It Is Never Too Late to Mend
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It Is Never Too Late to Mend
by Charles Reade
This attempt at a solid fiction is, with their permission, dedicated
to the President, Fellows, and demies of St. Mary Magdalen College.
Oxford, by a grateful son of that ancient, learned, and most
GEORGE FIELDING cultivated a small farm in Berkshire.
This position is not so enviable as it was. Years ago, the farmers of
England, had they been as intelligent as other traders, could have
purchased the English soil by means of the huge percentage it offered
But now, I grieve to say, a farmer must be as sharp as his neighbors,
or like his neighbors he will break. What do I say? There are soils
and situations where, in spite of intelligence and sobriety, he is
almost sure to break; just as there are shops where the lively, the
severe, the industrious, the lazy, are fractured alike.
This last fact I make mine by perambulating a certain great street
every three months, and observing how name succeeds to name as wave to
Readers hardened by the _Times_ will not perhaps go so far as to
weep over a body of traders for being reduced to the average condition
of all other traders. But the individual trader, who fights for
existence against unfair odds, is to be pitied whether his shop has
plate glass or a barn door to it; and he is the more to be pitied when
he is sober, intelligent, proud, sensitive, and unlucky.
George Fielding was all these, who, a few years ago, assisted by his
brother William, filled "The Grove"--as nasty a little farm as any in
Discontented as he was, the expression hereinbefore written would have
seemed profane to young Fielding, for a farmer's farm and a sailor's
ship have always something sacred in the sufferer's eyes, though one
sends one to jail, and the other the other to Jones.
It was four hundred acres, all arable, and most of it poor sour land.
George's father had one hundred acres grass with it, but this had been
separated six years ago.
There was not a tree, nor even an old stump to show for this word
But in the country oral tradition still flourishes.
There had been trees in "The Grove," only the title had outlived the
timber a few centuries.
On the morning of our tale George Fielding might have been seen near
his own homestead, conversing with the Honorable Frank Winchester.
This gentleman was a character that will be common some day, but was
nearly unique at the date of our story.
He had not an extraordinary intellect, but he had great natural
gayety, and under that he had enormous good sense; his good sense was
really brilliant, he had a sort of universal healthy mind that I can't
understand how people get.
He was deeply in love with a lady who returned his passion, but she
was hopelessly out of his reach, because he had not much money or
expectations; instead of sitting down railing, or sauntering about
whining, what did me the Honorable Frank Winchester? He looked over
England for the means of getting this money, and not finding it there,
he surveyed the globe and selected Australia, where, they told him, a
little money turns to a deal, instead of dissolving in the hand like a
lozenge in the mouth, as it does in London.
So here was an earl's son (in this age of commonplace events) going to
Australia with five thousand pounds, as sheep farmer and general
He was trying hard to persuade George Fielding to accompany him as
bailiff or agricultural adviser and manager.
He knew the young man's value, but to do him justice his aim was not
purely selfish; he was aware that Fielding had a bad bargain in "The
Grove," and the farmer had saved his life at great personal risk one
day that he was seized with cramp bathing in the turbid waters of
Cleve millpool, and he wanted to serve him in return. This was not his
first attempt of the kind, and but for one reason perhaps he might
"You know me and I know you," said Mr. Winchester to George Fielding;
"I must have somebody to put me in the way. Stay with me one year, and
after that I'll square accounts with you about that thundering
"Oh! Mr. Winchester," said George, hastily and blushing like fire,
"that's an old story, sir?" with a sweet little half-cunning smile
that showed he was glad it was not forgotten.
"Not quite," replied the young gentleman dryly; "you shall have five
hundred sheep and a run for them, and we will both come home rich and
"It is a handsome offer, sir, and a kind offer and like yourself, sir,
but transplanting one of us," continued George, "dear me, sir, it's
like taking up an oak tree thirty years in the
ground--besides--besides--did you ever notice my cousin, Susanna,
"Notice her! why, do you think I am a heathen, and never go to the
parish church? Miss Merton is a lovely girl; she sits in the pew by
"Isn't she, sir?" said George.
Mr. Winchester endeavored to turn this adverse topic in his favor; he
made a remark that produced no effect at the time. He said, "People
don't go to Australia to die--they go to Australia to make money, and
come home and marry--and it is what you must do--this "Grove" is a
millstone round your neck. Will you have a cigar, farmer?"
George consented, premising, however, that hitherto he had never got
beyond a yard of clay, and after drawing a puff or two he took the
cigar from his mouth, and looking at it said, "I say, sir! seems to me
the fire is uncommon near the chimbly." Mr. Winchester laughed; he
then asked George to show him the blacksmith shop. "I must learn how
to shoe a horse," said the honorable Frank.
"Well, I never!" thought George. "The first nob in the country going
to shoe a horse," but with his rustic delicacy he said nothing, and
led Mr. Winchester to the blacksmith's shop.
While this young gentleman is hammering nails into a horse's hoof, and
Australia into an English farmer's mind, we must introduce other
Susanna Merton was beautiful and good. George Fielding and she were
acknowledged lovers, but marriage was not spoken of as a near event,
and latterly old Merton had seemed cool whenever his daughter
mentioned the young man's name.
Susanna appeared to like George, though not so warmly as he loved her;
but at all events she accepted no other proffers of love. For all that
she had, besides a host of admirers, other lovers besides George; and
what is a great deal more singular (for a woman's eye is quick as
lightning in finding out who loves her), there was more than one of
whose passion she was not conscious.
William Fielding, George's brother, was in love with his brother's
sweetheart, but though he trembled with pleasure when she was near
him, he never looked at her except by stealth; he knew he had no
business to love her.
On the morning of our tale Susan's father, old Merton, had walked over
from his farm to "The Grove," and was inspecting a field behind
George's house, when he was accosted by his friend, Mr. Meadows, who
had seen him, and giving his horse to a boy to hold had crossed the
stubbles to speak to him.
Mr. Meadows was not a common man, and merits some preliminary notice.
He was what is called in the country "a lucky man"; everything he had
done in life had prospered.
The neighbors admired, respected, and some of them even hated this
respectable man, who had been a carter in the midst of them, and now
at forty years of age was a rich corn-factor and land-surveyor.
"All this money cannot have been honestly got," said the envious ones
among themselves; yet they could not put their finger on any dishonest
action he had done. To the more candid the known qualities of the man
accounted for his life of success.
This John Meadows had a cool head, an iron will, a body and mind alike
indefatigable, and an eye never diverted from the great objects of
sober industrious men--wealth and respectability. He had also the
soul of business--method!
At one hour he was sure to be at church; at another, at market; in his
office at a third, and at home when respectable men should be at home.
By this means Mr. Meadows was always to be found by any man who wanted
to do business; and when you had found him, you found a man
superficially coy perhaps, but at bottom always ready to do business,
and equally sure to get the sunny side of it and give you the windy.
Meadows was generally respected; by none more than by old Merton, and
during the last few months the intimacy of these two men had ripened
into friendship; the corn-factor often hooked his bridle to the old
farmer's gate, and took a particular interest in all his affairs.
Such was John Meadows.
In person he was a tall, stout man, with iron gray hair, a healthy,
weather-colored complexion, and a massive brow that spoke to the depth
and force of the man's character.
"What, taking a look at the farm, Mr. Merton? It wants some of your
grass put to it, doesn't it?"
"I never thought much of the farm," was the reply, "it lies cold; the
sixty-acre field is well enough, but the land on the hill is as poor
Now this idea, which Merton gave out as his, had dropped into him from
Meadows three weeks before.
"Farmer," said Meadows, in an undertone, "they are thrashing out new
wheat for the rent."
"You don't say so? Why I didn't hear the flail going."
"They have just knocked off for dinner--you need not say I told you,
but Will Fielding was at the bank this morning, trying to get money on
their bill, and the bank said No! They had my good word, _too_. The
people of the bank sent over to me."
They had his good word! but not his good tone! he had said. "Well,
their father was a safe man;" but the accent with which he eulogized
the parent had somehow locked the bank cash-box to the children.
"I never liked it, especially of late," mused Merton. "But you see the
young folk being cousins--"
"That is it, cousins," put in Meadows; "it is not as if she loved him
with all her heart and soul; she is an obedient daughter, isn't she?"
"Never gainsaid me in her life; she has a high spirit, but never with
me; my word is law. You see, she is a very religious girl, is Susan."
"Well, then, a word from you would save her--but there--all that is
your affair, not mine," added he.
"Of course it is," was the reply. "You are a true friend. I'll step
round to the barn and see what is doing." And away went Susan's father
uneasy in his mind.
Meadows went to the "Black Horse," the village public house, to see
what farmers wanted to borrow a little money under the rose, and would
pawn their wheat ricks, and pay twenty per cent for that overrated
At the door of the public-house he was met by the village constable,
and a stranger of gentlemanly address and clerical appearance. The
constable wore a mysterious look and invited Meadows into the parlor
of the public-house.
"I have news for you, sir," said he, "leastways I think so; your
pocket was picked last Martinmas fair of three Farnborough bank-notes
with your name on the back."
"Is this one of them?" said the man, producing a note.
Meadows examined it with interest, compared the number with a
memorandum in his pocketbook, and pronounced that it was.
"Who passed it?" inquired he.
"A chap that has got the rest--a stranger--Robinson--that lodges at
"The Grove" with George Fielding; that is, if his name is Robinson,
but we think he is a Londoner come down to take an airing. You
Meadows' eyes flashed actual fire. For so rich a man, he seemed
wonderfully excited by this circumstance.
To an inquiry who was his companion, the constable answered _sotto
voce_, "Gentleman from Bow Street, come to see if he knows him."
The constable went on to inform Meadows that Robinson was out fishing
somewhere, otherwise they would already have taken him; "but we will
hang about the farm, and take him when he comes home."
"You had better be at hand, sir, to identify the notes," said the
gentleman from Bow Street, whose appearance was clerical.
Meadows had important business five miles off; he postponed it. He
wrote a line in pencil, put a boy upon his black mare, and hurried him
off to the rendezvous, while he stayed and entered with strange
alacrity into this affair. "Stay," cried he, "if he is an old hand he
will twig the officer."
"Oh, I'm dark, sir," was the answer; "he won't know me till I put the
darbies on him."
The two men then strolled as far as the village stocks, keeping an eye
ever on the farm-house.
Thus a network of adverse events was closing round George Fielding
He was all unconscious of them; he was in good spirits. Robinson had
showed him how to relieve the temporary embarrassment that had lately
"Draw a bill on your brother," said Robinson, "and let him accept it.
The Farnborough Bank will give you notes for it. These country banks
like any paper better than their own. I dare say they are right."
George had done this, and expected William every minute with this and
other moneys. And then Susanna Merton was to dine at "The Grove"
to-day, and this, though not uncommon, was always a great event with
Dilly would not come to be killed just when he was wanted. In other
words, Robinson, who had no idea how he was keeping people waiting,
fished tranquilly till near dinner-time, neither taking nor being
This detained Meadows in the neighborhood of the farm, and was the
cause of his rencontre with a very singular personage, whose visit he
knew at sight must be to him.
As he hovered about among George Fielding's ricks, the figure of an
old man slightly bowed but full of vigor stood before him. He had a
long gray beard with a slight division in the center, hair abundant
but almost white, and a dark, swarthy complexion that did not belong
to England; his thick eyebrows also were darker than his hair, and
under them was an eye like a royal jewel; his voice had the Oriental
richness and modulation--this old man was Isaac Levi; an Oriental Jew
who had passed half his life under the sun's eye, and now, though the
town of Farnborough had long been too accustomed to him to wonder at
him, he dazzled any thoughtful stranger; so exotic and apart was
he--so romantic a grain in a heap of vulgarity--he was as though a
striped jasper had crept in among the paving-stones of their
marketplace, or a cactus grandiflora shone among the nettles of a
Isaac Levi, unlike most Jews, was familiar with the Hebrew tongue, and
this and the Eastern habits of his youth colored his language and his
thoughts, especially in his moments of emotion, and above all, when he
forgot the money-lender for a moment, and felt and thought as one of a
great nation, depressed, but waiting for a great deliverance. He was a
man of authority and learning in his tribe.
At sight of Isaac Levi Meadows' brow towered, and he called out rather
rudely without allowing the old gentleman to speak, "If you are come
to talk to me about that house you are in you may keep your breath to
cool your porridge."
Meadows had bought the house Isaac rented, and had instantly given him
warning to leave.
Isaac, who had become strangely attached to the only place in which he
had ever lived many years, had not doubted for a moment that Meadows
merely meant to raise the rent to its full value, so he had come to
treat with his new landlord. "Mr. Meadows," said he persuasively, "I
have lived there twenty years--I pay a fair rent--but, if you think
any one would give you more you shall lose nothing by me--I will pay a
little more; and you know your rent is secure?"
"I do," was the answer.
"Thank you, sir! well, then--"
"Well, then, next Lady-day you turn out bag and baggage.
"Nay, sir," said Isaac Levi, "hear me, for you are younger than I. Mr.
Meadows, when this hair was brown I traveled in the East; I sojourned
in Madras and Benares, in Bagdad, Ispahan, Mecca and Bassora, and
found no rest. When my hair began to turn gray, I traded in Petersburg
and Rome and Paris, Vienna and Lisbon and other western cities and
found no rest. I came to this little town, where, least of all, I
thought to pitch my tent for life, but here the God of my fathers gave
me my wife, and here He took her to Himself again--"
"What the deuce is all this to me, man?"
"Much, sir, if you are what men say; for men speak well of you; be
patient, and hear me. Two children were born to me and died from me in
the house you have bought; and there my Leah died also; and there at
times in the silent hours I seem to hear their voices and their feet.
In another house I shall never hear them--I shall be quite alone. Have
pity on me, sir, an aged and a lonely man; tear me not from the
shadows of my dead. Let me prevail with you?"
"No!" was the stern answer.
"No?" cried Levi, a sudden light darting into his eye; "then you must
be an enemy of Isaac Levi?"
"Yes!" was the grim reply to this rapid inference.
"Aha!" cried the old Jew, with a sudden defiance, which he instantly
suppressed. "And what have I done to gain your enmity, sir?" said he,
in a tone crushed by main force into mere regret.
"You lend money."
"A little, sir, now and then--a very little."
"That is to say, when the security is bad, you have no money in hand;
but when the security is good, nobody has ever found the bottom of
Isaac Levi's purse."
"Our people," said Isaac apologetically, "can trust one another--they
are not like yours. We are brothers, and that is why money is always
forthcoming when the deposit is sound."
"Well," said Meadows, "what you are, I am; what I do on the sly you do
on the sly, old thirty per cent."
"The world is wide enough for us both, good sir--"
"It is!" was the prompt reply. "And it lies before you, Isaac. Go
where you like, for the little town of Farnborough is not wide enough
for me and any man that works my business for his own pocket--"
"But this is not enmity, sir."
Meadows gave a coarsish laugh. "You are hard to please," cried he. "I
think you will find it is enmity."
"Nay! sir, this is but matter of profit and loss. Well, let me stay,
and I promise you shall gain and not lose. Our people are industrious
and skillful in all bargains, but we keep faith and covenant. So be
it. Let us be friends. I covenant with you, and I swear by the tables
of the law, you shall not lose one shilling per annum by me."
"I'll trust you as far as I can fling a bull by the tail. You gave me
your history--take mine. I have always put my foot on whatever man or
thing has stood in my way. I was poor, I am rich, and that is my
"It is frail policy," said Isaac, firmly. "Some man will be sure to
put his foot on you, soon or late."
"What, do you threaten me?" roared Meadows.
"No, sir," said Isaac, gently but steadily. "I but tell you what these
old eyes have seen in every nation, and read in books that never lie.
Goliath defied armies, yet he fell like a pigeon by a shepherd-boy's
sling. Samson tore a lion in pieces with his hands, but a woman laid
him low. No man can defy us all, sir! The strong man is sure to find
one as strong and more skillful; the cunning man one as adroit and
stronger than himself. Be advised, then, do not trample upon one of my
people. Nations and men that oppress us do not thrive. Let me have to
bless you. An old man's blessing is gold. See these gray hairs. My
sorrows have been as many as they. His share of the curse that is upon
his tribe has fallen upon Isaac Levi." Then, stretching out his hands
with a slight but touching gesture, he said, "I have been driven to
and fro like a leaf these many years, and now I long for rest. Let me
rest in my little tent, till I rest forever. Oh! let me die where
those I loved have died, and there let me be buried."
Age, sorrow, and eloquence pleaded in vain, for they were wasted on
the rocks of rocks, a strong will and a vulgar soul. But indeed the
whole thing was like epic poetry wrestling with the _Limerick
Chronicle_ or _Tuam Gazette_.
I am almost ashamed to give the respectable western brute's answer.
"What! you quote Scripture, eh? I thought you did not believe in that.
Hear t'other side. Abraham and Lot couldn't live in the same place,
because they both kept sheep, and we can't, because we fleece 'em. So
Abraham gave Lot warning as I give it you. And as for dying on my
premises, if you like to hang yourself before next Lady-day, I give
you leave, but after Lady-day no more Jewish dogs shall die in my
house nor be buried for manure in my garden."
Black lightning poured from the old Jew's eyes, and his pent-up wrath
burst out like lava from an angry mountain.
"Irreverent cur! do you rail on the afflicted of Heaven? The Founder
of your creed would abhor you, for He, they say, was pitiful. I spit
upon ye, and I curse ye. Be accursed!" And flinging up his hands, like
St. Paul at Lystra, he rose to double his height and towered at his
insulter with a sudden Eastern fury that for a moment shook even the
iron Meadows. "Be accursed!" he yelled again. "Whatever is the secret
wish of your black heart Heaven look on my gray hairs that you have
insulted, and wither that wish. Ah, ah!" he screamed, "you wince. All
men have secret wishes--Heaven fight against yours. May all the good
luck you have be wormwood for want of that--that---that--that. May
you be near it, close to it, upon it, pant for it, and lose it; may it
sport, and smile, and laugh, and play with you till Gehenna burns your
soul upon earth!"
The old man's fiery forked tongue darted so keen and true to some sore
in his adversary's heart that he in turn lost his habitual
White and black with passion he wheeled round on Isaac with a fierce
snarl, and lifting his stick discharged a furious blow at his head.
Fortunately for Isaac wood encountered leather instead of gray hairs.
Attracted by the raised voices, and unseen in their frenzy by either
of these antagonists, young George Fielding had drawn near them. He
had, luckily, a stout pig-whip in his hand, and by an adroit turn of
his muscular wrist he parried a blow that would have stopped the old
Jew's eloquence perhaps forever. As it was, the corn-factor's stick
cut like a razor through the air, and made a most musical whirr within
a foot of the Jew's ear. The basilisk look of venom and vengeance he
instantly shot back amounted to a stab.
"Not if I know it," said George. And he stood cool and erect with a
calm manly air of defiance between the two belligerents. While the
stick and the whip still remained in contact, Meadows glared at
Isaac's champion with surprise and wrath, and a sort of half fear half
wonder that this of all men in the world should be the one to cross
weapons with and thwart him. "You are joking, Master Meadows," said
George coolly. "Why the man is twice your age, and nothing in his hand
but his fist. Who are ye, old man, and what d'ye want? It's you for
"He insults me," cried Meadows, "because I won't have him for a tenant
against my will. Who is he? A villainous old Jew."
"Yes, young man," said the other, sadly, "I am Isaac Levi, a Jew. And
what is your religion" (he turned upon Meadows)? "It never came out of
Judea in any name or shape. D'ye call yourself a heathen? Ye lie, ye
cur; the heathen were not without starlight from heaven; they
respected sorrow and gray hairs."
"You shall smart for this. I'll show you what my religion is," said
Meadows, inadvertent with passion, and the corn-factor's fingers
grasped his stick convulsively.
"Don't you be so aggravating, old man," said the good-natured George,
"and you, Mr. Meadows, should know how to make light of an old man's
tongue; why it's like a woman's, it's all he has got to hit with;
leastways you mustn't lift hand to him on my premises, or you will
have to settle with me first; and I don't think that would suit your
book or any man's for a mile or two round about Farnborough," said
George with his little Berkshire drawl.
"He!" shrieked Isaac, "he dare not! see! see!" and he pointed nearly
into the man's eye, "he doesn't look you in the face. Any soul that
has read men from east to west can see lion in your eye, young man,
and cowardly wolf in his."
"Lady-day! Lady-day!" snorted Meadows, who was now shaking with
"Ah!" cried Isaac, and he turned white and quivered in his turn.
"Lady-day!" said George, uneasily, "Confound Lady-day, and every day
of the sort--there, don't you be so spiteful, old man--why if he isn't
all of a tremble. Poor old man." He went to his own door, and called
A stout servant-girl answered the summons.
"Take the old man in, and give him whatever is going, and his mug and
pipe," then he whispered her, "and don't go lumping the chine down
under his nose now."
"I thank you, young man," faltered Isaac, "I must not eat with you,
but I will go in and rest my limbs which fail me, and compose myself;
for passion is unseemly at my years."
Arrived at the door, he suddenly paused, and looking upward, said:
"Peace be under this roof, and comfort and love follow me into this
"Thank ye kindly," said young Fielding, a little surprised and touched
by this. "How old are you, daddy, if you please?" added he
"My son, I am threescore years and ten--a man of years and
grief--grief for myself, grief still more for my nation and city. Men
that are men pity us; men that are dogs have insulted us in all ages."
"Well," said the good-natured young man soothingly--"don't you vex
yourself any more about it. Now you go in, and forget all your trouble
awhile, please God, by my fireside, my poor old man."
Isaac turned, the water came to his eyes at this after being insulted
so; a little struggle took place in him, but nature conquered
prejudice and certain rubbish he called religion. He held out his hand
like the king of all Asia; George grasped it like an Englishman.
"Isaac Levi is your friend," and the expression of the man's whole
face and body showed these words carried with them a meaning unknown
in good society.
He entered the house, and young Fielding stood watching him with a
Now Isaac Levi knew nothing about the corn-factor's plans. When at one
and the same moment he grasped George's hand, and darted a long,
lingering glance of demoniacal hatred on Meadows, he coupled two
sentiments by pure chance. And Meadows knew this; but still it struck
Meadows as singular and ominous.
When, with the best of motives, one is on a wolf's errand, it is not
nice to hear a hyena say to the shepherd's dog, "I am your friend,"
and see him contemptuously shoot the eye of a rattlesnake at one's
The misgiving, however, was but momentary; Meadows respected his own
motives and felt his own power; an old Jew's wild fury could not shake
He muttered, "One more down to your account, George Fielding," and
left the young man watching Isaac's retreating form.
George, who didn't know he was gone, said:
"Old man's words seem to knock against my bosom, Mr. Meadows--Gone,
eh?--that man," thought George Fielding, "has everybody's good word,
parson's and all--who'd think he'd lift his hand, leastways his stick
it was and that's worse, against a man of three score and
upward--Ugh!" thought George Fielding, yeoman of the midland
counties--and unaffected wonder mingled with his disgust.
His reverie was broken by William Fielding just ridden in from
"Better late than never," said the elder brother, impatiently.
"Couldn't get away sooner, George; here's the money for the sheep, 13
pounds 10s.; no offer for the cow, Jem is driving her home."
"Well, but the money--the 80 pounds, Will?"
William looked sulkily down.
"I haven't got it, George! There's your draft again, the bank wouldn't
A keen pang shot across George's face, as much for the affront as the
"They wouldn't take it?" gasped he. "Ay, Will, our credit is down, the
whole town knows our rent is overdue. I suppose you know money
_must_ be got some way."
"Any way is better than threshing out new wheat at such a price," said
William sullenly. "Ask a loan of a neighbor."
"Oh, Will," appealed George, "to ask a loan of a neighbor, and be
denied--it is bitterer than death. _You_ can do it."
"I! Am I master here?" retorted the younger. "The farm is not farmed
my way, nor ever was. No! Give me the plow-handle and I'll cut the
"No doubt, no doubt!" said the other, very sharply, "you'd like to
draw the land dry with potato crops, and have fourscore hogs snoring
in the farmyard; that's your idea of a farm. Oh! I know you want to be
elder brother. Well, I tell'ee what do; you kill me first, Bill
Fielding, and then you will be elder brother, and not afore."
Here was a pretty little burst of temper! We have all our sore part.
"So be it, George!" replied William, "you got us into the mud, elder
brother, you get us out of the mire!"
George subdued his tone directly.
"Who shall I ask?" said he, as one addressing a bosom counselor.
"Uncle Merton, or--or---Mr. Meadows the corn-factor; he lends money at
times to friends. It would not be much to either of them."
"Show my empty pockets to Susanna's father! Oh, Will! how can you be
"No use for me, I've just offended him a hit; beside he's a man that
never knew trouble or ill luck in his life; they are like flints, all
"Well, look here, I'm pretty well with Meadows. I'll ask him if you
will try uncle; the first that meets his man to begin."
"That sounds fair," said George, "but I can't--well--yes," said he,
suddenly changing his mind. "I agree," said he, with simple cunning,
and lowered his eyes; but suddenly raising them, he said cheerfully,
"Why, you're in luck, Bill; here's your man," and he shot like an
arrow into his own kitchen.
"Confound it," said the other, fairly caught.
Meadows, it is to be observed, was wandering about the premises until
such time as Robinson should return; and while the brothers were
arguing, he had been in the barn, and finding old Merton there had
worked still higher that prudent man's determination to break off
matters between his daughter and the farmer of "The Grove."
After the usual salutations William Fielding, sore against the grain,
"I did not know you were here, sir! I want to speak to you."
"I am at your service, Mr. Willum."
"Well, sir. George and I are a little short just at present; it is
only for a time, and George says he should take it very kind if you
would lend us a hundred pound, just to help us over the stile."
"Why, Mr. Willum," replied Meadows, "I should be delighted, and if you
had only asked me yesterday, I could have done it as easy as stand
here; but my business drinks a deal of money, Mr. Willum, and I laid
out all my loose cash yesterday; but, of course, it is of no
consequence--another time--good morning, Mr. Willum."
Away sauntered Meadows, leaving William planted there, as the French
George ran out of the kitchen.
"He says he has got no money loose."
"He is a liar! he paid 1,600 pounds into the bank yesterday, and you
knew it; didn't you tell him so?"
"No; what use? A man that lies to avoid lending won't be driven to
"You don't play fair," retorted George. "You could have got it from
Meadows, if you had a mind; but you want to drive your poor brother
against his sweetheart's father; you are false, my lad."
"You are the only man that ever said so; and you durstn't say it if
you weren't my brother."
"If it wasn't for that, I'd say a deal more."
"Well, show your high stomach to Uncle Merton, for there he is.
Hy!--uncle!" cried William to Merton, who turned instantly and came
toward them. "George wants to speak to you," said William, and shot
like a cross-bow bolt behind the house.
"That is lucky," said Merton, "for I want to speak to you."
"Who would have thought of his being about?" muttered George.
While George was calling up his courage and wits to open his subject,
Mr. Merton, who had no such difficulties, was beforehand with him.
"You are threshing out new wheat?" said Merton, gravely.
"Yes," answered George, looking down.
"That is a bad lookout; a farmer has no business to go to his barn
door for his rent."
"Where is he to go, then? to the church door, and ask for a miracle?"
"No; to his ship-fold, to be sure."
"Ay! you can; you have got grass and water and everything to hand."
"And so must you, young man, or you'll never be a farmer. Now, George,
I must speak to you seriously" (George winced).
"You are a fine lad, and I like you very well, but I love my own
"So do I!" said George simply.
"And I must look out for her," resumed Merton. "I have seen a pretty
while how things are going here, and if she marries you she will have
to keep you instead of you her."
"Heaven forbid! Matters are not so bad as that, uncle."
"You are too much of a man, I hope," continued Merton, "to eat a
woman's bread; and if you are not, I am man enough to keep the girl
"These are hard words to bear," gasped George. "So near my own house,
"Well, plain speaking is best when the mind is made up," was the
"Is this from Susanna, as well as you?" said George, with a trembling
lip, and scarce able to utter the words.
"Susan is an obedient daughter. What I say she'll stand to; and I hope
you know better than to tempt her to disobey me; you wouldn't
"Enough said," answered George very sternly. "Enough said, old man;
I've no need to tempt any girl."
"Good morning, George!" and away stumped Merton.
"Good morning, uncle! (ungrateful old thief)."
"William," cried he, to his brother, who came the next minute to hear
the news, "our mother took him out of the dirt.--I have heard her say
as much--or he'd not have a ship-fold to brag of. Oh! my heart--oh!
"Well, will he lend the money?"
"I never asked him."
"You never asked him!" cried William.
"Bill, he began upon me in a moment," said George, looking appealingly
into his brother's face; "he sees we are going down hill, and he as
good as bade me think no more of Susan."
"Well," said the other, harshly, "it was your business to own the
truth and ask him help us over the stile--he's our own blood."
"You want to let me down lower than I would let that Carlo dog of
yours. You're no brother of mine," retorted George fiercely and
"A bargain is a bargain," replied the other sullenly: "I asked
Meadows, and he said No. You fell talking with uncle about Susan, and
never put the question to him at all. Who is the false one, eh?"
"If you call me false, I'll knock your ugly head off, sulky Bill."
"You're false, and a fool into the bargain, bragging George!"
"What, you will have it, then?"
"If you can give it me."
"Well, if it is to be," said George, "I'll give you something to put
you on your mettle. The best man shall farm 'The Grove,' and the other
shall be a servant on it, or go elsewhere, for I am sick of this."
"And so am I!" cried William, hastily; "and have been any time this
They tucked up their sleeves a little, shook hands, and then retired
each one step, and began to fight.
And how came these two honest men to forget that the blood they
proposed to shed was thicker than water? Was it the farm, money,
agricultural dissension, temper? They would have told you it was, and
perhaps thought it was. It was Susanna Merton!
The secret subtle influence of jealousy had long been fermenting, and
now it exploded in this way and under this disguise.
Ah! William Fielding, and all of you, "Beware of jealousy"--cursed
jealousy! it is the sultan of all the passions, and the Tartar chief
of all the crimes. Other passions affect the character; this changes,
and, if good, always reverses it! Mind that, reverses it! turns honest
men to snakes, and doves to vultures. Horrible unnatural mixture of
Love with Hate--you poison the whole mental constitution--you bandage
the judgment--you crush the sense of right and wrong--you steel the
bowels of compassion--you madden the brain--you corrupt the heart--you
damn the soul.
The Fieldings, then, shook hands mechanically, and receding each a
step began to spar.
Each of these farmers fancied himself slightly the best man; but they
both knew they had an antagonist with whom it would not do to make the
They therefore sparred and feinted with wary eye before they ventured
to close; George, however, the more impetuous, was preparing to come
to closer quarters when all of a sudden, to the other's surprise, he
dropped his hands by his sides, and turned the other way with a face
anything but warlike, fear being now the prominent expression.
William followed the direction of his eye, and then William partook
his brother's uneasiness; however, he put his hands in his pockets,
and began to saunter about, in a circumference of three yards, and to
get up a would-be-careless whistle, while George's hands became
dreadfully in his way, so he washed them in the air.
While they were employed in this peaceful pantomime a beautiful young
woman glided rapidly between the brothers.
Her first words renewed their uneasiness.
"What is this?" cried she, haughtily, and she looked from one to the
other like a queen rebuking her subjects.
George looked at William--William had nothing ready.
So George said, with some hesitation, but in a mellifluous voice,
"William was showing me--a trick--he learned at the fair--that is all,
"That is a falsehood, George," replied the lady, "the first you ever
told me"--(George colored)--"you were fighting, you two boys--I saw
your eyes flash!"
The rueful wink exchanged by the combatants at this stroke of sagacity
was truly delicious.
"Oh, fie! oh, fie! brothers by one mother fighting--in a Christian
land--within a stone's throw of a church, where brotherly love is
preached as a debt we owe to strangers, let alone our own blood."
"Yes! it is a sin, Susan," said William, his conscience suddenly
illuminated. "So I ask _your_ pardon, Susanna."
"Oh! it wasn't your fault, I'll be bound," was the gracious reply.
"What a ruffian you must be, George, to shed your brother's blood."
"La! Susan," said George, with a doleful whine, "I wasn't going to
shed the beggar's blood. I was only going to give him a hiding for his
"Or take one for your own," replied William coolly.
"That is more likely," said Susan. "George, take William's hand; take
it this instant, I say," cried she, with an air imperative and
"Well, why not? don't you go in a passion, Susan, about nothing," said
They took hands; she made them hold one another by the hand, which
they did with both their heads hanging down. "While I speak a word to
you two," said Susan Merton.
"You ought both to go on your knees, and thank Providence that sent me
here to prevent so great a crime; and as for you, your character must
change greatly, George Fielding, before I trust myself to live in a
house of yours."
"Is all the blame to fall on my head?" said George, letting go
William's hand with no great apparent reluctance.
"Of course it is! William is a quiet lad that quarrels with nobody;
you are always quarreling; you thrashed our carter last Candlemas."
"He spoke saucy words about you."
Susan, smiling inwardly, made her face as repulsive outside as lay in
"I don't believe it," said Susan; "your time was come round to fight
and be a ruffian, and so it was to-day, no doubt."
"Ah!" said George, sorrowfully, "it is always poor George that does
all the wrong.
"Oh!" replied the lady, an arch smile playing for a moment about her
lips, "I could scold William, too, if you think I am as much
interested in his conduct and behavior as in yours."
"No, no!" cried George, brightening up, "don't think to scold anybody
but me, Susan; and William," said he, suddenly and frankly, "I ask
"No more about it, George, if you please," answered William in his
"Susan," said George, "you don't know all I have to bear. My heart is
sore, Susan, dear. Uncle twitted me not an hour ago with my ill luck,
and almost bade me to speak to you no more, leastways as my
sweetheart; and that was why, when William came at me on the top of
such a blow, it was more than I could bear; and Susan--Susan--uncle
said you would stand to whatever he said."
"George," said Susan gently, "I am very sorry my father was so
"Thank ye kindly, Susan; that is the first drop of dew that has fallen
on me to-day."
"But obedience to parents," continued Susan, interrogating, as it
were, her conscience, "is a great duty. I _hope_ I shall never
disobey my father," faltered she.
"Oh!" answered the goose George hastily, "I don't want any girl to be
kind to me that does not love me; I am so unlucky, it would not be
worth her while, you know."
At this Susan answered still more sharply, "No, I don't think it would
be worth any woman's while, till your character and temper undergo a
George never answered a word, but went and leaned his head upon the
side of a cart that stood half in and half out of a shed close by.
At this juncture a gay personage joined the party. He had a ball
waistcoat, as alarming tie, a shooting jacket, wet muddy trousers and
shoes, and an empty basket on his back.
He joined our group, just as George was saying to himself very sadly,
"I am in everybody's way here"--and he attacked him directly.
"Everybody is in this country."
The reader is to understand that this Robinson was last from
California; and California had made such an impression upon him, that
he turned the conversation that way oftener than a well-regulated
understanding recurs to any one topic, except, perhaps, religion.
He was always pestering George to go to California with him, and it
must be owned that on this one occasion George had given him a fair
"Come out of it," continued Robinson, "and make your fortune."
"You did not make yours there," said Susan sharply.
"I beg your pardon, miss. I made it, or how could I have spent it?"
"No doubt," said William. "What comes by the wind goes by the water."
"Alluding to the dust?" inquired the Cockney.
"Gold dust especially," retorted Susan Merton.
Robinson laughed. "The ladies are sharp, even in Berkshire," said he.
Mr. Robinson then proceeded to disabuse their minds about the facility
"A crop of gold," said he, "does not come by the wind any more than a
crop of corn; it comes by harder digging than your potatoes ever saw,
and harder work than you ever did--oxen and horses perspire for you,
Fielding No. 2."
"Did you ever see a horse or an ox mow an acre of grass or barley?"
retorted William dryly.
"Don't brag," replied the other; "they'll eat all you can mow and
never say a word about it."
This repartee was so suited to their rustic idea of wit, that
Robinson's antagonists laughed heartily, except George.
"What is the matter with him?" said Robinson, sotto voce,
"Oh! he is cross, never mind him," replied Susan ostentatiously loud.
George winced, but never spoke back to her.
Robinson then proceeded to disabuse the rural mind of the notion that
gold is to be got without hard toil, even in California. He told them
how the miners' shirts were wet through and through in the struggle
for gold; he told them how the little boys demanded a dollar apiece
for washing these same garments; and how the miners to escape this
extortion sent their linen to China in ships on Monday morning, and
China sent them back on Saturday, only it was Saturday six weeks.
Next Mr. Robinson proceeded to draw a parallel between England and
various nations on the other side of the Atlantic, not at all
complimentary to his island home; above all, he was eloquent on the
superior dignity of labor in new countries.
"I heard one of your clodhoppers say the other day, 'The squire is a
good gentleman, he often _gives me a day's work_.' Now I should
think it was the clodhopper gave the gentleman the day's work, and the
gentleman gave him a shilling for it--and made five by it."
William Fielding scratched his head. This was a new view of things to
him, but there seemed to be something in it.
"Ay! rake that into your upper soil," cried our republican orator;
then collecting into one his scattered items of argument, he invited
his friend George to take his muscle, pluck, wind, backbone, and self,
out of this miserable country, and come where the best man has a
chance to win.
"Come, George," he cried, "England is the spot if you happen to be
married to a duke's daughter, and got fifty thousand a year and three
"_And_ a coach.
"_And_ a brougham.
"_And_ a curricle.
"_And_ ten brace of pointers.
"_And_ a telescope so big the stars must move to it, instead of it
to the stars.
"_And_ no end of pretty housemaids.
"_And_ a butler with a poultice round his neck and whiskers like a
"_And_ a silver tub full of rose-water to sit in and read the
"_And_ a green-house full of peaches--and green peas all the year
"_And_ a pew in the church warmed with biling eau de Cologne.
"_And_ a carpet a foot thick.
"_And_ a piano-forte in every blessed room in the house. But this
island is the Dead Sea to a poor man."
He then, diverging from the rhetorical to the metropolitan style,
proposed to his friend "to open one eye. That will show you this hole
you are in is all poor hungry arable ground. You know you can't work
it to a profit." (George winced.) "No! steal, borrow, or beg 500
pounds. Carry out a cargo of pea-jackets and fourpenny bits to swap
for gold-dust, a few tools, a stout heart, and a light pair of--'Oh,
no; we never mention them; their name is never heard'--and we'll soon
fill both pockets with the shiney in California."
All this Mr. Robinson delivered with a volubility to which Berkshire
had hitherto been a stranger.
"A crust of bread in England before buffalo beef in California," was
George's reply; but it was not given in that assured tone with which
he would have laughed at Robinson's eloquence a week ago.
"I could not live with all those thieves and ruffians that are settled
down there like crows on a dead horse; but I thank you kindly, my lad,
all the same," said the tender-hearted young man.
"Strange," thought he, "that so many should sing me the same tune,
and he fell back into his reverie.
Here they were all summoned to dinner, with a dash of asperity, by
Sarah the stout farm servant.
Susan lingered an instant to speak to George. She chose an unfortunate
topic. She warned him once more against Mr. Robinson.
"My father says that he has no business nor trade, and he is not a
gentleman, in spite of his red and green cravat, so he must be a rogue
of some sort."
"Shall I tell you his greatest fault?" was the bitter reply. "He is my
friend; he is the only creature that has spoken kind words to me
to-day. Oh! I saw how cross you looked at him."
Susan's eyes flashed, and the color rose in her cheek, and the water
in her eyes.
"You are a fool, George," said she; "you don't know how to read a
woman, nor her looks, nor her words either."
And Susan was very angry and disdainful, and did not speak to George
As for poor George, he followed her into the house with a heart both
sick and heavy.
This Berkshire farmer had a proud and sensitive nature under a homely
Old Merton's words had been iron passing through his soul, and besides
he felt as if everything was turning cold and slippery and gliding
from his hand. He shivered with vague fears, and wished the sun would
set at one o'clock and the sorrowful day come to an end.
THE meal passed almost in silence; Robinson was too hungry to say a
word, and a weight hung upon George and Susan.
As they were about to rise, William observed two men in the farmyard
who were strangers to him--the men seemed to be inspecting the hogs.
It struck him as rather cool; but apparently the pig is an animal
which to be prized needs but to be known, for all connoisseurs of him
are also enthusiastic amateurs.
When I say the pig I mean the four-legged one.
William Fielding, partly from curiosity to hear these strangers'
remarks, partly hoping to find customers in them, strolled into the
farmyard before his companions rose from the table.
The others, looking carelessly out of the window, saw William join the
two men and enter into conversation with them; but their attention was
almost immediately diverted from that group by the entrance of
Meadows. He came in radiant; his face was a remarkable contrast to the
rest of the party.
Susan could not help noticing it.
"Why, Mr. Meadows," cried she, "you look as bright as a May morning;
it is quite refreshing to see you; we are all rather down here this
Meadows said nothing, and did not seem at his ease under this remark.
George rose from the table; so did Susan; Robinson merely pushed back
his chair and gave a comfortable little sigh, but the next moment he
They looked up, and there was William's face close against the window.
William's face was remarkably pale, and first he tried to attract
George's attention without speaking, but finding himself observed by
the whole party, he spoke out.
"George, will you speak a word?" said he.
George rose and went out; but Susan's curiosity was wakened, and she
followed him, accompanied by Meadows.
"None but you, George," said William, with a voice half stern, half
George looked at his brother.
"Out with it," cried he, "it is some deadly ill-luck; I have felt it
coming all day, but out with it; what can't I bear after the words I
have borne this morning?"
William hung his head.
"George, there is a distress upon the farm for the rent."
George did not speak at first, he literally staggered under these
words; his proud spirit writhed in his countenance, and with a groan,
he turned his back abruptly upon them all and hid his face against the
corner of his own house, the cold hard bricks.
Meadows, by strong self-command, contrived not to move a muscle of his
Up to this day and hour, Susan Merton had always seemed cool, compared
with her lover; she used to treat him a little _de haut en bas_.
But when she saw his shame and despair, she was much distressed.
"George, George!" she cried, "don't do so. Can nothing be done? Where
is my father?--they told me he was here. He is rich, he shall help
you." She darted from them in search of Merton; ere she could turn the
angle of the house he met her.
"You had better go home, my girl," said he gravely.
"Oh, no, no! I have been too unkind to George already," and she turned
toward him like a pitying angel with hands extended as if they would
bring balm to a hurt soul.
Meadows left chuckling and was red and white by turns.
Merton was one of those friends one may make sure of finding in
"There," cried he, "George, I told you how it would end."
George wheeled round on him like lightning.
"What, do you come here to insult over me? I must be a long way lower
than I am, before I shall be as low as you were when my mother took
you up and made a man of you."
"George, George!" cried Susan in dismay; "stop, for pity's sake,
before you say words that will separate us forever. Father," cried the
peace-making angel, "how can you push poor George so hard and him in
trouble! and we have all been too unkind to him to-day."
Ere either could answer, there was happily another interruption. A
smart servant in livery walked up to them with a letter. With the
instinctive feeling of class they all endeavored to conceal their
agitation from the gentleman's servant. He handed George the note, and
saying, "I was to wait for an answer, Farmer Fielding," sauntered
toward the farm-stables.
"From Mr. Winchester," said George, after a long and careful
inspection of the outside.
In the country it is a point of honor to find out the writer of a
letter by the direction, not the signature.
"The Honorable Francis Winchester! What does he write to you?" cried
Merton, in a tone of great surprise. This, too, was not lost on
Human nature is human nature. He was not sorry to be able to read a
gentleman's letter in the face of one who had bitterly reproached him,
and of others who had seen him mortified and struck down.
"Seems so," said George, dryly, and with a glance of defiance; and he
read out the letter.
"George Fielding, my fine fellow, think of it again. I have two berths
in the ship that sails from Southampton to-morrow. You will have every
comfort on the voyage--a great point. I will do what I said for you"
("he promised me five hundred sheep and a run"). "I must have an
honest man, and where can I find as honest a man as George Fielding?"
("Thank you, Mr. Winchester; George Fielding thanks you, sir.") And
there was something noble and simple in the way the young farmer drew
himself up, and looked fearlessly in all his companions' eyes.
"You saved my life--I can do nothing for you here--and you are doing
no good at 'The Grove'--everybody says so ("everybody says so!"--and
George Fielding winced at the words).
"And it really pains me, my brave fellow, to go without you where I
know I could put you on the way of fortune. My heart is pretty stout;
but home is home; and be assured that I wait with some anxiety to know
whether my eyes are to look on nothing but water for the next four
months, or are to be cheered by the sight of something from home, the
face of a thoroughbred English yeoman, and--a friend--and--and--"
Poor George could read no more, the kind words, coming after his
affronts and troubles, brought his heart to his mouth.
Susan took the letter from him, and read out--
"And an upright, downright honest man"--"AND SO YOU ARE, GEORGE!"
cried she, warmly, drawing to George's side, and darting glances of
defiance vaguely around. Then she continued to read--
"If the answer is favorable, a word is enough. Meet me at 'The Crown,'
in Newborough, to-night, and we will go up to Town by the mail train."
"The answer is, Yes," said George to the servant, who was at some
Susan, bending over the letter, heard, but could not realize the word,
but the servant now came nearer. George said to him, "Tell your
"Yes? George!" cried Susan, "what do you mean by yes? It is about
going to Australia."
"The answer is yes," said George.
The servant went away with the answer.
The others remained motionless.
"This nobleman's son respects me if worse folk don't. But it is not
the great bloodhounds and greyhounds that bark at misfortune's heels,
it is only the village curs, when all is done. This is my path. I'll
pack up my things and go." And he did not look at Susan or any of
them, but went into the house like a man walking in his sleep.
There was a stupefied pause.
Then Susan gave a cry like a wounded deer.
"Father! what have you done?"
Merton himself had been staggered, but he replied stoutly:
"No more than my duty, girl, and I hope you will do no less than
At this moment Robinson threw up the window and jumped out into the
Meadows, under stronger interests, had forgotten Robinson; but now at
sight of him he looked round, and catching the eye of a man who was
peering over the farmyard wall, made him a signal.
"What is the matter?" cried Robinson.
"George is going to Australia," replied Merton, coldly.
"Australia!" roared Robinson--"Australia! He's mad. Who ever goes
there unless they are forced? He shan't go there! I wouldn't go there
if my passage was paid, and a new suit of clothes given me, and the
governor's gig to take me ashore to a mansion provided for my
reception, fires lighted, beds aired and pipes laid across upon the
As Robinson concluded this tirade the policeman and constable, who had
crept round the angle of the farm-house, came one on each side, put
each a hand on one of his elbows and--took him!
He looked first down at their hands in turn, then up at their faces in
turn, and when he saw the metropolitan's face a look of simple disgust
diffused itself over his whole countenance.
"Ugh!!! "interjected Robinson.
"Ay!" replied the policeman, while putting handcuffs on him. "To
Australia you'll go, for all that, Tom Lyon, alias Scott, alias
Robinson, and you'll have a new suit of clothes, mostly one color, and
voyage paid, and a large house ashore waiting for you; and the
governor's gig will come alongside for you, provided they can't find
the convicts' barge," and the official was pleased with himself and
his wit and allowed it to appear.
But by this time Robinson was on his balance again. "Gentlemen,"
answered he with cold dignity, "what am I to understand by this
violence from persons to whom I am an utter stranger?" and he might
have set for the picture of injured innocence. "I am not acquainted
with you, sir," added he; "and by the titles you give me it seems you
are not acquainted with me."
The police laughed, and took out of this injured man's pocket the
stolen notes which Meadows instantly identified.
Then Mr. Robinson started off into another key equally artistical in
"Miss Merton," snuffled he, "appearances are against me, but mark my
words, my innocence will emerge all the brighter for this temporary
Susan Merton ran indoors, saying, "Oh! I must tell George." She was
not sorry of an excuse to be by George's side, and remind him by her
presence that if home had its thorns it had its rose tree, too.
News soon spreads; rustic heads were seen peeping over the wall to see
the finale of the fine gentleman from "Lunnun." Meantime the constable
went to put his horse in a four-wheeled chaise destined to convey
Robinson to the county jail.
If the rural population expected to see this worthy discomposed by so
sudden a change of fortune, they were soon undeceived.
"Well, Jacobs," said he, with sudden familiarity, "you seem uncommon
pleased, and I am content. I would rather have gone to California; but
any place is better than England. Laugh those who win. I shall breathe
a delicious climate; you will make yourself as happy as a prince, that
is to say, miserable, upon fifteen shillings and two colds a week; my
sobriety and industry will realize a fortune under a smiling sun. Let
chaps that never saw the world, and the beautiful countries there are
in it, snivel at leaving this island of fogs and rocks and taxes and
nobs, the rich man's paradise, the poor man's--I never swear, it's
While he was crushing his captors with his eloquence, George and Susan
came together from the house; George's face betrayed wonder and
something akin to horror.
"A thief!" cried he. "Have I taken the hand of a thief?"
"It is a business like any other," said Robinson deprecatingly.
"If you have no shame I have; I long to be gone now."
"George!" whined the culprit, who, strange to say, had become attached
to the honest young farmer. "Did ever I take tithe of you? You have
got a silver candle cup, a heavenly old coffee-pot, no end of spoons
double the weight those rogues the silversmiths make them now; they
are in a box under your bed in your room," added he, looking down.
"Count them, they are all right; and Miss Merton, your bracelet, the
gold one with the cameo: I could have had it a hundred times. Miss
Merton, ask him to shake hands with me at parting. I am so fond of
him, and perhaps I shall never see him again.
"Shake hands with you?" answered George sternly; "if your hands were
loose I doubt I should ram my fist down your throat; but there, you
are not worth a thought at such a time, and you are a man in trouble,
and I am another. I forgive you, and I pray Heaven I may never see
your face again."
And Honesty turned his back in Theft's face.
Robinson bit his lip and said nothing, but his eyes glistened; just
then a little boy and girl, who had been peering about mighty curious,
took courage and approached hand in hand. The girl was the speaker, as
a matter of course.
"Farmer Fielding," said she curtsying, a mode of reverence which was
instantly copied by the boy, "we are come to see the thief; they say
you have caught one. Oh, dear!" (and her bright little countenance was
overcast), "I couldn't have told it from a man!"
We don't know all that is in the hearts of the wicked. Robinson was
observed to change color at these silly words.
"Mr. Jacobs," said he, addressing the policeman, "have you authority
to put me in the pillory before trial?" He said this coldly and
sternly; and then added, "Perhaps you are aware that I am a man, and I
might say a brother, for you were a thief, you know!" Then changing
his tone entirely, "I say, Jacobs," said he, with cheerful briskness,
"do you remember cracking the silversmith's shop in Lambeth along with
Jem Salisbury and Black George, and--"
"There, the gig is ready," cried Mr. Jacobs; "you come along," and the
ex-thief pushed the thief hastily off the premises and drove him away
George Fielding gave a bitter sigh. This was a fresh mortification. He
had for the last two months been defending Robinson against the
surmises of the village.
Villages are always concluding there is something wrong about people.
"What does he do?" inquired our village.
"Where does he get his blue coat with brass buttons, his tartan
waistcoat and green satin tie with red ends? We admit all this looks
like a gentleman. But yet, somehow, a gentleman is a horse of another
color than this Robinson."
George had sometimes laughed at all this, sometimes been very angry,
and always stood up stoutly for his friend and lodger.
And now the fools were right and he was wrong. His friend and protege
was handcuffed before his eyes and carried off to the county jail amid
the grins and stares of a score of gaping rustics, who would make a
fine story of it this evening in both public-houses; and a hundred
voices would echo some such conversational Tristich as this:
1st Rustic. "I tawld un as much, dinn't I now, Jarge?"
2d Rustic. "That ye did, Richard, for I heerd ee."
1st Rustic. "But, la! bless ye, he don't vally advice, he don't."
George Fielding groaned out, "I'm ready to go now--I'm quite ready to
go--I am leaving a nest of insults;" and he darted into the house, as
much to escape the people's eyes as to finish his slight preparations
for so great a journey.
Two men were left alone; sulky William and respectable Meadows. Both
these men's eyes followed George into the house, and each had a strong
emotion they were bent on concealing, and did conceal from each other;
but was it concealed from all the world?
The farm-house had two rooms looking upon the spot where most of our
tale has passed.
The smaller one of these was a little state parlor, seldom used by the
family. Here on a table was a grand old folio Bible; the names,
births, and deaths of a century of Fieldings appeared in rusty ink and
various handwritings upon its fly-leaf.
Framed on the walls were the first savage attempts of woman at
worsted-work in these islands. There were two moral commonplaces, and
there was the forbidden fruit-tree, whose branches diverged, at set
distances like the radii of a circle, from its stem, a perpendicular
line; exactly at the end of each branch hung one forbidden
There were also two prints of more modern date, one agricultural, one
No. 1 was a great show of farming implements at Doncaster.
No. 2 showed how, one day in the history of man and of mutton, a sheep
was sheared, her wool washed, teased, carded, etc., and the cloth *'d
and *'d and *'d and *'d, and a coat shaped and sewed and buttoned upon
a goose, whose preparations for inebriating the performers and
spectators of his feat appeared in a prominent part of the picture.
The window of this sunny little room was open and on the sill was a
row of flower-pots from which a sweet fresh smell crept with the
passing air into the chamber.
Behind these flower-pots for two hours past had crouched--all eye and
ear and mind--a keen old man.
To Isaac Levi age had brought vast experience, and had not yet dimmed
any one of his senses. More than forty-five years ago he had been
brought to see that men seldom act or speak so as to influence the
fortunes of others without some motive of their own; and that these
motives are seldom the motives they advance; and that their real
motives are not always known to themselves, and yet can nearly always
be read and weighed by an intelligent bystander.
So for near half a century Isaac Levi had read that marvelous page of
nature written on black, white and red parchments, and called "Man."
One result of his perusal was this, that the heads of human tribes
differ far more than their hearts.
The passions and the heart he had found intelligible and much the same
from Indus to the Pole.
The people of our tale were like men walking together in a coppice;
they had but glimpses of each others' minds. But to Isaac behind his
flower-pots they were a little human chart spread out flat before him,
and not a region in it he had not traveled and surveyed before to-day:
what to others passed for accident to him was design; he penetrated
more than one disguise of manner; and above all his intelligence bored
like a center-bit into the deep heart of his enemy, Meadows, and at
each turn of the center-bit his eye flashed, his ear lived, and he
crouched patient as a cat, keen as a lynx.
He was forgotten, but not by all.
Meadows, a cautious man, was the one to ask himself, "Where is that
old heathen, and what is he doing?"
To satisfy himself, Meadows had come smoothly to the door of the
little apartment, and burst suddenly into it.
There he found the reverend Israelite extended on a little couch, a
bandana handkerchief thrown over his face, calmly reposing.
Meadows paused, eyed him keenly, listened to his gentle but audible,
equable breathing, relieved his mind by shaking his fist at him, and
Thirty seconds later Isaac _awoke!_ spat in the direction of
Meadows, and crouched again behind the innocent flowers, patient as a
cat, keen as a lynx.
So then; when George was gone in, William Fielding and Mr. Meadows
both felt a sudden need of being alone; each longed to indulge some
feeling he did not care the other should see; so they both turned
their faces away from each other and strolled apart.
Isaac Levi caught both faces off their guard, and read the men as by a
lightning flash to the bottom line of their hearts.
For two hours he had followed the text, word by word, deed by deed,
letter by letter, and now a comment on that text was written in these
That comment said that William was rejoiced at George's departure and
ashamed of himself for the feeling. That Meadows rejoiced still more
and was ashamed anybody should know he had the feeling.
Isaac withdrew from his lair; his task was done.
"Those men both love that woman, and this Meadows loves her with all
his soul, and she-aha!" and triumph flashed from under his dark brows.
But at his age calm is the natural state of the mind and spirits; he
composed himself for the present, and awaited an opportunity to strike
his enemy with effect.
The aged man had read Mr. Meadows aright; under that modulated
exterior raged as deep a passion as ever shook a strong nature.
For some time he had fought against it. "She is another man's
sweetheart," he had said to himself; "no good will come of courting
her." But by degrees the flax bonds of prudence snapped one by one as
the flame every now and then darted at them. Meadows began to reason
the matter coolly.
"They can never marry, those two. I wish they would marry or break
off, to put me out of this torture; but they can't marry, and my sweet
Susan is wasting her prime for nothing, for a dream. Besides, it is
not as if she loved him the way I love her. She is like many a young
maid. The first comer gets her promise before she knows her value.
They walk together, get spoken of; she settles down into a groove, and
so goes on, whether her heart is in it or not; it is habit more than
Then he watched the pair, and observed that Susan's manner to George
was cool and off-hand, and that she did not seem to seek opportunities
of being alone with him.
Having got so far, he now felt it his duty to think of her interest.
He could not but feel that he was a great match for any farmer's
daughter; whereas "poor young Fielding," said he compassionately, "is
more likely to break as a bachelor than to support a wife and children
upon 'The Grove.'"
He next allowed his mind to dwell with some bitterness upon the poor
destiny that stood between him and the woman he loved.
"George Fielding! a dull dog, that could be just as happy with any
other girl as with my angel. An oaf, so little alive to his prize that
he doesn't even see he has rivals; doesn't see that his brother loves
her. Ah! but I see that, though; lovers' eyes are sharp. Doesn't see
me, who mean to take her from both these Fieldings--and what harm? It
isn't as if their love was like mine. Heaven forbid I should meddle if
it was. A few weeks, and a few mugs of ale would wash her from what
little mind either of them have; but I never loved a woman before, and
never could look at another after her."
And so by degrees Meadows saw that he was quite justified in his
resolve to win Susan Merton, PROVIDED IT WAS DONE FAIRLY.
This resolve taken, all this man's words and actions began to be
colored more or less by his secret wishes; and it is not too much to
say, that this was the hand which was gently but adroitly, with a
touch here and a touch there, pushing George Fielding across the
You see, a respectable man can do a deal of mischief; more than a
A shrug of the shoulders from Meadows had caused the landlord to
A hint from Meadows had caused Merton to affront George about Susan.
A tone of Meadows had closed the bank cash-box to the Fieldings' bill
of exchange, and so on. And now, finding it almost impossible to
contain his exultation--for George once in Australia he felt he could
soon vanquish Susan's faint preference, the result of habit--he turned
off, and went to meet his mare at the gate; the boy had just returned
He put his foot in the stirrup, but ere he mounted it occurred to him
to ask one of the farm servants whether the old Jew was gone.
"I sin him in the barn just now," was the reply.
Meadows took his foot out of the stirrup. Never leave an enemy behind
you, was one of his rules. "And why does the old heathen stay?"
Meadows asked himself; he clinched his teeth and vowed he would not
leave the village till George Fielding was on his way to Australia.
He sent his mare to the "Black Horse," and strolled up the village;
then he showed the boy a shilling and said, "You be sure and run to
the public-house and let me know when George Fielding is going to
start--I should like to see the last of him."
This was true!
AND now passed over "The Grove" the heaviest hours it had ever known;
hours as weary as they were bitter to George Fielding. "The Grove" was
nothing to him now--in mind he was already separated from it; his
clothes were ready, he had nothing more to do, and he wished he could
fling himself this moment into the ship and hide his head, and sleep
and forget his grief, until he reached the land whose fat and endless
pastures were to make him rich and send him home a fitter match for
As the moment for parting drew nearer there came to him that tardy
consolation which often comes to the honest man then when it can but
add to his pangs of regret.
Perhaps no man is good, manly, tender, generous, honest and unlucky
quite in vain; at last, when such a man is leaving all who have been
unjust or cold to him, scales fall from their eyes, a sense of his
value flashes like lightning across their half-empty skulls and tepid
hearts, they feel and express some respect and regret, and make him
sadder to leave them; so did the neighbors of "The Grove" to young
Fielding. Some hands gave him now their first warm pressure, and one
or two voices even faltered as they said "God bless thee, lad!"
And now the carter's lad ran in with a message from a farmer at the
top of the hill.
"Oh! Master George, Farmer Dodd says, if you please, he couldn't think
to let you walk. You are to go in his gig to Newbury, if you'll walk
up as fur as his farm; he's afeared to come down _our_ hill, a
says, because if _he_ did, _his_ mare 'ud kick _his_ gig into
toothpicks, _he_ says. Oh! Master George, _I_ be sorry _you_
be going," and the boy, who had begun quite cheerfully, ended in a
"I thank him! Take my bag, boy, and I'll follow in half an hour."
Sarah brought out the bag and opened it, and, weeping bitterly, put
into it a bottle with her name on a bit of paper tied round the neck,
to remind poor George he was not forgotten at "The Grove," and then
she gave George the key and went sadly in, her apron to her eyes.
And now George fixed his eye on his brother William, and said to him,
"Wilham, will you come with me, if _you_ please?"
"Ay, George, sure."
They went through the farmyard side by side; neither spoke, and George
took a last look at the ricks, and he paused, and seemed minded to
speak, but he did not, he only muttered "not here." Then George led
the way out into the paddock, and so into the lane, and very soon they
saw the village church. William wondered George did not speak. They
passed under the yewtree into the churchyard. William's heart
fluttered. They found the vicar's cow browsing on the graves. William
took up a stone. George put out his hand not to let him hurt her, and
George turned her gently into the lane; then he stepped carefully
among the graves. William followed him, his heart fluttering more and
more with vague fears. William knew now where they were going, but
what was George going to say to him there? his heart beat faint-like.
By-and-by the brothers came to this--
[Drawing of Grave]
The grave was between the two men--and silence--both looked down.
George whispered, "Good-by, mother! She never thought we should be
parted this way." Then he turned to William and opened his mouth to
say something more to him; doubtless that which he had come to say,
but apparently it was too much for him. I think he feared his own
resolution. He gasped and with a heavy sigh led the way home. William
walked with him, not knowing what to think or do or say; at last he
muttered, "I wouldn't go, if my heart was here!"
"I shall go, Will," replied George, rather sternly as it seemed.
When they came back to the house they found several persons collected.
Old Fielding, the young men's grandfather, was there; he had made them
wheel him in his great chair out into the sun.
Grandfather Fielding had reached the last stage of human existence. He
was ninety-two years of age. The lines in his face were cordage, his
aspect was stony and impassible, and he was all but impervious to
passing events; his thin blood had almost ceased to circulate in his
extremities; for every drop he had was needed to keep his old heart
a-beating at all, instead of stopping like a clock that has run down.
Meadows had returned to see George off, and old Merton was also there,
and he was one of those whose hearts gave them a bit of a twinge.
"George," said he, "I'm vexed for speaking unkind to you to-day of all
days in the year; I didn't think we were to part so soon, lad."
"No more about it, uncle," faltered George; "what does it matter now?"
Susan Merton came out of the house; she had caught her father's
conciliatory words; she seemed composed, but pale; she threw her arms
round her father's neck.
"Oh! father," said she imploringly, "I thought it was a dream, but he
is going, he is really going. Oh! don't let him go from us; speak him
fair, father, his spirit is so high!"
"Susan!" replied the old farmer, "mayhap the lad thinks me his enemy,
but I'm not. My daughter shall not marry a bankrupt farmer, but you
bring home a thousand pounds--just one thousand pounds--to show me
you are not a fool, and you shall have my daughter and she shall have
"Your hand on that, uncle," cried George, with ardor; "your hand on
that before Heaven and all present."
The old farmer gave George his hand upon it.
"But, father," cried Susan, "your words are sending him away from me."
"Susan!" said George sorrowfully but firmly, "I am to go, but don't
forget it is for your sake I leave you, my darling Susan--to be a
better man for your sake. Uncle, since your last words there is no
ill-will; but (bluntly) I can't speak my heart before you."
"I'll go, George, I'll go; shan't be said my sister's son hadn't leave
to speak his mind to letbe who atool,* at such a time."
*Let be who it will. Cui libet.
Merton turned to leave them, but ere he had taken two steps a most
unlooked-for interruption chained him to the spot. An old man, with a
long beard and a glittering eye, was among them before they were aware
of him; he fixed his eye upon Meadows, and spoke a single word--but
that word fell like a sledge-hammer.
"No!!" said Isaac Levi in the midst. "No!!" repeated he to John
Meadows understood perfectly what "No" meant; a veto upon all his
plans, hopes and wishes.
"Young man," said Isaac to George, "you shall not wander forth from
the home of your fathers. These old eyes see deeper than yours (and he
sent an eye-stab at Meadows); you are honest--all men say so--I will
lend you the money for your rent, and one who loves you (and he gave
another eye-stab at Meadows) will bless me."
"Oh! yes, I bless you," cried Susan innocently.
The late exulting Meadows was benumbed at this.
"Surely Heaven sends you to me," cried Susan. "It is Mr. Levi, of
Here was a diversion. Meadows cursed the intruder, and his own evil
star that had raised him up so malignant an enemy.
"All my web undone in a moment," thought he, and despair began to take
possession of him.
Susan, on the other hand, was all joy and hope; William more or less
The old Jew glanced from one to another, read them all, and enjoyed
But when his eye returned to George Fielding he met with something he
had not reckoned upon.
The young man showed no joy, no emotion. He stood immovable, like a
statue of a man, and when he opened his lips it was like a statue
speaking with its marble mouth.
"No! Susan. No! old man. I am honest, though I'm poor--and proud,
though you have seen me put to shame near my own homestead more than
once to-day. To borrow without a chance of paying is next door to
stealing; and I should never pay you. My eyes are opened in spite of
my heart. I can't farm 'The Grove' with no grass, and wheat at forty
shillings. I've tried all I know, and I can't do it. Will there is
dying to try, and he shall try, and may Heaven speed his plow better
than it has poor George's."
"I am not thinking of the farm now, George," said William. "I'm
thinking of when we were boys, and used to play
marbles--together--upon the tombstones." And he faltered a little.
"Mr. Levi! seems you have a kindness for me. Show it to my brother
when I'm away, if you _will_ be so good."
"Hum?" said Isaac doubtfully. "I care not to see your stout young
heart give way, as it will. Ah, me! I can pity the wanderer from home.
I will speak a word with you, and then I will go home."
He drew George aside, and made him a secret communication.
Merton called Susan to him, and made her promise to be prudent, then
he shook hands with George and went away.
Now Meadows, from the direction of Isaac's glance, and a certain
half-surprised half-contemptuous look that stole over George's face,
suspected that his enemy, whose sagacity he could no longer doubt, was
warning George against him.
This made him feel very uneasy where he was, and this respectable man
dreaded some exposure of his secret. So he said hastily, "I'll go
along with you, farmer," and in a moment was by Merton's side, as that
worthy stopped to open the gate that led out of George's premises. His
feelings were anything but pleasant when George called to him:
"No, sir! stop. You are as good a witness as I could choose of what I
have to say. Step this way, if you please, sir."
Meadows returned, clinched his teeth, and prepared for the worst, but
inwardly he cursed his uneasy folly in staying here, instead of riding
home the moment George had said "Yes!" to Australia.
George now looked upon the ground a moment; and there was something in
his manner that arrested the attention of all.
Meadows turned hot and cold.
"I am going--to speak--to my brother, Mr. Meadows!" said he, syllable
by syllable to Meadows in a way brimful of meaning.
"To me, George?" said William, a little uneasy.
"To you!--Fall back a bit." (Some rustics were encroaching upon the
"Fall back, if you please; this is a family matter."
Isaac Levi, instead of going quite away, seated himself on a bench
outside the palings.
It was now William's turn to flutter; he said, however, to himself,
"It is about the farm; it must be about the farm."
George resumed. "I've often had it on my mind to speak to you, but I
was ashamed, now that's the truth; but now I am going away from her I
must speak out, and I will--William!"
"You've taken--a fancy--to my Susan, William!"
At these words, which, though they had cost him so much to say, George
spoke gravely and calmly like common words, William gave one startled
look all round, then buried his face directly in his hands in a
paroxysm of shame.
Susan, who was looking at George, remonstrated loudly, "How can you be
so silly, George! I am sure that is the last idea poor William--"
George drew her attention to William by a wave of the hand.
She held her tongue in a moment, and turned very red, and lowered her
eyes to the ground. It was a very painful situation--to none more than
to Meadows, who was waiting his turn.
George continued: "Oh, it is not to reproach you, my poor lad. Who
could be near her, and not warm to her? But she is my lass, Will, and
no other man's. It is three years since she said the word. And though
it was my hard luck there should be some coolness between us this
bitter day, she will think of me when the ocean rolls between us if no
villain undermines me--"
"Villain! George!" groaned William. "That is a word I never thought to
hear from you."
"That's why I speak in time," said George. "I do suppose I am safe
against villainy here." And his eye swept lightly over both the men.
"Anyway, it shan't be a _mis_take or a _mis_understanding; it
shall be villainy if _'tis_ done. Speak, Susanna Merton, and speak
your real mind once for all."
"Oh! George," cried Susan, fluttering with love; "you shall not go in
doubt of me. We are betrothed this three years, and I never regretted
my choice a single moment. I never saw, I never shall see, the man I
could bear to look on beside you, my beautiful George. Take my ring
and my promise, George." And she put her ring on his little finger and
kissed his hand. "While you are true to me, nothing but death shall
part us twain. There never was any coolness between us, dear; you only
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