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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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clusion of almost everything else. Even little Lettice
seemed of less importance in the coming changes in his
life than her grandfather, and with the clearing up of



AT BEECHURST HALL 241

the cloud between him and his own father, which would
otherwise have given him ample food for thought, he
occupied himself not at all.

He found the owner of the pony he had come for,
extracted and adjusted a price from him, and rode back
with it to the vicarage, whence in due time he presented
himself at the Hall.

The weather was still fine and warm, and Mr. Ven-
trey was out in his chair, being wheeled by Filmer
and accompanied by Lettice. Richard eyed him some-
what closely as he greeted him, adjusting his first im-
pressions to the new light he had received on his char-
acter. Had it not been for Job's reminiscences he
would have been more surprised than he was to find
that the kindly gravity of his host's manner of the
evening before had disappeared, and a gay, almost ir-
responsible light-heartedness had taken its place, im-
possible to resist.

" Filmer," he said, " you shall ride the pony down
to the gate and back again. There is no one but you
whose judgment I can trust in these matters." And the
unfortunate Filmer's protestations of incompetence
were brushed away until he was on the point of mount-
ing the bare-backed pony, when he was forbidden to do
any such thing. Richard cantered the pony down the
drive and back again, and Lettice was lifted on to it
and given her first lesson. Then they went into a pad-
dock, men were summoned, and a low fence was set
up and the pony's jumping capabilities tested. The
Squire was as keenly interested as a boy, urged Richard
to bolder feats and applauded his successes, and kept
the children merry and excited all the time. Richard
was fascinated by an attitude so delightful and, in his
experience, so unprecedented in a grown-up person, and



little Lettice's bird-like laughter rose continuously into
the warm sweet air.

The pony was finally approved of, the groom sum-
moned and given instructions as to saddlery, and dis-
missed with the new purchase to the stables, and the
trio spent the rest of the morning in the gardens, Rich-
ard pushing Mr. Ventrey's chair, rice Filmer, dismissed
to other duties.

" Your father is coming to lunch," said the Squire,
as they went indoors, and a shadow descended on Rich-
ard's spirit, only partially lifted by the remembrance of
what had happened between them the evening before.

But if his admiration of his new friend had been
great before, it rose to the point of wonderment when
he found himself sitting opposite to his father at the
luncheon table, and watched him gradually thawed from
his usual state of sombre stiffness through the stages
of ease and geniality into an almost complete forget-
fulness of himself and his position of authority. It
was not the fine food and the wine that were offered
to him that produced the change, for the one he con-
sumed without appreciation, and the other he refused
with a hint of horror in his manner. It was the con-
summate tact of his host in whom Richard now saw a
third stranger related to the other two whose acquaint-
ance he had made that morning and the evening before
only by his very manifest kindness and sympathy. Re-
membering Job's description of the elaborate dinner
of the night before, Richard was rather surprised to see
his host wave awa}' the wine which was about to be
poured into his glass, and content himself through the
meal with plain water. He was still more surprised to
find that a matter of almost absorbing interest to Mr.
Ventrey was the work of the church in the village of



AT BEECHURST HALL 245

Beechurst, a matter on which his father was encouraged
to talk more freely than he had ever known him do
before. Somehow he had not expected to find the Squire
deeply interested in religious matters, and indeed with
the clearness of perception possessed by youth it oc-
curred to him even now that the interest was not quite
so genuine as his father evidently believed it to be. But
he put away the thought as savouring of disloyalty,
for his admiration of this delightful and friendly new-
comer was full and flowing over. He could hardly
keep his eyes from him as he talked, and the little girl
who sat between them at the round table was almost
as much engrossed in her grandfather as himself.

Mr. Ventrey was not the man to allow one guest,
even the most important, to monopolize his attention.
Richard was brought into the conversation and little
Lettice too, and in such a way that John Baldock, who
would have ignored both of them throughout the meal if
he had been allowed, found himself addressing affable
remarks not only to his son, but to a child almost too
small to have come otherwise into the focus of his in-
telligence.

When luncheon was over Richard and Lettice went
out into the garden, while Mr. Ventrey had himself
wheeled into the library and asked the Vicar to accom-
pany him.

" I must tell you," he said, " what a pleasure it is
to me to find such neighbours near me. I cannot, unfor-
tunately, get very far away from the house, and, if I
remember rightly there are none except your own within
very easy reach. When I used to come here many
years ago the then Vicar of Beechurst was not the most
engaging of companions, and it is a great relief to me
to find the old order changed in that respect."



244 RICHARD BALDOCK

" My predecessor was a godless reprobate," replied
John Baldock, " who prostituted his high office, and
was sunk very deep in the mire of self-indulgence; and
even, if I am rightly informed, committed crimes for
which he might have been made amenable to the law."

" I didn't know that it was as bad as that," said
Mr. Ventrey, " but he was certainly not fit to be asked
to a gentleman's table. It is a matter for congratula-
tion to me that I find things so altered."

" I may say, without undue boasting, that things are
altered in the village," said the Vicar, " although they
are far from being as I would have them. It is a great
joy to me, Mr. Ventrey, on my side, that you are able
to see eye to eye with me in these matters and that I
may look forward to a valuable and loyal co-operation
in my endeavours to raise the spiritual condition of
those committed to my charge."

" Quite so," responded Mr. Ventrey, cordially. " I
fear I shall not be able to attend your services, much as
I could have wished to support you in that way. But
you see my disabilities."

" Possibly," said the Vicar, with a glance at his
chair, " some device might be "

Mr. Ventrey did not appear to have heard him.
" But anything that I can do in the way of money
poor as such a contribution is beside your own sacrifice
of time and labour I shall consider myself honoured
in being allowed to do. And we must be friends, Mr.
Baldock. You must come and see me whenever you feel
so inclined, and tell me how I can help you; not only
what I can do for your parishioners, but if there is
anything I can do for yourself. I am an older man
than you, and to tell you the honest truth, I like
meddling with my neighbours' affairs."



He spoke lightly, but there was no disguising the
sincerity with which the offer was made. John Baldock
was touched by it. " I do not despise kind and wise
advice," he said, with unwonted humility, " although
I live so much alone that it is not often it is avail-
able. I thank you, Mr. Ventrey."

" And your boy," proceeded the Squire. " I can-
not tell you how I have taken to him. He seems to me
just what a boy of that age ought to be, frank and
winning and healthy. You are very fortunate in having
such a son, Mr. Baldock."

The Vicar swallowed something, possibly the knowl-
edge that he had not considered himself over fortunate
in his son. " He has the seeds of good in him," he
said.

" He has the fruits," corrected the Squire. " What
are you going to make of him, Mr. Baldock? Excuse
the direct question. I only ask it because I am more
than usually interested in him."

" I hope that he will follow in my footsteps and
give his life to preaching the Gospel."

" Ah ! well, he is young yet. I hope you will let
him come here as often as he wishes. It will not be
more often than I and my little granddaughter wish."

" Thank you," said John Baldock. " As long as he
behaves becomingly and does not trespass on your kind-
ness I shall be glad to do so."

The Vicar soon afterwards took his departure, and
Mr. Ventrey summoned Filmer to wheel him out into
the garden.



.CHAPTER XIX

THE SQUIRE TALKS

IT was fortunate for Richard that a better understand-
ing with his father had come just at the time at which
his new friendship began. Otherwise he would hardly
have been allowed to spend day after day and some-
times long evenings at the Hall without having to sur-
mount considerable difficulties at home. As it was, he
came and went unchecked, and throughout the three
weeks of his Easter holidays was so happy that even his
father was touched with some warmth of feeling towards
him, for steady happiness of spirit is powerful to rouse
affection.

Richard taught little Lettice to ride, and they spent
long hours together in the forest. She was a sweet-
natured, confiding little soul, and the boy came to love
her dearly. She was an apt pupil. She would take his
arm and snuggle up to his side, and say : " Tell me
secrets, Dick," and Richard would dive into his experi-
ence and fish up something that he had observed or as-
similated in his lifelong familiarity with the ways of
nature.

" See," he would say, " how do you think the great
oaks and beeches grew so big ? "

" The oak comes from an acorn and the beech

" Yes ; but when the acorns and the beech nuts have
planted themselves in the ground and sprouted and
grown into little trees, the cattle eat them and the
deer. If you were to plant an oak in a field where

246



THE SQUIRE TALKS 247

cattle were grazing, you would have to protect it,
wouldn't you ? "

" Yes, of course."

" Very well, then. Now see how the oak is prepared
for in the forest. Here's a bramble growing. What
else is there? "

" A thorn."

" Yes. Well, one day a little hawfinch perched on a
spray of the bramble and dropped the seed for the
thorn to grow from. And why do you think that
grew without being barked by the rabbits ? "

The child thought for a moment and clapped her
hands. " Because the bramble would prick their soft
little noses," she said.

" Yes. Now we'll go and find a bigger thorn. Here
is one ; and what is growing with it ? "

"A holly."

" Yes. Right in the middle of the thorn. Well, one
day, when the thorn was growing big a perky old black-
bird came and perched on it and dropped a holly berry.
And here are all three together. A thorn sometimes
it's a wild pear or a sloe a holly and an oak. And the
oak has grown much bigger than them all. That was
from an acorn dropped from the holly by a wood-pigeon
And so you see everything has been protected by what
grew before it until it was big enough to look after
itself. The cattle won't prick themselves with thorns
and hollies, and so they leave the oak alone till it grows
too high to be reached. Then it begins to shoulder out
the thorns and the hollies. But you will very seldom
find a young oak growing without one of them near
enough to protect it."

" That's a beautiful secret, Richard. How did you
find it out? "



248 RICHARD BALDOCK

" I don't know. I thought about it till it came
to me."

" Tell me another."

He took her to the higher ground, where the Bag-
shot sand joined the clay, and showed her how the
water, filtering down to the heavy ground, oozed out
from the juncture in springs and rivulets. Here the
oaks abounded. " Because," said the wise Richard,
" the pigeons come up here to drink, and wherever the
pigeons go they drop the acorns."

Many other secrets he told her as they roamed the
forest together during those happy April days, and
for nearly two years afterwards, during which they
were inseparable companions in his hours of leisure. He
showed her the seeds of the sycamore spun round and
round as they floated down the wind on their flange-like
wings. " You would think it was a brown moth," he
said. "And the birds think so too, and swoop down
upon it. Then, when they have flown a little way,
they find out their mistake and drop it, quite dis-
gusted. So the seed gets carried, and little sycamores
spring up a long way from the big old mother syca-
more."

He taught her the names of birds, and their notes,
and told her where they built, so that her eyes became
as clever at spying a nest and naming the builder as his
own. Everything he had learnt about the forest and
its denizens of the undergrowth, the thicket, and the
higher dwelling places of the air he taught her in time ;
but not always easily, for he did not know how much he
knew himself, until he came to put it into words, nor
what was plain to the eye and what had to be explained.
But the telling of it gave his knowledge a value in his
own eyes that it had never had before, and his love of



THE SQUIRE TALKS 249

the forest and the secrets it enshrined gathered force
by expression.

Sometimes they quarrelled, for Lettice was wilful,
and no more than the best or worst of her sex could
put up with a long period of unbroken agreement. But
she loved Richard all the same, and admired him with
never wavering constancy in spite of her occasional fits
of antagonism, for he was the wisest of mortals in her
eyes and held the keys of all knowledge worth having.
And he for his part would have gone through fire and
water for her, although even if she had been old enough
to appreciate his devotion, she would never have sus-
pected it, for he treated her as a comrade and kept the
tenderness he felt for her locked closely in his inner-
most heart, as became a healthy-minded boy not yet
called by his years to the single attachment.

His devotion to the Squire, though different in qual-
ity, was no less strong. He never quite understood him,
and indeed the complexities of Mr. Ventrey's character
were such as to have puzzled a more experienced brain
than his. But of one thing at least there could be no
doubt, that whenever Richard presented himself at the
Hall he was made welcome, and that the invariable kind-
ness displayed towards him sprang from a genuine liking
and even affection. The increase of happiness brought
into Richard's life by his friendship with the Squire
and little Lettice could hardly be exaggerated. It was
caused not only by the pleasant companionship and the
free entry into a beautiful, luxuriously ordered house,
with its manifold interests and attractions, though these
were not without their effect on a mind singularly open
to impressions, and especially so in comparison with the
meagreness of the social life he had hitherto experi-
enced. It was caused chiefly by the security he felt



250 RICHARD BALDOCK

in the liking so plainly shown for him by his new
friends. No one had ever before shown that they took
great pleasure in his society no one, at least, whose
liking was a tribute to be proud of. It was what he
wanted to give him confidence in himself. His whole
being craved for affection. He had never known it in
his home life. No wonder that a constant felicity
underlay his intercourse with those who showed that
they considered themselves as much the gainers by him
as he by them.

If Richard never quite understood his friend and
benefactor, it was not for any reservations practised
on him by Mr. Ventrey himself. The Squire seemed to
take a delight in revealing the springs of his actions
to him and inculcating a philosophy of life which would
have been cynical if the mainspring of his nature had
not been that ever fresh and abounding good will
towards mankind at large which no experience of in-
gratitude and no insistent demand for pleasure and
sensation in his own life were strong enough to lessen.
Richard would sometimes dine alone with him, sharing a
refection the rarity and elaboration of which struck
him every time he took part in it with scarcely less
wonder than had been described to him by Job as the
experience of himself and his cronies. Then they would
retire to the library, and the Squire would talk and
Richard would listen for an hour until it was time for
him to go home to bed.

" Life is given to us to enjoy," said Mr. Ventrey
to him on one of these occasions. " And I believe that
every man, whatever his position, has means to his
hands to enjoy it. But enjoyment is an art which
needs as much education and practice as any other.
And remember this, my Richard, that there is no such



THE SQUIRE TALKS 251

thing as solitary enjoyment. Give out as freely as
you can to others and you will enhance a hundredfold
the value of what you have for yourself."

" Father says that our life here must be one of self-
sacrifice." ' .

" I have the greatest possible respect for your fa-
ther and for the principles by which his life is guided.
But one can only go by one's experience, and mine tells
me otherwise. There are probably people in the world
who find a pleasure in self-sacrifice for its own sake,
just as there are people who like to stick knives into
themselves. I imagine that they have to educate them-
selves up to these pleasures, as one does to every pleasure
that is worth having. But I think that one is as un-
natural as the other. Love I take to be a higher motive
from which to confer happiness on others than self-
sacrifice: and there can be no doubt that it is more
satisfactory to receive attentions from a person who has
a regard for you than from one who looks upon you
as a convenient object upon which to practise his own
virtue. I would go even further, and say that benefits
conferred without love are not benefits at all, but rather
insults. I should certainly feel them to be so if they
were conferred upon me."

" But it is not everybody who who loves other peo-
ple like you do, Mr. Ventrey."

" Perhaps I have the capacity for good will towards
mankind at large more highly developed than some.
But you do not suppose, my Richard, that such a
capacity, if it exists in the first place, does not need
to be fostered and encouraged. Everybody possesses
some measure of it, and they had far better try to
enlarge their sympathies than begin at the other end
and play the benefactor by rule without possessing



252 RICHARD BALDOCK

beneficence of character. After all, happiness is the
test as far as I can see, the only test that lies ready
to one's hand. Even the people who make themselves
miserable in this world of set purpose do so because they
look forward to another world in which their present
misery will gain them happiness ; and no doubt it gives
them some satisfaction to feel that their happiness will
be greater than that of us poor mortals who practise
the cult of happiness here and now. They are welcome
to their satisfaction. The mistake they make is in be-
lieving that all who seek happiness now are alike in
thinking that it can be gained by selfish pleasure. We
are not all fools, we others. The wiser among us
know very well that the pursuit of selfish pleasure does
not bring happiness ; we know it as well as they do, and
the more we act on our knowledge the happier we be-
come."

Richard was somewhat puzzled by this demonstration
of a philosophy which had some points of resemblance
with that to which he had been brought up, but an
entirely different starting ground. " Do you think,
then," he said, " that we may enjoy ourselves as much
as we can in this world if we take care not to let our
enjoyment interfere with other people's happiness?"

"I think," said Mr. Ventrey, "that that is what
we are here for. But we must not be content with a
negative interest in other people's happiness. We must
promote it; and we must do so because it is perfectly
plain to every sensible and experienced seeker after hap-
piness for himself that that is one of the chief means
by which he can gain it. Man is a social animal. He
gains by giving. I have said enough on that point. Al-
though it is the chief it is not the only means of acquir-
ing happiness. You must cultivate as many tastes as



THE SQUIRE TALKS 253

you can, always supposing that you have the means
and opportunity of gratifying them."

" But a poor man can't afford to have many tastes."

" He can afford to have the best. The pleasures
that money can buy are never the greatest. I do not
say they are not worth having, but they need the great-
est possible care in the using if they are to be perma-
nent pleasures. In fact you must have educated your-
self into the position of an expert if you are to get any
real pleasure out of them at all. None of your own
pleasures, for instance, have any relation whatever to
money. The pleasure you take in the open-air life and
the beauty of the world in which you live does not
depend in the least upon money. It has never cost you
a penny."

" But I might have to go away and live in a town
where I could not enjoy that particular pleasure."

" I am glad to see that you are exercising your
mind on the question. In that case you would have to
adjust your mind to do without it, and find something
to take its place."

" Then money would come in, because if I were
rich I could live where I liked when I grew up, I
mean."

" And lose the pleasure of work, which, when you
grow up, you will find means a great deal more to you
than the money it brings. But the point now is that,
taking yourself as an example, the pleasures you actu-
ally have the means of enjoying do not depend upon
money, and they are good pleasures, which you will
value the more as you grow older. You love books,
but you do not want to buy them yet. You can read
as much as you like, and you have already found out
that that particular pleasure must be indulged in with



254 RICHARD BALDOCK

discretion, like all others, as I have told you, or it re-
mains a pleasure no longer. You have the capacity for
friendship, and you have friends who satisfy it. I
hope, at least, that Lettice and I satisfy it."

" But, Mr. Ventrey, I hadn't many friends before
you came, and it is not very long since I had books
to read."

" Then you have had two additional pleasures con-
ferred on you over and above those you enjoyed before.
You have them now, and my point is that every one, or
at any rate the great majority of people, do have
opportunities of happiness if they are prepared to take
them and to use them wisely. Please get it out of your
head that money is necessary for happiness, or that it
is even the chief means of obtaining happiness. There
are other means of such infinitely greater importance.
Health, for instance. Don't you think that I would
jgive up every luxury or pleasure that my money pro-
cures me in exchange for what you and the vast ma-
jority of people in the world have, and make so little
of the power to use my limbs, to do things for myself,
to walk?"

It was the first time that Richard had heard him
refer to his affliction. He did so now without a trace
of self-consciousness, with an easy smile, as if it were
of little account. But the boy saw, in a flash of en-
lightenment, what the deprivation he suffered under
might mean to such a man, and his voice was a little
husky as he replied : " And yet you are happy, Mr.
Ventrey."

" Yes. I don't think of it. I don't mind saying to
you, what I wouldn't say to many people, because they
wouldn't believe me, that I don't mind. At first, of
course, I did, One needs time to adjust oneself to



THE SQUIRE TALKS 255

entirely new conditions of life, and it would be difficult
to imagine a more complete change than that produced
by a severe stroke of paralysis. What do you think
I was doing when the blow came to me ? I will tell you,
because it may be useful to you to remember me as an
example of a man who at one time or another has had
nearly everything that made life worth living cut away
from him, and has yet attained happiness and content-
ment in spite of his losses.

" I was about to set out on a journey of explora-
tion. It was before the sources of the Nile were dis-
covered, and if this had not happened to me I think I
should have had the honour of discovering them. This
journey had been a dream of mine for many years. I
will tell you some day of all the preparations I had
made for it. It was the thirst for knowledge and some-
thing unknown, and the spirit of adventure, both of



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 17 of 29)