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- Hard Cash - 60/145 -


felt one chill of horror at himself for the thought--a passing chill.

He listened and listened, and by-and-bye he heard the slow feet recommence their journey, amidst sobs and sights; and those sorrowful feet, and the sobs and sighs of his causing, got fainter, and fainter, retreated, and left him in quiet possession of the L. 14,000 he had brought down to give it up: two minutes ago it was not worth as many pence to him.

He drew a long breath of relief. "It is mine; I am to keep it. It is the will of Heaven."

Poor Heaven!

He went to his bed again, and by a resolute effort composed himself and determined to sheep. And in fact he was just dropping off, when suddenly he started wide awake again: for it recurred to him vividly that a window in his house had opened while David was cursing him and demanding his children's money.

Whose window?

Half-a-dozen people and more slept on that side of the house.

Whose window could it be?

He walked among fires.

CHAPTER XXIV

NOT many days after this a crowd of persons stood in front of the old bank, looking half stupefied at the shutters, and at a piece of paper pasted on them announcing a suspension, only for a months or so, and laying the blame on certain correspondents not specified.

So great was the confidence inspired by the old bank, that many said it would come round, it must come round in a month: but other of Mr. Hardie's unfortunate clients recognised in the above a mere formula to let them down by degrees: they had seen many statements as hopeful end in a dividend of sixpence in the pound.

Before the day closed, the scene at the bank door was heart-rending: respectable persons, reduced to pauperism in that day, kept arriving and telling their fellow-sufferers their little all was with Hardie, and nothing before them but the workhouse or the almshouse: ruined mothers came and held up their ruined children for the banker to see; and the doors were hammered at, and the house as well as the bank was beleaguered by a weeping, wailing, despairing crowd.

But like an idle wave beating on a rock, all this human misery dashed itself in vain against the banker's brick walls and shutters, hard to them as his very heart

The next day they mobbed Alfred and hissed him at the back-door. Jane was too ashamed and too frightened to stir out. Mr. Hardie sat calmly putting the finishing strokes to his fabricated balance-sheet.

Some innocent and excited victims went to the mayor for redress; to the aldermen, the magistrates--in vain.

Towards afternoon the banker's cool contempt for his benefactors, whose lives he had darkened, received a temporary check. A heavy stone was flung at the bank shutters: this ferocious blow made him start and the place rattle: it was the signal for a shower; and presently tink, tink, went the windows of the house, and in came the stones, starring the mirrors, upsetting the chairs, denting the papered walls, chipping the mantelpieces, shivering the bell glasses and statuettes, and strewing the room with dirty pebbles, and painted fragments, and glittering ruin.

Hardie winced: this was the sort of appeal to touch him. But soon he recovered his _sang froid._ "Thank you," said he, "I'm much obliged to you; now I'm in the right and you are in the wrong." And he put himself under protection of the police; and fee'd them so royally that they were zealous on his behalf and rough and dictatorial even with those who thronged the place only to moan and lament and hold up their ruined children. "You _must_ move on, you Misery," said the police. And they were right: Misery gains nothing by stopping the way; nothing by bemoaning itself.

But if the banker, naturally egotistical, and now entirely wrapped in his own plans, and fears, and well-earned torments, was deaf to the anguish of his clients, there were others in his house who felt it keenly and deeply. Alfred and Jane were heart-broken: they sat hand in hand in a little room, drawn closer by misfortune, and heard the groans at their door; and the tears of pity ran down their own cheeks hot with shame; and Alfred wrote on the fly-leaf of his "Ethics" a vow to pay every shilling his father owed these poor people--before he died. It was like him, and like his happy age, at which the just and the generous can command, in imagination, the means to do kindred deeds.

Soon he found, to his horror, that he had seen but a small percentage of the distress his father had caused; the greater griefs, as usual, stayed at home. Behind the gadding woes lay a terrible number of silent, decent ruined homes and broken hearts, and mixed sorrows so unmerited, so complicated, so piteous, and so cruel, that he was ready to tear his hair, to know them and not be able to relieve them instantly.

Of that mere sample I give a mere sample: divine the bulk then; and revolve a page of human history often turned by the people, but too little studied by statisticians and legislators.

Mr. Esgar, a respectable merchant, had heavy engagements, to meet which his money lay at the old bank. Living at a distance, he did not hear the news till near dinner-time, and he had promised to take his daughters to a ball that night. He did so; left them there; went home, packed up their clothes and valuables, and next day levanted with them to America, taking all the money he could scrape together in London, and so he passed his ruin on to others. Esgar was one of those who wear their honesty long but loose: it was his first disloyal act in business. "Dishonesty made me dishonest," was his excuse. _Valeat quantum._

John Shaw, a steady footman, had saved and saved, from twenty-one years old to thirty-eight, for "Footman's Paradise," a public-house. He was now engaged to a comely barmaid, who sympathised with him therein, and he had just concluded a bargain for the "Rose and Crown" in the suburbs. Unluckily--for him--the money had not been paid over. The blow fell: he lost his all; not his money only, but his wasted life. He could not be twenty-one again; so he hanged himself within forty-eight hours, and was buried by the parish, grumbling a little, pitying none.

James and Peter Gilpin, William Scott, and Joel Paton, were poor fishermen and Anglo-Saxon heroes--that is, heroes with an eye to the main chance; they risked their lives at sea to save a ship and get salvage; failing there, they risked their lives all the same, like fine fellows as they were, to save the crew. They succeeded, but ruined their old boat. A subscription was raised, and prospered so, that a boat-builder built them a new one on tick, price L. 85; and the publicans said, "Drink, boys, drink; the subscription will cover all; it is up to L. 120 already." The subscription money was swallowed with the rest, and the Anglo-Saxon heroes hauled to prison.

Doctor Phillips, aged seventy-four, warned by growing infirmities, had sold a tidy practice, with house, furniture, and good-will, for a fair price, and put it in the bank, awaiting some investment. The money was gone now, and the poor old doctor, with a wife and daughter and a crutch, was at once a pauper and an exile: for he had sold under the usual condition, not to practise within so many miles of his successor. He went to that successor, and begged permission to be his assistant at a small, small salary. "I want a younger man," was the reply. Then he went round to his old patients, and begged a few half-guineas to get him a horse and chaise and keep him over the first month in his new place. They pitied him, but most of them were sufferers too by Hardie, and all they gave him did but buy a donkey and cart; and with that he and his went slowly and sadly to a village ten miles distant from the place where all his life had been spent in comfort and good credit. The poor old gentleman often looked back from his cart at the church spires of Barkington.

"From seventeen till now, almost fourscore, There lived he, but now lived there no more. At seventeen many their fortunes seek; But at fourscore it is too old a week."

Arrived at his village, he had to sell his donkey and trust to his crutch. And so Infirmity crept about begging leave to cure Disease--with what success may be inferred from this: Miss Phillips, a lady-like girl of eighteen, was taken up by Farmer Giles before Squire Langton for stealing turnips out of a field: the farmer was hard, and his losses in Hardie's Bank had made him bitter hard; so the poor girl's excuse, that she could not let her father starve, had no effect on him: to jail she should go.*

*I find, however, that Squire Langton resolutely refused to commit Miss Phillips. The real reason, I suspect, was, that he had a respect for the Gospel, and not much for the law, except those invaluable clauses which restrain poaching. The reason he gave was: "Turnips be hanged! If she hadn't eaten them, the fly would." However, he found means to muzzle Giles, and sent the old doctor two couple of rabbits.

Took to the national vice, and went to the national dogs, Thomas Fisher, a saving tinman, and a bachelor: so I expect no pity for him.

To the same goal, by the same road, dragging their families, went the Rev. Henry Scudamore, a curate; Philip Hall, a linen-draper; Neil Pratt, a shoemaker; Simon Harris, a greengrocer; and a few more; but the above were all prudent, laborious men, who took a friendly glass, but seldom exceeded, until Hardie's bankruptcy drove them to the devil of drink for comfort

Turned professional thief, Joseph Locke, working locksmith, who had just saved money enough to buy a shop and good-will, and now lost it every penny.

Turned atheist, and burnt the family Bible before his weeping wife and terrified children and gaping servant-girl, Mr. Williams, a Sunday-school teacher, known hitherto only as a mild, respectable man, a teetotaler, and a good parent and husband. He did not take to drinking; but he did to cursing, and forbade his own flesh and blood ever to enter a church again. This man became an outcast, shunned by all.

Three elderly sisters, the Misses Lunley, well born and bred, lived together on their funds, which, small singly, united made a decent competence. Two of them had refused marriage in early life for fear the third should fall into less tender hands than theirs. For Miss Blanche Lunley was a cripple: disorder of the spine had robbed her, in youth's very bloom, of the power not only to dance, as you girls do, but to walk or even stand upright, leaving her two active little hands, and a heart as nearly angelic as we are likely to see here on earth.


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