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In the spring came a letter from young Lestrange, through Simon Armour, asking Richard upon what terms he would undertake the work wanted in the library.
He handed the letter to his father, and they held a consultation.
"There's this to be considered," said the bookbinder, "that, if you go there, you lose your connection here--in a measure, at least. Therefore you cannot do the work at the same rate as in your own shop."
"On the other hand, I should have my keep."
"That is true, and of course is something; but I think it may fairly be held to do no more than make up for the advantages of living in London--your classes, for instance."
"Anyhow I must be paid so much a month, and do what I can in the time. I couldn't charge by the individual job in a man's own house!--The thing I am afraid of is, that, not knowing the niceties of the work, they may fancy I don't do enough."
"In the other way they would fancy you charged too much, and that would come to the same thing!--But they will at least discover that you keep to your hours and stick to your work!--We must calculate by what the best hands in the trade get a week!"
The terms they concluded to ask appeared to Lestrange reasonable. He proposed then that Richard should bind himself for not less than a year, while Lestrange reserved the right of giving him a month's notice; and these points being willingly assented to by Richard, an agreement was drawn up and signed--much to the satisfaction of Simon Armour, whose first thought was that the work would not be too hard for Richard to want a little exercise at the forge after hours. Richard, however, well as he liked the anvil, was not so sure about this: there might be books to read after he had done his day's duty by their garments! He had half laid out for himself a plan of study in his leisure time, he said.
It was a lovely evening when he arrived at Mortgrange from his grandfather's. He was shown to his new quarters in the old mansion by the housekeeper, an elderly, worthy creature, with the air of a hostess. She liked the young man; the honest friendliness of his carriage pleased her. He was handsome too, though not strikingly so, and his expression was better than any handsomeness, inspiring the honest with confidence, and giving little hope to the designing. His brave outlook, not bold so much as fearless, and his ready smile, seemed those of a man more prepared than eager to do his part in the world. He was well set up, and of good figure, for the slight roundness of his shoulders had almost disappeared. The poise of his head, and the proportions of his limbs, left nothing to be desired. His foster-parents had encouraged him in every manly exercise, for they were wise enough to have regard to the impression he must make at first sight: they would have it easy to believe that he might be what they were about to swear he was. Nor had his sojourn with his grandfather been the least factor in the result that he sat down to his work as lightly as a gentleman to his dinner, turned from it as if he had been playing a game instead of earning his bread, and altogether gave the impression of being a painter or sculptor rather than a tradesman. There was that in his bearing which suggested a will rather than necessity to labour.
"Here is your room, young man," said Mrs. Locke.
It was a large, rather neglected chamber, at the end of a long passage on the second floor--the very room out of which one midnight he had been borne in terror, twenty years before, by the woman he called his mother.
"And I hope you will find yourself comfortable," continued the old lady, in a tone that implied--"You ought to be!"--"If you want anything, or have anything to complain of, let me know," she added. "--I thought it better not to put you in the servant's quarters!"
"Thank you, ma'am," said Richard. "This is a beautiful room for me! Do you know, ma'am, where I'm to work?"
"I have not been informed," she answered, as she left the room. "Mr. Lestrange will see to that."
Richard went to the window. Before him spread an extensive but somewhat bare park, for the trees in it were rather few. Some of them, however, were grand ones: many had been cut down, but a few of the finest left. A sea of grass lay in every direction, with islands of clumps and thickets, and vague shores of hedge and wood and ploughed field. On the grass were cattle and sheep and fallow deer. On this side, nothing came between the park and the house.
The day was late in the spring; summer was close at hand. There had been rain all the morning and afternoon, but the clouds were clearing away as now the sun went down. Everything was wet, but the undried tears of the day flashed in the sunset. Nature looked a child whose gladness had come, but who could not stop crying: so heartily had she gone in for sorrow, that her mind was shaped to weeping. Most of the clouds, late so dark and sullen, were putting on garments of light, as if resolved to forgive and forget, and leave no doubt of it. But the sun did not look satisfied with his day's work. Slant across the world to Richard's window came the last of his vanishing rays, blinding him as he brooded, and obliterating all between them in a throbbing splendour; yet somehow the sun seemed sad, as if atonement had come too late. The edge extreme of the glory vanished; a moment's cloud followed; and then, when the radiance of him who was gone grew rosy and golden above his grave, Richard began to see much that his presence had been hiding. But the revelation did not linger long. The clouds closed on the twilight, the world grew almost dismal, and the sadness crept into Richard; or was it not rather that his own hidden sadness rose up to meet the sadness of the world? Yet, even as he became aware of it, something in him recognised it as a thing foreign to the human heart: "We were not made for this!" he said. "--We are not here, I mean," he corrected himself, "--we have not sprung into being in order to be sad! There is no reason in sadness! There is cause enough, man at least knows, but essential reason at the heart of its existence there is none!--Whence, then, comes this mistake, this sadness?" he went on with himself. "Why should there be so much of it in the world? Is it that, as for all other good things, a man must put forth his will for joy? It is plain a man must assert what is highest in him, else he cannot lay hold of the best: must a man will to be glad, else deserve to be sorrowful?" He began to whistle. "I will be glad!" he said, "even in the midst of a world of rain!--Yet again, why should the mere look of a rainy night make it needful for me to assert joy and resist sadness?--After all, what is there to be merry about, in this best of possible worlds? I like going to the theatre; but if I don't like the play, am I to be pleased all the same, sit it out with smiles, and applaud at the end?--I don't see what there is to make me miserable, and I don't see what there is to make me glad!"
Would it have cast any light either on Richard's gloom or his perplexity, had he been told that, in the place where he stood staring out on the gray, formless twilight, his mother had often sought refuge, and tasted the comfort of an assuagement of splendour. She had not appropriated the room, and it was some time before the household knew that she was in the way of going there: it was awkwardly situated in a remote part of the house and rarely used--which made its attraction for lady Lestrange. But the faithful sister did not forget where she had once found her on her knees weeping, and chose it for herself and her charge when she was gone.
In a few minutes Richard arrived at the conclusion that he would be all right as soon as he got among the wine-bins of the library. He did not reflect how little of a man is he whose sense of well-being is at the mercy of a Scotch mist or a cloudy twilight. Neither did he put to himself the question whether the mending of the old leather bottles in which lie stored the varied wines of the human spirit, ought to be labour and gladness enough for the soul of a man. It is a poor substitute for food that helps us to forget the want of it. But how can we wonder when he would have no father, and claimed the black Negation, the grandmother of Chaos, as his mother! Yet was it the presence all the time of that father he refused that made it possible for him to drink the water of any poorest little well of salvation that sprang in the field of his life; and such a well was his work among books.
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