Freaks on the Fells

Robert Michael Ballantyne
Freaks on the Fells, by R.M.

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Title: Freaks on the Fells Three Months' Rustication
Author: R.M. Ballantyne
Release Date: November 16, 2007 [EBook #23505]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England



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
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
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
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