It Is Never Too Late to Mend
Part 2 out of 17
thought so. You don't know what fools women are; how they delight to
tease the man they love, and so torment themselves ten times more. I
always loved you, but never as I do to-day; so honest, so proud, so
unfortunate; I love you, I honor you, I adore you, oh! my love!--my
She saw but George--she thought but of George--and how to soften his
sorrow, and remove his doubts, if he had any. And she poured out these
words of love with her whole soul--with blushes and tears and all the
fire of a chaste and passionate woman's heart. And she clung to her
love; and her tender bosom heaved against his; and she strained him,
with tears and sighs, to her bosom; and he kissed her beautiful head;
and his suffering heart drew warmth from this heavenly contact.
The late exulting Meadows turned as pale as ashes, and trembled from
head to foot.
"Do you hear, William?" said George.
"I hear, George," replied William in an iron whisper, with his sullen
head sunk upon his breast.
George left Susan, and came between her and William.
"Then, Susan," said he, rather loud, "here is your brother."
"William! here is my life!" And he pointed to Susan. "Let no man rob
me of it if one mother really bore us."
It went through William's heart like a burning arrow. And this was why
George had taken him to their mother's grave. That flashed across him,
The poor sulky fellow's head was seen to rise inch by inch till he
held it as erect as a king's.
"Never!" he cried, half shouting, half weeping. "Never, s'help me God!
She's my sister from this hour--no more, no less. And may the red
blight fall on my arm and my heart, if I or any man takes her from
you--any man!" he cried, his temples flushing and his eye glittering;
"sooner than a hundred men should take her from you while I am here
I'd die at their feet a hundred times."
Well done, sullen and rugged but honest man; the capital temptation of
your life is wrestled with and thrown. That is always to every man a
close, a deadly, a bitter struggle; and we must all wade through this
deep water at one hour or another of our lives. It is as surely our
fate as it is one day to die.
It is a noble sight to see an honest man "cleave his own heart in
twain, and fling away the baser part of it." These words, that burst
from William's better heart, knocked at his brother's you may be sure.
He came to William, "I believe you," said he; "I trust you, I thank
you." Then he held out his hand; but nature would have more than that,
in a moment his arm was round his brother's neck, where it had not
been, this many a year. He withdrew it as quickly, half ashamed; and
Anne Fielding's two sons grasped one another's hands, and holding
hands turned away their heads and tried to hide their eyes.
They are stronger than bond, deed or indenture, these fleshly compacts
written by moist eyes, stamped by the grip of eloquent hands, in those
moments full of soul when men's hearts beat from their bosoms to their
Isaac Levi came to the brothers, and said to William, "Yes, I will
now," and then he went slowly and thoughtfully away to his own house.
"And now," faltered George, "I feel strong enough to go, and I'll go."
He looked round at all the familiar objects he was leaving, as if to
bid them farewell; and last, while every eye watched his movements, he
walked slowly up to his grandfather's chair.
"Grandfather," said he, "I am going a long journey, and mayhap shall
never see you again; speak a word to me before I go."
The impassive old man took no notice, so Susan came to him.
"Grandfather, speak to George; poor George is going into a far
When she had repeated this in his ear their grandfather looked up for
a moment. "George, fetch me some snuff from where you're going."
A spasm crossed George's face; he was not to have a word of good omen
from the aged man.
"Friends," said he, looking appealingly to all the rest, Meadows
included, "I wanted him to say God bless you, but snuff is all his
thought now. Well, old man, George won't forget your last word, such
In a hutch near a corner of the house was William's pointer, Carlo.
Carlo, observing by the general movement that there was something on
foot, had the curiosity to come out to the end of his chain, and as he
stood there, giving every now and then a little uncertain wag of his
tail, George took notice of him and came to him and patted his head.
"Good-by, Carlo," faltered George, "poor Carlo--you and I shall never
go after the partridges again, Carlo. The dog shows more understanding
than the Christian. By, Carlo." Then he looked wistfully at William's
dog, but he said nothing more.
William watched every look of George, but he said nothing at the time.
"Good-by, little village church, where I went to church man and boy;
good-by, churchyard, where my mother lies; there will be no church
bells, Susan, where I am going; no Sunday bells to remind me of my
soul and home."
These words, which he spoke with great difficulty, were hardly out of
young Fielding's mouth when a very painful circumstance occurred; one
of those things that seem the contrivance of some malignant spirit.
The church bells in a moment struck up their merriest peal!
George Fielding started, he turned pale and his lips trembled. "Are
they mocking me?" he cried. "Do they take a thought what I am going
through this moment, the hard-hearted--"
"No, no, no!" cried William; "don't think it, George; I know what
'tis--I'll tell ye."
"Well, it is--well, George, it is Tom Clarke and Esther Borgherst
married to-day. Only they couldn't have the ringers till the
"Why, Will, they have only kept company a year, and Susan and I have
kept company three years; and Tom and Esther are married to-day; and
what are George and Susan doing to-day? God help me! Oh, God help me!
What _shall_ I do? what _shall_ I do?" And the stout heart gave
way, and George Fielding covered his face with his hands and burst out
sobbing and crying.
Susan flung her arms round his neck. "Oh! George, my pride is all
gone; don't go, don't think to go; have pity on us both, and don't
go." And she clung to him--her bonnet fallen off, her hair
disheveled--and they sobbed and wept in one another's arms.
Meadows writhed with the jealous anguish this sad sight gave him, and
at that moment he could have cursed the whole creation. He tried to
fly, but he was rooted to the spot. He leaned sick as death against
George and Susan cried together, and then they wiped one another's
eyes like simple country folk with one pocket-handkerchief; and then
they kissed one another in turn, and made each other's tears flow fast
again; and again wiped one another's eyes with one handkerchief.
Meadows griped the palings convulsively--hell was in his heart.
"Poor souls, God help them!" said William to himself in his purified
The silence their sorrow caused all around was suddenly invaded by a
voice that seemed to come from another world--it was Grandfather
Fielding. "The autumn sun is not so warm as _she_ used to be!"
Yes, there was the whole map of humanity on that little spot in the
county of Berks. The middle-aged man, a schemer, watching the success
of his able scheme, and stunned and wounded by its recoil. And old
age, callous to noble pain, all alive to discomfort, yet man to the
last--blaming any one but Number One, cackling against heavenly
bodies, accusing the sun and the kitchen fire of frigidity--not his
own empty veins! And the two poor young things sobbing as if their
hearts would break over their first great earthly sorrow.
George was the first to recover himself.
"Shame upon me!" he cried; he drew Susan to his bosom, and pressed a
long, burning kiss upon her brow.
And now all felt the wrench was coming. George, with a wild,
half-terrified look, signaled William to come to him.
"Help me, Will! you see I have no more manhood than a girl."
Susan instinctively trembled. George once more pressed his lips to
her, as if they would grow there. William took her hand. She trembled
more and more.
"Take my hand; take your brother's hand, my poor lass," said he.
She trembled violently; and then George gave a cry that seemed to tear
his heart, and darted from them in a moment.
Poor Susan uttered more than one despairing scream, and stretched out
both her hands for George. He did not see her, for he dared not look
"Bob, loose the dog," muttered William hastily, in a broken voice.
The dog was loosed, and ran after George, who, he thought, was only
going for a walk. Susan was sinking pale and helpless upon her
"Pray, sister," said gentle William; "pray, sister, as I must."
A faint shiver was all the answer; her senses had almost left her.
When George was a little way up the hill, something ran suddenly
against his legs----he started--it was Carlo. He turned and lifted up
his hands to Heaven; and William could see that George was blessing
him for this. Carlo was more than a dog to poor George at that cruel
moment. Soon after that, George and Carlo reached the crown of the
hill. George's figure stood alone a moment between them and the sky.
He was seen to take his hat off, and raise his hands once more to
Heaven, while he looked down upon all he loved and left; and then he
turned his sorrowful face again toward that distant land--and they saw
him no more!
THE world is full of trouble.
While we are young we do not see how true this ancient homely saying
That wonderful dramatic prologue, the first chapter of Job, is but a
great condensation of the sorrows that fall like hail upon many a
mortal house. Job's black day, like the day of the poetic prophets--
the true _sacri vates_ of the ancient world--is a type of a year--a
bitter human year. It is terrible how quickly a human landscape all
gilded meadow, silver river and blue sky can cloud and darken.
George Fielding had compared himself this very day to an oak tree,
"Even so am I rooted to my native soil." His fate accepted his simile.
The oak of centuries yields to an impalpable antagonist, whose very
name stands in proverbs for weakness and insignificance. This thin,
light trifle, rendered impetuous by motion, buffets the king of the
forest, tears his roots with fury out of the earth, and lays his
towering head in the dust; and even so circumstances, none of them
singly irresistible, converging to one point, buffeted sore another
oak pride of our fields, and, for aught I know, of our whole
island--an honest English yeoman; and tore him from his farm, from his
house hard by his mother's grave, from the joy of his heart, his
Susan, and sent him who had never traveled a hundred miles in his life
across a world of waters to keep sheep at the Antipodes. A bereaved
and desolate heart went with Farmer Dodd in the gig to Newborough;
sad, desolate and stricken hearts remained behind. When two loving
hearts are torn bleeding asunder it is a shade better to be the one
that is driven away into action, than the bereaved twin that petrifies
The bustle, the occupation, the active annoyances are some sort of
bitter distraction to the unfathomable grief--it is one little shade
worse to lie solitary and motionless in the old scenes from which the
sunlight is now fled.
It needed but a look at Susan Merton, as she sat moaning and quivering
from head to foot in George's kitchen, to see that she was in no
condition to walk back to Grassmere Farm to-night.
So as she refused--almost violently refused--to stay at "The Grove,"
William harnessed one of the farm-horses to a cart and took her home
round by the road.
"It is six miles that way 'stead of three, but then we shan't jolt her
going that way," thought William.
He walked by the side of the cart in silence.
She never spoke but once all the journey, and that was about half way,
to complain in a sort of hopeless, pitiful tone that she was cold. It
was a burning afternoon.
William took off his coat, and began to tie it round her by means of
the sleeves; Susan made a little, silent, peevish and not very
rational resistance; William tied it round her by brotherly force.
They reached her home; when she got out of the cart her eye was fixed,
her cheek white, she seemed like one in a dream.
She went into the house without speaking or looking at William.
William was sorry she did not speak to him; however he stood
disconsolately by the cart, asking himself what he could do next for
her and George. Presently he heard a slight rustle, and it was Susan
coming back along the passage. "She has left something in the cart,"
thought he, and he began to look in the straw.
She came like one still in a dream, and put her hand out to William,
and it appeared that was what she had come back for.
William took her hand and pressed it to his bosom a moment. At this
Susan gave a hysterical sob or two, and crept away again to her own
What she suffered in that room the first month after George's
departure I could detail perhaps as well as any man living; but I will
not. There is a degree of anguish one shrinks from intruding upon too
familiarly in person; and even on paper the microscope should spare
sometimes these beatings of the bared heart. It will be enough if I
indicate by-and-by her state, after time and religion and good habits
had begun to struggle, sometimes gaining, sometimes losing, against
the tide of sorrow. For the present let us draw gently back and leave
her, for she is bowed to the earth--fallen on her knees, her head
buried in the curtains of her bed; dark, faint and leaden, on the
borders of despair--a word often lightly used through ignorance.
Heaven keep us all from a single hour, here or hereafter, of the thing
the Word stands for; and Heaven comfort all true and loving hearts
that read me, when their turn shall come to drain the bitter cup like
THE moment George Fielding was out of sight, Mr. Meadows went to the
public-house, flung himself on his powerful black mare, and rode
homeward without a word.
One strong passion after another swept across his troubled mind. He
burned with love, he was sick with jealousy, cold with despondency,
and for the first time smarted with remorse. George Fielding was gone,
gone of his own accord; but like the flying Parthian he had shot his
keenest arrow in the moment of defeat.
"What the better am I?" thus ran this man's thoughts. "I have opened
my own eyes, and Susan seems farther from me than ever now--my heart
is like a lump of lead here--I wish I had never been born!--so much
for scheming--I would have given a thousand pounds for this, and now
I'd give double to be as I was before; I had honest hopes then; now
where are they? How lucky it seemed all to go, too. Ah! that is
it--'May all your good luck turn to wormwood!' that was his word--his
very word--and my good luck is wormwood; so much for lifting a hand
against gray hairs, Jew or Gentile. Why did the old heathen provoke
me, then? I'd as soon die as live this day. That's right, start at a
handful of straw; lie down in it one minute and tremble at the sight
of it the next, ye idiot. Oh, Susan! Susan! Why do I think of her? why
do I think of her? She loves that man with every fiber of her body.
How she clung to him! how she grew to him! And I stood there and
looked on it, and did not kill them both. Seen it! I see it now, it is
burned into my eyes and my heart forever; I am in hell!--I am in
hell!--Hold up, you blundering fool; has the devil got into you,
too?--Perdition seize him! May he die and rot before the year's out,
ten thousand miles from home! may his ship sink to the bottom of the
----. What right have I to curse the man, as well as drive him across
the sea? Curse yourself, John Meadows. They are true lovers, and I
have parted them, and looked on and seen their tears. Heaven pity them
and forgive me. So he knew of his brother's love for her, after all.
Why didn't he speak to me, I wonder, as well as to Will Fielding? The
old Jew warned him against me, I'll swear. Why? why because you are a
respectable man, John Meadows, and he thought a hint was enough to a
man of character. 'I do suppose I am safe from villainy here,' says
he. That lad spared me; he could have given me a red face before them
all. Now if there are angels that float in the air and see what passes
among us sinners, how must John Meadows have looked beside George
Fielding that moment? This love will sink my soul! I can't breathe
between these hedges; my temples are bursting!--Oh! you want to
gallop, do you? gallop, then, and faster than you ever did since you
were foaled--confound ye!" With this he spurred his mare furiously up
the bank, and went crushing through the dead hedge that surmounted it.
He struck his hat, at the same moment, fiercely from his head (it was
fast by a black ribbon to his button-hole), and as they lighted by a
descent of some two feet on the edge of a grass-field he again drove
his spurs into his great fiery mare, all vein and bone. Black Rachel
snorted with amazement at the spur, and with warlike delight at
finding grass beneath her feet and free air whistling round her ears,
she gave one gigantic bound like a buck with arching back and all four
legs in the air at once (it would have unseated many a rider but never
moved the iron Meadows), and with dilating nostril and ears laid back
she hurled herself across country like a stone from a sling.
Meadows' house was about four miles and a half distant as the crow
flies, and he went home to-day as the crow flies, only faster. None
would have known the staid, respectable Meadows, in this figure that
came flying over hedge and ditch and brook, his hat dangling and
leaping like mad behind him, his hand now and then clutching his
breast, his heart tossed like a boat among the breakers, his lips
white, his teeth clinched and his eyes blazing! The mare took
everything in her stride, but at last they came somewhat suddenly on
an enormous high, stiff fence. To clear it was impossible. By this
time man and beast were equally reckless; they went straight into it
and through it as a bullet goes through a pane of glass; and on again
over brook and fence, plowed field and meadow, till Meadows found
himself, he scarce knew how, at his own door. His old deaf servant
came out from the stable-yard and gazed in astonishment at the mare,
whose flank panted, whose tail quivered, whose back looked as if she
had been in the river, while her belly was stained with half a dozen
different kinds of soil, and her rider's face streamed with blood from
a dozen scratches he had never felt.
Meadows flung himself from the saddle and ran up to his own room. He
dashed his face and his burning hands into water; this seemed to do
him a little good. He came downstairs; he lighted a pipe (we are the
children of habit); he sat with his eyebrows painfully bent. People
called on him; he fiercely refused to see them.
For the first time in his life he turned his back on business. He sat
for hours by the fireplace. A fierce mental struggle wrenched him to
Evening came, still he sat collapsed by the fireplace. From his
window, among other objects, two dwellings were visible; one, distant
four miles, was a whitewashed cottage, tiled instead of thatched,
adorned with creepers and roses and very clean, but in other respects
little superior to laborers' cottages.
The other, distant six long miles, was the Grassmere farmhouse, where
the Mertons lived; the windows seemed burnished gold this evening.
In the small cottage lived a plain old woman--a Methodist. She was
She did not admire worldly people, still less envied them.
He was too good a churchman and man of business to permit conventicles
or psalm-singing at odd hours in his house. So she preferred living in
her own, which moreover was her own--her very own.
The old woman never spoke of her son, and checked all complaints of
him, and snubbed all experimental eulogies of him.
Meadows never spoke of his mother, paid her a small allowance with the
regularity and affectionate grace of clock-work; never asked her if
she didn't want any more--would not have refused her if she had asked
This evening, while the sun was shining with all his evening glory on
Susan Merton's house, Meadows went slowly to his window and pulled
down the blind, and drawing his breath hard shut the loved prospect
He then laid his hand upon the table, and he said: "I swear by the
holy bread and wine I took last month that I will not put myself in
the way of this strong temptation. I swear I will go no more to
Grassmere Farm, never so long as I love Susan." He added faintly,
"Unless they send for me, and they won't do that, and I won't go of my
own accord, I swear it. I have sworn it, however, and I swear it
again--unless they send for me!"
Then he sat by the fire with his head in his hands--a posture he never
was seen in before. Next he wrote a note and sent it hastily with a
horse and cart to that small whitewashed cottage.
Old Mrs. Meadows sat in her doorway reading a theological work called
"Believers' Buttons." She took the note, looked at it. "Why, this is
from John, I think; what can he have to say to me?" She put on her
spectacles again, which she had taken off on the messenger first
accosting her, and deliberately opened, smoothed and read the note. It
"Mother, I am lonely. Come over and stay awhile with me, if you
"Your dutiful son, JOHN MEADOWS"
"Here, Hannah," cried the old woman to a neighbor's daughter that was
nearly always with her.
Hannah, a comely girl of fourteen, came running in.
"Here's John wants me to go over to his house. Get me the pen and ink,
girl, out of the cupboard, and I'll write him a word or two any
way.--Is there anything amiss?" said she quickly to the man.
"He came in with the black mare all in a lather, just after dinner,
and he hasn't spoke to a soul since. That's all I know, missus. I
think something has put him out, and he isn't soon put out, you know,
Hannah left the room, after placing the paper as she was bid.
"You will all be put out that trust to an arm of flesh, all of ye,
master or man, Dick Messenger," said the disciple of John Wesley
somewhat grimly. "Ay, and be put out of the kingdom of heaven, too, if
ye don't take heed."
"Is that the news I'm to take back to Farnborough, missus?" said
Messenger with quiet, rustic irony.
"No; I'll write to him."
The old woman wrote a few lines reminding Meadows that the pursuit of
earthly objects could never bring any steady comfort, and telling him
that she should be lost in his great house--that it would seem quite
strange to her to go into the town after so many years' quiet--but
that if he was minded to come out and see her she would be glad to see
him and glad of the opportunity to give him her advice, if he was in a
better frame for listening to it than last time she offered it to him,
and that was two years come Martinmas.
Then the old woman paused, next she reflected, and afterward dried her
unfinished letter. And as she began slowly to fold it up and put it in
her pocket--"Hannah," cried she thoughtfully.
Hannah appeared in the doorway.
"I dare say--you may fetch--my cloak and bonnet. Why, if the wench
hasn't got them on her arm. What, you made up your mind that I should
"That I did," replied Hannah. "Your warm shawl is in the cart, Mrs.
"Oh! you did, did you. Young folks are apt to be sure and certain. I
was in two minds about it, so I don't see how the child could be
sure," said she, dividing her remark between vacancy and the person
addressed--a grammatical privilege of old age.
"Oh! but _I_ was sure, for that matter," replied Hannah firmly.
"And what made the little wench so sure, I wonder?" said the old
woman, now in her black bonnet and scarlet cloak.
"Why, la!" says Hannah, "because it's your son, ma'am--and you're his
mother, Dame Meadows!"
JOHN MEADOWS had always been an active man, but now he was
indefatigable. He was up at five every morning, and seemed ubiquitous;
added a gray gelding to his black mare, and rode them both nearly off
their legs. He surveyed land in half a dozen counties--he speculated
in grain in half a dozen markets, and did business in shares. His plan
in dealing with this ticklish speculation was simple. He listened to
nothing anybody said, examined the venture himself, and, if it had a
sound basis, bought when the herd was selling, and sold wherever the
herd was buying. Hence, he bought cheap and sold dear.
He also lent money, and contrived to solve the usurers'
problem--perfect security and huge interest.
He arrived at this by his own sagacity and the stupidity of mankind.
Mankind are not wanting in intelligence; but, as a body, they have one
intellectual defect--they are muddle-heads.
Now these muddle-heads have agreed to say that land is in all cases
five times a surer security for money lent than movables are. Whereas
the fact is that sometimes it is and sometimes it is not. Owing to the
above delusion the proprietor of land can always borrow money at four
per cent, and other proprietors are often driven to give
So John Meadows lent mighty little upon land, but much upon oat-ricks,
wagons, advantageous leases and such things, solid as land and more
easily convertible into cash.
Thus without risk he got his twenty per cent. Not that he appeared in
these transactions--he had too many good irons in the fire to let
himself be called a usurer.
He worked this business as three thousand respectable men are working
it in this nation. He had a human money-bag, whose strings he went
behind a screen and pulled.
The human money-bag of Meadows was Peter Crawley.
This Peter Crawley, some years before our tale, lay crushed beneath a
barrowful of debts--many of them to publicans. In him others saw a
cunning fool and a sot--Meadows an unscrupulous tool. Meadows wanted
a tool, and knew the cheapest way to get the thing was to buy it, so
he bought up all Crawley's debts, sued him, got judgments out against
him, and raising the ax of the law over Peter's head with his right
hand, offered him the left hand of fellowship with his left. Down on
his knees went Crawley and resigned his existence to this great man.
Human creatures, whose mission it is to do whatever a man secretly
bids them, are not entitled to long and interesting descriptions.
Crawley was fifty, wore a brown wig, the only thing about him that did
not attempt disguise, and slouched in a brown coat and a shirt
peppered with snuff.
In this life he was an infinitesimal attorney. Previously, unless
Pythagoras was a goose, he had been a pole-cat.
Meadows was ambidexter. The two hands he gathered coin with were
Meadows and Crawley. The first his honest, hard-working hand; the
second his three-fingered Jack, his prestidigital hand; with both he
now worked harder than ever. He hurried from business to
business--could not wait to chat, or drink a glass of ale after it; it
was all work! work! work!--money! money! money! with John Meadows,
and everything he touched turned to gold in his hands; yet for all
this burning activity the man's heart had never been so little in
business. His activity was the struggle of a sensible, strong mind to
fight against its one weakness.
"Cedit amor rebus; res age tutus eris," is a very wise saying, and
Meadows, by his own observation and instinct, sought the best antidote
But the Latins had another true saying, that "nobody is wise at all
After his day of toil and success he used to be guilty of a sad
inconsistency. He shut himself up at home for two hours, and smoked
his pipe, and ran his eye over the newspaper, but his mind over Susan
Worse than this, in his frequent rides he used to go a mile or two out
of his way to pass Grassmere farmhouse; and however fast he rode the
rest of his journey he always let his nag walk by the farmhouse, and
his eye brightened with hope as he approached it, and his heart sank
as he passed it without seeing Susan.
He now bitterly regretted the vow he had made, never to visit the
Mertons again unless they sent for him.
"They have forgotten me altogether," said he bitterly. "Well, the best
thing I can do is to forget them."
Now, Susan had forgotten him; she was absorbed in her own grief; but
Merton was laboring under a fit of rheumatism, and this was the reason
why Meadows and he did not meet. In fact, farmer Merton often said to
his daughter, "John Meadows has not been to see us a long while."
"Hasn't he, father?" was Susan's languid and careless reply.
One Sunday, Meadows, weakened by his inner struggle, could not help
going to Grassmere church. At least he would see her face. He had
seated himself where he could see her. She took her old place by the
pillar; nobody was near her. The light from a side window streamed
full upon her. She was pale, and the languor of sorrow was upon every
part of her face, but she was lovely as ever.
Meadows watched her, and noticed that more than once without any
visible reason her eyes filled with tears, but she shed none. He saw
how hard she tried to give her whole soul to the services of the
church and to the word of the preacher; he saw her succeed for a few
minutes at a time, and then with a lover's keen eye he saw her heart
fly away in a moment from prayer and praise and consolation, and
follow and overtake the ship that was carrying her George farther and
farther away from her across the sea; and then her lips quivered with
earthly sorrow even as she repeated words that came from Heaven, and
tried to bind to her heavy heart the prayers for succor in every
mortal ill, the promises of help in every mortal woe, with which holy
Church and holier Writ comfort her and all the pure of heart in every
Then Meadows, who up to this moment had been pitying himself, had a
better thought and pitied Susan. He even went so far as to feel that
he ought to pity George, but he did not do it; he could not, he envied
him too much; but he pitied Susan, and he longed to say something kind
and friendly to her, even though there should not be a word or a look
of love in it.
Susan went out by one of the church doors, Meadows by another,
intending to meet her casually upon the road home. Susan saw his
intention and took another path, so that he could not come up with her
without following her.
Meadows turned upon his heel and went home with his heart full of
"She hates the sight of me," was his interpretation.
Poor Susan, she hated nobody, she only hated to have to speak to a
stranger, and to listen to a stranger; and in her present grief all
were strangers to her except him she had lost and her father. She
avoided Meadows not because he was Meadows, but because she wanted to
Meadows rode home despondently, then he fell to abusing his folly, and
vowed he would think of her no more.
The next day, finding himself, at six o'clock in the evening, seated
by the fire in a reverie, he suddenly started fiercely up, saddled his
horse, and rode into Newborough, and, putting up his horse, strolled
about the streets and tried to amuse himself looking at the shops
before they closed.
Now it so happened that, stopping before a bookseller's shop, he saw
advertised a work upon "The Australian Colonies."
"Confound Australia!" said Meadows to himself, and turned on his heel,
but the next moment, with a sudden change of mind, he returned and
bought the book. He did more, he gave the tradesman an order for every
approved work on Australia that was to be had.
The bookseller, as it happened, was going up to London next day, so
that in the evening Meadows had some dozen volumes in his house, and a
tolerably correct map of certain Australian districts.
"Let me see," said Meadows, "what chance that chap has of making a
thousand pounds out there." This was no doubt the beginning of it, but
it did not end there. The intelligent Meadows had not read a hundred
pages before he found out what a wonderful country this Australia is,
how worthy a money-getter's attention or any thoughtful man's.
It seemed as if his rival drew Meadows after him wherever he went, so
fascinated was he with this subject. And now all the evening he sucked
the books like a leech.
Men observed, about this time, an irritable manner in Mr. Meadows
which he had never shown before, and an eternal restlessness; they
little divined the cause, or dreamed what a vow he had made, and what
it cost him every day to keep it. So strong was the struggle within
him, that there were moments when he feared he should go mad; and then
it was that he learned the value of his mother's presence in the
There was no explanation between them, there could be no sympathy; had
he opened his heart to her he knew she would have denounced his love
for Susan Merton as a damnable crime. Once she invited his confidence.
"What ails you, John?" said the old woman. "You had better tell me;
you would feel easier, I'm thinking."
But he turned it off a little fretfully, and she never returned to the
charge. But though there could be no direct sympathy, yet there was a
soothing influence in this quaint old woman's presence. She moved
quietly about, protecting his habits, not disturbing them; she seemed
very thoughtful, too, and cast many a secret glance of inquiry and
interest at him when he was not looking at her.
This had gone on some weeks when, one afternoon, Meadows, who had been
silent as death for a full half hour, started from his chair and said
with sudden resolution:
"Mother, I must leave this part of the country for a while."
"That is news, John."
"Yes. I shall go into the mining district for six months or a year,
"Well! go, John! you want a change. I think you can't do better than
"I will, and no later than to-morrow."
"That is sudden."
"If I was to give myself time to think, I should never go at all."
He went out briskly with the energy of this determination.
The same evening, about seven o'clock, as he sat reading by the fire,
an unexpected visitor was announced--Mr. Merton.
He came cordially in and scolded Meadows for never having been to see
"I know you are a busy man," said the old farmer, "but you might have
given us a look in coming home from market; it is only a mile out of
the way, and you are pretty well mounted in a general way."
Then the old man, a gossip, took up one of Meadows' books. "Australia!
ah!" grunted Merton, and dropped it like a hot potato; he tried
another, "Why, this is Australia, too; why, they are all Australia, as
I am a living sinner." And he looked with a rueful curiosity into
Meadows colored, but soon recovered his external composure.
"I have friends there," said he hastily, "who tell me there are
capital investments in that country, and they say no more than the
"Do you think he will do any good out there?" asked the old man,
lowering his voice.
"I can't say," answered Meadows dryly.
"Tell us something about that country, John," said Merton; "and if you
was to ask me to take a glass of your home-brewed ale I don't think I
should gainsay you."
The ale was sent for, and over it Meadows, whose powers of acquisition
extended to facts as well as money, and who was full of this new
subject, poured the agricultural contents of a dozen volumes into Mr.
The old farmer sat open-mouthed, transfixed with interest, listening
to his friend's clear, intelligent and masterly descriptions of this
wonderful land. At last the clock struck nine; he started up in
"I shall get a scolding if I stay later," said he, and off he went to
"Have you nothing else to say to me?" asked Meadows, as the farmer put
his foot in the stirrup.
"Not that I know of," replied the other, and cantered away.
"Confound him!" muttered Meadows; "he comes and stops here three
hours, drinks my ale, gets my knowledge without the trouble of digging
for't, and goes away, and not a word from Susan, or even a word about
her--one word would have paid me for all this loss of time--but no, I
was not to have it. I will be in Devonshire this time to-morrow--no,
to-morrow is market day--but the day after I will go. I cannot live
here and not see her, nor speak to her--'twill drive me mad."
The next morning, as Meadows mounted his horse to ride to market, a
carter's boy came up to him, and taking off his hat and pulling his
head down by the front lock by way of salute, put a note into his
hand. Meadows took it and opened it carelessly; it was a handwriting
he did not know. But his eye had no sooner glanced at the signature
than his eyes gleamed and his whole frame trembled with emotion he
could hardly hide. This was the letter:
"DEAR MR. MEADOWS--We have not seen you here a long time, and if you
could take a cup of tea with us on your way home from market, my
father would be glad to see you, if it is not troubling you too much.
"I believe he has some calves he wishes to show you.
"I am, yours respectfully,
"P. S.--Father has been confined by rheumatism, and I have not been
well this last month."
Meadows turned away from the messenger, and said quietly, "Tell Miss
Merton I will come, if possible." He then galloped off, and as soon as
there was no one in sight gave vent to his face and his exulting soul.
Now he congratulated himself on his goodness in making a certain vow
and his firmness in keeping it.
"I kept out of their way, and they have invited me; my conscience is
He then asked himself why Susan had invited him; and he could not but
augur the most favorable results from this act on her part. True, his
manner to her had never gone beyond friendship, but women, he argued,
are quick to discern their admirers under every disguise. She was dull
and out of spirits, and wrote for him to come to her; this was a great
point, a good beginning. "The sea is between her and George, and I am
here, with time and opportunity on my side," said Meadows; and as
these thoughts coursed through his heart, his gray nag, spurred by an
unconscious heel, broke into a hand-gallop, and after an hour and a
half hard riding they clattered into the town of Newborough.
The habit of driving hard bargains is a good thing for teaching a man
to suppress his feelings and feign indifference, yet the civil
nonchalance with which Meadows, on his return from Newborough, walked
into the Merton's parlor cost him no ordinary struggle.
The farmer received him cordially--Susan civilly, and with a somewhat
feeble smile. The former soon engaged him in agricultural talk. Susan,
meanwhile, made the tea in silence, and Meadows began to think she was
capricious, and had no sooner got what she asked for than she did not
care for it. After a while, however, she put in a word here and there,
but with a discouraging languor.
Presently Farmer Merton brought her his tea-cup to be replenished, and
upon this opportunity Susan said a word to her father in an undertone.
"Oh, ay!" replied the farmer very loud indeed; and Susan colored.
"What was you saying to me about that country--that Christmas-day is
the hottest day in the year?" began Mr. Merton.
Meadows assented, and Merton proceeded to put other questions, in
order, it appeared, to draw once more from Meadows the interesting
information of last night.
Meadows answered shortly and with repugnance. Then Susan put in: "And
is it true, sir, that the flowers are beautiful to the eye, but have
no smell, and that the birds have all gay feathers, but no song?" Then
Susan, scarcely giving him time to answer, proceeded to put several
questions, and her manner was no longer languid, but bright and
animated. She wound up her interrogatories with this climax:
"And _do_ you think, sir, it is a country where George will be able
to do any good. And will he have his health in that land, so far from
every one to take care of him?"
And this doubt raised, the bright eyes were dimmed with tears in a
Meadows gasped out, "Why not? why not?" but soon after, muttering some
excuse about his horse, he went out with a promise to return
He was no sooner alone than he gave way to a burst of rage and
"So, she only sent for me here to make me tell her about that infernal
country where her George is. I'll ride home this instant--this very
instant--without bidding them good-by."
Cooler thoughts came. He mused deeply a few minutes, and then,
clinching his teeth, returned slowly to the little parlor: he sat down
and took his line with a brisk and cheerful air.
"You were asking me some questions about Australia. I can tell you all
about that country, for I have a relation there who writes to me. And
I have read all the books about it, too, as it happens."
Susan brightened up.
Meadows, by a great histrionic effort, brightened up, too, and poured
out a flood of really interesting facts and anecdotes about this
Then, in the middle of a narrative, which enchained both his hearers,
he suddenly looked at his watch, and putting on a fictitious look of
dismay and annoyance, started up with many excuses and went home--not,
however, till Susan had made him promise to come again next
As he rode home in the moonlight Susan's face seemed still before him.
The bright look of interest she had given him, the grateful smiles
with which she had thanked him for his narration--all this had been so
sweet at the moment, so bitter upon the least reflection. His mind was
in a whirl. At last he grasped at one idea, and held it as with a
"I shall be always welcome to her if I can bring myself to talk about
that detestable country. Well, I will grind my tongue down to it. She
shall not be able to do without my chat; that shall be the beginning;
the middle shall be different; the end shall be just the opposite. The
sea is between him and her. I am here with opportunity, resolution and
money. I _will_ have her!"
The next morning his mother said to him:
"John, do you think to go to-day?"
"The journey you spoke of."
"Among the mines."
"You have changed your mind, then?"
"What, didn't you see I was joking?"
"No!" (very dryly.)
Soon after this little dialogue Dame Meadows proposed to end her visit
and return home. Her son yielded a cheerful assent. She went gravely
and quietly back to her little cottage.
Meadows had determined to make himself necessary to Susan Merton. He
brought a woman's cunning to bear against a woman's; for the artifice
to which his strong will bent his supple talent is one that many women
have had the tact and temporary self-denial to carry out, but not one
man in a hundred.
Men try to beat an absent rival by sneering at him, etc. By which
means the asses make their absent foe present to her mind and enlist
the whole woman in his defense.
But Meadows was no ordinary man. Susan had given his quick
intelligence a glimpse of a way to please her. He looked at the end,
and crushed his will down to the thorny means.
Twice a week he called on the Mertons, and much of his talk was
Australia. Susan was grateful. To hear of the place where George would
soon be was the nearest approach she could make to hearing of George.
As for Meadows, he gained a great point, but he went through tortures
on the way. He could not hide from himself why he was so welcome; and
many a time as he rode home from the Mertons he resolved never to
return there, but he took no more oaths; it had cost him so much to
keep the last; and that befell which might have been expected, after a
while, the pleasure of being near the woman he loved, of being
distinguished by her and greeted with pleasure however slight, grew
into a habit and a need.
Achilles was a man of steel, but he had a vulnerable part; and iron
natures like John Meadows have often one spot in their souls where
they are far tenderer than the universal dove-eyed, and weaker than
the omnipotent. He never spoke a word of love to Susan, he knew it
would spoil all; and she, occupied with another's image, and looking
upon herself as confessedly belonging to another, never suspected the
deep passion that filled this man's heart. But if an observer of
nature had accompanied John Meadows on market-day he might have
All the morning his eye was cold and quick; his mouth, when silent,
close, firm, and unreadable; his voice clear, decided, and
occasionally loud. But when he got to old Merton's fireside he
mellowed and softened like the sun toward evening. There his forehead
unknit itself; his voice, pitched in quite a different key from his
key of business, turned also low and gentle, and soothed and secretly
won the hearer by its deep, rich and pleasant modulation and variety;
and his eye turned deeper in color, and, losing its keenness and
restlessness, dwelt calmly and pensively for minutes at a time upon
some little household object close to Susan; seldom, unless quite
unobserved, upon Susan herself.
But the surrounding rustics suspected nothing, so calm and deep ran
"Dear heart," said Susan to her father, "who would have thought Mr.
Meadows would come a mile out of his way twice a week to talk to me
about Geo--about the country where my heart is--and the folk say he
thinks of nothing but money and won't move a step without making it."
"The folk are envious of him, girl--that is all. John Meadows is too
clever for fools, and too industrious for the lazy ones; he is a good
friend of mine, Susan; if I wanted to borrow a thousand pounds I have
only to draw on Meadows; he has told me so half a dozen times."
"We don't want his money, father," replied Susan, "nor anybody's; but
I think a great deal of his kindness, and George shall thank him when
he comes home--if ever he comes home to Susan again." These last words
brought many tears with them, which the old farmer pretended not to
notice, for he was getting tired of his daughter's tears. They were
always flowing now at the least word, "and she used to be so
good-humored and cheerful-like."
Poor Susan! she was very unhappy. If any one had said to her,
"to-morrow you die," she would have smiled on her own account, and
only sighed at the pain the news would cause poor George. Her George
was gone, her mother had been dead this two years. Her life, which had
been full of innocent pleasures, was now utterly tasteless, except in
its hours of bitterness when sorrow overcame her like a flood. She had
a pretty flower-garden in which she used to work. When George was at
home what pleasure it had been to plant them with her lover's help, to
watch them expand, to water them in the summer evening, to smell their
gratitude for the artificial shower after a sultry day, and then to
have George in, and set him admiring them with such threadbare
enthusiasm, simply because they were hers, not in the least because
they were Nature's.
I will go back, like the epic writers, and sketch one of their little
One evening, after watering them all, she sat down on a seat at the
bottom of the garden, and casting her eyes over her whole domain,
said, "Well, now, I do admire flowers; don't you, George?"
"That I do," replied George, taking another seat, and coolly turning
his back on the parterre, and gazing mildly into Susan's eyes.
"Why, he is not even looking at them!" cried Susan, and she clapped
her hands and laughed gleefully.
"Oh, yes, he is; leastways he is looking at one of them, and the
brightest of the lot to my fancy."
Susan colored with pleasure. In the country compliments don't drip
constantly on beauty even from the lips of love. Then, suppressing her
satisfaction, she said, "You will look for a flower in return for
that, young man; come and let us see whether there is one good enough
for you." So then they took hands, and Susan drew him demurely about
the garden. Presently she stopped with a little start of hypocritical
admiration; at their feet shone a marigold. Susan culled the gaudy
flower and placed it affectionately in George's buttonhole. He
received it proudly, and shaking hands with her, for it was time to
part, turned away slowly. She let him take a step or two, then called
him back. "He was really going off with that nasty thing." She took it
out of his buttonhole, rubbed it against his nose with well-feigned
anger and then threw it away.
"You are all behind in flowers, George," said Susan; "here, this is
good enough for you," and she brought out from under her apron, where
she had carried the furtively culled treasure, a lovely clove-pink.
Pretty soul, she had nursed and watered and cherished this choice
flower this three weeks past for George, and this was her way of
giving it him at last; so a true woman gives--(her life, if need be).
George took it and smelled it, and lingered a moment at the garden
gate, and moralized on it. "Well, Susan, dear, now I'm not so deep in
flowers as you, but I like this a deal better than the marigold, and
I'll tell you for why; it is more like you, Susan."
"I see flowers that are pretty, but have no smell, and I see women
that have good looks, but no great wisdom nor goodness when you come
nearer to them. Now the marigold is like those lasses; but this pink
is good as well as pretty, so then it will stand for you, when we are
apart, as we mostly are--worse luck for me."
"Oh, George," said Susan, dropping her quizzing manner, "I am a long
way behind the marigold or any flower in comeliness and innocence, but
at least I wish I was better."
"Ay, but I do, ten times better, for--for--"
"For why, Susan?"
Susan closed the garden gate and took a step toward the house. Then,
turning her head over her shoulder, with an ineffable look of
tenderness, tipped with one tint of lingering archness, she let fall,
"For your sake, George," in the direction of George's feet, and glided
across the garden into the house.
George stood watching her. He did not at first take up all she had
bestowed on him, for her sex has peculiar mastery over language, being
diabolically angelically subtle in the art of saying something that
expresses 1 oz. and implies 1 cwt.; but when he did comprehend, his
heart exulted. He strode home as if he trod on air and often kissed
the little flower he had taken from the beloved hand, "and with it
words of so sweet breath composed, as made the thing more rich;" and
as he marched past the house kissing the flower, need I tell my reader
that so innocent a girl as Susan was too high-minded to watch the
effect of her proceedings from behind the curtains? I hope not, it
would surely be superfluous to relate what none would be green enough
These were Susan's happy days. Now all was changed. She hated to water
her flowers now. She bade one of the farm-servants look to the garden.
He accepted the charge, and her flowers' drooping heads told how nobly
he had fulfilled it. Susan was charitable. Every day it had been her
custom to visit more than one poor person; she carried meal to one,
soup to another, linen to another, meat and bread to another, money to
another--to all words and looks of sympathy. This practice she did not
even now give up, for it came under the head of her religious duties;
but she relaxed it. She often sent to places where she used to go.
Until George went she had never thought of herself; and so the
selfishness of those she relieved had not struck her. Now it made her
bitter to see that none of those she pitied, pitied her. The moment
she came into their houses it was, "_My_ poor head, Miss Merton;
_my_ old bones do ache so."
"I think a bit of your nice bacon would do ME good. I'M a poor
sufferer, Miss Merton. _My_ boy is 'listed. I thought as how you'd
forgotten _me_ altogether. But 'tis hard for poor folk to keep a
friend." "You see, miss, _my_ bedroom window is broken in one or
two places. John, he stopped it up with paper the best way he could,
but la, bless you, paper baint like glass. It is very dull for
_me_. You see, miss, I can't get about now as I used to could, and
I never was no great reader. I often wish as some one would step in
and knock me on the head, for I be no use, I baint, neer a mossel." No
one of them looked up in her face and said, "Lauks, how pale _you_
ha got to look, miss; I hopes as how nothing amiss haven't happened to
_you_, that have been so kind to us this many a day." Yet suffering
of some sort was plainly stamped on the face and in the manner of this
relieving angel. When they poured out their vulgar woes, Susan made an
effort to forget her own and to cheer as well as relieve them. But she
had to compress her own heart hard to do it; and this suppression of
feeling makes people more or less bitter. She had better have out with
it, and scolded them well for talking as if they alone were unhappy;
but her woman's nature would not let her. They kept asking her for
pity, and she still gulped down her own heart and gave it them, till
at last she began to take a spite against her pets; so then she sent
to most of them instead of going. She sent rather larger slices of
beef and bacon, and rather more yards of flannel than when she used to
carry the like to them herself. Susan had one or two young friends,
daughters of farmers in the neighborhood, with whom she was a
favorite, though the gayer ones sometimes quizzed her for her
religious tendencies, and her lamentable indifference to flirtation.
But then she was so good and so good-humored. and so tolerant of other
people's tastes. The prattle of these young ladies became now
intolerable to Susan, and when she saw them coming to call on her she
used to snatch up her bonnet and fly and lock herself up in a closet
at the top of the house, and read some good book as quiet as a mouse,
till the servants had hunted for her and told them she must be out.
She was not in a frame of mind to sustain tarlatans, barege, the
history of the last hop, and the prophecies of the next; the wounded
deer shrunk from its gamboling associates, and indeed from all
strangers, except John Meadows. "He talks to me about something worth
talking about," said Susan Merton. It happened one day, while Susan
was in this sad and I may say dangerous state of mind, that the
servant came up to her, and told her a gentleman was on his horse at
the door, and wanted to see Mr. Merton.
"Father is at market, Jane."
"Yes, miss, but I told the gentleman you were at home."
"Me! what have I to do with father's visitors?"
"Miss," replied Jane mysteriously, "it is a parson, and you are so
fond of them, I could not think to let him go away without getting a
word with anybody; and he has such a face. La, miss, you never saw
such a face."
"Silly girl, what have I to do with handsome faces?"
"But he is not handsome, miss, not in the least, only he is beautiful.
You go and see else."
"I hate strangers' faces, but I will go to him, Jane; it is my duty,
since it is a clergyman. I will just go upstairs."
"La, miss, what for? you are always neat, you are--nobody ever catches
you in your dishables like the rest of 'em."
"I'll just smooth my hair."
"La, miss, what for? it is smooth as marble--it always is."
"Where is he, Jane?"
"In the front parlor."
"I won't be a moment."
She went upstairs. There was no necessity; Jane was right there; but
it was a strict custom in the country, and is, for that matter, and
will be till time and vanity shall be no more. More majorum a girl
must go up and look at herself in the glass if she did nothing more,
before coming in to receive company.
Susan entered the parlor; she came in so gently that she had a moment
to observe her visitor before he saw her. He had seated himself with
his back to the light, and was devouring a stupid book on husbandry
that belonged to her father. The moment she closed the door he saw her
and rose from his seat.
"The living of this place has been vacant more than a month."
"It will not be filled up for three months, perhaps."
"So we hear, sir."
"Meantime you have no church to go to nearer than Barmstoke, which is
a chapel-of-ease to this place, but two miles distant."
"Two miles and a half, sir."
"So then the people here have no divine service on the Lord's day."
"No, sir, not for the present," said Susan meekly, lowering her
lashes, as if the clergyman had said, "This is a parish of heathens,
whereof you are one."
"Nor any servant of God to say a word of humility and charity to the
rich, of eternal hope to the poor, and" (here his voice sunk into
sudden tenderness) "of comfort to the sorrowful."
Susan raised her eyes and looked him over with one dove-like glance,
then instantly lowered them.
"No, sir, we are all under a cloud here," said Susan sadly.
"Miss Merton, I have undertaken the duty here until the living shall
be filled up; but you shall understand that I live thirty miles off,
and have other duties, and I can only ride over here on Saturday
afternoon and back Monday at noon."
"Oh, sir!" cried Susan, "half a loaf is better than no bread! The
parish will bless you, sir, and no doubt," added she timidly, "the
Lord will reward you for coming so far to us."
"I am glad you think so," said the clergyman thoughtfully. "Well, let
us do the best we can. Tell me first, Miss Merton, do you think the
absence of a clergyman is regretted here?"
"Regretted, sir! dear heart, what a question. You might as well ask me
do father's turnips long for rain after a month's drought;" and Susan
turned on her visitor a face into which the innocent venerating love
her sex have for an ecclesiastic flashed without disguise.
Her companion smiled, but it was with benevolence, not with gratified
"Let me explain my visit. Your father is one of the principal people
in the village. He can assist me or thwart me in my work. I called to
invite his co-operation. Some clergymen are jealous of co-operation; I
am not. It is a good thing for all parties; best of all for those who
co-operate with us; for in giving alms wisely they receive grace, and
in teaching the ignorant they learn themselves. Am I right?" added he
rather sharply, turning suddenly upon Susan.
"Oh, sir," said Susan, a little startled, "it is for me to receive
your words, not to judge them."
"Humph!" said the reverend gentleman rather dryly; he hated
intellectual subserviency. He liked people to think for them-selves;
and to end by thinking with him.
"Father will never thwart you, sir, and I--I will co-operate with you,
sir, if you will accept of me," said Susan innocently.
"Thank you, then let us begin at once." He took out his watch. "I have
an hour and a half to spare, then I must gallop back to Oxford. Miss
Merton, I should like to make acquaintance with some of the people.
Suppose we go to the school, and see what the children are learning,
and then visit one or two families in the village, so I shall catch a
glimpse of the three generations I have to deal with. My name is
Francis Eden. You are going to get your bonnet?"
They passed out through the garden. Mr. Eden stopped to look at the
flowers. Susan colored.
"It has been rather neglected of late," said she apologetically.
"It must have been very well taken care of before, then," said he,
"for it looks charming now. Ah! I love flowers dearly!" and he gave a
They reached the school, and Mr. Eden sat down and examined the little
boys and girls. When he sat down Susan winced. How angry he will be at
their ignorance! thought Susan. But Mr. Eden, instead of putting on an
awful look, and impressing on the children that a being of another
generation was about to attack them, made himself young to meet their
minds. A pleasant smile disarmed their fears. He spoke to them in very
simple words and childish idioms, and told them a pretty story, which
interested them mightily. Having set their minds really working, he
put questions arising fairly out of his story, and so fathomed the
moral sense and the intelligence of more than one. In short, he drew
the brats out instead of crushing them in. Susan stood by, at first
startled at the line he took, then observant, then approving.
Presently he turned to her.
"And which is your class, Miss Merton?"
"I take these little girls when I come, sir.
"Miss Merton has not been here this fortnight," said a pert teacher.
Susan could have beat her. What will this good man think of me now?
thought poor Susan. To her grateful relief, the good man took no
notice of the observation; he looked at his watch.
"Now, Miss Merton, if I am not giving you too much trouble," and they
left the school.
"You wish to see some of the folk in the village, sir?"
"Where shall I take you first, sir?"
"Where I ought to go first."
Susan looked puzzled.
Mr. Eden stopped dead short.
"Come, guess," said he, with a radiant smile, "and don't look so
scared. I'll forgive you if you guess wrong."
Susan looked this way and that, encouraged by his merry smile. She let
out--scarce above a whisper, and in a tone of interrogation, as who
should say this is not to be my last chance since I have only asked a
question not risked an answer--
"To the poorest, Mr. Eden?"
"Brava! she has guessed it," cried the Reverend Frank triumphantly;
for he had been more anxious she should answer right than she had
herself. "Young lady, I have friends with their heads full of Latin
and Greek who could not have answered that so quickly as you; one
proof more how goodness brightens intelligence," added he in
soliloquy. "Here's a cottage."
"Yes, sir, I was going to take you into this one, if you please."
They found in the cottage a rheumatic old man, one of those we alluded
to as full of his own complaints. Mr. Eden heard these with patience,
and then, after a few words of kind sympathy and acquiescence, for he
was none of those hard humbugs who tell a man that old age, rheumatism
and poverty are strokes with a feather, he said quietly:
"And now for the other side; now tell me what you have to be grateful
The old man was taken aback and his fluency deserted him. On the
question being repeated, he began to say that he had many mercies to
be thankful for. Then he higgled and hammered and fumbled for the said
mercies, and tried to enumerate them, but in phrases conventional and
derived from tracts and sermons; whereas his statement of grievances
had been idiomatic.
"There, that will do," said Mr. Eden smiling, "say nothing you don't
feel; what is the use? May I ask you a few questions," added he,
courteously; then, without waiting for permission, he dived skillfully
into this man's life, and fished up all the pearls--the more
Many years ago this old man had been a soldier, had fought in more
than one great battle, had retreated with Sir John Moore upon Corunna,
and been one of the battered and weary but invincible band who wheeled
round and stunned the pursuers on 'that bloody and glorious day. Mr.
Eden went with the old man to Spain, discussed with great animation
the retreat, the battle, the position of the forces, and the old
soldier's personal prowess. Old Giles perked up, and dilated, and was
another man; he forgot his rheumatism, and even his old age. Twice he
suddenly stood upright as a dart on the floor, and gave the word of
command like a trumpet in some brave captain's name; and his cheek
flushed, and his eye glittered with the light of battle. Susan looked
at him with astonishment. Then when his heart was warm and his spirits
attentive Mr. Eden began to throw in a few words of exhortation. But
even then he did not bully the man into being a Christian; gently,
firmly, and with a winning modesty, he said: "I think you have much to
be thankful for, like all the rest of us. Is it not a mercy you were
not cut off in your wild and dissolute youth? you might have been
slain in battle."
"That I might, sir; three of us went from this parish and only one
came home again.
"You might have lost a leg or an arm, as many a brave fellow did; you
might have been a cripple all your days."
"That is true, sir."
"You survive here in a Christian land, in possession of your
faculties; the world, it is true, has but few pleasures to offer
you--all the better for you. Oh, if I could but make that as plain to
you as it is to me. You have every encouragement to look for happiness
there, where alone it is to be found. Then courage, corporal; you
stood firm at Corunna--do not give way in this your last and most
glorious battle. The stake is greater than it was at Vittoria, or
Salamanca, or Corunna, or Waterloo. The eternal welfare of a single
human soul weighs a thousand times more than all the crowns and
empires in the globe. You are in danger, sir. Discontent is a great
enemy of the soul. You must pray against it--you must fight against
"And so I will, sir; you see if I don't."
"You read, Mr. Giles?" Susan had told Mr. Eden his name at the
"Yes, sir; but I can't abide them nasty little prints they bring me."
"Of course you can't. Printed to sell, not to read, eh? Here is a
book. The type is large, clear and sharp. This is an order-book,
corporal. It comes from the great Captain of our salvation. Every
sentence in it is gold; yet I think I may safely pick out a few for
your especial use at present." And Mr. Eden sat down, and producing
from his side pockets, which were very profound, some long thin slips
of paper, he rapidly turned the leaves of the Testament and inserted
his markers; but this occupation did not for a moment interrupt his
"There is a pipe--you don't smoke, I hope?"
"No, sir; leastways not when I han't got any baccy, and I've been out
of that this three days--worse luck."
"Give up smoking, corporal, it is a foul habit."
"Ah, sir! you don't ever have a half-empty belly and a sorrowful
heart, or you wouldn't tell an old soldier to give up his pipe."
"Take my advice. Give up all such false consolation, to oblige me,
"Well, sir, to oblige you, I'll try; but you don't know what his pipe
is to a poor old man full of nothing but aches and pains, or you
wouldn't have asked me," and old Giles sighed. Susan sighed, too, for
she thought Mr. Eden cruel for once.
"Miss Merton," said the latter sternly, his eye twinkling all the
time, "he is incorrigible; and I see you agree with me that it is idle
to torment the incurable. So" (diving into the capacious pocket) "here
is an ounce of his beloved poison," and out came a paper of tobacco.
Corporal's eyes brightened with surprise and satisfaction. "Poison
him, Miss Merton, poison him quick, don't keep him waiting."
"Poison him, sir?"
"Fill his pipe for him, if you please."
"That I will, sir, with pleasure." A white hand with quick and supple
fingers filled the brown pipe.
"That is as it should be. Let beauty pay honor to courage; above all
to courage in its decay."
The old man grinned with gratified pride. The white hand lighted the
pipe, and gave it to the old soldier. He smiled gratefully all round
and sucked his homely consolation.
"I compound with you, corporal. You must let me put you on the road to
heaven, and, in return, I must let you go there in a cloud of
"I'm agreeable, sir," said Giles dryly, withdrawing his pipe for a
"There," said Mr. Eden, closing the marked Testament, "read often in
this book. Read first the verses I have marked, for these very verses
have dropped comfort on the poor, the aged and the distressed for more
than eighteen hundred years, and will till time shall be no more. And
now good-by, and God bless you."
"God bless you, sir, wherever you go!" cried the old man with sudden
energy, "for you have comforted my poor old heart. I feel as I han't
felt this many a day. Your words are like the bugles sounding a charge
all down the line. You must go, I suppose; but do ye come again and
see me. And, Miss Merton, you never come to see me now, as you used."
"Miss Merton has her occupations like the rest of us," said Mr. Eden
quickly; "but she will come to see you--won't she?"
"Oh, yes, sir!" replied Susan, hastily. So then they returned to the
farm, for Mr. Eden's horse was in the stable. At the door they found
"This is father, sir. Father, this is Mr. Eden, that is coming to take
the duty here for a while."
After the ordinary civilities Susan drew her father aside, and,
exchanging a few words with him, disappeared into the house. As Mr.
Eden was mounting his horse, Mr. Merton came forward and invited him
to stay at his house whenever he should come to the parish. Mr. Eden
"Sir," said the farmer, "you will find no lodgings comfortable within
a mile of the church, and we have a large house not half occupied. You
can make yourself quite at home."
"I am much obliged to you, Mr. Merton, but must not trespass too far
upon your courtesy."
"Well, sir," replied the farmer, "we shall feel proud if you can put
up with the like of us."
"I will come. I am much obliged to you, sir, and to your daughter."
He mounted his horse and bade the farmer good morning. Susan came out
and stood on the steps and curtsied low--rustic fashion--but with a
grace of her own. He took off his hat to her as he rode out of the
gate, gave her a sweet, bright smile of adieu, and went down the lane
fourteen miles an hour. Old Giles was seated outside his own door with
a pipe and a book. At the sound of horses' feet he looked up and
recognized his visitor, whom he had seen pass in the morning. He rose
up erect and saluted him, by bringing his thumb with a military wave
to his forehead. Mr. Eden saluted him in the same manner, but without
stopping. The old soldier sat down again and read and smoked. The pipe
ended--that solace was not of an immortal kind--but the book remained;
he read it calmly but earnestly in the warm air till day declined.
THE next Saturday Susan was busy preparing two rooms for Mr. Eden--a
homely but bright bedroom looking eastward, and a snug room where he
could be quiet downstairs. Snowy sheets and curtains and toilet-cover
showed the good housewife. The windows were open, and a beautiful
nosegay of Susan's flowers on the table. Mr. Eden's eye brightened at
the comfort and neatness and freshness of the whole thing; and Susan,
who watched him furtively, felt pleased to see him pleased.
On Sunday he preached in the parish church. The sermon was opposite to
what the good people here had been subject to; instead of the vague
and cold generalities of an English sermon, he drove home-truths home
in business-like English. He used a good many illustrations, and these
were drawn from matters with which this particular congregation were
conversant. He was as full of similes here as he was sparing of them
when he preached before the University of Oxford. Any one who had read
this sermon in a book of sermons would have divined what sort of
congregation it was preached to--a primrose of a sermon. Mr. Eden
preached from notes and to the people--not the air. Like every born
orator, he felt his way with his audience, whereas the preacher who is
not an orator throws out his fine things, hit or miss, and does not
know and feel and care whether he is hitting or missing. "Open your
hand, shut your eyes, and fling out the good seed so much per
foot--that is enough." No. This man preached to the faces and hearts
that happened to be round him. He established between himself and them
a pulse, every throb of which he felt and followed. If he could not
get hold of them one way, he tried another; he would have them--he was
not there to fail. His discourse was human; it was man speaking to man
on the most vital and interesting topic in the world or out of it; it
was more, it was brother speaking to brother. Hence some singular
phenomena. First, when he gave the blessing (which is a great piece of
eloquence commonly reduced to a very small one by monotonous or feeble
delivery), and uttered it, like his discourse, with solemnity, warmth,
tenderness and all his soul, the people lingered some moments in the
church and seemed unwilling to go at all. Second, nobody mistook their
pew for their four-poster during the sermon. This was the more
remarkable as many of the congregation had formed a steady habit of
coming to this place once a week with the single view of snatching an
hour's repose from earthly and heavenly cares.
The next morning Mr. Eden visited some of the poorest people in the
parish. Susan accompanied him, all eyes and ears. She observed that
his line was not to begin by dictating his own topic, but lie in wait
for them; let them first choose their favorite theme, and so meet them
on this ground, and bring religion to bear on it. "Oh, how wise he
is!" thought Susan, "and how he knows the heart!"
One Sunday evening three weeks after his first official visit he had
been by himself to see some of the poor people, and on his return
found Susan alone. He sat down and gave an account of his visits.
"How many ounces of tea and tobacco did you give away, sir?" asked
Susan, with an arch smile.
"Four tea, two tobacco," replied the reverend gentleman.
"I do notice, sir, you never carry gingerbread or the like for the
"No; the young don't want lollypops, for they have youth. Old age
wants everything, so the old are my children, and I tea and tobacco
After this there was a pause.
"Miss Merton, you have shown me many persons who need consolation, but
there is one you say nothing about."
"Have I, sir? Who? Oh, I think I know. Old Dame Clayton?"
"No, it is a young demoiselle."
"Then I don't know who it can be."
"No, sir," said Susan, looking down.
"It is yourself, Miss Merton."
"Me, sir! Why, what is the matter with me?"
"That you shall tell me, if you think me worthy of your confidence."
"Oh, thank you, sir. I have my little crosses, no doubt, like all the
world; but I have health and strength. I have my father."
"My child, you are in trouble. You were crying when I came in.
"Indeed I was not, sir!--how did you know I was crying?"
"When I came in you turned your back to me, instead of facing me,
which is more natural when any one enters a room; and soon after you
made an excuse for leaving the room, and when you came back there was
a drop of water in your right eyelash."
"It need not have been a tear, sir!"
"It was not; it was water. You had been removing the traces of tears."
"Girls are mostly always crying, sir; often they don't know for why,
but they don't care to have it noticed always."
"Nor would it be polite or generous; but this of yours is a deep
grief, and alarms me for you. Shall I tell you how I know? You often
yawn and often sigh; when these two things come together at your age
they are signs of a heavy grief; then it comes out that you have lost
your relish for things that once pleased you. The first day I came
here you told me your garden had been neglected of late, and you
blushed in saying so. Old Giles and others asked you before me why you
had given up visiting them; you colored and looked down. I could
almost have told them, but that would have made you uncomfortable. You
are in grief, and no common grief."
"Nothing worth speaking to you about, sir; nothing I will ever
complain of to any one."
"There I think you are wrong; religion has consoled many griefs; great
griefs admit of no other consolation. The sweetest exercise of my
office is to comfort the heavy hearted. Your heart is heavy, my poor
lamb--tell me--what is it?"
"It is nothing, sir, that you would understand; you are very skilled
and notice-taking, as well as good, but you are not a woman, and you
must excuse me, sir, if I beg you not to question me further on what
would not interest you."
Mr. Eden looked at her compassionately, and merely said to her again,
"What is it?" in a low tone of ineffable tenderness.
At this Susan looked in a scared manner this way and that. "Sir, do
not ask me, pray do not ask me so;" then she suddenly lifted her
hands, "My George is gone across the sea! What shall I do! what shall
I do!!" and she buried her face in her apron.
This burst of pure Nature--this simple cry of a suffering heart--was
very touching, and Mr. Eden, spite of his many experiences, was not a
little moved. He sat silent, looking on her as an angel might be
supposed to look upon human griefs, and as he looked on her various
expressions chased one another across that eloquent face. Sweet and
tender memories and regrets were not wanting among them. After a long
pause he spoke in a tone soft and gentle as a woman's, and at first in
a voice so faltering that Susan, though her face was hidden, felt
there was no common sympathy there, and silently put out her hand
He murmured consolation. He said many gentle, soothing things. He told
her that it was very sad the immense ocean should roll between two
loving hearts, "but," said he, "there are barriers more impassable
than the sea. Better so than that he should be here and jealousy,
mistrust, caprice, or even temper come between you. I hope he will
come back; I think he will come back."
She blessed him for saying so. She was learning to believe everything
this man uttered.
From consolation he passed to advice.
"You must do the exact opposite of what you have been doing."
"You must visit those poor people; ay, more than ever you did; hear
patiently their griefs; do not expect much in return, neither sympathy
nor a great deal of gratitude; vulgar sorrow is selfish. Do it for
God's sake and your own single-heartedly. Go to the school, return to
your flowers, and never shun innocent society, however dull. Milk and
water is a poor thing, but it is a diluent, and all we can do just now
is to dilute your grief."
He made her promise: "Next time I come tell me all about you and
George. 'Give sorrow words, the grief that does not speak whispers the
o'erfraught heart and bids it break.'"
"Oh! that is a true word," sobbed Susan, "that is very true. Why a
little of the lead seems to have dropped off my heart now I have
spoken to you, sir."
All the next week Susan bore up as bravely as she could, and did what
Mr. Eden had bade her, and profited by his example. She learned to
draw from others the full history of their woes; and she found that
many a grief bitter as her own had passed over the dwellers in those
small cottages; it did her some little good to discover kindred woes,
and much good to go out of herself a while and pity them.
This drooping flower recovered her head a little, but still the
sweetest hour in all the working days of the week was that which
brought John Meadows to talk to her of Australia.
SUSAN MERTON had two unfavored lovers; it is well to observe how
differently these two behaved. William Fielding stayed at home, threw
his whole soul into his farm, and seldom went near the woman he loved
but had no right to love. Meadows dangled about the flame; ashamed and
afraid to own his love, he fed it to a prodigious height by
encouraging it and not expressing it. William Fielding was moody and
cross and sad enough at times; but at others a little spark ignited
inside his heart, and a warm glow diffused itself from that small
point over all his being. I think this spark igniting was an approving
conscience commencing its uphill work of making a disappointed lover,
but honest man, content.
Meadows, on his part, began to feel content and a certain complacency
take the place of his stormy feelings. Twice a week he passed two
hours with Susan. She always greeted him with a smile, and naturally
showed an innocent satisfaction in these visits, managed as they were
with so much art and self-restraint. On Sunday, too, he had always a
word or two with her.
Meadows, though an observer of religious forms, had the character of a
very worldly man, and Susan thought it highly to his credit that he
came six miles to hear Mr. Eden.
"But, Mr. Meadows, your poor horse," said she, one day. "I doubt it is
no Sabbath to him now."
"No more it is," said Meadows, as if a new light came to him from
Susan. The next Sunday he appeared in dusty shoes, instead of
Susan looked down at them, and saw, and said nothing; but she smiled.
Her love of goodness and her vanity were both gratified a little.
Meadows did not stop there; wherever Susan went he followed modestly
in her steps. Nor was this mere cunning. He loved her quite well
enough to imitate her, and try and feel with her; and he began to be
kinder to the poor, and to feel good all over, and comfortable. He
felt as if he had not an enemy in the world. One day in Farnborough he
saw William Fielding on the other side of the street. Susan Merton did
not love William, therefore Meadows had no cause to hate him. He
remembered William had asked a loan of him and he had declined. He
crossed over to him.
"Good-day, Mr. William."
"Good-day, Mr. Meadows."
"You were speaking to me one day about a trifling loan. I could not
manage it just then, but now--" Here Meadows paused. He had been on
the point of offering the money, but suddenly, by one of those
instincts of foresight these able men have, he turned it off thus:
"but I know who will. You go to Lawyer Crawley; he lends money to
people of credit."
"I know he does; but he won't lend it me."
"He does not like us. He is a poor sneaking creature, and my brother
George he caught Crawley selling up some poor fellow or other, and
they had words; leastways it went beyond words, I fancy. I don't know
the rights of it, but George was a little rough with him by all
"And what has that to do with this?" said the man of business coolly.
"Why, I am George's brother."
"And if you were George himself and he saw his way to make a shilling
out of you he would do it, wouldn't he? There, you go to Crawley and
ask him to lend you one hundred pounds, and he will lend it you, only
he will make you pay heavy interest, heavier than I should, you know,
if I could manage it myself."
"Oh, I don't care," said simple William; "thank you kindly, Mr.
Meadows," and off he went to Crawley.
He found that worthy in his office. Crawley, who instantly guessed his
errand, and had no instructions from Meadows, promised himself the
satisfaction of refusing the young man. He asked, with a cringing
manner and a treacherous smile, "What security, sir?"
Poor William higgled and hammered, and offered first one thing, which
was blandly declined for this reason; then another, which was blandly
declined for that, Crawley drinking deep draughts of mean vengeance
all the while from the young man's shame and mortification, when the
door opened, a man walked in, and gave Crawley a note and vanished.
Crawley opened the note; it contained a check drawn by Meadows, and
these words: "Lend W. F. the money at ten per cent on his acceptance
of your draft at two months."
Crawley put the note and check in his pocket.
"Well, sir," said he to William, "you stay here, and I will see if I
have got a loose hundred in the bank to spare." He went over to the
bank, cashed the check, drew a bill of exchange at two months' date,
deducted the interest and stamp, and William accepted it, and Crawley
bowed him out cringing, smiling, and secretly shooting poisoned arrows
out of his venomous eye in the direction of William's heels.
William thanked him warmly.
This loan made him feel happy.
He had paid his brother's debt to the landlord by sacrificing a large
portion of his grain at a time the price was low; and now he was so
cramped he had much ado to pay his labor when this loan came. The very
next day he bought several hogs--hogs, as George had sarcastically
observed, were William Fielding's hobby; he had I confidence in that
animal. Potatoes and pigs versus sheep and turnips was the theory of
Now the good understanding between William and Meadows was not to last
long. William, though he was too wise to visit Grassmere Farm much,
was mindful of his promise to George, and used to make occasional
inquiries after Susan. He heard that Meadows called at the farm twice
a week, and he thought it a little odd. He pondered on it, but did not
quite go the length of suspecting anything, still less of suspecting
Susan. Still, he thought it odd; but he thought it odder, when, one
market-day, old Isaac Levi said to him:
"Do you remember the promise you made to the lion-hearted young man,
"Do you ask that to affront me?"
"You never visit her; and others are not so neglectful."
"Go this evening and you will see."
"Yes, I will go, and I will soon see if there is anything in it," said
William, not stopping even to inquire why the old Jew took all this
interest in the affair.
That evening, as Meadows was in the middle of a description of the
town of Sydney, Susan started up. "Why, here is William Fielding!" and
she ran out and welcomed him in with much cordiality, perhaps with
some excess of cordiality.
William came in and saluted the farmer and Meadows in his dogged way.
Meadows was not best pleased, but kept his temper admirably, and,
leaving Australia, engaged both the farmers in a conversation on home
topics. Susan looked disappointed. Meadows was content with that, and
the party separated half an hour sooner than usual.
The next market evening in strolls William. Meadows again plays the
same game. This time Susan could hardly restrain her temper. She did
not want to hear about the Grassmere acres, and "The Grove," and oxen
and hogs, but about something that mattered to George.
But when the next market evening William arrived before Mr. Meadows,
she was downright provoked and gave him short answers, which raised
his suspicions and made him think he had done wisely in coming. This
evening Susan excused herself and went to bed early.
She was in Farnborough the next market-day, and William met her and
"I'll take a cup of tea with you to-night, Susan, if you are
"William," said Susan sharply, "what makes you always come to us on
"I don't know. What makes Mr. Meadows come that day?"
"Because he passes our house to go to his own, I suppose; but you live
but two miles off; you can come any day that you are minded."
"Should I be welcome, Susan?"
"What do you think, Will? Speak your mind; I don't understand you."
"Seems to me I was not very welcome last time."
"If I thought that I wouldn't come again," replied Susan, as sharp as
a needle. Then instantly repenting a little, she explained: "You are
welcome to me, Will, and you know that as well as I do, but I want you
to come some other evening, if it is all the same to you."
"Why? because I am dull other evenings, and it would be nice to have a
chat with you."
"Would it, Susan?"
"Of course it would; but that evening I have company--and he talks to
me of Australia."
"Nothing else?" sneered the unlucky William.
Susan gave him such a look.
"And that interests me more than anything you can say to me--if you
won't be offended," snapped Susan.
William bit his lip.
"Well, then, I won't come this evening, eh! Susan?"
"No, don't, that is a good soul."
"Les femmes sont impitoyables pour ceux qu'elles n'aiment pas." This
is a harsh saying, and of course not pure truth; but there is a deal
of truth in it.
William was proud, and the consciousness of his own love for her made
him less able to persist, for he knew she might be so ungenerous as to
retort if he angered her too far. So he altered the direction of his
battery. He planted himself at the gate of Grassmere Farm, and as
Meadows got off his horse requested a few words with him. Meadows ran
him over with one lightning glance, and then the whole man was on the
defensive. William bluntly opened the affair.
"You heard me promise to look on Susan as my sister, and keep her as
she is for my brother that is far away."
"I heard you, Mr. William," said Meadows with a smile that provoked
William as the artful one intended it should.
"You come here too often, sir."
"Too often for who?"
"Too often for me, too often for George, too often for the girl
herself. I won't have George's sweetheart talked about."
"You are the first to talk about her; if there's scandal it is of your
"I won't have it--at a word."
Meadows called out, "Miss Merton, will you step here."
William was astonished at his audacity; he did not know his man.
Susan opened the parlor window.
"What is it, Mr. Meadows?"
"Will you step here, if you please?" Susan came. 'Here is a young man
tells me I must not call on your father or you."
"I say you must not do it often enough to make her talked of."
"Who dares to talk of me?" cried Susan, scarlet.
"Nobody, Miss Merton. Nobody but the young man himself; and so I told
him. Is your father within? Then I'll step in and speak with him
anyway." And the sly Meadows vanished to give Susan an opportunity of
quarreling with William while she was hot.
"I don't know how you came to take such liberties with me," began
Susan, quite pale now with anger.
"It is for George's sake," said William doggedly.
"Did George bid you insult my friends and me? I would not put up with
it from George himself, much less from you. I shall write to George
and ask him whether he wishes me to be your slave."
"Don't ye do so. Don't set my brother against me," remonstrated
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