It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
Mr. Meadows did not visit Grassmere for some days; the cruel one distrusted his own firmness. When he did come he came with a distinct purpose. He found Merton alone.
"Susan sees no one. You have heard?"
"Her sweetheart. He is dead."
"Why, how can that be? And who says so?"
"That is the news."
"Well, it is a falsehood!" said Mr. Meadows, coolly.
"I wish to Heaven it might," whispered old Merton, "for she won't live long after him."
Mr. Meadows then told Merton that he had spoken with a man who had got news of George Fielding not four months old, and he was in very good health.
"Will you tell Susan this?"
Susan was called down. Meadows started at the sight of her. She was pale and hollow-eyed, and in these few days seemed ten years older. She was dressed all in black. "I am a murderer!" thought he. And remorse without one grain of honest repentance pierced his heart.
"Speak out, John," said the father, "the girl is not a fool. She has borne ill news, she can bear good. Can't you, Susan?"
"Yes, dear father, if it is God's will any good news should come to me." And she never took her eyes off Mr. Meadows, but belied her assumed firmness by quivering like an aspen leaf.
"Do you know Mr. Griffin?" asked Meadows.
"Yes!" replied Susan, still trembling gently, but all over.
"He has got a letter from Sydney from a little roguish attorney called Crawley. I heard him say with my own ears that Crawley tells him he had just seen George Fielding in the streets of Sydney, well and hearty."
"You are deceiving me out of kindness." (Her eyes fixed on his.)
"I am not. I wish I may die if the man is not as well as I am!"
Her eyes were never off his face, and at this moment she read for certain that it was true.
She uttered a cry of joy so keen it was painful to hear, and then she laughed and cried and sank into a chair laughing and crying in strong hysterics, that lasted till the poor girl almost fainted from exhaustion. Her joy was more violent and even terrible than her grief had been.
The female servants were called to assist her, and old Merton and Meadows left her in their hands, feeble, but calm and thankful. She even smiled her adieu to Meadows.
The next day Meadows called upon Griffin. "Let me look at that letter?" said he. "I want to copy a part of it."
"There has been one here before you," said Griffin.
"She did not give her name, but I think it must have been Miss Merton. She begged me hard to let her see the letter. I told her she might take it home with her. Poor thing! she gave me a look as if she could have eaten me."
"What else?" asked Meadows anxiously--his success had run ahead of his plot.
"She put it in her bosom."
"In her bosom?"
"Ay! and pressed her little white hands upon it as if she had got a treasure. I doubt it will be more like the asp in the Bible story, eh! sir?"
"There! I don't want your reflections," said Meadows, fiercely, but his voice quavered. The myrmidon was silenced.
Susan made her escape into a field called the Kynecroft, belonging to the citizens, and there she read the letter. It was a long, tiresome one, all about matters of business which she did not understand; it was only at the last page that she caught sight of the name she longed to see. She hurried down to it, and when she got to it with beating heart it was the fate of this innocent, loving woman to read these words:
"What luck some have. There is George Fielding, of the 'Grove Farm,' has made his fortune at the gold, and married yesterday to one of the prettiest girls in Sydney. I met them walking in the street to-day. She would not have looked at him but for the gold."
Susan uttered a faint moan, and sank down slowly on her knees, like some tender tree felled by a rude stroke; her eyes seemed to swim in a mist, she tried to read the cruel words again but could not; she put her hands before her eyes.
"He is alive," she said, "thank God, he is alive." And at last tears forced their way through her fingers. She took her handkerchief and dried her eyes. "Why do I cry for another woman's husband?" and the hot color of shame and of wounded pride burst even through her tears.
"I will not cry," said she, proudly, "he is alive--I will not cry--he has forgotten me; from this moment I will never shed another tear for one that is alive and unworthy of a tear. I will go home."
She went home, crying all the way. And now a partial success attended the deep Meadows' policy. It was no common stroke of unscrupulous cunning to plunge her into the very depths of woe in order to take her out of them. The effects were manifold, and all tended his way.
First she was less sorrowful than she had been before that deadly blow, for now the heart had realized a greater woe, and had the miserable comfort of the comparison; but, above all, new and strong passions had risen and battled fiercely with grief--anger and wounded pride.
Susan had self-respect and pride, too, perhaps a shade too much though less small vanity than have most persons of her moderate caliber.
What! had she wept and sighed all these months for a man who did not care for her?
What! had she defied sneers, and despised affectionate hints, and gloried openly in her love, to be openly insulted and betrayed!
What! had she shut herself from the world, and put on mourning and been seen in mourning for one who was not dead, but well and happy and married to another!
An agony of shame rushed over the wronged, insulted, humiliated beauty. She longed to fly from the world. She asked her father to leave Grassmere and go to some other farm a hundred miles away. She asked him suddenly, nervously, and so impetuously that the old man looked up in dismay.
"What! leave the farm where your mother lived with me, and where you were born. I should feel strange, girl; but"--and he gave a strange sigh--"mayhap I shall have to leave it whether I will or no."
Susan misunderstood him and colored with self-reproach. She said hastily: "No! no! Father, you shan't leave it for me. Forgive me, I am a wayward girl!"
And the strung nerves gave way, and tears gushed over the hot cheeks, as she clung to her father, and tried to turn the current of her despised love and bestow it all on that selfish old noodle. A great treasure went a-begging in Grassmere farmhouse.
Mr. Meadows called, but much to his chagrin Susan was never visible. "Would he excuse her? she was indisposed."
The next evening he came he found her entertaining four or five other farmers' daughters and a couple of young men. She was playing the piano to them and talking and laughing louder and faster than ever he had heard her in his life. He sat moody a little while and watched her uneasily, but soon took his line, and exerting his excellent social powers became the life of the party. But as he warmed Susan froze, as much as to say, "Somebody must play the fool to amuse these triflers--if you undertake it I need not." For all that the very attempt at society indicated what was passing in Susan's mind, and the deep Meadows invited all present to meet at his house in two days' time.
Meadows was now living in Isaac Levi's old house. He had examined it, found it a much nicer house for him than his new one--it was like himself, full of ins and outs, and it was more in the heart of business and yet quiet; for, though it stood in a row, yet it was as good as detached, because the houses on each side were unoccupied. They belonged to Jews, probably dependents on Isaac, for they had left the town about a twelvemonth after his departure and had never returned, though a large quantity of goods had been deposited in one of the houses.
Meadows contrived that this little party should lead to another. His game was to draw Susan into the world, and moreover have her seen in his company. She made no resistance, for her wounded pride said, "Don't let people know you are breaking your heart for one who does not care for you." She used to come to these parties radiant and playing her part with consummate resolution and success, and go home and spend the night in tears.
Meadows did not see the tears that followed these unusual efforts--perhaps he suspected them. Enough for him that Susan's pride and shame and indignation were set against her love, and, above all, against her grief, and that she was forming habits whose tendency at least was favorable to his views.
Another four months, and Susan, exhausted by conflicting passions, had settled down into a pensive languor, broken by gusts of bitter grief, which became rarer and rarer. Her health recovered itself, all but its elasticity. Her pride would not let her pine away. But her heart scarcely beat at all, and perhaps it was a good thing for her that a trouble of another kind came to gently stir it. Her father, who had for some months been moody and depressed, confessed to her that he had been speculating and was on the verge of ruin. This dreadful disclosure gave little more pain to Susan than if he had told her his head ached; but she put down her work and came and kissed him, and tried to console him.
"I must work harder, that is all, father. I am often asked to give a lesson on the piano-forte; I will do that for your sake, and don't you fret for me. What with the trifle my mother settled on me and my industry, I am above poverty, and you shall never see me repine."
In short, poor Susan took her father for a woman--adopted a line of consolation addressed to his affection, instead of his selfishness. It was not for her he was afflicted, it was for himself.
It was at this conjuncture that Meadows spoke out. There was no longer anything to be gained by delay. In fact, he could not but observe that since the fatal letter he appeared to be rather losing ground in his old character. There was nothing left him but to attack her in a new one. He removed the barrier from his patient impatience.
He found her alone one evening. He begged her to walk in the garden. She complied with an unsuspecting smile. Then he told her all he had suffered for her sake; how he had loved her this three years with all his soul--how he never thought to tell her this--how hard he had struggled against it--how he had run away from it, and after that how he had subdued it, or thought he had subdued it, to esteem--and how he had been rewarded by seeing that his visits and his talk had done her some good. "But now," said he, "that you are free, I have no longer the force to hide my love; now that the man I dared not interfere with has thrown away the jewel, it is not in nature that I should not beg to be allowed to take it up and wear it in my heart."
Susan listened; first with surprise, then with confusion and pain, then with terror at the violence of the man's passion; for, the long restraint removed, it overwhelmed him like a flood. Her bosom heaved with modest agitation, and soon the tears streamed down her cheeks at his picture of what he had gone through for her sake. She made shift to gasp out, "My poor friend!" But she ended almost fiercely: "Let no man ever hope for affection from me, for my heart is in the grave. Oh, that I was there, too!" And she ran sobbing away from him in spite of his entreaties.
Another man and not George had made a confession of love to her. His voice had trembled, his heart quivered, with love for her, and it was not George. So then another link was snapped. Others saw they had a right to love her now, and acted on it.
Meadows was at a loss, but he stayed away a week in silence, and thought and thought, and then he wrote a line begging permission to visit her as usual. "I have been so long used to hide my feelings, because they were unlawful, that I can surely hide them if I see they make you more unhappy than you would be without."
Susan replied that her advice to him was to avoid her as he would a pestilence. He came as usual, and told her he would take her commands, but could not take her advice. He would run all risks to his own heart. He was cheerful, chatty and never said a word of love; and this relieved Susan, so that the evening passed pleasantly. Susan, listless and indifferent to present events, and never accustomed, like Meadows, to act upon a preconceived plan, did not even observe what Meadows had gained by this sacrifice of his topic for a single night, viz., that after declaring himself her lover he was still admitted to the house. The next visit he was not quite so forbearing, yet still forbearing; and so on by sly gradations. It was every way an unequal contest. A great man against an average woman--a man of forty against a woman of twenty-two--a man all love and selfishness against a woman all affection and unselfishness. But I think his chief ally was a firm belief on Susan's part that he was the best of men; that from first to last of this affair his conduct had been perfection; that while George was true all his thought had been to console her grief at his absence; that he never would have spoken but for the unexpected treason of George, and then seeing her insulted and despised he had taken that moment to show her she was loved and honored. Oh, what an ungrateful girl she was that she could not love such a man!
Then her father was on the same side. "John Meadows seems down like, Susan. Do try and cheer him up a bit, I am sure he has often cheered thee."
"That he has, father."
Susan pitied Meadows. Pitying him, she forced herself at times to be gracious, and when she did he was so happy that she was alarmed at her power and drew in.
Old Merton saw now how the land lay, and he clung to a marriage between these two as his only hope. "John Meadows will pull me through, if he marries my Susan."
And so the two selfish ones had got the unselfish one between them, one pulling gently, the other pushing quietly, but both without intermission. Thus days and days rolled on.
Meadows now came four times a week instead of two, and courted her openly, and beamed so with happiness that she had not always the heart to rob him of this satisfaction, and he overwhelmed her with kindness and attention of every sort, and, if any one else was present, she was sure to see how much he was respected; and this man whom others courted was her slave. This soothed the pride another had wounded.
One day he poured out his love to her with such passion that he terrified her, and the next time he came she avoided him.
Her father remonstrated. "Girl, you will break that man's heart if you are so unkind to him; he could not say a word because you shunned him like. Why, your heart must be made of stone." A burst of tears was all the reply.
At last two things presented themselves to this poor girl's understanding; that for her there was no chance of earthly happiness, do what she would, and that, strangely enough, she the wretched one had it in her power to make two other beings happy, her father and good Mr. Meadows.
Now, a true woman lives to make others happy. She rarely takes the self-contained views of life men are apt to do.
It passed through Susan's mind: "If I refuse to make these happy, why do I live, what am I on the earth for at all?"
It seemed cruel to her to refuse happiness when she could bestow it without making herself two shades more miserable than she was.
Despair and unselfishness are evil counselors in a scheming, selfish world. The life-blood had been drained out of her heart by so many cruel blows, by the long waiting, the misgivings, the deep woe when she believed George dead, the bitter grief and mortification and sense of wrong when she found he was married to another.
Many of us, male and female, treated as Susan imagined herself treated, have taken another lover out of pique. Susan did not so. She was bitterly piqued, but she did not make that use of her pique.
Despair of happiness, pity, and pure unselfishness, these stood John Meadows' friends with this unhappy dupe, and perhaps my male readers will be incredulous as well as shocked when I relate the manner in which at last this young creature, lovely as an angel, in the spring of life, loving another still, and deluding herself to think she hated and despised him, was one afternoon surprised into giving her hand to a man for whom she did not really care a button.
It was as if she had said: "Is it really true your happiness depends on me? then take me--quick--before my courage fails--are you happy now, my poor soul?" On the other side there were the passionate pleadings of a lover; the deep, manly voice broken with supplication, the male eyes glistening, the diabolical mixture of fraud and cunning with sincerity.
At the first symptom of yielding the man seized her as the hawk the dove. He did not wait for a second hint. He poured out gratitude and protestations. He thanked her, and blessed her, and in his manly ardor caught her to his bosom.
She shut her eyes, and submitted to the caress as to an executioner.
"Pray let me go to my father," she whispered.
She came to her father and told him what she had done, and kissed him, and when he kissed her in return, that rare embrace seemed to her her reward.
Meadows went home on wings--he was in a whirlwind of joy and triumph.
"Aha! what will not a strong will do?" He had no fears, no misgivings. He saw she did not really like him even, but he would make her love him! Let him once get her into his house and into his arms, by degrees she should love him; ay, she should adore him! He held that a young and virtuous woman cannot resist the husband who remains a lover, unless he is a fool as well as a lover. She could resist a man, but hardly the hearth, the marriage-bed, the sacred domestic ties, and a man whose love should be always present, always ardent, yet his temper always cool, and his determination to be loved unflinching.
With this conviction, Meadows had committed crimes of the deepest dye to possess Susan. Villain as he was, it may be doubted whether he would have committed these felonies had he doubted for an instant her ultimate happiness. The unconquerable dog said to himself: "The day will come that I will tell her how I have risked my soul for her; how I have played the villain for her; and she shall throw her arms round my neck, and bless me for committing all those crimes to make her so happy against her will."
It remained to clinch the nail.
He came to Grassmere every day; and one night that the old man was telling Susan and him how badly things were going with him, he said, with a cheerful laugh: "I wonder at you, father-in-law, taking on that way. Do you think Susan will let you be uncomfortable for want of a thousand pounds or two?"
Now this remark was slyly made while Susan was at the other end of the room, so that she could hear it, but was not supposed to. He did not look at her for some time, and then her face was scarlet.
The next day he said privately to old Merton: "The day Susan and I go to church together, you must let me take your engagements and do the best I can with them."
"Ah, John, you are a friend! but it will take a pretty deal to set me straight again."
"How much? Two thousand?"
"More, I am afraid, and too much--"
"Too much for me to take out of my pocket for a stranger; but not for my wife's father--not if it was ten times that."
From that hour Meadows had an ally at Grassmere, working heart and soul to hasten the wedding-day.
Meadows longed for this day; for he could not hide from himself that as a lover he made no advances. Susan's heart was like a globe of ice; he could get no hold of it anywhere. He burned with rage when the bitter truth was forced on him, that, with the topic of George Fielding, he had lost those bright, animated looks of affection she used to bestow on him, and now could only command her polite attention, not always that. Once he ventured on a remonstrance--only once.
She answered coldly that she could not feign; indifferent she was to everything on earth, indifferent she always should be. But for that indifference she should never have consented to marry him. Let him pause then, and think what he was doing, or, better still, give up this folly, and not tie an icicle like her to an honest and warm heart like his.
The deep Meadows never ventured on that ground again. He feared she wanted to be off the marriage, and he determined to hurry it on. He pressed her to name the day. She would not.
"Would she let him name it?"
Her father came to Meadows' assistance. "I'll name it," said he.
"Father! no! no!"
Old Merton then made a pretense of selecting a day. Rejected one day for one reason, another for another, and pitched on a day only six weeks distant.
The next day Meadows bought the license. "I thought you would like that better than being cried in church, Susan." Susan thanked him and said, "Oh, yes."
That evening he had a note from her in which "she humbly asked his pardon, but she could not marry him; he must excuse her. She trusted to his generosity to let the matter drop, and forgive a poor brokenhearted girl who had behaved ill from weakness of judgment, not lightness of heart."
Two days after this, which remained unanswered, her father came to her in great agitation and said to her: "Have you a mind to have a man's death upon your conscience?"
"I have seen John Meadows, and he is going to kill himself. What sort of a letter was that to write to the poor man? Says he, 'It has come on me like a thunder-clap.' I saw a pistol on his table, and he told me he wouldn't give a button to live. You ought to be ashamed of yourself trifling with folks' hearts so."
"I trifle with folks' hearts! Oh! what shall I do!" cried Susan.
"Think of others as well as yourself," replied the old man in a rage. "Think of me."
"Of you, dear father? Does not your Susan think of you?"
"No! what will become of me if the man kills himself? He is all I have to look to, to save me from ruin."
"What, then?" cried Susan, coloring scarlet, "it is not his life you care for, it is his means of being useful to us! Poor Mr. Meadows! He has no friend but me. I will give you a line to him." The line contained these words: "Forgive me."
Half an hour after receipt of it Meadows was at the farm. Susan was going to make some faint apology. He stopped her and said: "I know you like to make folk happy. I have got a job for you. A gentleman, a friend of mine in Cheshire, wants a bailiff. He has written to me. A word from me will do the business. Now is there any one you would like to oblige? The place is worth five hundred a year." Susan was grateful to him for waiving disagreeable topics. She reflected and said: "Ah! but he is no friend of yours."
"What does that matter if he is yours?"
"With all my heart. Only my name must not be mentioned. You are right. He can marry on this. They would both have starved in 'The Grove.'"
Thus he made the benevolent girl taste the sweets of power. "You will be asked to do many a kind action like this when you are Mrs. Meadows." So he bribed father and daughter each after their kind.
The offer came in form from the gentleman to Will Fielding. He and Miss Holiday had already been cried in church. They were married, and went off to Cheshire.
So Meadows got rid of Will Fielding at a crisis. When it suited his strategy he made his enemy's fortune with as little compunction as he would have ruined him. A man of iron! Cold iron, hot iron, whatever iron was wanted.
Mr. and Mrs. Fielding gone off to Cheshire, and Mrs. Holiday after them on a visit of domestic instruction, Meadows publicly announced his approaching marriage with Miss Merton. The coast being clear, he clinched the last nail. From this day there were gusts of repugnance, but not a shadow of resistance on Susan's side. It was to be.
The weather was fine, and every evening this man and woman walked together. The woman envied by all the women; the man by all the men. Yet they walked side by side like the ghosts of lovers. And, since he was her betrothed, one or two iron-gray hairs in the man's head had turned white, and lines deepened in his face. The victim had unwittingly revenged herself.
He had stabbed her heart again and again, and drained it. He had battered this poor heart till it had become more like leather than flesh and blood, and now he wanted to nestle in it and be warmed by it. To kill the affections and revive them at will. No!!!!
She tried to give happiness and to avoid giving pain, but her heart of hearts was inaccessible. The town had capitulated, but the citadel was empty yet impregnable. And there were moments when flashes of hate mingled with the steady flame of this unhappy man's love, and he was tempted to kill her and himself.
But these weaknesses passed like air, the iron purpose stood firm. This day week they were to be married. Meadows counted the days and exulted; he had faith in the magic ring. It was on this Monday evening then they walked arm in arm in the field, and it so happened that Meadows was not speaking of love, but of a scheme for making all the poor people in Grassmere comfortable, especially of keeping the rain out of their roofs and the wind out of what they vulgarly, but not unreasonably, called their windys, and Susan's color was rising and her eyes brightening at this the one interesting side marriage offered--to make people happy near her and round about her, and she cast a look of gratitude upon her companion--a look that, coming from so lovely a face, might very well pass for love. While thus pleasantly employed the pair suddenly encountered a form in a long bristling beard, who peered into their faces with a singular expression of strange and wild curiosity and anxiety, but did not stop; he was making toward Farnborough.
Susan was a little startled. "Who is that?"
"I don't know."
"He looked as if he knew us."
"A traveler, I think, dearest. The folk hereabouts have not got to wear those long beards yet."
"Why did you start when he passed us?"
"Did I start, Susan?"
"Your arm twitched me."
"You must have fancied it," replied Meadows, with a sickly smile; "but, come, Susan, the dew is falling, you had better make toward home."
He saw her safe home, then, instead of waiting to supper as usual, got his horse out and rode to the town full gallop.
"Any one been here for me?"
"Yes! a stranger."
"With a long beard?"
"Why, yes, he had."
"He will come again?"
"In half an hour."
"Show him into my room when he comes, and admit no one else."
Meadows was hardly seated in his study and his candles lighted when the servant ushered in his visitor.
"Shut both the doors, and you can go to bed. I will let Mr. Richards out."
"Well, we have done the trick between us, eh?"
"What made you come home without orders?" asked Meadows, somewhat sternly.
"Why, you know as well as me, sir; you have seen them?"
"George Fielding and his mate."
Meadows started. "How should I see them?"
"Sir! Why, they are come home. They gave me the slip, and got away before me. I followed them. They are here. They must be here." Crawley, not noticing Meadows' face, went on. "Sir, when I found they had slipped out of the camp on horseback, and down to Sydney, and saw them with my own eyes go out of the harbor for England, I thought I should have died on the spot. I thought I should never have the courage to face you, but when I met you arm in arm, her eye smiling on you, I knew it was all right then. When did the event come off?"
"The marriage, sir--you and the lady. She is worth all the trouble she has given us."
"You fool," roared Meadows, "we are not married. The wedding is to be this day week!" Crawley started and gasped, "We are ruined, we are undone!"
"Hold your bawling," cried Meadows, fiercely, "and let me think." He buried his face in his hands; when he removed them, he was gloomy but self-possessed. "They are not in England, Crawley, or we should have seen them. They are on the road. You sailed faster than they; passed them at night, perhaps. They will soon be here. My own heart tells me they will be here before Monday. Well, I will beat them still. I will be married Thursday next." The iron man then turned to Crawley, and sternly demanded how he had let the man slip.
Crawley related all, and as he told his tale the tone of Meadows altered. He no longer doubted the zeal of his hireling. He laid his hand on his brow and more than once he groaned and muttered half-articulate expressions of repugnance. At the conclusion he said moodily: "Crawley, you have served me well--too well! All the women upon earth were not worth a murder, and we have been on the brink of several. You went beyond your instructions."
"No, I did not," replied Crawley; "I have got them in my pocket. I will read them to you. See! there is no discretion allowed me. I was to bribe them to rob."
"Where do I countenance the use of deadly weapons?"
"Where is there a word against deadly weapons?" asked Crawley, sharply. "Be just to me, sir," he added in a more whining tone. "You know you are a man that must and will be obeyed. You sent me to Australia to do a certain thing, and you would have flung me to perdition if I had stuck at anything to do it. Well, sir, I tried skill without force--look here," and he placed a small substance like white sugar on the table.
"What is that?"
"Put that in a man's glass he will never taste it, and in half an hour he will sleep you might take the clothes off his back. Three of us watched months and months for a chance, but it was no go; those two were teetotal or next door it."
"I wish I had never sent you out."
"Why," replied Crawley, "there is no harm done, no blood has been spilled except on our own side. George Fielding is coming home all right. Give him up the lady, and he will never know you were his enemy."
"What!" cried Meadows, "wade through all these crimes for nothing? Lie and feign, and intercept letters, and rob and all but assassinate---and fail? Wade in crime up to my middle, and then wade back again without the prize! Do you see this pistol? it has two barrels; if she and I are ever parted it shall be this way--I'll send her to heaven with one barrel, and myself to hell with the other."
There was a dead silence! Crawley returned to their old relation, and was cowed by the natural ascendency of the greater spirit.
"You need not look like a girl at me," said Meadows, "most likely it won't come to that. It is not easy to beat me, and I shall try every move man's wit can devise--this last," said he, in a voice of iron, touching the pistol as it lay on the table.
There was another pause. Then Meadows rose and said calmly: "You look tired, you shall have a bottle of my old port; and my own heart is staggered, but it is only for a moment." He struck his hand upon his breast, and walked slowly from the room. And Crawley heard his step descend to the hall, and then to the cellar; and the indomitable character of the man rang in his solid tread.
Crawley was uneasy. "Mr. Meadows is getting wildish; it frightens me to see such a man as him burst out like that. He is not to be trusted with a loaded pistol. Ah! and I am in his secrets, deep in his secrets; great men sweep away little folk that know too much. I never saw him with a pistol before." All this passing rapidly through his head, Crawley pounced on the pistol, took off the caps, whipped out a little bottle, and poured some strong stuff into the caps that loosened the detonating powder directly; then with a steel pen he picked it all out and replaced the caps, their virtue gone, before Mr. Meadows returned with two bottles; and the confederates sat in close conclave till the gray of morning broke into the room.
The great man gave but few orders to his subordinate, for this simple reason, that the game had fallen into his own hands.
Still there was something for Crawley to do. He was to have an officer watching to arrest Will Fielding on the old judgment should he, which was hardly to be expected, come to kick up a row and interrupt the wedding. And to-morrow he was to take out a writ against his "father-in-law." Mr. Meadows played a close game. He knew that things are not to be got when they are wanted. His plan was to have everything ready that might be wanted long before it was wanted.
But most of the night passed in relation of what had already taken place, and Crawley was the chief speaker, and magnified his services. He related from his own point of view all that I have told, and Meadows listened with all his soul and intelligence.
At the attack on Mr. Levi, Meadows chuckled. "The old heathen," said he, contemptuously, "I have beat him anyway."
"By the way, sir, have you seen anything of him?" asked Crawley.
"He is not come home, then."
"Not that I know of; have you any reason to think he has?"
"No, only he left the mine directly after they pelted him; but he would not leave the country any the more for that, and money to be made in it by handfuls."
"Now, Crawley, go and get some sleep. A cold bath for me and then on horseback. I must breakfast at Grassmere."
"Great man, sir! great man! You will beat them yet, sir. You have beat Mr. Levi. Here we are in his house; and he driven away to lay his sly old bones at the Antipodes. Ha! ha! ha!"
The sun came in at the window, and the long conference broke up, and, strange to say, it broke into three. Crawley home to sleep. Meadows to Grassmere. Isaac Levi to smoke an Eastern pipe, and so meditate with more tranquil pulse how to strike with deadliest effect these two, his insolent enemies.
Siste viator--and guess that riddle.