Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 7

JULIA took Mr. Hardie’s note and read it:—

“MADAM— I have received a very juvenile letter from my son, by which I learn he has formed a sudden attachment to your daughter. He tells me, however, at the same time, that you await my concurrence before giving your consent. I appreciate your delicacy; and it is with considerable regret I now write to inform you this match is out of the question. I have thought it due to you to communicate this to yourself and without delay, and feel sure that you will, under the circumstances, discountenance my son’s further visits at your house — I am, Madam, with sincere respect, your faithful servant,

“RICHARD HARDIE.”

Julia read this letter, and reread it in silence. It was an anxious moment to the mother.

“Shall our pride be less than this parvenu’s?” she faltered. “Tell me yourself, what ought we to do?”

“What we ought to do is, never to let the name of Hardie be mentioned again in this house.”

This reply was very comforting to Mrs. Dodd.

“Shall I write to him, or do you feel strong enough?”

“I feel that, if I do, I may affront him. He had no right to pretend that his father would consent. You write, and then we shall not lose our dignity though we are insulted.”

“I feel so weary, mamma. Life seems ended.

“I could have loved him well. And now show me how to tear him out of my heart; or what will become of me?”

While Mrs. Dodd wrote to Alfred Hardie, Julia sank down and laid her head on her mother’s knees. The note was shown her; she approved it languidly. A long and sad conversation followed; and, after kissing her mother and clinging to her, she went to bed chilly and listless, but did not shed a single tear. Her young heart was benumbed by the unexpected blow.

Next morning early, Alfred Hardie started gaily to spend the day at Albion Villa. Not a hundred yards from the gate he met Sarah, with Mrs. Dodd’s letter, enclosing a copy of his father’s to her. Mrs. Dodd here reminded him that his visits had been encouraged only upon a misapprehension of his father’s sentiments; for which misapprehension he was in some degree to blame: not that she meant to reproach him on that score, especially at this unhappy moment: no, she rather blamed herself for listening to the sanguine voice of youth; but the error must now be repaired. She and Julia would always wish him well, and esteem him, provided he made no further attempt to compromise a young lady who could not be his wife. The note concluded thus —

“Individually I think I have some right to count on your honourable feeling to hold no communication with my daughter, and not in any way to attract her attention, under the present circumstances. — I am, dear Mr. Alfred Hardie, with many regrets at the pain I fear I am giving you, your sincere friend and well-wisher,

“LUCY DODD.”

Alfred on reading this letter literally staggered: but proud and sensitive, as well as loving, he manned himself to hide his wound from Sarah, whose black eyes were bent on him in merciless scrutiny. He said doggedly, though tremulously, “Very well!” then turned quickly on his heel, and went slowly home. Mrs. Dodd, with well-feigned indifference, questioned Sarah privately: the girl’s account of the abrupt way in which he had received the missive added to her anxiety. She warned the servants that no one was at home to Mr. Alfred Hardie.

Two days elapsed, and then she received a letter from him. Poor fellow, it was the eleventh. He had written and torn up ten.

“DEAR MRS. DODD— I have gained some victories in my life; but not one without two defeats to begin with; how then can I expect to obtain such a prize as dear Julia without a check or two? You need not fear that I shall intrude after your appeal to me as a gentleman: but I am not going to give in because my father has written a hasty letter from Yorkshire. He and I must have many a talk face to face before I consent to be miserable for life. Dear Mrs. Dodd, at first receipt of your cruel letter, so kindly worded, I was broken-hearted; but now I am myself again: difficulties are made for ladies to yield to, and for men to conquer. Only for pity’s sake do not you be my enemy; do not set her against me for my father’s fault. Think, if you can, how my heart bleeds at closing this letter without one word to her I love better, a thousand times better, than my life — I am, dear Mrs. Dodd, yours sorrowfully, but not despairing,

“ALFRED HARDIE.”

Mrs. Dodd kept this letter to herself. She could not read it quite unmoved, and therefore she felt sure it would disturb her daughter’s heart the more.

Alfred had now a soft but dangerous antagonist in Mrs. Dodd. All the mother was in arms to secure her daughter’s happiness, coute qu’il coute! and the surest course seemed to be to detach her affections from Alfred. What hope of a peaceful heart without this? and what real happiness without peace? But, too wise and calm to interfere blindly, she watched her daughter day and night, to find whether Love or Pride was the stronger, and this is what she observed —

Julia never mentioned Alfred. She sought occupation eagerly: came oftener than usual for money, saying, it was for “Luxury.” She visited the poor more constantly, taking one of the maids with her, at Mrs. Dodd’s request. She studied Logic with Edward. She went to bed rather early, fatigued, it would appear, by her activity: and she gave the clue to her own conduct one day: “Mamma,” said she, nobody is downright unhappy who is good.”

Mrs. Dodd noticed also a certain wildness and almost violence, with which she threw herself into her occupations, and a worn look about the eyes that told of a hidden conflict. On the whole Mrs. Dodd was hopeful; for she had never imagined the cure would be speedy or easy. To see her child on the right road was much. Only the great healer Time could “medicine her to that sweet peace which once she owned;” and even Time cannot give her back her childhood, thought the mother, with a sigh.

One day came an invitation to an evening party at a house where they always wound up with dancing. Mrs. Dodd was for declining as usual for since that night Julia had shunned parties. “Give me the sorrows of the poor and afflicted,” was her cry; “the gaiety of the hollow world jars me more than I can bear.” But now she caught with a sort of eagerness at this invitation. “Accept. They shall not say I am wearing the willow.”

“My brave girl,” said Mrs. Dodd joyfully, “I would not press it; but you are right; we owe it to ourselves to outface scandal. Still, let there be no precipitation; we must not undertake beyond our strength.”

“Try me to-night,” said Julia; “you don’t know what I can do. I dare say he is not pining for me.

She was the life and soul of the party, and, indeed, so feverishly brilliant, that Mrs. Dodd said softly to her, “Gently, love; moderate your spirits, or they will deceive our friends as little as they do me.”

Meantime it cost Alfred Hardie a severe struggle to keep altogether aloof from Julia. In fact, it was a state of daily self-denial, to which he would never have committed himself, but that he was quite sure he could gradually win his father over. At his age we are apt to count without our antagonist.

Mr. Richard Hardie was “a long-headed man.” He knew the consequence of giving one’s reasons: eternal discussion ending in war. He had taken care not to give any to Mrs. Dodd, and he was as guarded and reserved with Alfred. The young man begged to know the why and the wherefore, and being repulsed, employed all his art to elicit them by surprise, or get at them by inference: but all in vain. Hardie senior was impenetrable; and inquiry, petulance, tenderness, logic, were all shattered on him as the waves break on Ailsa Craig.

Thus began dissension, decently conducted at first, between a father indulgent hitherto and an affectionate son.

In this unfortunate collision of two strong and kindred natures, every advantage was at present on the father’s side: age, experience, authority, resolution, hidden and powerful motives, to which my reader even has no clue as yet; a purpose immutable and concealed. Add to these a colder nature and a far colder affection; for Alfred loved his father dearly.

At last, one day, the impetuous one lost his self-command, and said he was a son, not a slave, and had little respect for Authority when afraid or ashamed to appeal to Reason. Hardie senior turned on him with a gravity and dignity no man could wear more naturally. “Alfred, have I been an unkind father to you all these years?”

“Oh no, father, no; I have said nothing that can be so construed. And that is the mystery to me; you are acting quite out of character.”

“Have I been one of those interfering, pragmatical fathers who cannot let their children enjoy themselves their own way?”

“No, sir; you have never interfered, except to pay for anything I wanted.”

“Then make the one return in your power, young man: have a little faith in such a father, and believe that he does not interfere now but for your good, and under a stern necessity; and that when he does interfere for once, and say, ‘This thing shall not be,’ it shall not be-by Heaven!”

Alfred was overpowered by the weight and solemnity of this. Sorrow, vexation, and despondency all rushed into his heart together, and unmanned him for a moment; he buried his face in his hands, and something very like a sob burst from his young heart. At this Hardie senior took up the newspaper with imperturbable coldness, and wore a slight curl of the lip. All this was hardly genuine, for he was not altogether unmoved; but he was a man of rare self-command, and chose to impress on Alfred that he was no more to be broken or melted than a mere rock.

It is always precarious to act a part; and this cynicism was rather able than wise: Alfred looked up and watched him keenly as he read the monetary article with tranquil interest; and then, for the first time in his life, it flashed into the young man’s mind that his father was not a father. “I never knew him till now,” thought he. “This man is [Greek text].”6

6 Without bowels of affection.

Thus a gesture, so to speak, sowed the first seed of downright disunion in Richard Hardie’s house — disunion, a fast-growing plant, when men set it in the soil of the passions.

Alfred, unlike Julia, had no panacea. Had any lips, except perhaps hers, told him that “to be good is to be happy here below,” he would have replied: “Negatur; contradicted by daily experience.” It never occurred to him, therefore, to go out of himself, and sympathise with the sordid sorrows of the poor, and their bottomless egotism in contact with the well-to-do. He brooded on his own love, and his own unhappiness, and his own father’s cruelty. His nights were sleepless and his days leaden. He tried hard to read for his first class, but for once even ambition failed: it ended in flinging books away in despair. He wandered about dreaming and moping for some change, and bitterly regretting his excessive delicacy, which had tied his own hands and brought him to a stand-still. He lost his colour and what little flesh he had to lose; for such young spirits as this are never plump. In a word, being now strait-jacketed into feminine inactivity, while void of feminine patience, his ardent heart was pining and fretting itself out. He was in this condition, when one day Peterson, his Oxonian friend, burst in on him open-mouthed with delight, and, as usual with bright spirits of this calibre, did not even notice his friend’s sadness. “Cupid had clapped him on the shoulder,” as Shakespeare hath it; and it was a deal nicer than the bum-bailiff rheumatism.

“Oh, such a divine creature! Met her twice; you know her by sight; her name is Dodd. But I don’t care; it shall be Peterson; the rose by any other name, &c.” Then followed a rapturous description of the lady’s person, well worth omitting. “And such a jolly girl! brightens them all up wherever she goes; and such a dancer; did the cachouka with a little Spanish bloke Bosanquet has got hold of, and made his black bolus eyes twinkle like midnight cigars: danced it with castanets, and smiles, and such a what d’ye call ’em, my boy, you know; such a ‘go.’”

“You mean such an ‘abandon,’” groaned Alfred, turning sick at heart.

“That’s the word. Twice the spirit of Duvernay, and ten times the beauty. But just you hear her sing, that is all; Italian, French, German, English even.”

“Plaintive songs?”

“Oh, whatever they ask for. Make you laugh or make you cry to order; never says no. Just smiles and sits down to the music-box. Only she won’t sing two running: they have to stick a duffer in between. I shall meet her again next week; will you come? Any friend of mine is welcome. Wish me joy, old fellow; I’m a gone coon.”

This news put Alfred in a phrensy of indignation and fear. Julia dancing the cachouka! Julia a jolly girl! Julia singing songs pathetic or merry, whichever were asked for! The heartless one! He called to mind all he had read in the classics, and elsewhere, about the fickleness of woman. But this impression did not last long; he recalled Julia’s character, and all the signs of a love tender and true she had given him. He read her by himself, and, lover-like, laid all the blame on another. It was all her cold-blooded mother. “Fool that I have been. I see it all now. She appeals to my delicacy to keep away; then she goes to Julia and says, ‘See, he deserts you at a word from his father. Be proud, be gay! He never loved you; marry another.’ The shallow plotter forgets that whoever she does marry I’ll kill. How many unsuspicious girls have these double-faced mothers deluded so? They do it in half the novels, especially in those written by women; and why? because these know the perfidy and mendacity of their sex better than we do; they see them nearer, and with their souls undrest. War, Mrs. Dodd! war to the death! From this moment I am alone in the world with her. I have no friend but Alfred Hardie: and my bitterest enemies are my cold-blooded father and her cold-blooded mother.”

The above sentences, of course, were never uttered. But they represent his thoughts accurately, though in a condensed form, and are, as it were, a miniature of this young heart boiling over.

From that moment he lay in wait for her, and hovered about the house day and night, determined to appeal to her personally, and undeceive her, and baffle her mother’s treachery. But at this game he was soon detected: Mrs. Dodd lived on the watch now. Julia, dressed to go out, went to the window one afternoon to look at the weather; but retreated somewhat hastily and sat down on the sofa.

“You flutter, darling,” said Mrs. Dodd. “Ah! he is there.”

“Yes.”

“You had better take off your things.”

“Oh, yes. I tremble at the thoughts of meeting him. Mamma, he is changed, sadly changed. Poor, poor Alfred!” She went to her own room and prayed for him. She informed the Omniscient that, though much greater and better in other respects than she was, he had not Patience. She prayed, with tears, that he might have Christian patience granted Him from on high.

“Heart of stone! she shuns me,” said Alfred, outside. He had seen her in her bonnet.

Mrs. Dodd waited several days to see whether this annoyance would not die of itself: waiting was her plan in most things. Finding he was not to be tired out, she sent Sarah out to him with a note carefully sealed.

“Mr. Alfred Hardie — Is it generous to confine my daughter to the house? — Yours regretfully,

LUCY DODD.”

A line came back instantly in pencil.

“Mrs. Dodd — Is all the generosity and all the good faith to be on one side? — Yours in despair,

ALFRED HARDIE.”

Mrs. Dodd coloured faintly: the reproach pricked her, but did not move her. She sat quietly down that moment, and wrote to a friend in London, to look out for a furnished villa in a healthy part of the suburbs, with immediate possession. “Circumstances,” said she, “making it desirable we should leave Barkington immediately, and for some months.”

The Bosanquets gave a large party; Mrs. and Miss Dodd were there. The latter was playing a part in a charade to the admiration of all present, when in came Mr. Peterson, introducing his friend, Alfred Hardie.

Julia caught the name, and turned a look of alarm on her mother, but went on acting.

Presently she caught sight of him at some distance. He looked very pale, and his glittering eye was fixed on her with a sort of stern wonder.

Such a glance from fiery eyes, that had always dwelt tenderly on her till then, struck her like a weapon. She stopped short, and turned red and pale by turns. “There, that is nonsense enough,” said she bitterly, and went and sat by Mrs. Dodd. The gentlemen thronged round her with compliments, and begged her to sing. She excused herself. Presently she heard an excited voice, towards which she dared not look; it was inquiring whether any lady could sing Aileen Aroon. With every desire to gratify the young millionaire, nobody knew Aileen Aroon, nor had ever heard of it.

“Oh, impossible!” cried Alfred. “Why, it is in praise of Constancy, a virtue ladies shine in: at least, they take credit for it.”

“Mamma,” whispered Julia terrified, “get me away, or there will be a scene. He is reckless.”

“Be calm, love,” said Mrs. Dodd, “there shall be none.” She rose and glided up to Alfred Hardie, looked coldly in his face; then said with external politeness and veiled contempt, “I will attempt the song, sir, since you desire it.” She waved her hand, and he followed her sulkily to the piano. She sung Aileen Aroon, not with her daughter’s eloquence, but with a purity and mellowness that charmed the room: they had never heard the genius sing it.

As spirits are said to overcome the man at whose behest they rise, so this sweet air, and the gush of reminiscence it awakened, overpowered him who had evoked them; Alfred put his Hand unconsciously to his swelling heart, cast one look of anguish at Julia, and hurried away half choked. Nobody but Julia noticed.

A fellow in a rough great-coat and tattered white hat opened the fly door for Mrs. Dodd. As Julia followed her, he kissed her skirt unseen by Mrs. Dodd, but her quick ears caught a heart-breaking sigh. She looked and recognised Alfred in that disguise; the penitent fit had succeeded to the angry one. Had Julia observed? To ascertain this without speaking of him, Mrs. Dodd waited till they had got some little distance, then quietly put out her hand and rested it for a moment on her daughter’s; the girl was trembling violently “Little wretch!” came to Mrs. Dodd’s lips, but she did not utter it. They were near home before she spoke at all, and then she only said very kindly, “My love, you will not be subjected again to these trials:” a remark intended quietly to cover the last occurrence as well as Alfred’s open persecution.

They had promised to go out the very next day; but Mrs. Dodd went alone, and made excuses for Miss Dodd. On her return she found Julia sitting up for her, and a letter come from her friend describing a pleasant cottage, now vacant, near Maida Vale. Mrs. Dodd handed the open letter to Julia; she read it without comment.

“We will go up tomorrow and take it for three months. Then the Oxford vacation will terminate.”

“Yes, mamma.”

I am now about to relate a circumstance by no means without parallels, but almost impossible to account for; and, as nothing is more common and contemptible than inadequate solutions, I will offer none at all: but so it was, that Mrs. Dodd awoke in the middle of that very night in a mysterious state of mental tremor; trouble, veiled in obscurity, seemed to sit heavy on her bosom. So strong, though vague, was this new and mysterious oppression, that she started up in bed and cried aloud, “David! — Julia! — Oh, what is the matter?” The sound of her own voice dispelled the cloud in part, but not entirely. She lay awhile, and then finding herself quite averse to sleep, rose and went to her window, and eyed the weather anxiously. It was a fine night; soft fleecy clouds drifted slowly across a silver moon. The sailor’s wife was reassured on her husband’s behalf. Her next desire was to look at Julia sleeping; she had no particular object: it was the instinctive impulse of an anxious mother whom something had terrified. She put on her slippers and dressing-gown, and, lighting a candle at her night-lamp, opened her door softly and stepped into the little corridor. But she had not taken two steps when she was arrested by a mysterious sound.

It came from Julia’s room.

What was it?

Mrs. Dodd glided softly nearer and nearer, all her senses on the stretch.

The sound came again. It was a muffled sob.

The stifled sound, just audible in the dead stillness of the night, went through and through her who stood there listening aghast. Her bowels yearned over her child, and she hurried to the door, but recollected herself, and knocked, very gently. “Don’t be alarmed, love; it is only me. May I come in?” She did not wait for the answer, but turned the handle and entered. She found Julia sitting up in bed, looking wildly at her, with cheeks flushed and wet. She sat on the bed and clasped her to her breast in silence: but more than one warm tear ran down upon Julia’s bare neck; the girl felt them drop, and her own gushed in a shower.

“Oh, what have I done?” she sobbed. “Am I to make you wretched too?”

Mrs. Dodd did not immediately reply. She was there to console, and her admirable good sense told her that to do that she must be calmer than her patient; so even while she kissed and wept over Julia, she managed gradually to recover her composure. “Tell me, my child,” said she, “why do you act a part with me? Why brave it out under my eye, and spend the night secretly in tears? Are you still afraid to trust me?”

“Oh no, no; but I thought I was so strong, so proud: I undertook miracles. I soon found my pride was a molehill and my love a mountain. I could not hold out by day if I did not ease my breaking heart at night. How unfortunate! I kept my head under the bed-clothes, too; but you have such ears. I thought I would stifle my grief, or else perhaps you would be as wretched as I am: forgive me pray forgive me!”

“On one condition,” said Mrs. Dodd, struggling with the emotion these simple words caused her.

“Anything to be forgiven,” cried Julia, impetuously. “I’ll go to London. I’ll go to Botany Bay. I deserve to be hanged.”

“Then, from this hour, no half-confidences between us. Dear me, you carry in your own bosom a much harsher judge, a much less indulgent friend, than I am. Come! trust me with your heart. Do you love him very much? Does your happiness depend on him?”

At this point-blank question Julia put her head over Mrs. Dodd’s shoulder, not to be seen; and, clasping her tight, murmured scarce above a whisper, “I don’t know how much I love him. When he came in at that party I felt his slave — his unfaithful adoring slave; if he had ordered me to sing Aileen Aroon, I should have obeyed; if he had commanded me to take his hand and leave the room, I think I should have obeyed. His face is always before me as plain as life; it used to come to me bright and loving; now it is pale, and stern, and sad. I was not so wretched till I saw he was pining for me, and thinks me inconstant — oh, mamma, so pale! so shrunk I so reckless! He was sorry for misbehaving that night: he changed clothes with a beggar to kiss my dress, poor thing! poor thing! Who ever loved as he does me! I am dying for him; I am dying.”

“There! there!” said Mrs. Dodd soothingly. “You have said enough. This must be love. I am on your Alfred’s side from this hour.”

Julia opened her eyes, and was a good deal agitated as well as surprised. “Pray do not raise my hopes,” she gasped. “We are parted for ever. His father refuses. Even you seemed averse; or have I been dreaming?”

“Me, dearest? How can I be averse to anything lawful on which I find your heart is really set, and your happiness at stake? Of course I have stopped the actual intercourse, under existing circumstances; but these circumstances are not unalterable: your only obstacle is Mr. Richard Hardie.”

But what an obstacle!” sighed Julia. “His father! a man of iron! so everybody says; for I have made inquiries — oh!” And she was abashed. She resumed hastily, “And that letter, so cold, so cruel! I feel it was written by one not open to gentle influences. He does not think me worthy of his son so accomplished, so distinguished at the very university where our poor Edward — has — you know ——”

“Little simpleton!” said Mrs. Dodd, and kissed her tenderly; “your iron man is the commonest clay, sordid, pliable; and your stem heroic Brutus is a shopkeeper: he is open to the gentle influences which sway the kindred souls of the men you and I buy our shoes, our tea, our gloves, our fish-kettles of: and these influences I think I command, and am prepared to use them to the utmost.”

Julia lay silent, and wondering what she could mean.

But Mrs. Dodd hesitated now: it pained and revolted her to show her enthusiastic girl the world as it is. She said as much, and added — “I seem to be going to aid all these people to take the bloom from my own child’s innocence. Heaven help me!”

“Oh, never mind that,” cried Julia in her ardent way; “give me Truth before Error, however pleasing.”

Mrs. Dodd replied only by a sigh: grand general sentiments like that never penetrated her mind: they glided off like water from a duck’s back. “We will begin with this mercantile Brutus, then,” said she, with such a curl of the lip. Brutus had rejected her daughter.

“Mr. Richard Hardie was born and bred in a bank; one where no wild thyme blows, my poor enthusiast, nor cowslips nor the nodding violet grows; but gold and silver chink, and Things are discounted, and men grow rich, slowly but surely, by lawful use of other people’s money. Breathed upon by these ‘gentle influences,’ he was, from his youth, a remarkable man — measured by Trade’s standard. At five-and-twenty divine what he did! He saved the bank. You have read of bubbles: the Mississippi Bubble and the South Sea Bubble. Well, in the year 1825, it was not one bubble but a thousand; mines by the score, and in distant lands; companies by the hundred; loans to every nation or tribe; down to Guatemala, Patagonia, and Greece; two hundred new ships were laid on the stocks in one year, for your dear papa told me; in short, a fever of speculation, and the whole nation raging with it: my dear, Princes, Dukes, Duchesses, Bishops, Poets, Lawyers, Physicians, were seen struggling with their own footmen for a place in the Exchange: and, at last, good, steady, old Mr. Hardie, Alfred’s grandfather, was drawn into the vortex. Now, to excuse him and appreciate the precocious Richard, you must try and realise that these bubbles, when they rise, are as alluring and reasonable as they are ridiculous and incredible when one looks back on them; even soap bubbles, you know, have rainbow hues till they burst: and, indeed, the blind avarice of men does but resemble the blind vanity of women: look at our grandmothers’ hoops, and our mothers’ short waists and monstrous heads! Yet in their day what woman did not glory in these insanities? Well then, Mr. Richard Hardie, at twenty-five, was the one to foresee the end of all these bubbles; he came down from London and brought his people to their senses by sober reason and ‘sound commercial principles’— that means, I believe, ‘get other people’s money, but do not risk your own.’ His superiority was so clear, that his father resigned the helm to him, and, thanks to his ability, the bank weathered the storm, while all the other ones in the town broke or suspended their trade. Now, you know, youth is naturally ardent and speculative; but Richard Hardie’s was colder and wiser than other people’s old age: and that is one trait. Some years later, in the height of his prosperity — I reveal this only for your comfort, and on your sacred promise as a person of delicacy, never to repeat it to a soul — Richard Hardie was a suitor for my hand.”

“Mamma!”

“Do not ejaculate, sweetest. It discomposes me. ‘Nothing is extraordinary,’ as that good creature Dr. Sampson says. He must have thought it would answer, in one way or another, to have a gentlewoman at the head of his table; and I was not penniless, bien entendu. Failing in this, he found a plain little Thing, with a gloomy temper, and no accomplishments nor graces; but her father could settle twenty thousand pounds. He married her directly: and that is a trait. He sold his father’s and grandfather’s house and place of business, in spite of all their associations, and obtained a lease of his present place from my uncle Fountain: it seemed a more money-making situation. A trait. He gives me no reason for rejecting my daughter. Why? because he is not proud of his reasons: this walking Avarice has intelligence: a trait. Now put all this together, and who more transparent than the profound Mr. Hardie? He has declined our alliance because he takes for granted we are poor. When I undeceive him on that head he will reopen negotiations in a letter — No. 2 of the correspondence; copied by one of his clerks — it will be calm, plausible, flattering: in short, it will be done like a gentleman: though he is nothing of the kind. And this brings me to what I ought to have begun with: your dear father and I have always lived with our income for our children’s sake; he is bringing home the bulk of our savings this very voyage, and it amounts to fourteen thousand pounds.”

“Oh, what an enormous sum!”

“No, dearest, it is not a fortune in itself. But it is a considerable sum to possess, independent of one’s settlement and one’s income. It is loose cash, to speak a la Hardie; that means I can do what I choose with it and of course I choose — to make you happy. How I shall work on what you call Iron and I venture to call Clay must be guided by circumstances. I think of depositing three or four thousand pounds every month with Mr. Hardie; he is our banker, you know. He will most likely open his eyes, and make some move before the whole sum is in his hands. If he does not, I shall perhaps call at his bank, and draw a cheque for fourteen thousand pounds. The wealthiest provincial banker does not keep such a sum floating in his shop-tills. His commercial honour, the one semi-chivalrous sentiment in his soul, would be in peril. He would yield, and with grace: none the less readily that his house and his bank, which have been long heavily mortgaged to our trustees, were made virtually theirs by agreement yesterday (I set this on foot with twelve hours of Mr. Iron’s impertinent letter), and he will say to himself, ‘She can — post me, I think these people call it — this afternoon for not cashing her cheque,, and she can turn me and my bank into the street tomorrow:’ and then, of course, he shall see by my manner the velvet paw is offered as well as the claw. He is pretty sure to ask himself which will suit the ledger best — this cat’s friendship and her fourteen thousand pounds, or — an insulted mother’s enmity?” And Mrs. Placid’s teeth made a little click just audible in the silent night

“Oh, mamma! my heart is sick. Am I to be bought and sold like this?”

Mrs. Dodd sighed, but said calmly, “You must pay the penalty for loving a parvenu’s son. Come, Julia, no peevishness, no more romance, no more vacillation. You have tried Pride and failed pitiably: now I insist on your trying Love! Child, it is the bane of our sex to carry nothing out: from that weakness I will preserve you. And, by-the-bye, we are not going to marry Mr. Richard Hardie, but Mr. Alfred. Now, Mr. Alfred, with all his faults and defects —”

“Mamma! what faults? what defects?”

“— Is a gentleman; thanks to Oxford, and Harrow, and nature. My darling, pray to Heaven night and day for your dear father’s safe return; for on him, and him alone, your happiness depends: as mine does.”

“Mamma!” cried Julia, embracing her, “what do poor girls do who have lost their mother?”

“Look abroad and see,” was the grave reply.

Mrs. Dodd then begged her to go to sleep, like a good child, for her health’s sake; all would be well; and with this was about to return to her own room; but a white hand and arm darted out of the bed and caught her. “What! Hope has come to me by night in the form of an angel, and shall I let her go back to her own room? Never! never! never! never! never!” And she patted the bed expressively, and with the prettiest impatience.

“Well, let Hope take off her earrings first,” suggested Mrs. Dodd.

“No, no, come here directly, earrings and all.”

“No, thank you; or I shall have them wounding you next.”

Mrs. Hope quietly removed her earrings, and the tender pair passed the rest of the night in one another’s arms. The young girl’s tears were dried; and hope revived, and life bloomed again: only, henceforth her longing eyes looked out to sea for her father, homeward bound.

Next day, as they were seated together in the drawing-room, Julia came from the window with a rush, and kneeled at Mrs. Dodd’s knees, with bright imploring face upturned.

“He is there; and — I am to speak to him? Is that it?”

“Dear, dear, dear mamma!” was the somewhat oblique reply.

“Well, then, bring me my things.”

She was ten minutes putting them on: Julia tried to expedite her and retarded her. She had her pace, and could not go beyond it.

Now by this time Alfred Hardie was thoroughly miserable. Unable to move his father, shunned by Julia, sickened by what he had heard, and indeed seen, of her gaiety and indifference to their separation, stung by jealousy and fretted by impatience, he was drinking nearly all the bitters of that sweet passion, Love. But as you are aware, he ascribed Julia’s inconstancy, lightness, and cruelty all to Mrs. Dodd. He hated her cordially, and dreaded her into the bargain; he played the sentinel about her door all the more because she had asked him not to do it “Always do what your enemy particularly objects to,” said he, applying to his own case the wisdom of a Greek philosopher, one of his teachers.

So, when the gate suddenly opened, and instead of Julia, this very Mrs. Dodd walked towards him, his feelings were anything but enviable. He wished himself away, heartily, but was too proud to retreat. He stood his ground. She came up to him; a charming smile broke out over her features. “Ah! Mr. Hardie,” said she, “if you have nothing better to do, will you give me a minute?” He assented with surprise and an ill grace.

“May I take your arm?”

He offered it with a worse.

She laid her hand lightly on it, and it shuddered at her touch. He felt like walking with a velvet tigress.

By some instinct she divined his sentiment, and found her task more difficult than she had thought; she took some steps in silence. At last, as he was no dissembler, he burst out passionately, “Why are you my enemy?”

“I am not your enemy,” said she quietly.

“Not openly, but all the more dangerous. You keep us apart, you bid her be gay and forget me; you are a cruel, hard-hearted lady.”

“No, I am not, sir,” said Mrs. Dodd simply.

“Oh! I believe you are good and kind to all the rest of the world; but you know you have a heart of iron for me.”

“I am my daughter’s friend, but not your enemy; it is you who are too inexperienced to know how delicate, how difficult, my duties are. It is only since last night I see my way clear; and, look, I come at once to you with friendly intentions. Suppose I were as impetuous as you are? I should, perhaps, be calling you ungrateful.”

He retorted bitterly. “Give me something to be grateful for, and you shall see whether that baseness is in my nature.”

“I have a great mind to put you to the proof,” said she archly. “Let us walk down this lane; then you can be as unjust to me as you think proper, without attracting public attention.”

In the lane she told him quietly she knew the nature of his father’s objections to the alliance he had so much at heart, and they were objections which her husband, on his return, would remove. On this he changed his tone a little, and implored her piteously not to deceive him.

“I will not,” said she, “upon my honour. If you are as constant as my daughter is in her esteem for you — notwithstanding her threadbare gaiety worn over loyal regret, and to check a parcel of idle ladies’ tongues — you have nothing to fear from me, and everything to expect. Come, Alfred— may I take that liberty with you? — let us understand one another. We only want that to be friends.”

This was hard to resist and at his age. His lip trembled, he hesitated, but at last gave her his hand. She walked two hours with him, and laid herself out to enlighten, soothe, and comfort his sore heart His hopes and happiness revived under her magic, as Julia’s had. In the midst of it all, the wise woman quietly made terms. He was not to come to the house but on her invitation, unless indeed he had news of the Agra to communicate; but he might write once a week to her, and enclose a few lines to Julia. On this concession he proceeded to mumble her white wrist, and call her his best, dearest, loveliest friend; his mother. “Oh, remember,” said he, with a relic of distrust, “you are the only mother I can ever hope to have.”

That touched her. Hitherto, he had been to her but a thing her daughter loved.

Her eyes filled. “My poor, warm-hearted, motherless boy,” she said, “pray for my husband’s safe return. For on that your happiness depends, and hers, and mine.”

So now two more bright eyes looked longingly seaward for the Agra homeward bound.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/reade/charles/hard-cash/chapter5.html

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