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   Chapter 45 MASTER'S TERM

Tom Brown at Oxford By Thomas Hughes Characters: 18373

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:05


One more look into the old college where we have spent so much time already, not, I hope, altogether unpleasantly. Our hero is up in the summer term, keeping his three weeks' residence, the necessary preliminary to an M. A. degree. We find him sitting in Hardy's rooms; tea is over, scouts out of college, candles lighted, and silence reigning, except when distant sounds of mirth come from some undergraduates' rooms on the opposite side of quad, through the open windows.

Hardy is deep in the budget of Indian letters, some of which we have read in the last chapter; and Tom reads them over again as his friend finishes them, and then carefully folds them up and puts them back in their places in a large pocket-case. Except for an occasional explanatory remark, or exclamation of interest, no word passes until Hardy finishes the last letter. Then he breaks out into praises of the two Harrys, which gladdens Tom's heart as he fastens the case, and puts it back in his pocket, saying, "Yes, you won't find two finer fellows in a long summer's day; no, nor in twenty."

"And you expect them home, then, in a week or two?"

"Yes, I think so. Just about the time I shall be going down."

"Don't talk about going down. You haven't been here a week."

"Just a week. One out of three. Three weeks wasted in keeping one's Master's term! Why can't you give a fellow his degree quietly, without making him come and kick his heels here for three weeks?"

"You ungrateful dog! Do you mean to say you haven't enjoyed coming back, and sitting in dignity in the bachelors' seats in chapel, and at the bachelors' table in hall, and thinking how much wiser you are than the undergraduates? Besides, your old friends want to see you, and you ought to want to see them."

"Well, I am very glad to see something of you again, old fellow. I don't find that a year's absence has made any change in you. But who else is there that I care to see? My old friends are gone, and the year has made a great gap between me and the youngsters. They look on me as a sort of don."

"Of course they do. Why, you are a sort of don. You will be an M.

A. in a fortnight, and a member of Convocation."

"Very likely; but I don't appreciate the dignity. I can tell you being up here now is anything but enjoyable. You have never broken with the place. And then, you always did your duty, and have done the college credit. You can't enter into the feelings of a fellow whose connexion with Oxford has been quite broken off, and who wasted three parts of his time here, when he comes back to keep his Master's."

"Come, come, Tom. You might have read more certainly, with benefit to yourself and college, and taken a higher degree. But, after all, didn't the place do you a great deal of good? and you didn't do it much harm. I don't like to see you in this sort of gloomy state; it isn't natural to you."

"It is becoming natural. You haven't seen much of me during the last year, or you would have remarked it. And then, as I tell you, Oxford, when one has nothing to do in it but to moon about, thinking over one's past follies and sins, isn't cheerful. It never was a very cheerful place to me at the best of times."

"Not even at pulling times?"

"Well, the river is the part I like best to think of. But even the river makes me rather melancholy now. One feels one has done with it."

"Why, Tom, I believe your melancholy comes from their not having asked you to pull in the boat."

"Perhaps it does. Don't you call it degrading to be pulling in the torpid in one's old age?"

"Mortified vanity, man! They have a capital boat. I wonder how we should have liked to have been turned out for some bachelor just because he had pulled a good oar in his day?"

"Not at all. I don't blame the young ones, and I hope to do my duty in the torpid. By the way, they are an uncommonly nice set of youngsters. Much better behaved in every way than we were, unless it is that they put on their best manners before me."

"No, I don't think they do. The fact is they are really fine young fellows."

"So I think. And I'll tell you what, Jack; since we are sitting and talking our minds to one another at last, like old times, somebody has made the most wonderful change in this college. I rather think it is seeing what St. Ambrose's is now, and thinking what it was in my time, and what an uncommon member of society I should have turned out if I had had the luck to have been here now instead of then, that makes me down in the mouth-more even than having to pull in the torpid instead of the racing boat."

"You do think it is improved, then?"

"Think! Why it is a different place altogether; and, as you are the only new tutor, it must have been your doing. Now I want to know your secret."

"I've no secret, except taking a real interest in all that the men do, and living with them as much as I can. You may fancy it isn't much of a trial to me to steer the boat down or run on the bank and coach the crew."

"Ah! I remember you were beginning that before I left, in your first year. I knew that would answer."

"Yes. The fact is, I find that just what I like best is the very best thing for the men. With very few exceptions they are all glad to be stirred up, and meet me nearly halfway in reading, and three-quarters in everything else. I believe they would make me captain to-morrow."

"And why don't you let them?"

"No; there's a time for everything. I go in in the scratch fours for the pewters, and-more by token-my crew won them two years running. Look at my trophies," and he pointed to two pewter pots, engraved with the college arms, which stood on his side-board.

"Well, I dare say you're right. But what does the president say?"

"Oh, he is a convert. Didn't you see him on the bank when you torpids made your bump the other night?"

"No, you don't mean it? Well, do you know, a sort of vision of black tights, and a broad-brimmed hat, crossed me, but I never gave it a second thought. And so the president comes out to see the St. Ambrose boat row?"

"Seldom misses two nights running."

"Then, 'carry me out, and bury me decently'. Have you seen old Tom walking around Peckwater lately on his clapper, smoking a cigar with the Dean of Christ Church? Don't be afraid. I am ready for anything you like to tell me. Draw any amount you like on my faith; I shall honor the draft after that."

"The president isn't a bad judge of an oar, when he sets his mind to it."

"Isn't he? But, I say, Jack-no sell-how in the world did it happen?"

"I believe it happened chiefly through his talks with me. When I was first made tutor he sent for me and told me he had heard I encouraged the young men in boating, and he must positively forbid it. I didn't care much about staying up; so I was pretty plain with him, and said, 'if I was not allowed to take the line I thought best in such matters, I must resign at the end of the term.' He assented, but afterwards thought better of it, and sent for me again, and we had several encounters. I took my ground very civilly but firmly, and he had to give up one objection after another. I think the turning point was when he quoted St. Paul on me, and said I was teaching boys to worship physical strength, instead of teaching them to keep under their bodies and bring them into subjection. Of course I countered him there with tremendous effect. The old boy took it very well, only saying he feared it was no use to argue further-in this matter of boat-racing he had come to a conclusion, not without serious thought, many years before. However, he came round quietly. And so he has on other points. In fact, he is a wonderfully open-minded man for his age, if you only put things to him the right way."

"Has he come round about gentlemen-commoners? I see you have only two or three up."

"Yes. We haven't given up taking them altogether. I hope that may come soon. But I and another tutor took to plucking them ruthlessly at matriculation, unless they were quite up to the commoner standard. The consequence was, a row in common room. We stood out, and won. Luckily, as you know, it has always been given out here that all under-graduates, gentlemen-commoners and commoners, have to pass the same college examinations, and to attend the same course of lectures. You know also what a mere sham and pretence the rule had become. Well, we simply made a reality of it, and in answer to all objectors said, 'Is it our rule or not? If it is, we are bound to act on it. If you want to alter it, there are the regular ways of doing so.' After a little grumbling they let us have our way, and the consequence is, that velvet is getting scarce at St. Ambrose."

"What a blessing! What other miracles have you been performing?"

"The best reform we have carried is throwing the kitchen and cellar open to the undergraduates."

"W-h-e-w! That's just the sort of reform we should have appreciated. Fancy Drysdale's lot with the key of the college cellars, at about ten o'clock on a shiny night."

"You don't quite understand the reform. You remember, when you were an undergraduate you couldn't give a din

ner in college, and you had to buy your wine anywhere?"

"Yes. And awful firewater we used to get. The governor supplied me, like a wise man."

"Well, we have placed the college in the relation of benevolent father. Every undergraduate now can give two dinners a term in his own rooms, from the kitchen; or more, if he comes and asks, and has any reason to give. We take care that they have a good dinner at a reasonable rate, and the men are delighted with the arrangement. I don't believe there are three men in the college now who have hotel bills. And we let them have all their wine out of the college cellars."

"That's what I call good common sense. Of course it must answer in every way. And you find they all come to you?"

"Almost all. They can't get anything like the wine we give them at the price, and they know it."

"Do you make them pay ready money?"

"The dinners and wine are charged in their battel bills; so they have to pay once a term, just as they do for their orders at commons."

"It must swell their battel bills awfully."

"Yes, but battel bills always come in at the beginning of term when they are flush of money. Besides, they all know that battel bills must be paid. In a small way it is the best thing that ever was done for St. Ambrose's. You see it cuts so many ways. Keeps men in the college, knocks off the most objectionable bills at inns and pastry-cooks', keeps them from being poisoned, makes them pay their bills regularly, shows them that we like them to be able to live like gentlemen-"

"And lets you dons know what they are all about, and how much they spend in the way of entertaining."

"Yes; and a very good thing for them too. They know that we shall not interfere while they behave like gentlemen."

"Oh, I'm not objecting. And was this your doing, too?"

"No, a joint business. We hatched it in the common room, and then the bursar spoke to the president, who was furious, and said we were giving the sanction of the college to disgraceful luxury and extravagance. Luckily he had not the power of stopping us, and now is convinced."

"The goddess of common sense seems to have alighted again in the quad of St. Ambrose. You'll never leave the place, Jack, now you're beginning to get everything your own way."

"On the contrary, I don't mean to stop up more than another year at the outside. I have been tutor nearly three years now; that's about long enough."

"Do you think you're right? You seem to have hit on your line in life wonderfully. You like the work and the work likes you. You are doing a heap of good up here. You'll be president in a year or two, depend on it. I should say you had better stick to Oxford."

"No. I should be of no use in a year or two. We want a constant current of fresh blood here."

"In a general way. But you don't get a man every day who can throw himself into the men's pursuits, and can get hold of them in the right way. And then, after all, when a fellow has got such work cut out for him as you have, Oxford must be an uncommonly pleasant place to live in."

"Pleasant enough in many ways. But you seem to have forgotten how you used to rail against it."

"Yes. Because I never hit off the right ways of the place. But if I had taken a first and got a fellowship, I should like it well enough I dare say."

"Being a fellow, on the contrary, makes it worse. While one was an undergraduate, one could feel virtuous and indignant at the vices of Oxford, at least at those which one did not indulge in, particularly at the flunkeyism and money-worship which are our most prevalent and disgraceful sins. But when one is a fellow it is quite another affair. They become a sore burthen then, enough to break one's heart."

"Why, Jack, we're changing characters to-night. Fancy your coming out in the abusive line! Why I never said harder things of Alma Mater myself. However, there's plenty of flunkeyism and money-worship everywhere else."

"Yes, but it is not so heart-breaking in other places. When one thinks what a great centre of learning and faith Oxford ought to be like-that its highest educational work should just be the deliverance of us all from flunkeyism and money-worship-and then looks at matters here without rose-colored spectacles, it gives one sometimes a sort of chilly leaden despondency, which is very hard to struggle against."

"I am sorry to hear you talk like that, Jack, for one can't help loving the place after all."

"So I do, God knows. If I didn't I shouldn't care for its shortcomings."

"Well, the flunkeyism and money-worship were bad enough, but I don't think they were the worst things-at least not in my day. Our neglects were almost worse than our worships."

"You mean the want of all reverence for parents? Well, perhaps that lies at the root of the false worships. They spring up on the vacant soil."

"And the want of reverence for women, Jack. The worst of all, to my mind!"

"Perhaps you are right. But we are not at the bottom yet."

"How do you mean?"

"I mean that we must worship God before we can reverence parents or women, or root out flunkeyism and money-worship."

"Yes. But, after all, can we fairly lay that sin on Oxford? Surely, whatever may be growing up side by side with it, there's more Christianity here than almost anywhere else."

"Plenty of common-room Christianity-belief in a dead God. There, I have never said it to anyone but you, but that is the slough we have to get out of. Don't think that I despair for us. We shall do it yet; but it will be sore work, stripping off the comfortable wine-party religion in which we are wrapped up-work for our strongest and our wisest."

"And yet you think of leaving?"

"There are other reasons. I will tell you some day. But now, to turn to other matters, how have you been getting on this last year? You write so seldom that I am all behind-hand."

"Oh, much the same as usual."

"Then you are still like one of those who went out to David?"

"No, I'm not in debt."

"But discontented?"

"Pretty much like you there, Jack. However, content is no virtue, that I can see, while there's anything to mend. Who is going to be contented with game-preserving, and corn-laws, and grinding the faces of the poor? David's camp was a better place than Saul's, any day."

Hardy got up, opened a drawer, and took out a bundle of papers, which Tom recognized as the Wessex Freeman. He felt rather uncomfortable, as his friend seated himself again, and began looking them over.

"You see what I have here," he said.

Tom nodded.

"Well, there are some of the articles I should like to ask you about, if you don't object."

"No; go on."

"Here is one, then, to begin with. I won't read it all. Let me see; here is what I was looking for," and he began reading; "One would think, to hear these landlords, our rulers, talk, that the glorious green fields, the deep woods the everlasting hills, and the rivers that run among them, were made for the sole purpose of ministering to their greedy lusts and mean ambitions; that they may roll out amongst unrealities their pitiful mock lives, from their silk and lace cradles to their spangled coffins, studded with silver knobs, and lying coats of arms, reaping where they have not sown, and gathering where they have not strewed, making the omer small and the ephah great, that they may sell the refuse of the wheat-"

"That'll do, Jack; but what's the date of that paper?"

"July last. Is it yours, then?"

"Yes. And I allow it's too strong and one-sided. I have given up writing altogether; will that satisfy you? I don't see my own way clear enough yet. But, for all that, I'm not ashamed of what I wrote in that paper."

"I have nothing more to say after that, except that I'm heartily glad you have given up writing for the present."

"But I say, old fellow, how did you get these papers, and know about my articles?"

"They were sent me. Shall I burn them now or would you like to have them? We needn't say anything more about them."

"Burn them by all means. I suppose a friend sent them to you?"

"I suppose so." Hardy went on burning the papers in silence; and as Tom watched him, a sudden light seemed to break upon him.

"I say, Jack," he said presently, "a little bird has been whispering something to me about that friend." Hardy winched a little, and redoubled his diligence in burning the papers. Tom looked on smiling, and thinking how to go on, now that he had so unexpectedly turned the tables on his monitor, when the clock struck twelve.

"Hullo!" he said, getting up; "time for me to knock out, or old Copas will be in bed. To go back to where we started from to-night-as soon as East and Harry Winburn get back we shall have some jolly doings at Englebourn. There'll be a wedding, I hope, and you'll come over and do parson for us, won't you?"

"You mean for Patty? Of course I will."

"The little bird whispered to me that you wouldn't dislike visiting that part of the old county. Good night, Jack. I wish you success, old fellow, with all my heart, and I hope after all that you may leave St. Ambrose's within the year."

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