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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 4. The Bookbinder And His Pupil
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There & Back - Chapter 4. The Bookbinder And His Pupil Post by :healthyways2101 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1132

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There & Back - Chapter 4. The Bookbinder And His Pupil


It was the middle of the day before they were missed. Their absence caused for a time no commotion; the servants said nurse must have taken the child for his usual walk. But when the nurse from London came, and, after renewed search and inquiry, nothing was heard of them, their disappearance could no longer be kept from lady Ann. She sent to inform her husband.

Sir Wilton asked a question or two of her messenger, said the thing must be seen to, finished his cigar, threw the stump in the fire, and went to his wife; when at once they began to discuss, not the steps to be taken for the recovery of the child, but the woman's motive for stealing him. The lady insisted it was revenge for having been turned away, and that she would, as soon as she reached a suitable place, put an end to his life: she had seen murder in her eyes! The father opined there was no such danger: he remembered, though he did not mention it, the peculiarity of the woman's behaviour when first he saw her. There was no limit, he said, to the unnatural fancies of women; some were disgustingly fond of children, even other women's children. Plain as the infant was, he did not doubt she had taken a fancy to him, and therefore declined to part with him. The element of revenge might, he allowed, have a share in the deed; but that would be satisfied with leaving them in doubt of his fate. For his part, he made her welcome to him! To this lady Ann gave no answer: she was not easily shocked, and could, without consternation, have regarded his disappearance as final. But something must at least appear to be done! Unpleasant things might be said, and uncertainty was full of annoyance!

"You must be careful, sir Wilton," she remarked. "Nobody thinks you believe the child your own."

Sir Wilton laughed.

"I never had a doubt on the subject. I wish I had: he's not to my credit. If we never hear of him again, the better for the next!"

"That is true!" rejoined lady Ann. "But what if, after we had forgotten all about him, he were to turn up again?"

"That would be unpleasant--and is indeed a reason why we should look for him. Better find him than live in doubt! Besides, the world would be uncharitable enough to hint that you had made away with him: it's what ought to have been done when first he appeared. I give you my word, Ann, he was a positive monster! The object was actually web-footed!--web-footed like any frog!"

"You must let the police know," said the lady.

"That the child is web-footed? No, I think not!" yawned sir Wilton.

He got up, went out, and ordered a groom to ride hard to the village--as hard as he could go--and let the police understand what had occurred. Within the hour a constable appeared, come to inquire when last the fugitives were seen, and what they wore--the answer to which latter question set the police looking for persons very different in appearance from Jane and her nursling. Nothing was heard of them, and the inquiry, never prosecuted with any vigour, was by degrees dropped entirely.

John Tuke had grumbled greatly at his wife's desertion of him for grandees who would never thank her; but he gave in to the prolongation of her absence with a better grace, when he learned how the motherless baby was regarded by his own people. The humanity of the man rose in defence of the injured. He felt also that, in espousing the cause of his wife's nephew, scorned by his baronet father, he was taking the part of his own down-trodden class. He was greatly perplexed, however, as to what end the thing was to have. Must he live without his wife till the boy was sent to school?

He was in bed and fast asleep, when suddenly opening his eyes, he saw beside him the wife he had not seen for twelve months, with the stolen child in her arms. When he heard how the stepmother had treated her, and how the babe was likely to fare among its gentle kin, he was filled with fresh indignation; but, while thoroughly appreciating and approving his wife's decision and energy, he saw to what the deed exposed them, and augured frightful consequences to the discovery that seemed almost certain. But when he understood the precautions she had taken, and bethought himself how often the police fail, he had better hopes of escape. One thing he never dreamed of--and that was, restoring the child. Often at night he would lie wondering how far, in case of their being tried for kidnapping, the defence would reach, that his wife was the child's aunt; and whether the fact that she was none the less a poor woman standing up against the rich, would not render that or any plea unavailing. Jane was, and long remained, serenely hopeful.

When she left for Mortgrange, they had agreed that her husband should say she was gone to her father's; and as nobody where they lived knew who or where her father was, nobody had the end of any clue. For some time after her return she did not show herself, leaving it to her husband to say she had come back with her baby. Then she began to appear with the child, and so managed her references to her absence, that no one dreamed of his not being her own, or imagined that she had left her husband for other reason than to be tended at her old home in her confinement. After a few years, even the fact of his not having been born in that house was forgotten; and Richard Lestrange grew up as the son of John Tuke, the bookbinder. Not in any mind was there a doubt as to his parentage.

They lived on the very bank of the Thames, in a poor part of a populous, busy, thriving suburb, far from fashionable, yet not without inhabitants of refinement. Had not art and literature sent out a few suckers into it, there would have been no place in it for John Tuke. For, more than liking his trade, being indeed fond of it, he would not work for the booksellers, but used his talent to the satisfaction of known customers, of whom he had now not a few, for his reputation had spread beyond the near neighbourhood. But while he worked cheaper, quality considered, than many binders, even carefully superintending that most important yet most neglected part of the handicraft, the sewing, he never undertook cheap work. Never, indeed, without persuasion on the part of his employer and expostulation on his own, did he consent to _half-bind a book. Hence it comes to be confessed, that, when _carte blanche was given him, he would not infrequently expend upon a book an amount of labour and a value of material quite out of proportion to the importance of the book. Still, being a thoroughly conscientious workman, who never hurried the forwarding, never cut from a margin a hair's breadth more than was necessary, and hated finger-marks on the whiteness of a page, he was well known as such, and had plenty of work--had often, indeed, to refuse what was offered him, hence was able to decline all such jobs as would give him no pleasure, and grew more fastidious as he grew older in regard to the quality of the work he would undertake. He had never employed a journeyman, and would never take more than two apprentices at a time.

As Richard Lestrange grew, his chief pleasure was to be in the shop with his uncle, and watch him at his varying work. I think his knowledge of books as things led him the sooner to desire them as realities, for to read he learned with avidity. When he was old enough to go to school, his adopted father spared nothing he could spend to make him fit for his future; wisely resolved, however, that he should know nothing of his rights until he was of an age to understand them--except, indeed, sir Wilton should die before that age arrived, when his cause would be too much prejudiced by farther postponement of claim. Heartily they hoped that their secret might remain a secret until their nephew should be capable of protecting them from any untoward consequence of their well intended crime.

Happily there was in the place, and near enough for the boy to attend it easily, a good day-school upon an old foundation, whose fees were within his father's means. Richard proved a fair student and became a great reader. But he took such an intelligent and practical interest in the work he saw going on at home, that he began, while yet a mere child, to use paste and paper of his own accord. First he made manuscript-books for his work at school, and for the copying of such verses as he took a fancy to in his reading. Then inside the covers of some of these he would make pockets for papers; and so advanced to small portfolios and pocket-books, of which he would make presents to his companions, and sometimes, when more ambitiously successful, to a master. In their construction he used bits of coloured paper and scraps of leather, chiefly morocco, which his father willingly made over to him, watching his progress with an interest quite paternal, and showing a workman's wisdom in this, that only when he saw him in a real difficulty would he come to his aid--as, for instance, when first he struggled with a piece of leather too thick for the bonds of paste, and must be taught how to pare it to the necessary flexibility and compliance.

To become able to _make something is, I think, necessary to thorough development. I would rather have son of mine a carpenter, a watchmaker, a wood-carver, a shoemaker, a jeweller, a blacksmith, a bookbinder, than I would have him earn his bread as a clerk in a counting-house. Not merely is the cultivation of operant faculty a better education in faculty, but it brings the man nearer to every thing operant; humanity unfolds itself to him the readier; its ways and thoughts and modes of being grow the clearer to both intellect and heart. The poetry of life, the inner side of that nature which comes from him who, on the Sabbath-days even, "worketh hitherto," rises nearer the surface to meet the eyes of the man who _makes. What advantage the carpenter of Nazareth gathered from his bench, is the inheritance of every workman, in proportion as he does divine, that is, honest work.

Perceiving the faculty of the boy, his father--so let us call John Tuke for the present--naturally thought it well to make him a gift of his trade: it would always be a possession! "Whatever turn things may take," he would remark to his wife, "the boy will have his bread in his hands. And say what they will, the man who can gather his food off his own bench, or screw it out of his own press, must be a freer man than he who but for his inheritance would have to beg, steal, or die of hunger. And who knows how long the world may permit idlers to fare of its best!"

For, after a fashion of his own, Tuke was a philosopher and a politician. But his politics were those of the philosopher, not of the politician.

Richard, with his great love of reading, and therefore of books, was delighted to learn the craft which is their attendant and servitor. When too young yet to wield the hammer without danger both to himself and the book under it, he began to sew, and in a few weeks was able to bring the sheets together entirely to the satisfaction of his father. From the first he set him to do that essential part of the work in the best way, that is, to sew every sheet round every cord: it is only when one can perfectly work after the perfect rule, that he may be trusted with variations and exceptions.

He went on teaching him until the boy could, he confessed, do almost everything better than himself--went on until he had taught him every delicacy, every secret of the craft. Richard developed a positive genius for the work, seeming almost to learn it by intuition. A pocket-book, with which he presented his father on his fiftieth birthday, brought out his unqualified praise.

In the process he gradually revealed a predilection for a rarer use of his faculty--a use more nice, while less distinguished, and not much favoured by his father. It had its prime source deeper than the art of book-binding--in the love of books themselves, not as leaves to be bound, but as utterances to be heard. Certain dealers in old books have loved some of them so as to refuse to part with them on any terms; Richard, unable to possess more than a very few, manifested his veneration for them in another and nearer fashion, running, as was natural and healthy, in the lines of his calling.

For many months in diligent attendance at certain of the evening-classes at King's College, he had developed a true insight into and sympathy with what is best in our literature--chiefly in that of the sixteenth century: from this grew an almost peculiar regard for old books. With three or four shillings weekly at his disposal, he laid himself out to discover and buy such volumes as, in themselves of value, were in so bad a condition as to be of little worth from the mere bookseller's point of view: with these for his first patients he opened a hospital, or angel-asylum, for the lodging, restorative treatment, and systematic invigoration of decayed volumes. Love and power combined made him look on the dilapidated, slow-wasting abodes of human thought and delight with a healing compassion--almost with a passion of healing. The worse gnawed of the tooth of insect-time, the farther down any choice book in the steep decline of years, the more intent was Richard on having it. More and more skillful he grew, not only in rebinding such whose clothing was past repair, but in restoring the tone of their very constitution; and in so mending the ancient and beggarly garments of others that they reassumed a venerable respectability. Through love, he passed from an artisan to an artist. His reverence for the inner reality, the book itself, in itself beyond time and decay, had roused in him a child-like regard for its body, for its broken inclosure and default of manifestation. He would espy the beauty of an old binding through any amount of abrasion and laceration. To his eyes almost any old binding was better for its book than any new one.

His father came to regard with wonder and admiration the redeeming faculty of his son, whereby he would reinstate in strength and ripe dignity a volume which he would have taken to pieces, and redressed like an age-worn woman in a fashionable gown. So far did his son's superior taste work upon his, that at length, if he opened a new binding, however sombre, and saw a time-browned paper and old type within, the sight would give him the shock of a discord.

But Tuke was in many things no other than a man of this world, and sorely he doubted if such labour would ever have its counterpoise in money. It paid better, because it was much easier, to reclothe than to restore! to destroy and replace than to renew! When he had watched many times for minutes together his son's delicate manipulation--in which he patched without pauperizing, and subaided without humiliating--and at last contemplating the finished result, he concluded him possessed of a quite original faculty for book-healing.--"But alas," he thought, "genius seldom gets beyond board-wages!" It did not occur to him that genius least requires more than board-wages. He encouraged him, nevertheless, though mildly, in the pursuit of this neglected branch of the binding-art.

As the days went on, and their love for their nephew grew with his deserts, the uncle and aunt shrank more and more from the thought, which every year compelled them to think the oftener, that the day was drawing nigh when they must volunteer the confession that he was not their child.

When he was about seventeen, Richard settled down to work with his father, occasionally assisting him, but in general occupied with his own special branch, in which Tuke, through his long connection with book-lovers possessing small cherished libraries, was able to bring him almost as many jobs as he could undertake. The fact that a volume could be so repaired, stimulated the purchase of shabby books; and part of what was saved on the price of a good copy was laid out on the amendment of the poor one. But however much the youth delighted in it, he could not but find the work fidgety and tiring; whence ensued the advantage that he left it the oftener for a ramble, or a solitary hour on the river. He had but few companions, his guardians, wisely or not, being more fastidious about his associates than if he had been their very son. His uncle, of strong socialistic opinions, and wont to dilate on human equality--as if the thing that ought to be, and must one day come, could be furthered by the assertion of its present existence--was, like the holders of even higher theories, not a little apt to forget the practice necessarily involved: this son of a baronet, seeing that he was the son also of his wife's sister, was not to be brought up like one of the many!

Ugliness in infancy is a promise, though perhaps a doubtful one, of beauty in manhood; and in Richard's case the promise was fulfilled: hardly a hint was left of the baby-face which had repelled his father. He was now a handsome well-grown youth, with dark-brown hair, dark-green eyes, broad shoulders, and a little stoop which made his aunt uneasy: she would have had him join a volunteer corps, but he declared he had not the time. He accepted her encouragement, however, to forsake his work as often as he felt inclined. He had good health; what was better, a good temper; and what was better still, a willing heart toward his neighbour. A certain over-hanging of his brows was--especially when he contracted them, as, in perplexity or endeavour, he not infrequently did--called a scowl by such as did not love him; but it was of shallow insignificance, and probably the trick of some ancestor.

Before long, his thinking began to take form in verse-making. It matters little to my narrative whether he produced anything of original value or not; utterance aids growth, which is the prime necessity of human as of all other life. Not seldom, bent over his work, he would be evolving some musical fashion of words--with no relaxation, however, of the sharp attention and delicate handling required by the nature of that work. It is the privilege of some kinds of labour, that they are compatible with thoughts of higher things. At the book-keeper's desk, the clerk must think of nothing but his work; he is chained to it as the galley-slave to his oar; the shoemaker may be poet or mystic, or both; the ploughman may turn a good furrow and a good verse together; Richard could at once use hands and thoughts. It troubled his protectors that they could not send him to college, but they comforted themselves that it would not be too late when he returned to his natural position in society. They had no plan in their minds, no date settled at which to initiate his restoration. All they had determined was, that he must at least be a grown man, capable of looking after his own affairs, when the first step for it was taken.

John Tuke was one of those who acknowledge in some measure the claims of their neighbour, but assert ignorance of any one who must be worshipped. And in truth, the God presented to him by his teachers was one with little claim on human devotion. The religious system brought to bear on his youth had operated but feebly on his conscience, and not at all on his affections. It had, however, so wrought upon his apprehensions, that, when afterward persuaded there was no ground for agonizing anticipation, he welcomed the conviction as in itself a redemption for all men; "for, surely," he argued, "fear is the worst of evils!" The very approach of such a relief predisposed him to receive whatever teaching might follow from the same source; and soon he believed himself satisfied that the notion of religion--of duty toward an unseen maker--was but an old-wives'-fable; and that, as to the hereafter, a mere cessation of consciousness was the only reasonable expectation. The testimony of his senses, although negative, he accepted as stronger on that side than any amount of what could, he said, be but the purest assertion on the other. Why should he heed an old book? why one more than another? The world was around him: some things he must believe; other things no man could! One thing was clear: every man was bound to give his neighbour fair-play! He would press nothing upon Richard as to God or no God! he would not be dogmatic! he only wanted to make a man of him! And was he not so far successful? argued John. Was not Richard growing up a diligent, honest fellow, loving books, and leading a good life; whereas, had he been left to his father, he could not have escaped being arrogant and unjust, despising the poor of his own flesh, and caring only to please himself! In the midst of such superior causes of satisfaction, it also pleased Tuke to reflect that the trade he had taught his nephew was a clean one, which, while it rendered him superior to any shrewd trick fortune might play him, would not make his hands unlike those of a gentleman.

His aunt, however, kept wishing that Richard were better "set up," and looked more like his grandfather the blacksmith, whose trade she could not help regarding as manlier than that of her husband. Hence she had long cherished the desire that he should spend some time with her father. But John would not hear of it. He would get working at the forge, he said, and ruin his hands for the delicate art in which he was now unapproachable.

For in certain less socialistic moods, John would insist on regarding bookbinding, in all and any of its branches, not as a trade, but an art.

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