Page images
PDF
EPUB

MRS. J. H. RIDDELL,

(1832—)

MRS. J. H. RIDDELL (Charlotte Eliza Lawson) was born at Carrickfergus, Country Antrim, Sept. 30, 1832. She is the daughter of James Cowan, Carrickfergus, high sheriff for the county of that town. She married J. H. Riddell, the grandson of Luke Riddell, of Winson Green House, Staffordshire, in 1857.

She wrote at first under a pseudonym, but after the publication of George Geith' her books came out with her own name. They are as follows: "The Ruling Passion,' • The Moors and the Fens,' • Too Much Alone,' « City and Suburb,' The World in the Church,' * Maxwell Drewitt,' • Phemie Keller,' • The Race for Wealth,' 'Far Above Rubies,'« Austin Friars,' 'A Life's Assize,' 'The Earl's Promise,' 'Home, Sweet Home,' Mortomley's Estate,'' Above Suspicion,' 'Her Mother's Darling,' The Mystery in Palace Gardens,'Alaric Spencely,' "The Senior Partner,' * Daisies and Buttercups,' 'A Struggle for Fame,' Berna Boyle,' 'Mitre Court,' 'Miss Gascoigne,' 'A Mad Tour,' The Nun's Nurse,' The Head of the Firm,'.' A Silent Tragedy,' 'Did He Deserve It ?'. A Rich Man's Daughter,' and Football and Fate.'

[ocr errors]

A BUSINESS QUARTER AND A BUSINESS

MAN IN LONDON.

From George Geith of Fen Court.'

Fen Court is far from cheerful now, and except that it was fifteen years younger—which fact could not have made any material difference in its appearance-I do not know that it looked any brighter when George Geith tenanted the second floor of the house which stands next but one to the old gateway, on the Fenchurch Street side, and transacted business there, trading under the firm of “ Grant and Co., accountants."

If quietness were what he wanted, he had it. Except in the summer evenings, when the children of the Fenchurch Street housekeepers brought their marbles through the passage, and fought over them on the pavements in front of the office doors, there was little noise of life in the old churchyard. The sparrows in the trees, or the footfall of some one entering or quitting the Court, alone disturbed the silence. The roar of Fenchurch Street on the one side, and of Leadenhall Street on the other, sounded in Fen

Court but as a distant murmur; and to a man whose life was spent among figures, and who wanted to devote his undivided attention to his work, this silence was a blessing not to be properly estimated save by those who have passed through that maddening ordeal, which precedes being able to abstract the mind from external influences, and to keep it steady to one object, in spite alike of the rattle of a fireengine and the thunder of a railway van.

For the historical recollections associated with the locality he had chosen, George Geith did not care a rush.

It was the London of to-day in which he lived and moved and had his being. The London of old was as a sealed book unto him; and if any one had opened its pages for his benefit, he would not have read a line of the ancient story.

Passing every day by places famous in former times, he never paused to inquire how and when and why they ceased to be of note. In the present he thought of nothing, cared for nothing, save his business; and for the rest, his dreams, when he had any, were of the future, not of the past.

What the past held of his—what of the struggle, sorrow, resolve, grief, fear-no one was ever likely to learn from George Geith. . The people with whom he talked most did not know whence he had come, what he had been, whither he was bound.

Never a vessel hoisted fewer signals than the accountant. When other men hung out all their poor rags of colors, when they spread the stories of their lives out for public inspection, this auditor remained obstinately mute. Not a word had he to say about home, or friends, or relatives. He made no pretension to having seen better days —to having ever been anything different from what the world then saw him—a struggling man, who worked from early in the morning till late at night, and who seemed to have no thought nor care for anything save making of money and extending his connection.

He lived with his work, slept in his back office, ate his breakfast while he read his letters, and swallowed his tea surrounded on all sides by books and balance-sheets, and labyrinths and mazes of figures.

As for his dinner, at whatever hour in the day he could best spare ten minutes, he went to the nearest coffee-house, and had a chop or steak, as the case might be. From which it will be clearly seen, that the accountant was not laboring for creature comforts-for rich dishes and old wines, for soft couches and idle hours; but that he was working either for work's sake, or for some object far outside the round of his daily and yearly existence.

And what an existence that was! What a dull, monotonous road it would have seemed to most, unrelieved as it was by social intercourse, unlightened by domestic ties; with no friend to talk to, no wife to love, no child to caress, no parent to provide for. A lonesome, laborious life, which had little in it, even of change of employment; for, so soon as one man's books were balanced, or schedule prepared, another merchant or bankrupt stood at the door, and behold, the same routine had to be gone through again. But monotony did not weary the accountant. Give him work enough, and strength sufficient to toil eighteen hours a day, and he was content. If he could have taken more out of himself he would have done it; but, as that was impossible, he labored through all the working days of the week, and up to twelve o'clock on Saturday nights; as I hope you, my reader, may never have to labor for any cause whatsoever.

As is the fashion of the Londoners, those who knew Mr. Geith—whom they called Mr. Grant-ever so slightly, asked him to come to dinner, tea, supper, what he would, on Sunday, and because he persistently declined these invitations, people said the accountant worked seven days in the week on his treadmill in Fen Court.

But in this instance people were wrong. Whether he were a saint or a sinner, George Geith still kept the Sabbath day holy, so far as refraining from labor could keep

He put aside his business, and laid down his pen. He went to church, moreover, in the mornings regularly. Sometimes, too, he walked to Westminster Abbey, or to St. Paul's, for afternoon service; but that was seldom, for he usually slept until tea; after which meal he started off to one or other of the City churches, making in this way quite a little visitation of his own during the course of a twelvemonth.

A strange life-one so apparently terrible to an outsider in its voluntary loneliness, that his clients marveled how

it so.

he could support it. And yet, my reader, if I can succeed in putting you on friendly terms with this solitary individual, you will come gradually to understand why this existence was not unendurable to him.

It is getting dark in Fen Court, as we stand beside the railings in the gathering twilight. The offices have long been closed; the housekeepers' children have left their marbles and their skipping-ropes, and are gone home to bed. The twitter of the sparrows is hushed, and there is nothing to be heard save the faint hum of the city traffic, and the rustling of the leaves, as the evening breeze touches them caressingly.

It is getting darker and darker, so dark in fact that there is little more to be seen of Fen Court to-night; but still, have patience for a moment. This man, whose story I have undertaken to tell as well as I am able, has just separated himself from the living stream flowing eastward along Fenchurch Street, and is coming up the passage. You can hear his footsteps ringing through the silence. Hark! how they echo beneath the archway-quick, firm, even, unhurried. There is no shadow of turning or wavering about that tread. Listen to the footfalls; you cannot distinguish the left from the right; there is no drag, no twist, no irregularity. Do you think the man whom nature has taught to walk like that would be a person to refrain from using whip and spur if he had an object to compass?

I tell you, no. As he passes us in the gloom of the summer evening, unmindful of the graves lying to his left, and deaf to the low sad tale the wind is whispering among the leaves, I tell you he is a man to work so long as he has a breath left to draw; who would die in his harness rather than give up; who would fight against opposing circumstances whilst he had a drop of blood in his veins; whose greatest virtues are untiring industry and indomitable courage, and who is worth half-a-dozen ordinary men, if only because of his iron frame and unconquerable spirit.

He has let himself in by this time with his latch-key, taken such letters as are intended for his firm out of the box, and proceeded up the easy, old-fashioned staircase, past the painting hanging on the first landing, and so into his own office, where he lights the gas, which, flaring out across the churchyard, clears a little space for its reflection out of the biackness of the opposite wall.

Night after night the flare and reflection tell the same tale of patient labor, of untiring application.

It seemed strange that the figures did not dance before his eyes, and chase each other up and down his desk. With many a one the pence would have nodded across to the pounds, and the shillings become confused with their neighbors' columns; but the accountant suffered his puppets to take no such liberties.

In the course of a year he went through miles of addition without a stumble; what he carried never perplexed him; midway up the shillings he never got crazed as common mortals might, but mounted gallantly to the summit as a racer goes straight to the winning-post, without a pause.

The skeins of silk which, in the old fairy tale, the godmother gave to her godchild to disentangle were nothing compared to the arithmetical confusion out of which George Geith produced order. The chaos of figures from whence he managed to extract a fair balance sheet would have seemed hopeless to any person untrained to passages of arms with the numeration table.

The mass of accounts through which he waded in the space of twelve months was of itself almost incredible. Alps on Alps of figures he climbed with silent patience, and the more Alps he climbed the higher rose great mountains of arithmetic in the background-mountains with gold lying on their summits for him to grasp and possess.

If you would like to see the man who thus labored through the monotonous routine of an accountant's daily life, I do not know that any better opportunity than the present is likely to occur; for, with one foot stretched wearily on the floor, and the other resting on the rail of his office-stool, he is sitting beside his desk, with the gaslight streaming full on his face, sorting out the letters he has just brought upstairs with him.

There are eight in all-seven of them he places in a little heap ready to his hand, whilst the other is pushed on one side till the last. He is not handsome, certainly! Too commonplace looking to be the hero of a novel, you object, perhaps; but you are wrong here. Somehow it is

« PreviousContinue »