It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
George Fielding found Farmer Dodd waiting to drive him to the town where he was to meet Mr. Winchester. The farmer's wife would press a glass of wine upon George. She was an old playmate of his, and the tear was in her eye as she shook his hand and bade Heaven bless him, and send him safe back to "The Grove."
"A taking of his hand and him going across sea!! Can't ye do no better nor that?" cried the stout farmer; "I'm not a-looking, dame."
So then Mrs. Dodd put her hands on George's shoulders and kissed him rustic-wise on both cheeks--and he felt a tear on his cheek, and stammered "Good-by, Jane--you and I were always good neighbors, but now we shan't be neighbors for a while. Ned, drive me away, please, and let me shut my eyes and forget that ever I was born."
The farmer made a signal of intelligence to his wife and drove him hastily away.
They went along in silence for about two miles. Then the farmer suddenly stopped. George looked up, the other looked down.
"Allen's Corner, George. You know 'The Grove' is in sight from here, and after this we shan't see it again on account of this here wood, you know."
"Thank ye, Ned! Yes--one more look--the afternoon sun lies upon it. Oh, how different it do seem to my eyes now, by what it used when I rode by from market; but then I was going to it, now I'm going far, far from it--never heed me, Ned--I shall be better in a moment. Heaven forgive me for thinking so little of the village folk as I have done." Then he suddenly threw up his hands. "God bless the place and bless the folk," he cried very loud; "God bless them all, from the oldest man in it, and that is grandfather, down to Isaac King's little girl that was born yester-night! and may none of them ever come to this corner, and their faces turned toward the sea."
"Doant ye, George! doant ye! doant ye! doant ye!" cried Edward Dodd in great agitation.
"Let the mare go on, Ned; she is fretting through her skin."
"I'll fret her," roared the farmer, lifting his whip exactly as if it was a sword, and a cut to be made at a dragoon's helmet. "I'll cut her liver out."
"No, ye shan't," said George. "Poor thing, she is thinking of her corn at the Queen's Head in Newborough. She isn't going across the sea--let her go, I've taken my last look and said my last word;" and he covered up his face.
Farmer Dodd drove on in silence, except that every now and then he gave an audible snivel, and whenever this occurred he always accommodated the mare with a smart cut--reasonable!
At Newborough they found Mr. Winchester. He drove George to the rail, and that night they slept on board the Phoenix emigrant ship. Here they found three hundred men and women in a ship where there was room for two hundred and fifty, accommodation for eighty.
Next morning, "Farmer," said Mr. Winchester gayly, "we have four hours before we sail--some of these poor people will suffer great hardships between this and Sydney; suppose you and I go and buy a lot of blankets, brawn, needles, canvas, greatcoats, felt, American beef, solidified milk, Macintoshes, high-lows and thimbles. That will rouse us up a little."
"Thank you, sir, kindly."
Out they went into the Ratcliffe Highway, and chaffered with some of the greatest rascals in trade. The difference between what they asked and what they took made George stare. Their little cabin was crowded with goods, only just room left for the aristocrat, the farmer and Carlo. And now the hour came. Poor George was roused from his lethargy by the noise and bustle; and oh, the creaking of cables sickened his heart. Then the steamer came up and took them in tow, and these our countrymen and women were pulled away from their native land too little and too full to hold us all. It was a sad sight, saddest to those whose own flesh and blood was on the shore and saw the steamer pull them away; bitterest to those who had no friend to watch them go.
How they clung to England! they stretched out their hands to her, and when they could hold to her no other way they waved their hats and their handkerchiefs to their countrymen, who waved to them from shore--and so they spun out a little longer the slender chain that visibly bound them to her. And at this moment even the iron-hearted and the reckless were soft and sad. Our hearts' roots lie in the soil we have grown on.
No wonder then George Fielding leaned over the ship-side benumbed with sorrow, and counted each foot of water as it glided by, and thought "Now I am so much farther from Susan."
For a wonder he was not sea-sick, but his appetite was gone from a nobler cause; he could hardly be persuaded to eat at all for many days.
The steamer cast off at Gravesend, and the captain made sail and beat down the Channel. Off the Scilly Isles a northeasterly breeze, and the Phoenix crowded all her canvas; when topsails, royals, skyscrapers and all were drawing the men rigged out booms alow and aloft, and by means of them set studding sails out several yards clear of the hull on either side; so on she plowed, her canvas spread out like an enormous fan or a huge albatross all wings. A goodly, gallant show; but under all this vast and swelling plumage an exile's heart.
Of all that smarted, ached and throbbed beneath that swelling plumage few suffered more than poor George. It was his first great sorrow; and all so new and strange.
The ship touched at Madeira, and then flew southward with the favoring gale. Many leagues she sailed, and still George hung over the bulwarks and sadly watched the waves. This simple-minded, honest fellow was not a girl. If they had offered to put the ship about and take him back he would not have consented, but yet to go on almost broke his heart. He was steel and butter. His friend, the honorable Frank Winchester, was or seemed all steel. He was one of those sanguine spirits that don't admit into their minds the notion of ultimate failure. He was supported, too, by a natural and indomitable gayety. Whatever most men grumble or whine at he took as practical jokes played by Fortune partly to try his good humor, but more to amuse him.
The poorer passengers suffered much discomfort, and the blankets, etc., stored in Winchester's cabin often warmed these two honest hearts, as with pitying hands they wrapped them round some shivering fellow-creature.
Off Cape Verd a heavy gale came on. It lasted thirty-six hours, and the distress and sufferings of the over-crowded passengers were terrible. An unpaternal government had allowed a ship to undertake a voyage of twelve thousand miles, with a short crew, short provisions, and just twice as many passengers as could be protected from the weather.
Driven from the deck by the piercing wind and the deluges of water that came on board, and crowded into the narrowest compass, many of these unfortunates almost died of sickness and polluted air; and when in despair they rushed back upon deck, horrors and suffering met them in another shape; in vain they huddled together for a little warmth and tried to shield themselves with blankets stretched to windward. The bitter blast cut like a razor through their threadbare defenses, and the water rushed in torrents along the deck and crept cold as ice up their bodies as they sat huddled, or lay sick and despairing on the hard and tossing wood; and whenever a heavier sea than usual struck the ship a despairing scream burst from the women, and the good ship groaned and shivered and seemed to share their fears, and the blast yelled into their souls, "I am mighty as fate--as fate. And pitiless! pitiless! pitiless! pitiless! pitiless!"
Oh! then, how they longed for a mud cabin, or a hole picked with a pickax in some ancient city wall, or a cow-house, or a cart-shed in their native land.
But it is an ill wind that blows nobody good. This storm raised George Fielding's better part of man. Integer vitae scelerisque purus was not very much afraid to die. Once when the Phoenix gave a weather roll that wetted the foresail to the yard-arm, he said, "My poor Susan!" with a pitying accent, not a quavering one. But most of the time he was busy crawling on all-fours from one sufferer to another with a drop of brandy in a phial. The wind emptied a glass of the very moisture let alone the liquid in a moment. So George would put his bottle to some poor creature's lips, and if it was a man he would tell him in his simple way Who was stronger than the wind or the sea, and that the ship could not go down without His will. To the women he whispered that he had just had a word with the captain, and he said it was only a gale not a tempest, as the passengers fancied, and there was no danger, none whatever.
The gale blew itself out, and then for an hour or two the ship rolled frightfully; but at last the angry sea went down, the decks were mopped, the Phoenix shook her wet feathers and spread her wings again and glided on her way.
George felt a little better; the storm shook him and roused him and did him good. And it was a coincidence in the history of these two lovers that just as Susan under Mr. Eden's advice was applying the healing ointment of charitable employment to her wound, George, too, was finding a little comfort and life from the little bit of good he and his friend did to the poor population in his wooden hamlet.
After a voyage of four months one evening the captain shortened sail, though the breeze was fair and the night clear. Upon being asked the reason of this strange order he said knowingly, "If you get up with the sun perhaps you will see the reason."
Curiosity being excited, one or two did rise before the sun. Just as he emerged from the sea a young seaman called Patterson, who was in the foretop, hailed the deck.
"What is it?" roared the mate.
"Land on the weather bow," sung out the seaman in reply.
Land! In one moment the word ran like electric fire through all the veins of the Phoenix; the upper deck was crowded in a minute, but all were disappointed. No one saw land but Mr. Patterson, whose elevation and keen sight gave him an advantage. But a heavenly smell as of a region of cowslips came and perfumed the air and rejoiced all the hearts; at six o'clock a something like a narrow cloud broke the watery horizon on the weather bow. All sail was made and at noon the coast of Australia glittered like a diamond under their lee. Then the three hundred prisoners fell into a wild excitement--some became irritable, others absurdly affectionate to people they did not care a button for. The captain himself was not free from the intoxication; he walked the deck in jerks instead of his usual roll, and clapped on sail as if he would fly on shore.
At half-past one they glided out of the open sea into the Port Jackson River. They were now in a harbor fifteen miles long, land-locked on both sides, and not a shoal or a rock in it. This wonderful haven, in which all the navies that float or ever will float might maneuver all day and ride at anchor all night without jostling, was the sea avenue by which they approached a land of wonders.
It was the second of December. The sky was purple and the sun blazed in its center. The land glittered like a thousand emeralds beneath his glowing smile, and the waves seemed to drink his glory and melt it into their tints, so rich were the flakes of burning gold that shone in the heart of their transparent, lovely blue.
"Oh! what a heavenly land! and after four months' prison at sea."
Our humble hero's heart beat high with hope. Surely in so glorious a place as this he could make a thousand pounds, and then dart back with it to Susan. Long before the ship came to an anchor George got a sheet of paper and by a natural impulse wrote to Susan a letter, telling her all the misery the Phoenix and her passengers had come through between London Bridge and Sydney Cove, and as soon as he had written it he tore it up and threw it into the water. "It would have vexed her to hear what I have gone through. Time enough to tell her that when I am home again sitting by the fire with her hand in mine."
So then he tried again and wrote a cheerful letter, and concealed all his troubles except his sorrow at being obliged to go so far from her even for a time. "But it is only for a time, Susan dear. And, Susan dear, I've got a good friend here, and one that can feel for us; for he is here on the same errand as I am. I am to bide with him six months and help him the best I can, and so I shall learn how matters are managed here; and after that I am to set up on my own account; and, Susan dear, I do think by all I can see there is money to be made here. Heaven knows my heart was never much set on gain, but it is now because it is the road to you. Please tell Will Carlo has been a great comfort to me and is a general favorite. He pointed a rat on board ship--but it was excusable, and him cooped up so long and had almost forgotten the smell of a bird, I daresay; and if anybody comes to make believe to threaten me he is ready to pull them down in a minute. So tell Will this, and that I do think his master is as much my friend at home as the dog is out here.
"Susan dear, I do beg of you as a great favor to keep up your heart, and not give way to grief or desponding feelings. I don't; leastways I won't. Poor Mr. Winchester is here on the same errand as I am. But I often think his heart is stouter than mine, which is much to his credit and little to mine. Susan dear, I have come to the country that is farther from Grassmere than any other in the globe--that seems hard; and my very face is turned the opposite way to yours as I walk, but nothing can ever turn my heart away from my Susan. I desire my respects to Mr. Merton and that you would tell him I will make the one thousand pounds, please God. But I hope you will pray for me, Susan, that I may have that success; you are so good that I do think the Almighty will hear you sooner than me or any one. So no more at present, dear Susan, but remain, with sincere respect, your loving servant and faithful lover till death, GEORGE FIELDING."
They landed. Mr. Winchester purchased the right of feeding cattle over a large tract a hundred miles distant from Sydney, and after a few days spent in that capital started with their wagons into the interior. There for about five months George was Mr. Winchester's factotum, and though he had himself much to learn, the country and its habits being new to him, still he saved his friend from fundamental errors, and, from five in the morning till eight at night, put zeal, honesty and the muscular strength of two ordinary men at his friend's service.
At the expiration of this period Mr. Winchester said to him one evening, "George, I can do my work alone now, and the time is come to show my sense of your services and friendship. I have bought a run for you about eight miles from here, and now you are to choose five hundred sheep and thirty beasts; the black pony you ride goes with them."
"Oh no, sir! it is enough to rob you of them at all without me going and taking the pick of them."
"Well! will you consent to pen the flocks and then lift one hurdle and take them as they come out, so many from each lot?"
"That I consent to, sir, and remain your debtor for life."
"I can't see it; I set my life a great deal higher than sheepskin."
Mr. Winchester did not stop there, he forced a hundred pounds upon George. "If you start in any business with an empty pocket you are a gone coon."
So these two friends parted with mutual esteem, and George set to work by prudence and vigor to make the thousand pounds.
One thousand pounds! This one is to have the woman he loves for a thousand pounds. That sounds cheap. Heaven upon earth for a thousand pounds. What is a thousand pounds? Nothing. There are slippery men that gain this in a week by time bargains, trading on capital of round 0's; others who net as much in an evening, and as honorably, by cards. There are merchants who net twenty times this sum by a single operation.
"An operation?" inquires Belgravia.
This is an operation: You send forth a man not given to drink and consequently chatter to Amsterdam, another not given to drink and chatter to New Orleans, another n. g. t. d. and c. to Bordeaux, Cadiz, Canton, Liverpool, Japan, and where not, all with secret instructions. Then at an appointed day all the men n. g. t. d. and c. begin gradually, secretly, cannily, to buy up in all those places all the lac-dye or something of the kind that you and I thought there was about thirty pounds of in creation. This done mercator raises the price of lac-dye or what not throughout Europe. If he is greedy and raises it a halfpenny a pound, perhaps commerce revolts and invokes nature against so vast an oppression, and nature comes and crushes our speculator. But if he be wise and puts on what mankind can bear, say three mites per pound, then he sells tons and tons at this fractional profit on each pound, and makes fourteen thousand pounds by lac-dye or the like of which you and I thought creation held thirty or at most thirty-two pounds.
These men are the warriors of commerce; but its smaller captains, watching the fluctuations of this or that market, can often turn a thousand pounds ere we could say J. R. Far more than a thousand pounds have been made in a year by selling pastry off a table in the Boulevards of Paris.
In matters practical a single idea is worth thousands.
This nation being always in a hurry paid four thousand pounds to a man to show them how to separate letter-stamps in a hurry. "Punch the divisions full of little holes," said he, and he held out his hand for the four thousand pounds; and now test his invention, tear one head from another in a hurry, and you will see that money sometimes goes cheaper than invention.
A single idea is sometimes worth a thousand pounds in a book, though books are by far the least lucrative channels ideas run in; Mr. Bradshaw's duodecimo, to wit--profit seven thousand pounds per annum. A thousand pounds! How many men have toiled for money all their lives, have met with success, yet never reached a thousand pounds.
Eight thousand servants, fed and half clothed at their master's expense, have put by for forty years, and yet not even by aid of interest and compound interest and perquisites and commissions squeezed out of little tradesmen and other time-honored embezzlements, have reached the rubicon of four figures. Five thousand little shopkeepers, active, intelligent and greedy, have bought wholesale and sold retail, yet never mounted so high as this above rent, housekeeping, bad debts and casualties. Many a writer of genius has charmed his nation and adorned her language, yet never held a thousand pounds in his hand even for a day. Many a great painter has written the world-wide language of form and color, and attained to European fame, but not to a thousand pounds sterling English.
Among all these aspirants and a million more George Fielding now made one, urged and possessed by as keen an incentive as ever spurred a man.
George's materials were five hundred sheep, twenty cows, ten bullocks, two large sheep-dogs and Carlo. It was a keen clear, frosty day in July when he drove his herd to his own pasture. His heart beat high that morning. He left Abner, his shepherd, a white native of the colony, to drive the slow cattle. He strode out in advance, and scarce felt the ground beneath his feet. The thermometer was at 28 degrees, yet his coat was only tied round his neck by the sleeves as he swept along all health, fire, manhood, love and hope. He marched this day like dear Smollett's lines, whose thoughts, though he had never heard them, fired his heart.
"Thy spirit, Independence, let me share, Lord of the lion heart and eagle eye; Thy steps I follow with my bosom bare, Nor heed the storm that howls along the sky."
He was on the ground long before Abner, and set to work building a roofless hut on the west side of some thick bushes, and hard by the only water near at hand. And here he fixed his headquarters, stretched a blanket across the hut for a roof, and slept his own master.