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- Hard Cash - 145/145 -
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 un-Julia'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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