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   Chapter 49 THE END

Tom Brown at Oxford By Thomas Hughes Characters: 22847

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:05


My Dear Katie;-I know you will be very much pained when you read this letter. You two have been my only confidantes, and you have always kept me up, and encouraged me to hope that all would come right. And after all that happened last week, Patty's marriage, and your engagement,-the two things upon earth, with one exception, that I most wished for,-I quite felt that my own turn was coming. I can't tell why I had such a strong feeling about it, but somehow all the most important changes in my life for the last four years have been so interwoven with Patty and Harry Winburn's history, that, now they were married, I was sure something would happen to me as soon as I came to London. And I was not wrong. Dear Katie, I can hardly bring myself to write it. It is all over. I met her in the street to-day; she was riding with her father and the man I told you about. They had to pull up not to ride over me; so I had a good look at her, and there can be no mistake about it. I have often tried to reason myself into the belief that the evil day must come sooner or later, and to prepare myself for it; but I might have spared myself, for it could not have been worse than it is if I had never anticipated it. My future is all a blank now. I can't stay in England; so I have written home to ask them to let me go to New Zealand with East, and I am sure they will consent, when they know all.

"I shall wait in town till I get the answer. Perhaps I may be able to get off with East in a few weeks. The sooner the better; but, of course, I shall not go without seeing you and dear old Jack. You mustn't mind me calling him Jack. The only thing that it gives me any pleasure to think about is your engagement. It is so right; and one wants to see something going right, some one getting their due, to keep alive one's belief in justice being done somehow or another in the world. And I do see it, and acknowledge it, when I think over his history and mine since we first met. We have both got our due; and you have got yours, Katie, for you have got the best fellow in England.

"Ah! if I only could think that she has got hers! If I could only believe that the man she has chosen is worthy of her! I will try hard to think better of him. There must be more good in him that I have ever seen, or she would never have engaged herself to him. But I can't bear to stop here, and see it all going on. The sooner I am out of England the better. I send you a parcel with this; it contains her notes, and some old flowers and other matters which I haven't the heart to burn. You will be the best judge what should be done with them. If you see your way to managing it, I should like her to know that I had sent them all to you, and that, whatever may happen to me hereafter, my love for her has been the mainstay and the guiding-star of my life ever since that happy time when you all came to stay with us in my first long vacation. It found me eaten up with selfishness and conceit, the puppet of my own lusts and vanities, and has left me-well never mind what it has left me. At any rate, if I have not gone from worse to worse, it is all owing to her; and she ought to know it. It cannot be wrong to let her know what good she has scattered unknowingly about her path. May God bless and reward her for it, and you, too, dear cousin, for all your long love and kindness to one who is very unworthy of, but very thankful for them.

"Ever yours, affectionately,

"T. B."

The above letter, and that to his father, asking for leave to emigrate, having been written and sent off, Tom was left, on the afternoon of the day following his upset, making manful, if not very successful, efforts to shake off the load of depression which weighed on him, and to turn his thoughts resolutely forward to a new life in a new country. East was away at the Docks. There was no one moving in the Temple. The men who had business were all at Westminster, or out of sight and hearing in the recesses of their chambers. Those who had none were for the most part away enjoying themselves, in one way or another amongst the mighty whirl of the mighty human sea of London. There was nothing left for him to do; he had written the only two letters he had to write, and had only to sit still and wait for the answers, killing the meantime as well as he could. Reading came hard to him, but it was the best thing to do, perhaps; at any rate he was trying it on, though his studies were constantly interrupted by long fits of absence of mind, during which, though his body remained in the temple, he was again in the well-kept garden of Barton, or in the hazel wood under the lee of the Berkshire hills.

He was roused out of one of these reveries, and brought back to external life and Fig-tree Court, by a single knock at the outer door, and a shout of the newsman's boy for the paper. So he got up, found the paper, which he had forgotten to read, and, as he went to the door, cast his eye on it, and saw that a great match was going on at Lord's. This gave a new turn to his thoughts. He stood looking down stairs after the boy, considering whether he should not start at once for the match.

He would be sure to see a lot of acquaintances there at any rate. But the idea of seeing and having to talk to mere acquaintances was more distasteful than his present solitude. He was turning to bury himself again in his hole, when he saw a white dog walk quietly up seven or eight stairs at the bottom of the flight, and then turn round, and look for some one to follow.

"How odd!" thought Tom, as he watched him; "as like as two peas. It can't be. No. Why, yes it is." And then he whistled, and called "Jack," and the dog looked up, and wagged his tail, as much as to say, "All right, I'm coming directly; but I must wait for my master." The next moment Drysdale appeared at the bottom of the stairs, and looking up, said-

"Oh! that's you, is it? I'm all right then. So you knew the old dog?"

"I should rather think so," said Tom. "I hope I never forget a dog or horse I have once known."

In the short minute which Drysdale and Jack took to arrive at his landing, Tom had time for a rush of old college memories, in which the grave and gay, pleasant and bitter, were strangely mingled. The light when he had been first brought to his senses about Patty came up very vividly before him, and the commemoration days, when he had last seen Drysdale. "How strange!" he thought, "is my old life coming back again just now? Here, on the very day after it is all over, comes back the man with whom I was so intimate up to the day it began, and have never seen since. What does it mean?"

There was a little touch of embarrassment in the manner of both of them as they shook hands at the top of the stairs, and turned into the chambers. Tom motioned to Jack to take his old place at one end of the sofa, and began caressing him there, the dog showing unmistakably, by gesture and whine, that delight at renewing an old friendship for which his race are so nobly distinguished. Drysdale threw himself down in an arm-chair and watched them.

"So you knew the old dog, Brown?" he repeated.

"Knew him?-of course I did. Dear old Jack! How well he wears; he is scarcely altered at all."

"Very little; only steadier. More than I can say for his master.

I'm very glad you knew Jack."

"Come, Drysdale; take the other end of the sofa or it won't look like old times. There, now I can fancy myself back at St. Ambrose's."

"By Jove, Brown, you're a real good fellow; I always said so, even after that last letter. You pitched it rather strong in that though. I was very near coming back from Norway to quarrel with you."

"Well, I was very angry at being left in the lurch by you and

Blake."

"You got the coin all right, I suppose? You never acknowledged it."

"Didn't I? Then I ought to have. Yes, I got it all right about six months afterwards. I ought to have acknowledged it, and I thought I had. I'm sorry I didn't. Now we're all quits, and won't talk any more about that rascally bill."

"I suppose I may light up," said Drysdale, dropping into his old lounging attitude on the sofa, and pulling out his cigar-case.

"Yes, of course. Will you have anything?"

"A cool drink wouldn't be amiss."

"They make a nice tankard with cider and a lump of ice at the

'Rainbow'. What do you say to that?"

"It sounds touching," said Drysdale. So Tom posted off to Fleet Street to order the liquor, and came back followed by a waiter with the tankard. Drysdale took a long pull and smacked his lips.

"That's a wrinkle," he said, handing the tankard to Tom. "I suppose the lawyers teach all the publicans about here a trick or two. Why, one can fancy one's self back in the old quad, looking out on this court. If it weren't such an outlandish out-of-the-way place, I think I should take some chambers here myself. How did you get here?"

"Oh, they belong to a friend of mine who is away. But how did you get here?"

"Why, along the Strand, in a Hansom."

"I mean, how did you know I was here?"

"Grey told me."

"What! Grey, who was at St. Ambrose's with us?"

"Yes. You look puzzled."

"I didn't think you knew Grey."

"No more I do. But a stout old party I met last night-your godfather, I should think he is-told me where he was, and said I should get your address from him. So I looked him up this morning, in that dog-hole in Westminster where he lives. He didn't know Jack from Adam."

"But what in the world do you mean by my godfather?"

"I had better tell my story from the beginning, I see. Last night I did what I don't often do, went out to a great drum. There was an awful crush, of course, and you may guess what the heat was in these dog-days, with gas-lights and wax-lights going, and a jam of people in every corner. I was fool enough to get into the rooms, so that my retreat was cut off; and I had to work right through, and got at last into a back room, which was not so full. The window was in a recess, and there was a balcony outside, looking over a little bit of garden. I got into the balcony, talking with a girl who was sensible enough to like the cool. Presently I heard a voice I thought I knew inside. Then I heard St. Ambrose, and then your name. Of course I listened; I couldn't help myself. They were just inside the window, in the recess, not five feet from us; so I heard pretty nearly ever word. Give us the tankard; I'm as dry as an ash-heap with talking."

Tom, scarcely able to control his impatience, handed the tankard. "But who was it?-you haven't told me," he said, as Drysdale put it down at last empty.

"Why, that d-d St. Cloud. He was giving you a nice character, in a sort of sneaking deprecatory way, as if he was sorry for it. Amongst other little tales, he said you used to borrow money from Jews-he knew it for a certainty because he had been asked himself to join you and another man-meaning me, of course-in such a transaction. You remember how he wouldn't acknowledge the money I lent him at play, and the note he wrote me which upset Blake so. I had never forgotten it. I knew I should get my chance some day, and here it was. I don't know what the girl thought of me, or how she got out of the balcony, but I stepped into the recess just as he had finished his precious story, and landed between him and a comfortable old boy, who wa

s looking shocked. He must be your godfather, or something of the kind. I'll bet you a pony you are down for something handsome in his will."

"What was his name? Did you find out?"

"Yes; Potter, or Porter, or something like it. I've got his card somewhere. I just stared St. Cloud in the face, and you may depend upon it he winched. Then I told the old boy that I had heard their talk, and, as I was at St. Ambrose with you, I should like to have five minutes with him when St. Cloud had done. He seemed rather in a corner between us. However, I kept in sight till St. Cloud was obliged to draw off; and, to cut my story short, as the tankard is empty, I think I put you pretty straight there. You said we were quits just now; after last night, perhaps we are, for I told him the truth of the Benjamin story, and I think he is squared. He seems a good sort of old boy. He's a relation of yours, eh?"

"Only a distant connexion. Did anything more happen?"

"Yes; I saw that he was flurried and didn't know quite what to think; so I asked him to let me call, and I would bring him some one else to speak to your character. He gave me his card, and I'm going to take Blake there today. Then I asked him where you were, and he didn't know, but said he thought Grey could tell me."

"It is very kind of you, Drysdale to take so much trouble."

"Trouble! I'd go from here to Jericho to be even with our fine friend. I never forget a bad turn. I met him afterwards in the cloak-room, and went out of the door close after him, to give him a chance if he wants to say anything. I only wish he would. But why do you suppose he is lying about you?"

"I can't tell. I've never spoken to him since he left Oxford. Never saw him till yesterday, riding with Mr. Porter. I suppose that reminded them of me."

"Well, St. Cloud is bent on getting round him for some reason or another, you may take your oath of that. Now my time's up; I shall go and pick up Blake. I should think I had better not take Jack to call in Eaton Square, though he'd give you a good character if he could speak; wouldn't you Jack?"

Jack wagged his tail, and descended from the sofa.

"Does Blake live up here? What is he doing?"

"Burning the candle at both ends, and in the middle, as usual. Yes, he's living near his club. He writes political articles, devilish well I hear, too, and is reading for the bar; beside which he is getting into society, and going out whenever he can, and fretting his soul out that he isn't prime minister, or something of the kind. He won't last long at the pace he's going."

"I'm very sorry to hear it. But you'll come here again, Drysdale; or let me come and see you? I shall be very anxious to hear what has happened."

"Here's my pasteboard; I shall be in town for another fortnight.

Drop in when you like."

And so Drysdale and Jack went off, leaving Tom in a chaotic state of mind. All his old hopes were roused again as he thought over Drysdale's narrative. He could no longer sit still; so he rushed out, and walked up and down the river-side walk, in the Temple gardens, where a fine breeze blowing, at a pace which astonished the gate-keepers and the nursery-maids and children, who were taking the air in that favorite spot. Once or twice he returned to chambers, and at last found East reposing after his excursion to the Docks.

East's quick eye saw at once that something had happened; and he had very soon heard the whole story; upon which he deliberated for some minutes, and rejoiced Tom's heart by saying: "Ah! all up with New Zealand, I see. I shall be introduced after all before we start. Come along; I must stand you a dinner on the strength of the good news, and we'll drink her health."

Tom called twice that evening at Drysdale's lodgings, but he was out. The next morning he called again. Drysdale had gone to Hampton Court races, and had left no message. He left a note for him, but got no answer. It was trying work. Another day passed without any word from Drysdale, who seemed never to be at home; and no answer to either of his letters. On the third morning he heard from his father. It was just the answer which he had expected-as kind a letter as could be written. Mr. Brown had suspected how matters stood at one time, but had given up the idea in consequence of Tom's silence; which he regretted, as possibly things might have happened otherwise, had he known the state of the case. It was too late now, however; and the less said the better about what might have been. As to New Zealand, he should not oppose Tom's going, if, after some time, he continued in his present mind. It was very natural for him just now to wish to go. They would talk it over as soon as Tom came home, which Mr. Brown begged him to do at once, or, at any rate, as soon as he had seen his friend off. Home was the best place for him.

Tom sighed as he folded it up; the hopes of the last three days seemed to be fading away again. He spent another restless day; and by night had persuaded himself that Drysdale's mission had been a complete failure, and that he did not write and kept out of the way out of kindness for him.

"Why, Tom, old fellow, you look as down in the mouth as ever to-night," East said, when Tom opened the door for him about midnight, on his return from his club; "cheer up; you may depend it's all to go right."

"But I haven't seen Drysdale again, and he hasn't written to me."

"There's nothing in that. He was glad enough to do you a good turn, I dare say, when it came in his way, but that sort of fellow never can keep anything up. He has been too much used to having his own way, and following his own fancies. Don't you lose heart because he won't put himself out for you."

"Well, Harry, you are the best fellow, in the world. You would put a backbone into anyone."

"Now, we'll just have a quiet cheroot, and then turn in; and see if you don't have good news to-morrow. How hot it is! The Strand to-night is as hot as the Punjaub, and the reek of it-phah! my throat is full of it still."

East took off his coat, and was just throwing it on a chair, when he stopped, and, feeling in his pocket, said-

"Let's see, here's a note for you. The porter gave it to me as I knocked in."

Tom took it carelessly, but the next moment was tearing it open with trembling fingers. "From my cousin," he said. East watched him read, and saw the blood rush to his face, and the light come into his eyes.

"Good news, Tom, I see. Bravo, old boy. You've had a long fight for it, and deserve to win."

Tom got up, tossed the note across the table, and began walking up and down the room; his heart was too full for speech.

"May I read?" said East, looking up. Tom nodded, and he read-

"DEAR TOM,-I am coming to town to spend a week with them in Eaton Square. Call on me to-morrow at twelve, or, if you are engaged then, between three and five. I have no time to add more now, but long to see you.

Your loving cousin,

KATIE

"P.S.-I will give you your parcel back to-morrow, and then you can burn the contents yourself, or do what you like with them. Uncle bids me say he shall be glad if you will come and dine to-morrow, and any other day you can spare while I am here."

When he had read the note, East got up and shook hands heartily with Tom, and then sat down again quietly to finish his cheroot, watching with a humorous look his friend's march.

"And you think it is really all right now?" Tom asked, in one form or another, after every few turns; and East replied in various forms of chaffing assurance that there could not be much further question on the point. At last, when he had finished his cheroot, he got up, and, taking his candle, said, "Good night, Tom; when that revolution comes, which you're always predicting, remember, if you're not shot or hung, you'll always find a roost for you and your wife in New Zealand."

"I don't feel so sure about the revolution now, Harry."

"Of course you don't. Mind, I bargain for the dinner in Eaton

Square. I always told you I should dine there before I started."

The next day Tom found that he was not engaged at twelve o'clock, and was able to appear in Eaton Square. He was shown up into the drawing-room, and found Katie alone there. The quiet and coolness of the darkened room was most grateful to him after the glare of the streets, as he sat down by her side.

"But Katie," he said, as soon as the first salutations and congratulations had passed, "how did it all happen? I can't believe my senses yet. I am afraid I may wake up any minute."

"Well, it was chiefly owing to two lucky coincidences; though no doubt it would have all come right in time without them."

"Our meeting the other day in the street, I suppose, was one of them?"

"Yes. Coming across you so suddenly, carrying the little girl, reminded Mary of the day when she sprained her ankle, and you carried her through Hazel Copse. Ah, you never told me all of that adventure, either of you."

"All that was necessary, Katie."

"Oh! I have pardoned you. Uncle saw then that she was very much moved at something, and guessed well enough what it was. He is so very kind, and so fond of Mary, he would do anything in the world that she wished. She was quite unwell that evening; so he and aunt had to go out alone; and they met Mr. St. Cloud at a party, who was said to be engaged to her."

"It wasn't true, then?"

"No, never. He is a very designing man, though I believe he was really in love with poor Mary. At any rate he has persecuted her for more than a year. And, it is very wicked, but I am afraid he spread all those reports himself."

"Of their engagement? Just like him!"

"Uncle is so good-natured, you know; and he took advantage of it, and was always coming here, and riding with them. And he made Uncle believe dreadful stories about you, which made him seem so unkind. He was quite afraid to have you at the house."

"Yes, I saw that last year; and the second coincidence?"

"It happened that very night. Poor uncle was very much troubled what to do; so, when he met Mr. St. Cloud, as I told you, he took him aside to ask him again about you. Somehow, a gentleman who was a friend of yours at Oxford overheard what was said, and came forward and explained everything."

"Yes, he came and told me."

"Then you know more than I about it."

"And you think Mr. Porter is convinced that I am not quite such a scamp after all?"

"Yes, indeed; and the boys are so delighted that they will see you again. They are at home for the holidays, and so grown."

"And Mary?"

"She is very well. You will see her before long, I dare say."

"Is she at home?"

"She is out riding with uncle. Now I will go up and get your parcel, which I had opened at home before I got aunt's note asking me here. No wonder we could never find her boot."

Katie disappeared and at the same time Tom thought he heard the sound of horses' feet. Yes, and they had stopped, too. It must be Mary and her father. He could not see because of the blinds and other devices for keeping the room cool. But the next moment there were voices in the hall below, and then a light step on the carpeted stair, which no ear but his could have heard. His heart beat with heavy painful pulsations, and his head swam as the door opened, and Mary in her riding-habit stood in the room.

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