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It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade

Part 17 out of 17

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suddenly an old woman came toward them with slow and hesitating steps.
Susan fled at the sight of her--she hated the very name this old woman
bore. George stood his ground, looking sheepish; the old woman stood
before him trembling violently and fighting against her tears. She
could not speak, but held out a letter to him. He took it, the ink was
rusty, it was written twenty years ago; it was from his mother to her
neighbor, Mrs. Meadows, then on a visit at Newborough, telling her how
young John had fought for and protected her against a band of drunken
ruffians, and how grateful she was.

"And I do hope, dame, he will be as good friends with my lads when
they are men as you and I have been this many a day."

George did not speak for a long time. He held the letter, and it
trembled a little in his hand. He looked at the old woman, standing a
piteous, silent supplicant. "Mrs. Meadows," said he, scarce above a
whisper, "give me this letter, if you will be so good. I have not got
her handwriting, except our names in the Bible."

She gave him the letter half reluctantly, and looked fearfully and
inquiringly in his face. He smiled kindly, and a sort of proud curl
came for a moment to his lip, and the woman read the man. This royal
rustic would not have taken the letter if he had not granted the
mother's unspoken prayer.

"God bless you both!" said she, and went on her way.

The assizes came, and Meadows' two plaintiffs both were absent:
Robinson gone to Australia, and George forfeited his recognizances and
had, to pay a hundred pound for it. The defendants were freed. Then
Isaac Levi said to himself, "He will not keep faith with me." But he
did not know his man. Meadows had a conscience, though an oblique one.
A promise from him was sacred in his own eyes. A man came to Grassmere
and left a hundred pound in a letter for George Fielding. Then he went
on to Levi, and gave him a parcel and a note. The parcel contained the
title-deeds of the house; and the note said: "Take the house and the
furniture and pay me what you consider they are worth. And, old man, I
think you might take your curse off me, for I have never known a heart
at rest since you laid it on me, and you see now our case is
altered--you have a home now and John Meadows has none."

Then the old man was softened, and he wrote a line in reply, and said:
"Three just men shall value the house and furniture, and I will pay,
etc., etc. Put now adversity to profit--repent and prosper. Isaac Levi
wishes you no ill from this day, but rather good." Thus died, as
mortal feelings are apt to die, an enmity its owners thought immortal.

A steam-vessel glided down the Thames bound for Port Phillip. On the
deck were to be seen a little girl crying bitterly--this was Hannah--a
stalwart, yeoman-like figure, who stood unmoved as the shores glided

Omne solum forti patria,

and an old woman who held his arm as if she needed to feel him at the
moment of leaving her native land. This old woman had hated and
denounced his sins, and there was scarce a point of morality on which
she thoroughly agreed with him. Yet at threescore years and ten she
left her native land with two sole objects--to comfort this stout man,
and win him to repentance.

"He shall repent," said she to herself. "Even now his eyes are
opening, his heart is softening. Three times he has said to me, 'That
George Fielding is a better man than I am.' He will repent. Again he
said to me, I have thought too little of you, and too much where it
was a sin for me even to look.' He will repent--his voice is
softer--he bears no malice--he blames none but himself. It is never
too late to mend. He will repent, and I shall see him happy and lay my
old bones to rest contented, though not where I thought to lay them,
in Grassmere churchyard."

Ah, you do well to hold that quaint little old figure with that strong
arm closer to you than you have done this many years, ay, since you
were a curly-headed boy. It is a good sign, John; on neither side of
the equator shall you ever find a friend like her.

"All other love is mockery and deceit.
'Tis like the mirage of the desert that appears
A cool refreshing water, and allures
The thirsty traveler, but flies anon
And leaves him disappointed, wondering
So fair a vision should so futile prove.
A mother's love is like unto a well
Sealed and kept secret, a deep-hidden fount
That flows when every other spring is dry."*

* Sophia Woodrooffe.

Peter Crawley, left to his own resources, practices at the County
Courts in his old neighborhood, and drinks with all his clients, who
are of the lowest imaginable order. He complains that "he can't peck,"
yet continues the cause of his infirmity, living almost entirely upon
cock-a-doodle broth--eggs beat up in brandy and a little water. Like
Scipio, he is never less alone than when alone; with this difference,
that the companions of P. C.'s solitude do not add to the pleasure of
his existence. Unless somebody can make him see that it is never too
late to mend, this little rogue, fool and sot will "shut up like a
knife some day" (so says a medical friend), and then it will be too

It is nine in the evening. A little party is collected of farmers and
their wives and daughters. Mrs. George Fielding rises and says, "Now I
must go home." Remonstrance of hostess. "George will be at home by

"Well, wait till he comes for you."

"Oh, he won't come, for fear of shortening my pleasure."

Susan then explains that George is so foolish that he never will go
into the house when she is not in it. "And here is a drizzle come on,
and there he will be sitting out in it, I know, if I don't go and
drive him in."

Events justify the prediction. The good wife finds her husband sitting
on the gate kicking his heels quite contented and peaceable, only he
would not pay the house the compliment of going into it when she was
not there. He told her once he looked on it as no better than a
coal-hole when she was not shining up and down it.

N. B.--They have been some years married. A calm but very tender
conjugal love sits at this innocent hearth.

George has made a great concession for an Englishman. He has solemnly
deposited before witnesses his sobriquet of "Unlucky George," not (he
was careful to explain) because he found the great nugget, nor because
the meadow he bought in Bathurst for two hundred pounds has just been
sold by Robinson for twelve thousand pounds, but on account of his
being Susan's husband.

And Susan is very happy. Besides the pleasure of loving and being
loved, she is in her place in creation. The class of women (a very
large one) to which she belongs comes into the world to make others
happy. Susan is skillful at this and very successful. She makes
everybody happy round her, "and that is _so_ pleasant." She makes
the man she loves happy, and that is delightful.

My reader shall laugh at her; my unfriendly critic shall sneer at her.
As a heroine of a novel she deserves it; but I hope for their own
sakes neither will undervalue the original in their passage through
life. These average women are not the spice of fiction, but they are
the salt of real life.

William Fielding is godfather to Susan's little boy.

He can stand by his brother's side and look without compunction on
Anne Fielding's grave, and think without an unmanly shudder of his


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