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   Chapter 20 THE RECONCILIATION

Tom Brown at Oxford By Thomas Hughes Characters: 8973

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:05


Tom rose in the morning with a presentiment that all would be over now before long, and to make his presentiment come true, resolved, before night, to go himself to Hardy and give in. All he reserved to himself was the liberty to do it in the manner which would be least painful to himself. He was greatly annoyed, therefore, when Hardy did not appear at morning chapel; for he had fixed on the leaving chapel as the least unpleasant time in which to begin his confession, and was going to catch Hardy then, and follow him to his rooms. All the morning, too, in answer to his inquiries by his scout Wiggins, Hardy's scout replied that his master was out, or busy. He did not come to the boats, he did not appear in hall; so that, after hall, when Tom went back to his own rooms, as he did at once, instead of sauntering out of college, or going to a wine party, he was quite out of heart at his bad luck, and began to be afraid that he would have to sleep on his unhealed wound another night.

He sat down in an arm-chair, and fell to musing, and thought how wonderfully his life had been changed in these few short weeks. He could hardly get back across the gulf which separated him from the self who had come back into those rooms after Easter, full of anticipations of the pleasures and delights of the coming summer term and vacation. To his own surprise he didn't seem much to regret the loss of his chateaux en Espange, and felt a sort of grim satisfaction in their utter overthrow.

While occupied with these thoughts, he heard talking on his stairs, accompanied by a strange lumbering tread. These came nearer; and at last stopped just outside his door, which opened in another moment, and Wiggins announced-

"Capting Hardy, sir."

Tom jumped to his legs, and felt himself colour painfully.

"Here, Wiggins," said he, "wheel round that arm-chair for Captain Hardy. I am so very glad to see you, sir," and he hastened round himself to meet the old gentleman, holding out his hand, which the visitor took very cordially, as soon as he had passed his heavy stick to his left hand, and balanced himself safely upon it.

"Thank you, sir; thank you," said the old man after a few moments' pause, "I find your companion ladders rather steep;" and then he sat down with some difficulty.

Tom took the Captain's stick and undress cap, and put them reverentially on his sideboard; and then, to get rid of some little nervousness which he couldn't help feeling, bustled to his cupboard, and helped Wiggins to place glasses and biscuits on the table. "Now, sir, what will you take? I have port, sherry and whisky here, and can get you anything else. Wiggins, run to Hinton's and get some dessert."

"No dessert, thank you, for me," said the Captain; "I'll take a cup of coffee, or a glass of grog, or anything you have ready. Don't open wine for me, pray, sir."

"Oh, it is all the better for being opened," said Tom, working away at a bottle of sherry with his corkscrew, "and Wiggins, get some coffee and anchovy toast in a quarter of an hour; and just put out some tumblers and toddy ladles, and bring up boiling water with the coffee."

While making his hospitable preparations, Tom managed to get many side glances at the old man, who sat looking steadily and abstractly before him into the fireplace, and was much struck and touched by the picture. The sailor wore a well-preserved old undress uniform coat and waistcoat, and white drill trousers; he was a man of middle height, but gaunt and massive, and Tom recognized the framework of the long arms and grand shoulders and chest which he had so often admired in the son. His right leg was quite stiff from an old wound on the knee cap; the left eye was sightless, and the scar of a cutlass travelled down the drooping lid and on to the weather-beaten cheek below. His head was high and broad, his hair and whiskers silver white, while the shaggy eyebrows were scarcely grizzled. His face was deeply lined, and the long, clean-cut lower jaw, and drawn look about the mouth, gave a grim expression to the face at the first glance, which wore off as you looked, leaving, however, on most men who thought about it, the impression which fastened on our hero, "An awkward man to have met at the head of boarders towards the end of the great war."

In a minute or two, Tom, having completed his duties, faced the old sailor, much reassured by his covert inspection; and, pouring himself out a glass of sherry, pushe

d the decanter across, and drank to his guest.

"Your health, sir," he said, "and thank you very much for coming up to see me."

"Thank you, sir," said the Captain, rousing himself and filling, "I drink to you, sir. The fact is, I took a great liberty in coming up to your rooms in this off-hand way, without calling or sending up, but you'll excuse it in an old sailor." Here the Captain took to his glass, and seemed a little embarrassed. Tom felt embarrassed also, feeling that something was coming, and could only think of asking how the Captain liked the sherry. The Captain liked the sherry very much. Then, suddenly clearing his throat, he went on. "I felt, sir, that you would excuse me, for I have a favor to ask of you." He paused again, while Tom muttered something about "great pleasure," and then went on.

"You know my son, Mr. Brown?"

"Yes, sir; he has been my best friend up here; I owe more to him than to any man in Oxford."

The Captain's eye gleamed with pleasure as he replied, "Jack is a noble fellow, Mr. Brown, though I say it who am his father. I've often promised myself a cruise to Oxford since he has been here. I came here at last yesterday, and have been having a long yarn with him. I found there was something on his mind. He can't keep anything from his old father; and so I drew out of him that he loves you as David loved Jonathan. He made my old eye very dim while he was talking of you, Mr. Brown. And then I found that you two are not as you used to be. Some coldness sprung up between you; but what about I couldn't get at. Young men are often hasty-I know I was, forty years ago-Jack says he has been hasty with you. Now, that boy is all I have in the world, Mr. Brown. I know my boy's friend will like to send an old man home with a light heart. So I made up my mind to come over to you and ask you to make it up with Jack. I gave him the slip after dinner and here I am."

"Oh, sir, did he really ask you to come to me?"

"No, sir," said the Captain, "he did not-I am sorry for it-I think Jack must be in the wrong, for he said he had been too hasty, and yet he wouldn't ask me to come to you and make it up. But he is young, sir; young and proud. He said he couldn't move in it, his mind was made up; he was wretched enough over it, but the move must come from you. And so that's the favor I have to ask, that you will make it up with Jack. It isn't often a young man can do such a favor to an old one-to an old father with one son. You'll not feel the worse for having done it, if it's ever so hard to do, when you come to be my age." And the old man looked wistfully across the table, the muscles about his mouth quivering as he ended.

Tom sprang from his chair, and grasped the old sailor's hand, as he felt the load pass out of his heart. "Favour, sir!" he said, "I have been a mad fool enough already in this business-I should have been a double-dyed scoundrel, like enough, by this time but for your son, and I've quarrelled with him for stopping me at the pit's mouth. Favor! If God will, I'll prove somehow where the favor lies, and what I owe to him; and to you, sir, for coming to me tonight. Stop here two minutes, sir, and I'll run down and bring him over."

Tom tore away to Hardy's door and knocked. There was no pausing in the passage now. "Come in." He opened the door but did not enter, and for a moment or two could not speak. The rush of associations which the sight of the well-known old rickety furniture, and the figure which was seated, book in hand, with its back to the door and its feet against one side of the mantel-piece, called up, choked him.

"May I come in?" he said at last.

He saw the figure give a start, and the book trembled a little, but then came the answer, slow but firm-

"I have not changed my opinion."

"No; dear old boy, but I have," and Tom rushed across to his friend, dearer than ever to him now, and threw his arm round his neck; and, if the un-English truth must out had three parts of a mind to kiss the rough face which was now working with strong emotion.

"Thank God!" said Hardy, as he grasped the hand which hung over his shoulder.

"And now come over to my room; your father is there waiting for us."

"What, the dear old governor? That's what he has been after, is it? I couldn't think where he could have 'hove to,' as he would say."

Hardy put on his cap, and the two hurried back to Tom's rooms, the lightest hearts in the University of Oxford.

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