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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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the eyes on this sweet April morning as he looked at it
from an opening in the trees, lying quiet and spacious
and mellow, in its beautiful setting of garden and wood
and park land, under the soft blue of the sky ; a house
of many memories now revivified by human occupancy.
The smoke beginning to rise from the chimneys seemed
to bring it into relation with the life which he knew.
The aspect of the village as it had always presented
itself to his mind had changed. The old house so long
of no account had quietly taken its place as paramount,
and there was no question of disputing its claim.

It was not long past seven o'clock. The sun had
been up for two hours, but the dew was heavy upon
grass and bushes, and the freshness of dawn still lin-
gered. Richard stood in a clearing of the wood and
gazed at the house, thinking himself quite alone and
unwatched. Suddenly he drew himself up with a
startled exclamation as a clear voice close behind him
said: "Boy, what are you doing here?"



RICHARD BALDOCK

He turned round and saw a child of about seven years
old standing under a great oak, gravely regarding him
the most beautiful child he had ever seen. Great masses
of yellow hair fell about her shoulders from under a
wide, shady hat, and framed a little face of pure oval,
out of which a pair of eyes of forget-me-not blue gazed
inquiringly. She was dressed in white, with little bare
legs over socks and shoes drenched in dew, and carried
a bunch of primroses in her hand. Richard stared at
her open-mouthed, having completely lost his self-
possession at the unexpected sight of this dainty fairy
of the forest.

"What are you doing here?" she said again, and
there was ever so slight a foreign intonation in her
words, a little roll of the " r " and a deliberation over
the vowels. " It is very early in the morning, and most
people are in bed."

Suddenly she threw back her head and laughed de-
liciously, with a thrill in her voice like a little black-
bird. Richard returned to himself.

" Listen," she said. " I woke up very early, oh, but
almost as soon as the sun. And I drew up the blind
and looked out at this lovely place. And I said to
myself that I must go out and listen to the birds. I
have never heard birds like these. So I dressed very
quietly, so as not to wake Artemise, and I ran out.
And I came into this wood and found these beautiful
primeveres I do not know their English name and I
have been picking them, oh, for so long. And there is
Artemise thinking that I am asleep in my bed all the
time." Again she laughed in full enjoyment of the
matchless joke, and again became serious.

" But you have not told me who you are and why
you are up so early too," she said.



A FAIRY OF THE FOREST 213

" My name is Dick," said Richard. " I am the son
of the vicar. I generally get up early and go out to
hear the birds sing, like you."

" Then we will go out together, and you shall tell me
the names of the birds and the flowers. I am glad you
are the son of the vicaire, because I like you. You have
a very nice face, and Artemise cannot say that it is
not proper for me to talk to you. I like talking to
people, but it is so often ' pas convenable.' I am sick
of that word. I will call you Dick, and you must call
me Lettice, for that is my name, an English name
which Artemise says is farouche; but I am proud of
being English, though I have never been in England
before. Do you think the name of Lettice is farouche? "

" I think it is a very pretty name," responded Rich-
ard, a little surprised at the extreme friendliness of the
little lady, but none the less enchanted. " I can tell
you a lot of things about the birds and the flowers and
trees ; secrets I can tell you, and show you things that
other people don't know of."

The child laughed delightedly. Richard thought he
had never seen anything quite so fascinating as the way
she threw back her head, opened her little red mouth,
and sent forth her thrilling bird-music. " That will
be lovely," she said. " I am so glad you got up early
and came here this morning. Tell me a secret now."

Richard looked around him. There was a big haw-
thorn bush near where they stood, and his practised eye
had noted the coming and going of a pair of chaffinches
while he and the child had been talking. He peered into
the bush and parted the branches. " Come and look
here," he said.

The child tiptoed towards him, her hands clasped in
front of her. " Oh, a nest," she whispered, tense with



RICHARD BALDOCK

excitement. " I have never seen a nest so close. Are
there some little birds in it?"

" There are five little eggs. I will lift you up, and
you can see them."

She cried out with delight as she saw the spotted
grey-green eggs in the soft cup of the nest. " Those
are chaffinches' eggs," Richard explained. " See how
carefully the nest is built, and the little soft feathers
woven in to keep the tiny birds warm when they come
out of the shells. Do you see the green moss on the out-
side ; it is of the same colour as the leaves, and the clever
little birds put it there so that the nest shall be difficult
to see. Some day I will find you a chaffinch's nest on
an old apple tree. Then you will see that they put
lichen on the outside instead of the moss, so that their
enemies shan't be able to see the nest against the trunk
of the tree."

" Clever little birds," said the child. " But what ene-
mies? "

" Cats and stoats and weasels. They climb up the
trees and eat the poor little birds. And sometimes a
great owl comes swooping down on them. They will
have to be very careful when they are hatched out and
are learning to fly."

The child listened eagerly to him, with earnest eyes
fixed on his face. " The nest and the little eggs are
a secret between you and me," she said. " And we
will come and look at them every day, won't we?
till the little birds come. Do you live quite near
here?"

" About a mile away. I ride along the road every
'day when I go to school. But there are holidays now.
I shall not be going to school again for another three
weeks. I will take you into the forest and tell you



A FAIRY OF THE FOREST 215

other secrets if if . Are you Mr. Ventrey's little

girl?"

" He is my grandpapa," she said. " He and I live
together and love each other very much. He reads to
me out of books, but he cannot teach me out-of-door
secrets because he cannot walk."

" Can't walk ! "

" No. Poor grandpapa. He is paralytique. Filmer
helps him to dress and wheels him out of doors, but in
the house he wheels his chair himself. And I open the
doors for him. He does not get up very early, or you
could come in and see him now. But, ah, what is that? "

Again the burst of bird-like laughter, as a white-
capped and aproned figure appeared on the terrace
which ran along the back of the house, wringing dis-
tracted hands and calling, " M'selle Lettice ! M'selle
Lettice ! "

" It is Artemise, who has at last missed me," said the
child. " I must go to her now. Good-bye, dear Dick.
I shall see you again very soon." She put up her little
flower-like face, and Richard bent down and kissed her.
Then she was flying across the grass, her long hair
streaming behind her, leaving him to stand motionless
with a wealth of new sensations rising in his heart until
she and the bonne disappeared into the house.

Richard walked slowly home. He had a great deal
to think of. So this was the reality which was to take
the place of the unattractive dream conjured up out
of old Sarah's imagination. In place of a middle-aged
spinster, of no possible interest to anybody, a frank
and most engaging little child, sweet-eyed and friendly,
a sylph-like rarity but warmly human too, the very
remembrance of whom caused his heart to thrill. He
thought of his morning's adventure all through the day



216 RICHARD BALDOCK

with a kind of exaltation. It was too precious to bear
discussion, and he told no one of it, receiving even with-
out comment Sarah's announcement of the discovery
that the Squire had no daughter, but a little grand-
child, the only other member of his family left alive.
" A spoilt brat, I warrant," said Sarah, " with a for-
eign trollop to wait on her hand and foot and fill her
mind with idolatries. All we can do is to pray that a
judgment won't fall on the place, but it ain't likely that
our prayers'll be answered."

Richard left her to the satisfaction aroused by this
consideration, and went downstairs. He did not know
that his father had been to call on the Squire, for the
Vicar had repulsed his attempts to lead the conversation
on to the subject at their early dinner, being in that
mood which is known in the nursery as " contrariness."
He came into the hall as Richard reached the bottom
of the stairs. " You are to go at once to the Hall,"
he said. " Mr. Ventrey wishes to see you. Please
make yourself as tidy as possible. Why did you not
tell me that you had already met Mr. Ventrey's grand-
daughter? "

Richard hung his head and flushed up. " I I don't
know," he said.

His father looked at him severely. " That is no an-
swer," he said. " You must have had some reason for
not telling me. You could talk of nothing but Mr.
Ventrey and his belongings the other day."

Richard looked up. " And you told me not to,
father," he said, not without a note of opposition in his
voice.

The Vicar frowned. " You are getting impertinent
in your speech towards me," he said, angrily, " and
you are idle over your work. My patience is at an en$.



A FAIRY OF THE FOREST 217

I shall not permit you to go on in the way you are doing
now. Go up to the Hall now and do not stay longer
than an hour. And come to me directly you return."
He retreated into his study and shut the door behind
him with decision.

The better understanding that had arisen between
John Baldock and his son had largely evaporated dur-
ing the past months. Perhaps because he was not en-
tirely contented with himself, Richard had felt more
irritation against his father of late than ever before.
But he was too used to blame and injustice to allow
their exhibition to disturb him very much, and with the
prospect of this wonderful visit filling his mind he put
from him all thoughts of the ordeal that was to come
after it. He ran upstairs and changed quickly into his
best clothes, then hurried out of the house and along a
forest track which led him out on to the road opposite
to the Hall, his mind filled with pleasurable anticipa-
tions and a little alarm.



CHAPTER XVII

THE SQUIRE AND THE VICAR

RICHARD rang at the bell and was admitted first of all
into a spacious hall, and, after a short wait, into a
long, low room full of books from floor to ceiling. He
had an impression of a white-haired man sitting with a
rug across his knees by a table laden with silver near
a bright fire, and then saw nothing but the. figure of his
little friend of the dewy morning and the forest glade
coming to meet him down the long length of the room.
She smiled at him, and, taking his hand, led him to her
grandfather. " I am very glad you have come," she
said, " Dick."

The Squire shook hands with him courteously, as if
he were an equal. Richard saw before him a man with
white hair and beard, but a fresh-coloured face and a
pair of piercing grey eyes, observant but kind. The
shyness with which he had entered the room vanished as
he met the look of his host. " You have already made
the acquaintance of my granddaughter," said the old
man. " I am glad that she found someone to tell her
something about the beauties and interests of her new
home so soon after she came to it."

" I told grandpapa about the five little eggs," said
the child. " When I said it was to be our secret I for-
got to tell you that I tell all my secrets to grandpapa."
She leant against him, and the old man drew her fondly
towards him.

" Please sit down, Dick," he said. " We are all three
218



THE SQUIRE AND THE VICAR 219

going to be friends, and I shall begin by calling you
Dick, as a friend should. Yes, Lettice and I have many
secrets between us. Lettice likes secrets, and I know
you are going to tell her ever so many new ones. She
has been a little town bird hitherto. Sometimes we have
flown away together to the blue sea and the flowers, but
we have never lived amongst the trees and the fields be-
fore. Most of our secrets have had to do with people,
and some with books. Now we are going to learn some
of the secrets of nature. And you are to be our teacher.
Your father says that you know as much about this
wonderful forest as any of our neighbours. I have
asked him if you may go with my little bird when she
is free to roam about the forest but she is not going
to give the good Artemise the slip again, and roam
about by herself, eh, my treasure? " He pinched the
child's cheek and she blushed and looked down.

" That was a little error of judgment," he continued,
in his pleasant, well-modulated voice. " Freedom is a
good thing, but little birds as young as ours want com-
panionship in their freedom. Would you like to be the
companion sometimes, when you, too, are free, Dick? "

Richard made haste to reply that he would like noth-
ing better, rather awkwardly, but frankly too. The
Squire's eyes looked searchingly at him, and evidently
found nothing in his appearance and manner that did
not please him.

" You must come here whenever you like," he said.
" When it is fine you and Lettice shall go into the
forest and the gardens, and sometimes, perhaps, you
will push my chair for me, so that I may share your
pleasures. When it is wet, we shall find something to do
indoors. I have many books and other treasures. Do
you like books? "



220 RICHARD BALDOCK

" Oh, yes," said Richard. " I read as much as ever
I can." *

" Then we will talk about books together. It is a
great thing to be fond of books. One is never lonely
or dull with them to bear one company, and one does
not mind being kept indoors. But books are chiefly for
the fire and lamp light, and for the bad days, unless
one's life work is concerned with them. To live an
outdoor life where one can, that is far better. I am
sure you are an open-air boy, are you not? and do not
brood over books when you can be out in your beautiful
forest."

Richard looked a little shamefaced. " I have been
reading a great deal this winter," he said. " More than
I used to. Chiefly novels," he added, for he did
not want to appear in false colours, surrounded by
the rows and rows of grave-looking books on the
walls.

The Squire looked kindly at him. " You have begun
to see that life is a wonderful thing," he said. " And
you can learn about life from novels. But it is better,
you know, to observe for yourself, rather than to take
for granted what others tell you. And you must not
let go the things you have taught yourself in your out-
of-door life. Your eyes are open to them now, and you
take them in a way you will not be able to later on.
You are laying up for yourself a great store of pleasure
for future years. I learnt these things, too, when I
was young. I know the forest and love it, though I
have not visited it for fifty years. But I want my little
Lettice to grow up to know it and love it too, so at
last I have come back. And I want you to show her
everything you can, and to teach her the secrets of na-
ture. I want you first of all to buy her a pony and



THE SQUIRE AND THE VICAR

teach her to ride it, a good little forest pony. I dare
say you know of one that would do."

Richard knew of several, and undertook the commis-
sion with eagerness. He was immensely impressed by
the kindness of the Squire and the interest he showed in
him, not a little grateful, too, enchanted at the idea of
so sweet a little companion for his forest rambles, and
proud of the trust imposed upon him. He spent one
of the happiest hours he had ever known. Little Let-
tice made the tea, which seemed to Richard a very
luxurious meal, and to which he did full justice. The
Squire seemed to sympathize with the appetite of a
healthy boy as well as with his other less material
tastes. Indeed, his sympathy was surprising, and com-
pletely won Richard's heart. All three of them talked
incessantly, and it was with a start of dismay that
Richard heard the tall clock in the corner chime six,
and realized that his hour of enjoyment had run its
course.

A shadow came over his face as he rose from his seat.
" I'm afraid I must be going."

"Won't you stay with us a little longer?" urged
the Squire. " Lettice does not go to bed until seven.
We thought you would like to help us get the books
into better order. Filmer has done it very cleverly on
the whole, but I want to make some alterations."

" I should like to very much indeed," said Rich-
ard, " but father told me to come home in an hour's
time."

" Then I won't keep you now," said the Squire, " but
mind you come and see us very often. Come to-morrow
morning and tell us what you have been able to do about
the pony."

Richard took his leave and went out. As he walked



222 RICHARD BALDOCK

home his mind was in a turmoil. It was all so strange
and new and delightful to him. The beautiful luxurious
house, in which he had been made to feel at home and
which he had been told was free to him as often as he
liked to come. Still more the charming, friendly child
whose daintiness and delicate beauty was like nothing
feminine he had ever come across in his life; and the
courteous old man who treated him as an equal, and had
shown plainly that he liked and trusted him. One would
have had to be brought up in a loveless home such as had
fallen to Richard's lot to realize fully the strength of
the impression made on a susceptible mind by an experi-
ence common enough to more favoured mortals, but to
him entirely new. One envies him as he treads the
springy turf of the forest track under the evening sky
of palest daffodil, young and avid of sensation, his
heart stirred by the wonderful discovery of love and
kindness, hitherto unknown, opening out to him ; so well
dowered was he by nature to give and receive the best
that the world had to offer in the way of companionship
and affection.

Happy thoughts went with him till he entered his
home. Then a cold shadow seemed to descend and cut
him off from the brightness in which he had been mov-
ing. He felt a fierce sensation of revolt against the
normal conditions of his home life, now revealed to him
as grey and sunless, and against the schooling he was
to undergo at the hands of his father. He gave him-
self no time to think, but knocked at the study door,
his lips set and a frown on his face.

John Baldock was seated at the desk where he sucked
in as much theology as would have made him as saintly
a man as any to be found in England, if theology and
the spirit of Christianity were interchangeable terms.



THE SQUIRE AND THE VICAR

He shut up his book as Richard stood before him, de-
fiant and dark-browed.

" Well," he said, in what may be best described as a
nasty way, " that is a pleasant face to bring before
me!"

His tone goaded the boy into rudeness. " I'm used to
being blamed and bullied for nothing," he said hotly.
" But you can't expect me to look pleasant about it."
He had never spoken to his father in that way before,
and half repented the words as soon as they were
out of his mouth. But his soul was sore within him,
and he strung himself up to the encounter that was to
follow.

John Baldock's face never altered, which even in the
blindness of his passion gave Richard a slight shock of
surprise, for he had expected a violent retort. " I
think that you forget that you are talking to your
father," he said.

" No, I don't," cried the boy. " I'm not likely to for-
get it. Nobody but my father is always on the look-
out to find fault with me, and enjoys doing it. Other
boys have fathers and mothers who love them and
praise them if they do well. You've never praised me
all my life, and whatever I do you're on the look-out
to find something wrong in it. You don't help me.
You hardly ever even speak kindly to me. I believe
you're really pleased when you can find something to
punish me for. You've been like that ever since I can
remember. Now I'm growing older and I'm not
going I you ought not to treat me like you do."

By the time he had come to the end of his poured-
out bitterness he was in angry tears. His father still
looked at him quietly, apparently moved neither by his
passion nor his rebellious utterance, very different in



RICHARD BALDOCK

tone from anything he had ever heard from him before.

It was a curious character, this harsh and narrow-
minded Churchman's. For fifteen years he had ridden
roughshod over the sensibilities of his son, exhibiting
abundant pettiness in his attitude of almost constant
criticism, giving rein to his warped inclination to find
fault and to domineer. So long as he had been able to
do this without meeting opposition he had been very
nearly completely satisfied with himself; not quite satis-
fied always, as we have already seen, but it had only
been very rarely that he had been pulled up in this dis-
agreeable course of action. Now, confronted with
mutinous attack, he was a different man altogether.

" These are very serious charges you bring against
me," he said. " Have you thought them over care-
fully, as to whether they are quite justified?"

" Yes, I have," Richard broke out again. " I'm not
always behaving badly ; even you can't say that. Tell
me once when you have ever praised me for behaving
well."

" That is a foolish thing to ask. No good man ex-
pects praise for doing his duty. Whatever you expect
of me, you need not expect that."

" I don't expect it. I only expect you not to look
out for every little thing you can possibly blame me
for."

" We will have no more general charges couched in
disrespectful language. Until we get to the bottom
of your cause of complaint against me, we will discuss
the matter without heat or rudeness on either side.
Your position seems to be that you are so satisfied with
yourself that you resent me, your father to whom you
owe obedience and respect, correcting you for what I
consider faults of conduct."



THE SQUIRE AND THE VICAR 225

" No, father," said Richard, in a quieter tone.
" That isn't my position." He felt himself handicapped
in the controversy, but his naturally logical mind and
the sense which had been growing in him that his father
treated him with harshness and unfairness, a sense now
suddenly rendered acute by his late experience of a home
where love and kindness reigned supreme, prepared him
to concentrate his mind upon what he did feel sore about,
and, now that the ice was broken, to state it with what
clearness and insistence he could.

" Then what is your position? " asked his father.
" It seems to me so, but I am willing to hear it ex-
pressed as you feel it."

" It is what I have said. You do take every oppor-
tunity of blaming me. Whether I do right or wrong
there's always something. I never do "

" Wait a minute. You say, whether you do right
or wrong. Do you accuse me of blaming you for doing
right?"

" You blame me for things that aren't wrong."

" Then you are to be the judge of what is right and
wrong, and not I."

The boy looked puzzled for a moment. Then he
made a motion as if to brush away some trivial obstacle.
" I'm not a baby," he said. " All my life you have
been telling me what is right and what is wrong. I know
well enough if I've done something that's really wrong."

" Will you give me an instance, then, of my blaming
you for something that isn't wrong? "

He gave a dreary little laugh. " I could give you
plenty of instances of that, father," he said. " The
very thing that you were angry with me for this after-
noon because I hadn't told you that I had seen Mr.
Ventrey's little granddaughter this morning."



226 RICHARD BALDOCK

" That is not a very well chosen instance. What I
was angry with you for was for answering me rudely
when I spoke to you about it, for that and for other
things of which I told you at the time."

" That came afterwards. You spoke angrily to me
for not telling you, before I had said anything."

"And why didn't you tell me? Wouldn't it have
been natural for you to tell me a thing like that when
we came together at dinner? It must have been con-
stantly in your mind. But the fact that you said noth-
ing about it is a good example of the sort of resentful
sulkiness you have displayed towards me now for some
months past. Your answering rudely when I asked you



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 15 of 29)