Archibald Marshall.

Richard Baldock: an account of some episodes in his childhood, youth, and early manhood, and of the advice that was freely offered to him. by Archibald Marshall online

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Online LibraryArchibald MarshallRichard Baldock: an account of some episodes in his childhood, youth, and early manhood, and of the advice that was freely offered to him. by Archibald Marshall → online text (page 13 of 29)
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powdered wigs and silk calves, and if that's what you
are driving at disappointed I'm afraid you will be."

" I'm not wholly ignorant of the ways of gentlefolk,
ma'am," said Sarah, " and such state as you refer to
I'm well aware is only practised by the titled nobility.
But rumours I have heard that it is to sech that Mr.
Montague has now risen. If so be as I am wrong, I
s'pose I can be set right."

Mrs. Meaking set her lips tightly together. " I was
never one to boast," she said. " Whether what you
refer to is the case or not, is not for me to say at
present. Time will show. But this I do say, that my
own connexions are high in the world, and if it wasn't
my own proper pride, not wishing to be beholden to
nobody, rich or poor, high or low, I might be sitting
in silks or satins with my hands in my lap, instead of
working as now I do, and treated with impudence by
them as should be touching their hats and dropping
curtsies to me."

" Well, it must be a comfortable thought to you,
ma'am, that when your son does come to visit you he
will come as a gentleman equal to any, if not in a
chariot and four, as is the way of the nobility. But
that, I take it, need not be believed for gospel, well
known as it is that your tongue is apt to run faster
than the truth can overtake it."

Mrs. Meaking bridled. " I should scorn," she said,
" to contradict you. As a lady born, brought down
by misfortune and kept there by lawful pride, I must
put up with the envious and backbiting cries of the
lowly. It is not for me to boast before my inferiors
of the position from which I have fallen, and to which


my son has risen again. It is not for me to make
claims of any sort, nor do I. And if my son were here
he would protect me against such insinuations as you
are pleased to make, Mrs. Wellbeloved."

" Indeed, ma'am," said Sarah, " insinuations is far
from me. But it's a hint here and a hint there, and
never a straight word that can be taken up plain. Is
your son high up in the world or is he not? Answer
me that and I'll have no more to say."

" Yes, he is," replied Mrs. Meaking, goaded towards
her destruction. " And as you take such a kind interest
in me and mine, I'll tell you what I've told no-one else,
and wish to go no further. Montague is an officer in
the Army, with a scarlet uniform and gold lace in
plenty, riding on a prancing horse, the same as the
Honourable Captain Murthley, Lord Dibdin's son, only
higher. And his clothes, whether by day or night, are
a sight to see, dressing for his dinner every evening, as
is the custom with the high-born gentry, and nobody
looking more noble and gallant. And whether he'll be
a lord himself some day or whether he won't, and
and nothing will induce me to let that out, being under
an oath of secrecy there's titled ladies in love with
him in plenty, and hanging on his word."

" What, him and his red hair ! " chuckled old Sarah.

" His hair, Mrs. Wellbeloved, is no concern of yours ;
and let me tell you that what is called red hair by the
vulgar is much thought of and named auburn by those
that know about such things. And now I've told you,
but I don't wish it to be named elsewhere."

" Far be it from me, ma'am, to abuse confidence so
kindly placed," said Sarah, now in a state of placid
enjoyment that could hardly have been increased.
" Now you've chosen to speak straight out your words


will be respected. I'm willing to own I'm surprised.
It was my belief that Mr. Montague was likely, after
all, to be nothing better than a shop-boy; but as you
declare "

" Shop-boy, indeed ! " interrupted Mrs. Meaking,
now warming to her work. " As I've told you so much,
Mrs. Wellbeloved, and it won't go any further, for
fear of me being accused of boasting, which I'd scorn
to do, I'll tell you more. My son is waited on hand
and foot by two valleys, and wouldn't be allowed to
do so much for himself as button his own waistcoat,
if he wished in his position to demean himself by so
doing. Walk he never does, but rides in carriages and
on horses, if it's only so little as to cross the street
from one lord's house to another. And I can tell you
that it's many the lord he'd scorn to associate himself
with now."

" To think of that ! " ejaculated Sarah. " And you
settin' here quite humble, sewing a gusset and talking
familiar to a servant ! "

" Oh, it won't be for long, Mrs. Wellbeloved.
There are family circumstances I needn't go into which
prevent me taking my place at present, but when my
Montague comes home to take me to where servants'll
tremble at my slightest word, and lords and ladies will,
be my daily companions Lor ! what's that ? "

A loud knock on the cottage door had startled both
ladies. Mrs. Meaking sat in an attitude of expecta-
tion and old Sarah seemed to be taken with a fit of
subdued but uncontrollable mirth.

The knock was repeated, and Mrs. Meaking rose to
attend to it. She walked past her visitor to the door,
opened it, and fell back with a startled cry. Then she
rushed to the embrace of her son, who stood in the door-


way, with his flaming red hair, unsubdued by time and
anointment, surmounting a florid face, the colour of
which was heightened by his fast walk of seven miles.

" My boy ! my boy ! Come back to me at last ! "
sobbed Mrs. Meaking on his shoulder. " I've stood up
against them all; but many's the time my heart has
ached for you."

" There, Mother, that's ah 1 right," said John, pat-
ting her on the shoulder. " Let's come in and sit down
for a bit, and I'll tell you all about it. I'm glad
enough to see you again in the old place, and Why,
who's this? Mrs. Wellbeloved! How do you do?
Been having a gossip with Mother, eh? That's quite
like old times. Well, it does me good to see one of the
old faces."

Old Sarah's hour of triumph had come, but somehow
she did not quite see her way to taking advantage of
it. John Meaking in a blue serge suit considerably
worn, and a pair of London button boots very dirty
and rather down at heel, looked as little as possible
like a cavalry officer with two valets in his employ, but
he did look like a strong self-reliant young man who
might be disposed to take amiss any slight to his mother ;
and she, for her part, seemed to have forgotten for
the moment the flights of imagination which she had
recently soared, and was sitting on a chair beaming
at her offspring, and intermittently dabbing at her
eyes with a pocket handkerchief.

" Well, I'm pleased enough to see you, Mrs. Well-
beloved," proceeded John, as Sarah showed no signs of
taking her departure, " but you'll understand that
Mother and me has a good deal to talk over. So we'll
say good-bye now, and we shall be very pleased to see
you again later on."


Old Sarah found her feet and her tongue at the same
time. " Far be it from me," she sajd, " to stay where
I'm not wanted. I s'pose you left your prancing horse
outside, Mr. Montague, or p'raps I should say Cap-
tain Montague. And your two valleys is looking after
your other suit, which if it's anything like the one
you're wearing'll give 'em plenty o' work to do. An'
the ladies of title that fall down and worships your
graven image they'll likely be on view in a day or two
when the house is cleaned up a bit."

John, after a side glance at his mother, looked her
straight in the face till she had finished. Then he said,
" Oh, you're here to make mischief, are you? I might
ha' known it if I'd remembered what you were like
before, a spiteful old busybody, always poking your
nose into other people's affairs. You can be off out
of this house, and you needn't put yourself out of the
way to come back again."

" Hee, hee ! " giggled old Sarah. " Shown the door
by a shop-boy, when I was told to expect a lord in
scarlet and gold! That's as good a joke as ever I
heard, and it won't lose in the telling neither. Good-
afternoon, my lord ! 6?ooJ-afternoon, my lady ! Don't
trouble to ring for the footman to show me out.
I'll "

But here she was interrupted by a loud and somewhat
hysterical outburst of laughter from Mrs. Meaking,
and paused in astonishment as that lady rocked to
and fro in her chair, apparently convulsed with

" Yes, it is a good joke," she crowed. " One of the
best jokes I've ever heard, and it's a joke against you,
old Sarah Wellbeloved, and not against me. She came
jn here, Montague, prying and peering and trying to


lead me on. So I let her lead me on, and filled her up
with nonsense which she sucked in like mother's milk.
Ho, ho, ho ! 'Twas a complete take in. Ho ! Ho ! "
Her laughter suddenly ceased. " Spiteful old cat ! "
she said with a glare of fury. " Get out of my house,
and don't you ever put your face inside my door

She advanced upon the old woman with a threaten-
ing mien, but Sarah stood her ground. " You may tell
that story to them as'll believe it," she said. " Oh,
I'm going. You needn't fly out like a fury. I came in
here for a quiet little talk, not knowing anything more
about where the lad was than the babe unborn. Not
a word did I believe of what I was told, but I was
meant to believe it, and may you be forgiven for the
sin of lying that set on your conscience."

She turned to go, and came face to face with Job
Wilding, who stood just inside the door. " So the
boy's come home, has he?" said Job. "Time enough
too, young varmint! I s'pose Mrs. Wellbeloved come
to warn you about it, eh? Master Richard, 'e
told 'er all about 'im yesterday, an' what 'e was

John Meaking suddenly flamed into fury. " Get out
of the house, both of you," he shouted. " Sarah Well-
beloved, you're a wicked, lying old woman, as full of
malice as the devil ; and you, Job Wilding, I've felt
your hand many a time when I was a boy, but I'm a
man now, and if I catch you worrying my mother with
your evil tongue you'll feel the weight of mine."

" 'Ere, don't you come the master over me, young
Meaking," returned Job, " 'cos I won't put up with it.
I come here to stop this old clap- jacket making mis-
chief, being asked for to do it by Master Richard."


" You came here to enjoy the mischief she'd tried to
make," said John. " Outside the door, or I'll kick you

Job cast an indecisive glance around, and departed
without another word, having the door slammed to upon
his heels. Old Sarah had already scuttled down the
garden path and was on her way back to the vicarage,
pushing along the wet road like a rusty black beetle.
John Meaking and his mother were left alone to balance
accounts of relationship and to start afresh.

When Richard heard what had happened he first
sought an interview with Job, and upbraided him in
no measured terms for his duplicity. Job was taciturn
and impenitent. " Don't you come a-worritin' o' me,"
was the burden of his defence, but his last words showed
that his late experience had not left him unaffected.
" If that red-headed young badger lays a finger on
me," he growled, " I'll have the law on 'im."

Then Richard went up to the nursery, and stood in
front of old Sarah like an accusing spirit.

" I've heard about the mean trick you've played," he
said. " You did your best to deceive me, and you lied
to Mrs. Meaking. I'll just tell you this: I don't want
to hear anything more from you about religion as long
as I live. I'm sick of it. It's all cant and hypocrisy
with you. You haven't got an ounce of true religion
in your body. You're full of malice and uncharitable-
ness. What you've done I call real wickedness, and
I'm glad I've found you out at last."

Sarah glared at him like a baffled old witch. She
had plenty to say, but he was out of the room before
she could begin to say it. " The idea ! " she burst out,
when he had shut the door behind him. " And me a


converted soul, and free from sin these fifty years !
The impudence! I'll tell the master o' you, Master
Richard, and a fine to-do you'll find you've made of

But, on consideration, she did not tell the master.



MR. GANNETT, the bibliophile, had not enjoyed the
services of his new assistant many days before it began
to pierce even his vellum-and-parchment-protected
brain that he had cause to congratulate himself. When
John Meaking had been in his employment for a week
the following changes in his surroundings had taken
place. The dirty and indolent old harridan who had
neglected him and his house for close upon thirty years
had disappeared, and only the faint echoes of the
cataclysm that accompanied her enforced departure
had reached his ears. In fact, he had only been asked
for authority to get rid of her and for money to pay
her dues, and had been protected against all subsequent
unpleasantness or attack. In her place reigned a clean,
tidy body, who cooked decent food, brushed and mended
Mr. Gannett's scanty wardrobe, cleaned out the house
from top to bottom, and never got in the way. Mr.
Gannett had hitherto connected any slight cleaning
operations that might be considered obligatory with a
period of the utmost discomfort and inconvenience to
his habits and his business, and had come to look upon
cleanliness as a terrible, if necessary, trial, to be
avoided if possible, and always to be greatly dreaded.
He now got the benefits of the operation without its
drawbacks and found the change not unpleasant.

Again, with very little assistance from himself his
whole stock had been reduced to some sort of order;



and though it was not altogether the order that he him-
self would have chosen if he could have brought himself
to create it, it was found to be very convenient to know
what books he possessed, and where they were to be
fqund. Furthermore, all trouble over serving cus-
tomers who came to buy cheap or modern books, such
as he despised but seemed to be always acquiring, was
taken off his hands, and he himself was left free to talk
to his more intelligent clients and to devote his whole
time to preparing the best catalogue he had yet sent
out. His assistant even spent his evenings in copying
out the entries Mr. Gannett had made during the day,
relieving him of the nightmare of prospective proof-
correcting, which by reason of his crabbed handwriting
had been the one thing that had spoilt his enjoyment
in those masterpieces in the past. " I won't deceive
you, Mr. Gannett," Meaking had said in a loud, clear
voice, when he had offered to do this work of super-
erogation. " I don't take the interest in the books that
you do, and I don't do it for pleasure. But I want to
help you all I can, and show that I'm worth my pay ;
and I want to learn all I can, so's I shall know all
branches of the business." Mr. Gannett had accepted
his assistance on this understanding, though not with-
out a feeling of disappointment that his fellow labourer
was unable to share his own zest in an occupation which
he looked upon as the highest form of pleasure that
life could afford.

Then Mr. Gannett, whom age and long years of
sedentary employment, with only such sustenance as
could keep the life in him, had robbed of the capacity
or desire for many hours of sleep, had formerly found
it a terrible trial to wait until his attendant allowed
him to get up in the morning and begin his day. Now


he could rise at whatever time he liked, and find John
up before him with a fire and a cup of tea ready to
warm his old bones, and his desk cleared for him to work
at. Mr. Gannett was accustomed to retire to rest at
any time from one to three in the morning, while John
was generally snoring in bed by ten o'clock and got
even with him in that way.

In fact, no bookseller in the United Kingdom was
served by so diligent, thoughtful, capable, and alto-
gether exemplary an assistant as Mr. Gannett, and the
old man, while taking most of the improvement in his
condition with unconscious equanimity, was occasionally
moved to congratulate himself upon it. This sense
of welfare would come to him sometimes suddenly, and
whenever it did so he would leave whatever occupation
he was engaged in, trot over to where John was work-
ing, pat him on the shoulder, and say, " You're a good
boy. I'll raise you," which was as near as he ever got
to a spontaneous reference to money affairs.

The fact that the takings of the business showed
marked advance even during the week that Meaking had
employed himself chiefly in putting things straight
could hardly be expected to afford Mr. Gannett great
satisfaction, as he had always showed himself quite in-
different to this aspect of it. But it may be supposed
that it was the all-important one to Meaking, and that
he would not be content without further changes which
his employer might not receive with such complacency
as those which had already taken place.

Meaking confided some of his intentions and ambi-
tions to Richard, who, intensely interested in what was
going on in the shop in Abbey Street, seldom let a
day pass without paying him a visit.

" I've got him comfortable now and pleased with me,"


said Meaking, on the morning after he had finally re-
duced the stock to order and faced the world of book
buyers from a shop which offered them half as much
attraction again as it had ever done before. " Now
we've got to begin to go ahead, and we're going ahead
in ways he won't be quite so pleased with. I don't
mind telling you, Dick, 'cos I like to talk about these
things to somebody, and you won't let what I say go
any further, that if I hadn't come here about when I did
the old man would have been in queer street in a very
short time. He's a miser, that's what he is."

Richard opened his eyes. " That's news," he said.
" I didn't know he cared a bit about money."

" And he doesn't. Money isn't the only thing you
can hoard. He's a miser in books. He's got so as he
can't bear to sell the best of them. I couldn't quite
make out what was going on at first. I knew he'd got
the reputation of knowing more about a certain line
of books than anybody in the country, and I knew he
must have made money over that, even if he drops some
in unsaleable stuff. But when I came to look into things
mind this don't go any further I found there was
hardly anything in the bank, and very little coming in.
Of course he doesn't spend anything on himself hardly
as much as a labourer, and the premises belongs to him,
so where had the money gone? I needn't say that he
don't keep accounts, but there's drawers full of letters
and so on, and I worried it out one night, when he was
asleep for a wonder. What do you think I found? He's
pricing his books higher than their market value, so's
nobody'll want to buy them from him. Did you ever hear
of such an old image? I found it out for certain, be-
cause there was a correspondence from a gentleman who
had bought a book at the catalogue price, high as it


was, and I saw that the old man must have written that
the price in the catalogue was a mistake, and he couldn't
let it go. He had to, though, and there was the cheque
in the customer's last letter stowed away in a drawer
and never paid in."

" By Jove ! " said Richard. " You will have to stop

"No, I shan't stop it," replied John. "The old
man's right, only he don't know it. That class of book's
going up in value every day, and if they ain't worth
what he prices 'em at now they will be by and by.
I shall let him stick to that side of the business and
work up the others so as he'll have money to buy. It's
actually got so that in a week or two, if he'd gone on
as he was doing, he wouldn't have been able to buy any
more. I shall frighten him with that. There's a good
deal to be got in. He has never worried over accounts,
and if you don't worry people they won't pay. That's
by experience. He has had the sense just to enter
sales and purchases. That's all the books he's kept,
and he's never cast even them up. Oh, things are going
to be very different now. And I'll tell you one thing
I'm going to do, Dick, and I want you to help me. I'll
make it worth your while. I'm going to start a lending
library. I think there's scope for it a small one.
The old man won't like it, but it'll make a bit, and I'll
get a hold over him with that."

" How can I help ? " asked Richard.

" Well, you can choose the books. You've gobbled up
about a dozen I've let you read here in your dinner-
time in less than a week, and I can see you'll read any-
thing you can get hold of so long as it's amusing. You
don't seem to trouble the calf-bounds much."

Richard laughed a little shamefacedly. " I get plenty


of that at school," he said. " But, I say, do you really
mean it? "

" Yes, I do. I don't read myself. I haven't time.
And, of course, it's the amusing books that people want
in a library. Them and the ' standards.' You shall
choose a couple of hundred volumes novels and poetry
and such-like to begin with and I'll choose the editions
and get 'em down hot and new from the publishers. I
can't afford to pay you in cash, but I know you'll like
doing it, and I'll put you on the free list, and you can
have first go of any book in the library, and take 'em
away two at a time as often as you like. Now, how
will that suit you ? "

Richard made haste to reply with delight that it
would suit him admirably, and the bargain was struck.
It was in some ways rather a curious collection of books
with which Mr. Gannett's circulating library was eventu-
ally started, for Richard's knowledge of authors was
not on a par with his voracious appetite for reading.
All his own favourite books were, of course, included,
and a respectable percentage of them proved to be
acceptable reading to the subscribers to the library, so
that his selection was on the whole justified. When it
became necessary to enlarge the library and to infuse
new blood into it by buying from time to time popular
books of the moment, John made him read reviews and
publisher's advertisements, and, in fact, made use of
him generally, knowing well it was the greatest pleasure
to him to be made use of in that way.

Richard revelled in it. There comes a time to every
boy who has the love of books in him when he begins to
make discoveries and to plunge with the keenest joy
into much-trodden, but to him new and delightful, paths.
The time may come soon or late, and the zest may


spread itself over years, ever widening, or it may con-
centrate itself early into a lifelong pursuit of one
narrow track; but the books read during those fresh
golden days will always carry something of a glamour,
even if riper taste has learnt to reject them.

Here was a boy with a genuine though quite un-
encouraged taste for literature, and an insatiable curi-
osity about life. He had had hardly any experiences
outside the little circle that immediately surrounded
his village home, and had had so few books to read,
that, until he was given the run of the fairly well-
stocked library of his school, he was ignorant of even
the names of the great masters of romance. John Bal-
dock, in spite of the fact that he was a good classical
scholar and plied a busy pen in evangelical reviews
and journals, was illiterate. The masterpieces of Greek
and Latin literature, whose language he was so skilful
in dissecting, were meaningless to him, except as exer-
cises in syntax or prosody ; of poetry he knew little and
cared less, and on novels, even the greatest, he looked
askance. His library, consisting mainly of old sermons
and the work of out-of-date divines, if it had been sold
in the open market, would have gone to swell the pile
of books such as Mr. Gannett exhibited in his two-
penny and three-penny trough, and of books that might
interest a boy who was developing a thirst for reading
there were scarcely any.

But in the disused drawing-room was a shelf of
books that had belonged to Richard's mother, and al-
most all of these he had devoured. He had read " David
Copperfield " by the time he was twelve, and had re-read
it many times since. Of all the little collection this
was his favourite. Charles and Mary Lamb's " Tales
from Shakespeare " came next, but until he went to


school he had never read a line of Shakespeare himself.
" Paradise Lost " he waded through twice, rinding
patches of very attractive descriptive writing amongst
a mass of wh?,t he regarded as dry stuff. He knew

Online LibraryArchibald MarshallRichard Baldock: an account of some episodes in his childhood, youth, and early manhood, and of the advice that was freely offered to him. by Archibald Marshall → online text (page 13 of 29)