Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 54

THE verdict was a thunder-clap to Richard Hardie: he had promised Thomas to bear him blameless. The Old Turks, into which he had bought at 72, were down to 71, and that implied a loss of five thousand pounds. On the top of all this came Mr. Compton’s letter neatly copied by Colls: Richard Hardie was doubly and trebly ruined.

Then in his despair and hate he determined to baffle them all, ay, and sting the hearts of some of them once more.

He would give Peggy his last shilling; write a line to Alfred, another to Julia, assuring them he had no money, and they had killed him. And with that leave them both the solemn curse of a dying father, and then kill himself.

Not to be interrupted in his plan, he temporised with Mr. Compton; wrote that, if the Receipt was really signed by his agent, of course the loss must fall on him; it was a large sum, but he would sell out and do his best, in ten days from date. With this he went and bought a pistol, and at several chemist’s shops a little essential oil of almonds: his plan was to take the poison, and, if it killed without pain, well and good; but if it tortured him, then he would blow his brains out at once.

He soon arranged his worldly affairs, and next day gave Peggy his L. 500, and told her she had better keep it for fear he should be arrested. He sent her on an errand to the other part of the town: then with his poison and the pistol before him on the table, wrote a brief but emphatic curse for his son and Julia; and a line to Peggy to thank her for her fidelity to one so much older than herself, and to advise her to take a tobacconist’s shop with his money. When he had done all this, he poured out the fragrant poison and tasted it.

Ere he could drink it, one of those quidnunes, who are always interrupting a gentleman when he has important business on hand, came running in with all manner of small intelligence. Mr. Hardie put down the glass, and gave him short, sullen answers, in hopes he would then go away and let him proceed to business. And at last his visitor did rise and go. Mr. Hardie sat down with a sigh of relief to his fragrant beverage.

Doesn’t the door open, and this bore poke in his head: “Oh I forgot to tell you; the Old Turks are going up today, like a shot.” And with this he slammed the door again, and was off.

At this the cup began to tremble in the resolute wretch’s hand. The Old Turks going up! He poured the poison back into the phial, and put it and the pistol and all the letters carefully into his pocket, and took a cab to the City.

The report was true; there was an extraordinary movement in the Old Turks. The Sultan was about to pay a portion of this loan, being at six per cent.; this had transpired, and at four o’clock the Turks were quoted at 73. Mr. Hardie returned a gainer of L. 5000 instead of a loser. He locked up the means of death for the present.

And now an ordinary man would have sold out, and got clear of the fatal trap: but this was not an ordinary man: he would not sell a share that day. In the afternoon they rose to 74. He came home, unloaded his pistol, and made himself some brandy-and-water, and with a grim smile, flavoured it with a few drops of the poison — that was a delicious tumbler. The Turks went up, up, up, to 82. Then he sold out, and cleared L. 49,000, and all in about ten days.

With this revived the habits of his youth; no more cheating: nothing could excuse that but the dread of poverty. He went to his appointment with Mr. Compton; asked to see the Receipt; said “Yes; that was his form, and Skinner’s handwriting; he had never personally received one farthing of the money; Skinner had clearly embezzled it: but that did not matter; of course, Captain Dodd must not lose his money. Send your bill of costs in Hardie v. Hardie to me, Mr. Compton,” said he, “they shall not be taxed: you have lost enough by me already.”

There was an air of dignity and good faith about the man that half imposed even on Compton. And when Mr. Hardie drew out the notes and said, “I should be grateful if you would forgive me the interest; but for a great piece of good fortune on the Stock Exchange, I could never have paid the whole principal,” he said warmly, “the interest should never be demanded through him.”

He called in Colls, delivered up the Receipt, and received the L. 14,010, 12s. 6d. from Mr. Hardie.

O immortal Cash! You, like your great inventor, have then a kind of spirit as well as a body; and on this, not on your grosser part, depends your personal identity. So long as that survives, your body may be recalled to its lawful owner from Heaven knows where.

Mr. Compton rushed to Pembroke Street, and put this hard, hard Cash in David Dodd’s hands once more.

Love and Constancy had triumphed: and Julia and Alfred were to be married and go down to Albion Villa to prepare it for the whole party: tenants no more: Alfred had bought it. The Commissioners of Lunacy had protected his L. 20,000 zealously from the first: and his trustees had now paid the money over.

Alfred consulted by Mrs. Dodd, whose pet of pets he now was, as to the guests to be asked to the wedding breakfast, suggested “None but the tried friends of our adversity.”

“What an excellent idea!” said Mrs. Dodd naively.

Dr. Sampson being duly invited asked if he should bring his Emulsion.

This proposal puzzled all but Mrs. Dodd. She was found laughing heartily in a corner without any sound of laughter. Being detected and pointed out by Julia, she said, with a little crow, “He means his wife. Yes, certainly, bring your Emulcent”— pretending he had used that more elegant word —“and then they will all see how well you can behave.”

Accordingly he brought a lady, who was absurdly pretty to be the mother of several grown young ladies and gentlemen, and two shades more quiet and placid than Mrs. Dodd. She quietly had her chair placed by Dr. Sampson’s, and, whenever he got racy, she put a hand gently on his shoulder, and by some mesmeric effect it moderated him as Neptune did the waves in the AEneid. She was such a mistress of this mesmeric art, that she carried on a perfect conversation with her other neighbour, yet modulated her lion lord with a touch of that composing hand, in a parenthetical manner, and even while looking another way.

This hand, soft as down, yet irresistible, suppressed the great art of healing, vital chronometry, the wrongs of inventors, the collusions of medicine, the Mad Ox, and all but drawing-room topics, at the very first symptom, and only just allowed the doctor to be the life and soul of the party.

Julia and Mrs. Dodd had a good cry at parting. Of course Alfred consoled them: reminded them it was only for a week, and carried off his lovely prize, who in the carriage soon dried her eyes upon his shoulder.

Then she applied to her new lord and master for information. “They say that you and me are one, now,” said she interrogatively.

He told her triumphantly it was so.

“At that rate you are Julius and I am Elfrida,” said she.

“That is a bargain,” said he, and sealed it on the sweet lips that were murmuring Heaven so near him.

In this sore-tried and now happy pair the ardour of possession lasted long, and was succeeded by the sober but full felicity of conjugal love and high esteem combined. They were so young and elastic, that past sorrows seemed but to give one zest more to the great draught of happiness they now drank day by day. They all lived together at Albion Villa, thanks to Alfred. He was by nature combative, and his warlike soul was roused at the current theory that you cannot be happy under the same roof with your wife’s mother. “That is cant,” said he to Mrs. Dodd; “let us, you and I, trample on it hand in hand.”

“My child,” said poor Mrs. Dodd sorrowfully, “I am a poor hand at trampling; and everybody says a mother-inlaw in the house bores a young gentleman sadly.”

“If a young gentleman can’t live happy with you, mamma,” said he, kissing her, “he is a little snob, that is all, and not fit to live at all. Delenda est Cantilena! That means ‘Down with Cant!’”

They did live together: and behold eleven French plays, with their thirty-three English adaptations, confuted to the end of time.

Creatures so high-bred as Mrs. Dodd never fidget one. There is a repose about them; they are balm to all those they love, and blister to none. Item, no stranger could tell by Mrs. Dodd’s manner whether Edward or Alfred was her own son.

Oh, you happy little villa! you were as like Paradise as any mortal dwelling can be. A day came, however, when your walls could no longer hold all the happy inmates. Julia presented Alfred with a lovely boy; enter nurses, and the villa showed symptoms of bursting. Two months more, and Alfred and his wife and boy overflowed into the next villa. It was but twenty yards off; and there was a double reason for the migration. As often happens after a long separation Heaven bestowed on Captain and Mrs. Dodd another infant to play about their knees at present, and help them grow younger instead of older: for tender parents begin life again with their children.

The boys were nearly of a size, though the nephew was a month or two older than his uncle, a relationship that was early impressed on their young minds, and caused those who heard their prattle many a hearty laugh.

“Mrs. Dodd,” said a lady, “I couldn’t tell by your manner which is yours and which is your daughter’s.”

“Why they are both mine,” said Mrs. Dodd piteously, and opening her eyes with gentle astonishment.

As years rolled on Dr. Sampson made many converts at home and abroad. The foreign ones acknowledged their obligations. The leading London physicians managed more skilfully; they came into his ideas, and bit by bit reversed their whole practice, and, twenty years after, Sampson began to strengthen the invalid at once, instead of first prostrating him, and so causing either long sickness or sudden death. But, with all this, they disowned their forerunner, and still called him a quack while adopting his quackery. This dishonesty led them into difficulties. To hide that their whole practice in medicine was reversed on better information, they went from shuffle to shuffle, till at last they reached this climax of fatuity and egotism — THE TYPE OF DISEASE IS CHANGED.

Natura mutatur, non nos mutamur.

O, mutable Nature and immutable doctors!

O, unstable Omniscience, and infallible Nescience!

The former may err; the latter never — in its own opinion.

At this rate, draining the weak of their life blood was the right thing in Cervantes’ day: and when he observed that it killed men like sheep, and said so under the head of Sangrado, he was confounding his own age with an age to come three hundred years later, in which coming age depletion was going to be wrong.

Moliere — in lashing the whole scholastic system of lancet, purge, and blister as one of slaughter — committed the same error: mistook his century for one to come.

And Sampson, thirty years ago, sang the same tune, and mistook his inflammatory generation for the cool generation as yet unborn. In short, it is the characteristic of a certain blunder called genius to see things too far in advance. The surest way to avoid this is not to see them at all; but go blindly by the cant of the hour. Race moutonuiere va!

Sampson was indignant at finding that these gentry, after denouncing him for years as a quack, were pilfering his system, yet still reviling him. He went in a towering passion, and hashed them by tongue and pen: told them they were his subtractors now as well as detractors, asked them how it happened that in countries where there is no Sampson the type of disease remains unchanged, depletion is the practice, and death the result, as it was in every age?

No man, however stout, can help being deeply wounded when he sees his ideas stolen, yet their author and publisher disowned. Many men’s hearts have been broken by this: but I doubt whether they were really great men.

Don’t tell me Lilliput ever really kills Brobdignag. Except, of course, when Brobdignag takes medical advice of Lilliput.

Dr. Sampson had three shields against subtraction, detraction, and all the wrongs inventors endure: to wit, a choleric temper, a keen sense of humour, and a good wife. He storms and rages at his detracting pupils; but ends with roars of laughter at their impudence. I am told he still hopes to meet with justice some day, and to give justice a chance, he goes to bed at ten, for, says he —

“Jinny us, jinny us,
Take care of your carcass,”

and explains that no genius ever lived to ninety without being appreciated.

“If Chatterton and Keats had attended to this, they would have been all right. If James Watt had died at fifty he would have been all wrong; for at fifty he was a failure! so was the painter Etty, the English Tishin.” And then he accumulates examples.

His last distich bearing on Hard Cash is worth recording. “Miss Julee,” said he, “y’ are goen to maerry int’ a strange family —

Where th’ ijjit puts the jinnyus
In-til a madhus,”

which, like most of the droll things this man said, was true: for Soft Tommy and Alfred were the two intellectual extremes of the whole tribe of Hardies.

Mrs. Archbold, disappointed both in love and revenge, posed her understanding, and soothed her mind, with Frank Beverley and opium. This soon made the former deep in love with her, and his intellect grew by contact with hers. But one day news came from Australia that her husband was dead. Now, perhaps I shall surprise the reader, if I tell him that this Edith Archbold began her wedded life a good, confiding, loving, faithful woman. Yet so it was: the unutterable blackguard she had married, he it was who laboured to spoil her character, and succeeded at last, and drove her, unwilling at first, to other men. The news of his death was like a shower-bath; it roused her. She took counsel with herself, and hope revived in her strong head and miserable heart. She told Frank, and watched him like a hawk. He instantly fell on his knees, and implored her to marry him directly. She gave him her hand and turned away, and shed the most womanly tear that had blessed her for years. “I am not mad, you know,” said poor Frank; “I am only a bit of a muff.” To make a long story short, she exerted all her intelligence, and with her help Frank took measures towards superseding his Commission of Lunacy. Now, in such a case, the Lord Chancellor always examines the patient in person. What was the consequence? Instead of the vicarious old Wolf, who had been devouring him at third and fourth hand, Frank had two interviews with the Chancellor himself: a learned, grave, upright gentleman, who questioned him kindly and shrewdly and finding him to be a young man of small intellectual grasp, but not the least idiotic or mad, superseded his commission in defiance of his greedy kinsfolk, and handed him his property. He married Edith Archbold, and she made him as happy as the day was long. For the first year or two she treated his adoration with good-natured contempt; but, as years rolled on, she became more loving, and he more knowing! They are now a happy pair, and all between her first honest love, and this her last, seems to her a dream.

So you see a female rake can be ameliorated by a loving husband, as well as a male rake by a loving wife.

It sounds absurd, and will offend my female readers and their unchristian prejudices, but that black-browed jade is like to be one of the best wives and mothers in England. But then, mind you, she had always — Brains.

I do not exactly know why Horace puts together those two epithets, “just” and “tenacious of purpose.” Perhaps he had observed they go together. To be honest, I am not clear whether this is so on the grand scale. But certainly the two features did meet remarkably in one of my characters — Alfred Hardie. The day the bank broke, he had said he would pay the creditors. He now set to work to do it by degrees. He got the names and addresses, lived on half his income, and paid half away to those creditors: he even asked Julia to try and find Maxley out, and do something for him. “But don’t let me see him,” said he, trembling, “for I could not answer for myself.” Maxley was known to be cranky, but harmless, and wandering about the country. Julia wrote to Mr. Green about him:

Alfred’s was an uphill game; but fortune favours the obstinate as well as the bold. One day, about four years after his marriage with Julia, being in London, he found a stately figure at the corner of a street, holding out his hand for alms, too dignified to ask it except by that mute and touching gesture.

It was his father.

Then, as truly noble natures must forgive the fallen, Alfred was touched to the heart, and thought of the days of his childhood, before temptation came. “Father,” said he, “have you come to this?”

“Yes, Alfred,” said Richard composedly: “I undertook too many speculations, especially in land and houses; they seemed profitable at first, too; but now I am entirely hampered: if you would but relieve me of them, and give me a guinea a week to live on, I would forgive all your disobedient conduct.”

Alfred bit his lip, had a wrestle with the old Adam; and said gently, “Come home with me, sir.”

He took him to Barkington, bag and baggage; and his good Christian wife received the old man with delight; she had prayed day and night for this reconciliation. Finding his son so warm, and being himself as cool, Richard Hardie entrapped Alfred into an agreement, to board and lodge him, and pay him a guinea every Saturday at noon; in return for this Alfred was to manage Richard’s property, and pocket the profits, if any. Alfred assented: the old man chuckled at his son’s simplicity, and made him sign a formal agreement to that effect.

This done he used so sit brooding and miserable nearly all the week till guinea time came; and then brightened up a bit. One day Alfred sent for an accountant to look after his father’s papers, and see if matters were really desperate.

The accountant was not long at work, and told Alfred the accounts were perfectly clear, and kept in the most, admirable order. “The cash balance is L. 60,000,” said he, “and many of the rents are due. It is an agent you want, not an accountant.”

“What are you talking about? A balance of L. 60,000?” Alfred was stupefied.

The accountant, however, soon convinced him by the figures it was so.

Alfred went with the good news to his father.

His father went into a passion. “That is one side of the account, ye fool,” said he; “think of the rates, the taxes, the outgoings. You want to go from your bargain, and turn me on the world; but I have got you in black and white, tight, tight.”

Then Alfred saw the truth, and wondered at his past obtuseness.

His father was a monomaniac.

He consulted Sampson, and Sampson told him to increase the old man’s comforts on the sly, and pay him his guinea a week. “It’s all you can do for him.”

Then Alfred employed an agent, and received a large income from his father’s land and houses, and another from his consols. The old gentleman had purchased westward of Hyde Park Square, and had bought with excellent judgment till his mind gave way. Alfred never spent a farthing of it on himself: but he took some for his father’s creditors. “All justice is good,” said he, “even wild justice.” Some of these unhappy creditors he found in the workhouse; the Misses Lunley that survived were there, alas! He paid them their four thousand pounds, and restored them to society. The name of Hardie began to rise again from the dust.

Now, while Richard Hardie sat brooding and miserable, expecting utter ruin, and only brightening up on guinea day, Julia had a protege with equally false views but more cheerful ones. It was an old man with a silver beard, and a machine with which he stamped leather into round pieces of silver, in his opinion. Nothing could have shaken that notion out of his mind. Julia confirmed it. She let it be known that she would always cash five pieces of round leather from Mr. Matthews’ mint per day, and ten on Friday, when working men are poorest.

She contrived this with diabolical, no, angelical cunning, to save the old man from ridicule, and to do his soul much good. All souls were dear to her. What was the consequence? He went about with his mint, and relieved poor people, and gratified his mania at the same time. His face began to beam with benevolence and innocent self-satisfaction. On Richard Hardie’s all was cordage: and deep gloom sat on his ever-knitted brow.

Of these two men which was the rich man; he who had nothing, yet thought he possessed enough for himself and his neighbours: or he who rolled in wealth, but writhed under imaginary poverty?

One reflection more. Do not look to see Providence dash the cup of prosperity from every dishonest hand; or you will often be disappointed. Yet this, if you look closer, you shall often see: such a man holds the glittering cup tight, and nectar to the brim; but into that cup a shadowy hand squeezes some subtle ingredient, which turns that nectar to wormwood.

Richard Hardie died, his end being hastened by fear of poverty coming like an armed man, and his guinea a week going. Matthews met with an accident, and, being impervious to pain, but subject to death, was laid beside his poor mistress in St. Anne’s churchyard. Julia buried him, and had a headstone put to his grave; and, when this was done, she took her husband to see it. On that stone was fresh carved the true name of the deceased, James Maxley.

“I have done what you told me,” said Julia, her sweet voice trembling a little. Even she did not quite know how her husband would take it, or bear it.

“I know it,” said Alfred softly. “I saw who your Matthews was; but I could not speak of him, even to you.” He looked at the grave in silence.

Julia’s arms were round his neck in a moment, and her wet cheek consoling his.

“You have done right, my good Christian wife. I wish I was like you. My poor little Jenny!”

Richard Hardie’s papers were found in perfect order; and among them an old will leaving L. 14,000 to Edward Dodd.

On this being announced to Edward, he suggested that it was a fraud: Alfred had been at him for a long time with offers of money, and failing there, and being a fine impetuous fellow, had lost his temper and forged a will, in his, Edward’s, favour.

This scandalous defence broke down. The document was indisputable, and the magic sum was forced down Master Edward’s throat, nilly willy. Thus rose the Hard Cash a second time from the grave.

All this enabled the tenacious Alfred to carry out a deeply-cherished design. Hardie’s late bank had been made into a shop; but it belonged to Mrs. Dodd. He bought it of her, and set up the bank again, with Edward as managing partner. This just suited Edward, who sadly wanted employment. Hardie & Co. rose again, and soon wiped out the late disgraceful episode, and looked on to the past centuries of honour and good credit. No creditor of Richard Hardie was left unpaid. Alfred went in for politics; stood for Barkington, was defeated by seventeen: took it as a matter of course; told his friends he had never succeeded in anything at first; nor been beaten in the end; stood again, and became M. P. for Barkington, whence to dislodge him I pity any one who tries.

For a long time Mrs. Dodd was nervous, and used to wake with a start at night, and put out her hand to make sure David was not lost again. But this wore off.

For years the anniversary of that fatal day, when he was brought home on the stretcher, came back to them all as a day of gloom. But that wore off.

Sometimes the happiness of her family seemed incredible to her, remembering what they had all gone through. At first, their troubles were too terrible and recent to be discussed. But even that wore off, and they could talk of it all; and things bitter at the time became pleasant to remember.

One midsummer day they had all dined together rather early at Albion Villa, and sat on the lawn, with Mrs. Dodd’s boy and Julia’s boy and girl playing about these ladies’ knees. Now after a little silence, Mrs. Dodd, who had been thinking quietly of many things, spoke to them all, and said: “If my children and I had not been bosom-friends, we never should have survived that terrible time we have passed through, my dears. Make friends of your children, my child.”

“Ah, that I will!” said Julia; and caught up the nearest brat and kissed it impetuously: for Wifehood and Maternity had not unJulia’d her.

“It wasn’t only our being friends, mamma,” said Edward; “it was our sticking together so.”

In looking back on the story now ended, I incline to Mrs. Dodd’s conclusion. Almost my first word was that she and her children were bosom-friends; and my last is to congratulate them that it was so. Think of their various trials and temptations, and imagine what would have become of them if family love and unity had not abounded. Their little house was built on the sure foundation of true family affection: and so the winds of adversity descended, and the floods came, and burst upon that house, but could not prevail against it; it was founded on a rock.

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