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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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something of Cowper's poems and Longfellow's, and
those of the now almost forgotten Kirke White, but
they hardly stirred the passion with which he after-
wards devoured every modern book of poetry on which
he could lay his hands. The rest of the collection was
made up of evangelical tales and one or two picturesque
annuals and gift books, so that the mental sustenance
he drew from it was somewhat meagre ; but " David
Copperfield " was a constant delight, and the village
library contained one or two of the " Waverley
Novels," as well as "Oliver Twist" and "The Old
Curiosity Shop." This was almost the extent of his
reading up to the age of fifteen, except that during
his short visit to his aunt he had got hold of Tennyson's
poems, and had been wild to obtain a copy for himself
ever since.

The first book he took out of the school library when
he went to Storbridge was " The Pickwick Papers,"
and the second was " Martin Chuzzlewit," and so on
right through Dickens until he was brought up by
" Little Dorrit," which he found dull and depressing
reading, so he cast about for another novelist, and lit
upon " Pendennis." When he had finished this and de-
voured " Vanity Fair," he was as keen an enthusiast
on Thackeray as he had been on Dickens. Then fol-
lowed a course of Anthony Trollope, with a check at the
political novels ; a week of absorbed delight over " Lorna
Doone " ; candles burnt at night for " The Moonstone "
and " The Woman in White," and yawns over two sub-
sequent attempted works of Wilkie Collins. A puzzled



198 RICHARD BALDOCK

plunge into Meredith he was only fifteen Miss Brad-
don, Charles Reade, both the Kingsleys, James Payn,
and very many more, the great Victorians as well as the
small. He soaked himself in a sea of novels, and inter-
spersed his reading with poetry good and bad, and
there it ended. He read for his pleasure alone, and
showed no signs of becoming a bookworm, though, with
Meaking always at his elbow and Mr. Gannett, who had
taken a fancy to him, occasionally conversing with
him upon the subject of which his thoughts were full,
he began to know a good deal in a superficial way about
books and authors.

Probably there is no form of pleasure, however inno-
cent in itself, in which complete absorption does not
bring satiety. Richard's orgy of novel-reading lasted
through the autumn and winter, and by the time spring
came round the brightness of his character had become
a little tarnished. It was not possible for him actually
to shirk his lessons, because the preparation for them
was invariably done under his father's eye, and in school-
time he worked fairly well. But zest for his work had
departed, and at the end of the Michaelmas term the
rival who was running with him for the school exhibi-
tion, but whom he had always hitherto beaten, went
above him. His father was very angry. He had marked
the slacking effort, but had not been able to put his
finger on the cause of it. Richard confided in him very
little. By his harshness and obstinate self-absorption
he had put it out of his own power to gain the boy's
complete confidence. At the same time Richard had
never designedly hidden anything from his father, and
his conscience told him now that he was deceiving him.
For he knew well enough that if it were known that he
often read in bed until the early hours of the morning,



RICHARD READS AND RIDES 199

that he hid himself away somewhere to read when he
knew that his reading openly would be remarked upon,
and that he read novels on Sundays, he would be very
severely reprimanded and his novel-reading stopped al-
together. A naturally frank and open nature like
Richard's could not but be damaged by the knowledge
that he was acting secretly.

Then, again, the balance of his life was destroyed.
He had hitherto been out of doors every moment in the
day that could be spared from his lessons. Now he
was always poring over a book, and shutting his ear
to the call of the forest. His long ride to and from
school fourteen miles five days a week in rain or shine
kept him physically fit, but he grew unhappy, for the
reading became after a time an obsession, and he read
when he would much rather have been out of doors.
At the end of the winter he felt somehow that a season
had gone by of which he had missed the pleasure. He
had put himself out of tune with nature. The forest
had called him again and again, and he had refused to
listen to the summons.

Meaking gave him a warning word. Meaking had
plans in his head, plans which concerned Richard him-
self, but he had not yet disclosed them. But he kept
a watchful eye on his now constant companion.

" I've got a day off to-morrow," he said one Friday
afternoon in the middle of a glorious February. " It's
the first I've had, 'cept Christmas, since I've been here.
I didn't mean to ask for one for six months, but this
weather ! I can't put it off any longer. Lend me a
pony, Dick, and we'll have a long ride through the
forest. I'll get over by nine o'clock, after I've seen to
the old man."

Richard looked up to a sky of soft cloudless blue.



ZOO RICHARD BALDOCK

" I don't know that the weather's going to last," he
said.

*' Oh, rot. You know better than that."

" I don't think I want to ride the whole day long.
I get about enough riding on the rest of the week."

" You never could get enough before. And think
of the forest on a day like this ! The fact is you want
to mug indoors with a book. You're overdoing it, and
that's the truth. It isn't as if it was leading to any-
thing like it might be with me, if I spent my spare
time in reading books good books. You're filling your-
self up with trashy novels, just to amuse yourself."

" I don't read trashy novels. I'm reading the best
novels that were ever written."

" Trash as well. And I don't care if they were all
good ones. You're overdoing it. Eat as much as you
want, but don't give yourself a stomach-ache. That's
one of my mottoes."

" It's a precious poor one."

" Well, perhaps it isn't one of my best. Anyway,
it applies to you. Look at the old man. It's books
with him, and nothing but books. I don't suppose he
knows the difference between an oak and a beech. He
don't want to. You wouldn't want to grow like him."

" Of course not. You're talking nonsense."

" I'm not. Look at me. Grow all round, that's one
of my mottoes. That's why I've come away from Lon-
don, where everybody wants to get to, and settled down
here in the country. I tell you it's something worth
having a love for the country and knowing it. I'm
not going to chuck away a thing like that. It's a pos-
session, and one you can't buy. You've got it, per-
haps more than me. And you're chucking it away. At
least, you're wasting it."



RICHARD READS AND RIDES 201

" Well, I'll come with you to-morrow, and I'll lend
you a pony, but we shall have to take it easy. Tommy's
a trifle stale."

" I don't mind that. We'll walk 'em as much as
you like. I only want to get into the forest. We'll ride
through Wood Hinton and past Denham enclosure and
Brackley Bog to Exton, and I'll stand a lunch at the
hotel. We'll make a day of it. I'll turn up at
nine."

Although he would have been ashamed to acknowl-
edge it, this was the first whole day Richard had spent
afield since early the previous autumn, and he enjoyed
it exceedingly. They struck right into the heart of the
forest directly they got out of the village, and rode
by little-frequented tracks for mile after mile without
touching a metalled road. The wet rides were bright
green under the heavenly blue, the hollies glistened be-
tween the tree-trunks standing on their red carpet
underneath the purpling branches of oak and beech.
Primrose leaves, with here and there a pale early flower,
tufted the borders of the paths. The sweetness of
spring was abroad. The wet, odorous soil, the swelling
buds, the birds in brake and thicket, the warm sun, the
fresh, soft air, were all eloquent of it. Meaking, with
town and shop and strenuous ambition pushed clean
away from him, became bucolic, the born woodlander,
contented with the day, careless of the future, part of
the world of nature around him, breathing and growing
with it, rejoicing under the same influences of warmth
and freshness and bursting life. He shouted for joy as
he rode along. He had been faithful to the forest ; there
had been nothing in his life to resist its influences. He
could come back to it and be received as an integral part
of its stirring life, feel the joy of it in his very bones,



RICHARD BALDOCK

with never a jarring thought of the outside world to
disturb his emotions.

Richard had the freedom of the forest too, but he felt
dimly that he had been misusing it. Even now as he
rode he must be trying to fit in the sensations which
had grown up with him to those he had lately experi-
enced. He tried to find words, phrases, rhymes, to see
at second hand what had always been familiar to his
own eyes. " Hang your poetry \ " said Meaking, when
he had spouted a few lines from his then favourite.
"We don't want to hear what people say about it;
we've got it."

They came about mid-day to the village of Exton,
stabled their ponies, wandered about the ruins of the
noble abbey, and stood on the bridge underneath which
the water flowed into the broad tidal river. The tide
was high, and the great expanse of water, full up to
the tree-lined shores, lay like a quiet lake in the Feb-
ruary sunshine. Two swans flew over their heads on
their way down the river, cleaving the air with slow
beats of their wings, making a kind of hoarse music
which could be heard as long as they were in sight.
White pigeons sunned themselves on the roof of the mill-
house or circled round the chimneys. The clock on
the gate-house of the abbey chimed the hour.

" What a beautiful place this is," said Richard. " I
should like to live here."

"Yes, it's a beautiful place," replied Meaking; "as
beautiful a place as there is in England. But it's
feudal. It isn't quite the forest."

" You're crazy on the forest."

" You used to be, and you will be again when you've
come to your senses. Now we'll go and have some lunch
and get back again."



RICHARD READS AND RIDES 203 I

They rode back along the road, through the woods
and across the heaths, and reached Beechurst at twi-
light. They walked their ponies for the last few miles,
and neither of them had spoken for some time, until
just as they were nearing the village, Meaking said:
" Well, this has been the happiest day I've had for a
long time. I hope we shall have more like it together.
But I'd like to say something to you, Dick. We're
friends, and you won't take it amiss."

" You're going to say that I read too many novels
and too much poetry," said Richard. " You've said it
before, and I don't particularly want to hear it again."

" I wasn't going to say exactly that, though it's
true. It's partly my fault. I was wrong to get you to
help me with the library. It's my work, but you've
got other things to do at present, and it isn't fair either
to your father or yourself to take you from them.
What I want to say is this: You're not working on a
plan; I mean you're not working towards anything.
Of course you're young, and perhaps you don't see the
importance of it yet. I'm young, too, and because I do
see the importance of it I'm on the way to success. Now
I know what's in store for you. I don't believe you've
ever thought about it at all. You've taken it for
granted, and you've got a good many years before you
at school and at college pleasant years before you've
got to take up your work. I'm not saying anything
against being a parson. It's a good enough life for
anybody who's suited for it and goes into it with his
eyes open. Some people say it's the best life. But I
don't think it is, except, perhaps, for a very few.
Anyhow, it's the worst life in the world for a man who
takes it up only as an occupation and a means of get-
ting a livelihood ; I'm sure of that. He's cut off from



204 RICHARD BALDOCK

natural ambition, and he just becomes a vegetable a
canting vegetable. It must hurt his character in the
long run. Now, it may be the right thing for you, but
I do hope you'll make certain that it is before you take
it on. Of course I know you're as good as gold, a jolly
sight cleaner minded than most fellows who are being
trained for the Church; and that's just why it will hurt
you more than it would them if you went into it with-
out seriously thinking what it meant, and feeling that
you couldn't possibly do anything else. That's how it
ought to strike a man going into the Church, I think.
You won't misunderstand me and think I'm a meddler
for saying this, will you?"

" No, old chap," replied Richard ; " it's very good of
you. It's quite true that I haven't thought much about
it yet ; there's plenty of time. Of course I want to go to
Oxford. I don't know whether father would let me if
he didn't mean me to take orders afterwards."

" Ah," said Meaking, significantly. " Well, I see it
isn't time to say more about it at present ; but you take
my advice, Dick, and don't let yourself drift. When
you're running a race keep your eyes on the winning-
post; that's one of my mottoes."

Richard laughed suddenly. " Work with an object,"
he said.

" That's all right," said Meaking ; " but what is there
to laugh at?" ^

" Oh, nothing. It was the advice given me by another
friend."

" Very good advice, too. You keep it in mind, and
you won't go far wrong. And now I'll be getting on to
mother's. Good-bye, old fellow. We've had a jolly
day."



CHAPTER XVI

A FAIRY OF THE FOREST

A MHJS from the village on the road which Richard
traversed twice a day on his way to school lay
Beechurst Hall, an Elizabethan house of great beauty,
with high-pitched roof and great chimney-stacks, its
windows looking across a formal garden divided from
the road only by a small fence, to a park-like rise. The
house had lain empty ever since Richard could remem-
ber, but it had been kept in good repair and would have
been ready at any time for the occupancy of its owner.
An old couple looked after it and jealously guarded its
privacy. Richard had felt some curiosity from time to
time as to its interior, but had never succeeded in get-
ting inside its doors. There was no temptation to tres-
pass in the gardens, which were mostly open to the
roads, and were kept in rough order by the old care-
taker and a boy from the village. Lacking its human
soul the house had passed away from all connection
with the village and was as little regarded by the in-
habitants as if it had never been built, though in past
years it had passed through troublous times and had
left its mark upon history. The foresters and villagers
of Beechurst passed it without so much as a turn of
the head, and had nothing to say of it to inquiring
visitors, except that it belonged to Squire Ventrey,
who lived in foreign parts.

One day, about a month after his expedition with
Meaking, Richard glanced at the Hall as he rode by and

305



206 RICHARD BALDOCK

saw signs of unusual activity about it. Doors and win-
dows were open and chimneys smoking. A builder's
cart stood on the gravel, and one or two workmen were
busy about it. A little farther along the road he met
the builder himself, a Storbridge man whom he knew,
driving towards the house, and reined up his pony to
receive information.

" Mornin', Master Baldock," said the builder.
" Great doings at the Hall. Squire's coming back at
Easter, and I've got to get the whole place in order in
less than a month. Had to throw over another job for
it. I must be getting on."

When Richard returned home that evening he found
excitement reigning in Beechurst. Even the Vicar was
not wholly free from it. Richard ventured to make
inquiries of him as they sat together at their evening
meal. But John Baldock objected to answering ques-
tions. The only way of getting information out of him
was to feign indifference towards the subject on which
he had it to impart, and Richard, was too interested
to take that course in this instance.

" You will know all in good time," was the Vicar's
irritating answer to his inquiry. " Curiosity about
other people's affairs is a temptation to be guarded
against."

" I don't want to know anything about Mr. Ven-
trey's affairs, father," replied Richard. " I only asked
you about him. If he is coming to live here it is inter-
esting to us."

" You are far too interested in carnal matters, Rich-
ard," said his father. " I wish you would try to realize
that we have not here an abiding city. We are like
wayfarers passing through a street on our way home."

" But the wayfarer might be rather interested in the



A FAIRY OF THE FOREST 207

people who lived in the street. Especially if it took him
seventy or eighty years to pass through it."

"That is an impertinent speech, Richard, as well as
an irreligious one. You may leave the table. I do not
wish for your company if you cannot behave yourself."

Richard, who had nearly finished his tea, was not
sorry to be dismissed. He thought he would be able to
extract rather more information from Sarah.

Sarah proved to be quite willing to impart such as
she possessed. " Squire Ventrey," she said, " has got
tired of living in foreign parts, as well he may. It's a
matter of over twenty years since the Hall was left
him, and it's my ielief he never so much as set foot in
it, more's the shame for preferring the company of them
godless Frenchmen to honest English folk. He's old
in years and I make no doubt old in sin, for I'm told
he's a Roman Catholic; and I s'pose now we shall have
them there dirty priests skulking about the place seek-
ing to devour, and the worst terrors of the Imposition.
A sin and a shame it is, I say, that such things should
be allowed in a Christian country, and if the people of
this place ain't all in a state o' grace which none
knows better than me is the case, and sorry I am for
it, and wrestling in prayer night and day that judg-
ment mayn't fall on 'em, which I shouldn't be sur-
prised if it did wi' fire and brimstone in a way they
won't like all the more reason why they shouldn't be
led further astray, poor lost lambs, but some of 'em
more like wolves to look at, it seems to me."

" Well, he's an old man and a Roman Catholic.
What else? Is there a Mrs. Ventrey, or any sons and
daughters? "

" Mrs. Ventrey's been dead and finding out her mis-
Jakes this many years. I've heard tell of no sons, but



208 RICHARD BALDOCK

there's a young lady. The orders is to paint all the
woodwork in two rooms white for her, and furniture's to
be sent down specially. A mincing baggage, I make
no doubt, with airs and graces, poor benighted Papist,
and her mind set on luxury and vanity."

" Sweet, charitable soul you are, Sarah dear ! How
old is she? "

" Not being told, I can't say for certain. But Squire
Ventrey's seventy if he's a day, so she's no chicken.
Paints her face most prob'ly, as is the custom in
heathen countries, and tries to look like an innocent.
She and her white painted rooms! Bah! Go along!"

" Well, there's an old gentleman and his daughter.
It doesn't sound very lively. Have you ferreted out
anything else ? "

" I'll thank you not to use such words to me, Master
Richard, which it's well known that Mrs. Biddle up
at the Hall is friendly with me, where others she scorns,
and I had occasion to pay her a visit this afternoon."

" Of course you had. What did she tell you? "

" There's servants coming down from London when
the workmen is out of the house. A pack of them
trollopin' hussies ! There's to be a great man to spoil
their food for them, if you please. Mrs. Biddle, whose
niece is cook to a titled family, isn't good enough for
them. Of course not ! a respectable woman who's no
patience with foreign ways and wouldn't drop a curtsey
to a priest, not if he was to blight her with a stroke for
it. She and Biddle's to live in the lodge, I'll trouble
you; them as has had the Hall for over twenty years,
same as if it was their own, you might say. Oh, I've
no patience with such goings on."

" Are they going to have any horses?"

" Oh, horses ! Yes, Camels too, I make no doubt,



A FAIRY OF THE FOREST 209

and dromedaries, if their lustful pride requires such.
The stables is to be done up same as the rest. But
there! What's the good of talking? We shall see what
we shall see, and I, for one, don't expect no good
from it."

Job, with whom Richard had a short interview as
he saddled his pony the following morning, seemed
hardly less pessimistic concerning the coming changes
than Sarah, but apparently found some consolation in
the prospect of theological disturbances.

" I know them there Roman Catholics," he said. " I
seed one at Gladehurst Fair when I was a boy. They
bows down to idols, and beef and mutton's an abomina-
tion to them, same as pig-meat to a Jew. And they
don't let you alone, neither. Why, you and me is
heathen to their way of thinking, and the master too.
Hee ! Hee ! Happen the Squire'll tell him so. Now
that's what I'd like to hear. If you get a chanst, Mas-
ter Richard, you persuade 'em to have it out in this
here yard when I'm washing out. Don't say it right
out, but inveigle 'em. Eh? Harses? No, not as I've
heard tell on. Two stalls and a loose box, that's all.
Happen a pair o' carriage harses and a riding mare
for the young woman. There'll be no hunting. They're
a poor lot. Hee ! Hee ! A Roman Catholic Squire
and a holy man for a parson ! Well, that do beat all."
And Job retired, chuckling.

The preparations at the Hall went on apace. By
favour of his friend, the builder, Richard went through
the house one Saturday morning, wondering at the
carved panelling, the stately furniture, the pictures and
the china, penetrated to the two sunny upstairs rooms
of which the drab-coloured walls were taking on a dress
of virgin white, and thought what a pity it was that



210 RICHARD BALDOCK

such delightful surroundings should be wasted on an
elderly spinster. He was routed out of the house by
Sarah's friend, Mrs. Biddle, before he had completed
his investigations, and from the stables by Mrs. Bid-
die's husband, both of whom seemed in a state of un-
accountable fury. " Disagreeable? " said Job, when he
told him of his experience. " 'Course they're disagree-
able. Who wouldn't be? Going into a comfortable lit-
tle house wi' nothing to do for it, and money paid 'em.
Reg'lar blood-sucker, this 'ere Squire Ventrey ! I
wouldn't stand it if I was the old Biddies. They've
lived in the Hall for over twenty year, an' now he wants
to live in it himself. Grinding the face of the poor,
that's what I call it."

The Storbridge builder finished his job and drew off
his men. Then came great vans of furniture to add to a
house that already seemed full of it. Curious onlookers
reported one of them at least full of packing cases of
a uniform size and of great weight. " Corpses," sug-
gested a village humourist. " Books," corrected Rich-
ard ; " they weigh a lot." Servants had already made
their appearance and were busy with unpacking. In-
formation leaked through the barricade kept up by the
still resentful Biddies. With the exception of the
Squire's confidential man, who was superintending the
operations, they were all newly engaged and knew noth-
ing of their master or his belongings.

Richard's interest, revived by the cases of books, fell
at the meagreness of the stable arrangements which were
next revealed. There were two horses, whose claims to
breeding were but modest, a station brougham and a
luggage cart, the whole being under the charge of one
groom who repelled advances.

On the Wednesday before Easter the Squire and his



A FAIRY OF THE FOREST 211

belongings installed themselves. They came after dark,
it was said straight from Paris, and -those of the vil-
lagers who stood in the road to watch their entry saw
nothing but the brougham with its windows blinded
drive in at the gate, followed by the station fly con-
taining additional attendants, and the luggage cart.
Further curiosity had to sleep until the morrow.

Easter was late that year, well on into April, and
the weather was a foretaste of summer. Richard was
up very early on the morning after the arrival and
prowling in the woods which abutted on to the gardens
of the Hall. The house, which had hitherto hardly
counted in the influences exercised by his surroundings,
now appealed to his imagination. He wondered why
he had thought so little of it. It was a sight to gladden



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 14 of 29)