MoboReader > Young Adult > Tom Brown at Oxford


Tom Brown at Oxford By Thomas Hughes Characters: 14745

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:05

"A letter, Miss, from Englebourn," said a footman, coming up to Mary with the note given at the end of the last chapter, on a waiter. She took it and tore it open; and while she is reading it, the reader may be introduced to the place and company in which we find her. The scene is a large old-fashioned square brick house, backed by fine trees, in the tops of which the rooks live, and the jackdaws and starlings in the many holes which time has worn in the old trunks; but they are all away on this fine summer morning, seeking their meal and enjoying themselves in the neighbouring fields. In the front of the house is a pretty flower garden, separated by a haw-haw from a large pasture, sloping southwards gently down to a stream, which glides along through water-cress and willow beds to join the Kennet. The beasts have all been driven off, and on the upper part of the field, nearest the house, two men are fixing up a third pair of targets on the rich short grass. A large tent is pitched near the archery ground, to hold quivers and bow-cases, and luncheon, and to shelter lookers-on from the mid-day sun. Beyond the brook, a pleasant, well-timbered, country lies, with high chalk-downs for an horizon, ending in Marlborough hill, faint and blue in the west. This is the place which Mary's father has taken for the summer and autumn, and where she is fast becoming the pet of the neighborhood.

It will not perhaps surprise our readers to find that our hero has managed to find his way to Barton Manor in the second week of the vacation, and having made the most of his opportunities, is acknowledged as a cousin by Mr. and Mrs. Porter. Their boys are at home for the holidays, and Mr. Porter's great wish is that they should get used to the country in their summer holidays. And as they have spent most of their childhood and boyhood in London, to which he has been tied pretty closely hitherto, this is a great opportunity. The boys only wanted a preceptor, and Tom presented himself at the right moment, and soon became the hero of Charley and Neddy Porter. He taught them to throw flies and bait crawfish nets, to bat-fowl, and ferret for rabbits, and to saddle and ride their ponies, besides getting up games of cricket in the spare evenings, which kept him away from Mr. Porter's dinner-table. This last piece of self-denial, as he considered it, quite won over that gentleman, who agreed with his wife that Tom was just the sort of companion they would like for the boys, and so the house was thrown open to him.

The boys were always clamouring for him when he was away, and making their mother write off to press him to come again; which he, being a very good-natured young man, and particularly fond of boys, was ready enough to do. So this was the third visit he had paid in a month.

Mr. and Mrs. Brown wondered a little that he should be so very fond of the young Porters, who were good boys enough, but very much like other boys of thirteen and fifteen, of whom there were several in the neighborhood. He had indeed just mentioned an elder sister, but so casually that their attention had not been drawn to the fact, which had almost slipped out of their memories. On the other hand, Tom seemed so completely to identify himself with the boys and their pursuits, that it never occurred to their father and mother, who were doatingly fond of them, that, after all, they might not be the only attraction. Mary seemed to take very little notice of him, and went on with her own pursuits much as usual. It was true that she liked keeping the score at cricket, and coming to look at them fishing or rabbiting in her walks; but all that was very natural. It is a curious and merciful dispensation of Providence that most fathers and mothers seem never to be capable of remembering their own experience, and will probably go on till the end of time thinking of their sons of twenty and daughters of sixteen or seventeen as mere children who may be allowed to run about together as much as they please. And, where it is otherwise, the results are not very different, for there are certain mysterious ways of holding intercourse implanted in the youth of both sexes, against which no vigilance can prevail.

So on this, her great fete day, Tom had been helping Mary all the morning in dressing the rooms with flowers and arranging all the details-where people were to sit at cold dinner; how to find the proper number of seats; how the dining-room was to be cleared in time for dancing when the dew began to fall. In all which matters there were many obvious occasions for those little attentions which are much valued by persons in like situations; and Tom was not sorry that the boys had voted the whole preparations a bore, and had gone off to the brook to 'gropple' in the bank for crayfish till the shooting began. The arrival of the note had been the first contre-temps of the morning, and they were now expecting guests to arrive every minute.

"What is the matter? No bad news I hope," he said, seeing her vexed expression.

"Why, Katie can't come. I declare I could sit down and cry. I sha'n't enjoy the party a bit now, and I wish it were all over."

"I am sure Katie would be very unhappy if she thought you were going to spoil your day's pleasure on her account."

"Yes, I know she would. But it is so provoking when I had looked forward so to having her."

"You have never told me why she cannot come. She was quite full of it all a few days since."

"Oh, there is a poor old woman in the village dying, who is a great friend of Katie's. Here is her letter; let me see," she said, glancing over it to see that there is nothing in it that she did not wish him to read, "you may read it if you like."

Tom began reading. "Betty Winburn," he said, when he came to the name, "what, poor dear old Betty? why I've known her ever since I was born. She used to live in our parish, and I haven't seen her this eight years nearly. And her boy Harry, I wonder what has become of him?"

"You will see if you read on," said Mary; and so he read to the end, and then folded it up and returned it.

"So poor old Betty is dying. Well she was always a good soul, and very kind to me when I was a boy. I should like to see her once again, and perhaps I might be able to do something for her son."

"Why should we not ride over to Englebourn to-morrow? They will be glad to get us out of the way while the house is being straightened."

"I should like it of all things, if it can be managed."

"Oh, I will manage it somehow, for I must go and see that dear Katie. I do feel so ashamed of myself when I think of all the good she is doing, and I do nothing but put flowers about, and play the piano. Isn't she an angel, now?"

"Of course she is."

"Yes, but I won't have that sort of matter-of-course acquiescence. Now-do you really mean that Katie is as good as an angel?"

"As seriously as if I saw the wings growing out of her shoulders, and dew drops hanging on them."

"You deserve to have some thing not at all like wings growing out of your head. How is it that you never see when I don't want you to talk your nonsense?"

"How am I to talk sense about angels? I don't know anything about them."

"You know what I mean perfectly. I say that dear Katie is an angel, and I mean that I don't know anything in her-no no

t one single thing-which I should like to have changed. If the angels are all as good as she"-

"If! why I shall begin to doubt your orthodoxy."

"You don't know what I was going to say."

"It doesn't matter what you were going to say. You couldn't have brought that sentence into an orthodox conclusion. Oh, please don't look so angry, now. Yes, I quite see what you mean. You can think of Katie just as she is now in heaven without being shocked."

Mary paused for a moment before she answered, as if taken by surprise at this way of putting her meaning, and then said seriously-

"Indeed, I can. I think we should all be perfectly happy if we were all as good as she is."

"But she is not very happy herself, I am afraid."

"Of course not. How can she be, when all the people about her are so troublesome and selfish?"

"I can't fancy an angel the least bit like Uncle Robert, can you?"

"I won't talk about angels any more. You have made me feel quite as if I had been saying something wicked."

"Now really it is too hard that you should lay all the blame on me, when you began the subject yourself. You ought at least to let me say what I have to say about angels."

"Why, you said you knew nothing about them half a minute ago."

"But I may have my notions, like other people. You have your notions. Katie is your angel."

"Well, then, what are your notions?"

"Katie is rather too dark for my idea of an angel. I can't fancy a dark angel."

"Why, how can you call Katie dark!"

"I only say she is too dark for my idea of an angel."

"Well, go on."

"Then, she is rather too grave!"

"Too grave for an angel!"

"For my idea of an angel,-one doesn't want one's angel to be like oneself, and I am so grave, you know."

"Yes, very. Then your angel is to be a laughing angel. A laughing angel, and yet very sensible; never talking nonsense?"

"Oh, I didn't say that."

"But you said he wasn't to be like you."

"He! who in the world do you mean by he?"

"Why, your angel, of course."

"My angel! You don't really suppose that my angel is to be a man."

"I have no time to think about it. Look, they are putting those targets quite crooked. You are responsible for the targets; we must go and get them straight."

They walked across the ground towards the targets, and Tom settled them according to his notions of opposites.

"After all, archery is slow work," he said, when the targets were settled satisfactorily. "I don't believe anybody really enjoys it."

"Now that is because you men haven't it all to yourselves. You are jealous of any sort of game in which we can join. I believe you are afraid of being beaten by us."

"On the contrary, that is its only recommendation, that you can join in it."

"Well, I think that ought to be recommendation enough. But I believe it is much harder than most of your games. You can't shoot half so well as you can play cricket, can you?"

"No, because I never practice. It isn't exciting to be walking up and down between two targets, and doing the same thing over and over again. Why, you don't find it so yourself. You hardly ever shoot."

"Indeed, I do though, constantly."

"Why, I have scarcely ever seen you shooting."

"That is because you are away with the boys all day."

"Oh, I am never too far to know what is going on. I'm sure you have never practised for more than a quarter of an hour any day I have been here."

"Well, perhaps I may not have. But I tell you I am very fond of it."

Here the two boys came up from the brook, Neddy with his Scotch cap full of crayfish.

"Why, you wretched boys, where have you been? You are not fit to be seen," said Mary, shaking the arrows at them which she was carrying in her hand. "Go and dress directly, or you will be late. I think I heard a carriage driving up just now."

"Oh, there's plenty of time. Look what whackers, Cousin Tom," said Charley, holding out one of his prizes by its back towards Tom, while the indignant crayfish flapped its tail and worked around with its claws, in hopes of getting hold of something to pinch.

"I don't believe those boys have been dry for two hours together in daylight since you first came here," said Mary, to Tom.

"Well, and they're all the better for it, I'm sure," said Tom.

"Yes, that we are," said Charley.

"I say Charley," said Tom, "your sister says she is very fond of shooting."

"Ay, and so she is. And isn't she a good shot too? I believe she would beat you at fifty yards."

"There now, you see, you need not have been so unbelieving," said


"Will you give her a shot at your new hat, Cousin Tom?" said


"Yes, Neddy, that I will;" and he added to Mary, "I will bet you a pair of gloves that you don't hit it in three shots."

"Very well," said Mary; "at thirty yards."

"No, no! fifty yards was the named distance."

"No, fifty yards is too far. Why, you hat is not much bigger than the gold."

"Well, I don't mind splitting the difference; we will say forty."

"Very well-three shots at forty yards."

"Yes; here, Charley, run and hang my hat on that target."

The boys rushed off with the hat-a new white one-and hung it with a bit of string over the center of one of the targets, and then, stepping a little aside, stood, clapping their hands, shouting to Mary to take good aim.

"You must string my bow," she said, handing it to him as she buckled on her guard. "Now, do you repent? I am going to do my best, mind, if I do shoot."

"I scorn repentance; do your worst," said Tom, stringing the bow and handing it back to her. "And now I will hold your arrows; here is the forty yards."

Mary came to the place which he had stepped, her eyes full of fun and mischief; and he saw at once that she knew what she was about, as she took her position and drew the first arrow. It missed the hat by some three inches only; and the boys clapped and shouted.

"Too near to be pleasant," said Tom, handing the second arrow. "I see you can shoot."

"Well, I will let you off still."

"Gloves and all?"

"No, of course you must pay the gloves."

"Shoot away, then. Ah, that will do," he cried, as the second arrow struck considerably above the hat, "I shall get my gloves yet," and he handed the third arrow. They were too intent on the business in hand to observe that Mr. and Mrs. Porter and several guests were already on the hand-bridge which crossed the haw-haw.

Mary drew her third arrow, paused a moment, loosed it, and this time with fatal aim.

The boys rushed to the target, towards which Mary and Tom also hurried, Mr. and Mrs. Porter and the new comers following more quietly.

"Oh, look here-what fun," said Charley, as Tom came up, holding up the hat, spiked on the arrow, which he had drawn out of the target.

"What a wicked shot," he said, taking the hat and turning to Mary. "Look here, you have actually gone through three places-through crown, and side, and brim."

Mary began to feel quite sorry at her own success, and looked at the wounded hat sorrowfully.

"Hullo, look here-here's papa and mamma and some people, and we ain't dressed. Come along, Neddy," and the boys made off towards the back premises, while Mary and Tom, turning round, found themselves in the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Porter, Mrs. Brown, and two or three other guests.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top