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   Chapter 25 COMMEMORATION

Tom Brown at Oxford By Thomas Hughes Characters: 24488

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:05


The end of the academic year was now at hand, and Oxford was beginning to put on her gayest clothing. The college gardeners were in a state of unusual activity, and the lawns and flower-beds which form such exquisite settings to many of the venerable grey, gabled buildings, were as neat and as bright as hands could make them. Cooks, butlers and their assistants were bestirring themselves in kitchen and buttery, under the direction of bursars jealous of the fame of their houses, in the preparation of the abundant and solid fare with which Oxford is wont to entertain all comers. Everything the best of its kind, no stint but no nonsense, seems to be the wise rule which the University hands down and lives up to in these matters. However we may differ as to her degeneracy in other departments, all who have ever visited her will admit that in this of hospitality she is still a great national teacher, acknowledging and preaching by example the fact, that eating and drinking are important parts of man's life, which are to be allowed their due prominence, and not thrust into a corner, but are to be done soberly and thankfully, in the sight of God and man. The coaches were bringing in heavy loads of visitors; carriages of all kinds were coming in from the neighbouring counties; and lodgings in the High-street were going up to fabulous prices.

In one of these High-street lodgings, on the evening of the Saturday before Commemoration, Miss Winter and her cousin are sitting. They have been in Oxford during the greater part of the day, having posted up from Englebourn; but they have only just come in, for the younger lady is still in her bonnet, and Miss Winter's lies on the table. The windows are wide open, and Miss Winter is sitting at one of them; while her cousin is busied in examining the furniture and decorations of their temporary home, now commenting upon these, now pouring out praises of Oxford.

"Isn't it too charming? I never dreamt that any town could be so beautiful. Don't you feel wild about it, Katie?"

"It is the queen of towns, dear. But I know it well, you see, so that I can't be quite so enthusiastic as you."

"Oh, those dear gardens! what was the name of those ones with the targets up, where they were shooting? Don't you remember?"

"New College Gardens, on the old city wall, you mean?"

"No, no. They were nice and sentimental. I should like to go and sit and read poetry there. But I mean the big ones, the gorgeous, princely ones, with wicked old Bishop Laud's gallery looking into them."

"Oh! St. John's, of course."

"Yes, St. John's. Why do you hate Laud so, Katie?"

"I don't hate him, dear. He was a Berkshire man, you know. But I think he did a great deal of harm to the Church."

"How did you think my new silk looked in the garden? How lucky I brought it, wasn't it? I shouldn't have liked to have been in nothing but muslin. They don't suit here; you want something richer amongst the old buildings, and on the beautiful velvety turf of the gardens. How do you think I looked?"

"You looked like a queen, dear; or a lady-in-waiting, at least."

"Yes, a lady-in-waiting on Henrietta Maria. Didn't you hear one of the gentlemen say that she was lodged in St. John's when Charles marched to relieve Gloucester? Ah! Can't you fancy her sweeping about the gardens, with her ladies following her, and Bishop Laud walking just a little behind her, and talking in a low voice about-let me see-something very important?"

"Oh, Mary, where has your history gone? He was Archbishop, and was safely locked up in the Tower."

"Well, perhaps he was; then he couldn't be with her, of course. How stupid of you to remember, Katie. Why can't you make up your mind to enjoy yourself when you come out for a holiday?"

"I shouldn't enjoy myself any the more for forgetting dates," said Katie, laughing.

"Oh, you would though; only try. But let me see, it can't be Laud. Then it shall be that cruel drinking old man, with the wooden leg made of gold, who was governor of Oxford when the king was away. He must be hobbling along after the queen in a buff coat and breastplate, holding his hat with a long drooping white feather in his hand.

"But you wouldn't like it at all, Mary; it would be too serious for you. The poor queen would be too anxious for gossip, and you ladies-in-waiting would be obliged to walk after her without saying a word."

"Yes, that would be stupid. But then she would have to go away with the old governor to write dispatches; and some of the young officers with long hair and beautiful lace sleeves, and large boots, whom the king had left behind, wounded, might come and walk perhaps, or sit in the sun in the quiet gardens."

Mary looked over her shoulder with the merriest twinkle in her eye, to see how her steady cousin would take this last picture. "The college authorities would never allow that," she said quietly, still looking out the window; "if you wanted beaus, you must have had them in black gowns."

"They would have been jealous of the soldiers, you think? Well, I don't mind; the black gowns are very pleasant, only a little stiff. But how do you think my bonnet looked.

"Charmingly, but when are you going to have done looking in the glass? You don't care for the buildings, I believe, a bit. Come and look at St. Mary's; there is such a lovely light on the steeple!"

"I'll come directly, but I must get these flowers right. I'm sure there are too many in this trimming."

Mary was trying her new bonnet on over and over again before the mantel-glass, and pulling out and changing the places of the blush-rose buds with which it was trimmed. Just then a noise of wheels, accompanied by a merry tune on a cornopean, came in from the street.

"What's that, Katie?" she cried, stopping her work for a moment.

"A coach coming up from Magdalen Bridge. I think it is a cricketing party coming home."

"Oh, let me see," and she tripped across to the window, bonnet in hand, and stood beside her cousin. And, then, sure enough, a coach covered with cricketers returning from a match drove past the window. The young ladies looked out at first with great curiosity; but, suddenly finding themselves the mark for a whole coach load of male eyes, shrank back a little before the cricketers had passed on towards the "Mitre." As the coach passed out of sight, Mary gave a pretty toss of her head, and said-

"Well, they don't want for assurance, at any rate. I think they needn't have stared so."

"It was our fault," said Katie; "we shouldn't have been at the window. Besides, you know you are to be a lady-in-waiting on Henrietta Maria up here, and of course you must get used to being stared at."

"Oh yes, but that was to be by young gentlemen wounded in the wars, in lace ruffles, as one sees them in pictures. That's a very different thing from young gentlemen in flannel trousers and straw hats, driving up the High street on coaches. I declare one of them had the impudence to bow as if he knew you."

"So he does. That was my cousin."

"Your cousin! Ah, I remember. Then he must be my cousin, too."

"No, not at all. He is no relation of yours."

"Well I sha'n't break my heart. But is he a good partner?"

"I should say, yes. But I hardly know. We used to be a great deal together as children, but papa has been such an invalid lately."

"Ah, I wonder how uncle is getting on at the Vice-Chancellor's.

Look, it is past eight by St. Mary's. When were we to go?"

"We were asked for nine."

"Then we must go and dress. Will it be very slow and stiff,

Katie? I wish we were going to something not quite so grand."

"You'll find it very pleasant, I dare say."

"There won't be any dancing, though, I know, will there?"

"No; I should think certainly not."

"Dear me! I hope there will be some young men there-I shall be so shy, I know, if there are nothing but wise people. How do you talk to a Regius Professor, Katie? It must be awful."

"He will probably be at least as uncomfortable as you, dear," said Miss Winter, laughing, and rising from the window; "let us go and dress."

"Shall I wear my best gown?-What shall I put in my hair?"

At this moment the door opened, and the maid-servant introduced

Mr. Brown.

It was the St. Ambrose drag which had passed along shortly before, bearing the eleven home from a triumphant match. As they came over Magdalen Bridge, Drysdale, who had returned to Oxford as a private gentleman after his late catastrophe, which he had managed to keep a secret from his guardian, and was occupying his usual place on the box, called out-

"Now, boys, keep your eyes open, there must be plenty of lionesses about;" and thus warned, the whole load, including the cornopean player, were on the look-out for lady visitors, profanely called lionesses, all the way up the street. They had been gratified by the sight of several walking in the High Street or looking out of the windows, before they caught sight of Miss Winter and her cousin. The appearance of these young ladies created a sensation.

"I say, look! up there in that first floor."

"By George, they're something like."

"The sitter for choice."

"No, no, the standing-up one; she looks so saucy."

"Hello, Brown, do you know them?"

"One of them is my cousin," said Tom, who had just been guilty of the salutation which, as we saw, excited the indignation of the younger lady.

"What luck!-You'll ask me to meet them-when shall it be?

To-morrow at breakfast, I vote."

"I say, you'll introduce me before the ball on Monday? promise now," said another.

"I don't know that I shall see anything of them," said Tom; "I shall just leave a pasteboard, but I'm not in the humour to be dancing about lionizing."

A storm of indignation arose at this speech; the notion that any of the fraternity who had any hold on lionesses, particularly if they were pretty, should not use it to the utmost for the benefit of the rest, and the glory and honor of the college, was revolting to the under graduate mind. So the whole body escorted Tom to the door of the lodgings, impressing upon him the necessity of engaging both his lionesses for every hour of every day in St. Ambrose's, and left him not till they had heard him ask for the young ladies, and seen him fairly on his way upstairs. They need not have taken so much trouble, for in his secret soul he was no little pleased at the appearance of creditable ladies, more or less belonging to him, and would have found his way to see them quickly and surely enough without any urging. Moreover, he had been really fond of his cousin, years before, when they had been boy and girl together.

So they greeted one another very cordially, and looked one another over as they shook hands, to see what changes time had made. He makes his changes rapidly enough at that age, and mostly for the better, as the two cousins thought. It was nearly three years since they had met, and then he was a fifth-form boy and she a girl in the school-room. They were both conscious of a strange pleasure in meeting again, mixed with a feeling of shyness and wonder whether they should be able to step back into their old relations.

Mary looked on demurely, really watching them, but ostensibly engaged on the rosebud trimming. Presently Miss Winter turned to her and said, "I don't think you two ever met before; I must introduce you, I suppose;-my cousin Tom, my cousin Mary."

"Then we must be cousins, too," said Tom, holding out his hand.

"No, Katie says not," she answered.

"I don't mean to believe her, then," said Tom; "but what are you going to do now, to-night? Why didn't you write and tell me you were coming?"

"We have been so shut up lately, owing to papa's bad health, that

I really had almost forgotten that you were at Oxford."

"By the bye," said Tom, "where is uncle?"

"Oh, he is dining at the Vice-Chancellor's, who is an old college friend of his. We have only been up here three or four hours, and it has done him so much good. I am so glad we spirited him up to coming."

"You haven't made any engagements yet, I hope?"

"Indeed we have; I can't tell how many. We came in ti

me for luncheon in Balliol. Mary and I made it our dinner, and we have been seeing sights ever since, and have been asked to go to I don't know how many luncheons and breakfasts."

"What, with a lot of dons, I suppose?" said Tom, spitefully; "you won't enjoy Oxford, then; they'll bore you to death."

"There now, Katie; that is just what I was afraid of," joined in Mary; "you remember we didn't hear a word about balls all the afternoon."

"You haven't got your tickets for the balls, then?" said Tom, brightening up.

"No, how shall we get them?"

"Oh, I can manage that, I've no doubt."

"Stop; how are we to go? Papa will never take us."

"You needn't think about that; anybody will chaperone you. Nobody cares about that sort of thing at Commemoration."

"Indeed I think you had better wait till I have talked to papa."

"Then all the tickets will be gone," said Tom. "You must go. Why shouldn't I chaperone you? I know several men whose sisters are going with them."

"No, that will scarcely do, I'm afraid. But really, Mary, we must go and dress."

"Where are you going, then?" said Tom.

"To an evening party at the Vice-Chancellor's; we are asked for nine o'clock, and the half hour has struck."

"Hang the dons; how unlucky that I didn't know before! Have you any flowers, by the way?"

"Not one."

"Then I will try to get you some by the time you are ready. May

I?"

"Oh yes, pray, do," said Mary. "That's capital, Katie, isn't it? Now I shall have some thing to put in my hair; I couldn't think what I was to wear."

Tom took a look at the hair in question, and then left them and hastened out to scour the town for flowers, as if his life depended on success. In the morning he would probably have resented as insulting, or laughed at as wildly improbable, the suggestion that he would be so employed before night.

A double chair was drawn up opposite the door when he came back, and the ladies were coming down into the sitting-room.

"Oh look, Katie! What lovely flowers! How very kind of you."

Tom surrendered as much of his burden as that young lady's little round white hands could clasp, to her, and deposited the rest on the table.

"Now, Katie, which shall I wear-this beautiful white rose all by itself, or a wreath of these pansies? Here, I have a wire; I can make them up in a minute." She turned to the glass, and held the rich cream-white rose against her hair, and then turning on Tom, added, "What do you think?"

"I thought fern would suit your hair better than anything else," said Tom; "and so I got these leaves," and he picked out two slender fern-leaves.

"How very kind of you! Let me see, how do you mean? Ah! I see; it will be charming;" and so saying, she held the leaves one in each hand to the sides of her head, and then floated about the room for needle and thread, and with a few nimble stitches fastened together the simple green crown, which her cousin put on for her, making the points meet above her forehead. Mary was wild with delight at the effect, and full of thanks to Tom as he helped them hastily to tie up bouquets, and then, amidst much laughing, they squeezed into the wheel chair together (as the fashions of that day allowed two young ladies to do), and went off to their party, leaving a last injuction on him to go up and put the rest of the flowers in water, and to call directly after breakfast the next day.

He obeyed his orders, and pensively arranged the rest of the flowers in the china ornaments on the mantle-piece, and in a soup plate which he got and placed in the middle of the table, and then spent some minutes examining a pair of gloves and other small articles of women's gear which lay scattered about the room. The gloves particularly attracted him, and he flattened them out and laid them on his own large brown hand, and smiled at the contrast, and took further unjustifiable liberties with them; after which he returned to college and endured much banter as to the time his call had lasted, and promised to engage his cousins as he called them, to grace some festivities in St. Ambrose's at their first spare moment.

The next day, being Show Sunday, was spent by the young ladies in a ferment of spiritual and other dissipation. They attended morning service at eight at the cathedral; breakfasted at a Merton fellow's, from whence they adjourned to University sermon. Here Mary, after two or three utterly ineffectual attempts to understand what the preacher was meaning, soon relapsed into an examination of the bonnets present, and the doctors and proctors on the floor, and the undergraduates in the gallery. On the whole, she was perhaps, better employed than her cousin, who knew enough of religious party strife to follow the preacher, and was made very uncomfortable by his discourse, which consisted of an attack upon the recent publications of the most eminent and best men in the University. Poor Miss Winter came away with a vague impression of the wickedness of all persons who dare to travel out of beaten tracks, and that the most unsafe state of mind in the world is that which inquires and aspires, and cannot be satisfied with the regulation draught of spiritual doctors in high places. Being naturally of a reverent turn of mind, she tried to think that the discourse had done her good. At the same time she was somewhat troubled by the thought that somehow the best men in all times of which she had read seemed to her to be just those whom the preacher was in fact denouncing, although in words he had praised them as the great lights of the Church. The words which she had heard in one of the lessons kept running in her head, "Truly ye bear witness that ye do allow the deeds of your fathers, for they indeed killed them, but ye build their sepulchres." But she had little leisure to think on the subject, and, as her father praised the sermon as a noble protest against the fearful tendencies of the day to Popery and Pantheism, smothered the questionings of her own heart as well as she could, and went off to luncheon in a common room; after which her father retired to their lodgings, and she and her cousin were escorted to afternoon service at Magdalen, in achieving which last feat they had to encounter a crush only to be equaled by that at the pit entrance to the opera on a Jenny Lind night. But what will not a delicately nurtured British lady go through when her mind is bent either on pleasure or duty?

Poor Tom's feelings throughout the day may be more easily conceived than described. He had called according to order, and waited at their lodgings after breakfast. Of course they did not arrive. He had caught a distant glimpse of them in St. Mary's, but had not been able to approach. He had called again in the afternoon unsuccessfully, so far as seeing them was concerned; but he had found his uncle at home, lying upon the sofa. At first he was much dismayed by this rencontre, but, recovering his presence mind, he proceeded, I regret to say, to take the length of the old gentleman's foot, by entering into a minute and sympathizing in quiry into the state of his health. Tom had no faith whatever in his uncle's ill-health, and believed-as many persons of robust constitution are too apt to do when brought face to face with nervous patients-that he might shake off the whole of his maladies at any time by a resolute effort, so that his sympathy was all a sham, though, perhaps, one may pardon it, considering the end in view, which was that of persuading the old gentleman to entrust the young ladies to his nephew's care for that evening in the Long Walk; and generally to look upon his nephew, Thomas Brown, as his natural prop and supporter in the University, whose one object in life just now would be to take trouble off his hands, and who was of that rare and precocious steadiness of character that he might be as safely trusted as a Spanish duenna. To a very considerable extent the victim fell into the toils. He had many old friends at the colleges, and was very fond of good dinners, and long sittings afterwards. This very evening he was going to dine at St. John's, and had been much troubled at the idea of having to leave the unrivalled old port of that learned house to escort his daughter and niece to the Long Walk. Still he was too easy and good-natured not to wish that they might get there, and did not like the notion of their going with perfect strangers. Here was a compromise. His nephew was young, but still he was a near relation, and in fact it gave the poor old man a plausible excuse for not exerting himself as he felt he ought to do, which was all he ever required for shifting his responsibilities and duties upon other shoulders.

So Tom waited quietly till the young ladies came home, which they did just before hall-time. Mr. Winter was getting impatient. As soon as they arrived he started for St. John's, after advising them to remain at home for the evening, as they looked quite tired and knocked up; but if they resolved to go to the Long Walk, his nephew would escort them.

"How can Uncle Robert say we look so tired?" said Mary, consulting the glass on the subject; "I feel quite fresh. Of course, Katie, you mean to go to the Long Walk?"

"I hope you will go," said Tom; "I think you owe me some amends. I came here according to order this morning, and you were not in, and I have been trying to catch you ever since."

"We couldn't help it," said Miss Winter; "indeed we have not had a minute to ourselves all day. I was very sorry to think that we should have brought you here for nothing this morning."

"But about the Long Walk, Katie?"

"Well, don't you think we have done enough for to-day? I should like to have tea and sit quietly at home, as papa suggested."

"Do you feel very tired, dear?" said Mary, seating herself by her cousin on the sofa, and taking her hand.

"No, dear, I only want a little quiet and a cup of tea."

"Then let us stay here quietly till it is time to start. When ought we to get to the Long Walk?"

"About half-past seven," said Tom; "you shouldn't be much later than that."

"There you see, Katie, we shall have two hours' perfect rest. You shall lie upon the sofa, and I will read to you, and then we shall go on all fresh again."

Miss Winter smiled and said, "Very well." She saw that her cousin was bent on going, and she could deny her nothing.

"May I send you in anything from college?" said Tom; "you ought to have something more than tea, I'm sure."

"Oh no, thank you. We dined in the middle of the day."

"Then I may call you about seven o'clock," said Tom, who had come unwillingly to the conclusion that he had better leave them for the present.

"Yes, and mind you come in good time; we mean to see the whole sight, remember. We are country cousins."

"You must let me call you cousin then, just for the look of the thing."

"Certainly, just for the look of the thing, we will be cousins till further notice."

"Well, you and Tom seem to get on together, Mary," said Miss Winter, as they heard the front door close. "I'm learning a lesson from you, though I doubt whether I shall ever be able to put it in practice. What a blessing it must be not to be shy!"

"Are you shy, then?" said Mary, looking at her cousin with a playful loving smile.

"Yes, dreadfully. It is positive pain to me to walk into a room where there are people I do not know."

"But I feel that too. I'm sure, now, you were much less embarrassed than I last night at the Vice Chancellor's. I quite envied you, you seemed so much at your ease."

"Did I? I would have given anything to be back here quietly. But it is not the same thing with you. You have no real shyness, or you would never have got on so fast with my cousin."

"Oh! I don't feel at all shy with him," said Mary, laughing. "How lucky it is that he found us out so soon. I like him so much. There is a sort of way about him, as if he couldn't help himself. I am sure one could turn him round one's finger. Don't you think so?"

"I'm not so sure of that. But he always was soft-hearted, poor boy. But he isn't a boy any longer. You must take care, Mary. Shall we ring for tea?"

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