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   Chapter 15 A STORM BREWS AND BREAKS

Tom Brown at Oxford By Thomas Hughes Characters: 26578

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:05


Certainly Drysdale's character came out well that night. He did not seem the least jealous of the success which had been achieved through his dismissal. On the contrary, there was no man in the college who showed more interest in the race, or joy at the result, then he. Perhaps the pleasure of being out of it himself may have reckoned for something with him. In any case, there he was at the door with Jack, to meet the crew as they landed after the race, with a large pewter, foaming with shandygaff, in each hand, for their recreation. Draco himself could not have forbidden them to drink at that moment; so, amidst shaking of hands and clapping on the back, the pewters travelled round from stroke to bow, and then the crew went off to their dressing-room, accompanied by Drysdale and others.

"Bravo! it was the finest race that has been seen on the river this six years; everybody says so. You fellows have deserved well of your country. I've sent up to college to have supper in my room, and you must all come. Hang training! there are only two more nights, and you're safe to keep your place. What do you say Captain? eh, Miller? Now be good-natured for once."

"Well, we don't get head of the river every night," said Miller.

"I don't object if you'll all turn out and go to bed at eleven."

"That's all right," said Drysdale; "and now let's go to the old

'Choughs' and have a glass of ale while supper is getting ready.

Eh, Brown?" and he hooked his arm into Tom's and led the way into

the town.

"I'm so sorry you were not in it for the finish," said Tom, who was quite touched by his friend's good-humour.

"Are you?" said Drysdale; "it's more than I am, then, I can tell you. If you could have seen yourself under the willows, you wouldn't have thought yourself much of an object of envy. Jack and I were quite satisfied with our share of work and glory on the bank. Weren't we, old fellow?" at which salutation Jack reared himself on his hind legs and licked his master's hand.

"Well, you're a real good fellow for taking it as you do. I don't think I could have come near the river if I had been you."

"I take everything as it comes," said Drysdale. "The next race is on Derby day, and I couldn't have gone if I hadn't been turned out of the boat; that's a compensation, you see. Here we are. I wonder if Miss Patty has heard of the victory?"

They turned down the little passage entrance of "The Choughs" as he spoke, followed by most of the crew, and by a tail of younger St. Ambrosians, their admirers, and the bar was crowded the next moment. Patty was there, of course, and her services were in great requisition; for though each of the crew only took a small glass of the old ale, they made as much fuss about it with the pretty barmaid as if they were drinking hogsheads. In fact, it had become clearly the correct thing with the St. Ambrosians to make much of Patty; and, considering the circumstances, it was only a wonder that she was not more spoiled than seemed to be the case. Indeed, as Hardy stood up in the corner opposite to the landlady's chair, a silent onlooker at the scene, he couldn't help admitting to himself that the girl held her own well, without doing or saying anything unbecoming a modest woman. And it was a hard thing for him to be fair to her, for what he saw now in a few minutes confirmed the impression which his former visit had left on his mind-that his friend was safe in her toils; how deeply, of course he could not judge, but that there was more between them than he could approve was now clear enough to him, and he stood silent, leaning against the wall in that farthest corner, in the shadow of a projecting cupboard, much distressed in mind, and pondering over what it behove him to do under the circumstances. With the exception of a civil sentence or two to the old landlady who sat opposite him knitting, and casting rather uneasy looks from time to time towards the front of the bar, he spoke to no one. In fact, nobody came near that end of the room, and their existence seemed to have been forgotten by the rest.

Tom had been a little uncomfortable for the first minute; but after seeing Hardy take his glass of ale, and then missing him, he forgot all about him, and was too busy with his own affairs to trouble himself further. He had become a sort of drawer, or barman, at "The Cloughs," and presided, under Patty, over the distribution of the ale, giving an eye to his chief to see that she was not put upon.

Drysdale and Jack left after a short stay, to see that the supper was being properly prepared. Soon afterwards Patty went off out of the bar in answer to some bell which called her to another part of the house; and the St. Ambrosians voted that it was time to go off to college to supper, and cleared out into the street.

Tom went out with the last batch of them, but lingered a moment in the passage outside. He knew the house and its ways well enough by this time. The next moment Patty appeared from a side door, which led to another part of the house.

"So you're not going to stay and play a game with aunt," she said; "what makes you in such a hurry?"

"I must go up to college; there's a supper to celebrate our getting head of the river." Patty looked down and pouted a little. Tom took her hand, and said sentimentally, "Don't be cross, now; you know that I would sooner stay here, don't you?"

She tossed her head, and pulled away her hand, and then changing the subject, said, "Who's that ugly old fellow who was here again to-night?"

"There was no one older than Miller, and he is rather an admirer of yours. I shall tell him you called him ugly."

"Oh, I don't mean Mr. Miller; you know that well enough," she answered. "I mean him in the old rough coat, who don't talk to anyone."

"Ugly old fellow, Patty? Why, you mean Hardy. He's a great friend of mine, and you must like him for my sake."

"I'm sure I won't. I don't like him a bit; he looks so cross at me."

"It's all your fancy. There now, good-night."

"You shan't go, however, till you've given me that handkerchief.

You promised it me if you got head of the river."

"Oh! you little story-teller. Why, they are my college colors. I wouldn't part with them for worlds. I'll give you a lock of my hair, and the prettiest handkerchief you can find in Oxford; but not this."

"But I will have it and you did promise me it," she said, and put up her hands suddenly, and untied the bow of Tom's neck-handkerchief. He caught her wrists in his hands, and looked down into her eyes, in which, if he saw a little pique at his going, he saw other things which stirred in him strange feelings of triumph and tenderness.

"Well, then you shall pay for it, anyhow," he said.-Why, need I tell what followed?-There was a little struggle; a "Go along, do, Mr. Brown;" and the next minute Tom minus his handkerchief, was hurrying after his companions; and Patty was watching him from the door, and setting her cap to rights. Then she turned and went back into the bar, and started, and turned red, as she saw Hardy there, still standing in the further corner, opposite her aunt. He finished his glass of ale as she came in, and then passed out wishing them "Good-night."

"Why aunt" she said, "I thought they were all gone. Who was that sour-looking man?"

"He seems a nice quiet gentleman, my dear," said the old lady, looking up. "I'm sure he's much better than those ones as make so much racket in the bar. But where have you been, Patty?"

"Oh, to the commercial room, aunt. Won't you have a game at cribbage?" and Patty took up the cards and set the board out, the old lady looking at her doubtfully all the time through her spectacles. She was beginning to wish that the college gentlemen wouldn't come so much to the house, though they were very good customers.

Tom, minus his handkerchief, hurried after his comrades, and caught them up before they got to college. They were all there but Hardy, whose absence vexed our hero for a moment; he had hoped that Hardy, now that he was in the boat, would have shaken off all his reserve towards the other men, and blamed him because he had not done so at once. There could be no reason for it but his own oddness he thought, for everyone was full of his praises as they strolled on talking of the race. Miller praised his style, and time, and pluck. "Didn't you feel how the boat sprung when I called on you at the Cherwell?" he said to the Captain. "Drysdale was always dead beat at the Gut, and just like a log in the boat, pretty much like some of the rest of you."

"He's in such good training, too," said Diogenes; "I shall find out how he diets himself."

"We've pretty well done with that, I should hope," said No.6.

"There are only two more nights, and nothing can touch us now."

"Don't be too sure of that," said Miller. "Mind now, all of you, don't let us have any nonsense till the races are over and we are all safe."

And so they talked on till they reached college, and then dispersed to their rooms to wash and dress and met again in Drysdale's rooms, where supper was awaiting them.

Again Hardy did not appear. Drysdale sent a scout to his rooms, who brought back word that he could not find him; so Drysdale set to work to do the honors of his table and enjoyed the pleasure of tempting the crew with all sorts of forbidden hot liquors, which he and the rest of the non professionals imbibed freely. But with Miller's eye on them, and the example of Diogenes and the Captain before them, the rest of the crew exercised an abstemiousness which would have been admirable, had it not been in a great measure compulsory.

It was a great success, this supper at Drysdale's, although knocked up at an hour's notice. The triumph of their boat, had, for the time, the effect of warming up and drawing out the feeling of fellowship, which is the soul of college life. Though only a few men besides the crew sat down to supper, long before it was cleared away men of every set in the college came in, in the highest spirits, and the room was crowded. For Drysdale sent round to every man in the college with whom he had a speaking acquaintance, and they flocked in and sat where they could, and men talked and laughed with neighbors, with whom, perhaps, they had never exchanged a word since the time when they were freshmen together.

Of course there were speeches, cheered to the echo, and songs, of which the choruses might have been heard in the High-street. At a little before eleven, nevertheless, despite the protestations of Drysdale, and the passive resistance of several of their number, Miller carried off the crew, and many of the other guests went at the same time, leaving their host and a small circle to make a night of it.

Tom went to his room in high spirits, humming the air of one of the songs he had just heard; but he had scarcely thrown his gown on a chair when a thought struck him, and he ran down stairs again and across to Hardy's rooms.

Hardy was sitting with some cold tea poured out, but untasted, before him, and no books open-a very unusual thing with him at night. But Tom either did not or would not notice that there was anything unusual.

He seated himself and began gossiping away as fast as he could, without looking much at the other. He began by recounting all the complimentary things which had been said by Miller and others of Hardy's pulling. Then he went on to the supper party; what a jolly evening they had had; he did not remember anything so pleasant since he had been up, and he retailed the speeches, and named the best songs. "You really ought to have been there. Why didn't you come? Drysdale sent over for you. I'm sure every one wished you had been there. Didn't you get his message?"

"I didn't feel up to going," said Hardy.

"There's nothing the matter, eh?" said Tom, as the thought crossed his mind that perhaps Hardy had hurt himself in the race, as he had not been regularly training.

"No, nothing," answered the other.

Tom tried to make play again, but soon came to an end of his talk. It was impossible to make head against that cold silence. At last he stopped, looked at Hardy for a minute, who was staring abstractedly at the sword over his mantel-piece, and then said,-

"There is something the matter, though. Don't sit glowering as if you had swallowed a furze bush. Why you haven't been smoking, old boy?" he added, getting up and putting his hand on the others shoulder. "I see that's it. Here, take one of my weeds, they're mild. Miller allows two of these a day."

"No, thank'ee," said Hardy, rousing himself; "Miller hasn't interfered with my smoking, and I will have a pipe, for I think I want it."

"Well, I don't see that it does you any good," said Tom, after watching him fill and light, and smoke for some minutes without saying a word. "Here, I've managed the one thing I had at heart. You are in the crew, and we are head of the river, and everybody is praising your rowing up to the skies, and saying that the bump was all your doing. And here I come to tell you, and not a word can I get out of you. Ain't you pleased? Do you think we shall keep our place?" He paused a moment.

"Hang i

t all, I say," he added, losing all patience; "swear a little if you can't do anything else. Let's hear your voice; it isn't such a tender one that you need keep it all shut up."

"Well," said Hardy, making a great effort; "the real fact is I have something, and something very serious to say to you."

"Then I'm not going to listen to it," broke in Tom; "I'm not serious, and I won't be serious, and no one shall make me serious to-night. It's no use, so don't look glum. But isn't the ale at 'The Choughs' good? and isn't it a dear little place?"

"It's that place I want to talk to you about," said Hardy, turning his chair suddenly so as to front his visitor. "Now, Brown, we haven't known one another long, but I think I understand you, and I know I like you, and I hope you like me."

"Well, well, well," broke in Tom, "of course I like you, old fellow, or else I shouldn't come poking after you, and wasting so much of your time, and sitting on your cursed hard chairs in the middle of the races. What has liking to do with 'The Choughs,' or 'The Choughs' with long faces? You ought to have had another glass of ale there."

"I wish you had never had a glass of ale there," said Hardy, bolting out his words as if they were red hot. "Brown you have no right to go to that place."

"Why?" said Tom, sitting up in his chair and beginning to be nettled.

"You know why," said Hardy, looking him full in the face, and puffing out huge volumes of smoke. In spite of the bluntness of the attack, there was a yearning look which spread over the rugged brow, and shone out of the deep set eyes of the speaker, which almost conquered Tom. But first pride, and then the consciousness of what was coming next, which began to dawn on him, rose in his heart. It was all he could do to meet that look full, but he managed it, though he flushed to the roots of his hair, as he simply repeated through his set teeth, "Why?"

"I say again," said Hardy, "you know why."

"I see what you mean," said Tom, slowly; "as you say, we have not known one another long; long enough, though, I should have thought, for you to have been more charitable. Why am I not to go to 'The Cloughs'? Because there happens to be a pretty bar maid there? All our crew go, and twenty other men besides."

"Yes; but do any of them go in the sort of way you do? Does she look at anyone of them as she does at you?"

"How do I know?"

"That's not fair, or true, or like you, Brown," said Hardy, getting up and beginning to walk up and down the room. "You do know that that girl doesn't care a straw for the other men who go there. You do know that she is beginning to care for you."

"You seem to know a great deal about it," said Tom; "I don't believe you were ever there before two days ago."

"No, I never was."

"Then I think you needn't be quite so quick at finding fault. If there were anything I didn't wish you to see, do you think I should have taken you there? I tell you she is quite able to take care of herself."

"So I believe," said Hardy; "if she were a mere giddy, light girl, setting her cap at every man who came in, it wouldn't matter so much-for her at any rate. She can take care of herself well enough so far as the rest are concerned, but you know it isn't so with you. You know it now, Brown; tell the truth; anyone with half an eye can see it."

"You seem to have made pretty good use of your eyes in these two nights, anyhow," said Tom.

"I don't mind your sneers, Brown," said Hardy as he tramped up and down with his arms locked behind him; "I have taken on myself to speak to you about this; I should be no true friend if I shirked it. I'm four years older than you, and have seen more of the world and of this place than you. You sha'n't go on with this folly, this sin, for want of warning."

"So it seems," said Tom doggedly. "Now I think I've had warning enough; suppose we drop the subject."

Hardy stopped his walk, and turned on Tom with a look of anger. "Not yet," he said, firmly; "you know best how and why you have done it, but you know that somehow or other you have made that girl like you."

"Suppose I have, what then; whose business is that but mine and hers?"

"It's the business of everyone who won't stand by and see the devil's game played under his nose if he can hinder it."

"What right have you to talk about the devil's game to me?" said Tom. "I'll tell you what; if you and I are to keep friends we had better drop this subject."

"If we are to keep friends we must go to the bottom of it. There are only two endings to this sort of business and you know it as well as I."

"A right and wrong one, eh? and because you call me your friend you assume that my end will be the wrong one."

"I do call you my friend, and I say the end must be the wrong one here. There's no right end. Think of your family. You don't mean to say-you dare not tell me, that you will marry her?"

"I dare not tell you!" said Tom, starting up in his turn; "I dare tell you or any man anything I please. But I won't tell you or any man anything on compulsion."

"I repeat," went on Hardy, "you dare not say you mean to marry her. You don't mean it-and, as you don't, to kiss her as you did to-night-"

"So you were sneaking behind to watch me!" burst out Tom, chafing with rage, and glad to find any handle for a quarrel. The two men stood fronting one another, the younger writhing with the sense of shame and outraged pride, and longing for a fierce answer-a blow-anything, to give vent to the furies which were tearing him.

But at the end of a few seconds the elder answered, calmly and slowly,-

"I will not take those words from any man; you had better leave my rooms."

"If I do, I shall not come back till you have altered your opinions."

"You need not come back till you have altered yours."

The next moment Tom was in the passage; the next, striding up and down the side of the inner quadrangle in the pale moonlight.

Poor fellow! it was no pleasant walking ground for him. Is it worth our while to follow him up and down in his tramp? We have most of us walked the like marches at one time or another of our lives. The memory of them is by no means one which we can dwell on with pleasure. Times they were of blinding and driving storm, and howling winds, out of which voices as of evil spirits spoke close in our ears-tauntingly, temptingly, whispering to the mischievous wild beast which lurks in the bottom of all our hearts, now, "Rouse up! art thou a man and darest not do this thing?" now, "Rise, kill and eat-it is thine, wilt thou not take it? Shall the flimsy scruples of this teacher, or the sanctified cant of that, bar thy way, and balk thee of thine own? Thou hast strength to brave them-to brave all things in earth, or heaven, or hell; put out thy strength and be a man!"

Then did not the wild beast within us shake itself, and feel its power, sweeping away all the "Thou shalt not's" which the law wrote up before us in letters of fire, with the "I will" of hardy, godless, self-assertion? And all the while-which alone made the storm really dreadful to us-was there not the still small voice-never to be altogether silenced by the roarings of the tempest of passion, by the evil voices, by our own violent attempts to stifle it-the still small voice appealing to the man, the true man, within us, which is made in the image of God-calling on him to assert his dominion over the wild beast-to obey, and conquer, and live? Ay! and though we may have followed the other voices, have we not, while following them, confessed in our hearts, that all true strength, and nobleness, and manliness, was to be found in the other path? Do I say that most of us have had to tread this path, and fight this battle? Surely I might have said all of us; all, at least, who have passed the bright days of their boyhood. The clear and keen intellect no less than the dull and heavy; the weak, the cold, the nervous, no less than the strong and passionate of body. The arms and the field have been divers; can have been the same, I suppose, to no two men, but the battle must have been the same to all. One here and there may have had a foretaste of it as a boy; but it is the young man's battle, and not the boy's, thank God for it! That most hateful and fearful of all realities, call it by what name we will-self, the natural man, the old Adam-must have risen up before each of us in early manhood, if not sooner, challenging the true man within us to which the Spirit of God is speaking, to a struggle for life or death.

Gird yourself, then, for the fight, my young brother, and take up the pledge which was made for you when you were a helpless child. This world, and all others, time and eternity, for you hang upon the issue. This enemy must be met and vanquished-not finally, for no man while on earth I suppose, can say that he is slain; but, when once known and recognized, met and vanquished he must be, by God's help in this and that encounter, before you can be truly called a man; before you can really enjoy any one even of this world's good things.

This strife was no light one for our hero on the night in his life at which we have arrived. The quiet sky overhead, the quiet solemn old buildings, under the shadow of which he stood, brought him no peace. He fled from them into his own rooms; he lighted his candles and tried to read, and force the whole matter from his thoughts; but it was useless; back it came again and again. The more impatient of its presence he became, the less could he shake it off. Some decision he must make; what should it be? He could have no peace till it was taken. The veil had been drawn aside thoroughly, and once for all. Twice he was on the point of returning to Hardy's rooms to thank him, confess, and consult; but the tide rolled back again. As the truth of the warning sank deeper and deeper into him, the irritation against him who had uttered it grew also. He could not and would not be fair yet. It is no easy thing for anyone of us to put the whole burden of any folly or sin on our own backs all at once. "If he had done it in any other way," thought Tom, "I might have thanked him."

Another effort to shake off the whole question. Down into the quadrangle again; lights in Drysdale's rooms. He goes up, and finds the remains of the supper, tankards full of egg-flip and cardinal, and a party playing at vingt-un. He drinks freely, careless of training or boat-racing, anxious only to drown thought. He sits down to play. The boisterous talk of some, the eager keen looks of others, jar on him equally. One minute he is absent, the next boisterous, then irritable, then moody. A college card-party is no place to-night for him. He loses his money, is disgusted at last, and gets to his own rooms by midnight; goes to bed feverish, dissatisfied with himself, with all the world. The inexorable question pursues him even into the strange helpless land of dreams, demanding a decision, when he has no longer power of will to choose either good or evil.

But how fared it all this time with the physician? Alas! little better than with his patient. His was the deeper and more sensitive nature. Keenly conscious of his own position, he had always avoided any but the most formal intercourse with the men in his college whom he would have liked most to live with. This was the first friendship he had made amongst them, and he valued it accordingly; and now it seemed to lie at his feet in hopeless fragments, and cast down too by his own hand. Bitterly he blamed himself over and over again, as he recalled every word that had passed-not for having spoken-that he felt had been a sacred duty-but for the harshness and suddenness with which he seemed to himself to have done it.

"One touch of gentleness or sympathy, and I might have won him. As it was, how could he have met me otherwise than he did-hard word for hard word, hasty answer for proud reproof? Can I go to him and recall it all? No! I can't trust myself; I shall only make matters worse. Besides, he may think that the servitor-Ah! am I there again? The old sore, self, self, self! I nurse my own pride; I value it more than my friend; and yet-no, no! I cannot go, though I think I could die for him. The sin, if sin there must be, be on my head. Would to God I could bear the sting of it! But there will be none-how can I fear? he is too true, too manly. Rough and brutal as my words have been, they have shown him the gulf. He will, he must escape it. But will he ever come back to me? I care not, so he escape."

How can my poor words follow the strong loving man in the wrestlings of his spirit, till far on in the quiet night he laid the whole before the Lord and slept! Yes, my brother, even so: the old, old story; but start not at the phrase, though you may never have found its meaning-He laid the whole before the Lord in prayer, for his friend, for himself, for the whole world.

And you, too, if ever you are tried as he was-as every man must be in one way or another-must learn to do the like with every burthen on your soul, if you would not have it hanging round you heavily, and ever more heavily, and dragging you down lower and lower till your dying day.

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