It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
He who a few months ago was so lighthearted and bright with hope now rose at daybreak for a work of Herculean toil as usual, but no longer with the spirit that makes labor light. The same strength, the same dogged perseverance were there, but the sense of lost money, lost time, and invincible ill-luck oppressed him; then, too, he was alone--everything had deserted him but misfortune.
"I have left my Susan and I have lost her--left the only friend I had or ever shall have in this hard world." This was his constant thought, as doggedly but hopelessly he struggled against the pestilence. Single-handed and leaden-hearted he had to catch a sheep, to fling her down, to hold her down, to rub the ointment into her, and to catch another that had been rubbed yesterday and take her to the pool and fling her in and keep her in till every part of her skin was soaked.
Four hours of this drudgery had George gone through single-handed and leaden-hearted, when as he knelt over a kicking, struggling sheep, he became conscious of something gliding between him and the sun; he looked up and there was Jacky grinning.
George uttered an exclamation: "What, come back! Well, now that is very good of you I call. How do you do?" and he gave him a great shake of the hand.
"Jacky very well, Jacky not at all uncomfortable after him hunt a little."
"Then I am very glad you have had a day's sport, leastways a night's, I call it, since it has made you comfortable, Jacky."
"Oh! yes, very comfortable now," and his white teeth and bright eye proclaimed the relief and satisfaction his little trip had afforded his nature.
"There, Jacky, if the ointment is worth the trouble it gives me rubbing of it in, that sheep won't ever catch the scab, I do think. Well, Jacky, seems to me I ought to ask your pardon--I did you wrong. I never expected you would leave the kangaroos and opossums for me once you were off. But I suppose fact is you haven't quite forgotten Twofold Bay."
"Two fool bay!" inquired Jacky, puzzled.
"Where I first fell in with you. You made one in a hunt that day, only instead of hunting you was hunted and pretty close, too, and if I hadn't been a good cricketer and learned to fling true--Why, I do declare I think he has forgotten the whole thing, shark and all!"
At the word shark a gleam of intelligence came to the black's eye; it was succeeded by a look of wonder. "Shark come to eat me--you throw stone--so we eat him. I see him now a little--a very little--dat a long way off--a very long way off. Jacky can hardly see him when he try a good deal. White fellow see a long way off behind him back--dat is very curious."
George colored. "You are right, lad--it was a long while ago, and I am vexed for mentioning it. Well, any way you are come back and you are welcome. Now you shall do a little of the light work, but I'll do all the heavy work because I'm used to it;" and indeed poor George did work and slave like Hercules; forty times that day he carried a full-sized sheep in his hands a distance of twenty yards and flung her into the water and splashed in and rubbed her back in the water.
The fourth day after Jacky's return George asked him to go all over the ground and tell him how many sheep he saw give signs of the fatal disorder.
About four o'clock in the afternoon Jacky returned driving before him with his spear a single sheep. The agility of both the biped and quadruped were droll; the latter every now and then making a rapid bolt to get back to the pasture and Jacky bounding like a buck and pricking her with a spear.
For the first time he found George doing nothing. "Dis one scratch um back--only dis one."
"Then we have driven out the murrain and the rest will live. A hard fight! Jacky, a hard fight! but we have won it at last. We will rub this one well; help me put her down, for my head aches."
After rubbing her a little George said, "Jacky, I wish you would do it for me, for my head do ache so I can't abide to hold it down and work, too."
After dinner they sat and looked at the sheep feeding. "No more dis," said Jacky gayly, imitating a sheep rubbing against a tree.
"No! I have won the day; but I haven't won it cheap. Jacky, that fellow, Abner, was a bad man--an ungrateful man."
These words George spoke with a very singular tone of gravity.
"Never you. mind you about him."
"No! I must try to forgive him; we are all great sinners; is it cold to-day?"
"No! it is a good deal hot
"I thought it must, for the wind is in a kindly quarter. Well, Jacky, I am as cool as ice."
"Dat very curious."
"And my head do ache so I can hardly bear myself."
"You ill a little--soon be well."
"I doubt I shall be worse before I am better."
"Never you mind you. I go and bring something I know. We make it hot with water, den you drink it; and after dat you a good deal better."
"Do, Jacky. I won't take doctor's stuff; it is dug out of the ground and never was intended for man's inside. But you get me something that grows in sight and I'll take that; and don't be long, Jacky--for I am not well."
Jacky returned toward evening with a bundle of simples. He found George shivering over a fire. He got the pot and began to prepare an infusion. "Now you soon better," said he.
"I hope so, Jacky," said George very gravely, "thank you, all the same. Jacky, I haven't been not to say dry for the last ten days with me washing the sheep, and I have caught a terrible chill--a chill like death; and, Jacky, I have tried too much--I have abused my strength. I am a very strong man as men go, and so was my father; but he abused his strength--and he was took just as I am took now, and in a week he was dead. I have worked hard ever since I came here, but since Abner left me at the pinch it hasn't been man's work, Jacky; it has been a wrestling-match from dawn to dark. No man could go on so and not break down; but I wanted so to save the poor sheep. Well, the sheep are saved; but--"
When Jacky's infusion was ready he made George take it and then lie down. Unfortunately the attack was too violent to yield to this simple remedy. Fever was upon George Fielding--fever in his giant shape; not as he creeps over the weak, but as he rushes on the strong. George had never a headache in his life before. Fever found him full of blood and turned it all to fire. He tossed--he raged--and forty-eight hours after his first seizure the strong man lay weak as a child, except during those paroxysms of delirium which robbed him of his reason while they lasted, and of his strength when they retired.
On the fourth day---after a raging paroxysm--he became suddenly calm, and looking up saw Jacky seated at some little distance, his bright eye fixed upon him.
"You better now?" inquired he, with even more than his usual gentleness of tone. "You not talk stupid things any more?"
"What, Jacky, are you watching me?" said the sick man. "Now I call that very kind of you. Jacky, I am not the man I was--we are cut down in a day like the ripe grass. How long is it since I was took ill?"
"One, one, one, and one more day."
"Ay! Ay! My father lasted till the fifth day, and then--Jacky!"
"Here Jacky! what you want?"
"Go out on the hill and see whether any of the sheep are rubbing themselves."
Jacky went out and soon returned.
"Not see one rub himself."
A faint gleam lighted George's sunken eye. "That is a comfort. I hope I shall be accepted not to have been a bad shepherd, for I may say 'I have given my life for my sheep.' Poor things."
George dozed. Toward evening he awoke, and there was Jacky just where he had seen him last. "I didn't think you had cared so much for me, Jacky, my boy."
"Yes, care very much for you. See, um make beef-water for you a good deal."
And sure enough he had boiled down about forty pounds of beef and filled a huge calabash with the extract, which he set by George's side.
"And why are you so fond of me, Jacky? It isn't on account of my saving your life, for you had forgotten that. What makes you such a friend to me?"
"I tell you. Often I go to tell you before, but many words dat a good deal trouble. One--when you make thunder the bird always die. One--you take a sheep so and hold him up high. Um never see one more white fellow able do dat. One--you make a stone go and hit thing; other white fellow never hit. One--little horse come to you; other white fellow go to horse--horse run away. Little horse run to you, dat because you so good. One--Carlo fond of you. All day now he come in and go out, and say so (imitating a dog's whimper). He so uncomfortable because you lie down so. One--when you speak to Jacky you not speak big like white fellow, you speak small and like a fiddle--dat please Jacky's ear.
"One--when you look at Jacky always your face make like a hot day when dere no rain--dat please Jacky's eye; and so when Jacky see you stand up one day a good deal high and now lie down--dat makes him uncomfortable; and when he see you red one day and white dis day--dat make him uncomfortable a good deal; and when he see you so beautiful one day and dis day so ugly--dat make him so uncomfortable, he afraid you go away and speak no more good words to Jacky--and dat make Jacky feel a thing inside here (touching his breast), no more can breathe--and want to do like the gin, but don't know how. Oh, dear! don't know how!"
"Poor Jacky! I do wish I had been kinder to you than I have. Oh, I am very short of wind, and my back is very bad!"
"When black fellow bad in um back he always die," said Jacky very gravely.
"Ay," said George quietly. "Jacky, will you do one or two little things for me now?"
"Yes, do um all."
"Give me that little book that I may read it. Thank you. Jacky, this is the book of my religion; and it was given to me by one I love better than all the world. I have disobeyed her--I have thought too little of what is in this book and too much of this world's gain. God forgive me! and I think He will, because it was for Susan's sake I was so greedy of gain."
Jacky looked on awestruck as George read the book of his religion. "Open the door, Jacky."
Jacky opened the door; then coming to George's side, he said with an anxious, inquiring look and trembling voice, "Are you going to leave me, George?"
"Yes, Jacky, my boy," said George, "I doubt I am going to leave you. So now thank you and bless you for all kindness. Put your face close down to mine-there--I don't care for your black skin--He who made mine made yours; and I feel we are brothers, and you have been one to me. Good-by, dear, and don't stay here. You can do nothing more for your poor friend George."
Jacky gave a little moan. "Yes, um can do a little more before he go and hide him face where there are a good deal of trees."
Then Jacky went almost on tiptoe, and fetched another calabash full of water and placed it by George's head. Then he went very softly and fetched the heavy iron which he had seen George use in penning sheep, and laid it by George's side; next he went softly and brought George's gun, and laid it gently by George's side down on the ground.
This done he turned to take his last look of the sick man now feebly dozing, the little book in his drooping hand. But as he gazed nature rushed over the poor savage's heart and took it quite by surprise. Even while bending over his white brother to look his last farewell, with a sudden start he turned his back on him, and sinking on his hams he burst out crying and sobbing with a wild and terrible violence.