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 29 of 29)
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" Because I am quite out of place in your world," he
said. " You do not respect me for intruding where I
am not at home and not wanted. I must go back to my
work, and be content with my memories of you. They
are very dear to me, and I won't do anything more to
spoil them."

Her eyes grew moist. " I can't afford to lose an old
friend," she said.

" You are more at home with your new ones," he
answered her.

Her face altered and grew proud. " Perhaps you are
right," she said, turning away. " You are not the Dick
that I used to know."

" If I have altered it is because you have. But you
won't be troubled with me any more. Good night."

She gave him her hand coldly, and he went away with
a pain at his heart which, he told himself, would never
be healed as long as he lived.

Five minutes later Laurence Syde took his leave, after
having set arrangements in train for a visit from Lady
Pontypridd and Lettice to Beechurst Hall.



THE little church of Beechurst, plain and undistin-
guished, stood by itself away from the village on the
top of a rise overlooking the parklike slopes towards
the Hall and its surrounding forest lands. In a corner
of the quiet churchyard, away from the road, grew a
giant yew tree, round the bole of which was a wooden
seat, seldom used by the villagers, who preferred the
more populous spaces near their village homes. In the
shade of this yew was the grave of Richard's young
mother, and here one afternoon of early summer he came
to soothe if he could his constant unhappiness, which
had grown no less during the weeks which had elapsed
since he had bidden farewell to Lettice.

He had gone down the night before to Storbridge to
look after the affairs of his business, and having com-
pleted his work that morning had walked out to
Beechurst. In his present dejected mood he had kept
as far as possible away from the village, with a view
to escaping the greetings of the people, nearly every
one of whom he had known intimately. He had walked
by unfrequented forest tracks, and made his way to his
old haunts at the back of the vicarage garden. He had
stood on the other side of the fence by the syringa
bush, now grown to noble proportions. His old-time
gap had been patched up, and the path his feet had
worn into the spaciousness of the forest had vanished
among the springing grasses. Sharp stings of memory



thronged to his brain as he stood for a while between
the garden and the forest. His long childhood, steeped
in the influence of nature in all her varying moods, rose
up and set itself in bright pictures before him. How
happy it had been, in spite of the restrictions of his
home life! He had known no cares, and but few sor-
rows. The disappointments which had come to him and
had been hard to bear at the time had been healed, and
were now merged in the tale of happy years, their occur-
rence marked only in his memory by a gentle regret
which bore no trace of bitterness. He penetrated again
into the recesses of the forest, finding nothing changed,
the very trees and green tracks familiar, calling up
memories at every turn. He found the pool of the
otter, and the great beech under whose shade he had
thought out some of the difficulties that had presented
themselves to his youth and early manhood. He had
nothing to regret in the way his decision had turned
out. He had decided rightly in every case, and was
on the high road to a success greater than he could
have hoped for. And yet his thoughts were full of sad-
ness and unsatisfied longing. Of what value to him
was all the interest of his life when the one gift he
desired above all others was denied him? The interest
had disappeared. For weeks he had worked without
zest. He had nothing now to look forward to. Suc-
cess in life had changed its colour, and was unrecogniz-
able from the most dismal failure.

He was going presently to the forest glade behind
the Hall to indulge once more in the now painful memo-
ries which that scene would call up in his mind. Then
he was going away from Beechurst, perhaps never to
visit it again, certainly never until the years had healed
over the wound of his great disappointment, if that


time ever came. But first he had come to visit his
mother's grave, more from a sense of duty than any-
thing else, for his young mother was only a name to
him. His father had never talked to him about her,
or made any attempt to put before the eyes of his child-
hood a picture that he might carry with him through

The grave was simple, hardly distinguishable from
those of the humble dead of the village which were
grouped around it, but he saw, somewhat to his sur-
prise, that it was well kept, with fresh flowers growing
in its stone-bordered bed, as if it were constantly cared
for. He wondered to himself whether his father, un-
known to him, had left orders that it should be looked
after. If so, it was unlike him, for he was a man of
little sentiment, and had done nothing of the kind dur-
ing the years he had lived within reach of it.

He heard the wicket gate of the churchyard shut to,
and a step on the steep path hidden from him by the
church. He turned round to see the figure of an elderly
woman approaching him, which he did not at first recog-
nize as that of his aunt. She walked slowly, almost
feebly. Her once upright form had a slight stoop,
and her hair was nearly white.

She recognized him at once, and the years seemed to
drop away from her as she drew herself up and ap-
proached him with her old decision and self-confidence.

" Richard ! " she said, " you here ! I thought it was
only I who remembered."

Richard looked down. " I am very glad you have
remembered, Aunt Henrietta," he said, awkwardly.

" I think of her more and more as the years go by,"
she answered. " It seems to me that the longer I live
the less I see of people like her. She was so good, and


she made others good. We want women like that in the
world, and men too. We are all so selfish, so drearily
selfish, and unhappy, for all our attempts to seize
pleasure. I cannot understand why she should have
been taken away. To me she was an irreparable loss."

She stood for a little time looking down on the
grave. Then she looked up at him with her old air of
self-assured command.

" But I am very disappointed in you," she said.
" The very last time we met, and it was years ago, we
came here together, and I thought we understood one
another and were coming together again. Why did
you never write to me as I asked you? I have heard no
word of you from that day to this. Simply a short
note from your father acknowledging the small present
I made you, and that was all."

" I did write," said Richard. " I wrote to you twice,
as you asked me. And when I had no reply I left off

" You wrote? " she repeated. " Where did you write

" I wrote to Bursgarth Hall in Yorkshire, as you told
me to."

" To Burgarth? Then why did I not get the letters?
Wait. Let me think. I went to Aix after I left the
yacht, and was there for a month. But letters would
have been forwarded, were forwarded. Are you sure
you wrote ? "

" Yes. Quite sure. I wrote twice within the month."

" Then there must have been some stupid blunder.
I do not understand it. My husband was at Bursgarth,
and sent on my letters himself. He is punctilious about
those things, and would not leave it to a servant."

" I see," said Richard.


" And Laurence was there, too, but he would have
nothing to do with redirecting letters. Well, I do not
understand it. It is very unfortunate. I was so well
disposed towards you, remembered you with pleasure,
thought that our misunderstandings were over, my mis-
takes about you were cleared up and forgotten. I
hoped to have seen much of you and watched your
career. I own I put down your silence to the influence
of your father. I was annoyed. I said to myself,
' Very well, if it is over, it is over,' and put you out of
my mind. Now I hear it was another mistake. I am
very sorry for it, very sorry indeed. You might have
been much to me and helped me through the dull years.
But we must begin again, Richard. It is not too late,
even yet. Come and sit down, and tell me about your-
self. You do not look happy, and yet I believe you
are doing well, for I do hear your name sometimes
among people who are interested in literature and

They sat down together on the seat under the yew
tree, and Richard told her something of his life. He
spoke quietly, even dejectedly, and she watched him nar-
rowly as he unfolded his tale.

" You have done very well," she said. " It is agree-
able to me to hear of a young man hard at work, mak-
ing his own way in the world, not greedy for amusement.
It is so different from what I see around me. But it
is very plain that your success does not satisfy you.
You want something more. How old are you now? "

" Twenty-nine," he told her.

" Then you are old enough to marry. I should
like to see you with a sweet young wife at your side,
and little children to gladden your life. I love children
so dearly, and there are none who have any claims on


me. How I should like to have children around me now
I am getting old. I am sure you ought to marry,
Richard. Have you not thought of it yourself? "

" I do not think of it at all," Richard said, shortly.

" I suppose your life is too full to leave you time to
go among people from whom you might choose a wife.
And, living as you do in that poor suburb with your
father, you would not come across them. But you
must come to me, Richard, now that we have met again
in friendliness. We must not let any further mis-
understandings part us. I want someone of my own
flesh and blood near me. I see many people. I will
find you a wife. Like most elderly women I am a con-
firmed matchmaker."

She spoke gaily, but Richard answered her with seri-
ousness. " Thank you, Aunt Henrietta," he said, " I
should like to see you sometimes, but I cannot come to
your house. I may as well say it frankly, I dislike
Laurence Syde, and he dislikes me. I will never go
again where I may be likely to meet him."

" Have you met Laurence of late years? " she asked,
in surprise.

" Yes. And we never meet without showing our con-
tempt for one another."

She sighed deeply. " I will not ask what you quarrel
about," she said. " I can understand that you are
antagonistic. Your lives are so different. You are
forming your character, growing stronger and more
self-reliant as you grow older. Laurence is selfish to
the core. I have been forced to acknowledge it to my-
self. My affection for him is dead, and it is a bitter
thought to me that I have had something to do with the
way he has grown up. I deeply regret my indulgence
of him. If I had the years over again I should act in


a very different way. But even then I doubt whether
I should have had the force to influence him towards
goodness. No, I am afraid not. Life is full of trouble
and disappointment. You will not repeat what I say.
I don't know why I say it to you. Outwardly we are
good friends my stepson and I, but we are nothing
to each other, nothing real."

" I am very sorry, Aunt Henrietta. Of course I
will say nothing."

" Even now," she went on, " I have a slight hope that
he may yet make something of his life. He is going to
marry I hope he is going to marry a very sweet girl
who may change the whole current of his desires. I
believe very much in marriage for a young man, if it is
based on affection, as I think this marriage will be. The
more a man loves his wife the more he respects himself.
I shall do everything I can to help him in this."

Richard's heart sank like lead. " I suppose you
mean that he is going to marry Miss Ventrey," he said
in a low voice.

" How do you know that? Ah, of course, you knew
her here as a child. She has told me so. She is the
sweetest girl. And so true-hearted. He has won a
great prize, and I hope he will realize how fortunate
he has been. They will live here, I hope, and the influ-
ence of this quiet, beautiful place ought to steady him
and make him hapy. That, and the companionship of
a good and true woman."

Richard was quite incapable of saying a word. He
had not known that there was any spark of hope left
in him until certainty had thus robbed him of every-
thing. He was sick at heart, and longed only to get
away by himself, away from every human voice, and
grapple with his wretchedness. It was with a dull sense


of relief that he heard his aunt say, " Well, I must go
home. Won't you come with me, Richard?"

He refused, braced himself up to say good-bye to her
without giving her an opportunity of remarking on his
depression, promised to write to her, and to see her when
she would be again in London, and excused himself from
accompanying her on her way with the plea that he did
not wish to meet any one from the village, and was
left alone.

He made his way across the fields and through the
woods to the place where he had made up his mind to
say good-bye to his hopes, and gather strength if he
could to go on with his life, and wear down his dis-
appointment. His pain was so great that he felt
physically ill, and walked with difficulty. So this was
the end of it all ! He was not only to lose her, but to
lose her to a man whom he knew to be utterly unworthy
of her, a man he was sure of it who wanted her more
for the sake of what she could bring him of wealth to
help him to pursue his selfish pleasures than for her own
dearness. And she had chosen this man, deceived by his
poor surface attractions, blinded to his faults of char-
acter, and would be tied to him for life, wasting all her
fine qualities on one who was incapable of recognizing
them, growing sadder as the years went by, and he re-
vealed Ir'j baseness to her. She was throwing away her
happiness, her very life, and he who loved her could
do notl ing to warn her. He was the only one of all who
wished her well who was debarred from warning her.

He came to the forest clearing where he had first met
her, .a little child, as free and innocent as the birds, the
place in which every tree and bush held memories of her.
The old house with its quiet gardens lay beneath him,
the home which was hers, but would soon be hers no


longer, which would change its character, and from
which all the gracious memories it enshrined would be
wiped away by the traffic of an uneasy life of pleasure.
He threw himself down on the ground, and buried his
head in his arms. His life had become unsupportable.
There was nowhere to look for a gleam of light. He
was surrounded by the blackness of despair.

He did not know how long he lay there. He could
not think consecutively. His brain seemed to be numbed.
Sometimes a gust of hopeless anger came and shook his
very soul. It was terrible to feel so helpless, and to
know that the days would go on and carry her away
from him irrevocably, carry her to what he knew would
be a life of unhappiness and disillusion. He tried to
think of something he could do. He made half-formed
resolutions of going to her and telling her what he be-
lieved to be the truth about Laurence, while making it
clear that he himself had nothing to hope from her.
But his common sense rejected the idea. If she loved
him, and Lettice was not a girl who would give her
hand in marriage where she did not love, she would be
indignant, scandalized. He would lose what poor rem-
nants of her regard were still left to him, and that would
be the only result of his interference. No, he could do
nothing. He must suffer in silence. What would be
would be.

Presently he lay quite still, worn out with the storm
of feeling that had swept over him. The peace of the
quiet forest began to steal over him. He turned his
head and saw the long shadows of the summer afternoon
drawn across the bright grass, heard the twitter of the
birds busy with their small activities, smelt the sweetness
of the bare earth and the woodland growth, and found
,-his pain soothed somewhat, its edge blunted by the sym-


pathy which he had long since learnt to feel in nature.

Suddenly he was aware of a movement, and sprang
up from the grass to find Lettice herself standing before
him. She stood exactly in the spot in which he had
first seen her as a child many years before, and looking
at him with startled eyes, her hand on her breast.
There was reason for her surprise, for he was haggard
with suffering, and looked as if he had come out of a
long illness.

" Dick 1 " she said, under her breath. " Are you

He came to himself at the sound of her voice. " You
startled me," he said. " No, I am not ill, but I am in
great trouble."

He paused, and she still looked at him, but without
speaking. " I ought to wish you happiness, I sup-
pose," he said. " God knows I do. I would give my
life to make you happy. But I have only just heard,
and the news has been too much for me."

A blush came over her face. "What news?" she
asked. "What have you heard?"

" Must I say it? Well, I will. I must get used to it.
I have just met my aunt, and she told me that you were
going to marry Laurence Syde."

The blush deepened. " I am not," she cried. " It is
not true." And then again, as he looked at her in
astonishment, " I am not. I know they wish it, but it is
not true."

He looked at her earnestly, and saw that there was no
reserve behind her denial, that she meant it, for there
was no mistaking the truth when you looked into the
depths of Lettice's eyes. An enormous weight lifted it-
self from his mind and rolled away into the shadows in
which he had walked. He lost control over himself and


laughed a great laugh, and went on laughing until the
tears rolled down his cheeks.

" Dick," said Lettice, with anxious seriousness, " why
do you behave so strangely? "

" My dear child ! " he cried, turning towards her.
" You have beckoned me out of hell. Say it again.
Tell me that it isn't true."

" I don't understand you," she said. " But you are
my oldest friend. I will tell you the truth. He has
asked me, and I have said no. I could never have said
anything else. If I had known he was going to ask me,
I should not have come here."

" How glad I am that you did," he said. " I might
never have known. For I don't suppose I shall see you
very often. Yes, I should have known, but it might
not have been for a long time."

"Why do you say that you will not see me?" she
asked. " Oh, Dick, how you have changed. We were
such friends when I was a child here in this very place.
Don't you remember, Dick, how we first met, just as we
have met now? But how different it was then! How
can you say after all these years that we shall not see
each other again? "

" You make it rather hard for me, Lettice," he said,
soberly. " You must know what a grief it is to me that
we are not as we used to be to each other. We can't be.
We lead utterly different lives. If I try to come
amongst the people with whom you live I only suffer
humiliation. They don't want me. I don't want them,
either. I did want you, but think what it has been the
few times I have seen you in London this summer, and
then think of our old friendship, here in the forest.
Think of the last time we met. We didn't even part
as friends."


" I am very sorry for that, Dick," she said penitently.
" It has given me great unhappiness to think of it. But
you were not like yourself. I hardly knew you, there in
London. I wanted to be friends, but you blamed me as

if Oh, I don't know, but I felt sore at the way

you spoke to me, and and I know I was horrid to

" I shan't think anything more about it," he said.
'* You have made me happier than I thought I could
ever be again. And I shall always remember how happy
we were together when I was a boy and you were a child.
And, if you will let me, I will always be your friend, and
I shall hope to see you sometimes ; but not in London.
We are too far apart there. Perhaps, sometimes, we
shall meet here in the old forest. We can see each other
as we are then, and forget that in London I am a dull
young man who works and you are a beautiful young
woman who plays, and are surrounded by other beau-
tiful people who play too, as I never can."

He ended lightly, but devoured her face with his
eyes, wistfully, for the shadow of loss was stealing over
him again.

Her eyes were bent on the ground. A faint flush
came over her cheeks, and spread, deepening. She
looked up, and her eyes were shining. " Do you remem-
ber what I used to say to you here in the forest, Dick? "
she said, bravely. " Tell me secrets."



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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 29 of 29)