Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 41

ON Alfred’s leaving Silverton, Mrs. Archbold was prostrated. It was a stunning blow to her young passion, and left her weary, desolate.

But she was too strong to lie helpless under disappointed longings. Two days she sat stupefied with the heartache; after that she bustled about her work in a fervour of half-crazy restlessness, and ungovernable irritability, quenched at times by fits of weeping. As she wept apart, but raged and tyrannised in public, she soon made Silverton House Silverton Oven, especially to those who had the luck to be of her sex. Then Baker timidly remonstrated; at the first word she snapped him up and said a change would be good for both of them. He apologised; in vain: that very day she closed by letter with Dr. Wolf, who had often invited her to be his “Matron.” Her motive, half hidden from herself, was to be anywhere near her favourite.

Installed at Drayton House, she waited some days, and coquetted woman-like with her own desires, then dressed neatly but soberly, and called at Dr. Wycherley’s; sent in a note explaining who she was with a bit of soft sawder, and asked to see Alfred.

She was politely but peremptorily refused. She felt this rebuff bitterly. She went home stung and tingling to the core. But Bitters wholesome be: offended pride now allied with strong good sense to wither a wild affection; and, as it was no longer fed by the presence of its object, her wound healed, all but the occasional dull throbbing that precedes a perfect cure.

At this stage of her convalescence Dr. Wolf told her in an off-hand way that Mr. Hardie, a patient of doubtful insanity, was coming to his asylum, to be kept there by hook or by crook. (She was entirely in Wolf’s confidence, and he talked of these things to her in English.) The impenetrable creature assented outwardly, with no sign of emotion whatever, but one flash of the eye, and one heave of the bosom swiftly suppressed. She waited calmly and patiently till she was alone; then yielded to joy and triumph; they seemed to leap inside her. But this very thing alarmed her. “Better for me never to see him again,” she thought. “His power over me is too terrible. Ah, good-bye to the peace and comfort I have been building up! He will scatter them to the winds. He has.”

She tried not to think of him too much. And, while she was so struggling, Wolf let out that Alfred was to have morphia at dinner the first day — morphia, the accursed drug with which these dark men in these dark places coax the reason away out of the head by degrees, or with a potent dose stupefy the victim, then act surprise, alarm; and make his stupor the ground for applying medical treatment to the doomed wretch. Edith Archbold knew the game, and at the word morphia, Pity and Passion rose in her bosom irresistible. She smiled in Dr. Wolf’s face, and hated him; and secretly girt herself up to baffle him, and protect Alfred’s reason, and win his heart through his gratitude.

She received him as I have related, to throw dust in Dr. Wolf’s eyes: but she acted so admirably that some went into Alfred’s. “Ah,” thought he, “she is angry with herself for her amorous folly; and, with the justice of her sex, she means to spite poor me for it.” He sighed; for he felt her hostility would be fatal to him. To give her no fresh offence, he fell into her manner, and treated her with a world of distant respect. Then again, who else but she could have warned him against poison? Then again, if so, why look so cold and stern at him? He cast one or two wistful glances at her; but the artful woman of thirty was impenetrable in public to the candid man of twenty-one. Even her passion could not put them on an equality.

That night he could not sleep. He lay wondering what would be the next foul practice, and how he should parry it.

He wrote next morning to the Commissioners that two of their number, unacquainted with the previous proceedings of the Board, had been surprised into endorsing an order of transfer to an asylum bearing a very inferior character to Dr. Wycherley’s; the object of this was clearly foul play. Accordingly, Dr. Wolf had already tried to poison his reason, by drugging his beer at dinner. He added that Dr. Wycherley had now signed a certificate of his sanity, and implored the Board to inspect it, and discharge him at once, or else let a solicitor visit him at once, and take the requisite steps towards a public inquiry.

While waiting anxiously for the answer, it cost him all his philosophy to keep his heart from eating itself. But he fought the good fight of Reason; he invited the confidences of the quieter mad people, and established a little court, and heard their grievances, and by impartial decisions and good humour won the regard of the moderate patients and of the attendants, all but three; Rooke, the head keeper, a morose burly ruffian; Hayes, a bilious subordinate, Rooke’s shadow; and Vulcan, a huge mastiff that would let nobody but Rooke touch him; he was as big as a large calf, and formidable as a small lion, though nearly toothless with age. He was let loose in the yard at night, and was an element in the Restraint system; many a patient would have tried to escape but for Vulcan. He was also an invaluable howler at night, and so cooperated with Dr. Wolf’s bugs and fleas to avert sleep, that vile foe to insanity and all our diseases, private asylums included.

Alfred treated Mrs. Archbold with a distant respect that tried her hard. But that able woman wore sweetness and unobtrusive kindness, and bided her time.

In Drayton House the keeperesses eclipsed the keepers in cruelty to the poorer patients. No men except Dr. Wolf and his assistant had a pass-key into their department, so there was nobody they could deceive, nobody they held worth the trouble. In the absence of male critics they showed their real selves, and how wise it is to trust that gentle sex in the dark with irresponsible power over females. With unflagging patience they applied the hourly torture of petty insolence, needless humiliation, unreasonable refusals to the poor madwomen; bored them with the poisoned gimlet, and made their hearts bleeding pin-cushions. But minute cruelty and wild caprice were not enough for them, though these never tired nor rested; they must vilify them too with degrading and savage names. Billingsgate might have gone to school to Drayton House. Inter alia, they seemed in love with a term that Othello hit upon; only they used it not once, but fifty times a day, and struck decent women with it on the face, like a scorpion whip; and then the scalding tears were sure to run in torrents down their silly, honest, burning cheeks. But this was not all; they had got a large tank in a flagged room, nominally for cleanliness and cure, but really for bane and torture. For the least offence, or out of mere wantonness, they would drag a patient stark naked across the yard, and thrust her bodily under water again and again, keeping her down till almost gone with suffocation, and dismissing her more dead than alive with obscene and insulting comments ringing in her ears, to get warm again in the cold. This my ladies called “tanking.”

In the ordinary morning ablutions they tanked without suffocating. But the immersion of the whole body in cold water was of itself a severe trial to those numerous patients in whom the circulation was weak; and as medical treatment, hurtful and even dangerous. Finally, these keeperesses, with diabolical insolence and cruelty, would bathe twenty patients in this tank, and then make them drink that foul water for their meals.

“The dark places of the land are full of horrible cruelty.”

One day they tanked so savagely that Nurse Eliza, after months of sickly disapproval, came to the new redresser of grievances, and told.

What was he to do? He seized the only chance of redress; he ran panting with indignation to Mrs. Archbold, and blushing high, said imploringly, “Mrs. Archbold, you used to be kindhearted ——” and could say no more for something rising in his throat.

Mrs. Archbold smiled encouragingly on him, and said softly, “I am the same I always was — to you Alfred.”

“Oh, thank you; then pray send for Nurse Eliza, and hear the cruelties that are being done to the patients within a yard of us.”

“You had better tell me yourself, if you want me to pay any attention.”

“I can’t. I don’t know how to speak to a lady of such things as are done here. The brutes! the cowardly she-devils! Oh, how I should like to kill them.”

Mrs. Archbold laughed a little at his enthusiasm (fancy caring so what was done to a pack of women), and sent for Nurse Eliza. She came and being questioned told Mrs. Archbold more than she had Alfred. “And, ma’am,” said she, whimpering, “they have just been tanking one they had no business to touch; it is Mrs. Dale, her that is so close on her confinement. They tanked her cruel they did, and kept her under water till she was nigh gone. I came away; I couldn’t stand it.”

Alfred was walking about in a fury, and Nurse Eliza, in making this last revolting communication, lowered her voice for him not to hear, but his senses were quick. I think he heard, for he turned and came quickly to them.

“Mrs. Archbold, you are strong and brave — for a woman; oh, do go in to them and take them by the throat and shake the life out of them, the merciless, cowardly beasts! Oh that I could be a woman for an hour, or they could be men, I’d soon have my foot on some of the wretches.”

Mrs. Archbold acted Ignition. “Come with me both of you,” she said, and they were soon in the female department. Up came keeperesses directly, smirking and curtseying to her, and pretending not to look at Adonis. “Which of you nurses tanked Mrs. Dale?” said she sternly.

“‘Twasn’t I, ma’am, ‘twasn’t I.”

“Oh, fie!” said Eliza to one, “you know you were at the head of it.”

She pointed out two as the leaders. The Archbold instantly had them seized by the others — who, with treachery equal to their cowardice, turned eagerly against their fellow-culprits, to make friends with Power — and, inviting all the sensible maniacs who had been tanked, to assist or inspect, she bared her own statuesque arms, and, ably aided, soon plunged the offenders, screaming, crying, and whining, like spaniel bitches whipped, under the dirty water. They swallowed some, and appreciated their own acts. Then she forced them to walk twice round the yard with their wet clothes clinging to them, hooted by the late victims.

“There,” said Alfred, “let that teach you men will not own hyaenas in petticoats for women.”

Poor Alfred took all the credit of this performance; but in fact, when the Archbold invited him to bear a hand, he showed the white feather.

“I won’t touch the blackguardesses,” said he, haughtily turning it off on the score of contempt. “You give it them! Again, again! Brava!”

Mosaic retribution completed, Mrs. Archbold told the nurses if ever “tanking recurred she would bundle the whole female staff into the street, and then have them indicted by the Commissioners.”

These virtuous acts did Edith Archbold for love for a young man. Whether mad women or sane, women pregnant, or the reverse, were tanked or not, she cared at heart no more than whether sheep were washed or no in Ettrick’s distant dale. She was retiring with a tender look at Alfred, and her pulse secretly unaccelerated by sheep-washing of she-wolves, when her grateful favourite appealed to her again:

“Dear Mrs. Archbold, shall we punish and not comfort? This poor Mrs. Dale!”

The Archbold could have boxed his ears. “Dear boy,” she murmured tenderly, “you teach us all our duty.” She visited the tanked one, found her in a cold room after it, shivering like ague, and her teeth chattering. Mrs. Archbold had her to the fire, and got her warm clothes and a pint of wine, and probably saved her life and her child’s — for love of a young man.

Why I think Mrs. Dale would otherwise have left this shifting scene, Mrs. Carey, the last woman in her condition they tanked and then turned into a flagged cell that only wanted one frog of a grotto, was found soon after moribund; on which they bundled her out of the asylum to die. She did die next day, at home, but murdered by the asylum; and they told the Commissioners she died through her friends taking her away from the asylum too soon. The Commissioners had nothing to do but believe this, and did believe it. Inspectors who visit a temple of darkness, lies, cunning, and hypocrisy, four times a year, know mighty little of what goes on there the odd three hundred and sixty-one days, five hours, forty-eight minutes, and fifty-seven seconds.23

23 Arithmetic of my boyhood. I hear the world revolves some minutes quicker now.

“Now, Alfred,” said Mrs. Archbold, “I can’t be everywhere, or know everything; so you come to me when anything grieves you, and let me be the agent of your humanity.”

She said this so charmingly he was surprised into kissing her fair hand; then blushed, and thanked her warmly. Thus she established a chain between them. When he let too long elapse without appealing to her, she would ask his advice about the welfare of this or that patient; and so she cajoled him by the two foibles she had discerned in him — his vanity and his humanity.

Besides Alfred, there were two patients in Drayton House who had never been insane; a young man, and an old woman; of whom anon. There were also three ladies and one gentleman, who had been deranged, but had recovered years ago. This little incident, Recovery, is followed in a public asylum by instant discharge; but, in a private one, Money, not Sanity, is apt to settle the question of egress. The gentleman’s case was scarce credible in the nineteenth century: years ago, being undeniably cracked, he had done what Dr. Wycherley told Alfred was a sure sign of sanity: i.e., he had declared himself insane; and had even been so reasonable as to sign his own order and certificates, and so imprison himself illegally, but with perfect ease; no remonstrance against that illegality from the guardians of the law! When he got what plain men call sane, he naturally wanted to be free, and happening to remember he alone had signed the order of imprisonment, and the imaginary doctor’s certificates, he claimed his discharge from illegal confinement. Answer: “First obtain a legal order for your discharge.” On this he signed an order for his discharge. “That is not a legal order.”—“It is as legal as the order on which I am here.” “Granted; but, legally or not, the asylum has got you; the open air has not got you. Possession is ninety-nine points of Lunacy law. Die your own illegal prisoner, and let your kinsfolk eat your land, and drink your consols, and bury you in a pauper’s shroud” All that Alfred could do for these victims was to promise to try and get them out some day, D.V. But there was a weak-minded youth, Francis Beverley, who had the honour to be under the protection of the Lord Chancellor. Now a lunatic or a Softy, protected by that functionary, is literally a lamb protected by a wolf, and that wolf ex officio the cruellest, cunningest old mangler and fleecer of innocents in Christendom. Chancery lunatics are the richest class, yet numbers of them are flung among pauper and even criminal lunatics, at a few pounds a year, while their committees bag four-fifths of the money that has been assigned to keep the patient in comfort.

Unfortunately the protection of the Chancellor extends to Life and Reason, as well as Fleece; with the following result:

In public asylums about forty per cent. are said to be cured.

In private ones twenty-five per cent, at least; most of them poorish.

Of Chancery Lunatics not five per cent.

Finally, one-third of all the Chancery Lunatics do every six years exchange the living tombs they are fleeced and bullied in for dead tombs where they rest; and go from the sham protection of the Lord Chancellor of England to the real protection of their Creator and their Judge.

These statistics have been long before the world, and are dead figures to the Skimmer of things, but tell a dark tale to the Reader of things, so dark, that I pray Heaven to protect me, and all other weak inoffensive persons, from the protection of my Lord Chancellor in this kind.

Beverley was so unfortunate as to exist before the date of the above petition: and suffered the consequences.

He was an aristocrat by birth, noble on both sides of his house, and unluckily had money. But for that he would have been a labouring man, and free. My Lord Protector committed him with six hundred pounds a year maintenance money to the care of his committee, the Honourable Fynes Beverley.

Now this corporate, yet honourable individual, to whom something was committed, and so Chancery Lane called him in its own sweet French the thing committed, was a gentleman of birth, breeding, and intelligence. He undertook to take care of his simple cousin; and what he did take care of was himself.

THE SUB-LETTING SWINDLE.

I. The Honourable Fynes Beverley, Anglo–French committee, or crown tenant, sub-let soft Francis for L. 300 a year, pocketed L. 300, and washed his hands of Frank.

2. Mr. Heselden, the sub-tenant, sub-let the Softy of high degree for L. 150, pocketed the surplus, and washed his hands of him.

3. The L. 150 man sub-let him to Dr. Wolf at L. 60 a year, pouched the surplus, and washed his hands of him.

And now what on earth was left for poor Dr. Wolf to do? Could he sub-embezzle a Highlander’s breeks? Could he subtract more than her skin from off the singed cat? Could he peel the core of a rotten apple? Could he pare a grated cheese rind? Could he flay a skinned flint? Could he fleece a hog after Satan had shaved it as clean as a bantam’s egg?

Let no man dare to limit genius; least of all the genius of extortion.

Dr. Wolf screwed comparatively more out of young Frank than did any of the preceding screws. He turned him into a servant of all work and half starved him; money profit, L. 45 out of the L. 60, or three-fourths, whereas the others had only bagged one-half. But by this means he got a good servant without wages, and on half a servant’s food, clearing L. 22 and L. 12 in these two items.

Victim of our great national vice and foible, Vicariousness, this scion of a noble house, protected in theory by the Crown, vicariously sub-protected by the Chancellor, sub-vicariously sub-sham protected by his kin, was really flung unprotected into the fleece market, and might be seen — at the end of the long chain of subs. pros, vices, locos, shams, shuffles, swindles, and lies — shaking the carpets, making the beds, carrying the water, sweeping the rooms, and scouring the sordid vessels, of thirty patients in Drayton House, not one of whom was his equal either in birth or wealth; and of four menials, who were all his masters and hard ones. His work was always doing, never done. He was not the least mad nor bad, but merely of feeble intellect all round. Fifty thousand gentlemen’s families would have been glad of him at L. 300 a year, and made a son and a brother of him. But he was under the vicarious protection of the Lord Chancellor. Thin, half-starved, threadbare, out at elbows, the universal butt, scoffed at by the very lunatics, and especially ill treated by the attendants whose work he did gratis, he was sworn at, jeered, insulted, cuffed and even kicked, every day of his hard, hard life. And yet he was a gentleman, though a soft one; his hands, his features, his carriage, his address, had all an indefinable stamp of race. How had it outlived such crushing, degrading usage? I don’t know; how does a daisy survive the iron roller? Alfred soon found him out, and to everybody’s amazement, especially Frank’s, remonstrated gently but resolutely and eloquently, and soon convinced the majority, sane and insane, that a creature so meek and useful merited special kindness, not cruelty. One keeper, The Robin, alias Tom Wales, an ex-prize fighter, was a warm convert to this view. Among the maniacs only one held out, and said contemptuously he couldn’t see it.

“Well,” said Alfred, “lay a finger on him after this, and I’ll lay a hand on you, and aid your intellectual vision.”

Rooke and Hayes treated remonstrance with open and galling contempt. Yet the tide of opinion changed so, they did not care to defy it openly: but they bullied poor Beverley now and then on the sly, and he never told. He was too inoffensive for this world. But one day, as Alfred was sitting with his door ajar, writing a letter of earnest expostulation to the Commissioners, who had left his first unanswered, he heard Hayes at the head of the stairs call roughly, “Frank! Frank!”

“Sir,” replied the soft little voice of young Beverley.

“Come, be quick, young shaver.”

“I’m coming, sir,” and up ran Beverley.

“Here, take this tray downstairs.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Stop, there’s a bit of bread for you.” And Hayes chucked him a crust, as one throws it to another man’s dog.

“Thank you, sir,” said Mr. Beverley, stooping down for it, and being habitually as hungry as a ratcatcher’s tyke, took an eager bite in that position.

“How dare you eat it there,” said Hayes brutally: “take it to your own crib: come, mizzle.” And with that lent him a contemptuous kick behind, which owing to his position sent him off his balance flat on the tray; a glass broke under him. Poor young Mr. Beverley uttered a cry of dismay, for he knew Hayes would not own himself the cause. Hayes cursed him for an awkward idiot, and the oath went off into a howl, for Alfred ran out at him brimful of Moses, and with a savage kick in the back and blow on the neck, administered simultaneously, hurled him head foremost down the stairs. Alighting on the seventh step, he turned a somersault, and bounded like a ball on to the landing below, and there lay stupefied. He picked himself up by slow degrees, and glared round with speechless awe and amazement up at the human thunderbolt that had shot out on him and sent him flying like a feather. He shook his fist, and limped silently away all bruises and curses, to tell Rooke and concert vengeance. Alfred, trembling still with ire, took Beverley to his room (the boy was as white as a sheet), and encouraged him, and made him wash properly, brushed his hair, dressed him in a decent tweed suit he had outgrown, and taking him under his arm, and walking with his own nose haughtily in the air, paraded him up and down the asylum, to show them all the best man in the house respected the poor soft gentleman. Ah, what a grand thing it is to be young! Beverley clung to his protector too much like a girl, but walked gracefully and kept step, and every now and then looked up at Alfred with a loving adoration, that was sweet, yet sad to see. Alfred marched him to Mrs. Archbold, and told his tale; for he knew Hayes would misrepresent it, and get him into trouble. She smiled on the pair; gently deplored her favourite’s impetuosity, entreated him not to go fighting with that great monster Rooke, and charmed him by saying, “Well, and Frank is a gentleman, when he is dressed like one.”

“Isn’t he?” said Alfred eagerly. “And whose fault is it he is not always dressed like one? Whose fault that here’s an earl’s nephew, ‘Boots in Hell’?”

“Not yours, Alfred, nor mine,” was the honeyed reply.

In vain did Mr. Hayes prefer his complaint to Dr. Wolf. The Archbold had been before him, and the answer was, “Served you right.”

These and many other good deeds did Alfred Hardie in Drayton House. But, as the days rolled on, and no answer came from the Commissioners, his own anxiety, grief, and dismay left him less and less able to sympathise with the material but smaller wrongs around him. He became silent, dejected.

At last he came to Mrs. Archbold, and said sternly his letters to the Commissioners were intercepted.

“I can’t believe that,” said she. “It is against the law.”

So it was: but law and custom are two.

“I am sure of it,” said he; “and may the eternal curse of Heaven light on the cowardly traitor and miscreant who has done it.” And he stalked gloomily away.

When he left her, she sighed at this imprecation from his lips; but did not repent. “I can’t part with him,” she said despairingly; “and if I did not stop his poor dear letters, Wolf would:” and the amorous crocodile shed a tear, and persisted in her double-faced course.

By-and-by, when she saw him getting thinner and paler, and his bright face downcast and inexpressibly sad, she shared his misery: ay, shed scalding tears for him: yet could not give him up; for her will was as strong as the rest of her was supple; and hers was hot love, but not true love like Julia’s.

Perhaps a very subtle observer, seeing this man and woman wax pale and spiritless together in one house, might have divined her secret. Dr. Wolf, then, was no such observer, for she made him believe she had a rising penchant for him. He really had a strong one for her.

While Alfred’s visible misery pulled at her heart-strings, and sometimes irritated, sometimes melted her, came curious complications; one of which requires preface.

Mrs. Dodd then was not the wife to trust blindly where her poor husband was concerned. She bribed so well that a keeperess in David’s first asylum told her David had been harshly used by an attendant. She instantly got Eve Dodd to take him away: and transfer him to a small asylum nearer London, and kept by a Mrs. Ellis. “Women are not cruel to men,” said the sagacious Lucy Dodd.

But, alas! if women are not cruel where sex comes in and mimics that wider sentiment, Humanity, women are deadly economical. Largely gifted with that household virtue, Mrs. Ellis kept too few servants, and, sure consequence in a madhouse, too many straitjackets, hobbles, muffs, leg-locks, bodybelts, &c. &c. Hence half her patients were frequently kept out of harm’s way by cruel restraints administered, not out of hearty cruelty, but female parsimony. Mrs. and Miss Dodd invaded the house one day when the fair economist was out, and found seven patients out of the twelve kept out of mischief thus: one in a restraint chair, two hobbled like asses, two chained like dogs, and two in straight-waistcoats, and fastened to beds by webbing and straps; amongst the latter, David, though quiet as a lamb.

Mrs. Dodd cried over him as if her heart would break, and made Miss Dodd shift him to a large asylum, where I believe he was very well used. But here those dreadful newspapers interfered; a prying into sweet secluded spots. They diversified Mrs. Dodd’s breakfast by informing her that the doctor of this asylum had just killed a patient; the mode of execution bloodless and sure, as became fair science. It was a man between sixty and seventy; an age at which the heart can seldom stand very much shocking, or lowering, especially where the brain is diseased. So they placed him in a shower-bath, narrow enough to impede respiration, without the falling water, which of necessity drives out air. In short a vertical box with holes all round the top.

Here the doctor ordered him a cold shower-bath of unparalleled duration: half an hour. To be followed by an unprecedented dose of tartar emetic. This double-barrelled order given, the doctor went away. (Formula.)

The water was down to forty-five degrees Fahrenheit. Half an hour’s shower-bath at that temperature in a roomy bath would kill the youngest and strongest man in her Majesty’s dominions.

For eight-and-twenty mortal minutes the poor old man stood in this vertical coffin under this cold cascade. Six hundred gallons of icy water were in that his last hour, his last half-hour, discharged upon his devoted head and doomed body.

He had to be helped away from this death-torrent he had walked into in high spirits, poor soul.

Even this change awakened no misgivings, no remorse; though you or I, or any man or woman picked at hazard out of the streets, would at once have seen that he was dying, he was duly dozed by the fire with four spoonfuls of antimonial tincture —to mak’ sicker. But even the “Destructive Art of Healing” cannot slay the slain. The old man cheated the emetic; for, before it could hurt him, he died of the bath; And his body told its own sad tale; to use the words of a medical eye-witness, it was “A PIECE OF ALABASTER.” The death-torrent had driven the whole circulation from the surface.24

24 This mode of execution is well known in the United States. They settle refractory prisoners with it periodically. But half an hour is not needed; twenty minutes will do the trick. “Harper’s Weekly,” a year or two ago, contained an admirable woodcut of a negro’s execution by water. In this remarkable picture you see the poor darkie seated powerless, howling and panting his life away under the deadly cascade, and there stands the stolid turnkey, erect, formal, stiff as a ramrod, pulling the deadly string with a sort of drill exercise air, and no more compunction nor reflection than if he himself was a machine constructed to pull strings or triggers on his own string being pulled by butcher or fool. A picture well studied, and so worth study.

Mrs. Dodd was terrified, and in spite of Sampson’s assurance that this was the asylum of all others they would not settle another patient in until the matter should have blown over, got Eve Dodd to write to Dr. Wolf, and offer L. 300 a year if he would take David at once, and treat him with especial consideration.

He showed this letter triumphantly to Mrs. Archbold, and she, blinded for a moment by feeling, dissuaded him from receiving Captain Dodd. He stared at her. “What, turn away a couple of thousand pounds?”

“But they will come to visit him; and perhaps see him.”

“Oh, that can be managed. You must be on your guard: and I’ll warn Rooke. I can’t turn away money on a chance.”

One day Alfred found himself locked into his room. This was unusual: for, though they called him a lunatic in words, they called him sane by all their acts. He half suspected that the Commissioners were in the house.

Had he known who really was in the house, he would have beaten himself to pieces against the door.

At dinner there was a new patient, very mild and silent, with a beautiful large brown eye, like some gentle animal’s.

Alfred was very much struck with this eye, and contrived to say a kind word to him after dinner. Finding himself addressed by a gentleman, the new comer handled his forelock and made a sea scrape, and announced himself as William Thompson; he added with simple pride, “Able Seaman;” then touching his forelock again, “Just come aboard, your honour.” After this, which came off glibly, he was anything but communicative. However, Alfred contrived to extract from him that he was rather glad to leave his last ship, on account of having been constantly impeded there in his duties by a set of lubbers, that clung round him and kept him on deck whenever the first lieutenant ordered him into the top.

The very next day, pacing sadly the dull gravel of his prison yard, Alfred heard a row; and there was the able seaman struggling with the Robin and two other keepers. He wanted to go to his duties in the foretop: to wit, the fork of a high elm-tree in the court-yard. Alfred had half a mind not to interfere. “Who cares for my misery?” he said. But his better nature prevailed, and he told the Robin he was sure going up imaginary rigging would do Thompson more good than harm.

On this the men reluctantly gave him a trial, and he went up the tree with wonderful strength and agility, but evident caution. Still Alfred quaked when he crossed his thighs tight over a limb of the tree forty feet from earth, and went carefully and minutely through the whole process of furling imaginary sails. However, he came down manifestly soothed by the performance, and, singular phenomenon, he was quite cool; and it was the spectators on deck who perspired.

“And what a pleasant voice he has,” said Alfred; “it quite charms my ear; it is not like a mad voice. It is like — I’m mad myself.”

“And he has got a fiddle, and plays it like a hangel, by all accounts,” said the Robin; “only he won’t touch it but when he has a mind.”

At night Alfred dreamed he heard Julia’s sweet mellow voice speaking to him; and he looked, and lo! it was the able seaman. He could sleep no more, but lay sighing.

Ere the able seaman had been there three days, Mrs. Dodd came unexpectedly to see him; and it was with the utmost difficulty Alfred was smuggled out of the way. Mrs. Archbold saw by her loving anxiety these visits would be frequent, and, unless Alfred was kept constantly locked up, which was repugnant to her, they would meet some day. She knew there are men who ply the trade of spies, and where to find them; she set one of them to watch Mrs. Dodd’s house, and learn her habits, in hopes of getting some clue as to when she might be expected.

Now it so happened that, looking for one thing, she found another which gave her great hopes and courage. And then the sight of Alfred’s misery tried her patience, and then he was beginning half to suspect her of stopping his letters. Passion, impatience, pity, and calculation, all drove her the same road, and led to an extraordinary scene, so impregnated with the genius of the madhouse — a place where the passions run out to the very end of their tether — that I feel little able to describe it. I will try and indicate it.

One fine Sunday afternoon, then, she asked Alfred languidly would he like to walk in the country.

“Would I like? Ah, don’t trifle with a prisoner,” said he sorrowfully.

She shook her head. “No, no, it will not be a happy walk. Rooke, who hates you, is to follow us with that terrible mastiff, to pull you down if you try to escape. I could not get Dr. Wolf to consent on any other terms. Alfred, let us give up the idea. I fear your rashness.”

“No, no, I won’t try to escape — from you. I have not seen a blade of grass this six months.”

The accomplished dissembler hesitated, yielded. They passed through the yard and out at the back door, which Alfred had so often looked wistfully at; and by-and-by reached a delicious pasture. A light golden haze streamed across it. Nature never seemed so sweet, so divine, to Alfred before; the sun as bright as midsummer, though not the least hot, the air fresh, yet genial, and perfumed with Liberty and the smaller flowers of earth. Beauty glided rustling by his side, and dark eyes subdued their native fire into softness whenever they turned on him; and scarce fifty yards in the rear hung a bully and a mastiff ready to tear him down if he should break away from beauty’s light hand, that rested so timidly on his. He was young, and stout-hearted, and relished his peep of liberty and nature, though blotted by Vulcan and Rooke. He chatted to Mrs. Archbold in good spirits. She answered briefly, and listlessly.

At last she stopped under a young chestnut-tree as if overcome with a sudden reflection, and turning half away from him leaned her head and hand upon a bough, and sighed. The attitude was pensive and womanly. He asked her with innocent concern what was the matter; then faintly should he take her home. All her answer was to press his hand with hers that was disengaged, and, instead of sighing, to cry.

The novice in woman’s wiles set himself to comfort her — in vain; to question her — in vain at first; but by degrees she allowed him to learn that it was for him she mourned; and so they proceeded on the old, old plan, the man extorting from the woman bit by bit just so much as she wanted all along to say, and would have poured in a stream if let quite alone.

He drew from his distressed friend that Dr. Wolf for reasons of his own had made special inquiries about the Dodds; that she had fortunately or unfortunately heard of this, and had questioned the person employed, hoping to hear something that might comfort Alfred. “Instead of that,” said she, “I find Miss Dodd is like most girls; out of sight is out of mind with her.”

“What do you mean?” said Alfred, trembling suddenly.

“Do not ask me. What a weak fool I was to let you see I was unhappy for you.”

“The truth is the truth,” gasped Alfred; “tell me at once.”

“Must I? I am afraid you will hate me; for I should hate any one who told me your faults. Well, then — if I must — Miss Dodd has a beau.”

“It is a lie!” cried Alfred furiously.

“I wish it was. But she has two in fact, both of them clergymen. However, one seems the favourite; at least they are engaged to be married; it is Mr. Hurd, the curate of the parish she lives in. By what I hear she is one of the religious ones; so perhaps that has brought the pair to an understanding.”

At these words a cold sickness rushed all over Alfred, beginning at his heart. He stood white and stupefied a moment; then, in the anguish of his heart, broke out into a great and terrible cry; it was like a young lion wounded with a poisoned shaft.

Then he was silent, and stood stock still, like petrified despair.

Mrs. Archbold was prepared for an outburst: but not of this kind. His anguish was so unlike a woman’s that it staggered her. Her good and bad angels, to use an expressive though somewhat too poetical phrase, battled for her. She had an impulse to earn his gratitude for life, to let him out of the asylum ere Julia should be Mrs. Hurd, and even liberty come too late for true love. She looked again at the statue of grief by her side; and burst out crying in earnest.

This was unfortunate. Shallow pity exuding in salt water leaves not enough behind to gush forth in good deeds.

She only tried to undo her own work in part; to comfort him a little with commonplaces. She told him in a soothing whisper there were other women in the world besides this inconstant girl, others who could love him as he deserved.

He made no answer to all she could say, but just waved his hand once impatiently. Petty consolation seemed to sting him.

She drew back discouraged; but only for a while. He was silent.

With one grand serpentine movement she came suddenly close to him, and, standing half behind him, laid her hand softly on his shoulder, and poured burning love in his ear. “Alfred,” she murmured, “we are both unhappy; let us comfort one another. I had pity on you at Silverton House, I pity you now: pity me a little in turn: take me out of this dreadful house, out of this revolting life, and let me be with you. Let me be your housekeeper, your servant, your slave. This news that has shocked you so has torn the veil from my eyes. I thought I had cooled my love down to friendship and tender esteem; but no, now I see you as unhappy as myself, now I can speak and wrong no one, I own I— oh Alfred my heart burns for you, bleeds for you, yearns for you, sickens for you, dies for you.”

“Oh, hush! hush! Mrs. Archbold. You are saying things you will blush for the next moment.”

“I blush now, but cannot hush; I have gone too far. And your happiness as well as mine is at stake. No young girl can understand or value such a man as you are: but I, like you, have suffered; I, like you, am constant; I, like you, am warm and tender; at my age a woman’s love is bliss to him who can gain it; and I love you with all my soul, Alfred. I worship the ground you walk on, my sweet, sweet boy. Say you the word, dearest, and I will bribe the servants, and get the keys, and sacrifice my profession for ever to give you liberty (see how sweet the open face of nature is, sweeter than anything on earth, but love); and all I ask is a little, little of your heart in return. Give me a chance to make you mine for ever; and, if I fail, treat me as I shall deserve; desert me at once; and then I’ll never reproach you; I’ll only die for you; as I have lived for you ever since I first saw your heavenly face.”

The passionate woman paused at last, but her hot cheek and heaving bosom and tender convulsive hand prolonged the pleading.

I am afraid few men of her own age would have resisted her; for voice and speech and all burning, melting, and winning; and then, so reasonable, lads; she did not stipulate for constancy.

But Alfred turned round to her blushing and sorrowful. “For shame!” he said; “this is not love: you abuse that sacred word. Indeed, if you had ever really loved, you would have pitied me and Julia long ago, and respected our love; and saved us by giving me my freedom long ago. I am not a fool: do you think I don’t know that you are my jailer, and the cunningest and most dangerous of them all?”

“You cruel, ungrateful!” she sobbed.

“No; I am not ungrateful either,” said he more gently. “You have always come between me and that kind of torture which most terrifies vulgar souls: and I thank you for it. Only if you had also pitied the deeper anguish of my heart, I should thank you more still. As it is, I forgive you for the share you have had in blasting my happiness for life; and nobody shall ever know what you have been mad enough in an unguarded moment to say; but for pity’s sake talk no more of love, to mock my misery.”

Mrs. Archbold was white with ire long before he had done this sentence. “You insolent creature,” said she; “you spurn my love; you shall feel my hate.”

“So I conclude,” said he coldly: “such love as yours is hard by hate.”

“It is,” said she: “and I know how I’ll combine the two. To-day I loved you, and you spurned me; ere long you shall love me and I’ll despise you; and not spurn you.”

“I don’t understand you,” said Alfred, feeling rather uneasy.

“What,” said she, “don’t you see how the superior mind can fascinate the inferior? Look at Frank Beverley — how he follows you about and fawns on you like a little dog.”

“I prefer his sort of affection to yours.”

“A gentleman and a man would have kept that to himself; but you are neither one nor the other; or you would have taken my offer, and then run away from me the next day, you fool. A man betrays a woman; he doesn’t insult her. Ah, you admire Frank’s affection; well, you shall imitate it. You couldn’t love me like a man; you shall love me like a dog.”

“How will you manage that, pray? “ he inquired with a sneer.

“I’ll drive you mad.”

She hissed this fiendish threat out between her white teeth.

“Ay, sir,” she said, “hitherto your reason has only encountered men. You shall see now what an insulted woman can do. A lunatic you shall be ere long, and then I’ll make you love me, dote on me, follow me about for a smile: and then I’ll leave off hating you, and love you once more, but not the way I did five minutes ago.”

At this furious threat Alfred ground his teeth, and said, “Then I give you my honour that the moment I see my reason the least shaken, I’ll kill you: and so save myself from the degradation of being your lover on any terms.”

“Threaten your own sex with that,” said the Archbold contemptuously; “you may kill me whenever you like; and the sooner the better. Only, if you don’t do it very quickly, you shall be my property, my brain-sick, love-sick slave.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/reade/charles/hard-cash/chapter40.html

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