T. Baron Russell.

Borlase & son : a novel online

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By the same Autbtr









Copyright, 1903, John Lane

First Edition, October,

J.J. Little ft Co., New York. U.S.A.



IN a book entitled " A Guardian of the Poor "
and published in 1897 at the sign of The Bodley
Head by Mr. John Lane, several of the person-
ages here re-introduced to the public made their
first appearance and had their earlier adventures
(or rather, annals) set down. There is, how-
ever, no connection between the two volumes.
" Borlase & Son " is in no sense a sequel to " A
Guardian of the Poor," and those who are kind
enough to understand the present work at all,
will understand it just as well without as with a
reference to the earlier volume.

It is hardly necessary to say and the author
would not venture to say it, had not some read-
ers of " A Guardian of the Poor " been good
enough to identify to him, in correspondence,
the supposed originals of Mr. Borlase and of
Borlase & Company's emporium that the per-
sonages represented in both books are purely
fictitious. The conditions of life portrayed are,
on the other hand, absolutely veracious; but no
individual and no single establishment have
been, even remotely, aimed at. If some crying
evils have been pretty plainly hinted at, it is
quite impersonally, and the author is fully aware


of the many instances in which these evils are,
and always have been, absent from establish-
ments otherwise of the same class as the one de-
scribed in the earlier part of this book and in " A
Guardian of the Poor." Had such conditions
been universal, it would hardly have been inter-
esting to write about them; the inculcation of
social, and still less of business, morality being
no part of a novelist's function.

May, 1903



I. MR. BORLASE . . . . . . I




v. NEW YEAR'S EVE . . . * 7 1




IX. AFLOAT . . . . . . .122

x. "DIGGINGS" . ., . . . . 132




XIV. EMPLOYMENT . . . . . 175



XVm. NEW FRIENDS . . . . . .217













FROM a disadvantageous standpoint across the
river, South London is probably considered as
a single neighbourhood. Over here, we know
better. Clapham, for a single example, would
never thank you to confound its utmost Grove
(we are fonder of groves than of streets)
with neighbouring Battersea. It would shudder
at hearing itself compared, even favourably,
with Wandsworth. I have been told so nicely
rancorous are our topographical distinctions
that the postal boundary which follows the devi-
ous course of Camberwell New-road has a well-
marked economic effect on the streets of either
side, so that houses which just manage to write
themselves " S. W." fetch some pounds more a
year than their fellows on the other side of the
scientific frontier, which are frankly in the
South-Eastern District. Neighbouring dis-
tricts blend curiously, East Dulwich merging
reluctantly into Peckham, and Peckham in its
turn resisting to the last the encroachments of
Camberwell, somewhere near the Hall where the
Vestry, a far-reaching and rather benevolent


power, makes minor laws for all of us. Our
water, though we try to forget the fact, is even
supplied from Lambeth.

There is hereabout a well-defined region, hav-
ing boundaries other than those of suburb and
suburb set up by the local topographers. It is
not Camberwell, for it does not begin until long
past where the Atlas omnibuses turn round and
go back toward Westminster. It is not Peck-
ham, for Peckham extends far out to the right
as you go southward, and in places begins
absurdly to call itself East Dulwich. After the
Walworth Road has turned sharply, rounding
Camberwell Green, and the colony of trades-
men and commercial travellers who go to town
by tramway-car has been entered, one reaches
the lurking places of a community which looks
to Rye Lane for its shopping. These were the
houses of the constituents of Borlase & Com-
pany, in its day the most characteristic drapery
shop of South Camberwell. Mr. Borlase (for
the " Company " was purely fictitious) used to
call it a Drapery Emporium, a very deep, very
narrow shop, served by some fifty young men
and " young ladies." All drapers' girls are called
young ladies, irrespective of age. Borlase's
long had the art to divine the Suburb's exact re-
quirements. Its ribbons had all the gloss and
some of the substance (a little differently formed)
of the most seemly West End products. Its
calicoes, if you did not shake them too vigor-
ously, were as heavy as any in Town. Hats
bought at this establishment and " trimmed "


(an announcement in the window used to prom-
ise), " free of charge," had sometimes the very
shape and appearance of last season's London
styles; these were felt to be almost wickedly
modern. To go farther would have stirred our
prejudice; we like to be stylish here, but we
scorn " the extreme " of fashion. Shoddy (which
is old cloth, torn up in a machine and re-spun)
furnished us with dress fabrics absolutely indis-
tinguishable through Borlase's plate-glass win-
dows from the vicunas and cashmeres of the
wicked West.

Thus Borlase and Company throve as was
most proper. Mr. Borlase, once a clerk " in the
wholesale," then a struggling shop-keeper be-
hind his own counter, aided by his sallow, skinny
and admiring wife, became a large employer of
labour and a power in the land. He was Church-
warden, Vestryman, Guardian of the Poor, a
strenuous and ardent withstander of the County
Council's innovations, and the recipient of the
Testimonial which hung, gilt-framed, in his
drawing-room, praising his benevolent public

A stout, small man, showing in later life some
signs that the privations of his youth had been
avenged in the days of prosperity, he lived with,
as he lived upon, his business, and saved money.
His marriage had been childless, but one of the
well-known benevolences alluded to in the Tes-
timonial, had been the adoption of an orphan
from the House of the Poor whom he helped
officially to guard. He had no kinsmen with


whom he was on any terms, and recognising
sagaciously that his money must, some day, be
left behind, he chose rather to provide himself
with an interest in its disposal, than desert it, to
the advantage of strangers or unloved relatives.
Stanton Borlase the boy was called, having re-
ceived his mother's patronymic as a baptismal
name (for Mr. Borlase, as became a Warden of
the Church, was scrupulous in keeping that
Church's ordinances), and as he grew there was
a new satisfaction in the careful economies of the
establishment. If the young men and young
ladies of the shop fared scantily ; if match-board-
ing and restricted air-space multiplied unwhole-
some bedrooms, and so saved rent, Stanton,
some day, would be the richer. Mrs. Borlase,
who adored the boy with a childless woman's
inevitable yearning, supplemented her husband's
endeavours until the day when her death left him
widowed, with a boy of fifteen completing what
was called in his school prospectus a sound com-
mercial education. He had been born a puny,
bloodless creature : one rather wondered why he
was born at all, and why encouraged to take the
very considerable trouble of living. However,
when he was old enough to be sent out of the
Suburb (there is no blinking the fact that the
Suburb is depressing), country air did wonders
with him, and he shook off some part of his native
debility. The study was always kinder to him
than the cricket field, and he naturally liked it
better, being also encouraged in this peculiarity
by his guardian. Mr. Borlase had never played


any games himself and did not see the use of
them to other people an attitude not uncom-
mon among the self-made.

For three years after Mrs. Borlase's sudden
death, Stanton was kept from home. For his
vacations, Mr. Borlase conducted him, with
liberal supplies of good advice, to one seaside
resort or another, and put him in charge of
trustworthy people, above suspicion of encour-
aging youthful levity. The lad was over eigh-
teen years old, weedy and narrow chested, but
by way of being clever (and from the unhidden
circumstances of his birth and destiny still more
by way of being tactful) when, on a winter morn-
ing, he was brought by a cab, with his luggage,
to the side dioor of the shop. Free at last of
school, he had been prepared by letter to make
an immediate entry into the actual business life
for which his commercial colleges were sup-
posed to have fitted him.

Mr. Borlase, who exercised in his proper per-
son the responsible duties of shopwalker, had
seen him drive up in the drizzling rain, but had
not thought fit to leave the shop; so that it
was in the full glare of publicity that they met
and shook hands, not without a certain cordial-
ity. The draper was, in his own way, attached
to the boy. Little as he had been accustomed
to regard Mrs. Borlase's opinions and tastes, he
would have needed to be actually prejudiced
against the child which he certainly wasn't
in order not to gather some of her tenderness for
the little waif. All the love, nearly, that the


mother he had lost could have lavished upon
him, Stanton had received from the mother he
had found. His origin was no secret from him ;
but he had been brought up to call Mrs. Bor-
lase " Mother." Her husband he occasionally
called " Father " but more often merely " Sir,"
which Mr. Borlase, from his almost stealthy ex-
cursions into fiction, had been led to regard as
the more aristocratic usage. Other boys in the
Suburb did not call their fathers "Sir," and when
Stanton found it the most natural form of ad-
dress, the draper was secretly gratified. He had
a sort of pride in his boy; a sentiment which
took the place of, or perhaps covered, the
warmer one of affection. Certainly he meant to
do well by him, and liked to have every one
know it, just as he liked, now that Stanton, well-
dressed, brisk, and not ill-looking, was home
again, to have him walk confidently down the
shop and shake hands, before the assistants and

" Well ! So you're home from College ; eh ! "
he said, with a rapid glance at his hearers which
embraced the effect of this expression. " And all
right, by your looks? "

" Yes, thank you, sir: I'm very fit," said the
lad. " I had your letter yesterday, and of course
I expect to do whatever you wish. Dr. Hum-
phrey told me in the evening that you had given
notice for me last half, which I didn't know be-
fore. He sent his compliments to you, sir, and
told me I might say that he thinks you will be
gratified with his report next week."


" Well, well : that's very nice, that's very
nice," said Mr. Borlase : " and I've got a place
for you in my eye, here, for a little time at all
events. When would you like to begin? "

" This minute if you wish, sir : I am ready
whenever you say so." Stanton had anticipated
the question and prepared the reply which he
thought would best please his guardian.

" Very well said," replied the draper, looking
round the shop again. " That's the spirit I
should wish a son of mine an adopted son, that
is to show. The sooner the better, eh ? Well,
we won't be in a hurry. You can take a look
round, and then go up to get your things un-
packed. We'll have a chat at lunch time." So
saying, he turned to speak to a customer.
"Stockings, ma'am? On the right, if you
please. Miss Miller ? stockings. Good morn-
ing, Mrs. Wilson: pleased to see you about
again : hope you're better " (to another cus-
tomer). "Have you everything you require?
Yes? Thank you very much. My son? Yes,
ma'am at least my adopted son; just home
from college. Coming into the business? Yes,
ma'am ; to begin at the bottom rung of the lad-
der, the same as I had to do myself ; good morn-
ing, thank you," and so forth, to various callers.

The shop around which Stanton Borlase was
meanwhile taking a look, was a large one, but
not roomy for the amount of business which it
accommodated. The counters ran endways to
the street, and no contrivance was absent by
which the space at disposal could be made the


most of; just as, by judicious arrangement, the
labour of the young men and young " ladies "
was carefully utilised to the utmost, that
none might idle unreproved. Just now the place
was not very full of customers, though more
people were in the shop than would normally
have been there on a wet morning ; for Christ-
mas was at hand and trade already waking up in
complimentary anticipation of that season. The
damp umbrellas of the visitors gave the air a
sticky humidness: the plate-glass doors, con-
stantly being left open, to be closed after a short
interval by an exasperated assistant, had a mist
on them: and the goods displayed in the show
windows had had to be moved back a little, early
in the day, to avoid injury by condensed moist-
ure rolling down inside the glass. Every avail-
able space displayed cheap finery and such
things as ribbons, cards of celluloid and vegeta-
ble-ivory buttons, the vast class of miscellaneous
ware known as " fancy goods " or " novelties "
and supposed to be saleable at festive seasons.
In one corner, greatly in the way of the neigh-
bouring assistants, was a new, full-sized figure,
dressed in a black skirt of economical silk and
a brilliantly coloured blouse. Its scandalously
golden hair, its black, well-pencilled eyebrows,
the artifice of its too rosy cheeks, and its very
scarlet lips, gave it an air of grotesque immor-
ality; but the Suburb admires in art what it
would rightly condemn in life. From the gas
brackets over the counters, shaped like inverted
Ts, hung machine-lace collarettes, neck-and-


wrist-pieces of disguised rabbit skin, and similar
articles of taste and fashion. The assistants who
were not actually " serving," were all busily em-
ployed in sorting out stock, re-arranging boxes
of hat-trimmings, putting straight various rolls
of cloth or calico that had been disturbed for the
choice of purchasers, and otherwise repairing
the hourly disarrangement of affairs which must
in any event be put right before any one could
leave the shop at bed-time. Near the door, a
servant-girl was demanding " half a yard of nar-
row, black elawstic," and between whiles shak-
ing a querulous child that insisted on climbing
up to sit on a counter-chair, and observe the
process of measuring the elastic by a brass rule
let into the scratched and dull mahogany. A lit-
tle farther on, a sallow woman with a hacking
cough was asking for a yard and an eighth of
brown fur trimming, and debating with an as-
sistant the sufficiency of this quantity to make a
collar and a pair of cuffs to go on a green cloth
jacket. " Why not 'ave one of our sable collar-
ettes, one and eleven-three, miss?" proposed
the shop-girl. " Oh, I don't want nothink so ex-
pensive as that " was the critical reply. The talk
across all the counters was of this character.

Presently Stanton went upstairs, to be re-
ceived by Mrs. Dobson, the nervous, hatchet-
faced housekeeper, said by venomous assistants
to be closer-fisted than even Borlase himself.
She was a life-long institution, having been in
the place more than twenty years. The first
floor was Mr. Borlase's domestic haven, and con-


tained, in addition to Mr. Borlase's private apart-
ments, the assistants' sitting-room : higher up,
in a series of infinitesimal hutches, known rather
sanguinely as bed-rooms, the " young ladies "
slept, two in a hutch. The young men were
lodged elsewhere, a grubby house in Denmark
Street being devoted to their slumbers.

The bed-room to which Stanton ascended,
with Mrs. Dobson at his elbow, adjoined his
guardian's. The place even now had not lost
for him the forlorn vacancy that had stilled and
ensombred it during the few days of his home-
staying, when he had been suddenly called to the
funeral of his foster-mother too late to see any-
thing but her empty body. His own austere
apartment seemed dark yet with the unforgotten
absence of her kind hand. There remained in it
much that was eloquent of her the stiff muslin
drapery, over blue, glazed calico, of the dress-
ing-table, a " tidy " in pierced cardboard on the
wall, with " S. B." and a border of pink silk
needlework upon it. In a drawer presently
opened, a white brush and comb case which in
her day he had always found on his table, filled
his eyes with lonely, reminiscent water. The
very bed had not yet been " made " but lay,
bolsterless, with a coverlet, inside out, stretched
over head and foot rails.

" I'll get your towels, sir," Mrs. Dobson said,
as she cast an eye round the apartment. " Do
you want any hot water? "

" No, thanks," Stanton replied, going over to
the washstand and lifting the empty ewer; " but


I should like some cold." He had not afore-
time waited for such things.

" I'll get you some," Mrs. Dobson replied.
With an air of granting a favour she took away
the jug; it was while she was on this errand that
he came upon the drawer and the brush and
comb case. There are few of us who have not
been saddened, at some moment, by this im-
manent and voiceless lack of a loved, wonted
presence. Somehow the very air seemed to have
grown colder and more cheerless since he left
the shop a few minutes ago. He went to the
open window and closed it. Mrs. Dobson came
and presently left him alone with his cold water.
It would have been more comfortable, he now
reflected, to have accepted her offer of hot.

One o'clock found Mr. Borlase and Stanton
facing each other across a tureen of soup, a
steak and a bottle of brown sherry, Mr. Bor-
lase's favourite beverage. Stanton took water,
sherry disagreeing with him. A good apple tart
followed, with Stilton and biscuits to wind up
with; after which Mr. Borlase, lighting a cigar,
led the way to the drawing-room of atrocious
splendour, decorated with his own portrait in
oils, a work of testimonial art modestly alluded
to as " the accompanying " in the illuminated
address which hung near it, and bore witness to
the greatness of its original.

"Well, young man ! And now for a talk," said
the draper. " The sooner the better, as you said
just now, though there's no occasion to rush
things. Do you smoke yet ? Don't own to it, I
suppose, eh? "


" A cigarette sometimes, sir, if you don't see
any harm in it," Staton admitted, blushing a

"H'm! better without it; but boys all seem
to think themselves men, nowadays," said Mr.
Borlase not unkindly. " Well, out with your
cigarettes, then, and let's talk and get it over.
I'll be bound to say you've got them about you."
Thus permitted, Stanton, still a little red in the
face (his smoking having been hitherto surrepti-
tious), brought out a paper packet of cigarettes,
and lit one. His patron went on talking.

" You know the shop a bit," he said. " Seen
something of it all your life, though I've thought
proper to keep you away lately, until the time
came for putting you inside it. It's a big busi-
ness, Stanton; none better in the Suburb,
though I say so. I want you to know it, and be
proud of it. It's brought you up and kept you
lucky for you, too. You'd have been bad enough
off if I hadn't taken you over. I've treated you
as my own son: I mean to go on treating you
the same, if you show yourself worth it. If not
well, back where you came from; you know that,

" You have always told me so, sir ; and I have
tried to remember it."

" You have remembered it, and well enough,
too, for that matter, up to now," said the draper,
eyeing the tip of his cigar, and stretching his feet
to the fender for the day was cold enough to
make the fire pleasant. " Go on as you've be-
gun," he continued with comfortable good


humour, " and you get what Pd have given my
eyes to have at your age : that is, a good berth to
step into, and prospects. In my day I had no
prospects: I had to make my own. Yours are
ready made for you, but I expect you to show
yourself deserving of 'em, and meantime, you're
to begin as I began down at the foot. Are you
ready to sweep the shop out at six o'clock to-
morrow morning? "

Stanton hesitated a moment, his guardian eye-
ing him keenly, sidelong. "I didn't exactly . . . ."
the boy began; then he checked himself, his
mere dependency never long lost sight of when
he was at home recalled with new force. " Yes,
sir," he said at length. " Whatever you set me

" That's right, that's right," said Mr. Borlase
approvingly. " That's the spirit, and I don't
know but that it would be best for you if I took
you at your word. But, bearing my name, I
don't choose that you should be put to that ; not
here, at all events. Besides, I don't mean to
keep you in the shop as a permanent thing.
I'll make a place for you for a time; after that
I've other plans. For the present. .. .You've
been taught book-keeping, I suppose, by the

" Yes, sir."

" Think you know it all, I suppose eh? "
" I took the head of my class, sir."
" H'm ! pretty book-keeping it is, I expect.
However, that's what you are to do. Wick-
sted's the book-keeper at present: he's been


with me a good while earns good money. It's
him paints them fancy show-cards, you know
you noticed 'em ? " There was a touch of proud
anxiety in Mr. Borlase's question.

" Yes, sir."

" Well, you'll sit beside him, and do what he
tells you. I shall tell him what to tell you. You
ain't supposed to be here to learn : you're here
to help, and to earn your pay. You'll draw ten
shillings a week; not that you'll be worth it, I
expect, yet awhile, but it gives you a position.
When you're worth more, you'll earn more.
Wicksted gets his two pounds fifteen; so you
see there's prospects already. We pay our peo-
ple well, you know," Mr. Borlase added reflec-
tively. He did not add that Wicksted, who was
married, " lived out," thus saving his employer
the cost of board and lodging. Probably the
fact was in Mr. Borlase's mind, however, for he
added : " About your grub. You'll live with me.
You're none too fat, and a little feeding up will
do you good. You'll take your old room."

" Thank you, sir," said Stanton again, obedi-
ently. (Mr. Borlase's manner was a continuous
invitation to gratitude.) " I'm sure it's a very
liberal arrangement." And to his boyish inex-
perience it appeared so. Mr. Borlase looked at
his watch.

" Eh, eh ? Three o'clock ? I must get down
stairs," he said. " Do what you like this after-
noon. Go out or I'll tell you what, get your
books out and furbish up your book-keeping.
You'll start to-morrow morning that's the half


week, and you'll get half a week's pay on Satur-

So saying, he went out, meeting Mrs. Dobson
in the passage. " Ah, Housekeeper," he said,
" by the way that butter-man's bill mounts up
rather." Mr. Borlase was no pedant to give
margarine its scientific name.

" It do, sir," said the housekeeper, " though I
try to keep it as low as I can, sir. But it's 'ard
this cold weather to get the butter to spread,
sir; and these late nights the young men eats a
good deal of cheese."

" You'd better cut the cheese yourself in
future, Housekeeper," said Mr. Borlase reflec-
tively. " And about the butter, if it don't go so
far this weather, I'll talk to Simpson about it,
when I pay his bill on Saturday, and see whether
we can't do it a little cheaper. We're being
eaten out of house and home this way."

So saying he descended to the ground floor
and entered the shop.

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