Chapter IV.
 

The world is full of trouble.

While we are young we do not see how true this ancient homely saying is.

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 at home.

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 room.

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 Susan Merton.