and how earnestly have I prayed that my son might not be brave like his father, but stay quietly at home out of harm’s way.”

Here remonstrance ended; the members of this family, happy by nature, though unhappy by accident, all knew when to yield to each other.

Unfortunately, in proportion as all these excitements great and small died, and her life became quiet and uniform, the depth of Julia’s wound showed itself more and more. She never sang nor hummed, as she used to do, going about the house. She never laughed. She did burst out with fervid sentiments now and then, but very rarely; on the whole, a pensive languor took the place of her lovely impetuosity. Tears rushed in a moment to her eyes with no visible cause. She often stole to the window, and looked all up and down the street; and when she was out of doors, she looked down every side street she passed; and sometimes, when a quick light step came behind them, or she saw a tall young gentleman at a great distance, her hand twitched her mother’s arm or trembled on it. And, always, when they came home, she lingered a moment at the door-step and looked all round before she went in.

At all these signs one half of Mrs. Dodd’s heart used to boil with indignation, and the other half melt with pity. For she saw her daughter was looking for “the Wretch.” Indeed Mrs. Dodd began to fear she had done unwisely in ignoring “the Wretch.” Julia’s thoughts dwelt on him none the less; indeed all the more as it seemed; so the topic interdicted by tacit consent bade fair to become a barrier between her and Mrs. Dodd, hitherto her bosom friend as well as her mother. This was intolerable to poor Mrs. Dodd: and at last she said one day, “My darling, do not be afraid of me; rob me of your happy thoughts if you will, but oh, not of your sad ones.”

Julia began to cry directly. “Oh no, mamma,” she sobbed, “do not you encourage me in my folly. I know I have thrown away my affections on one who —— I shall never see him again: shall I, mamma? Oh, to think I can say those words, and yet go living on.”

Mrs. Dodd sighed. “And if you saw him, would that mend the chain he has chosen to break?”

“I don’t know; but if I could only see him to part friends! It is cruel to hate him now he has lost his sister; and then I have got her message to give him. And I want to ask him why he was afraid of me: why he could not tell me he had altered his mind: did he think I wanted to have him against his will? Oh, mamma,” said she imploringly, “he seemed to love me; he seemed all truth. I am a poor unfortunate girl.”

Mrs. Dodd had only caresses to soothe her with. She could not hold out any hopes.

One day Julia asked her timidly if she might be a district visitor: “My dear friend was, and advised me to be one too; but I was wilful in those days and chose to visit by fits and starts, and be independent. I am humbled now a little: may I, mamma? Since she died every word of hers seems a law to me.”

Mrs. Dodd assented cordially; as she would to anything else her wounded one had proposed.

This project brought Julia into communication with the new curate; and who should it prove to be but Mr. Hurd? At sight of him she turned white and red, and the whole scene in the church came back to her. But Mr. Hurd showed considerable tact for so young a man; he spoke to her in accents of deep respect, but confined his remarks strictly to the matter in hand. She told her mother when she got home; and expressed her gratitude to Mr. Hurd, but said she wished they did not live in the same parish with him. This feeling, however, wore off by degrees, as her self-imposed duties brought her more and more into contact with him, and showed her his good qualities.

As for Mr. Hurd, he saw and understood her vivid emotion at sight of him; saw and pitied; not without wonder that so beautiful a creature should have been jilted. And from the first he marked his sense of Alfred’s conduct by showing her a profound and chivalrous respect which he did not bestow on other young ladies in his parish; on the contrary, he rather received homage from them than bestowed it. By-and-bye he saw Julia suppress if not hide her own sorrow, and go sore-hearted day by day to comfort the poor and afflicted: he admired and almost venerated her for this. He called often on Mrs. Dodd, and was welcome. She concealed her address for the present from all her friends except Dr. Sampson; but Mr. Hurd had discovered her, and ladies do not snub the clergy. Moreover, Mr. Hurd was a gentleman, and inclined to High Church. This she liked. He was very good-looking too, and quiet in his manners. Above all, he seemed to be doing her daughter good; for Julia and Mr. Hurd had one great sentiment in common. When the intimacy had continued some time on these easy terms, Mrs. Dodd saw that Mr. Hurd was falling in love with Julia; and that sort of love warm, but respectful, which soon leads to marriage, especially when the lover is a clergyman. This was more than Mrs. Dodd bargained for; she did not want to part with her daughter, and under other circumstances would have drawn in her horns. But Mr. Hurd’s undisguised homage gratified her maternal heart, coming so soon after that great insult to her daughter; and then she said to herself: “At any rate, he will help me cure her of ‘the Wretch.’” She was not easy in her mind, though; could not tell what would come of it all. So she watched her daughter’s pensive face as only mothers watch; and saw a little of the old peach bloom creeping back.

That was irresistible: she let things go their own way, and hoped for the best.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/reade/charles/hard-cash/chapter38.html

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