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   Chapter 9 A BROWN BAIT.

Tom Brown at Oxford By Thomas Hughes Characters: 15835

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:05


Tom's little exaltation in his own eyes consequent on the cupboard-smashing escapade of his friend was not to last long. Not a week had elapsed before he himself arrived suddenly in Hardy's room in as furious a state of mind as the other had so lately been in, allowing for the difference of the men. Hardy looked up from his books and exclaimed:-

"What's the matter? Where have you been to-night? You look fierce enough to sit for a portrait of Sanguinoso Volcanoni, the bandit."

"Been!" said Tom, sitting down on the spare Windsor chair, which he usually occupied, so hard as to make it crack again; "been! I've been to a wine party at Hendon's. Do you know any of that set?"

"No, except Grey, who came into residence in the same term with me; we have been reading for degree together. You must have seen him here sometimes in the evenings."

"Yes, I remember; the fellow with a stiff neck, who won't look you in the face."

"Ay, but he is a sterling man at the bottom, I can tell you."

"Well, he wasn't there. You don't know any of the rest?"

"No."

"And never went to any of their parties?"

"No."

"You've had no loss, I can tell you," said Tom, pleased that the ground was clear for him. "I never was amongst such a set of waspish, dogmatical, over-bearing fellows in my life."

"Why, what in the name of fortune have they been doing to you?

How did you fall among such Philistines?"

"I'm such an easy fool, you see," said Tom, "I go off directly with any fellow that asks me; fast or slow, it's all the same. I never think twice about the matter, and generally, I like all the fellows I meet, and enjoy everything. But just catch me at another of their stuck-up wines, that's all."

"But you won't tell me what's the matter."

"Well, I don't know why Hendon should have asked me. He can't think me a likely card for a convert, I should think. At any rate, he asked me to wine, and I went as usual. Everything was in capital style (it don't seem to be any part of their creed, mind you, to drink bad wine), and awfully gentlemanly and decorous."

"Yes, that's aggravating, I admit. It would have been in better taste, of course, if they had been a little blackguard and indecorous. No doubt, too, one has a right to expect bad wine at Oxford. Well?"

Hardy spoke so gravely, that Tom had to look across at him for half a minute to see whether he was in earnest. Then he went on with a grin.

"There was a piano in one corner, and muslin curtains-I give you my word, muslin curtains, besides the stuff ones."

"You don't say so," said Hardy; "put up, no doubt, to insult you. No wonder you looked, so furious when you came in. Anything else?"

"Let me see-yes-I counted three sorts of scents on the mantel-piece, besides Eau-de-Cologne. But I could have stood it well enough if it hadn't been for their talk. From one thing to another they got to cathedrals, and one of them called St. Paul's 'a disgrace to a Christian city;' I couldn't stand that, you know. I was always bred to respect St. Paul's; weren't you?"

"My education in that line was neglected," said Hardy, gravely.

"And so you took up the cudgels for St. Paul's?"

"Yes, I plumped out that St. Paul's was the finest cathedral in England. You'd have thought I had said that lying was one of the cardinal virtues-one or two just treated me to a sort of pitying sneer, but my neighbors were down upon me with a vengeance. I stuck to my text though, and they drove me into saying I liked the Ratcliffe more than any building in Oxford; which I don't believe I do, now I come to think of it. So when they couldn't get me to budge for their talk, they took to telling me that every body that knew anything about church architecture was against me-of course meaning that I knew nothing about it-for the matter of that, I don't mean to say that I do"-Tom paused; it had suddenly occurred to him that there might be some reason in the rough handling he had got.

"But what did you say to the authorities?" said Hardy, who was greatly amused.

"Said I didn't care a straw for them" said Tom, "there was no right or wrong in the matter, and I had as good a right to my opinion as Pugin-or whatever his name is-and the rest."

"What heresy!" said Hardy, laughing; "you caught it for that, I suppose?"

"Didn't I! They made such a noise over it, that the men at the other end of the table stopped talking (they were all freshmen at our end), and when they found what was up, one of the older ones took me in hand, and I got a lecture about the middle ages, and the monks. I said I thought England was well rid of the monks; and then we got on to Protestantism, and fasting, and apostolic succession, and passive obedience, and I don't know what all! I only know I was tired enough of it before the coffee came; but I couldn't go, you know, with all of them on me at once, could I?"

"Of course not; you were like the 6,000 unconquerable British infantry at Albuera. You held your position by sheer fighting, suffering fearful loss."

"Well," said Tom, laughing, for he had talked himself into good humor again. "I dare say I talked a deal of nonsense; and, when I come to think it over, a good deal of what some of them said had something in it. I should like to hear it again quietly; but there were others sneering and giving themselves airs, but that puts a fellow's back up."

"Yes," said Hardy, "a good many of the weakest and vainest men who come up take to this sort of thing now. They can do nothing themselves, and get a sort of platform by going in on the High Church business from which to look down on their neighbors."

"That's just what I thought," said Tom, "they tried to push mother Church, mother Church, down my throat at every turn; I'm as fond of the Church as any of them, but I don't want to be jumping up on her back every minute, like a sickly chicken getting on the old hen's back to warm its feet whenever the ground is cold, and fancying himself taller than all the rest of the brood."

"You were unlucky," said Hardy; "there are some very fine fellows amongst them."

"Well, I haven't seen much of them," said Tom, "and I don't want to see any more, for it seems to be all Gothic mouldings and man-millinery business."

"You won't think so when you've been up a little longer." said Hardy, getting up to make tea, which operation he had hardly commenced, when a knock came at the door, and in answer to Hardy's "Come in," a slight, shy man appeared, who hesitated, and seemed inclined to go when he saw that Hardy was not alone.

"Oh, come in, and have a cup of tea, Grey. You know Brown, I think?" said Hardy, looking round from the fire, where he was filling his teapot, to watch Tom's reception of the new comer.

Our hero took his feet down, drew himself up and made a solemn bow, which Grey returned, and then slid nervously into a chair and looked very uncomfortable. However, in another minute Hardy came to the rescue and began pouring out the tea. He was evidently tickled at the idea of confronting Tom so soon with another of his enemies. Tom saw this, and put on a cool and majestic manner in consequence, which evidently increased the discomfort of Grey's seat, and kept Hardy on the edge of an abyss of laughter. In fact, he had to ease himself by talking of indifferent matters and laughing at nothing. Tom had never seen him in this sort of humor before, and couldn't help enjoying it, though he felt that it was partly at his own expense. But when Hardy once just approached the subject of the wine party, Tom bristled up so quickly, and Grey looked so meekly wretched, though he knew nothing of what was coming, that Hardy suddenly changed the subject, and turning to Grey, said-

"What have you been doing the last fortnight? You haven't been here once. I've been obliged to get on with my Aristotle without you."

"I'm very sorr

y indeed, but I haven't been able to come," said Grey, looking sideways at Hardy, and then at Tom, who sat regarding the wall, supremely indifferent.

"Well, I've finished my Ethics," said Hardy; "can't you come in to-morrow night to talk them over? I suppose you're through them too?"

"No, really," said Grey. "I haven't been able to look at them since the last time I was here."

"You must take care," said Hardy. "The new examiners are all for science and history; it won't do for you to go in trusting to your scholarship."

"I hope to make it up in the Easter vacation," said Grey. "You'll have enough to do then," said Hardy; "but how is it you've dropped astern so?"

"Why, the fact is," said Grey, hesitatingly, "that the curate of St. Peter's has set up some night schools, and wanted some help. So I have been doing what I could to help him; and really," looking at his watch, "I must be going. I only wanted to tell you how it was I didn't come now."

Hardy looked at Tom, who was rather taken aback by this announcement, and began to look less haughtily at the wall. He even condescended to take a short glance at his neighbor.

"It's unlucky," said Hardy; "but do you teach every night?"

"Yes," said Grey. "I used to do my science and history at night, you know; but I find that teaching takes so much out of me, that I'm only fit for bed now, when I get back. I'm so glad I've told you. I have wanted to do it for some time. And if you would let me come in for an hour, directly after hall, instead of later, I think I could still manage that."

"Of course," said Hardy, "come when you like. But it's rather hard to take you away every night, so near the examinations."

"It is my own wish," said Grey. "I should have been very glad if it hadn't happened just now; but as it has I must do the best I can."

"Well, but I should like to help you. Can't I take a night or two off your hands?"

"No!" said Tom, fired with sudden enthusiasm; "it will be as bad for you, Hardy. It can't want much scholarship to teach there. Let me go. I'll take two nights a week if you'll let me."

"Oh, thank you," said Grey; "but I don't know how my friend might like it. That is-I mean," he said, getting very red, "it's very kind of you, only I'm used to it; and-and they rely on me. But I really must go-good night;" and Grey went off in confusion.

As soon as the door had fairly closed, Hardy could stand it no longer, and lay back in his chair laughing till the tears ran down his cheeks. Tom, wholly unable to appreciate the joke, sat looking at him with perfect gravity.

"What can there be in your look, Brown?" said Hardy, when he could speak again, "to frighten Grey so? Did you see what a fright he was in at once, at the idea of turning you into the night schools? There must be some lurking Protestantism in your face somewhere, which I hadn't detected."

"I don't believe he was frightened at me a bit. He wouldn't have you either, remember," said Tom.

"Well, at any rate, that doesn't look as if it were all mere

Gothic-mouldings and man-millinery, does it?" said Hardy.

Tom sipped his tea, and considered.

"One can't help admiring him, do you know, for it," he said. "Do you think he is really thrown back, now, in his own reading by this teaching?"

"I'm sure of it. He is such a quiet fellow, that nothing else is likely to draw him off reading; I can see that he doesn't get on as he used, day by day. Unless he makes it up somehow, he won't get his first."

"He don't seem to like the teaching work much," said Tom.

"Not at all, so far as I can see."

"Then it is a very fine thing of him," said Tom.

"And you retract your man-millinery dictum, so far as he is concerned?"

"Yes, that I do, heartily; but not as to the set in general."

"Well, they don't suit me either; but, on the whole, they are wanted-at any rate, in this college. Even the worst of them is making some sort of protest for self-denial, and against self-indulgence, which is nowhere more needed than here."

"A nice sort of protest-muslin curtains, a piano, and old claret."

"Oh, you've no right to count Henden among them; he has only a little hankering after mediaevalism, and thinks the whole thing gentlemanly."

"I only know the whole clamjamfery of them were there, and didn't seem to protest much."

"Brown, you're a bigot. I should never have thought you would have been so furious against any set of fellows, I begin to smell Arnold."

"No you don't. He never spoke to me against anybody."

"Hallo! It was the Rugby atmosphere, then, I suppose. But I tell you they are the only men in the college who are making that protest, whatever their motives may be."

"What do you say to yourself, old fellow?"

"Nonsense! I never deny myself any pleasure that I can afford, if it isn't wrong in itself, and doesn't hinder anyone else. I can tell you I am as fond of fine things and good living as you."

"If a thing isn't wrong, and you can afford it, and it doesn't hurt anybody! Just so; well, then, mustn't it be right for you to have? You wouldn't have it put under your nose, I suppose, just for you to smell at, and let it alone?"

"Yes, I know all that. I've been over it often enough, and there's truth in it. But, mind you, it's rather slippery ground, especially for a freshman; and there's a good deal to be said on the other side-I mean, for denying oneself just for the sake of the self denial."

"Well, they don't deny themselves the pleasure of looking at a fellow as if he were a Turk, because he likes St. Paul's better than Westminster Abbey."

"How that snubbing you got at the Ecclesiological wine party seems to wrankle.-There now! don't bristle up like a hedgehog. I'll never mention that unfortunate wine again. I saw the eight come in to-day. You were keeping much better time, but there is a weak place or two forward."

"Yes," said Tom, delighted to change the subject, "I find it awfully hard to pull up to Jervis's stroke. Do you think I shall ever get to it?"

"Of course you will. Why you have only been pulling behind him a dozen times or so, and his is the most trying stroke on the river. You quicken a little on it; but I didn't mean you. Two and five are the blots in the boat."

"You think so?" said Tom, much relieved. "So does Miller, I can see. It's so provoking-Drysdale is to pull two in the races next term, and Blake seven, and then Diogenes will go to five. He's obliged to pull seven now, because Blake won't come down this term; no more will Drysdale. They say there will be plenty of time after Easter."

"It's a great pity," said Hardy.

"Isn't it," said Tom; "and it makes Miller so savage. He walks into us all as if it were our faults. Do you think he's a good coxswain?"

"First rate on most points, but rather too sharp tongued. You can't get a man's best out of him without a little praise."

"Yes, that's just it, he puts one's back up," said Tom. "But the

Captain is a splendid fellow, isn't he?"

"Yes, but a little too easy, at least with men like Blake and

Drysdale. He ought to make them train, or turn them out."

"But who could he get? There's nobody else. If you would pull, now-why shouldn't you? I'm sure it would make us all right."

"I don't subscribe to the club." said Hardy; "I wish I had, for I should have liked to have pulled with you, and behind Jervis this year."

"Do let me tell the Captain," said Tom, "I'm sure he'd manage it somehow."

"I'm afraid it's too late," said Hardy; "I cut myself off from everything of the sort two years ago, and I'm beginning to think I was a fool for my pains."

Nothing more was said on the subject at the time, but Tom went away in great spirits at having drawn this confession out of Hardy-the more so, perhaps, because he flattered himself that he had something to say to the change in his friend.

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