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 22 of 29)
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said, " that it is almost impossible for me to discuss an
alternative to the course I have had in mind. But I
cannot fight against your obstinate determination if
you have made up your mind. I have no weapons
none, at least, that I should think it right to use. I


shall certainly not keep you at school any longer. You
are eighteen years of age, and I should have taken you
away before if it had not been for my hopes for you.
You are right in saying that you must do something to
earn your own living, but I have never thought of hav-
ing to find an opening for you. I do not know where
I should have looked. What is this proposal you have
had made to you? "

Probably there was some curiosity at the back of
this question, but there was no doubt that with all his
odd twists and perversities of character, John Baldock
had a genuine conviction that he had been taught of
God that Richard was to follow the course which for
years he had designed for him, and was disturbed and
grieved at the downfall of his hopes. The boy realized
this, and was less resentful of his father's obduracy than
he might have been. He explained that Meaking had
offered him a situation in his shop in any case, but
that if he could bring some money into the business
there would be an opening for him as a partner.

" You may put that out of your head at once," said
his father, when he had finished. " I have no money to
do such a thing, and would not use it in that way if I
had. I should consider it as definitely locking the door
on the calling which I hope you will even now take np.
In any case I cannot think that this offer can be a very
serious one. I do not know much about business, but I
am quite sure that nobody would offer a schoolboy of
eighteen a half share in any business for a hundred and
fifty pounds if it was worth anything."

This seemed so reasonable that Richard began to
have doubts whether he had, indeed, grasped the pro-
posal set before him.

M He says he wants me with him," he explained ;


" that we can work well together, and that there is an
opening for him to use money in his business."

" It is not of the slightest use even talking it over,
for I have no money that I could apply to such an
object, even if I judged it wise to do so."

" There is the seventy pounds which you told me
Aunt Henrietta had given me when I was a child."

" Which I am not in the least prepared to hand over
to you for any purpose but preparation for the life
it would be right for you to take up. Not at any rate
until you are of age, when you can have it to do what
you like with."

" Well, I hope father, you will let Meaking talk to
you about it. He is coming to see you to-morrow

" I shall have no objection to talking with him. But
I tell you definitely, as I shall tell him, that it is use-
less to apply to me for money to help him in his
schemes. You had better leave me now, for I am

Richard went out to walk in the forest, and to turn
matters over in his mind. His father's refusal to help
him in any way did not weigh on him as much as might
have been expected. For one thing he had hardly
anticipated acquiescence, and for another he was hardly
old enough to realize the difference it might make to
him to be able to join his friend as a partner in his
business rather than to accept a subordinate position
:n it. It was the work and the new departure in his
life that filled his thoughts, and of these he was assured
in any case. His mind dwelt upon them with the utmost
^xriilaration, and he would dearly have liked to be set-
ting out for Storbridge the very next morning to en-
gage in the delightful occupations of business, which tQ


one who is of an age to dispense altogether with the
thought of failure wear as romantic an aspect as any.

He had come into the wood behind the Hall, to the
spot at which he had first made the acquaintance of lit-
tle Lettice two years before. He looked up and recog-
nized the hawthorn bush and the great oak with a flash
of memory, and the next moment little Lettice herself
was before him laughing a roguish welcome.

"What were you thinking of, Dick?" she said.
" You looked as solemn as an old owl, and I believe
if I had stood quite still you would have gone by with-
out seeing me."

" But I thought you were abroad," said Richard.

" We crossed last night and got here this morning.
Grandpapa got tired of Dinard, where we were staying,
and indeed it is an atrocious place, all dresses and
giggles and loud music. Yesterday, I said : ' Do let
us go back to our dear forest,' and Grandpapa said:
' There is no better place. We will cross to-night '
you know his way. And so here we are, and I have
been out all the afternoon thinking I might see you.
Dick, now you must tell me a secret. It is a month
since I saw you."

Richard laughed. " You little rogue," he said.
" You know all the secrets of the forest as well as I
do now. But I am so glad you have come back.
Beechurst is very dull without you and Mr. Ventrey."

" Come in and see Grandpapa," said the child.
" He'll be 90 pleased to see you again, Dick."

Then went into the house, and found the Squire in
the library. " Well, my young friend," he greeted
Richard. " Here we are back again, you see. And what
have you got to tell us about yourself? "

" A great deal." Richard replied, his heart lightening


at the thought of talking over what had happened and
was about to happen to him to this kind and sympa-
thetic friend. " I should like to have a talk with you
after tea, Mr. Ventrey, if I may."

" The little bird will go and amuse herself upstairs
for a bit," said the Squire, " and we will talk together."



WHEN the tea had been taken away, and Lettice had
left them, Richard told his tale. It seemed to give
the Squire food for thought, and some surprise.

" You gave up the chance of Oxford ! " he said.
" Wasn't that a little unwise? "

Richard looked and felt disappointed. He thought
that his friend would have understood him.

" I don't see what else I could have done," he said.
" Perhaps I haven't explained properly what I thought
about it all."

The Squire reflected for a moment. " I think you
have," he said. " Perhaps I failed to take into account
what your father thought about it. It is difficult to
understand how but I suppose it is so. He was quite
determined that you should follow out his wishes ? "

" Yes."

" Then, my dear boy, I think you made the only
decision that you honestly could. And I am glad you
made it. The clear call yes, he is right it may come
to a man. There are many things that may be shown
to you. I should be unwilling to deny that the clerical
life is one of them. But I take it that what you have
to rest your mind on, if you ever have reason to doubt
whether you were wise in this matter, is that you cer-
tainly feel no such call at present, and that it would
have been wrong of you to bind yourself. I think that
your father may see it, too, in time. But I wish I



can't help wishing that you had consulted me before
well, before you quite made up your mind that you
would settle down at Storbridge as a country book-

He smiled as he said it, but Richard felt for the
first time that the calling he was about to embrace with
such ardour was not of the most exalted. He made no
reply, and the Squire went on:

" Please do not think of me as despising any work
which a man may see fit to take up, if it is clean work
and work that he can interest himself in. You per-
sonally would, no doubt, find any work having to do
with books interesting up to a certain point. But you
know, Dick, there are ways of making a living out of
books other than selling them, and I had rather hoped
that you might, when you had finished your education,
have found out one of those ways. It has seemed to
me that that would, perhaps, be the natural outcome
of your circumstances."

"You mean writing books?"

" Yes. I only say perhaps, because I think that a
man has to be called, as your father would say, to the
writing of books, in much the same way as he must be
called to the Church, although you must not tell him
that I said so. And, of course, the call can hardly
have come to you yet. But with Oxford with some
years ahead of you well, I can't help wishing you were
going to Oxford."

" I wanted to, very much," replied Richard. " But
when I saw that my only chance of going to Oxford
was by binding myself in the way I have told you, I
put it out of my mind altogether, and thought about
something else. I hoped you would think I was right
to do that,"


The Squire looked at him rather quizzically. " I
expect," he said, " that if you had the chance of
going to Oxford offered to you now, without con-
ditions, you would feel some disappointment at
having to give up the other scheme. Don't you think

Richard looked rather serious for a moment. " It
isn't quite like that," he said. " I am keen to start
at once, and I look forward to the work I shall have to
do. But if I had the opportunity of going to Oxford I
should take it."

" I think you would be wise. At your age, when the
spirit of adventure is strong and energy both of mind
and body is at its highest, the prospect of beginning
your life's fight with the world is invigorating, and
to spend four or five years longer in gaining knowledge
seems an unambitious proceeding except for the born
student, and you are not that. At the same time, at
the end of those years, you would be better equipped
for the struggle, and you would have gained something
that you would never have another opportunity of

Richard was silent.

" Of course," pursued the Squire, " I assume that
you would make use of the opportunities that you
would not merely stroll through a University course
making friends and generally enjoying yourself, nor
even work unintelligently for a good degree. There are
young men to whom it is useful just to live for three
or four years at a University. Their outlook in life
is widened, and they make friendships of a sort they
might otherwise miss. I don't think you are one of
them. And as for University honours, there are very
few to whom they can be of much value in themselves.


I am quite sure you are not one of that few. No. If
you went to Oxford, you would have to go with the idea
of gaining knowledge and wisdom. Do you think you
could keep that end in view among all the attractions
of the place? It might be difficult."

" I don't know. I am not sure that I should know
how to set about it."

" I am not sure that you would either. It is a pity
that these chances should be given almost exclusively to
those who are not of an age to appreciate them. Still
I think you would learn, and I am sure that you would
be better equipped for whatever work you took up after-
wards than you can be now. We are friends, Dick, you
and I. And friends ought to help each other. I want
to help you to get your start in life. I offer you now
what your father does not feel himself able to give you.
I have thought for some time that it might be my privi-
lege to do so. Put aside for the time this offer of your
other friend's and accept mine. Go to Oxford and
learn as much as you can, and let us talk afterwards of
what you shall do next."

Richard blushed furiously. " It is very good
of you, indeed, Mr. Ventrey," he stammered.
" But I "

" It will be a great pleasure to me," said the Squire.
" A very great pleasure ; you may believe that. But
do not decide now. Go and think it over, as you
thought over the other question, and come and see me
again when you have made up your mind. Don't con-
sult your father. We can do that after you have come
to a decision. Think it out for yourself."

So Richard went away with another problem to
face. It may be doubted whether he was as well
equipped for deciding this one as the other. There was


no matter of principle involved. He would feel no false
shame in accepting the bounty of his friend, and he was
bound to nothing except to make the best possible use
of the opportunities provided for him.

He thought it over as he went home. He was loth
to give up the prospect of immediate occupation and
independence, but, on the other hand, the prospect of
Oxford appealed to him strongly, perhaps more strongly
than ever, now that it was conjoined with freedom of
thought and action. He had bent his mind during the
past week to looking ahead into the future, and did so
now with a clearer vision than boys of his age are usu-
ally capable of applying. It seemed to him that in the
circumstances in which he was placed the University
ought to lead to something in the way of occupation
afterwards. He would have to make a living. How
would Oxford help him? He went over in his mind the
careers of the few young men he knew who had been
to Oxford or Cambridge. Two or three were in the
Church, but that he had already decided against. Some
were schoolmasters, but that calling presented no at-
tractions to him. One was a barrister without briefs,
who made a poor living out of journalism. Another
was a country solicitor, a partner in a family firm.
None of these occupations were nearly so attractive as
that which Meaking had offered him. Mr. Ventrey had
shown what he had in his mind for him. He was to
learn as much as he could at the University, and then
he was to write. He thought over this suggestion care-
fully. He loved books, but he had never had the slight-
est wish to write them. What sort of books was he to
write? He had heard a good deal lately about being
" called " to an occupation in life. He felt no im-
pulsion in this direction. The idea of it was even a little


disagreeable to him, as of something strange and diffi-

He felt suddenly that the decision was beyond his
powers. He must take advice, not of his father, al-
though he would have liked to talk the matter over with
his father ; but Mr. Ventrey had asked him not to. He
thought he would like to talk to Mr. Ventrey again
himself, and get a clearer view of his plans for him.
And Meaking, to whom he owed something for the gen-
erosity of his offer he ought to have Meaking's
opinion. And Meaking was coming over to Beechurst
the next morning. He would go and meet him and hear
his views. He must wait on events. He could decide
nothing until the morrow.

But through the rest of the evening the thought of
Oxford returned to him continually, and drew him with
increasing strength. And the words that Mr. Ventrey
had used, " a country bookseller," not with contempt
but with kindly criticism, influenced him, perhaps, more
than he knew. His position as Meaking's partner and
lifelong companion was a factor in the case which
deserved consideration, although, hitherto, he had given
it none. He went to bed with his mind ill at ease, quite
unable now to decide what he really wished to do.

The next morning he rode into Storbridge, leading
a second pony. Meaking had intended to walk to
Beechurst, but he knew that he would rather ride at
least one way. As he trotted and walked the ponies
along the summer roads between the forest aisles and
out amongst the water meadows, it came to him for the
first time that his boyhood was nearly over, that, what-
ever his future should be, it would take him into busy
scenes, and that his dealings would be with men and not
with the things of nature amongst which he had hitherto


lived his life. He felt the strong charm of the forest
and the open country, and realized with a touch of sad-
ness that the years in which it could provide the chief
interest of life were coming to an end for him. " After
all," he said to himself, " I believe I should be happiest
as a forester, living by my hands." But he knew, as
he said it, that such a life would not satisfy him. He
had passed the turning, and his path no longer led
onward through the forest ways.

He met Meaking just outside Storbridge, already
on the road, and handed over his mount. When the
ponies' heads were turned towards home he told him of
the new complication that had arisen.

" I'm not surprised," said Meaking. " I thought it
might happen in that way. Mr. Ventrey thinks a deal
of you, and I thought that probably he would consider
it a come-down for you to take up the job I've offered
you. I dare say he said as much, eh?"

" Well, he did say something of the sort. I don't
say that I agree with him."

" You probably will, though, if he talks to you much
more about it." Meaking threw a searching glance at
him. " Mind you," he said, " I don't deny that it is a
come-down, in a way. You're a gentleman born, and
you're proposing to go into retail trade. That's always
considered a come-down, though why, I don't know.
Lots of gentlemen would do very well at it who haven't
got the capacity for other sorts of business. And
after all a man isn't the best sort of gentleman who
depends on what he does for his gentility, instead of
what he is."

" Oh, I know all that," Richard said, a little impa-
tiently. " I assure you that that side of the question
doesn't trouble me much."


" I'm not sure that it won't, though, if Mr. Ventrey
puts himself against it. There's just this to be said
about it. I don't propose that we shall remain retail
booksellers all our lives, or, indeed, very much longer.
I've got bigger schemes in my head than that, and I
think in a few years' time we might be in a pretty big

"In what way?"

" I'm not quite prepared to say yet. But if we man-
age to fix things up together, we'll go into it thor-
oughly together. Lor', what times we'll have! You're
eighteen now. By the time you're twenty-two or three,
just when you'd have finished with the University, and
looking about for something to start on, you'll be in the
thick of a most interesting business, and probably mak-
ing a lot of money." Meaking's red face glowed with
enthusiasm. He dug his heels into his pony's flanks,
and cantered along a stretch of grass by the roadside
for a quarter of a mile. When they were pacing quietly
along the road together again, Richard said:

" Of course, I'm very grateful to you for all you're
offering me. I know it's a lot. But I haven't quite
made up my mind to accept it yet. I must think over
Mr. Ventrey's offer too. It is a very generous one, and
I feel it would be a serious thing to give up the chance
of going to Oxford, unless I felt quite sure in my own
mind that it would be better not to take it."

" I'm quite certain that you'd better not take it. I
know you better than Mr. Ventrey does. You're not
of the stuff they make real scholars of, and what could
the University do for you if it wasn't that? You'd
have a very jolly time there. I know that. And you'd
make a lot of pleasant frighds. But after it was over
where would you be? No nearer to making a living


than you are now and four or five years older. You
wouldn't be so near, for I tell you I shall be a long way
ahead then, and I couldn't give you the opportunity
then that I'm willing to give you now. What should
you have to turn to ? "

" Mr. Ventrey seems to think I ought to write."

" What about? If you had it in you to be a success-
ful author you'd have been nibbling at it by this time.
So far as I know you've never set pen to paper unless
you were obliged."

" That's quite true. And I don't know that I want
to. But how can I tell now what I shall want to do in
four or five years' time? I wish to goodness I had some
one to advise me. Really, you know, it's a lot for me to

" You mean you're too young? I don't think so.
You're eighteen. I'd made up my mind about things
before I was your age, and now I'm on the road to suc-
cess. And I haven't had your advantages of educa-
tion. I don't say that education isn't a good thing.
I'm not such a fool, though I haven't had much of it
myself, as I say. But when you've got your own way
to make you simply can't afford to spend four or five
years of the most important part of your life over it.
You must do with what you've got. And, after all,
you can go on educating yourself all the time, and you
will, if you're keen on it. If you're not you wouldn't
do it at Oxford, either. You'll just slack about and
amuse yourself."

" It's a difficult question," said Richard un-

" Come now," returned Meaking. " Look it in the
face. What do you want to go to Oxford for? "

" Wouldn't you want to go if you were me, and had


the chance ? You know quite well that I've been looking
forward to it for years, and always thought I was going
as a matter of course until a week ago."

" Yes, but you've had your eyes opened since then.
You're more of a man than you were. You've been
obliged to face things, and you've faced them well,
and come out of it well. A week ago you were a school-
boy. Of course you looked forward with pleasure to
going to Oxford then. Jolly place and all that and
rowing and larks and rows and independence, and I
don't know what. Now, you're a man. You've had to
look seriously into the future during the last week and
you've got to go on doing so. If you still have Oxford
in your mind, you've got to decide now why you want
to go, and you've got to see that the reason is a good
one, for you'll be giving up something for it and giv-
ing up more than you know, too. Come, now, be honest
with yourself. Why do you want to go to Oxford
now, after all that's happened? "

Richard laughed. " You are very peremptory," he

" Stand up to yourself, and don't allow any non-
sense; that's one of my mottoes," said Meaking.
" Let's have the answer, Dick. You said you wanted
advice. Give it to yourself."

"Why do I want to go to Oxford?" said Richard,
good-humouredly. " Well, I suppose, because because
because I want to go to Oxford."

" There you have it," exclaimed Meaking, trium-
phantly. " You couldn't have given a better answer.
We'll leave it at that, and, when you're thinking over
the question by yourself, remember that that's really
all the reason you've got, and don't try and persuade
yourself that you've got a better one. I wish they'd


cut down these seedling firs. They are choking up all
the open spaces."'

They came presently to Beechurst, and dismounted
in the stable-yard of the rectory, where Job was pother-
ing about with a bucket.

" Morning, Job," said Meaking, cheerfully, as he
took off his cap, and mopped his forehead. " Pretty
hot, eh?

" Sun ain't in yet, seemin'ly," replied that retainer, in
obvious allusion.

" You'd give a good deal to have some of it," said
Meaking. " You're getting as bald as an egg."

Job turned on him angrily. " Look here, I don't
want none o' your sauce, you carroty young varmint.
They tell me you're getting a big man over to Stor-
bridge, but you're nothing but dirt here, the same as
you always was."

" That's true, I'm afraid," said Meaking philosophi-
cally, as he and Richard went into the house. " What
do they say? a prophet hath no honour. Well, I hope
Mr. Baldock will think I'm a little better than dirt."

The Vicar with whom he found himself closeted a
/ew minutes later, if he did not show that he regarded
him as dirt, hardly treated him as if he thought him
of great importance, either at Storbridge or anywhere
else. He seemed, indeed, to have forgotten that he
was to be consulted on a matter of some moment.

" I hope your mother is well," he said, " and that
you're doing well at your work, and giving satisfaction
to your employer."

" Mother is well, and comfortably situated, thank
you sir," replied Meaking. " And as for my employer,
I'm giving him every satisfaction. I'm my own em-
ployer, now."


" Oh," said John Baldock, a little taken aback by this
directness of speech.

" I've come to talk to you, sir, about Richard,"
began Meaking, determined to waste no time in coming
to the point. " He wants work, and I'm in a position to
offer it to him, and good terms with it."

The Vicar swallowed an apparently painful reflec-

" He did say something to me about it, now that I
remember," he replied. " He has seen fit to object to
the plans that I have made for his future, and I cannot
pretend that I am pleased with him just now."

" No, sir," said Meaking, " but of course you don't
want to discuss that with me. I know that he doesn't

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 22 of 29)