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   Chapter 28 THE END OF THE FRESHMAN'S YEAR

Tom Brown at Oxford By Thomas Hughes Characters: 22940

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:05


On the morning after Commemoration, Oxford was in a bustle of departure. The play had been played, the long vacation had begun, and visitors and members seemed equally anxious to be off. At the gates of the colleges, groups of men in travelling-dresses waited for the coaches, omnibuses, dog-carts and all manner of vehicles, which were to carry them to the Great Western railway station at Steventon, or elsewhere, to all points of the compass. Porters passed in and out with portmanteaus, gun-cases, and baggage of all kinds, which they piled outside the gates, or carried off to "The Mitre" or "The Angel," under the vigorous and not too courteous orders of the owners. College servants flitted round the groups to take instructions, and, if so might be, to extract the balances of extortionate bills out of their departing masters. Dog-fanciers were there also, holding terriers; and scouts from the cricketing grounds, with bats and pads under their arms; and hostlers, and men from the boats, all on the same errand of getting the last shilling out of their patrons-a fawning, obsequious crowd for the most part, with here and there a sturdy Briton who felt that he was only there for his due.

Through such a group, at the gate of St. Ambrose, Tom and Hardy passed soon after breakfast time, in cap and gown, which costume excited no small astonishment.

"Hullo, Brown, old fellow! ain't you off this morning?"

"No, I shall be up for a day or two yet."

"Wish you joy. I wouldn't be staying up over to-day for something."

"But you'll be at Henley to-morrow?" said Diogenes, confidently, who stood at the gate in boating coat and flannels, a big stick and knapsack, waiting for a companion, with whom he was going to walk to Henley.

"And at Lord's on Friday," said another. "It will be a famous match. Come and dine somewhere afterwards, and go to the Haymarket with us."

"You know the Leander are to be at Henley," put in Diogenes; "and Cambridge is very strong. There will be a splendid race for the cup, but Jervis thinks we are all right."

"Bother your eternal races! Haven't we had enough of them already?" said the Londoner. "You had much better come up to the little village at once, Brown, and stay there while the coin lasts."

"If I get away at all, it will be to Henley," said Tom.

"Of course, I knew that," said Diogenes, triumphantly, "our boat ought to be on for the ladies' plate. If only Jervis were not in the University crew! I thought you were to pull at Henley, Hardy?"

"I was asked to pull, but I couldn't manage the time with the schools coming on, and when the examinations were over it was too late. The crew were picked and half trained, and none of them have broken down."

"What! Every one of them stood putting through the sieve? They must be a rare crew, then," said another.

"You're right," said Diogenes. "Oh, here you are at last," he added, as another man in flannels and knapsack came out of college. "Well, good-bye all, and a pleasant vacation; we must be off, if we are to be in time to see our crew pull over the course to-night;" and the two marched off towards Magdalen Bridge.

"By Jove!" remarked a fast youth, in most elaborate toilette, looking after them, "fancy two fellows grinding off to Henley, five miles an hour, in this sun, when they might drop up to the metropolis by train in half the time? Isn't it marvellous?"

"I should like to be going with them," said Tom.

"Well, there's no accounting for tastes. Here's our coach."

"Good-bye, then;" and Tom shook hands, and, leaving the coach to get packed with portmanteaus, terriers, and undergraduates, he and Hardy walked off towards the High-street.

"So you're not going to-day?" Hardy said.

"No; two or three of my old schoolfellows are coming up to stand for scholarships, and I must be here to receive them. But it's very unlucky; I should have liked so to have been at Henley."

"Look, their carriage is already at the door," said Hardy, pointing up High-street, into which they now turned. There were a dozen postchaises and carriages loading in front of different houses in the street, and amongst them Mr. Winter's old-fashioned travelling barouche.

"So it is," said Tom; "that's some of uncle's fidgetiness; but he will be sure to dawdle at the last. Come along in."

"Don't you think I had better stay downstairs? It may seem intrusive."

"No, come along. Why, they asked you to come and see the last of them last night, didn't they?"

Hardy did not require any further urging to induce him to follow his inclination; so the two went up together. The breakfast things were still on the table, at which sat Miss Winter, in her bonnet, employed in examining the bill, with the assistance of Mary, who leant over her shoulder. She looked up as they entered.

"Oh! I'm so glad you are come. Poor Katie is so bothered, and I can't help her. Do look at the bill; is it all right?"

"Shall I, Katie?"

"Yes, please do. I don't see anything to object to, except, perhaps, the things I have marked. Do you think we ought to be charged half a crown a day for the kitchen fire?"

"Fire in June! and you have never dined at home once?"

"No, but we have had tea several times."

"It is a regular swindle," said Tom, taking the bill and glancing at it. "Here, Hardy, come and help me cut down this precious total."

They sat down to the bill, the ladies willingly giving place.

Mary tripped off to the glass to tie her bonnet.

"Now that is all right!" she said merrily; "why can't one go on without bills or horrid money?"

"Ah! why can't one?" said Tom, "that would suit most of our complaints. But where's uncle; has he seen the bill?"

"No; Papa is in his room; he must not be worried, or the journey will be too much for him."

Here the ladies'-maid arrived, with a message that her father wished to see Miss Winter.

"Leave your money, Katie," said her cousin, "this is gentlemen's business, and Tom and Mr. Hardy will settle it all for us, I am sure."

Tom professed his entire willingness to accept the charge, delighted at finding himself reinstated in his office of protector at Mary's suggestion. Had the landlord been one or his own tradesmen, or the bill his own bill, he might not have been so well pleased, but, as neither of these was the case, and he had Hardy to back him, he went into the matter with much vigor and discretion, and had the landlord up, made the proper deductions, and got the bill settled and receipted in a few minutes. Then he and Hardy addressed themselves to getting the carriage comfortably packed, and vied with one another in settling and stowing away in the most convenient places, the many little odds and ends which naturally accompany young ladies and invalids on their travels; in the course of which employment he managed to snatch a few words here and there with Mary and satisfied himself that she bore him no ill-will for the events of the previous day.

At last all was ready for the start, and Tom reported the fact in the sitting-room. "Then I will go and fetch papa," said Miss Winter.

Tom's eyes met Mary's at the moment. He gave a slight shrug with

his shoulders, and said, as the door closed after his cousin,

"Really I have no patience with Uncle Robert, he leaves poor

Katie to do everything."

"Yes; and how beautifully she does it all, without a word or, I believe, a thought of complaint! I could never be so patient."

"I think it is a pity. If Uncle Robert were obliged to exert himself, it would be much better for him. Katie is only spoiling him and wearing herself out."

"Yes, it is very easy for you and me to think and say so. But he is her father, and then he is really an invalid. So she goes on devoting herself to him more and more, and feels she can never do too much for him."

"But if she believed it would be better for him to exert himself?

I'm sure it is the truth. Couldn't you try to persuade her?"

"No, indeed; it would only worry her, and be so cruel. But then I am not used to give advice," she added, after a moment's pause, looking demurely at her gloves; "It might do good, perhaps, now, if you were to speak to her."

"You think me so well qualified, I suppose, after the specimen you had yesterday? Thank you; I have had enough of lecturing for the present."

"I am very much obliged to you, really, for what you said to me," said Mary, still looking at her gloves.

The subject was a very distasteful one to Tom. He looked at her for a moment to see whether she was laughing at him, and then broke it off abruptly-

"I hope you have enjoyed your visit?"

"Oh yes, so very much. I shall think of it all the summer."

"Where shall you be all the summer?" asked Tom. "Not so very far from you. Papa has taken a house only eight miles from Englebourn, and Katie says you live within a day's drive of them."

"And shall you be there all the vacation?"

"Yes; and we hope to get Katie over often. Could not you come and meet her? it would be so pleasant."

"But do you think I might? I don't know your father or mother."

"Oh, yes; papa and mamma are very kind, and will ask anybody I like. Besides, you are a cousin, you know."

"Only up at Oxford, I am afraid."

"Well now, you will see. We are going to have a great archery party next month, and you shall have an invitation."

"Will you write it for me yourself?"

"Very likely; but why?"

"Don't you think I shall value a note in your hand more than-"

"Nonsense; now, remember your lecture. Oh here are Uncle Robert and Katie."

Mr. Winter was very gracious, and thanked Tom for all his attentions. He had been very pleased, he said, to make his nephew's acquaintance again so pleasantly, and hoped he would come and pass a day or two at Englebourn in the vacation. In his sad state of health he could not do much to entertain a young man, but he could procure him some good fishing and shooting in the neighborhood. Tom assured his uncle that nothing would please him so much as a visit to Englebourn. Perhaps the remembrance of the distance between that parish and the place where Mary was to spend the summer may have added a little to his enthusiasm.

"I should have liked also to have thanked your friend for his hospitality," Mr. Winter went on. "I understood my daughter to say he was here."

"Yes, he was here just now," said Tom; "he must be below, I think."

"What, that good Mr. Hardy?" said Mary, who was looking out of the window; "there he is in the street. He has just helped Hopkins into the rumble, and handed her things to her just as if she were a duchess. She has been so cross all the morning, and now she looks quite gracious."

"Then I think, papa, we had better start."

"Let me give you an arm down stairs, uncle," said Tom; and so he helped his uncle down to the carriage, the two young ladies following behind, and the landlord standing with obsequious bows at his shop door, and looking as if he had never made an overcharge in his life.

While Mr. Winter was making his acknowledgments to Hardy, and being helped by him into the most comfortable seat in the carriage, Tom was making tender adieus to the two young ladies behind, and even succeeded in keeping a rose-bud which Mary was carrying, when they took their seats. She parted from it half-laughingly, and the post-boy cracked his whip and the barouche went lumbering along

High-street. Hardy and Tom watched it until it turned down St. Aldate's towards Folly Bridge, the latter waving his hand as it disappeared, and then they turned and strolled slowly away side by side in silence. The sight of all the other departures increased the uncomfortable, unsatisfied feeling which that of his own relatives had already produced in Tom's mind.

"Well, it isn't lively stopping up here when everybody is going, is it? What is one to do?"

"Oughtn't you to be looking after your friends who are coming up to try for the scholarships?"

"No, they won't be up till afternoon, by coach."

"Shall we go down to the river, then?"

"No, it would be miserable. Hullo, look here, what's up?"

The cause of Tom's astonishment was the appearance of the usual procession of university beadles carrying silver-headed maces, and escorting the Vice-Chancellor towards St. Mary's.

"Why, the bells are going for service; there must be a university sermon. Is it a saint's day?"

"Where's the congregation to come from? Why, half Oxford is off by this time, and those that are left won't want to be hearing sermons."

"Well, I don't know. A good many seem to be going. I wonder who is to preach?"

"I vote we go. It will help to pass the time."

Hardy agreed, and they followed the procession and went up into the gallery of St. Mary's. There was a very fair congregation in the body of the church, and the staffs of the colleges had not yet broken up, and even in the gallery the undergraduates mustered in some force. The restless feeling which had brought our hero there seemed to have had a like effect on most of the men who were for one reason or another unable to start on that day.

Tom looked steadily into his cap during the bidding prayer, and sat down composedly afterwards, expecting not to be much interested or benefitted, but comforted with the assurance that at any rate it would be almost luncheon time before he would be again thrown on his own resources. But he was mistaken in his expectations, and before the preacher had been speaking for three minutes, was all attention. The sermon was upon the freedom of the Gospel, the power by which it bursts all bonds and lets the oppressed go free. Its burthen was, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." The preacher dwelt on many sides of these words; the freedom of nations, of societies, of universities, of the conscience of each individual man, were each glanced at in turn; and then, reminding his hearers of the end of the academical year, he went on-

"We have heard it said in the troubles and toils and temptations of the world,* 'Oh that I could begin life over again! oh that I could fall asleep, and wake up twelve, six, three mouths hence, and find my difficulties solved!' That which we may vainly wish elsewhere, by a happy Providence is furnished to us by the natural divisions of meeting and parting in this place. To everyone of us, old and young, the long vacation on which we are now entering gives us a breathing space, and time to break the bonds which place and circumstance have woven round us during the year that is past. From all our petty cares, and confusions, and intrigues; from the dust and clatter of this huge machinery amidst which we labor and toil; from whatever cynical contempt of what is generous and devout; from whatever fanciful disregard of what is just and wise; from whatever gall of bitterness is secreted in our best motives; from whatever bonds of unequal dealings in which we may have entangled ourselves or others, we are now for a time set free. We stand on the edge of a river which shall for a time at least sweep them away-that ancient river, the Kishon, the river of fresh thoughts, and fresh scenes, and fresh feelings, and fresh hopes-one surely amongst the blessed means whereby God's free and loving grace works out our deliverance, our redemption from evil, and renews the strength of each succeeding year, so that we may 'mount up again as eagles, may run and not be weary, may walk and not faint.'"

"And if, turning to the younger part of my hearers, I may still more directly apply this general lesson to them. Is there no one who, in some shape or other, does not feel the bondage of which I have been speaking? He has something on his conscience; he has something on his mind; extravagance, sin, debt, falsehood. Every morning in the first few minutes after waking, it is the first thought that occurs to him. He drives it away in the day; he drives it off by recklessness, which only binds it more and more closely round him. Is there any one who has ever felt, who is at this moment feeling this grievous burden. What is the deliverance? How shall he set himself free? In what special way does the redemption of Christ, the free grace of God, present itself to him? There is at least one way clear and simple. He knows it better than anyone can tell him. It is those same words which I used with another purpose. 'The truth shall make him free.' It is to tell the truth to his friend, to his parent, to any one, whosoever it be, from whom he is concealing that which he ought to make known. One word of open, frank disclosure-one resolution to act sincerely and honestly by himself and others, one ray of truth let into that dark corner will indeed set the whole man free."

"Liberavi animam meam. 'I have delivered my soul.' What a faithful expression is this of the relief, the deliverance effected by one strong effort of will in one moment of time. 'I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father I have sinned against Heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. So we heard the prodigal's confession this morning. So may the thought well spring up in the minds of any who in the course of this last year have wandered into sin, have found themselves beset with evil habits of wicked idleness, of wretched self-indulgence. Now that you are indeed in the literal sense of the word about to rise and go to your father, now that you will be able to shake off the bondage of bad companionship, now that the whole length of this long absence will roll between you and the past, take a long breath; break off the yoke of your sin, of your fault, of your wrong doing, of your folly, of your perverseness, of your pride, of your vanity, of your weakness; break it off by truth; break it off by one stout effort, in one steadfast prayer; break it off by innocent and free enjoyment; break it off by honest work. Put your 'hand to the nail and your right hand to the workman's hammer;' strike through the enemy which has ensnared you, pierce and strike him through and through. However powerful he seems, at your feet he will bow, he will fall, he will lie down; at your feet he will bow and fall, and where he bows, there will he rise up no more. So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love Thee be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.'"

* This quotation is from the sermon preached by Dr. Stanley before the University, on Act Sunday, 1859 (published by J. H. Parker, of Oxford). I hope the distinguished professor whose words they are will pardon the liberty I have taken in quoting them. No words of my own could have given so vividly what I wanted to say.

The two friends separated themselves from the crowd in the porch and walked away, side by side, towards their college.

"Well, that wasn't a bad move of ours. It is worth something to hear a man preach that sort of doctrine," said Hardy.

"How does he get to know it all?" said Tom, meditatively.

"All what? I don't see your puzzle."

"Why, all sorts of things that are in a fellow's mind-what he thinks about the first thing in the morning, for instance."

"Pretty much like the rest of us, I take it; by looking at home.

You don't suppose university preachers are unlike you and me."

"Well, I don't know. Now do you think he ever had anything on his mind that was always coming up and plaguing him, and which he never told to anybody?"

"Yes, I should think so; most of us must have had."

"Have you?"

"Ay, often and often."

"And you think his remedy the right one?"

"The only one. Make a clean breast of it and the sting is gone. There's a great deal to be done afterwards, of course; but there can be no question about step No. 1."

"Did you ever owe a hundred pounds that you couldn't pay?" said Tom, with a sudden effort; and his secret had hardly passed his lips before he felt a relief which surprised himself.

"My dear fellow," said Hardy, stopping in the street "you don't mean to say you are speaking of yourself?"

"I do, though," said Tom, "and it has been on my mind ever since Easter term, and has spoilt my temper and everything-that and something else that you know of. You must have seen me getting more and more ill-tempered, I'm sure; and I have thought of it the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night; and tried to drive the thought away just as he said one did in his sermon. By Jove, I thought he knew all about it, for he looked right at me, just when he came to that place."

"But, Brown, how do you mean you owe a hundred pounds? You haven't read much certainly; but you haven't hunted, or gambled, or tailored much, or gone into any other extravagant folly. You must be dreaming."

"Am I though? Come up to my rooms and I'll tell you all about it; I feel better already now I've let it out. I'll send over for your commons, and we'll have some lunch."

Hardy followed his friend in much trouble of mind, considering in himself whether with the remainder of his savings he could not make up the sum which Tom had named. Fortunately for both of them a short calculation showed him that he could not, and he gave up the idea of delivering his friend in this summary manner with a sigh. He remained closeted with Tom for an hour, and then came out, looking serious still, but not uncomfortable, and went down to the river. He sculled down to Sandford, bathed in the lasher, and returned in time for chapel. He stayed outside afterwards, and Tom came up to him and seized his arm.

"I've done it, old fellow," he said; "look here;" and produced a letter. Hardy glanced at the direction, and saw that it was to his father.

"Come along and post it," said Tom, "and then I shall feel all right."

They walked off quickly to the post-office and dropped the letter into the box.

"There," he said, as it disappeared, "liberavi animam meam. I owe the preacher a good turn for that; I've a good mind to write and thank him. Fancy the poor old governor's face to-morrow at breakfast!"

"Well, you seem to take it easy enough now," said Hardy.

"I can't help it. I tell you I haven't felt so jolly this two months. What a fool I was not to have done it before. After all now I come to think of it, I can pay it myself, at least as soon as I am of age, for I know I've some money-a legacy or something-coming to me then. But that isn't what I care about now."

"I'm very glad, though, that you have the money of your own."

"Yes, but the having told it is all the comfort. Come along, and let's see whether these boys are come. The old Pig ought to be in by this time, and I want them to dine in hall. It's only ten months since I came up on it to matriculate, and it seems twenty years. But I'm going to be a boy again for to-night; you'll see if I'm not."

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