It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
"What will you take for him, mistress? I will give you five pounds for him."
"No! no! I won't take five pounds for my bird!"
"Of course she won't," cried another, "she wouldn't be such a flat. Here, missus," cried he, "I'll give you that for him;" and he extended a brown hand with at least thirty new sovereigns glittering in it.
The woman trembled; she and her husband were just emerging from poverty after a hard fight. "Oh!" she cried, "it is a shame to tempt a poor woman with so much gold. We had six brought over, and all died on the way but this one!" and she threw her white apron over her head, not to see the glittering bribe.
"---- you, put the blunt up and don't tempt the woman," was the cry. Another added: "Why, you fool, it wouldn't live a week if you had it," and they all abused the merchant. But the woman turned to him kindly and said:
"You come to me every Sunday, and he shall sing to you. You will get more pleasure from him so," said she, sweetly, "than if he was always by you."
"So I will, old girl," replied the rough, in a friendly tone.
George stayed till the lark gave up singing altogether, and then he said: "Now I am off. I don't want to hear bad language after that; let us take the lark's chirp home to bed with us;" and they made off; and true it was the pure strains dwelt upon their spirits, and refreshed and purified these sojourners in a godless place. Meeting these two figures on Sunday afternoon, armed each with a double-barreled gun and a revolver, you would never have guessed what gentle thoughts possessed them wholly. They talked less than they did coming, but they felt so quiet and happy.
"The pretty bird," purred George (seeing him by the ear), "I feel after him--there--as if I had just come out o' church."
"So do I, George, and I think his song must be a psalm, if we knew all."
"That it is, for Heaven taught it him. We must try and keep all this in our hearts when we get among the broken bottles, and foul language, and gold," says George. "How sweet it all smells, sweeter than before."
"That is because it is afternoon."
"Yes! or along of the music; that tune was a breath from home that makes everything please me. Now this is the first Sunday that has looked, and smelled, and sounded Sunday."
"George, it is hard to believe the world is wicked. Everything seems good, and gentle, and at peace with heaven and earth."
A jet of smoke issued from the bush, followed by the report of a gun, and Carlo, who had taken advantage of George's revery to slip on ahead, gave a sharp howl, and spun round upon all fours.
"The scoundrels!" shrieked Robinson. And in a moment his gun was at his shoulder, and he fired both barrels slap into the spot whence the smoke had issued.
Both the men dashed up and sprang into the bush revolver in hand, but ere they could reach it the dastard had run for it; and the scrub was so thick pursuit was hopeless. The men returned full of anxiety for Carlo.
The dog met them, his tail between his legs, but at sight of George he wagged his tail, and came to him and licked George's hand, and walked on with them, licking George's hand every now and then.
"Look, Tom, he is as sensible as a Christian. He knows the shot was meant for him, though they didn't hit him."
By this time the men had got out of the wood, and pursued their road, but not with tranquil hearts. Sunday ended with the noise of that coward's gun. They walked on hastily, guns ready, fingers on trigger--at war. Suddenly Robinson looked back, and stopped and drew George's attention to Carlo. He was standing with all his four legs wide apart, like a statue.
George called him; he came directly, and was for licking George's hand, but George pulled him about and examined him all over.
"I wish they may not have hurt him after all, the butchers; they have, too. See here, Tom, here is one streak of blood on his belly, nothing to hurt, though, I do hope. Never mind, Carlo," cried George, "it is only a single shot by what I can see, 'tisn't like when Will put the whole charge into you, rabbit-shooting, is it, Carlo? No, says he; we don't care for this, do we, Carlo?" cried George, rather boisterously.
"Make him go into that pool, there," said Robinson; "then he won't have fever."
"I will; here--cess! cess!" He threw a stone into the pool of water that lay a little off the road, and Carlo went in after it without hesitation, though not with his usual alacrity. After an unsuccessful attempt to recover the stone he swam out lower down, and came back to the men and wagged his tail slowly, and walked behind George.
They went on.
"Tom," said George, after a pause, "I don't like it."
"Don't like what?"
"He never so much as shook himself."
"What of that? He did shake himself, I should say."
"Not as should be. Who ever saw a dog come out of the water and not shake himself? Carlo, hie, Carlo!" and George threw a stone along the ground, after which Carlo trotted; but his limbs seemed to work stiffly; the stone spun round a sharp corner in the road, the dog followed it.
"He will do now," said Robinson.
They walked briskly on. On turning the corner they found Carlo sitting up and shivering, with the stone between his paws.
"We must not let him sit," said Tom; "keep his blood warm. I don't think we ought to have sent him into the water."
"I don't know," muttered George, gloomily. "Carlo," cried he, cheerfully, "don't you be down-hearted; there is nothing so bad as faint-heartedness for man or beast. Come, up and away ye go, and shake it off like a man."
Carlo got up and wagged his tail in answer, but he evidently was in no mood for running; he followed languidly behind.
"Let us get home," said Robinson; "there is an old pal of mine that is clever about dogs, he will cut the shot out if there is one in him, and give him some physic."
The men strode on, and each, to hide his own uneasiness, chatted about other matters; but all of a sudden Robinson cried out, "Why, where is the dog?" They looked back, and there was Carlo some sixty yards in the rear, but he was not sitting this time, he was lying on his belly.
"Oh! this is a bad job," cried George. The men ran up in real alarm; Carlo wagged his tail as soon as they came near him, but he did not get up.
"Carlo," cried George, despairingly, "you wouldn't do it, you couldn't think to do it. Oh, my dear Carlo, it is only making up your mind to live; keep up your heart, old fellow; don't go to leave us alone among these villains. My poor, dear, darling dog! Oh, no! he won't live, he can't live; see how dull his poor, dear eye is getting. Oh, Carlo! Carlo!"
At the sound of his master's voice in such distress, Carlo whimpered, and then he began to stretch his limbs out. At the sight of this Robinson cried hastily:
"Rub him, George; we did wrong to send him into the water."
George rubbed him all over. After rubbing him a while, he said:
"Tom, I seem to feel him turning to dead under my hand."
George's hand in rubbing Carlo came round to the dog's shoulder, then Carlo turned his head and for the third time began to lick George's hand. George let him lick his hand and gave up rubbing him, for where was the use? Carlo never left off licking his hand, but feebly, very feebly, more and more feebly.
Presently, even while he was licking his hand, the poor thing's teeth closed slowly on his loving tongue, and then he could lick the beloved hand no more. Breath fluttered about his body a little while longer; but in truth he had ceased to live when he could no longer kiss his master's hand.
And so the poor single-hearted soul was gone.
George took it up tenderly in his arms. Robinson made an effort to console him. "Don't speak to me, if you please," said George, gently but quickly. He carried it home silently, and laid it silently down in a corner of the tent.
Robinson made a fire and put some steaks on, and made George slice some potatoes to keep him from looking always at what so little while since was Carlo. Then they sat down silently and gloomily to dinner, it was long past their usual hour and they were workingmen. Until we die we dine, come what may. The first part of the meal passed in deep silence. Then Robinson said sadly:
"We will go home, George. I fall into your wishes now. Gold can't pay for what we go through in this hellish place."
"Not it," replied George, quietly.
"We are surrounded by enemies."
"Seems so," was the reply, in a very languid tone.
"Labor by day and danger by night."
"Ay," but in a most indifferent tone.
"And no Sabbath for us two."
"I'll do my best for you, and when we have five hundred pounds more you shall go home to Susan."
"Thank you. He was a good friend to us that lies there under my coat; he used to lie over it, and then who dare touch it?"
"No! but don't give way to that, George--do eat a bit, it will do you good."
"I will, Tom, I will. Thank you kindly. Ah! now I see why he came to me and kept licking my hand so the moment he got the hurt. He had more sense than we had; he knew he and I were to part that hour. And I tormented his last minutes sending him into the water and after stones, when the poor thing wanted to be bidding me good-by all the while. Oh, dear! oh, dear!" and George pushed his scarce-tasted dinner from him, and left the tent hurriedly, his eyes thick with tears.
Thus ended this human day so happily begun; and thus the poor dog paid the price of fidelity this Sunday afternoon.
Siste viator iter--and part with poor Carlo--for whom there are now no more little passing troubles--no more little simple joys. His duty is performed, his race is run. Peace be to him, and to all simple and devoted hearts. Ah me! how rare they are among men!
"What are you doing, Tom, if you please?"
"Laying down a gut line to trip them up when they get into our tent."
"Those that shot Carlo."
"They won't venture near me.
"Won't they? What was the dog shot for? They will come--and come to their death; to-night, I hope. Let them come! you will hear me cry 'Carlo' in their ears as I put my revolver to their skulls and pull the trigger."
George said nothing, but he clinched his teeth. After a pause he muttered, "We should pray against such thoughts."
Robinson was disappointed, no attack was made; in fact, even if such a thing was meditated, the captain's friends watched his tent night and day, and made such a feat a foolhardy enterprise, full of danger from without and within.
In the course of the next week a good deal of rain fell and filled many of the claims, and caused much inaction and distress among the diggers, and Robinson guarded the tent, and wrote letters and studied Australian politics, with a view to being shortly a member of Congress in these parts. George had his wish at last and cruised about looking for the home of the gold. George recollected to have seen what he described as a river of quartz sixty feet broad, and running between two black rocks. It ran in his head that gold in masses was there locked up, for, argued he, all the nuggets of any size I have seen were more than half quartz. Robinson had given up debating the point.
George was uneasy and out of spirits at not hearing from Susan for several months, and Robinson was for indulging him in everything.
Poor George! he could not even find his river of quartz. And when he used to come home day after day empty-handed and with this confession, the other's lips used to twitch with the hard struggle not to laugh at him; and he used to see the struggle and be secretly more annoyed than if he had been laughed out at.
One afternoon Tom Robinson, internally despising the whole thing, and perfectly sure in his own mind that there was no river of quartz, but paternal and indulgent to his friend's one weakness, said to him:
"I'll tell you how to find this river of quartz, if it is anywhere except in your own head."
"I shall be much obliged to you. How?"
"Jem has come back to camp and he tells me that Jacky is encamped with a lot more close to the gully he is working--it was on the other side the bush there-and Jacky inquired very kind after you."
"The little viper."
"He grinned from ear to ear, Jem tells me; and says he, 'Me come and see George a good deal soon,' says he."
"If he does, George will tan his black hide for him."
"What makes you hold spite so long against poor Jacky?"
"He is a little sneaking varmint."
"He knows every part of this country, and he would show you 'the home of the gold,'" observed Robinson, restraining his merriment with great difficulty.
This cock would not fight, as vulgar wretches say. Jacky had rather mortified George by deserting him upon the first discovery of gold. "Dis a good deal stupid," was that worthy's remark on the second day. "When I hunt tings run, and I run behind and catch dem. You hunt--it not run--yet you not catch it always. Dat a good deal stupid. Before we hunt gold you do many tings, now do one; dat a good deal stupid. Before, you go so (erecting a forefinger); now you always so (crooking it). Dat too stupid." And with this--whir! my lord was off to the woods.
On the head of this came Abner limping in, and told how a savage had been seen creeping after him with a battle-ax, and how he had lain insensible for days, and now was lame for life. George managed to forgive Jacky's unkind desertion, but for creeping after Abner and "spoiling him for life," to use Abner's phrase, he vowed vengeance on that black hide and heart.
Now if the truth must be told, Jacky had come back to the camp with Jem, and would have marched before this into George's tent. But Robinson, knowing how angry George was with him, and not wishing either Jacky to be licked or George to be tomahawked, insisted on his staying with Jem till he had smoothed down his friend's indignation. Soon after this dialogue Robinson slipped out, and told Jacky to stay with Jem and keep out of George's way for a day or two.
And now the sun began to set red as blood, and the place to sparkle far and wide with the fiery rays emitted from a hundred thousand bottles that lay sown broadcast over the land; and the thunder of the cradles ceased, and the accordions came out all over five miles of gold mine. Their gentler strains lasted till the sun left the sky; then, just at dusk, came a tremendous discharge of musketry roaring, rattling, and re-echoing among the rocks. This was tens of thousands of diggers discharging their muskets and revolvers previous to reloading them for the night; for, calm as the sun had set to the music of accordions, many a deadly weapon they knew would be wanted to defend life and gold ere that same tranquil sun should rise again.
Thus the tired army slept not at their ease, like other armies, guarded by sentinels and pickets, but every man in danger every night and every hour of it. Each man lay in his clothes with a weapon of death in his hand; Robinson with two, a revolver and a cutlass ground like a razor. Outside it was all calm and peaceful. No boisterous revelry--all seemed to sleep innocent and calm in the moonlight after the day of herculean toil.
Perhaps if any one eye could have visited the whole enormous camp, the children of theft and of the night might have been seen prowling and crawling from one bit of shade to another. But in the part where our friends lay the moon revealed no human figures but Robinson's patrol, three men, who, with a dark-lantern and armed to the teeth, went their rounds and guarded forty tents, above all the captain's. It was at his tent that guard was relieved every two hours. So all was watched the livelong night.
Two pointed rocks connected at the base faced the captain's tent. The silver rays struck upon their foreheads wet with the vapors of night, and made them like frost seen through phosphorus. It was startling. The soul of silver seemed to be sentinel and eye the secret gold below.
And now a sad, a miserable sound grated on the ear of night. A lugubrious quail doled forth a grating, dismal note at long but measured intervals, offending the ear and depressing the heart. This was the only sound Nature afforded for hours. The neighboring bush, though crammed with the merriest souls that ever made feathers vibrate and dance with song, was like a tomb of black marble; not a sound--only this little raven of a quail tolled her harsh, lugubrious crake.
Those whose musical creed is Time before Sentiment might have put up with this night-bird; for to do her justice she was a perfect timist--one crake in a bar the livelong night; but her tune--ugh! She was the mother of all files that play on iron throughout the globe. Crake!--crake!--crake! untuning the night.
An eye of red light suddenly opened in the silver stream shows three men standing by a snowy tent. It is the patrol waiting to be relieved. Three more figures emerge from the distant shade and join them. The first three melt into the shade.
The other three remain and mutter. Now they start on their rounds. "What is that?" mutters one.
"I'll go and see." Click.
"Oh, it is only that brown donkey that cruises about here. She will break her neck in one of the pits some day."
"Not she. She is not such an ass."
These three melted into the night, going their rounds; and now nothing is left in sight but a thousand cones of snow, and the donkey paddling carefully among the pits.
Now the donkey stands a moment still in the moonlight--now he paddles slowly away and disappears on the dark side the captain's tent. What is he doing? He stoops--he lies down--he takes off his head and skin and lays them down.
It is a man! He draws his knife and puts it between his teeth. A pistol is in his hand--he crawls on his stomach--the tent is between him and the patrol. His hand is inside the tent--he finds the opening and winds like a serpent into the tent.