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Tom Brown at Oxford By Thomas Hughes Characters: 29589

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:05

No man in St. Ambrose College gave such breakfasts as Drysdale. Not the great heavy spreads for thirty or forty, which came once or twice a term, when everything was supplied out of the college kitchen, and you had to ask leave of the Dean before you could have it at all. In those ponderous feasts the most hum-drum of the undergraduate kind might rival the most artistic, if he could only pay his battle-bill, or get credit with the cook. But the daily morning meal, when even gentlemen commoners were limited to two hot dishes out of the kitchen, this was Drysdale's forte. Ordinary men left the matter in the hands of scouts, and were content with the ever-recurring buttered toasts and eggs, with a dish of broiled ham, or something of the sort, with a marmalade and bitter ale to finish with; but Drysdale was not an ordinary man, as you felt in a moment when you went to breakfast with him for the first time.

The staircase on which he lived was inhabited, except in the garrets, by men in the fast set, and he and three others, who had an equal aversion to solitary feeding, had established a breakfast-club, in which, thanks to Drysdale's genius, real scientific gastronomy was cultivated. Every morning the boy from the Weirs arrived with freshly caught gudgeon, and now and then an eel or trout, which the scouts on the staircase had learnt to fry delicately in oil. Fresh watercresses came in the same basket, and the college kitchen furnished a spitchedcocked chicken, or grilled turkey's leg. In the season there were plover's eggs; or, at the worst, there was a dainty omelette; and a distant baker, famed for his light rolls and high charges, sent in the bread-the common domestic college loaf being of course out of the question for anyone with the slightest pretension to taste, and fit only for the perquisite of scouts. Then there would be a deep Yorkshire pie, or reservoir of potted game, as a piece, de resistance, and three or four sorts of preserves; and a large cool tankard of cider or ale-cup to finish up with, or soda-water and maraschino for a change. Tea and coffee were there indeed, but merely as a compliment to those respectable beverages, for they were rarely touched by the breakfast eaters of No. 3 staircase. Pleasant young gentlemen they were on No. 3 staircase; I mean the ground and first floor men who formed the breakfast-club, for the garrets were nobodies. Three out of the four were gentlemen-commoners, with allowances of 500L a year at least each; and, as they treated their allowances as pocket-money, and were all in their first year, ready money was plenty and credit good, and they might have had potted hippopotamus for breakfast if they had chosen to order it, which they would most likely have done if they had thought of it.

Two out of the three were the sons of rich men who made their own fortunes, and sent their sons to St. Ambrose's because it was very desirable that the young gentlemen should make good connexions. In fact, the fathers looked upon the University as a good investment, and gloried much in hearing their sons talk familiarly in the vacations of their dear friends Lord Harry This and Sir George That.

Drysdale, the third of the set, was the heir of an old as well of a rich family, and consequently, having his connexion ready made to his hand, cared little enough with whom he associated, provided they were pleasant fellows, and gave him good food and wines. His whole idea at present was to enjoy himself as much as possible; but he had good manly stuff in him at the bottom, and, had he fallen into any but the fast set, would have made a fine fellow, and done credit to himself and his college.

The fourth man at the breakfast-club, the Hon. Piers St. Cloud was in his third year, and was a very well-dressed, well-mannered, well-connected young man. His allowance was small for the set he lived with, but he never wanted for anything. He didn't entertain much, certainly, but when he did, everything was in the best possible style. He was very exclusive, and knew no man in college out of the fast set, and of these he addicted himself chiefly to the society of the rich freshmen, for somehow the men of his own standing seemed a little shy of him. But with the freshmen he was always hand and glove, lived in their rooms, and used their wines, horses, and other movable property as his own. Being a good whist and billiard player, and not a bad jockey, he managed in one way or another to make his young friends pay well for the honour of his acquaintance; as, indeed, why should they not, at least those of them who came to the college to form eligible connexions; for had not his remote lineal ancestor come over in the same ship with William the Conqueror? Were not all his relations about the Court, as lords and ladies in waiting, white sticks or black rods, and in the innermost of all possible circles of the great world; and was there a better coat of arms than he bore in all Burke's Peerage?

Our hero had met Drysdale at a house in the country shortly before the beginning of his first term, and they had rather taken to one another. Drysdale had been amongst his first callers; and, as he came out of chapel one morning shortly after his arrival, Drysdale's scout came up to him with an invitation to breakfast. So he went to his own rooms, ordered his commons to be taken across to No. 3, and followed himself a few minutes afterwards. No one was in the rooms when he arrived, for none of the club had finished their toilettes. Morning chapel was not meant for, or cultivated by gentlemen-commoners; they paid double chapel fees, in consideration of which, probably, they were not expected to attend so often as the rest of the undergraduates; at any rate, they didn't, and no harm came to them in consequence of their absence. As Tom entered, a great splashing in an inner room stopped for a moment, and Drysdale's voice shouted out that he was in his tub, but would be with him in a minute. So Tom gave himself up to contemplation of the rooms in which his fortunate acquaintance dwelt; and very pleasant rooms they were. The large room in which the breakfast-table was laid for five, was lofty and well proportioned, and panelled with old oak, and the furniture was handsome and solid, and in keeping with the room.

There were four deep windows, high up in the wall, with cushioned seats under them, two looking into the large quadrangle, and two into the inner one. Outside these windows, Drysdale had rigged up hanging gardens, which were kept full of flowers by the first nurseryman in Oxford, all the year round; so that even on this February morning, the scent of gardenia and violets pervaded the room, and strove for mastery with the smell of stale tobacco, which hung about the curtains and sofa. There was a large glass in an oak frame over the mantelpiece, which was loaded with choice pipes and cigar cases and quaint receptacles for tobacco; and by the side of the glass hung small carved oak frames, containing lists of meets of the Heyshrop, the Old Berkshire, and Drake's hounds, for the current week. There was a queer assortment of well-framed paintings and engravings on the walls; some of considerable merit, especially some watercolor and sea-pieces and engravings from Landseer's pictures, mingled with which hung Taglioni and Cerito, in short petticoats and impossible attitudes; Phosphurous winning the Derby; the Death of Grimaldi (the famous steeple-chase horse, not poor old Joe); an American Trotting Match, and Jem Belcher and Deaf Burke in attitudes of self-defense. Several tandem and riding whips, mounted in heavy silver, and a double-barrelled gun, and fishing rods, occupied one corner, and a polished copper cask, holding about five gallons of mild ale, stood in another. In short, there was plenty of everything except books-the literature of the world being represented, so far as Tom could make out in his short scrutiny, by a few well-bound but badly used volumes of the classics, with the cribs thereto appertaining, shoved away into a cupboard which stood half open, and contained besides, half-emptied decanters, and large pewters, and dog collars, and packs of cards, and all sorts of miscellaneous articles to serve as an antidote.

Tom had scarcely finished his short survey when the door of the bedroom opened, and Drysdale emerged in a loose jacket lined with silk, his velvet cap on his head, and otherwise gorgeously attired. He was a pleasant-looking fellow of middle size, with dark hair, and a merry brown eye, with a twinkle in it, which spoke well for his sense of humor; otherwise, his large features were rather plain, but he had the look and manners of a thoroughly well-bred gentleman.

His first act, after nodding to Tom, was to seize on a pewter and resort to the cask in the corner, from whence he drew a pint or so of the contents, having, as he said, "'a whoreson longing for that poor creature, small beer.' We were playing Van-John in Blake's rooms till three last night, and he gave us devilled bones and mulled port. A fellow can't enjoy his breakfast after that without something to cool his coppers."

Tom was as yet ignorant of what Van-John might be, so held his peace, and took a pull at the beer which the other handed to him; and then the scout entered, and received orders to bring up Jack and the breakfast, and not wait for any one. In another minute, a bouncing and scratching was heard on the stairs, and a white bulldog rushed in, a gem in his way; for his brow was broad and massive, his skin was as fine as a lady's, and his tail taper and nearly as thin as a clay pipe. His general look, and a way he had of going 'snuzzling' about the calves of strangers, were not pleasant for nervous people. Tom, however, was used to dogs, and soon became friends with him, which evidently pleased his host. And then the breakfast arrived, all smoking, and with it the two other ingenious youths, in velvet caps and far more gorgeous apparel, so far as colors went, than Drysdale. They were introduced to Tom, who thought them somewhat ordinary and rather loud young gentlemen. One of them remonstrated vigorously against the presence of that confounded dog, and so Jack was sent to lie down in a corner, and then the four fell to work upon the breakfast.

It was a good lesson in gastronomy, but the results are scarcely worth repeating here. It is wonderful, though, how you feel drawn to a man who feeds you well; and, as Tom's appetite got less, his liking and respect for his host undoubtedly increased.

When they had nearly finished, in walked the Honorable Piers, a tall slight man, two or three years older than the rest of them; good looking, and very well and quietly dressed, but with the drawing up of his nostril, and a drawing down of the corners of his mouth, which set Tom against him at once. The cool, supercilious half-nod, moreover, to which he treated our hero when introduced to him, was enough to spoil his digestion, and hurt his self-love a good deal more than he would have liked to own.

"Here, Henry," said the Honorable Piers to the scout in attendance, seating himself, and inspecting the half-cleared dishes; "what is there for my breakfast?"

Henry bustled about, and handed a dish or two.

"I don't want these cold things; haven't you kept me any gudgeon?"

"Why sir" said Henry, "there was only two dozen this morning, and Mr. Drysdale told me to cook them all.

"To be sure I did," said Drysdale. "Just half a dozen for each of us four: they were first-rate. If you can't get here at half-past nine, you won't get gudgeon, I can tell you."

"Just go and get me a broil from the kitchen," said the

Honorable Piers, without deigning an answer to Drysdale.

"Very sorry, sir; kitchen's shut by now, sir," answered Henry.

"Then go to Hinton's, and order some cutlets."

"I say, Henry," shouted Drysdale to the retreating scout; "not to my tick, mind! Put them down to Mr. St. Cloud."

Henry seemed to know very well that in that case he might save himself the trouble of the journey, and consequently returned to his waiting; and the Honorable Piers set to work upon his breakfast, without showing any further ill temper certainly, except by the stinging things which he threw every now and then into the conversation, for the benefit of each of the others in turn.

Tom thought he detected signs of coming hostilities between his host and St. Cloud, for Drysdale seemed to prick up his ears and get combative whenever the other spoke, and lost no chance in roughing him in his replies. And, indeed, he was not far wrong; the fact being, that during Drysdale's first term, the other had lived on him-drinking his wine, smoking his cigars, driving his dog-cart, and winning his money; all which Drysdale, who was the easiest going and best tempered fellow in Oxford, had stood without turning a hair. But St. Cloud added to these little favors a half patronizing, half contemptuous manner, which he used with great success towards some of the other gentleman-commoners, who thought it a mark of high breeding, and the correct thing, but which Drysdale, who didn't care three straws about knowing St. Cloud, wasn't going to put up with.

However, nothing happened but a little sparring, and the breakfast things were cleared away, and the tankards left on the table, and the company betook themselves to cigars and easy chairs. Jack came out of his corner to be gratified with some of the remnants by his fond master, and then curled himself up on the sofa along which Drysdale lounged.

"What are you going to do to-day, Drysdale?" said one of the others. "I've ordered a leader to be sent on over the bridge, and mean to drive my dog-cart over, and dine at Abingdon. Won't you come?"

"Who's going besides?" asked Drysdale.

"Oh, only St. Cloud and Farley here. There's lots of room for a fourth."

"No, thank'ee; teaming's slow work on the back seat. Besides,

I've half promised to go down in the boat."

"In the boat!" shouted the other. "Why, you don't mean to say you're going to take to pulling?"

"Well, I don't know; I rather think I am. I'm dog-tired of driving and doing the High Street, and playing cards and billiards all day, and our boat is likely to be head of the river, I think."

"By Jove! I should as soon have thought of you taking to reading, or going to University Sermon," put in St. Cloud.

"And the boating-men, too," went on Farley; "did you ever see such a set, St. Cloud? with their everlasting flannels and jerseys, and hair cropped like prize-fighters?"

"I'll bet a guinea there isn't one of them has more than 200L a year," put in Chanter, whose father could just write his name, a

nd was making a colossal fortune by supplying bad iron rails to the new railway companies.

"What the devil do I care," broke in Drysdale; "I know they're a deal more amusing than you fellows, who can't do anything that don't cost pounds."

"Getting economical!" sneered St. Cloud.

"Well, I don't see the fun of tearing one's heart out, and blistering one's hands, only to get abused by that little brute Miller the coxswain," said Farley.

"Why, you won't be able to sit straight in your chair for a month," said Chanter; "and the captain will make you dine at one, and fetch you out of anybody's rooms, confound his impudence whether he knows them or not, at eleven o'clock every night."

"Two cigars every day, and a pint and a half of liquid," and

Farley inserted his cod fish face into the tankard; "fancy

Drysdale on training allowance!"

Here a newcomer entered in a bachelor's gown, who was warmly greeted by the name of Sanders by Drysdale. St. Cloud and he exchanged the coldest possible nods; and the other two, taking the office from their mentor, stared at him through their smoke, and, after a minute or two's silence, and a few rude half-whispered remarks amongst themselves, went off to play a game of pyramids till luncheon time. Saunders took a cigar which Drysdale offered, and began asking about his friends at home, and what he had been doing in the vacation.

They were evidently intimate, though Tom thought that Drysdale didn't seem quite at his ease at first, which he wondered at, as Sanders took his fancy at once. However, eleven o'clock struck, and Tom had to go to lecture, where we cannot follow him just now, but must remain with Drysdale and Saunders, who chatted on very pleasantly for some twenty minutes, till a knock came at the door. It was not till the third summons that Drysdale shouted, "Come in," with a shrug of his shoulders, and an impatient kick at the sofa cushion at his feet, as though not half pleased at the approaching visit.

Reader! Had you not ever a friend a few years older than yourself, whose good opinions you were anxious to keep? A fellow teres atqua rotundus; who could do everything better than you, from Plato and tennis down to singing a comic song and playing quoits? If you have had, wasn't he always in your rooms or company whenever anything happened to show your little weak points? Sanders, at any rate, occupied this position towards our young friend Drysdale, and the latter, much as he liked Sander's company, would have preferred it at any time than on an idle morning just at the beginning of term, when the gentlemen tradesmen, who look upon undergraduates in general, and gentlemen-commoners in particular, as their lawful prey, are in the habit of calling in flocks.

The new arrival was a tall florid man, with a half servile, half impudent, manner, and a foreign accent; dressed in sumptuous costume, with a velvet-faced coat, and a gorgeous plush waist-coat. Under his arm he carried a large parcel, which he proceeded to open, and placed upon a sofa the contents, consisting of a couple of coats, and three or four waistcoats and a pair of trousers. He saluted Sanders with a most obsequious bow, looked nervously at Jack, who opened one eye from between his master's legs and growled, and then, turning to Drysdale, asked if he should have the honor of seeing him try on any of the clothes?

"No; I can't be bored with trying them on now," said Drysdale; "leave them where they are."

Mr. Schloss would like very much on his return to town, in a day or two, to be able to assure his principals, that Mr. Drysdale's orders had been executed to his satisfaction. He had also some very beautiful new stuffs with him, which he should like to submit to Mr. Drysdale, and without more ado began unfolding cards of the most fabulous plushes and cloths.

Drysdale glanced first at the cards and then at Sanders, who sat puffing his cigar, and watching Schloss's proceedings with a look not unlike Jack's when anyone he did not approve of approached his master.

"Confound your patterns, Schloss," said Drysdale; "I tell you I have more things than I want already."

"The large stripe, such as these, is now very much worn in London," went on Schloss, without heeding the rebuff, and spreading his cards on the table.

"D-trousers," replied Drysdale; "you seem to think a fellow has ten pair of legs."

"Monsieur is pleased to joke," smiled Schloss; "but, to be in the mode, gentlemen must have variety."

"Well, I won't order any now, that's flat," said Drysdale.

"Monsieur will do as he pleases; but it is impossible that he should not have some plush waists; the fabric is only just out, and is making a sensation."

"Now look here, Schloss; will you go if I order a waist coat?"

"Monsieur is very good; he sees how tasteful these new patterns are."

"I wouldn't, be seen at a cock-fight in one of them, there're as gaudy as a salmon-fly," said Drysdale, feeling the stuff which the obsequious Schloss held out. "But it seems nice stuff, too," he went on; "I shouldn't mind having a couple of waistcoats of it of this pattern;" and he chucked across to Schloss a dark tartan waistcoat which was lying near him. "Have you got the stuff in that pattern?"

"Ah! no," said Schloss, gathering up the waistcoat; "but it shall not hinder. I shall have at once a loom for Monsieur set up at once in Paris."

"Set it up in Jericho if you like," said Drysdale; "and now go!"

"May I ask, Mr. Schloss," broke in Sanders, "what it will cost to set up the loom?"

"Ah! indeed, a trifle only; some twelve, or perhaps fourteen pounds." Sanders gave a chuckle, and puffed away at his cigar.

"By Jove," shouted Drysdale, jerking himself in a sitting posture, and upsetting Jack, who went trotting about the room, and snuffing at Schloss's legs; "do you mean to say, Schloss, you were going to make me waistcoats at fourteen guineas apiece?"

"Not if Monsieur disapproves. Ah! the large hound is not friendly to strangers; I will call again when Monsieur is more at leisure." And Schloss gathered up his cards and beat a hasty retreat, followed by Jack with his head on one side, and casting an enraged look at Sanders, as he slid through the door.

"Well done, Jack, old boy!" said Sanders, patting him; "what a funk the fellow was in. Well, you've saved your master a pony this fine morning. Cheap dog you've got, Drysdale."

"D-- the fellow," answered Drysdale, "he leaves a bad taste in one's mouth;" and he went to the table, took a pull at the tankard, and then threw himself down on the sofa again, as Jack jumped up and coiled himself round by his master's legs, keeping one half-open eye winking at him, and giving an occasional wag with the end of his taper tail.

Saunders got up, and began handling the new things. First he held up a pair of bright blue trousers, with a red stripe across them, Drysdale looking on from the sofa. "I say, Drysdale, you don't mean to say you really ordered these thunder-and-lightening affairs?"

"Heaven only knows," said Drysdale; "I daresay I did, I'd order a full suit cut out of my grandmother's farthingale to get that cursed Schloss out of my rooms sometimes."

"You'll never be able to wear them; even in Oxford the boys would mob you. Why don't you kick him down stairs?" suggested Sanders, putting down the trousers, and turning to Drysdale.

"Well, I've been very near it once or twice; but I don't know-my name's Easy-besides, I don't want to give up the beast altogether; he makes the best trousers in England."

"And these waistcoats," went on Sanders; "let me see; three light silk waistcoats, peach-color, fawn-color, and lavender. Well, of course, you can only wear these at your weddings. You may be married the first time in the peach or fawn-color; and then, if you have luck, and bury your first wife soon, it will be a delicate compliment to take to No.2 in the lavender, that being half-mourning; but still, you see, we're in difficulty as to one of the three, either the peach or the fawn-color-"

Here he was interrupted by another knock, and a boy entered from the fashionable tobacconist's in Oriel Lane, who had general orders to let Drysdale have his fair share of anything very special in the cigar line. He deposited a two pound box of cigars at three guineas the pound, on the table, and withdrew in silence.

Then came a boot-maker with a new pair of top-boots, which Drysdale had ordered in November, and had forgotten next day. The artist, wisely considering that his young patron must have plenty of tops to last him through the hunting season (he himself having supplied three previous pairs in October), had retained the present pair for show in his window; and everyone knows that boots wear much better for being kept sometime before use. Now, however, as the hunting season was drawing to a close, and the place in the window was wanted for spring stock, he judiciously sent in the tops, merely adding half-a-sovereign or so to the price for interest on the out lay since the order. He also kindly left on the table a pair of large plated spurs to match the boots.

It never rains but it pours. Sanders sat smoking his cigar in provoking silence, while knock succeeded knock and tradesman followed tradesman; each depositing some article ordered, or supposed to have been ordered, or which ought in the judgment of the depositors to have been ordered, by the luckless Drysdale: and new hats, and ties, and gloves, and pins, jostled balsam of Neroli, and registered shaving-soap, and fancy letter paper, and Eau de Cologne, on every available table. A visit from two livery-stable-keepers in succession followed, each of whom had several new leaders which they were anxious Mr. Drysdale should try as soon as possible. Drysdale growled and grunted, and wished them or Sanders at the bottom of the sea; however, he consoled himself with the thought that the worst was now passed,-there was no other possible supplier of undergraduate wants who could arrive.

Not so; in another minute a gentle knock came at the door. Jack pricked up his ears and wagged his tail; Drysdale recklessly shouted, "Come in!" the door slowly opened about eighteen inches, and a shock head of hair entered the room, from which one lively little gimlet eye went glancing about into every corner. The other eye was closed, but as a perpetual wink to indicate the unsleeping wariness of the owner, or because that hero had really lost the power of using it in some of his numerous encounters with men and beasts, no one, so far as I know, has ever ascertained.

"Ah! Mr. Drysdale, sir!" began the head; and then rapidly withdrew behind the door to avoid one of the spurs, which (being the missile nearest at hand) Drysdale instantly discharged at it. As the spur fell to the floor, the head reappeared in the room, and as quickly disappeared again, in deference to the other spur, the top boots, an ivory handled hair brush, and a translation of Euripides, which in turn saluted each successive appearance of said head; and the grin was broader on each reappearance.

Then Drysdale, having no other article within reach which he could throw, burst into a loud fit of laughter, in which Sanders and the head heartily joined, and shouted, "Come in, Joe, you old fool! and don't stand bobbing your ugly old mug in and out there, like a jack in the box."

So the head came in, and after it the body, and closed the door behind it; and a queer, cross-grained, tough-looking body it was, of about fifty years standing, or rather slouching, clothed in an old fustian coat, corduroy breeches and gaiters, and being the earthly tabernacle of Joe Muggles, the dog-fancier of St. Aldate's.

"How the deuce did you get by the lodge, Joe?" inquired Drysdale. Joe, be it known, had been forbidden the college for importing a sack of rats into the inner quadrangle, upon the turf of which a match at rat-killing had come off between the terriers of two gentlemen-commoners. This little event might have passed unnoticed, but that Drysdale had bought from Joe a dozen of the slaughtered rats, and nailed them on the doors of the four college tutors, three to a door; whereupon inquiry had been made, and Joe had been outlawed.

"Oh, please Mr. Drysdale, sir, I just watched the 'ed porter, sir, across to the buttery to get his mornin', and then I tips a wink to the under porter (pal o' mine, sir, the under porter), and makes a run of it right up."

"Well, you'll be quod'ed if you're caught! Now what do you want?"

"Why, you see, Mr. Drysdale, sir," said Joe, in his most insinuating tone, "my mate hev got an old dog brock, sir, from the Heythrop kennel, and Honble Wernham, sir of New Inn 'All, sir, he've jist been down our yard with a fighting chap from town, Mr. Drysdale-in the fancy, sir, he is, and hev got a matter of three dogs down a stoppin' at Milky Bill's. And he says, says he, Mr. Drysdale, as arra one of he's dogs'll draw the old un three times, while arra Oxford dog'll draw un twice, and Honble Wernham chaffs as how he'll back un for a fi' pun note;"-and Joe stopped to caress Jack, who was fawning on him as if he understood every word.

"Well, Joe, what then?" said Drysdale.

"So you see, Mr. Drysdale, sir," went on Joe, fondling Jack's muzzle, "my mate says, says he, 'Jack's the dog as can draw a brock,' says he, 'agin any Lonnun dog as ever was whelped; and Mr. Drysdale' says he, 'ain't the man as'd see two poor chaps bounced out of their honest name by arra town chap, and a fi' pun note's no more to he for the matter o' that, then to Honble Wernham his self,' says my mate."

"So I'm to lend you Jack for a match, and stand the stakes?"

"Well, Mr. Drysdale, sir, that was what my mate was a sayin'."

"You're cool heads, you and your mate," said Drysdale; "here, take a drink, and get out, and I'll think about it." Drysdale was now in a defiant humor, and resolved not to let Sanders think that his presence could keep him from any act of folly to which he was inclined.

Joe took his drink; and just then several men came in from lecture, and drew off Drysdale's attention from Jack, who quietly followed Joe out of the room, when that worthy disappeared. Drysdale only laughed when he found it out, and went down to the yard that afternoon to see the match between the London dog and his own pet.

"How in the world are youngsters with unlimited credit, plenty of ready money, and fast tastes, to be kept from making fools and blackguards of themselves up here," thought Sanders, as he strolled back to his college. And it is a question which has exercised other heads besides his, and probably is a long way yet from being well solved.

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