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R. M. Ballantyne
Freaks on the Fells: Three Months' Rustication

Story 1

Story 1—Chapter 1.
Mr Sudberry in his Counting-House

Mr John Sudberry was a successful London merchant. He was also a fat little man. Moreover, he was a sturdy little man, wore spectacles, and had a smooth bald head, over which, at the time we introduce him to the reader, fifty summers had passed, with their corresponding autumns, winters, and springs. The passage of so many seasons over him appeared to have exercised a polishing influence on the merchant, for Mr Sudberry’s cranium shone like a billiard-ball. In temperament Mr Sudberry was sanguine, and full of energy. He could scarcely have been a successful merchant without these qualities. He was also extremely violent.

Now, it is necessary here to guard the reader from falling into a mistake in reference to Mr Sudberry’s character. We have said that he was violent, but it must not be supposed that he was passionate. By no means. He was the most amiable and sweet-tempered of men. His violence was owing to physical rather than mental causes. He was hasty in his volitions, impulsive in his actions, madly reckless in his personal movements. His moral and physical being was capable of only two conditions—deep repose or wild activity.

At his desk Mr Sudberry was wont to sit motionless like a statue, with his face buried in his hands and his thoughts busy. When these thoughts culminated, he would start as if he had received an electric shock, seize a pen, and, with pursed lips and frowning brows, send it careering over the paper with harrowing rapidity, squeaking and chirping, (the pen, not the man), like a small bird with a bad cold. Mr Sudberry used quills. He was a tremendous writer. He could have reported the debates of the “House” in long-hand.

The merchant’s portrait is not yet finished. He was a peculiar man, and men of this sort cannot be sketched off in a few lines. Indeed, had he not been a peculiar man, it would not have been worth while to drag him thus prominently into notice.

Among other peculiarities in Mr Sudberry’s character, he was afflicted with a chronic tendency to dab his pen into the ink-bottle and split it to the feather, or double up its point so as to render it unserviceable. This infirmity, coupled with an uncommon capacity for upsetting ink-bottles, had induced him to hire a small clerk, whose principal duties were to mend pens, wipe up ink, and, generally, to attend to the removal of débris.

When Mr Sudberry slept he did it profoundly. When he awoke he did it with a start and a stare, as if amazed at having caught himself in the very act of indulging in such weakness. When he washed he puffed, and gasped, and rubbed, and made such a noise, that one might have supposed a walrus was engaged in its ablutions. How the skin of his head, face, and neck stood the towelling it received is incomprehensible! When he walked he went like an express train; when he sauntered he relapsed into the slowest possible snail’s-pace, but he did not graduate the changes from one to the other. When he sat down he did so with a crash. The number of chairs which Mr Sudberry broke in the course of his life would have filled a goodly-sized concert-room; and the number of tea-cups which he had swept off tables with the tails of his coat might, we believe, have set up a moderately ambitious man in the china trade.

There was always a beaming smile on the merchant’s countenance, except when he was engaged in deep thought; then his mouth was pursed and his brows knitted.

The small clerk was a thin-bodied, weak-minded, timid boy, of about twelve years of age and of humble origin. He sat at Mr Sudberry’s double desk in the office, opposite and in dangerous proximity to his master, whom he regarded with great admiration, alarm, and awe.

On a lovely afternoon towards the middle of May, when city men begin to thirst for a draught of fresh air, and to long for an undignified roll on the green fields among primroses, butter-cups, and daisies, Mr Sudberry sat at his desk reading the advertisements in the Times.

Suddenly he flung the paper away, hit the desk a sounding blow with his clinched fist, and exclaimed firmly—

“I’ll do it!”

Accustomed though he was to nervous shocks, the small clerk leaped with more than ordinary tremor off his stool on this occasion, picked up the paper, laid it at his master’s elbow, and sat down again, prepared to look out—nautically speaking—for more squalls.

Mr Sudberry seized a quill, dabbed it into the ink-bottle, and split it. Seizing another he dabbed again; the quill stood the shock; the small clerk ventured a sigh of relief and laid aside the inky napkin which he had pulled out of his desk expecting an upset, and prepared for the worst. A note was dashed off in two minutes,—signed, sealed, addressed, in half a minute, and Mr Sudberry leaped off his stool. His hat was thrown on his head by a species of sleight of hand, and he appeared in the outer office suddenly, like a stout Jack-in-the-box.

“I’m away, Mr Jones,” (to his head clerk), “and won’t be back till eleven to-morrow morning. Have you the letters ready? I am going round by the post-office, and will take charge of them.”

“They are here, sir,” said Mr Jones, in a mild voice.

Mr Jones was a meek man, with a red nose and a humble aspect. He was a confidential clerk, and much respected by the firm of Sudberry and Company. In fact, it was generally understood that the business could not get on without him. His caution was a most salutary counteractive to Mr Sudberry’s recklessness. As for “Co,” he was a sleeping partner, and an absolute nonentity.

Mr Sudberry seized the letters and let them fall, picked them up in haste, thrust them confusedly into his pocket, and rushed from the room, knocking over the umbrella-stand in his exit. The sensation left in the office was that of a dead calm after a sharp squall. The small clerk breathed freely, and felt that his life was safe for that day.

Story 1—Chapter 2.
Mr Sudberry at Home

“My dear,” cried Mr Sudberry to his wife, abruptly entering the parlour of his villa, near Hampstead Heath, “I have done the deed!”

“Dear John, you are so violent; my nerves—really—what deed?” said Mrs Sudberry, a weak-eyed, delicate woman, of languid temperament, and not far short of her husband’s age.

“I have written off to secure a residence in the Highlands of Scotland for our summer quarters this season.”

Mrs Sudberry stared in mute surprise. “John! my dear! are you in earnest? Have you not been precipitate in this matter? You know, love, that I have always trusted in your prudence to make arrangements for the spending of our holiday; but really, when I think—”

“Well, my dear, ‘When you think,’—pray, go on.”

“Don’t be hasty, dear John; you know I have never objected to any place you have hitherto fixed on. Herne Bay last year was charming, and the year before we enjoyed Margate so much. Even Worthing, though rather too long a journey for a family, was delightful; and, as the family was smaller then, we got over the journey on the whole better than could have been expected. But Scotland!—the Highlands!”—Mr Sudberry’s look at this point induced his wife to come to a full stop. The look was not a stern look,—much less a savage look, as connubial looks sometimes are. It was an aggrieved look; not that he was aggrieved at the dubious reception given by his spouse to the arrangement he had made;—no, the sore point in his mind was that he himself entertained strong doubts as to the propriety of what he had done; and to find these doubts reflected in the mind of his faithful better half was perplexing.

“Well, Mary,” said the worthy merchant, “go on. Do you state the cons, and I’ll enumerate the pros, after which we will close the account, and see on which side the balance lies.”

“You know, dear,” said Mrs Sudberry, in a remonstrative tone, “that the journey is fearfully long. I almost tremble when I think of it. To be sure, we have the railroad to Edinburgh now; but beyond that we shall have to travel by stage, I suppose, at least I hope so; but perhaps they have no stage-coaches in Scotland?”

“Oh, yes, they have a few, I believe,” replied the merchant, with a smile.

“Ah! that is fortunate; for wagons are fearfully trying. No, I really think that I could not stand a wagon journey after my experience of the picnic at Worthing some years ago. Think of our large family—seven of us altogether—in a wagon, John—”

“But you forget, I said that there are stage-coaches in Scotland.”

“Well; but think of the slow and wearisome travelling among great mountains, over precipices, and through Scotch mists. Lady Knownothing assures me she has been told that the rain never ceases in Scotland, except for a short time in autumn, just to give the scanty crops time to ripen. You know, dear, that our darling Jacky’s health could never stand the Scotch mists, he is so very, delicate.”

“Why, Mary!” exclaimed Mr Sudberry, abruptly; “the doctor told me only yesterday that for a boy of five years old he was a perfect marvel of robust health—that nothing ailed him, except the result of over-eating and the want of open-air exercise; and I am sure that I can testify to the strength of his legs and the soundness of his lungs; for he kicks like a jackass, and roars like a lion.”

“It is very wrong, very sinful of the doctor,” said Mrs Sudberry, in a languidly indignant manner, “to give such a false report of the health of our darling boy.”

At this moment the door burst open, and the “darling boy” rushed into the room—with a wild cheer of defiance at his nurse, from whom he had escaped, and who was in full pursuit—hit his head on the corner of the table, and fell flat on the floor, with a yell that might have sent a pang of jealousy to the heart of a Chippeway Indian!

Mr Sudberry started up, and almost overturned the tea-table in his haste; but before he could reach his prostrate son, nurse had him kicking in her arms, and carried him off howling.

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Freaks on the Fells: Three Months' Rustication

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На этой странице вы можете прочитать онлайн книгу «Freaks on the Fells: Three Months' Rustication», автора Robert Michael Ballantyne. Данная книга относится к жанрам: «Литература 19 века», «Зарубежные детские книги».. Книга «Freaks on the Fells: Three Months' Rustication» была издана в 2019 году. Приятного чтения!