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- Hard Cash - 1/145 -


Hard Cash

by Charles Reade

PREFACE

"HARD CASH," like "The Cloister and the Hearth," is a matter-of-fact Romance--that is, a fiction built on truths; and these truths have been gathered by long, severe, systematic labour, from a multitude of volumes, pamphlets, journals, reports, blue-books, manuscript narratives, letters, and living people, whom I have sought out, examined, and cross-examined, to get at the truth on each main topic I have striven to handle.

The madhouse scenes have been picked out by certain disinterested gentlemen, who keep private asylums, and periodicals to puff them; and have been met with bold denials of public facts, and with timid personalities, and a little easy cant about Sensation* Novelists; but in reality those passages have been written on the same system as the nautical, legal, and other scenes: the best evidence has been ransacked; and a large portion of this evidence I shall be happy to show at my house to any brother writer who is disinterested, and really cares enough for truth and humanity to walk or ride a mile in pursuit of them.

CHARLES READE.

6 BOLTON ROW, MAYFAIR, December 5, 1868.

*This slang term is not quite accurate as applied to me. Without sensation there can be no interest: but my plan is to mix a little character and a little philosophy with the sensational element.

HARD CASH

PROLOGUE

IN a snowy villa, with a sloping lawn, just outside the great commercial seaport, Barkington, there lived a few years ago a happy family. A lady, middle-aged, but still charming; two young friends of hers; and a periodical visitor.

The lady was Mrs. Dodd; her occasional visitor was her husband; her friends were her son Edward, aged twenty, and her daughter Julia, nineteen, the fruit of a misalliance.

Mrs. Dodd was originally Miss Fountain, a young lady well born, high bred, and a denizen of the fashionable world. Under a strange concurrence of circumstances she coolly married the captain of an East Indiaman. The deed done, and with her eyes open, for she was not, to say, in love with him, she took a judicious line--and kept it: no hankering after Mayfair, no talking about "Lord this" and "Lady that," to commercial gentlewomen; no amphibiousness. She accepted her place in society, reserving the right to embellish it with the graces she had gathered in a higher sphere. In her home, and in her person, she was little less elegant than a countess; yet nothing more than a merchant-captain's wife; and she reared that commander's children in a suburban villa, with the manners which adorn a palace. When they happen to be there. She had a bugbear; Slang. Could not endure the smart technicalities current; their multitude did not overpower her distaste; she called them "jargon"--"slang" was too coarse a word for her to apply to slang: she excluded many a good "racy idiom" along with the real offenders; and monosyllables in general ran some risk of' having to show their passports. If this was pedantry, it went no further; she was open, free, and youthful with her young pupils; and had the art to put herself on their level: often, when they were quite young, she would feign infantine ignorance, in order to hunt trite truth in couples with them, and detect, by joint experiment, that rainbows cannot, or else will not, be walked into, nor Jack-o'-lantern be gathered like a cowslip; and that, dissect we the vocal dog--whose hair is so like a lamb's--never so skilfully, no fragment of palpable bark, no sediment of tangible squeak, remains inside him to bless the inquisitive little operator, &c., &c. When they advanced from these elementary branches to Languages, History, Tapestry, and "What Not," she managed still to keep by their side learning with them, not just hearing them lessons down from the top of a high tower of maternity. She never checked their curiosity, but made herself share it; never gave them, as so many parents do, a white-lying answer; wooed their affections with subtle though innocent art, thawed their reserve, obtained their love, and retained their respect. Briefly, a female Chesterfield; her husband's lover after marriage, though not before; and the mild monitress the elder sister, the favourite companion and bosom friend of both her children.

They were remarkably dissimilar; and perhaps I may be allowed to preface the narrative of their adventures by a delineation; as in country churches an individual pipes the keynote, and the tune comes raging after.

Edward, then, had a great calm eye, that was always looking folk full in the face, mildly; his countenance comely and manly, but no more; too square for Apollo; but sufficed for John Bull. His figure it was that charmed the curious observer of male beauty. He was five feet ten; had square shoulders, a deep chest, masculine flank, small foot, high instep. To crown all this, a head, overflowed by ripples of dark brown hair, sat with heroic grace upon his solid white throat, like some glossy falcon new lighted on a Parian column.

This young gentleman had decided qualities, positive and negative. He could walk up to a five-barred gate and clear it, alighting on the other side like a fallen feather; could row all day, and then dance all night; could fling a cricket ball a hundred and six yards; had a lathe and a tool-box, and would make you in a trice a chair, a table, a doll, a nutcracker, or any other moveable, useful, or the very reverse. And could not learn his lessons, to save his life.

His sister Julia was not so easy to describe. Her figure was tall, lithe, and serpentine; her hair the colour of a horse-chestnut fresh from its pod; her ears tiny and shell-like, her eyelashes long and silky; her mouth small when grave, large when smiling; her eyes pure hazel by day, and tinged with a little violet by night. But in jotting down these details, true as they are, I seem to myself to be painting fire, with a little snow and saffron mixed on a marble pallet. There is a beauty too spiritual to be chained in a string of items; and Julia's fair features were but the china vessel that brimmed over with the higher loveliness of her soul. Her essential charm was, what shall I say? Transparence.

"You would have said her very body thought."

Modesty, Intelligence, and, above all, Enthusiasm, shone through her, and out of her, and made her an airy, fiery, household joy. Briefly, an incarnate sunbeam.

This one could learn her lessons with unreasonable rapidity, and until Edward went to Eton, would insist upon learning his into the bargain, partly with the fond notion of coaxing him on, as the company of a swift horse incites a slow one; partly because she was determined to share his every trouble, if she could not remove it. A little choleric, and indeed downright prone to that more generous indignation which fires at the wrongs of others. When heated with emotion, or sentiment, she lowered her voice, instead of raising it like the rest of us. She called her mother "Lady Placid," and her brother "Sir Imperturbable." And so much for outlines.

Mrs. Dodd laid aside her personal ambition with her maiden name; but she looked high for her children. Perhaps she was all the more ambitious for them, that they had no rival aspirant in Mrs. Dodd. She educated Julia herself from first to last: but with true feminine distrust of her power to mould a lordling of creation, she sent Edward to Eton, at nine. This was slackening her tortoise; for at Eton is no female master, to coax dry knowledge into a slow head. However, he made good progress in two branches--aquatics and cricket.

After Eton came the choice of a profession. His mother recognised but four; and these her discreet ambition speedily sifted down to two. For military heroes are shot now and then, however pacific the century; and naval ones drowned. She would never expose her Edward to this class of accidents. Glory by all means; glory by the pail; but safe glory, please; or she would none of it. Remained the church and the bar: and, within these reasonable limits, she left her dear boy free as air; and not even hurried--there was plenty of time to choose: he must pass through the university to either. This last essential had been settled about a twelvemonth, and the very day for his going to Oxford was at hand, when one morning Mr. Edward formally cleared his throat: it was an unusual act, and drew the ladies' eyes upon him. He followed the solemnity up by delivering calmly and ponderously a connected discourse, which astonished them by its length and purport. "Mamma, dear, let us look the thing in the face." (This was his favourite expression, as well as habit.) "I have been thinking it quietly over for the last six months. Why send me to the university? I shall be out of place there. It will cost you a lot of money, and no good. Now, you take a fool's advice; don't you waste your money and papa's, sending a dull fellow like me to Oxford. I did bad enough at _Eton._ Make me an engineer, or something. If you were not so fond of me, and I of you, I'd say send me to Canada, with a pickaxe; you know I have got no headpiece."

Mrs. Dodd had sat aghast, casting Edward deprecating looks at the close of each ponderous sentence, but too polite to interrupt a soul, even a son talking nonsense. She now assured him she could afford very well to send him to Oxford, and begged leave to remind him that he was too good and too sensible to run up bills there, like the young men who did not really love their parents. "Then, as for learning, why, we must be reasonable in our turn. Do the best you can, love. We know you have no great turn for the classics; we do not expect you to take high honours like young Mr. Hardie; besides, that might make your head ache: he has sad headaches, his sister told Julia. But, my dear, an university education is indispensable Do but see how the signs of it follow a gentleman through life, to say nothing of the valuable acquaintances and lasting friendships he makes there: even those few distinguished persons who have risen in the would without it, have openly regretted the want, and have sent their children: and _that_ says volumes to me."

"Why, Edward, it is the hall-mark of a gentleman," said Julia eagerly. Mrs. Dodd caught a flash of her daughter: "And my silver shall never be without it," said she warmly. She added presently, in her usual placid tone, "I beg your pardon, my dears, I ought to have said my gold." With this she kissed Edward tenderly on the brow, and drew an embrace and a little grunt of resignation from him. "Take the dear boy and show him our purchases, love!" said Mrs. Dodd, with a little gentle accent of half reproach, scarce perceptible to a male ear.

"Oh, yes," and Julia rose and tripped to the door. There she stood a moment, half turned, with arching neck, colouring with innocent pleasure. "Come, darling. Oh, you good-for- nothing thing."

The pair found a little room hard by, paved with china, crockery, glass, baths, kettles, &c.


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