A MOTHER’S ADMONISHMENT
“Kidnapped”, or to give it’s full title, Kidnapped: Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751: How he was Kidnapped and Castaway; his Sufferings in a Desert Isle; his Journey in the Wild Highlands; his acquaintance with Alan Breck Stewart and other notorious Highland Jacobites; with all that he Suffered at the hands of his Uncle, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, falsely so-called: Written by Himself and now set forth by Robert Louis Stevenson was first published in 1886 in a weekly children’s literary magazine called “Young Folks”. It is an exciting tale involving a young man wrongly denied his inheritance and a real-life Scottish adventurer called Alan Stewart who had the unfortunate Gaelic nickname of “Breac” which apparently means “spotted”.( On account of his face being ravaged by smallpox). In 2014 the book was placed twenty fourth in a list of the greatest 100 English novels compiled by Robert McCrum the associated editor of The Observer.
Have you read it? You have? Sadly I haven’t and I`m not especially proud of the fact. I`ve seen a version of it on the telly but I`m not sure that counts. It was though, not so much the not reading of the book that gave rise to my Mother’s disappointment all those years ago but what I had done with my copy of Stevenson’s masterpiece. A copy she herself had given me.
My Mother’s Admonishment– or to give this description of the incident it’s full title: Being the memoir of an eleven-year-old boy living in a small village in the county of Dorset in the year 1959. How he took a treasured copy of the novel Kidnapped by the esteemed author Robert Louise Stevenson and tried to flog it around the village. His acquaintance and financial dealings with a certain Roger Abbot: With all that he verbally Suffered at the hands of his mother, Violet Lillian Lydia Crockett otherwise known as Rita. Written by himself as an apology to those he offended.
I will begin the story of my adventures concerning the book in question with a certain morning in the year of grace 1959 when I took the book for the last time out of the door of my father’s house. I can’t honestly remember if the sun began to shine upon the summit of Duncliffe Hill near Shaftesbury as I went down the road or, that by the time I had come as far as the crossroads at the centre of village, if the blackbirds were whistling in the garden lilacs, or if the mist that hung around the valley of the River Stour was beginning to arise and die away.
As I went from familiar door to familiar door I asked with increasing desperation whether any within would care to purchase a copy of the adventure novel “Kidnapped” that was, as could be seen, in excellent condition. At one humble cottage, I was asked why a boy who seemingly lacked for nothing should be reduced to selling such a treasured possession. Had I fallen upon some misfortune or had I been cast out of my home and in want of a good breakfast? When I assured my inquisitors that I had been both fed and clothed by loving parents many declared it was indeed a strange case and pressed me to reveal the truth of my situation.
Knowing my neighbours to be good honest Christian people I felt it behoved me to accede to their request and give them a full account of my purpose.
“ I was given this fine book by my mother as a gift,” I explained, “ She is ever anxious to improve my mind by providing me with great works of literature. Sadly, although the book has an exciting cover showing Redcoats searching the Highland heather for escaped Jacobites, I found the opening chapter a rather ponderous read and not as exciting as the illustrated stories in the War Picture Library comic books, which are full of tales of heroic British Tommies fighting off hordes of ‘Jerries’ who, for some reason, are always shouting out things like “ donner blitzen” and “ Gott in Himmel! Furthermore,” I continued, unabashed by my unworthy moral descent into base commerce, “ I have set my heart upon purchasing a Dinky toy model of a Centurion tank and its transporter at a cost of a full 17/6d and my pocket money is a meagre 2/6d per week.”
Even with the added incentive of the inclusion in the sale of another “exciting” storybook involving French musketeers in what, in later times would be called a BOGOF, my urgent entreaties to buy my wares went unheeded. Weary with my endeavours I sat upon a nearby stone. It was while resting upon that stone that I saw a small creature, a rabbit, nervously emerge from the nearby churchyard. In an instant, I saw my future course. With renewed enthusiasm for the task ahead I set out towards Stour Lane and the home of a fellow pupil, a studious boy called Roger Abbot, naturally known to all at school as “Rabbit”. Here I was given an undeserved warm welcome and after sampling one of his mother’s freshly made cakes I was sent upon my way, bookless but with a whole Half Crown in my pocket.
When I returned home my own mother was naturally curious as to where I had been and why I seemed so pleased with myself. I was torn between my desire to conceal the nature of my morning’s activities and my filial instinct not to tell a lie to my mother, knowing full well that eventually, she would discover the truth anyway. After wrestling for some moments with my conscience I decided to make a full confession and take the consequences. To my astonishment, she responded with quiet words rather than anger. Expressing her disappointment that I thought so little of her gifts that I should sell them before I had even read them. What really concerned her, however, was what our neighbours would think and how my actions would affect our standing as newcomers in the village. In my mother’s eyes, I had behaved like a common beggar seeking charity from others. She made it clear that she considered that my actions had brought shame upon her and my father since it implied that they were incapable of providing for their family. She insisted that I return to the Abbot household and give back the money and offer the books as a gift, not as a business transaction. Humbled and embarrassed by her remarks I immediately did as I was bid and the matter was never mentioned again.
Growing up I was always aware that money was “tight” in our house as it was in many families. The concept of “Mend and Make do” wasn’t a lifestyle choice for my parents’ generation but a necessity. However, it wasn’t until many years after that incident that I came to fully realise the importance to people like my mother of self-respect and keeping up appearances. She often referred to the “workhouse”, an institution that had obviously loomed large in her childhood memories, and for her and many like her, asking and receiving charity was one step on the descent to such a place.
Last year I finally bought the Dinky toy model of a Centurion tank and its “mighty Antar transporter”. I bought it for slightly more than 17/6d. I don’t really know why I bought it, to be honest. I suppose it was just because I could and once upon a time owning it had been very important to me
Have I read Kidnapped” yet? Sadly not, but I bet Roger Abbot has and I hope he enjoyed it.