Court Royal/Chapter XXXVIII

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Court Royal by Sabine Baring-Gould
Chapter XXXVIII. Reformation
CHAPTER XXXVIII.
REFORMATION.

Since Joanna’s return from Court Royal Lodge a change for the better had been effected in the house of the Golden Balls. She had been firm with Lazarus, and he had yielded. She kept everything in good order; she refused peremptorily to have the kitchen and what belonged to the housekeeping department untidy and broken. She got white lime, mixed it herself, and with a pawned mason’s brush whitewashed the kitchen, the back kitchen, and her own attic bedroom. She mixed yellow ochre with the wash and coloured the walls. Where the slates in the floor were broken, she relaid them herself in cement of her own mixing. She stitched some muslin and made a blind for her window. She scrubbed the shelves and table in the kitchen with pumice-stone and soda, till the white deal shone like new. When work for the day was over, she laid a rug before the kitchen fire, brought the tea-table before it, threw over it a cloth, and put on it her lamp. She seated herself beside the stove, with the door open, so that the red light flickered over her knees and skirt, and white stockings and neat shoes, whilst the lamp irradiated her face and hands, intent and engaged on needlework.

Joanna had always been an energetic worker, never idle, but her work hitherto had been unsystematic, undirected, desultory; it was like her conscience, unsystematic, undirected, spasmodic in action. She had done what came to hand, and done it as the light of nature taught her. At Court Royal Lodge she had seen order, cleanliness, reduced to clockwork. She had learned that comfort was inseparable from both. Her feminine instinct for what is seemly and right was satisfied, and she was resolved, with the whole strength of her strong will, to reform the domestic arrangements at the Golden Balls.

She had several battles with Lazarus, but she was victorious along the line. The meals were better. He had made himself ill by the nastiness of the food he had eaten whilst she was away, and he was ready to yield a point in this particular, on her return, for his own health’s sake. She did not openly oppose him when she found she could carry her purpose by quiet persistence.

When in Plymouth—at his private money-lending office, at which he was present for some hours in the day, an office without name on the door or window, quite a private lodging, to all appearance—he was well dressed, that is in respectable clothes, without patches, without splits, not discoloured. On his return he dived at once into his bedroom, and re-emerged, the wretchedest of old ragmen. ‘It is in eating, Joanna, that clothes get spoiled. If we were angels, neither eating nor drinking, our clothes would never wear out. With the utmost care we cannot avoid speckling and splashing the cloth.’

‘Where are my house clothes?’ he asked one day, putting his head—only his head—out at the door. ‘I can’t find them anywhere, and I’ve been hunting for them high and low. I’ll catch my death of cold. Have you taken them to darn? Tell me. I am all of a shiver.’

‘I did take them,’ said Joanna; ‘but they are not fit for you to put on.’

‘Oh, for the matter of that, this is home, sweet home, and anything will do there. Joanna, be a dearie, and walk backwards with them, and pass them in at the door whilst I hold it ajar.’

‘I can’t—I’ve sold them.’

‘Sold them!’ cried the Jew. ‘Sold the very skin off my back! Oh, Joanna, I hope you had a good offer for them.’

‘I sold them as old rags, three pounds for a penny. There were not many pounds in them; you had worn them thread-bare.’

‘Oh, Joanna! what am I to do? Where is the money?’

She came towards the door.

‘I have it in my hand.’

He uttered a little scream, and drew in his head and shut the door. ‘Pass it under. Brrr! it is dreadfully raw! What am I to do for clothes?’

She stood outside, and heard him counting the coppers.

‘Very little, wretchedly little,’ he muttered. ‘You might almost as well have thrown the things away.’

‘That would have been against the principles on which I have been reared—never do anything for nothing.’

‘True doctrine,’ said the Jew, ‘I was speaking poetically. I strew flowers sometimes. It is my mind—ornate.’

Presently he called very loud, ‘Joanna! I say, Joanna!’

‘Well,’ she answered, ‘what do you want?’

‘I’m quivering like gold-leaf,’ he said plaintively through the door; ‘I can’t come out as I am.’

‘Put on again the suit you went out in.’

‘But I want my tea.’

‘What of that?’

‘It may drip. And bread and butter.’

‘Well?’

‘The little bits with butter on them may fall on my knees butter downwards, and stain me.’

‘I’ve made you a sort of blouse,’ said Joanna through the keyhole, ‘in which you can be respectable. You can slip it over your suit when you come in.’

‘But the seat, Joanna; the wear and tear there is sickening.’

‘I’ve cushioned your chair,’ she replied through the key-hole.

After a while Lazarus appeared, respectably dressed. Then the girl produced a smock she had made, and he drew it over his head.

‘I look rustic in it,’ he said; ‘but I see the idea—it will save clothes. I approve.’

The kitchen looked cosy with the lamp and fire, the hearth-rug, the tablecloth, and the tea-things, and with the curtain drawn.

‘It is beautiful, but expensive,’ said Lazarus. ‘Dear heart alive! you are burning the coals very fast.’

‘I’ve reckoned up, and find it cheapest to have a good fire,’ answered Joanna, ‘cheaper by sevenpence three farthings per night.’

‘How do you make that out?’ asked the Jew. ‘I’d be proud to know how spending can be converted into saving.’

‘I worked one night without fire,’ said Joanna in reply. ‘I worked at the coat-turning, and my fingers were so cold I could hardly hold the needle, and had to put them in my mouth to bring the feeling into them. The next evening I worked with fire, the same number of hours, at the same sort of work, and did half as much again with warm fingers. Then I ciphered it all up—so much done at so many hours, and coals, by measure, at fourteen shillings per ton, and I reckon I cleared sevenpence three farthings.’

‘Seven times eight makes fifty-six. Twelves in fifty-six, four and eight over. Seven farthings, one and three over. Penny three farthings from four-and-eight makes a total of four-and-sixpence farthing. Say twelve weeks of firing, that makes—twelve times four, forty-eight; twelve times six, six shillings; forty-eight and six make fifty-two. Why, Joanna, that is the clearing of two pounds twelve and three-pence per annum. At that rate you may burn coals and I will not grumble.’

‘There is nothing like thrift, is there, master?’

‘Ah,’ said the Jew, ‘talk of the beauties of nature! What I look to is the moral lessons it preaches. How many of your holiday-takers, who run over the sea cliffs, look at the thrift that covers them, and lay the flower to heart? I’m not one who approves of hoarding. Hoarding is a low and savage virtue, but Turning over is the cultured virtue. Turn your eggs and they don’t addle, but they won’t set. It is better with moneys. You can always restore the vital heat to them in your pocket, turn them over, and hatch out of them a pretty brood.’

Lazarus spread his hands before the fire, and the light played over his face. He smiled with satisfaction.

‘The domestic circle,’ said he to himself, or Joanna, or both, ‘is a very pleasant circle to him who is its centre. I only passed through it as the man in the circus goes through a hoop, and mine was on fire, and singed me. Nevertheless, I won’t say but——

He did not finish his sentence, and Joanna did not trouble herself to inquire what he intended to say.

‘I think a shave wouldn’t do you harm,’ she observed. ‘There is a frowsy growth on your upper lip like a neglected plantation.’

‘I’m going to grow a moustache,’ said the Jew. ‘I’m about to mark an epoch with it.’

‘You—you going to make yourself ridiculous?’

‘Not at all ridiculous. I’ve come to that period of life when a judicious growth of hair disguises the ravages of time.’

‘Pray, what is the epoch to be marked by a moustache?’ asked the girl.

Instead of answering the question directly, he sighed, stretched his legs and arms, and said, ‘I’m a lone, lorn widower.’

‘That ought not to trouble you much,’ observed Joanna. ‘You’ve been a grass widower long enough.’

‘That is just it, Joanna,’ said the Jew; ‘I’ve been in grass so long that I should like now to get into clover.’

‘Do you think of retiring from business?’ asked the girl.

‘Oh dear, no! I couldn’t live without it.’

‘Then you will allow me to spend more on housekeeping?’

He shook his head and hitched his shoulders uneasily. ‘I’m not inclined to launch out far yet,’ he said, with an intonation on the last word. ‘The time will soon come when it will be otherwise. I am going to foreclose on those Kingsbridge people. What is more, I’ve been about and seen some of the other mortgagees, and given them such a scare that I’ve no doubt they will do the same. I’ve got it into the Society papers, Joanna—published to the world that the great ironclad Duke is foundering. The beauty of my position is that I strike at the heart. I have my hold on Court Royal itself. They will sell anything rather than that; and if they once begin to sell, it will go like a forest on fire—there will be no stopping it.’

‘They will be beyond your reach when the marriage takes place,’ said Joanna.

‘I have put a spoke in that wheel. The marriage is broken off.’

Joanna was sincerely distressed. ‘I wish I had done nothing for you. I wish—I wish I had not!’

‘You have done everything for me,’ said Lazarus. ‘Through you I have ascertained who are the mortgagees, and who hold the bills, and I have been able to see and scare them all. Even the insurance company, that has the heaviest mortgage of all, is made uneasy. You may depend upon it, I have taken the pillars between my arms, and brought down the house upon the Philistines.’

Joanna burst into tears.

‘There, there,’ said the Jew, ‘you have been dazzled and bewitched by those aristocrats, like so many others. It is a short enchantment that will soon pass. Joanna, we will have a bloater for supper. Eh? soft roe! eh?’

Joanna held down her head, and the tears dropped on the work on which she was engaged. Lazarus looked at her with a peculiar expression in his eyes. Then he began to whistle plaintively to himself Azucena’s song in ‘Trovatore,’ ‘Homeward returning to our green mountain.’

Presently the girl looked up, saw him watching her, and something in his expression offended her, for she coloured, and said, ‘I did not know you were musical.’

‘I’m what you may call a many-sided man,’ answered the Jew, full of prismatic twinkle and colour. ‘You’ve only seen me under one aspect, and that the business one—appraising goods, whacking little boys, and scolding you. But there is more in me than you suppose. You’ve thought me hard, may be, but I’m like a sirloin of beef—I have my tender undercut. You’ve thought me cold, because I’m not given to blaze and crackle with emotion and sentiment, but I’m a slow combustion stove, lined with firebrick, and when alight I give out a lot of heat for my size. There are some men like the green-gage—all sweetness without, but the heart within is stony. There are others like the walnut, rugged and hard as to their exterior, but nutty and white and delicious when you get at their insides. Such, Joanna, am I.’

‘I’ve never tasted the nuttiness yet,’ said the girl.

‘But it is there.’ He shook his head. ‘Wait till my moustache is grown, and that Kingsbridge pack of cards is tossed about, and you’ll see wonders.’

‘I want to see no more of you than I am forced to,’ she muttered.

‘Oh, Joanna, don’t say that! I suppose now, taking all in all, that you have got a certain amount of liking for me.’

‘What do you mean by “taking all in all”? Do you mean taking your heap of greasy, patched clothes, and your frowsy face, and your long and dirty finger-nails, and your stingy habits, and the way you smack your lips over food that is palatable, and the way in which you are ogling me now—taking all this together I have a liking for you? No, nothing of the kind.’

‘Why do you say these offensive things, Joanna? We belong to each other like a pair of stockings; one can’t go on without the other.’

‘I think I could shift without you,’ said Joanna. ‘There is the bell; some one is at the door.’

A moment after Charles Cheek’s voice was heard in the passage.

‘Is the boss in? I want to see him. Not but what I wanted to see you also, Joanna; but that is a permanent craving.’

‘Here is Mr. Lazarus,’ said the girl, ushering the young man into the kitchen. ‘I’ve put him on a smock to keep him respectable.’

‘What do you want with me?’ asked Lazarus, with lowering brow and without a salutation.

‘This is a civil reception, is it not?’ exclaimed the young man. ‘What else can I want of you but money? I am cleaned out, and desire accommodation till my father relaxes. He is out of humour just now, and will send me no more than my allowance. As if a young fellow of spirit could live within his allowance!’

‘Why did you not come to my office at a proper time?’ asked Lazarus, almost rudely.

‘Because money-lending and money-taking are proper to you at all times.’

‘I can let you have no more. You have had abundance, and I shall lose what I have lent already.’

‘How much is that?’

‘I cannot tell till I have looked.’

‘Well, go and see.’

Lazarus rose reluctantly from his chair, and, taking a candle, lit it at the fire and went to his room. When Joanna saw that he was gone she drew near to Charles Cheek, and looking up in his face with a grave expression said, ‘Do not come here after money. Lazarus will ruin you.’

‘But I must have money. If my father will not find it, I must obtain it elsewhere.’

‘When did you see your father last?’

‘A century ago.’

‘Why do you see him so seldom?’

‘Because I am not partial to lectures on extravagance.’

‘You deserve them. Go to your father; tell him the truth; promise him to be more prudent.’

‘No use, Joanna. I cannot be prudent. It is not in me. I must spend, just as the sun emits light and the musk fragrance.’

‘Neither of these exhausts itself. You must not, you must not, indeed, come to Lazarus. I know how this works. In seven years I ought to know. It brings inevitably to ruin, and I would not have you come to that.’

‘Why not, Joey?’

‘Because I like you, Charlie.’

Both laughed. His impertinence had been met and cast back in his face.

‘Upon my word, Joanna, I wish you could take me in hand and manage me; then something might be made out of me.’

‘I cannot take that responsibility on me. I turn coats, not those who wear them. But I can advise you. I do entreat you to listen to me. I speak because you have been kind to me, and I do not meet with so much kindness as to be indifferent to those who show it me. I would like to see you out of Lazarus’s books. You can give him no security—only your note of hand. Do you consider what interest he takes on that? There—go home, see your father, tell him what you want; make no promises if you are too weak to keep them.’

‘I wish you would let me come here sometimes and ask you what I am to do when in a hobble. You have brains.’

‘Do what I ask you now, and you may. It is vain to expect help if you will not follow advice.’

‘Upon my word,’ said the young man, ‘I wish it were possible for me to make you Mrs. Charlie Cheek, and then, maybe, you would be able to make a man of me.’

‘Not possible,’ said Joanna.

‘Why not?’

‘The material is not present out of which to make a man.’

Then both laughed, but Charles Cheek laughed constrainedly, and coloured. She had cut him to the quick, but the cut did him good. He was a kindly, easy-disposed young man, without guile, marred by bad bringing up. He had one rare and excellent quality: he was humble and knew his own shortcomings. Joanna was wrong. With that, the making of a man was in him. Had he been conceited, it would not.

‘How much do you want?’ asked Lazarus, entering. He had heard them laugh, and supposed they had made a joke about him.

‘Nothing,’ answered the young man. ‘I have changed my mind. I’ll try my father again before I come to you, Blood-sucker!’