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   Chapter 35 SECOND YEAR

Tom Brown at Oxford By Thomas Hughes Characters: 29288

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:05


For some days after his return home-in fact, until his friend's arrival, Tom was thoroughly beaten down and wretched, notwithstanding his efforts to look hopefully forward, and keep up his spirits. His usual occupations were utterly distasteful to him; and, instead of occupying himself, he sat brooding over his late misfortune, and hopelessly puzzling his head as to what he could do to set matters right. The conviction in which he always landed was that there was nothing to be done, and that he was a desolate and blighted being, deserted of gods and men. Hardy's presence and company soon shook him out of this maudlin nightmare state, and he began to recover as soon as he had his old sheet-anchor friend to hold on to and consult with. Their consultations were held chiefly in the intervals of woodcraft, in which they spent most of their hours between breakfast and dinner. Hardy did not take out a certificate and wouldn't shoot without one; so, as the best autumn exercise, they selected a tough old pollard elm, infinitely ugly, with knotted and twisted roots, curiously difficult to get at and cut through, which had been long marked as a blot by Mr. Brown, and condemned to be felled as soon as there was nothing more pressing for his men to do. But there was always something of more importance; so that the cross-grained old tree might have remained until this day, had not Hardy and Tom pitched on him as a foeman worthy of their axes. They shoveled, and picked, and hewed away with great energy. The woodman who visited them occasionally, and who, on examining their first efforts, had remarked that the severed roots looked a little "as tho' the dogs had been a gnawin' at 'em," began to hold them in respect, and to tender his advice with some deference. By the time the tree was felled and shrouded, Tom was in a convalescent state.

Their occupation had naturally led to discussions on the advantages of emigration, the delights of clearing one's own estate, building one's own house, and getting away from conventional life with a few tried friends. Of course the pictures which were painted included foregrounds with beautiful children playing about the clearing, and graceful women, wives of the happy squatters, flitting in and out of log houses and sheds, clothed and occupied after the manner of our ideal grandmothers; with the health and strength of Amazons, the refinement of high-bred ladies, and wondrous skill in all domestic works, confections, and contrivances. The log-houses would also contain fascinating select libraries, continually reinforced from home, sufficient to keep all the dwellers in the happy clearing in communion with all the highest minds of their own and former generations. Wonderous games in the neighbouring forest, dear old home customs established and taking root in the wilderness, with ultimate dainty flower gardens, conservatories, and pianofortes-a millennium on a small scale, with universal education, competence, prosperity, and equal rights! Such castle-building, as an accompaniment to the hard exercise of woodcraft, worked wonders for Tom in the next week, and may be safely recommended to parties in like evil case with him.

But more practical discussions were not neglected, and it was agreed that they should make a day at Englebourn together before their return to Oxford, Hardy undertaking to invade the Rectory with the view of re-establishing his friend's character there.

Tom wrote a letter to Katie to prepare her for a visit. The day after the ancient elm was fairly disposed of, they started early for Englebourn, and separated at the entrance to the village-Hardy proceeding to the Rectory to fulfill his mission, which he felt to be rather an embarrassing one, and Tom to look after the constable, or whoever else could give him information about Harry.

He arrived at the "Red Lion," their appointed trysting place, before Hardy, and spent a restless half-hour in the porch and bar waiting for his return. At last Hardy came, and Tom hurried him into the inn's best room, where bread and cheese and ale awaited them; and, as soon as the hostess could be got out of the room, began impatiently-

"Well you have seen her?"

"Yes, I have come straight here from the Rectory."

"And is it all right, eh? Has she got my letter?"

"Yes, she had had your letter."

"And you think she is satisfied?"

"Satisfied? No, you can't expect her to be satisfied."

"I mean, is she satisfied that it isn't so bad after all as it looked the other day? What does Katie think of me?"

"I think she is still very fond of you, but that she has been puzzled and outraged by this discovery, and cannot get over it all at once."

"Why didn't you tell her the whole story from beginning to end?"

"I tried to do so as well as I could."

"Oh, but I can see you haven't done it. She doesn't really understand how it is."

"Perhaps not; but you must remember it is an awkward subject to be talking about to a young woman. I would sooner stand another fellowship examination than go through it again."

"Thank you, old fellow," said Tom, laying his hand on Hardy's shoulder; "I feel that I'm unreasonable and impatient; but you can excuse it; you know that I don't mean it."

"Don't say another word; I only wish I could have done more for you."

"But what do you suppose Katie thinks of me?"

"Why, you see, it sums itself up in this; she sees that you have been making serious love to Patty, and have turned the poor girl's head, more or less, and that now you are in love with somebody else. Why, put it how we will, we can't get out of that. There are the facts, pure and simple, and she wouldn't be half a woman if she didn't resent it."

"But it's hard lines, too, isn't it, old fellow? No, I won't say that? I deserve it all, and much worse. But you think I may come round all right?"

"Yes, all in good time. I hope there's no danger in any other quarter?"

"Goodness knows. There's the rub, you see. She will go back to town disgusted with me. I sha'n't see her again, and she won't hear of me for I don't know how long; and she will be meeting heaps of men. Has Katie been over to Barton?"

"Yes; she was there last week, just before they left."

"Well, what happened?"

"She wouldn't say much; but I gathered that they are very well."

"Oh yes, bother it. Of course they are very well. But didn't she talk to Katie about what happened last week?"

"Of couse they did! What else should they talk about?"

"But you don't know what they said?"

"No. But you may depend on it that Miss Winter will be your friend. My dear fellow, there is nothing for it but time."

"Well, I suppose not," said Tom, with a groan. "Do you think I should call and see Katie?"

"No; I think better not."

"Well, then, we may as well get back," said Tom, who was not sorry for his friend's decision. So they paid their bill and started for home, taking the Hawk's Lynch on the way, that Hardy might see the view.

"And what did you find out about young Winburn?" he said as they passed down the street.

"Oh, no good," said Tom; "he was turned out, as I thought, and has gone to live with an old woman on the heath here, who is no better than she should be; and none of the farmers will employ him.

"You didn't see him, I suppose?"

"No, he is away with some of the heath people, hawking besoms and chairs about the country. They make them when there is no harvest work, and loaf about in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and other counties, selling them."

"No good will come of that sort of life, I'm afraid."

"No, but what is he to do?"

"I called at the lodge as I came away, and saw Patty and her mother. It's all right in that quarter. The old woman doesn't seem to think anything of it, and Patty is a good girl, and will make Harry Winburn, or anybody else, a capital wife. Here are your letters."

"And the locket?"

"I quite forgot it. Why didn't you remind me of it? You talked of nothing but the letters this morning."

"I'm glad of it. It can do no harm now, and as it is worth something, I should have been ashamed to take it back. I hope she'll put Harry's hair in it soon. Did she seem to mind giving up the letters?"

"Not very much. No, you are lucky there. She will get over it."

"But you told her that I am her friend for life, and that she is to let me know if I can ever do anything for her?"

"Yes. And now I hope this is the last job of the kind I shall ever have to do for you."

"But what bad luck it has been? If I had only seen her before, or known who she was, nothing of all this would have happened."

To this Hardy made no reply; and the subject was not alluded to again in their walk home.

A day or two afterwards they returned to Oxford, Hardy to begin his work as fellow and assistant-tutor of the College, and Tom to see whether he could not make a better hand of his second year than he had of his first. He began with a much better chance of doing so, for he was thoroughly humbled. The discovery that he was not altogether such a hero as he had fancied himself, had dawned upon him very distinctly by the end of his first year; and the events of the long vacation had confirmed the impression, and pretty well taken all the conceit out of him for the time. The impotency of his own will, even when he was bent on doing the right thing, his want of insight and foresight in whatever matter he took in hand, the unruliness of his temper and passions just at the moments when it behooved him to have them most thoroughly in hand and under control, were a set of disagreeable facts which had been driven well home to him. The results, being even such as we have seen, he did not much repine at, for he felt he had deserved them; and there was a sort of grim satisfaction, dreary as the prospect was, in facing them, and taking his punishment like a man. This was what he had felt at the first blush on the Hawk's Lynch; and, as he thought over matters again by his fire, with his oak sported, on the first evening of term, he was still in the same mind. This was clearly what he had to do now. How to do it, was the only question.

At first he was inclined to try to set himself right with the Porters and the Englebourn circle, by writing further explanations and confessions to Katie. But, on trying his hand at a letter, he found that he could not trust himself. The temptation of putting everything in the best point of view for himself was too great; so he gave up the attempt, and merely wrote a few lines to David, to remind him that he was always ready and anxious to do all he could for his friend, Harry Winburn, and to beg that he might have news of anything which happened to him, and how he was getting on. He did not allude to what had lately happened, for he did not know whether the facts had become known, and was in no hurry to open the subject himself.

Having finished his letter, he turned again to his meditations over the fire, and, considering that he had some little right to reward resolution, took off the safety valve, and allowed the thoughts to bubble up freely which were always underlying all others that passed through his brain, and making constant low, delicious, but just now somewhat melancholy music, in his head and heart. He gave himself up to thinking of Mary, and their walk in the wood, and the sprained ankle, and all the sayings and doings of that eventful autumn day. And then he opened his desk, and examined certain treasures therein concealed, including a withered rose-bud, a sprig of heather, a cut boot-lace, and a scrap or two of writing. Having gone through some extravagant forms of worship, not necessary to be specified, he put them away. Would it ever all come right?

He made his solitary tea, and sat down again to consider the point. But the point would not be considered alone. He began to feel more strongly what he had had several hints of already, that there was a curiously close connexion between his own love story and that of Harry Winburn and Patty-that he couldn't separate them, even in his thoughts. Old Simon's tumble, which had recalled his daughter from Oxford at so critical a moment for him; Mary's visit to Englebourn at this very time; the curious yet natural series of little accidents which had kept him in ignorance of Patty's identity until the final catastrophe-then, again, the way in which Harry Winburn and his mother had come across him on the very day of his leaving Barton; the fellowship of a common mourning which had seemed to bind them together so closely; and this last discovery, which he could not help fearing must turn Harry into a bitter enemy, when he heard the truth, as he must, sooner or later-as all these things passed before him, he gave in to a sort of superstitious feeling that his own fate hung, in some way or another, upon that of Harry Winburn. If he helped on his suit, he was helping on his own; but whether he helped on his own or not, was, after all, not that which was uppermost in his thoughts, He was much changed in this respect since he last sat in those rooms, just after his first days with her. Since then an angel had met him, and had touched the cord of self, which, trembling, was passing "in music out of sight."

The thought of Harry and his trials enabled him to indulge in some good honest indignation, for which there was no room in his own case. That the prospects in life of such a man should be in the power, to a great extent, of such people as Squire Wurley and Farmer Tester; that, because he happened to be poor, he should be turned out of the cottage where his family had lived for a hundred years, at a week's notice, through the caprice of a drunken gambler; that because he had stood up for his rights, and had thereby offended the worst farmer in the parish, he should be a marked man, and unable to get work-these things appeared so monstrous to Tom, and made him so angry, that he was obliged to get up and stamp about the room. And from the particular case he very soon got to generalizations.

Questions which had before now puzzled him gained a new significance every minute, and became real to him. Why a few men should be rich, and all the rest poor; above all, why he should be one of the few? Why the mere possession of property should give a man power over all his neighbors? Why poor men who were ready and willing to work should only be allowed to work as a sort of favor, and should after all get the merest tithe of what their labor produced, and be tossed aside as soon as their work was do

ne, or no longer required? These, and other such problems, rose up before him, crude and sharp, asking to be solved. Feeling himself quite unable to give any but one answer to them-viz. that he was getting out of his depth, and that the whole business was in a muddle-he had recourse to his old method when in difficulties, and putting on his cap, started off to Hardy's rooms to talk the matter over, and see whether he could not get some light on it from that quarter.

He returned in an hour or so, somewhat less troubled in his mind inasmuch as he had found his friend in pretty much the same state of mind on such topics as himself. But one step he had gained. Under his arm he carried certain books from Hardy's scanty library, the perusal of which he hoped, at least, might enable him sooner or later to feel that he had got on to some sort of firm ground, At any rate, Hardy had advised him to read them; so, without more ado, he drew his chair to the table and began to look into them.

This glimpse of the manner in which Tom spent the first evening of his second year at Oxford, will enable intelligent readers to understand why, though he took to reading far more kindly and honestly than he had ever done before, he made no great advance in the proper studies of the place. Not that he wholly neglected these, for Hardy kept him pretty well up to the collar, and he passed his little go creditably, and was fairly placed at the college examinations. In some of the books which he had to get up for lectures he was genuinely interested. The politics of Athens, the struggle between the Roman plebs and patricians, Mons Sacer and the Agrarian laws-these began to have a new meaning to him, but chiefly because they bore more or less on the great Harry Winburn problem; which problem, indeed, for him had now fairly swelled into the condition-of-England problem, and was becoming every day more and more urgent and importunate, shaking many old beliefs, and leading him whither he knew not.

This very matter of leading was a sore trial to him. The further he got on his new road, the more he felt the want of guidance-the guidance of some man; for that of books he soon found to be bewildering. His college tutor, whom he consulted, only deprecated the waste of tune; but on finding it impossible to dissuade him, at last recommended the economic works of that day as the proper well springs of truth on such matters. To them Tom accordingly went, and read with the docility and faith of youth, bent on learning and feeling itself in the presence of men who had, or assumed, the right of speaking with authority.

And they spoke to him with authority, and he read on, believing much and hoping more; but somehow they did not really satisfy him, though they silenced him for the time. It was not the fault of the books, most of which laid down clearly enough, that what they professed to teach was the science of man's material interests, and the laws of the making and employment of capital. But this escaped him in his eagerness, and he wandered up and down their pages in search of quite another science, and of laws with which they did not meddle. Nevertheless, here and there they seemed to touch upon what he was in search of. He was much fascinated, for instance, by the doctrine of "the greatest happiness of the greatest number," and for its sake swallowed for a time, though not without wry faces, the dogmas, that self-interest is the true pivot of all social action, that population has a perpetual tendency to outstrip the means of living, and that to establish a preventive check on population is the duty of all good citizens. And so he lived on for some time in a dreary uncomfortable state, fearing for the future of his country, and with little hope about his own. But, when he came to take stock of his newly acquired knowledge, to weigh it and measure it, and found it to consist of a sort of hazy conviction that society would be all right and ready for the millennium, when every man could do what he liked, and nobody could interfere with him, and there should be a law against marriage, the result was more than he could stand. He roused himself and shook himself, and began to think, "Well, these my present teachers are very clever men, and well-meaning men, too. I see all that; but, if their teaching is only to land me here, why it was scarcely worth while going through so much to get so little."

Casting about still for guidance, Grey occurred to him. Grey was in residence as a bachelor, attending divinity lectures, and preparing for ordination. He was still working hard at the night-school, and Tom had been there once or twice to help him when the curate was away. In short he was in very good books with Grey, who had got the better of his shyness with him. He saw that Tom was changed and sobered, and in his heart hoped some day to wean him from the pursuits of the body, to which he was still fearfully addicted, and to bring him into the fold. This hope was not altogether unfounded; for, notwithstanding the strong bias against them which Tom had brought with him from school, he was now at times much attracted by many of the High Church doctrines, and the men who professed them. Such men as Grey, he saw, did really believe something, and were in earnest about carrying their beliefs into action. The party might and did comprise many others of the weakest sort, who believed and were in earnest about nothing, but who liked to be peculiar. Nevertheless, while he saw it laying hold of many of the best men of his time, it is not to be wondered at that he was drawn towards it. Some help might lie in these men if he could only get at it!

So he propounded his doubts and studies, and their results to Grey. But it was a failure. Grey felt no difficulty or very little, in the whole matter; but Tom found that it was because he believed the world to belong to the devil. "Laissez faire," "buying cheap and selling dear," Grey held might be good enough for laws for the world-very probably were. The laws of the Church were "self-sacrifice," and "bearing one another's burdens" her children should come out from the regions where the world's laws were acknowledged.

Tom listened, was dazzled at first, and thought he was getting on the right track. But very soon he found that Grey's specific was not of the least use to him. It was no good to tell him of the rules of a society to which he felt that he neither belonged, nor wished to belong, for clearly it could not be the Church of England. He was an outsider! Grey would probably admit it to be so, if he asked him! He had no longing to be anything else, if the Church meant an exclusive body, which took no care of any but its own people, and had nothing to say to the great world in which he and most people had to live, and buying and selling, and hiring and working, had to go on. The close corporation might have very good laws, but they were nothing to him. What he wanted to know about was the law which this great world-the devil's world, as Grey called it-was ruled by, or rather ought to be ruled by. Perhaps, after all, Bentham and the others, whose books he had been reading, might be right! At any rate, it was clear that they had had in their thoughts the same world that he had-the world which included himself and Harry Winburn, and all labourers and squires, and farmers. So he turned to them again, not hopefully, but more inclined to listen to them than he had been before he had spoken to Grey.

Hardy was so fully occupied with college lectures and private pupils, that Tom had scruples about taking up much of his spare time in the evenings. Nevertheless, as Grey had broken down, and there was nobody else on whose judgment he could rely who would listen to him, whenever he had a chance he would propound some of his puzzles to his old friend. In some respects he got little help, for Hardy was almost as much at sea as he himself on such subjects as "value," and "wages," and the "laws of supply and demand." But there was an indomitable belief in him that all men's intercourse with one another, and not merely that of Churchmen, must be founded on the principal of "doing as they would be done by," and not on "buying cheap and selling dear," and that these never would or could be reconciled with one another, or mean the same thing, twist them how you would. This faith of his friend's comforted Tom greatly, and he was never tired of bringing it out; but at times he had his doubts whether Grey might not be right-whether, after all, that and the like maxims and principles were meant to be the laws of the kingdoms of this world. He wanted some corroborative evidence on the subject from an impartial and competent witness, and at last hit upon what he wanted. For, one evening, on entering Hardy's rooms, he found him on the last pages of a book, which he shut up with an air of triumph on recognizing his visitor. Taking it up, he thrust it into Tom's hands, and slapping him on the shoulder, said, "There, my boy, that's what we want, or pretty near it at any rate. Now, don't say a word, but go back to your rooms, and swallow it whole and digest it, and then come back and tell me what you think of it."

"But I want to talk to you."

"I can't talk. I have spent the better part of two days over that book, and have no end of papers to look over. There; get back to your rooms, and do what I tell you, or sit down here and hold your tongue."

So Tom sat down and held his tongue, and was soon deep in Carlyle's "Past and Present." How he did revel in it-in the humor, the power, the pathos, but, above all, in the root and branch denunciations of many of the doctrines in which he had been so lately voluntarily and wearily chaining himself! The chains went snapping off one after another, and, in his exultation, he kept spouting out passage after passage in a song of triumph, "Enlightened egoism never so luminous is not the rule by which man's life can be led-laissez-faire, supply and demand, cash payment for the sole nexus, and so forth, were not, are not, and never will be, a practical law of union for a society of men," &c., &c., until Hardy fairly got up and turned him out, and he retired with his new-found treasure to his own rooms.

He had scarcely ever in his life been so moved by a book before. He laughed over it, and cried over it, and began half a dozen letters to the author to thank him, which he fortunately tore up. He almost forgot Mary for several hours during his first enthusiasm. He had no notion how he had been mastered and oppressed before. He felt as the crew of a small fishing-smack, who are being towed away by an enemy's cruiser, might feel on seeing a frigate with the Union Jack flying, bearing down and opening fire on their captor; or as a small boy at school, who is being fagged against rules by the right of the strongest, feels when he sees his big brother coming around the corner. The help which he had found was just what he wanted. There was no narrowing of the ground here-no appeal to men as members of any exclusive body whatever to separate themselves and come out of the devil's world; but to men as men, to every man as a man-to the weakest and meanest, as well as to the strongest and most noble-telling them that the world is God's world, that everyone of them has a work in it, and bidding them find their work and set about it.

The strong tinge of sadness which ran through the whole book, and its unsparing denunciations of the established order of things, suited his own unsettled and restless frame of mind. So he gave himself up to his new bondage, and rejoiced in it, as though he had found at last what he was seeking for; and, by the time that long vacation came round again, to which we are compelled to hurry him, he was filled full of a set of contradictory notions and beliefs, which were destined to astonish and perplex the mind of that worthy J. P. for the county of Berks, Brown the elder, whatever other effect they might have on society at large.

Readers must not suppose, however, that our hero had given up his old pursuits; on the contrary, he continued to boat, and cricket, and spar, with as much vigor as ever. His perplexities only made him a little more silent at his pastimes than he used to be. But, as we have already seen him thus employed, and know the ways of the animal in such matters, it is needless to repeat. What we want to do is to follow him into new fields of thought and action, and mark, if it may be, how he develops, and gets himself educated in one way and another; and this plunge into the great sea of social, political, and economical questions is the noticeable fact (so far as any is noticeable) of his second year's residence.

During the year he had only very meagre accounts of matters at Englebourn. Katie, indeed, had come round sufficiently to write to him; but she scarcely alluded to her cousin. He only knew that Mary had come out in London, and was much admired; and that the Porters had not taken Barton again, but were going abroad for the autumn and winter. The accounts of Harry were bad; he was still living at Daddy Collins's, nobody knew how, and working gang-work occasionally with the outlaws of the heath.

The only fact of importance in the neighborhood had been the death of Squire Wurley, which happened suddenly in the spring. A distant cousin had succeeded him, a young man of Tom's own age.

He was also in residence at Oxford, and Tom knew him. They were not very congenial; so he was much astonished when young Wurley, on his return to College, after his relative's funeral, rather sought him out, and seemed to wish to know more of him. The end of it was an invitation to Tom to come to the Grange, and spend a week or so at the beginning of the long vacation. There was to be a party of Oxford men there, and nobody else; and they meant to enjoy themselves thoroughly, Wurley said.

Tom felt much embarrassed how to act, and, after some hesitation, told his inviter of his last visit to the mansion in question, thinking that a knowledge of the circumstances might change his mind. But he found that young Wurley knew the facts already; and, in fact, he couldn't help suspecting that his quarrel with the late owner had something to say to his present invitation. However, it did not lie in his mouth to be curious on the subject; and so he accepted the invitation gladly, much delighted at the notion of beginning his vacation so near Englebourn, and having the run of the Grange fishing, which was justly celebrated.

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