It Is Never Too Late to Mend Part 164
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"Not I. I let him lie for whoever chose to own him."
"You let him lie? What, when there is a printed order from the government stuck over the whole mine that n.o.body is to leave carrion about! You go off directly and bury your carrion or you will get into trouble, young man." And the official's manner became harsh and threatening.
If ever a man was "shot like a dog," surely the a.s.sa.s.sin of Carlo was.
Mr. Meadows in the prison refused his food, and fell into a deep depression; but the third day he revived, and fell to scheming again. He sent to Mr. Levi and offered to give him a long lease of his old house if he would but be absent from the trial. This was a sore temptation to the old man. But meantime stronger measures were taken in his defense and without consulting him.
One evening that Susan and George were in the garden at Gra.s.smere, suddenly an old woman came toward them with slow and hesitating steps.
Susan fled at the sight of her--she hated the very name this old woman bore. George stood his ground, looking sheepish; the old woman stood before him trembling violently and fighting against her tears. She could not speak, but held out a letter to him. He took it, the ink was rusty, it was written twenty years ago; it was from his mother to her neighbor, Mrs. Meadows, then on a visit at Newborough, telling her how young John had fought for and protected her against a band of drunken ruffians, and how grateful she was.
"And I do hope, dame, he will be as good friends with my lads when they are men as you and I have been this many a day."
George did not speak for a long time. He held the letter, and it trembled a little in his hand. He looked at the old woman, standing a piteous, silent supplicant. "Mrs. Meadows," said he, scarce above a whisper, "give me this letter, if you will be so good. I have not got her handwriting, except our names in the Bible."
She gave him the letter half reluctantly, and looked fearfully and inquiringly in his face. He smiled kindly, and a sort of proud curl came for a moment to his lip, and the woman read the man. This royal rustic would not have taken the letter if he had not granted the mother's unspoken prayer.
"G.o.d bless you both!" said she, and went on her way.
The a.s.sizes came, and Meadows' two plaintiffs both were absent: Robinson gone to Australia, and George forfeited his recognizances and had, to pay a hundred pound for it. The defendants were freed. Then Isaac Levi said to himself, "He will not keep faith with me." But he did not know his man. Meadows had a conscience, though an oblique one. A promise from him was sacred in his own eyes. A man came to Gra.s.smere and left a hundred pound in a letter for George Fielding. Then he went on to Levi, and gave him a parcel and a note. The parcel contained the t.i.tle-deeds of the house; and the note said: "Take the house and the furniture and pay me what you consider they are worth. And, old man, I think you might take your curse off me, for I have never known a heart at rest since you laid it on me, and you see now our case is altered--you have a home now and John Meadows has none."
Then the old man was softened, and he wrote a line in reply, and said: "Three just men shall value the house and furniture, and I will pay, etc., etc. Put now adversity to profit--repent and prosper. Isaac Levi wishes you no ill from this day, but rather good." Thus died, as mortal feelings are apt to die, an enmity its owners thought immortal.
A steam-vessel glided down the Thames bound for Port Phillip. On the deck were to be seen a little girl crying bitterly--this was Hannah--a stalwart, yeoman-like figure, who stood unmoved as the sh.o.r.es glided by,
Omne solum forti patria,
and an old woman who held his arm as if she needed to feel him at the moment of leaving her native land. This old woman had hated and denounced his sins, and there was scarce a point of morality on which she thoroughly agreed with him. Yet at threescore years and ten she left her native land with two sole objects--to comfort this stout man, and win him to repentance.
"He shall repent," said she to herself. "Even now his eyes are opening, his heart is softening. Three times he has said to me, 'That George Fielding is a better man than I am.' He will repent. Again he said to me, I have thought too little of you, and too much where it was a sin for me even to look.' He will repent--his voice is softer--he bears no malice--he blames none but himself. It is never too late to mend. He will repent, and I shall see him happy and lay my old bones to rest contented, though not where I thought to lay them, in Gra.s.smere churchyard."
Ah, you do well to hold that quaint little old figure with that strong arm closer to you than you have done this many years, ay, since you were a curly-headed boy. It is a good sign, John; on neither side of the equator shall you ever find a friend like her.
"All other love is mockery and deceit.
'Tis like the mirage of the desert that appears A cool refres.h.i.+ng water, and allures The thirsty traveler, but flies anon And leaves him disappointed, wondering So fair a vision should so futile prove.
A mother's love is like unto a well Sealed and kept secret, a deep-hidden fount That flows when every other spring is dry."*
* Sophia Woodrooffe.
Peter Crawley, left to his own resources, practices at the County Courts in his old neighborhood, and drinks with all his clients, who are of the lowest imaginable order. He complains that "he can't peck," yet continues the cause of his infirmity, living almost entirely upon c.o.c.k-a-doodle broth--eggs beat up in brandy and a little water. Like Scipio, he is never less alone than when alone; with this difference, that the companions of P. C.'s solitude do not add to the pleasure of his existence. Unless somebody can make him see that it is never too late to mend, this little rogue, fool and sot will "shut up like a knife some day" (so says a medical friend), and then it will be too late.
It is nine in the evening. A little party is collected of farmers and their wives and daughters. Mrs. George Fielding rises and says, "Now I must go home." Remonstrance of hostess. "George will be at home by now."
"Well, wait till he comes for you."
"Oh, he won't come, for fear of shortening my pleasure."
Susan then explains that George is so foolish that he never will go into the house when she is not in it. "And here is a drizzle come on, and there he will be sitting out in it, I know, if I don't go and drive him in."
Events justify the prediction. The good wife finds her husband sitting on the gate kicking his heels quite contented and peaceable, only he would not pay the house the compliment of going into it when she was not there. He told her once he looked on it as no better than a coal-hole when she was not s.h.i.+ning up and down it.
N. B.--They have been some years married. A calm but very tender conjugal love sits at this innocent hearth.
George has made a great concession for an Englishman. He has solemnly deposited before witnesses his sobriquet of "Unlucky George," not (he was careful to explain) because he found the great nugget, nor because the meadow he bought in Bathurst for two hundred pounds has just been sold by Robinson for twelve thousand pounds, but on account of his being Susan's husband.
And Susan is very happy. Besides the pleasure of loving and being loved, she is in her place in creation. The cla.s.s of women (a very large one) to which she belongs comes into the world to make others happy. Susan is skillful at this and very successful. She makes everybody happy round her, "and that is _so_ pleasant." She makes the man she loves happy, and that is delightful.
My reader shall laugh at her; my unfriendly critic shall sneer at her.
As a heroine of a novel she deserves it; but I hope for their own sakes neither will undervalue the original in their pa.s.sage through life.
These average women are not the spice of fiction, but they are the salt of real life.
William Fielding is G.o.dfather to Susan's little boy.
He can stand by his brother's side and look without compunction on Anne Fielding's grave, and think without an unmanly shudder of his own.
END OF "IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO MEND."
It Is Never Too Late to Mend Part 164
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It Is Never Too Late to Mend Part 164 summary
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