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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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390 RICHARD BALDOCK

and I think he must have seen that I shouldn't have
been so well off in any way if I had taken his advice."

"And you don't regret it in any way?"

" I have no reason to. Of course, I should like to
have gone to Oxford. I wish I had been there. But
the choice lay between that and this, and I am sure I
acted wisely. No, I don't regret it."

" Have you seen Miss Ventrey since then ? " inquired
Mrs. Meaking. " She must be grown up now."

" No. She went to her aunt, Lady Pontypridd, when
her grandfather died, and Lady Pontypridd has no
great opinion of me. In fact she gave me to understand,
when she was at Beechurst at the time of the Squire's
death, that a provincial tradesman was no fit companion
for her niece, and the less I saw of her for the future
the better she would be pleased."

" But you were a London publisher by that time."

" Yes. But she didn't know it, and I didn't enlighten
her. I don't see that it makes much difference. It
didn't with Mr. Ventrey and it didn't with Lettice. I
know she would always be glad to see me, whatever I
was. But they went abroad directly after Mr. Ventrey
died, and, as far as I know, they have been abroad ever
since."

" They are in London now," said Mrs. Meaking, with
the air of one to whom the movements of the aristocracy
are no secret. " The Dowager Countess of Pontypridd
has taken the Honourable Mrs. Pell's house in Curzon
Street, and presented her niece, Miss Lettice Ventrey, at
Court last week."

" Oh ! " said Richard.

" Mother keeps up with these things," said Meaking.
" You can't tell her anything about lords and ladies
that she don't know."



391

-I don't know everything, Montague," said Mrs.
Meaking, modestly. " It isn't to be expected, in my
position, that I should."

" I think I shall brave Lady Pontypridd's scorn and
go and call in Curzon Street," said Richard. " Lettice
and I were such great friends when she was a child that
I am sure she will give me a welcome."

" She is a great heiress," said Mrs. Meaking. " Com-
ing in for all Mr. Ventrey's money, I expect she will be
much sought after."

" Mr. Ventrey wasn't as rich as people thought,"
said Meaking. " He left short of seventy thousand
pounds."

" That's not a very small sum," said Richard.

" No. But he was always thought to be a mil-
lionaire."

" There is Beechurst Hall," said Mrs. Meaking.
" She gets that too."

" Yes. But the property doesn't bring in anything.
She'd hardly have enough to live there in the way people
live now."

" I don't think Lettice would want to live very ex-
travagantly," said Richard, " unless she has entirely
changed. She always liked best to be out of doors.
What happy times we used to have together in the for-
est. I think she loved it as much as any of us, and
knew as much about it."

" It is not likely that she will live alone at Beechurst
Hall," said Mrs. Meaking, authoritatively. " The
Countess of Pontypridd will probably be with her until
she marries, and I should think it will not be long before
that happens with her advantages."

" I suppose not," said Richard, regretfully. " But it
is difficult to think of little Lettice married."



392 RICHARD BALDOCK

" I wonder you have not been to Beechurst Hall to
stay with your aunt, Mr. Richard," said Mrs. Meaking.
" It was curious that she should take the place, having
the connection with it that she did."

Richard made no reply. The memory of his aunt was
an uncomfortable one to him. She had sent her prom-
ised cheque for a hundred pounds to his father on the
evening after her visit to Beechurst, and had written at
the same time to Richard himself in an affectionate
manner, and asked him to write to her frequently. He
had written her two letters, without receiving a reply to
either, and he had heard nothing more of her until, on
Mr. Ventrey's death, she and Sir Franklin had taken
Beechurst Hall on a term of years, and gone to reside
there, Paradine Park having been sold and Sir Frank-
lin's place in Yorkshire let. He could only suppose that
Laurence had given her a garbled account of their
quarrel which she had believed, and that she had once
more determined to have nothing more to do with him.
He thought of her with pity, not unmixed with con-
tempt. What kind of a woman must she be, so swayed
by the impulses of the moment, and so ready to believe
evil on the mere word of those whom she must know not
to be entirely trustworthy or free from self-interest?
He could not lose much by the withdrawal of her affec-
tion, but she had been kind to him on that afternoon at
Beechurst, had told him of his mother whom his father
never mentioned to him, and had been undoubtedly
drawn to him. He could not think of their estrangement
altogether without regret, although he was too proud
to try to remove it.

" And how is your father, Mr. Richard? " inquired
Mrs. Meaking. " I ought to have asked after him
before."



TEN YEARS LATER 393

" He is very well, thank you," replied Richard.
" Full of work, of course. But that suits him."

" Stroud End must be a very different parish from
Beechurst. The society there is very second rate, is it
not?"

Richard laughed. " I don't know," he said. " The
question doesn't trouble my father much. I am sure he
is happier working among all that crowd of people
than he was at Beechurst, where there was little for a
man of his energy to occupy himself with. The ex-
change came as rather a surprise at the time. I had
no idea he was thinking of it. But it has turned out
well."

" Do you know why I think he made the exchange ? "
said Meaking.

" There isn't much doubt about it," replied Richard.
" Mr. Coles was a college friend of his, and had worn
himself out working at Stroud End. When they met,
after many years, they talked things over, and my
father thought that as he was strong and well he ought
to go into a parish where there was hard, uphill work
to do, and let Mr. Coles have a rest. That is why they
exchanged."

" I don't believe that was the only reason. I believe
he couldn't stand being parted from you. You were
going up to London at the time, and I believe he had
made up his mind to go, too."

Richard's face grew softer. " I know he likes having
me with him," he said. " It was fortunate that Mr.
Coles and he met just at that time."

" I believe if they hadn't met then he would have
fixed it up with somebody else. Don't you remember
how angry he was when I suggested that you should
come and live with us at Storbridge instead of riding



394 RICHARD BALDOCK

over every day? He wouldn't hear of it. I can't say
that the reasons he gave against it amounted to much.
I believe it was simply that he didn't want to lose you.
And I believe it was the same reason that made him
think of going to London."

" Dear old father," said Richard. " I hope that had
something to do with it. But I'm quite sure I shall
never hear it from him if it had. I'm very glad that he
did come up to London. Nobody valued his goodness
and self-sacrifice at Beechurst, but they think a lot of
him here. His church is always full, and he is immensely
busy. I am quite sure that he is happy in his work.
He is far more cheerful than I ever knew him before.
He and Dr. Aquinas are carrying on a very downright
warfare on the subject of vestments in the local paper,
and I think he is getting a lot of enjoyment out of it.
He proposes that we shall publish the correspondence in
pamphlet form when he has finally done with Dr.
Aquinas. He thinks it ought to cause widespread in-
terest."

" Isn't it rather dull for you living in Stroud End,
Mr. Richard? " inquired Mrs. Meaking.

" I don't find it so," said Richard. " My work takes
up most of my time, you know. And I can get into
town to see my friends if I want to, quite easily. I go
abroad for a month or so every year, and am often in
the country at other times. No, I am quite contented
to be with my father for the present."

" We shall have you marrying, one of these days,"
said Mrs. Meaking, archly. " I often say to Montague
that it is not right that both partners in the firm should
still remain bachelors."

" Neither Dick nor I have come across Miss Right
yet," said Meaking. " When we do we'll let you know,



TEN YEARS LATER 395

mother. Let's go and have a stroll, Dick. We've got
half an hour of daylight left."

They went out and inspected the garden, in which
Meaking took immense pride, rising early every morn-
ing to work among his flower beds for an hour, before
arraying himself in the modern equivalent to purple and
fine linen, thus turning himself from the semi-bucolic
into the man of affairs. Then they went out and walked
along the tree-bordered road, and penetrated a short
way into the twilight woods, talking as intimate friends
well satisfied with one another.

" It's a great satisfaction to me to think that all
my ideas turned out right as far as you were con-
cerned," said Meaking, when they had discussed for a
short time certain schemes which they had in hand.
" You couldn't have gone into anything that would have
suited you so well as this."

" It suits me admirably," said Richard. " I enjoy
the work, and I'm making use of most of my knowledge
and most of my tastes. But I shouldn't have made much
of it alone. It was you who have always turned my
ideas into success, and your own as well."

" Neither of us could have done so well without the
other. I saw that from the beginning. It was a bit of a
struggle at first, but we've never looked back, have we? "

" Not since we started the Storbridge Editions. That
was the turning point. And that was your idea."

" Yes. I'd been working up to it ever since I'd taken
on the binding and printing down at Storbridge. Lots
of them have done it since, but we were first in the field,
and I must say that I don't think anybody has ever done
it better. We're well up the ladder now, Dick, and
likely to climb still higher. We're well off, too, both of
us, and quite likely to get rich. Lor', what an enjoy-



396 RICHARD BALDOCK

able thing life is ! I don't suppose there are many fel-
lows of our age as happy and contented as we are. I
don't want anything more than I've got now, except to
get on still farther. Do you? "

Richard was silent, and they walked on in the grow-
ing dusk of the spring evening.



CHAPTER XXX
IN CURZON STREET

RICHAKD wa sitting at breakfast with his father in the
rather dingy dining-room of the vicarage at Stroud
End. John Baldock, except for his grey hair, looked a
younger man than when we last saw him. He had found
his niche in life, was immensely busy with work that
made incessant demands upon him, and did not have to
be invented in the recesses of his own brain, and found
himself at the age of sixty-five absorbed in interests
which took him out of himself, and still possessing the
energy of a young man in facing his manifold responsi-
bilities. He sometimes asked himself why he had been
content to shut himself up for nearly thirty years in a
small country parish, when life in the crowded centres
of humanity was so much more congenial to him. He
had no worldly ambitions, but the thought occasionally
crossed his mind that if he had started his clerical work
in a town parish he might by this time have risen to a
position of authority in the Church. He felt himself
capable of filling such a position even thought that it
might have been a good thing for the Church if he had
filled it. But these thoughts occurred seldom. As it
was, he had greatly extended his sphere of influence,
and was prepared to go on working in his big parish of
rather mean little suburban streets and houses as long
as he had strength to work anywhere.

Richard was reading the Times, and his father the
Rock. The morning on which the Rock appeared on his

397



398 RICHARD BALDOCK

breakfast table was a happy one for John Baldock, for
he had developed into an ardent controversialist, and
that journal was frequently favoured with a lengthy
exposition of his views. He was now re-reading a letter
of a column and a half signed with his name. It looked
better in print than it had done in manuscript, and
his face was wearing an agreeable expression when
the morning letters were brought in. He laid his by the
side of his plate and went on with his reading. There
was only one for Richard. It was addressed in a feminine
hand, and he opened it with some surprise. His look
changed to one of pleasure as he glanced at the signa-
ture before reading it, and when he had read it once he
read it again, still with a smile on his lips. It was
from Lettice Ventrey, and was dated the day before
from the house in Curzon Street which Mrs. Meaking
had stated to be the usual abode of the Honourable
Mrs. Pell.

" Dear Dick (it ran) What ages it is since we last saw
each other! I think you must have quite forgotten your
old friend. But no, I am sure you haven't. You must think
of the dear days at Beechurst as often as I do, and of
the forest, and all the happy times we had there together.
I have been in most of the countries of Europe during the
last four years, and seem to have been wandering for forty,
but my heart is still true to that sweet corner of the world,
and I have often longed and longed to be back there, just
as we were in the old days with dear grandpapa, so kind
and wise, and the beautiful quiet sunny house, and the still
more beautiful forest whose secrets we explored together
through all the long years of my childhood. I don't sup-
pose any girl ever had a happier childhood than mine, and
you are so mixed up with it that I can't remember that I
am now a young woman supposed to be thinking of nothing
but balls and town enjoyments, and that you are, probably,



IN CURZON STREET 399

a grave man who has little time or inclination to think
of the little girl you did so much to make happy years ago.
And yet I am sure that you haven't changed a bit, and will
be just as pleased to see me again as I shall to see you.
Which brings me to the most important part of my letter.
My aunt hopes you will excuse the very short notice, and
dine with us to-morrow at a quarter-past eight. We are so
busy rushing about day after day and night after night
that a free evening is a boon to be seized, and I don't know
when we shall have another. So do come if you possibly
can, and let us have a good talk over old times. Ever your
sincere friend Lettice Ventrey."

The warm memories awakened by this letter were
broken in upon by John Baldock's voice. " You re-
member that the choirmen are coming to supper to-
night, Richard. I hope you have no engagement."

" I have just had a letter from Lettice Ventrey,
father," Richard replied. " She is in London with Lady
Pontypridd, and they have asked me to dine with them
to-night."

" Dear me! " ejaculated John Baldock. " I had for-
gotten the very existence of Lettice Ventrey. Lady
Pontypridd I remember. Not a very agreeable woman,
it struck me, although we had some talk on one occasion
at Beechurst in which we found we were agreed that the
growth of lawlessness in the Church had been greatly
accelerated during the last few years. But sound views
do not always make for humility, and I recollect Lady
Pontypridd as showing more than the usual foolish
pride of her class. We are all equal before God, Who
bringeth the lofty from their seat and exalteth the hum-
ble and meek. But I hope you will not accept this
invitation for to-night. It will help me a great deal
with the ohoirmen if you are here to support me. It is



400 RICHARD BALDOCK

a little difficult to break the ice on these festal occasions,
and you would be of the greatest assistance in doing so
to-night."

" I am very sorry, father, but if you don't very much
mind I think I should like to go. It i so long since I
saw Lettice that I am anxious not to miss the oppor-
tunity."

" Couldn't you go some other night? The choirmen
only come here twice a year, and it is a great occasion
for them."

" Lettice gays they are so occupied that this is the
only night they are likely to have free. I am very
sorry to forsake you, but I am afraid you must do
without me."

" Well, if you wish to go, I will not stop you. You
are very good in giving me your help as a rule on these
occasions, and I value it. I must not expect you to
relinquish all your leisure time to my interests."

" Thank you, father. I shouldn't cry off to-night
if I were not very anxious not to miss this opportunity
of seeing Lettice again. You know what friends we
were years ago. I haven't seen her for over four years.
She'll be altered, of course, but she writes as if she were
just the same."

So Richard took a bag up to town, dressed in his
office room, and appeared in Curzon Street at the ap-
pointed hour.

The house that Lady Pontypridd had rented for the
season from the Honourable Mrs. Pell was very small,
and, if it had not been in such a highly considered part
of the town, might have been said to be a little stuffy.
The dining-room, with the passage that gave entrance
to the house, occupied the whole of the ground-floor,
and even then left much to be desired in point of airi-



IN CURZON STREET 401

ness. The first floor was devoted exclusively to the
drawing-room, and when you had accounted for the
room sacred to the nightly dreams of Lady Pontypridd,
and that assigned to Lettice, it was difficult to imagine
where the tall footman who opened the door to Richard,
and the decorous butler who preceded him upstairs, and
the cook who prepared the dinner which he presently
ate, and the kitchen maid who helped her, and the maid
who attended to the due care of the house, and the maid
who helped Lady Pontypridd attire herself, and the
maid who performed the like service for Lettice, could
possibly bestow themselves, even supposing that some
of their parts were doubled. Lady Pontypridd's din-
ners, however, were very good, and the wines poured out
by the decorous butler not unacceptable to the male
palate; and if there was very little space in the house
in Curzon Street that Lady Pontypridd had taken from
the Honourable Mrs. Pell, there was seldom any lack of
people to fill what little space there was.

Richard was shown into a drawing-room bright with
gay chintzes and flowers and silver, and having arrived
punctually at the hour mentioned in Lettice's note, was
left by himself for a considerable time to examine the
belongings of Lady Pontypridd and those of the Hon-
ourable Mrs. Pell. Among the former was a large
photograph in a silver frame of a beautiful girl in train
and feathers, and Richard had little difficulty in recog-
nizing, under the unfamiliar guise, the features of Let-
tice, although the changes that a few years of a girl's
life between fourteen and eighteen made in her appear-
ance struck him as astonishing. There was the same
sweet confiding smile, the same friendly eyes, the same
look of dainty freshness, and his heart tightened a little
as the child Lettice, whom he knew so well, gradually



402 RICHARD BALDOCK

revealed herself in the form of the stately young beauty
in all her finery.

Presently Lettice herself came into the room, and she
was just the same as she had always been, although, if
he had met her by chance in the street, he might not
have recognized her at the moment.

*' Oh, Dick," she said, " I am so glad to see you.
You can't think how I have missed you, and the forest
and everything. And you haven't altered in the least,
except that you have lost your merry freckles. I sup-
pose that is London, and I should have lost mine by
this time if I had ever had any."

Her eyes were dewy as she smiled her welcome, and he
had the same tightening of the throat that he had felt
when he looked at her portrait. " Come and sit down,"
she said. " I hurried over dressing. Aunt Louisa won't
be here for another five minutes. Do you know I haven't
been in England for four years? First Dresden, then
Paris and Florence and Rome and Pau, and dozens of
other places in between. Aunt Louisa used to come
home occasionally when she had seen me safely settled
for a term's work, wherever I was, but she never brought
me. I was to be thoroughly educated before I burst on
the scene. And I hope I am thoroughly educated, for
I don't want to go through it again. I am as English
as I can be, and I simply love to be back again, even if
it is only in London."

" And you are going through your season? How do
you like it, Lettice? As much as Beechurst and the
forest? "

" Oh, no. But I do like it. I'll be quite honest, as
grandpapa taught me to be. Do you remember when
I fell off the pony and got on again and said I wasn't
frightened? I have never forgotten that. He said:



IN CURZON STREET 403

* If you had said you were frightened, as anybody
could have seen for themselves, I should have said you
were a plucky little girl to try again. As it is, Filmer
had better wheel me indoors, I am no longer interested
in your scrambles.' Dear grandpapa! It brings it all
back to me to see you, Dick. What happy times we
used to have, didn't we? "

" Yes, indeed, we did. But still, you like this too? "

" It is great fun. We go dashing about everywhere,
morning, noon, and night. There is always something
amusing to do or to see. And London is lovely in May,
so fresh and bright, with flowers and sunshine every-
where. Don't you think so? "

" Well, my London is not very full of flowers, or of
sunshine. But then mine is the working London. It is
quite a different London that is occupied by you but-
terflies of fashion."

Lettice laughed. "Am I a butterfly of fashion? I
suppose I am. I always said I shouldn't be, you know,
in the old days. We arranged that we would always
live in the forest, didn't we? and never go near a town."

" Yes. And now we have both come to town I to
work and you to play."

" But your life isn't all work, Dick. You must have
some playtime. What do you do with it? I have
never seen you about anywhere, and I have often looked
for you."

" I don't spend my playtime where I should be likely
to be seen by a young lady of fashion."

" Don't you ever go to balls, or the play, or the
opera, or anywhere? "

" I don't go to balls. I do go to a play sometimes,
and very occasionally to the opera."

" Ah, then, you are not such a hermit as you make



404 RICHARD BALDOCK

yourself out. I think I love the opera more than
anything. I am not altogether satisfied with Covent
Garden after Dresden, you know, but some of the
singers are magnificent, and it is great fun to have
a sort of jolly evening party made out of it, instead
of going through it all so seriously. Oh, yes, I do
love London, Dick. All the people and the gaiety, and
every thing "

" And admiration, Lettice? "

She laughed gaily, but not without a little blush.
" I have found out that I am a beauty," she said, look-
ing at him with the most engaging frankness. " I
really hadn't any idea of it. Honestly, I hadn't. There
are so many other things to think about. I can't pre-
tend to be displeased at the discovery."

" And when did you make the great discovery ? "

" When I was presented. The papers said it first,
but a lot of people have mentioned it since. However,
I'm not going to talk about it; only you know how I
was brought up never to be afraid of the truth. And
it is the truth that I have turned into a pretty girl.
Now, isn't it, Dick?"

" No, it isn't," said Richard. " You were always
pretty much more than pretty. You were the only
person who didn't know it."

" Thank you very much, Dick. Well, I know it
now, and, as I say, the discovery has pleased me. Here
is auntie."

Lady Pontypridd, who now sailed into the room under
rather heavy canvas, was stouter and whiter than she
had been when Richard had last had the pleasure of
seeing her, but otherwise unchanged. She was rather
more gracious towards himself than she had been, but
even while she greeted him with an approach to affabil-



IN CURZON STREET 405

ity, the eye with which she overlooked him was cold, not
to say hostile, and he was not able to feel that he had
bestowed any real happiness on her by accepting her
invitation.

" Dear me," she said, " you have altered a great
deal. I hear you are making a great success of your
business. Lord Frederic Lacy was telling me the other
day that your firm was so highly thought of. He knows
a great deal about books and magazines, and so on."

" We are doing very well," said Richard. " We pay
a lot of attention to the business."

" That is so wise," said Lady Pontypridd. " You
cannot shall we go in to dinner? you cannot we



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 27 of 29)