Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 46

JULIA, as I have said, went to her own room, wounded unintentionally by a chance speech: she sat down sick at heart; and presently opened her window and looked out upon the starry night, and wondered where Alfred was now; that Alfred for whom nobody else had a Human heart, it seemed. “Alfred! my poor Alfred!” she sighed, and half-expected to hear him reply. Then she said to herself, “They all called you false but me; yet I was right: and now they all call you mad; but not I: I believe nothing against you. You are my own Alfred still. Where have the wretches driven you to?” At this her feelings carried her away, and she cried aloud on him despairingly, and leaned upon the window-sill, and the tears ran fast for him.

Presently out of the silence of the night seemed to struggle a faint but clear voice:

“Julia.”

She started, and a muffled scream came from her. Then she listened, all trembling. Again the voice sighed, faintly but clear, “Julia!”

“Alfred?” said she, quavering.

“Yes. Pray be cautious; give no alarm. The house is watched; bring Edward.”

She flew downstairs, and electrified Edward and Sampson with the news. “Oh, promise me not to betray him!” she cried.

“Hut!” said the doctor, starting to his feet, “what should we betray him for? I’ll cure him for you. I can cure any lunatic that has lucid intervals. Where is he?”

“Follow me,” gasped Julia. “Stay. I’ll get rid of the servants first. I’ll not play the fool, and betray him to his enemies.” She sent Sarah eastward, and Jane westward, and then led the way through the kitchen door into the yard.

They all searched about, and found nothing. Then Julia begged them to be silent. She whispered, “Alfred!” And instantly a faint voice issued from the top of a waggon laden with hay and covered with a tarpaulin. “Julia.”

They all stood staring.

“Who are those with you?” asked Alfred uneasily.

“Only friends, dear! Edward and Dr. Sampson.”

“Ned, old fellow,” groaned Alfred, “you pulled me out of the fire, won’t you help me out of this? I think my leg is broken.”

At this Julia wrung her hands, and Edward ran into the house for his rope, and threw it over the waggon. He told Julia and Sampson to hold on by one end, and seizing the other, was up on the waggon in a moment. He felt about till he came to a protuberance; and that was Alfred under the tarpaulin, in which he had cut breathing-holes with his penknife. Edward sent Julia in for a carving-knife, and soon made an enormous slit: through this a well-known figure emerged into the moonlight, and seemed wonderfully tall to have been so hidden. His hands being uninjured, he easily descended the rope, and stood on one leg, holding it. Then Sampson and Edward put each an arm under his, and helped him into the house.

After the body the mind. That is the rule throughout creation. They examined, not his reason, but his leg. Julia stood by with clasped hands, and a face beaming with pity and anxiety, that repaid his pain. Sampson announced there were no bones broken, but a bad sprain, and the limb very red and swollen. “Now,” inquired he briskly of the company, “what is the practice in sprains? Why, leeches and cold water.”

Edward offered at once to run and get them.

“Are you mad?” was the reply. “Daun’t I tell ye that is the practice? And isn’t the practice sure to be th’ opposite of the remedy? So get water as hot as he can bear it, and no leeches.”

Julia remonstrated angrily. “Is this a case for jesting?”

“Deevil a jest in it,” replied the doctor. “‘Well then, if ye must know, th’ opera-dancers apply hot water to sprains: now what is their interest? T’ expedite the cure: and the faculty apply cold water: and what is their interest? To procrastinate the cure, and make a long job of it. So just hold your toungues, and ring for hot water.”

Julia did not ring; she beckoned Edward, and they flew out and soon brought a foot-pan of hot water. Edward them removed Alfred’s shoes and stockings, and Julia bared her lovely arms, and blushed like a rose.

Alfred divined her intention. “Dear Julia,” he said, “I won’t let you: that is too high an honour. Sarah can do that.”

But Julia’s blood was up. “Sarah?” said she contemptuously; “she is too heavy handed: and — hold your tongue; I don’t take my orders from you;” then more humbly to the doctor, “I am a district visitor: I nurse all manner of strangers, and he says I must leave his poor suffering leg to the servants.”

“Unnatural young monster,” said the doctor. “G’im a good nip.”

Julia followed this advice by handling Alfred’s swollen ankle with a tenderness so exquisite, and pressing it with the full sponge so softly, that her divine touch soothed him as much or more than the water. After nursing him into the skies a minute or two, she looked up blushing in his face, and said coaxingly, “Are you mad, dear Alfred? Don’t be afraid to tell us the truth. The madder you are, the more you need me to take care of you, you know.”

Alfred smiled at this sapient discourse, and said he was not the least mad, and hoped to take care of her as soon as his ankle was well enough. This closed that sweet mouth of hers exceeding tight, and her face was seen no more for a while, but hid by bending earnestly over her work, only as her creamy poll turned pink, the colour of that hidden face was not hard to divine.

Then Edward asked Alfred how in the world he had escaped and got into that waggon. The thing was incredible. “Mirawculous,” said Dr. Sampson in assent.

“No,” said Alfred, “it looks stranger to you than it is. The moment I found my pistol was gone, I determined to run. I looked down and saw a spout with a great ornamental mouth, almost big enough to sit on; and, while I was looking greedily at it, three horses came into the yard drawing a load of hay. The waggoner was busy clearing the pavement with his wheel, and the waggon almost stopped a moment right under me. There was a lot of loose hay on the top. I let myself down, and hung by the spout a moment, and then leaped on to the loose hay. Unfortunately there were the hard trusses beneath it, and so I got my sprain. Oh, I say, didn’t it hurt? However, I crept under the hay and hid myself, and saw Wolf’s men come into the yard. By-and-by a few drops of rain fell, and some fellows chucked down a tarpaulin from the loft, and nearly smothered me: so I cut a few air-holes with my penknife. And there I lay, Heaven knows how long: it seemed two days. At last I saw an angel at a window I called her by the name she bears on earth: to my joy she answered, and here I am, as happy as a prince among you all, and devilish hungry.”

“What a muff I was not to think of that,” said Edward, and made for the larder.

“Dear doctor,” said Julia, lifting a Madonna-like face with swimming eyes, “I see no change in him: he is very brave, and daring, and saucy. But so he always was. To be sure he says extravagant things, and stares one out of countenance with his eyes: well, and so he always did — ever since I knew him.”

“Mayn’t I even look my gratitude?” whined Alfred.

“Yes, but you need not stare it.”

“It’s your own fault, Miss Julee,” said Sampson. “With you fomenting his sprain the creature’s fomenting his own insensate passion. Break every bone in a puppy’s body, and it’s a puppy still; and it doesn’t do to spoil puppies, as ye’re spoiling this one. Nlist me, ye vagabin. Take yonr eyes off the lady; and look me in the face — if ye can: and tell me how you came to leave us all in the lurch on your wedding morn.”

Julia fired up. “It was not his fault, poor thing; he was decoyed away after that miserable money. Ah, you may laugh at me for hating money; but have I not good reason to hate it?”

“Whist, whist, y’ impetuous cracter; and let him tell his own tale.”

Alfred, thus invited, delivered one of his calm, luminous statements; which had hitherto been listened to so coldly by one official after another. But the effect was mighty different, falling now on folk not paid to pity. As for Dr. Sampson, he bounced up very early in the narrative, and went striding up and down the room: he was pale with indignation, and his voice trembled with emotion, and every now and then he broke in on the well-governed narrative with oaths and curses, and observations of this kind —“Why dinnt ye kill um? I’d have killed um. I’d just have taken the first knife and killed um. Man, our Liberty is our Life. Dith to whoever attacks it!”

And so Edward coming in with Alfred’s dinner on a tray, found the soi-disant maniac delivering his wrongs with the lofty serenity of an ancient philosopher discussing the wrongs of another, Julia crying furtively into the tub, and the good physician trampling and raving about the room, like what the stoical narrator was accused of being. Edward stopped, and looked at them all over the tray. “Well,” said he, “if there’s a madman in the room, it is not Hardie. Ahem.”

“Madman? ye young ijjit,” roared the doctor, “he’s no madder than I am.”

“Heaven forbid,” said Alfred drily.

“No madder than you are, ye young Pump.”

“That’s an ungenerous skit on Edward’s profession,” objected the maniac.

“Be quite now, chattering,” said the excited doctor; “I tell ye ye niver were mad, and niver will be. It’s just the most heartless imposture, the most rascally fraud I’ve ever caught the Mad Ox out in. I’ll expose it. Gimme pninkpapr. Man, they’ll take y’ again if we don’t mind. But I’ll stop that: these ineequities can only be done in the dark. I’ll shed the light of day on ’em. Eat your dinner, and hold your tongue a minute — if ye can.” The doctor had always a high sense of Alfred’s volubility.

He went to work, and soon produced a letter headed, “PRIVATE MADHOUSES.” In this he related pithily Alfred’s incarceration, and the present attempt to recapture him, with the particulars of his escape. “That will interest th’ enemy,” said he drily. He vouched for Alfred’s sanity at both dates, and pledged himself to swear to it in a court of law. He then inquired what it availed to have sent one tyrant to Phalaris and another to Versailles in defence of our Liberty, since after all that Liberty lies grovelling at the mercy of Dr. Pill-box and Mr. Sawbones, and a single designing relative? Then he drew a strong picture of this free-born British citizen skulking and hiding at this moment from a gang of rogues and conspirators, who in France and other civilised countries that brag less of liberty than we do, would be themselves flying as criminals from the officers of justice; and he wound up with a warm appeal to the press to cast its shield over the victim of bad laws and foul practices. “In England,” said he, “Justice is the daughter of Publicity. Throughout the world deeds of villainy are done every day in kid gloves: but, with us, at all events, they have to be done on the sly! Here lies our true moral eminence as a nation. Utter then your ‘fiat lux,’ cast the full light of publicity on this dark villainy; and behold it will wither, and your oppressed and injured fellow-citizen be safe from that very hour.”

He signed it and read it out to them, or rather roared it. But he had written it so well he could not make it bad by delivery. Indeed, he was a masterly writer of English, you must know. Julia was delighted, but Alfred shook his head. “The editor will not put it in.”

“Th’ editor! D’ye think I’m so green as to trust t’ any one editor? D’ye think I’ve lived all these years and not learned what poor cowardly things men are? Moral courage! where can you find it? Except in the dickshinary? Few to the world their honest thoughts avow; the groveller policy robs justice now

And none but Sampson dares to lift a hond
Against the curst corruption of the lond.

Now, lad, I’m off to my printer with this. They are working night and day just now: there will be two hundred copies printed in half an hour.”

“And me, doctor,” said Julia. “Am poor I to have no hand in it? How cruel of you? Oh pray, pray, pray let me help a little.”

“Put on your bonnet, then, directly,” said he: “in war never lose a minute.”

“But I am so afraid they may be lying in wait for him outside.”

“Then we’ll give them a good hiding: there are three of us; all good men and staunch,” said the indomitable doctor.

“No, no,” said the pugnacious Alfred. “Julia does not like fighting: I heard her screaming all the time I was defending myself on the stairs: let us be prudent: let us throw dust in their eyes. Put me on a bonnet and cloak.”

“And a nice little woman you’ll make, ye fathom.”

“Oh, I can stoop — to conquer.”

Julia welcomed this plan almost with glee, and she and Edward very soon made a handsome brazen-looking trollop six feet high. Then it had to stoop, and Edward and Julia helped it out to the carriage, under the very noses of a policeman and a keeper, who were watching for Alfred: seeing which — oh frailty of woman! — the district visitor addressed it aloud as her aunt, and begged it to take care: which she afterwards observed was acting a falsehood, and “where was her Christianity?”

Alfred was actually not recognised: the carriage bowled away to the great printing house; it was on that side the water. The foreman entered into the thing with spirit, and divided the copy, small as it was, among two or three compositors: so a rough proof was ready in an incredibly short time; the doctor corrected it: and soon they began to work off the copies. The foreman found them Mitchell’s newspaper list, and envelopes by the hundred, and while the copies were pouring in, all hands were folding and addressing them to the London and provincial editors. The office lent the stamps. The doctor drove Alfred to his own lodgings, and forbade him to reappear in Pembroke Street until the letter should come out in the London journals.

That night the letters were all posted, and at daybreak were flying north, south, east and west. In the afternoon the letter came out in four London evening papers, and the next morning the metropolis and the whole kingdom were ringing with them, and the full blaze of publicity burst upon this dark deed.

Ay, stout Sampson, well you knew mankind, and well you knew the nation you lived in. Richard Hardie, in the very act of setting detectives to find Alfred’s lurking-place, ran his nose against this letter in the Globe. He collapsed at the sight of it; and wrote directly to Dr. Wolf, enclosing it and saying that it would be unadvisable to make any fresh attempt. His letter was crossed by one from Dr. Wolf, containing Sampson’s thunderbolt extracted from the Sun, and saying that no earthly consideration should induce him to meddle with Alfred now. Richard Hardie flung himself into the train, and went down to his brother at Clare Court.

He was ill at ease. He felt like some great general, who has launched many attacks against the foe, very successful at first, then less successful, then repulsed with difficulty, then repulsed with ease, till at last the foe stands before him impregnable. Then he feels that ere long that iron enemy will attack him in turn, and that he, exhausted by his own onslaughts, must defend himself how he can. Yet there was a pause; he passed a whole quiet peaceful day with his brother, assuring him that the affair would go no further on either side; but in his secret soul he felt this quiet day was but the ominous pause between two great battles: one of the father against the son, the other of the son against the father.

And he was right: the very next day the late defender attacked, and in earnest. But for certain reasons I prefer to let another relate it:

Hardie v. Hardie.

“DEAR SIR— If you had been in my office when I received your favour of yesterday relating deft.‘s ruffian-like assault, you would have seen the most ridiculous sight in nature — videlicet, an attorney in a passion. I threw professional courtesy to the winds, and sent Colls off to Clare Court to serve the writ personally. Next day, he found the deft, walking in his garden with Mr. Richard Hardie. Having learned from the servant which was his man, he stepped up and served copy of the writ in the usual way. Deft. turned pale, and his knees knocked together, and Colls thinks he mistook himself for a felon, and was going to ask for mercy. But Mr. Richard stopped him, and said his attorneys were Messrs. Heathfield, in Chancery Lane; and was this the way Mr. Compton did business? serving a writ personally on a gentleman in weak health. So Colls, who can sneer in his quiet way, told him ‘No,’ but the invalid had declined to answer my letter, and the invalid had made a violent attack upon our client’s person, avoiding his attorney, ‘so, as his proceedings are summary, we meet him in kind,’ says little Colls. ‘Oho,’ says Mr. Richard, ‘your are a wit, are you? Come and have some luncheon.’ This was to get him away from the weaker brother, I take it. He gave Colls an excellent luncheon, and some admirable conversation on policy and finance: and when he was going, says this agreeable host: ‘Well, Mr. ——— you have had your bellyful of chicken and Madeira; and your client shall have his bellyful of law.’ And this Colls considers emphatic but coarse. — I am, yours faithfully,

“JOHN COMPTON.

“P.S.— Colls elicited that no further attempt will be made to capture you. It seems some injudicious friend of yours has been writing to the newspapers. Pray stop that.”

On receiving this letter, Alfred bought another double pistol, loaded it, hired a body-guard of two prizefighters, and with these at his heels, repaired to 66 Pembroke Street. No enemy was near: the press had swept the street alike of keepers and police with one Briarian gesture. He found Julia and Edward in great anxiety about their father. The immediate cause was a letter from Mrs. Dodd, which Edward gave him to read; but not till he had first congratulated him heartily on the aegis of the press being thrown over him. “The ’Tiser has a leader on it,” said he.

Mrs. Dodd’s letter ran thus:—

“My DEAR DEAR CHILDREN— I am coming home to you heartbroken, without your poor father. I saw an East Indian ship go to sea, and some instinct whispered, suppose he should be on board that ship! But, foolishly, I did not utter my thoughts: because they call these instincts women’s fancies. But now even Mr. Green thinks he is gone to sea; for the town has been ransacked, and no trace of him can we find. I met my cousin, Captain Bazalgette, here, and he is promoted to the Vulture frigate, and sails today. I have told him all our misfortunes, and he has promised to overhaul that merchant ship if he comes up with her: but I can see by the way his eye shuns mine he has no real hopes. His ship is the swifter, but he may pass her in the night. And then he is bound for New Zealand, not India. I told Reginald my poor husband’s expression of face is altered by his affliction, and that he takes himself for a common sailor, and has his medal still round his neck. Our cousin is very kind, and will do all he can. God can protect my darling at sea, as He has ashore: and in His power alone have I any trust. Any further stay here is vain: my heart, too, yearns for my other treasures, and dreads lest whilst I am here, and because I am here, some evil should befall you too. Expect me soon after this letter, and let us try and comfort one another under this the heaviest of all our many troubles. — With sad heart, I am, both my darlings’ loving mother and friend,

“LUCY DODD”

In the discussion of this letter Alfred betrayed a slight defect of character. He pooh-poohed the calamity: said David had now a chance, and a good one, of being cured: whereas confinement was one of the common causes of insanity even in sane persons. And he stoutly maintained that David’s going to sea was a happy inspiration. Edward coloured, but deigned no reply. Julia was less patient, and though she was too loving and too womanly to tell Alfred to his face he was deceiving himself, and arguing thus indirectly to justify himself in taking her father out of the asylum at all, yet she saw it, and it imparted a certain coldness into her replies. Alfred noticed this, and became less confident and louder, and prodigiously logical.

He was still flowing on with high imperious voice, which I suppose overpowered the sound of Mrs. Dodd’s foot, when she entered suddenly, pale and weary, in her travelling-dress.

Alfred stopped, and they all started to their feet.

At sight of Alfred she stood dumbfoundered a single moment; then uttered a faint shriek; and looked at him with unutterable terror.

He stood disconcerted.

Julia ran, and throwing her arms round Mrs. Dodd’s neck, entreated her not to be afraid of him: he was not mad; Dr. Sampson said so. Edward confirmed her words; and then Julia poured out the story of his wrongs with great gushes of natural eloquence that might have melted a rock, and, as anticlimax is part of a true woman, ended innocently by begging her mother not to look so unkindly at him; and his ankle so sprained, and him in such pain. For the first time in her life Mrs. Dodd was deaf to her daughter’s natural eloquence; it was remarkable how little her countenance changed while Julia appealed. She stood looking askant with horror at Alfred all through that gentle eloquent appeal. But nevertheless her conduct showed she had heard every word: as soon as ever her daughter’s voice stopped, she seemed to dilate bodily, and moved towards Alfred pale and lowering. Yes, for once this gentle quiet lady looked terrible. She confronted Alfred, “Is this true, sir?” said she, in a low stern voice. “Are you not insane? Have you never been bereft of your reason?”

“No, Mrs. Dodd, I have not.”

“Then what have you done with my husband, sir?”

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