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   Chapter 50 THE POSTSCRIPT

Tom Brown at Oxford By Thomas Hughes Characters: 19534

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:05


Our curtain must rise once again, and it shall be on a familiar spot. Once more we must place ourselves on the Hawk's Lynch, and look out over the well-known view, and the happy autumn fields, ripe with the golden harvest. Two people are approaching on horseback from the Barton side, who have been made one since we left them at the fall of the curtain in the last chapter. They ride lovingly together, close to one another, and forgetful of the whole world, as they should do, for they have scarcely come to the end of their honeymoon.

They are in country costume-she in a light habit, but well cut, and sitting on her as well as she sits on her dainty grey; he in shooting-coat and wide-awake, with his fishing basket slung over his shoulder. They come steadily up the hillside, rousing a yellow-hammer here and there from the furze-bushes, and only draw bit when they have reached the very top of the knoll. Then they dismount, and Tom produces two halters from his fishing basket, and taking off the bridles, fastens the horses up in the shade of the fir-trees, and loosens their girths, while Mary, after searching in the basket, pulls out a bag, and pours out a prodigal feed of corn before each of them, on the short grass.

"What are you doing, you wasteful little woman? You should have put the bag underneath. They won't be able to pick up half the corn."

"Never mind, dear; then the birds will get it."

"And you have given them enough for three feeds."

"Why did you put so much in the bag? Besides you know it is the last feed I shall give her. Poor dear little Gypsy," she added, patting the neck of her dapple grey; "you have found a kind mistress for her, dear, haven't you?"

"Yes; I know she will be lightly worked and well cared for," he said shortly, turning away, and busying himself with the basket again.

"But no one will ever love you, Gipsy, like your old mistress. Now give me a kiss, and you shall have your treat," and she pulled a piece of sugar out of the pocket of her riding habit; at the sight of which the grey held out her beautiful nose to be fondled, and then lapped up the sugar with eager lips from Mary's hand, and turned to her corn.

The young wife tripped across, and sat down near her husband, who was laying out their luncheon on the turf.

"It was very kind of you think of coming here for our last ride," she said. "I remember how charmed I was with the place the first Sunday I ever spent at Englebourn, when Katie brought me up here directly after breakfast, before we went to the school. Such a time ago it seems-before I ever saw you. And I have never been here since. But I love it most for your sake, dear. Now, tell me again all the times you have been here."

Tom proceeded to recount some of his visits to the Hawk's Lynch, in which we have accompanied him. Then they talked on about Katie, and East, and the Englebourn people, past and present, old Betty, and Harry and his wife in New Zealand, and David patching coats and tending bees, and executing the Queen's justice to the best of his ability in the village at their feet.

"Poor David, I must get over somehow to see him before we leave home. He feels your uncle's death, and the other changes in the parish, more than anyone."

"I am so sorry the living was sold," said Mary; "Katie and her husband would have made Englebourn into a little paradise."

"It could not be helped, dear. I can't say I'm sorry. There would not have been work enough for him. He is better where he is, in a great town-parish."

"But Katie did love the place so, and was so used to it; she had become quite a little queen there before her marriage. See what we women have to give up for you," she said, playfully, turning to him. But a shadow passed over his face, and he looked away without answering.

"What makes you so sorrowful, dear? What are you thinking of?"

"Oh, nothing."

"That isn't true. Now, tell me what it is. You have no right, you know, to keep anything from me."

"I can't bear to think that you have had to sell Gipsy. You have never been without a riding horse till now. You will miss your riding dreadfully, I am sure, dear."

"I shall do very well without riding. I am so proud of learning my lesson from you. You will see what a poor man's wife I shall make. I have been getting mamma to let me do the house-keeping, and know how a joint should look, and all sorts of useful things. And I have made my own house-linen. I shall soon get to hate all luxuries as much as you do."

"Now, Mary, you mustn't run into extremes. I never said you ought to hate all luxuries, but that almost everybody one knows is a slave to them."

"Well, and I hate anything that wants to make a slave of me."

"You are a dear little free woman. But now we are on this subject again, Mary, I really want to speak to you about keeping a lady's maid. We can quite afford it, and you ought to have one."

"I shall do nothing of the sort."

"Not to oblige me, Mary?"

"No, not even to oblige you. There is something to be said for dear Gypsy. But, take a maid again! to do nothing but torment me, and pretend to take care of my clothes, and my hair! I never knew what freedom was till I got rid of poor, foolish, grumbling Higgins."

"But you may get a nice girl who will be a comfort to you."

"No, I never will have a woman again to do nothing but look after me. It isn't fair to them. Besides, dear, you can't say that I don't look better since I have done my own hair. Did you ever see it look brighter than it does now?"

"Never; and now here is luncheon all ready." So they sat down on the verge of the slope, and ate their cold chicken and tongue, with the relish imparted by youth, a long ride, and the bracing air.

Mary was merrier and brighter than ever, but it was an effort with him to respond; and soon she began to notice this, and then there was a pause, which she broke at last with something of an effort.

"There is that look again. What makes you look so serious, now? I must know."

"Was I looking serious? I beg your pardon, dearest; and I won't do so again any more;" and he smiled as he answered, but the smile faded away before her steady, loving gaze, and he turned slightly from her, and looked out over the vale below.

She watched him for a short time in silence, her own fair young face changing like a summer sea as the light clouds pass over it. Presently she seemed to have come to some decision; for, taking off her riding hat, she threw it, and her whip and gauntlets, on the turf beside her, and drawing nearer to his side, laid her hand on his. He looked at her fondly, and, stroking her hair, said-

"Take care of your complexion, Mary."

"Oh, it will take care of itself in this air, dear. Besides, you are between me and the sun; and now you must tell me why you look so serious. It is not the first time I have noticed that look. I am your wife, you know, and I have a right to know your thoughts, and share all your joy, and all your sorrow. I do not mean to give up any of my rights which I got by marrying you."

"Your rights, dearest! your poor little rights, which you have gained by changing name, and plighting troth. It is thinking of that-thinking of what you have bought, and the Price you have paid for it, which makes me sad at times, even when you are sitting by me, and laying your hand on my hand, and the sweet burden of your pure life and being on my soiled and baffled manhood."

"But it was my own bargain, you know, dear, and I am satisfied with my purchase. I paid the price with my eyes open."

"Ah, if I only could feel that!"

"But you know that it is true."

"No, dearest, that is the pinch. I do not know that it is true. I often feel that it is just a bit not true. It was a one-sided bargain, in which one of the parties had eyes open and got all the advantage; and that party was I."

"I will not have you so conceited," she said, patting his hand once or twice, and looking more bravely than ever up into his eyes. "Why should you think you were so much the cleverer of the two as to get all the good out of our bargain? I am not going to allow that you were so much the more quick-witted and clear-sighted. Women are said to be as quick-witted as men. Perhaps it is not I who have been outwitted after all."

"Look at the cost, Mary. Think of what you will have to give up.

You cannot reckon it up yet."

"What! are you going back to the riding-horses and lady's maid again? I thought I had convinced you on those points."

"They are only a very small part of the price. You have left a home where everybody loved you. You knew it; you were sure of it. You had felt their love ever since you could remember anything."

"Yes, dear, and I feel it still. They will be all just as fond of me at home, though I am your wife."

"At home! It is no longer your home."

"No, I have a home of my own now. A new home, with new love there to live on; and an old home, with the old love to think of."

"A new home instead of an old one, a poor home instead of a rich one-a home where the cry of the sorrow and suffering of the world will reach you, for one in which you had-"

"In which I had not you, dear. There now, that was my purchase. I set my mind on having you-buying you, as that is your word. I have paid my price, and got my bargain, and-you know, I was always an oddity, and rather willful, am content with it."

"Yes, Mary, you have bought me, and you little know, dearest, what you have bought. I can scarcely bear my own selfishness at times when I think of what your life might have been had I left you alone, and what it must be with me."

"And what might it have been, dear?"

"Why, you might

have married some man with plenty of money, who could have given you everything to which you have been used."

"I shall begin to think that you believe in luxuries, after all, if you go on making so much of them. You must not go on preaching one thing and practicing another. I am a convert to your preaching, and believe in the misery of multiplying artificial wants. Your wife must have none."

"Yes, but wealth and position are not to be despised. I feel that, now that it is all done past recall, and I have to think of you. But the loss of them is a mere nothing to what you will have to go through."

"What do you mean dear? Of course we must expect some troubles, like other people."

"Why, I mean, Mary that you might, at least, have married a contented man, some one who found the world a very good world, and was satisfied with things as they are, and had light enough to steer himself by; and not a fellow like me, full of all manner of doubts and perplexities, who sees little but wrong in the world about him, and more in himself."

"You think I should have been more comfortable?"

"Yes, more comfortable and happier. What right had I to bring my worries on you? For I know you can't live with me, dearest, and not be bothered and annoyed when I am anxious and dissatisfied."

"But what if I did not marry you to be comfortable?"

"My darling, you never thought about it, and I was too selfish to think for you."

"There now, you see, it's just as I said."

"How do you mean?"

"I mean that you are quite wrong in thinking that I have been deceived. I did not marry you, dear, to be comfortable, and I did think it all over; ay, over and over again. So you are not to run away with the belief that you have taken me in."

"I shall be glad enough to give it up, dearest, if you can convince me."

"Then you will listen while I explain?"

"Yes, with all my ears and all my heart."

"You remember the year we met, when we danced and went nutting together, a thoughtless boy and girl-"

"Remember it! Have I ever-"

"You are not to interrupt. Of course you remember it all, and are ready to tell me that you loved me the first moment that you saw me at the window in High street. Well, perhaps I shall not object to being told it at a proper time, but now I am making my confessions. I liked you then, because you were Katie's cousin, and almost my first partner, and were never tired of dancing, and were generally merry and pleasant, though you sometimes took to lecturing, even in those days."

"But, Mary-"

"You are to be silent now and listen. I liked you then. But you are not to look conceited and flatter yourself. It was only a girl's fancy. I couldn't have married you then-given myself up to you. No, I don't think I could, even on the night when fished for me out of the window with the heather and heliotrope, though I kept them and have them still. And then came that scene down below, at old Simon's cottage, and I thought I should never wish to see you again. And then I came out in London, and went abroad. I scarcely heard of you again for a year, for Katie hardly ever mentioned you in her letters, and though I sometimes wished that she would, and thought I should just like to know what you were doing, I was too proud to ask. Meantime I went out and enjoyed myself, and had a great many pretty things said to me-much prettier things than you ever said-and made the acquaintance of pleasant young men, friends of papa and mamma; many of them with good establishments, too. But I shall not tell you anything more about them, or you will be going off about the luxuries I have been used to. Then I began to hear of you again. Katie came to stay with us, and I met some of your Oxford friends. Poor dear Katie! She was full of you and your wild sayings and doings, half-frightened and half-pleased, but all the time the best and truest friend you ever had. Some of the rest were not friends at all; and I have heard many a sneer and unkind word, and stories of your monstrous speeches and habits. Some said you were mad; others that you liked to be eccentric; that you couldn't bear to live with your equals; that you sought the society of your inferiors to be flattered. I listened, and thought it all over, and, being willful and eccentric myself, you know, liked more and more to hear about you, and hoped I should see you again some day. I was curious to judge for myself whether you were much changed for the better or the worse.

"And at last came the day when I saw you again, carrying the poor lame child; and, after that, you know what happened. So here we are, dear, and you are my husband. And you will please never to look serious again, from any foolish thought that I have been taken in; that I did not know what I was about when I took you, 'for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part.' Now, what have you to say for yourself?"

"Nothing, but a great deal for you. I see more and more, my darling, what a brave, generous, pitying angel I have tied to myself. But seeing that makes me despise myself more."

"What! you are going to dare to disobey me already?"

"I can't help it dearest. All you say shows me more and more that you have made all the sacrifice, and I am to get all the benefit. A man like me has no right to bring such a woman as you under his burden."

"But you couldn't help yourself. It was because you were out of sorts with the world, smarting with the wrongs you saw on every side, struggling after something better and higher, and siding and sympathizing with the poor and weak, that I loved you. We should never have been here, dear, if you had been a young gentleman satisfied with himself and the world, and likely to get on well in society."

"Ah, Mary, it is all very well for a man. It is a man's business. But why is a woman's life to be made wretched? Why should you be dragged into all my perplexities, and doubts, and dreams, and struggles?"

"And why should I not?"

"Life should be all bright and beautiful to a woman. It is every man's duty to shield her from all that can vex, or pain, or soil."

"But have women different souls from men?"

"God forbid!"

"Then are we not fit to share your highest hopes?"

"To share our highest hopes! Yes, when we have any. But the mire and clay where one sticks fast over and over again, with no high hopes or high anything else in sight-a man must be a selfish brute to bring any one he pretends to love into all that."

"Now, Tom," she said almost solemnly, "you are not true to yourself. Would you part with your own deepest convictions? Would you, if you could, go back to the time when you cared for and thought about none of these things?"

He thought a minute, and then, pressing her hand, said-

"No, dearest, I would not. The consciousness of the darkness in one and around one brings the longing for light. And then the light dawns, through mist and fog, perhaps, but enough to pick ones way by." He stopped a moment, and then added, "and shines ever brighter unto the perfect day. Yes, I begin to know it."

"Then, why not put me on your own level? Why not let me pick my way by your side? Cannot a woman feel the wrongs that are going on in the world? Cannot she long to see them set right, and pray that they may be set right? We are not meant to sit in fine silks and look pretty, and spend money, any more than you are meant to make it, and cry peace where there is no peace. If a woman cannot do much herself, she can honor and love a man who can."

He turned to her, and bent over her, and kissed her forehead, and kissed her lips. She looked up with sparkling eyes and said-

"Am I not right, dear?"

"Yes, you are right, and I have been false to my creed. You have taken a load off my heart, dearest. Henceforth there shall be but one mind and one soul between us. You have made me feel what it is that a man wants, what is the help that is mete for him."

He looked into her eyes and kissed her again; and then rose up, for there was something within him like a moving of new life, which lifted him, and set him on his feet. And he stood with kindling brow, gazing into the autumn air, as his heart went sorrowing, but hopefully "sorrowing, back through all the faultful past." And she sat on at first, and watched his face, and neither spoke nor moved for some minutes. Then she rose, too, and stood by his side:-

And on her lover's arm she leant,

And round her waist she felt it fold,

And so across the hills they went,

In that new world which is the old.

Yes, that new world, through the golden gates of which they had passed together, which is the old, old world, after all, and nothing else. The same old and new world it was to our fathers and mothers as it is to us, and shall be to our children-a world clear and bright, and ever becoming clearer and brighter to the humble, and true, and pure of heart-to every man and woman who will live in it as the children of the Maker and Lord of it, their Father. To them, and to them alone, is that world, old and new, given, and all that is in it, fully and freely to enjoy. All others but these are occupying where they have no title, "they are sowing much, but bringing in little; they eat, but have not enough; they drink, but are not filled with drink; they clothe themselves, but there is none warm; and he of them who earneth wages, earneth wages to put them into a bag with holes." But these have the world and all things for a rightful and rich inheritance; for they hold them as dear children of Him in whose hand it and they are lying, and no power in earth or hell shall pluck them out of their Father's hand.

FINIS

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