schoolmaster, and lived in a pretty cottage in the vil-
lage, supporting herself and her only child, a boy a
few years older than Richard Baldock, by taking in
needlework and keeping a small day school. This
school was for the benefit of those children of the neigh-
bourhood whose parents thought it more dignified to
pay a small sum per week to have them indifferently
taught by Mrs. Meaking than to permit them to receive
a good education at the village school for nothing.
Both the number of scholars and the sum paid for
each of them was naturally small, for Beechurst con-
RICHARD LEARNS HIS LETTERS 45
tained few inhabitants above the labouring class, and
of those few the proportion of fools was not higher
than the average ; but with the help of the dressmaking,
at which Mrs. Meaking was decidedly more competent
than at imparting her small amount of knowledge, they
helped her to make a living.
Mrs. Meaking had a passion for gentility, and was
suspected of combining with it another secret passion
which had the vicar for its object. She was a faded
but sprightly woman, and was supported in her pre-
tensions against the ill-disguised ridicule of her neigh-
bours by unbreakable self-assurance.
" This is an unexpected pleasure, Mr. Baldock,"
simpered Mrs. Meaking, genteelly, when the vicar called
upon her in pursuance of his object. " Pray take a
seat, and let me offer you a cup of tea."
" No, thank you," replied her visitor, " it is only
three o'clock. I came to know if your occupations
would permit you to come to the vicarage for an hour
every day except Sunday, and teach my son to read
and write and so on. For the first month an hour a
day would be sufficient, but after that I should ask
you to increase it to two."
Conflicting emotions tore Mrs. Meaking's soul in
twain. An hour a day at the vicarage. An hour a day
in Paradise ! But another idea sprang full-fledged into
her brain. If she could get the vicar's son to attend
her school she would be a made woman. The scheme was
too alluring to be rejected in favour of what would
after all be an empty though sentimental delight. Her
mind was made up by the time she was required to give
" I shall be very pleased to oblige you in the matter,
Mr. Baldock," she replied, " but I fear that my duties
46 RICHARD BALDOCK
towards the young ladies and gentlemen who receive the
benefits of my modest curriculum might make it diffi-
cult. But if you would consent "
" I am aware that you teach the children of a few
of the shopkeepers and farmers," interrupted the vicar.
" I think they would be better at the schools, but
" Oh, pardon me, Mr. Baldock," interrupted Mrs.
Meaking in her turn, " elementary studies they might
pursue with advantage at the village school, but gen-
tility, manners, behaviour no ! You could hardly ex-
pect it under present circumstances. In my husband's
time when I was at hand to "
Neither would allow the .other to lead the conversa-
tion. The vicar interrupted again. " I have no com-
plaint to find with Mrs. Waller," he said. " The chil-
dren are well taught and kept in order. And the
religious instruction is all that could be wished. I
hope that you pay sufficient attention to that, Mrs.
" Oh, indeed, yes," she replied. " The teaching of
religion is almost a hobby with me. There is not one
of my pupils who cannot say the Ten Commandments,
both backwards and forwards, and everything else that
the Church instructs us to teach the young they are
taught, and taught thoroughly. But now, Mr. Bal-
dock, if you will allow me to make a suggestion, why
not let Master Baldock attend my modest seminary?
I woul . take the utmost care that he should not be
contai anated by the companionship of his inferiors
in stf :ion. In fact, I would undertake to keep him in a
class entirely apart, and I might even a curtain "
She paused for a moment's consideration.
" I should not want that," said the vicar. " I have
no objection to his mixing with tht well-behaved chil-
RICHARD LEARNS HIS LETTERS 47
dren of the village. In fact, now you put the idea into
ray head, I am not at all sure that the village
" Oh, Mr. Baldock !" exclaimed Mrs. Meaking,
aghast at this destructive acceptance of her sugges-
tion, " surely you could never consider such an idea !
The dirt and roughness of some of the village children
is beyond belief. Indeed it is. I beg of you not to
submit your child to it. Let me look after him. Let
me bring him up in the way that he should go I do
not wish to be irreverent and I give you my word that
you will never regret it."
" What children come here to be taught ? " he asked.
" The little Worbys, a boy and a girl, the children of
Mrs. Worbj 7 of Brook Farm Mrs. Worby's uncle was
a surgeon ; a son of Mr. Cutbush, Mr. Ventrey's head
er horticultural adviser; Mr. Bilberry's son and
daughter the Bilberry of the Stores, not the rabbit-
catcher there is a relationship, I believe, but it is
distant; the three children of Mr. Humby, the mail
carrier, two boys and a girl, the son and daughter of
Mrs. Orphan, who certainly does occasional domestic
work, in your own establishment among others, I be-
lieve, but whose husband was in the sanitary engineer-
ing business, and my own son, Montague eleven
in all. Master Baldock would make the round
" The children of a small farmer, a gardener, a
grocer, a postman, a charwoman, widow of a plumber,
and your own child," commented the vicar, not with an
idea of bringing Mrs. Meaking low, but merely for his
own mental enlightenment ; " as far as I know them all
well-behaved children, and from respectable homes.
No, I have no objection to Richard's associating with
48 RICHARD BALDOCK
any of these, but I should wish to be consulted if you
thought of taking any more pupils, Mrs. Meaking."
" I should not think of doing so, Mr. Baldock. In-
deed, my apartment would unfortunately not permit of
it at present, though I live in hopes of moving some
day to better premises. I am quite ashamed to receive
you in such a place as this. It is not what I have been
accustomed to. My early home was very different, and
even the school-house, although not entirely what I
could wish, was "
" Then I think we may consider the matter settled,"
said the vicar. " To-day is Saturday. Richard shall
begin on Monday. I shall inquire from time to time
as to his progress, and wish to be informed of any
insubordination on his part, although I trust there
may be none to report. As to terms, I will pay the
same as the other parents. What are they? "
Mrs. Meaking told him, with a slightly lengthened
face. They were not excessive, and the vicar, express-
ing himself satisfied, took his leave.
MRS. MEAKING'S SCHOOL
AND so Richard began his school life.
Mrs. Meaking's pupils sat at a long table in her
general sitting-room, herself at the head. At the top
of the class was Master Montague Meaking, a boy of
eight, with a shock of stubborn hair and a very bright
eye. He signalized the enrolment of a new pupil by
putting out his tongue and screwing up his face into a
shape expressive of disgust and contempt whenever he
could do so unobserved by his mother. But he did it
once too often, and was surprised by a box on the ear,
delivered with great force, and a voluble outburst from
Mrs. Meaking to which the whole class except himself
disposed themselves to listen with obvious enjoyment.
Richard learnt, when he became a little older, that
the monotony of lessons could be varied by giving
Mrs. Meaking occasion for what was popularly known
as a " jaw." There was some risk to the pupil who
set her haranguing, but the bolder spirits were pre-
pared to take it for the sake of the reward, and showed
great ingenuity in providing her with subjects which
should not recoil on themselves. Master Meaking was
the leader in these excursions as in all others, but
Richard himself later on disputed his supremacy where
superior finesse was required.
On this occasion he sat open-mouthed while Mrs.
Meaking held forth, to the accompaniment of melodious
bellowings from her son. " To think," she cried, " that
50 RICHARD BALDOCK
a child of mine should be so wicked as to behave in that
way to his superior in station. Have I not told you all
times without number, that the clergy belong to the
upper classes, and are to be treated with respect?
And what applies to them applies to their offspring.
Master Richard Baldock, I publicly apologize to you
for my son's impertinence. In joining our little class
leave off at once, Montague, or I'll take the stick to
you you have conferred a distinction on us, and one
which I will have every young lady and gentleman in
this school aware of. And you especially, Montague
will you adone with your noise, now? whose station
in life is higher than that of your schoolfellows no
offence to Miss Worby's great-uncle you who belong
to the teaching or professional class you ought to be
specially ashamed of yourself. Very well, then, if you
will not hold your noise, hold out your hand."
A painful scene followed which was as inexplicable to
the five-year-old Richard as the previous harangue, for
he had never been beaten himself and had no previous
idea that he possessed any special precedence in the
social scale, or indeed that there was such a thing as a
social scale at all.
Knowledge of this sort, however, was not likely to
be withheld from him for long under Mrs. Mea-
king's tuition. It formed, in fact, her chief stock
in trade, and was drummed into her pupils at every
turn. So much so, indeed, that she defeated her
own object. Little Richard had not been many days
going to and from Mrs. Meaking's cottage to his les-
sons before he discovered that to be a member of what
she called her seminary meant the sustaining of untold
insults at the hands of all the village children who
did not enjoy that advantage. He and any other of
MRS. MEAKING'S SCHOOL 51
his small companions in misfortune who might be in his
company were assailed with constant jeers and bodily
assaults. " There go the little ladies and gentlemen,"
was the rallying cry of their tormentors ; and they
were seen at all unoccupied hours of the day scurrying
here and there for safety. Their lives were a constant
series of ambushes, skirmishes, and ignominious flights,
for their numbers were small and the stamina of most
of them insignificant. Montague Meaking might have
created some diversions in favour of the persecuted
party, for he was a sturdy rascal and ready with his
fists, but he had shamelessly thrown in his lot with the
aggressors, and no tongue was exercised with more
scathing emphasis than his in pouring scorn and de-
rision on the unfortunate children whose parents con-
tributed to his mother's support and his own.
Richard and Master Montague Meaking, commonly
known as Pug Meaking, in reference to a certain blunt-
ness of facial conformation, were not altogether
strangers to each other. Richard had once come across
him on a predatory excursion in one of the overgrown
shrubberies of the vicarage garden, and instead of
announcing his presence to Job, who was working hard
by, had welcomed him as a companion and shared
ornithological secrets with him. The surreptitious visit
had been repeated more than once, and the two children
were by way of becoming cronies, Richard's inferiority
of age being balanced by his forward intelligence. It
therefore caused him considerable surprise, which lasted
through the stirring hours of his first morning's les-
sons, to be received by his former friend in the way
that has been described, and his surprise was not at
all lessened when, school being over and he on his way
home, he was overtaken by Master Montague Meaking,
52 RICHARD BALDOCK
who planted himself immediately in his path, protruded
his face until it came within a few inches of that of the
astonished Richard, and said in a tone of concentrated
scorn, " Yah ! Gentleman ! "
Richard was too thunderstruck by this address to
reply, but Samson Bilberry, a weedy boy of nine,
in spectacles, who was of the party, spoke up for
" You better be careful, Pug Meaking," he gave
warning. " We'll tell his farver an' you'll git someping
you don't like."
" And who asked you to speak, Sam Bilberry? " in-
quired Master Meaking, truculently. " You're a gen-
tleman yourself. Yah ! "
" Well, an' ain't you a gentleman ? " spoke up Miss
" No, never, I ain't," responded Master Meaking.
" And I'll punch anyone's 'ead who says I am."
" You are I You are ! " shouted the children in
chorus, and Master Meaking darted into the group of
them, arms and legs flying, and dealt promiscuous
blows, one of which fell to Richard's share, who, more
bewildered than hurt, began to cry.
" There, now you done it ! " said Miss Bilberry.
" You ought to be ashamed of yourself, that you ought,
a real little gentleman too. Never mind, Master Rich-
ard. You tell on him, dear, and he'll soon learn to
leave you alone. Ah, well you may run, Pug Meaking.
Gentleman yourself ! There ! "
The next moment Miss Bilberry was running herself
as fast as she was able, for the village school hard by
was pouring out its tale of urchins, and the roadway
was no longer a safe place of congregation for the
disciples of Mrs. Meaking.
MRS. MEAKING'S SCHOOL 55
It was not long before Richard's spirit was worked
up to a definite conflict of will with Master Montague
Meaking, whose daily insults had reached a high pitch
of offensiveness. To do that young gentleman justice,
the fact of his siding with the majority in the feud be-
tween the children of the village school and those taught
with himself did not arise from cowardice, but from
a genuine contempt of the standards applied by his
mother. He loved the rough companionship of boy
life, with its eager alliances, adventures, and conflicts,
and could only find scope for his energies among the
sturdy young rascals not under the influence of Mrs.
Meaking's gentilities. He had fought his way against
many odds in their company, and was fighting his
way into leadership among them. Their standards
were his, and he hated the sham code of manners by
which his mother sought to temper the hardy roughness
of the children under her charge. That his wholesome
contempt for the code and the ambitions it instilled
should have extended itself to the unfortunate beings
who, like himself, were in subjection to it, need not sur-
prise anyone who has any acquaintance with the habits
of a boy's mind. Nevertheless, to little Richard, who
was made of finer clay, there seemed something wrong
in his attitude ; and after he had suffered under Master
Meaking's taunts for a few weeks, he embarked boldly
on his first effort at getting at the bottom of things.
He was playing a solitary game of his own inven-
tion in the densities of the vicarage shrubbery, when he
came upon his one-time friend, bent, as before, on a
" Hullo," said Montague, amicably ; " let's 'ave a
game of Red Indians."
Richard stood squarely in front of him, his chubby
fists doubled up on his hips. " I don't want to play
with you," he said. " You're not my friend."
" Oh, come on," replied Montague, milder than usual
under his sense of trespass ; " we'll have pax in here."
" No, we won't," said little Richard. " You're not
my friend any more. You are always rude and rough
to all of us."
" That's 'cos you're ladies and gentlemen," said
Montague. " We needn't mind that here, because
you're not a bad kid, and you can't help being a gen-
" But you are just the same as we are," said Richard.
"I fink it's very mean to be just the same and to pre-
tend you're not. If you wasn't bigger and stronger
than us you couldn't do it."
" You're all little softies, Dickie Baldock. I like
boys ; I don't like softies."
" I like boys, too, Pug Meaking," replied little Rich-
ard, " an' I shall be as big as you some day. But I
won't be rude and rough to little boys, 'specially when
they can't help it. I fink it's mean."
" Don't you say I'm mean, Dickie Baldock."
" I fink you are, Pug Meaking ; an' I shall ay it if
I want to."
" What's mean in me? "
" What I said. If you wasn't mean, you'd help us
when the others run after us, 'stead of pretending you
wasn't the same as us."
" If you don't say I'm not mean, Dickie Baldock,
I'll give you a licking."
" No, you won't, Pug Meaking; you won't dare to."
" I suppose you'd holler out and sneak on me."
" I wouldn't sneak, but you wouldn't dare to touch
MRS. HEARING'S SCHOOL 55
"Oh, wouldn't I?"
The usual deadlock in small boys' quarrels here oc-
curred, when the blood of neither is heated up to the
point of assault. Richard possessed the moral advan-
tage, and presented it with a dauntless front. His
adversary, influenced, we may hope, by a conviction
that the charge brought against him was not entirely
baseless, lowered his colours.
" Well, I ain't going to lick you now," he said, " 'cos
I believe you'd holler out. You're a sneak ; and I don't
want Job Wilding after me."
" No, I said you wouldn't dare," replied Richard.
" Job's bigger and stronger than you. It's only little
boys and girls you're not afraid of."
" If you say that I'll give you a licking straight,"
said Montague. " I've fought with lots of boys older
and stronger than me, and licked them, too. And I
ain't afraid of Job Wilding not me ! "
"Oh, you ain't, ain't you?" put in a gruff voice
at his ear, as Job Wilding himself appeared from be-
hind a thick laurel bush and dealt him a cuff which
sent him spinning round with his elbow up to his ear
and an injured expression on his countenance. " Now
you just be off, you lousy young varmint; and if I
catch you on these premises again I'll have you locked
up. I've heard what you've been saying, and Master
Richard's quite right. You're a cowardly young toad,
for all your brag and bounce, and you may tell your
mother I said so. You save your own bacon, an' turn
round an' bully the young 'uns. You let me catch you
a bullying of 'em again, an' I'll give you a hiding
myself, and one you won't forget in a hurry. Now you
just be off out o' this."
56 RICHARD BALDOCK
Master Meaking departed, and so far took to heart
the criticism to which he had been subjected that he
refrained thereafter from active methods of aggres-
sion against his small schoolfellows.
The rest of the village boys, however, continued to
indulge in the pleasures of the chase whenever one of
Mrs. Meaking's scholars came within their purview,
until Richard, who, for all his growing self-reliance,
was hardly yet out of babyhood, came home crying
with a lump on his head produced by a thrown stone.
Sarah attended to his wound with an accompaniment
of scoldings, and then sallied forth to demand justice,
scandalized at this breach in the sanctities attaching
to the vicarage. She first visited Mrs. Meaking, who
could hardly be said to be responsible for the outrage,
but with whom she had for some time been spoiling for
an outspoken conversation, considering that she gave
herself intolerable airs, though no better than other
Mrs. Meaking's cottage was one of the prettiest in
the village. It was half-timbered, and little dormer
windows peeped out from under thatch shaded by the
branches of a great elm. You went through a wicket-
gate and up a steep path bordered with phloxes, mal-
lows, and hollyhocks, and you walked through a little
porch, over which ramped a white rose of the kind
known as " the Seven Sisters," and straight into the
sitting-room. This was long and low, and oak-raftered.
It had a latticed window and a generous hearth, with
a high overmantel, bordered by a chintz hanging.
Here fitness ended, for Mrs. Meaking had furnished her
room with the cheap monstrosities belonging to her
age, and had dealt with her apartment as far as pos-
sible as if it were the parlour of a small villa. She
MRS. MEAKING'S SCHOOL T
was accustomed to bemoan her fate in baring been
forced to leave the Cockney brick-built slate-roofed
school-house, with its two mean little bow-windowed
parlours and its narrow passage-way. It was com-
monly said to have been a greater grief to her to
give up her drawing-room, her dining-room, and her
hall than to lose her husband. She certainly bemoaned
the loss of the one more frequently than that of the
Old Sarah, in close-fitting black bonnet, beaded spen-
cer and voluminous skirts, her mouth set firmly,
marched up the flagged path and knocked at the door
with her umbrella. It was opened by Mrs. Meaking,
who was exercising her secondary occupation of dress-
maker and held the implements of that occupation,
some in her hand and some in her mouth. Her face as-
sumed its mincing expression when she recognized the
visitor. ** Oh, pray step in, Mrs. Wellbeloved," she
said. " I am afraid you will find the room rather
untidy, but with this wretched little place I am unable
to keep a room into which to hand callers."
" Don't name it, ma'am," said Sarah. " I am only
a servant and am not accustomed to such. I keep
my place and should wish that others were as ready to
do the same, instead of aping the ways of their betters.'*
Mrs. Meaking accepted battle at once. She was
quite accustomed to having her pretensions made the
subject of remark to her face, and was ready to defend
them at all times.
" Meaning me, I suppose, ma'am," she said sharply,
standing in front of her visitor and preventing her
coming farther into the room. " But I'll have you to
know that if you are a servant I am not a servant, and
never was a servant, but on the contrary was brought
58 RICHARD BALDOCK
up where servants were kept, and never obliged to do
a hand's turn, and kept them myself in days more fortu-
nate, as you very well know."
" A chit from the village at two pun ten a year and
her victuals, and not much of 'em," retorted Sarah.
" But it don't signify. May I ask whether it is the
habit in genteel circles to keep a visitor standing in
the door and not dust a seat for her? "
" The seats in my room, poor as it is, don't want
dusting, ma'am," said Mrs. Meaking, quivering. " If
you come to pay me a friendly call you'll be asked in
and made welcome. When you come to make yourself
unpleasant you can stand in the door and say what
you've got to say, or take yourself off the way you
came, whichever you please."
" I've come to say this, ma'am," spoke up old Sarah.
" Little Master Richard has come home with a lump
on his head as big as a small potato. He never did
ought, in my opinion, to have been sent here to get a
pack of rubbish put into his head, but my opinion
wasn't asked "
" No ? and not likely to be," interpolated Mrs. Mea-
" That's as may be, ma'am, though my opinion is
worth more than that of some who'd give their ears for
it to be asked of them in quarters that shall be name-
less. But if you haven't got sense to put inside the
child's head which is well beknown, it's your duty to
see that the outside ain't damaged, and if you can't do
it I'll acquaint the child's pa, and we'll see what'll
" And do you mean to insinuate, ma'am, that it was
me who hurt the child's head ? "
" I mean to say, ma'am, that the child has been hurt
MRS. HEARING'S SCHOOL 59
and might have been killed. He's under your care at
such times as he is not at home under mine, and it's
your place to stop such goings on."
" And how can I stop it? Well known it is to you,
Sarah Wellbeloved, that the rough boys and girls of
this village, not having anybody to teach them man-
ners nowadays, make a practice, to which they are
encouraged by those who ought to know better, of per-
secuting the children whose parents wish them to be
brought up with gentility, and send them to my school
with that object."
" Gentility," sniffed Sarah. " Airs you mean, I sup-
" No, ma'am, I do not mean airs. I mean what I
say; I say gentility, and I mean gentility. It is gen-
tility that is persecuted in this village, because people
are so ignorant that they look down upon it. I wish I
could have some of them in Hackney, where I was
brought up. Their rough manners wouldn't carry them
very far there, I can tell you, and they would soon
find the difference between their station and mine."
" You're so full up of your station, ma'am," replied
Sarah, " that you haven't got time to think of other
people's. Master Richard is as much above you as you