"No one else is to be admitted to-night," I heard the giant say.
"But it is not closing time," some one answered.
"These are my orders, gentlemen," he said, and it was really rather nice of him to address us as he did.
Ward did not say a word, but tried quite amicably to get past the giant. It was a kind of Goliath and David business anyhow, but whatever chance Ward had of getting into the restaurant ended abruptly; a bevy of policemen who seemed to drop out of the skies simply pounced upon him, and if he had been guilty of some real crime he could not have been treated more severely. It was my first experience of policemen, and unless some one had very kindly caught hold of me, my first impulse was to go for the men who had seized Ward.
"You had better keep quiet, or you will be taken to the station as well," one policeman said to me, but I went on talking until some one I did not know touched me on the arm.
"Was the man they collared a friend of yours?" he asked.
"Yes, and it is a most wretched swindle," I said.
"I don't think he did anything to speak of," Foster added.
"I was just coming out of the door as it happened," our friend said, "and I have never seen a more unfair thing in my life. If you will come to the police-station to-morrow to give evidence, I will come too. You had better go now and see if you can do anything for him."
We assured him that we would turn up the next morning, and then Foster and I made our way to the police-station. I cannot say that the Inspector, or whoever the official was who talked to us, took much notice of what we said, but we found a more sympathetic man outside the station who asked us if we wanted to bail out our friend. The official had told us that Jack Ward would be quite comfortable during the night, but when I saw another person brought in by the police we doubted this statement very much, and we discussed things with our sympathetic friend, who was a shabby-looking man when he happened to get near the light, and he gave us much advice in exchange for half-a-sovereign. I gave him the half-sovereign, though what prompted me to do so I cannot remember, but I had met so many aggressive people during that evening that a kind man appealed to me strongly. He was, I heard afterwards, a professional bailer-out, and I do not think he could have been a very good one, for although Fred and I went about with him for over an hour, and rang up various people who treated us with unvarying rudeness, in the end we had to leave Jack Ward where he was.
It was no easy matter to escape from my people in the morning, but we got to the place all right, and soon after we got there Jack Ward appeared, and was charged with creating a disturbance in Piccadilly. Policemen gave evidence, and the man who had told us that he would come and speak up for Ward turned out to be a barrister, and did not appear to be in the least afraid of the magistrate. His evidence was very different to that of the police, and I thought Jack Ward, who looked as if he had been having a dreadful time, was bound to get off.
When my turn came to kiss the book I was in a terrible state of nervousness, and the magistrate asked me my name twice, and where I lived at least three times. I am sure he must have been deaf, for I spoke plainly enough, but I thought him a most disagreeable man. After bothering me until I really felt quite unwell, he asked me how many drinks I had seen Jack Ward have, and when I answered "None," he said very angrily, "I shall not want to ask you any more questions." He might just as well have told me that he did not believe a word I said.
In the end Ward was bound over to keep the peace for a month, and the magistrate said what he thought of the disturbance which had been made. He supposed undergraduates to be a far more vicious lot than they really are, for at the very worst we were only extremely noisy and very foolish, and Jack Ward was just the victim of horribly bad luck.
I was glad to get away from the police-court, and I am not searching for such an experience as this again, but principally we were sorry for Ward, who said he had never spent such a night in his life. However he was very cheerful about it, and took the view that it might have happened to any one.
After luncheon Foster and I had to start on tour with the 'Varsity XV. in Wales, and I was exceedingly glad that Adamson had to stay in town to play for the South against the North, or Fred would not have come. On that tour I played very badly and Fred very well, which is what some people would call the irony of fate. But I must say in excuse for myself that more difficult people to get hold of than those Swansea, Newport and Cardiff three-quarters I cannot conceive, and I had no end of chances of trying to collar them. How many of those chances I took can be guessed by any one who is curious enough to look up records and see the lamentable results of those three matches.
MY MAIDEN SPEECH
As soon as the 'Varsity football tour was finished, I went home and Fred Foster came with me. Any exultation I might have been inclined to show over my blue was completely checked by the way I played on the tour, and I was very glad when we got away from Wales and the sarcastic remarks of the Welsh newspapers. As a matter of curiosity it may be satisfactory to find out what famous Oxford teams of former years think of the one you happen to be in, but it was exceedingly disagreeable of the Welsh papers to suggest that we should not like to hear the opinions of these heroes, and one sporting reporter went out of his way to be nasty to me. "When I saw Marten at back and remember the brilliant exponents of the game who have filled his position in previous Dark Blue fifteens, I really cannot refrain from smiling. But it is a pity all the same." If I could have got hold of that fellow I think I might have curtailed the length of his smile, but Foster gave me a little satisfaction by saying that if a man was ass enough to write about "exponents of the game," he was probably paid a penny a line for what he wrote, and had sacrificed me for the sake of threepence.
We had a very good time during our first "vac." I think that Nina expected me to come back from Oxford with a very fine equipment of airs; in fact I know that she did for she told me so, but I was in a humble mood and gave her no chances to squash me, and she and Fred got on splendidly together. My first term had taught me that I did not know in the least what I wanted, which was an upsetting lesson for any one to learn who had always done what came next without bothering about the consequences. This result had been brought about by the Warden and Dennison, the one had in his curious way tried to urge me on, the other had sickened me of men who rag from morning to night, and I felt bothered for several days in succession. Then, however, I stopped worrying myself and regained my normal spirits, to the annoyance of my father who was at that time inveighing against Russia and the ritualistic vicar of our parish, and had a lot to say about the thin end of the wedge. He told me that I must take more interest in politics, and he made both Fred and me promise that we would speak at debating societies during our first year.
But when I recollected the discussions I had listened to at our college debating society I could not remember a single one at which I could have said anything to the point; how could I know whether "It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," or what could I say about marriage being a failure? There was, indeed, only one man at St. Cuthbert's who could possibly know anything about marriage, and he had a wife and three children, but from the appearance of the lady I do not think that he was likely to give us his honest opinion.
I wrote to Jack Ward but did not get an answer, and when we got back to Oxford I found that he had been staying with a mining magnate whose name I could not pronounce. He had been gambling every night, I forget how much he won in a week, but it is of no consequence as he lost all of it and a lot more before he had finished. During this term he became a complete blood, and was constantly dining at wine clubs or with somebody like Bunny Langham. He joined the Mohocks, and men who did not know him, and thought that our wine club made far too much noise and was a nuisance to the college, said that he would get sent down at the end of his first year for being ploughed in pass Moderations. I, however, saw a good deal of him at odd times, and the fact that he absolutely refused to have anything more to do with Dennison than he could help delighted me. When Jack had no use for any one he had a very expressive way of letting them know it, and Dennison at last was so offended that he invaded my rooms one afternoon when I was changing after footer and couldn't escape from him.
"You don't see much of Ward now, do you?" he began, as he placed himself upon my bed.
"I see him every day," I answered.
"I can't understand why you care to do it."
"Well, I do care to do it; you are sitting on my socks, do you mind getting up?"
"You ought to hear what most of the freshers are saying about the side Ward is putting on, it isn't as if he had any good reason for sticking on side."
"What do you think is a good reason for sticking on side?" I asked.
"Ward can't do anything; you are a blue already, and I shall probably get my racquet blue, but of course that's got nothing to do with it."
"Then I shouldn't say anything about it," I answered, and putting on my coat I went into my sitter.
"Don't be a fool," he said as he followed me, "you stick so tremendously close to rotten old-fashioned ideas. I am not exactly committing a crime in not liking a man whom you profess to like."
"I have never professed to like any one in my life if I didn't like him," I returned, and instead of getting angry with me, he laughed and sat down in my biggest arm-chair. It was not his habit to have two quarrels going on at the same time, and when he wished to be amiable you had to work hard before you removed his smile. We had tea together, and I did work hard, but he refused to be offended, and told me that I was far too good a sort to be wrapped up in old prejudices, which were the laughing-stock of everybody who really thought about them. Oxford, he said, was the place for a good time and not for airing ridiculous fads which were all right at school, where there was nothing else to do but pretend to like a fellow for ever because you had happened to like him for a few weeks. And he also told me that being a blue, I ought to take my proper position in the college, and not to go about with men who were no use whatever.
In return I told him some beautifully plain things, but when a man has the terrific impudence of Dennison, he makes me too angry to be coherent. I let him know, however, that I intended to choose my own friends and that I thought a blue, if he was also a bounder, might do his college more harm than good. To which he replied that if a man was a bounder he found it exceedingly difficult to become a blue. When Dennison went away I rushed off to see Murray, and although he did not pretend to like Jack, he agreed with me that ten Wards in a college would not make it as unpleasant a place as one Dennison. After this attempt to get me on his side against Jack, Dennison left me more or less alone, but he smiled upon me whenever he saw me, and to Webb, Lambert and a man called Learoyd, who were at that time his particular friends, I believe that he described me as a lunatic who might be of use in the future.
I was very energetic during this term, and at the same time very quiet. The weather was so bad that astronomical people said that the sun had got spots upon it or had gone wrong somehow; at any rate we hardly ever saw it, and we lived in a deluge of rain. The Torpids had to be postponed, nearly every footer match was scratched, and the people who had been talking about water-famines for the last two years held their peace. Oxford seemed to be a most cheerless place, and Collier slept nearly the whole term. However, I most strenuously did labour, but I should never have stuck to it had not Murray helped me, and the result was that after we had been up five weeks I found myself in high favour with Mr. Gilbert Edwardes.
It is a dreadful thing to please your tutor if you do not happen to like him, because he asks you to breakfast by way of showing his pleasure, and at meals I could not put up with Mr. Edwardes. I sat next him at one breakfast, and he never ate anything except a piece of dry toast, and he talked about patent foods. I never saw a man who looked more as if he needed a really big meal of beef and plum-pudding; but he was an authority on diet, and told me that food if too nutritious was very bad for the brain. He could not, I thought, have imagined that our brains were worth much; for I must say that though he did not eat himself he gave us every chance of doing so, and if we had been the torpid, who breakfast and dine hugely, he could not have provided us with more food. Murray, who was one of many at this meal, seemed to be very interested in what Mr. Edwardes said about diet, and I told him afterwards that he was an arch-humbug; but it turned out that he had been bothered all his life—at least he said so—by indigestion, and that at Wellingham he had lived on some peculiar biscuit for nearly a fortnight, which recalled to my mind what Ward had said to me about him.
I played in all the 'Varsity rugger matches which were not scratched, and we finished up by beating the Wellingham Nomads after a muddy and desperate struggle. Murray was playing for the Nomads and Foster for the 'Varsity, and so many Wellingham people came round to Murray's rooms after the match that I had to hold a kind of overflow meeting in my rooms, after the manner of political gatherings. Murray was in great spirits until everybody had gone, and then he said he had got a most frightful attack of indigestion. So I let him talk it off. It was curious that I had known him so long without ever having got him on the subject of health; but he told me that when he came up to Oxford he made up his mind to forget all about his ailments and eat anything. I told him that he had better stick to that resolution, because I was sure that his best way was never even to think about himself, but that advice was not altogether unselfish. After he had spent a solid half-hour in telling me what pains he suffered, he seemed so much better that I was compelled to add that whenever he felt most awfully bad he had better come and talk to me. I did not say that from conceit but out of sympathy, and when he laughed I told him that if he thought it was amusing for me to hear about his pains and spasms he was jolly well mistaken.
"My father has talked about his liver for the last ten years," I said, by way of proving that whatever information he gave me about himself was bound to be stale.
"Then you will have one some day," Murray answered, and I imagined that he looked at me as if in the future we could have a royal time nursing our dyspepsia together. But I was not going to be a twin dyspeptic with anybody.
"I hope I have got one now," I returned, "but I am not going on the roof to shout about it. Every one ought to keep their liver dark, and then the vile thing wouldn't be a nuisance to every one else."
He only laughed again. I am afraid he had read a lot of medical books and knew far too much about the colour of things, but I do really believe that I did him some good, for apart from seeing him put extraordinary pieces of paper on his tongue and look very concerned when they revealed whatever secret they have to reveal, he never talked intimately to me again about his complaints, and as time went on he laughed at himself, which was very wholesome of him.
Six weeks of the term had passed before I thought of fulfilling the promise I made to my father, and when the time drew near for me to speak at our college debating society, if I meant to do so, I became extremely nervous. There was only one more meeting of the society during that term, and the subject for debate was, "The modern novel has a depressing and decaying influence upon the mind of the British nation." Lambert, who spoke very fluently and not at all to the point, was booked to speak first at this debate, and any one who knew him could see his magnificent style in the way the motion was drawn up. He revelled in alliteration, and I should think that he preferred subjects which were more general than particular, for he had on one occasion come hopelessly to grief at a debate on French politics, and had to hide his confusion by saying that no one could be expected to take an interest in a Latin nation, which made some people think that he was more stupid than he really was.
I resolved to support the modern novel, not because I knew much about it, but because I did not intend to be on the same side as Lambert, and I went to the Union and listened to a debate in which two men from Cambridge spoke and one man from London. Speaking seemed to be easy to these people, but perhaps the presence of the London man—he was very distinguished—acted as a check to orators who were not quite sure of themselves. At any rate the distinguished man made a great impression, he deplored the spread of taste among the lower classes, and he was very sad and eloquent about organized excursions which he said consisted chiefly of meals. To my mind he went on deploring far too long, for if anybody does remember Rome by what he had for dinner there, and forgets everything about Venice except his tea, his temporary absence from England is not exactly a disaster, and the Italians are glad to have him. Craddock of Balliol, who spoke before the man from London, was crushed for dealing with the subject in a frivolous manner, but I was not persuaded that a serious debate about English Tourists would make them any less humorous or plentiful. That debate did me good in one way, for I was so angry with this man of distinction that I wished I could have told him what I thought, and for three consecutive mornings I addressed an imaginary audience while I was having my bath. But if my remarks had been made at the Union I am afraid they would have caused a tumult, they were more suited to the House of Commons, where, if the worst happens, you have the consolation of being led out by a dignified official, and can read about your departure in the newspapers of the following morning. I was so worried about my speech that I mentioned it to several men, and most of them said that they would come to the debate, which was the last thing I wanted them to do. I had, however, to go through with it, so I consoled myself by the thought that I couldn't be duller than some of the people whom I had heard speaking at our debates; but when I went into the common room and found a larger crowd of men there than I had ever seen at a previous meeting, I wished that I had never come near the place. Before Lambert spoke we had to go through a lot of private business, which consisted chiefly of attempts by the college wags to be funny. Some men cultivate the special form of humour which shines at private business, but on this occasion all our wags were either absent or silent, and the President and Secretary of the debating society had a very peaceful evening.
When Lambert got up to pulverize the modern novel a great many men, who had only come in for a rag, left the room, but Dennison, Webb and some others who knew that I intended to speak, remained, and I made up my mind that they should wait a very long time if they meant to hear me. There was not a trace of nervousness about Lambert; he shot his cuffs, stroked his upper lip with one finger, and was really rather a comical figure, though I should think that every one was not so much amused at the things he said as at his magnificent manner while saying them, for he had nothing new to say about the influence of popular fiction. He referred to authors who draw their inspiration from the Bible in terms of lordly condescension, and then, changing his manner suddenly, he spoke of the rise and fall of Stratford-upon-Avon in such mournful tones that any one who did not know him might have imagined that he was on the verge of tears.
No speech of his, however, was complete without a peroration, and on this evening he surpassed himself. "You," he began, "who buy books without a thought of what you are buying, who are guided in your taste for fiction by the advertisements and buy a novel with as little care as you would buy a pair of scissors, who think, if you ever think, and I have already said that you do not, that because there are fifty thousand tasteless people in the world there is no reason why you should not swell that crowd, you are responsible for the decay of the novel. Traditions are dying, helped to their death by prize competitions and personal paragraphs, and Oxford is the home of tradition, for Oxford was invented before Eton. We care no longer for what is best but for what is most talked about, in our fiction we look for scandals and not for literature, and unless there is a reaction the man who can blush will become a curiosity, fit only for exhibition on the Music Hall stage or in the Zoological Gardens. It is a serious matter. The Philistines must be met and routed, we know that of old this was their usual fate, it seems to have been the chief reason for their existence. For my part I think a day ill-spent in which I have not read a few pages of Fielding or Thackeray. I have the most kindly feelings towards Dickens, Jane Austen and George Eliot, and when I am tired I write little things myself."
He sat down and looked blandly in front of him; if he had been less pleased with himself he would not have been anything like so amusing.
A senior man called Ransome got up to defend the modern novel, and the debate at once became serious. In about five minutes Ransome would have made most men feel crushed and unhappy, but Lambert only spread out his legs and shut his eyes. Ransome was not only a good speaker but also one of the cleverest men in the 'Varsity, and he scored time after time without disturbing Lambert's equanimity. I think that Lambert's enormous and somnolent bulk must have annoyed Ransome, for he went on to make an attack which was virulently sarcastic. In his speech Lambert had been foolish enough to say nothing in favour of modern novels, he had taken it for granted that all of them were bad, and Ransome fastening on this accused him of never having heard of George Meredith and Thomas Hardy, and he finished by appealing to us not to be guided in our tastes and opinions by a man whose assumptions were based on tremendous ignorance.
After Ransome had finished Lambert woke up, which was silly of him, but I must admit that he looked exactly as if he had been roused from a deep sleep. A number of men spoke, and most of them said something which I had intended to say, until there was very little of my speech left which could sound original. As each man sat down, Dennison and Webb had the impertinence to shout "Marten," but they were always called to order by the President, who was in no hurry to hear my maiden effort. Collier, who had not come to hear me from inclination but a sense of duty, dozed peacefully in a corner, a number of men recorded their votes and left the room, the President yawned prodigiously, and the Secretary looked as if he had got a headache. If I intended to speak before Lambert replied to all the criticisms passed upon him, my time had come. I got up as quietly as I could, but I was greeted with so much applause that I felt quite embarrassed. Jack Ward had come in from dining somewhere, and when he saw Dennison and Webb clapping because they expected to be amused, he resolved to make more row than they did. I could not complain of my reception, but why I received it is not worth discussing. However the mere sight of Dennison made me determined not to make a fool of myself and I got rid of my first sentence without a hitch, and then I was all right for some time because the walls of my bedder had heard my speech very often and I knew it well. Jack Ward kept on applauding violently, he meant well but he did it in the most awkward places, and he made me forget one thing which Foster had provided. Dennison laughed a little, but he had to wait before he got an opportunity of trying to make me appear especially ridiculous.
"We read too much and think too little," I said, and this was the opening of a sentence which had caused me a lot of trouble until Murray helped me to put it right, but Dennison saw his chance and interrupted me by saying, "We talk too much and think too little, is what you mean," which was an exasperating remark when I had very nearly finished without any bother. So I turned round and told him that I could say what I liked without asking him. The President shouted "Order," but he looked too sleepy to care much what happened.
"At any rate I suppose you cribbed it from last week's Spectator, and I know it was 'Talk too much,' because I saw it."
"If Mr. Marten thinks he can improve upon anything taken from the Spectator he is at perfect liberty to do so," the President said very sarcastically, and I felt badly scored off.
"It's all very well," I said to him, "but these interruptions have made me forget where I have got to."
"About the bottom of your second cuff, I should think," Dennison called out, and I could not stand that libel, so I addressed the rest of my speech to him. It was, at any rate, fluent, and although the President tried to stop me I had a merry if short innings before I finished. Dennison was too much for me, he never lost his temper while I was so angry that I forget exactly what happened, but when I met the President in the quad on the following morning and apologized to him, he was kind enough to say that he hoped I should speak again during the next term, although as he would be reading hard he was afraid that he would not have the pleasure of hearing me. He was a curious man, and I could not help wondering whether he would have wished me to speak if he had not been too busy to listen, but I did not care to risk asking him that question.
The Lent Term at Oxford is rather a dull one for men who do not row, run, or play soccer. In my time golfers were thought dull whether they played golf or only talked about it. I did run in our college sports because Collier said I wouldn't, and Collier ran because I said he couldn't, the result was that we competed in a half-mile handicap in which he received the munificent start of eighty-five yards, while I had to worry through the whole distance with the exception of twenty yards. Collier bet me five shillings that he would defeat me in that race, and I thought I had found an easy way of making a little money, but a half-mile is a long distance for two men without much wind, and when I caught Collier up about two hundred yards from the finish we agreed to cancel our bet and walk to the pavilion. Collier could not speak without gasping for a quarter of an hour, and then he expressed the determination of retiring permanently from the running path.
A CRICKET MATCH AT BURTINGTON
The summer term at Oxford would be even more pleasant than it is if it did not start in April and finish when the summer is just beginning. I do not wish to say anything about weather, but without taking an interest in the abnormal quantities of rain or wanting to know why the sun shines so seldom, I do think that if the success of a term depends largely upon an English May, it is apt to be very limited. I have been told so often by quite truthful men that there are other people besides undergraduates to be considered in Oxford, that I have never felt so convinced about anything, except that Queen Anne is dead; but all the same it seems to me that the undergraduate is not given a chance of being comfortably warm for any length of time. And if the authorities who fix the terms, or if they like it better, the academical year, would understand that an undergraduate is a far nicer man when he is comfortable, they might be inclined to cease from compelling him to play cricket when it is impossible to think of anything but the biting wind.
For my own part I am certain that I have never wanted to break rules or windows when the sun shines, but some men, when they become depressed by the weather, turn their thoughts to throwing things about, and there are so many windows in a quad that wherever you throw you seem to hit one of them. The only window I smashed was not entirely my fault, for Ward ducked his head just as a tennis-ball was going to hit it; the Subby, however, who was trying to instil logic into a lot of pass "mods" men, was annoyed by broken glass falling into his lecture-room. This was a bad beginning to the summer term, but had it not rained for nearly two days I should have been playing cricket that morning, and if Ward's head had happened to be in front of the Subby's lecture-room I should not have been there to throw at it. I tried to explain this to the Subby, but there is a certain kind of reasoning which does not make much impression on either dons or schoolmasters. I asked him if he thought any man who was booked to play cricket all day could sit down at once and work when he heard that his match was scratched, and he answered, "Undoubtedly." The Subby was a nice enough man in some ways, but in others he was simply hopeless. He was not so absolutely unapproachable as Mr. Edwardes, for although you had got to imagine for all you were worth you could think of him as an "undergrad," but when Murray and I tried to persuade ourselves that Mr. Edwardes had once been only twenty years old we wasted our time, and Murray told me that I was always trying to do impossible things.
Oxford, however, is a good place when you are only playing at summer, and it is really splendid if you are lucky enough to have a fine May and early June. I went back there full of enthusiasm, I meant to do a hundred things, but I am afraid my programme was a little too full; to carry it out successfully I required the co-operation of the Subby and Mr. Edwardes, and no one but an enthusiast, or a fool, would have thought he was likely to get it. My experiences with Mr. Edwardes during my second term had been placidly uneventful, but they had been gained by very great effort on my part, and they did not seem to have been worth the effort, since my tutor was almost as great an iceberg at the end of the term as he had been at the beginning. He could not thaw, but I never found out that until I had spent many unsuccessful interviews with him. I thought after going through one term without offending him that I was what golfers, I believe, would call "one up," and I felt that it would be an easy matter to increase my score, but I made a great mistake. Mr. Edwardes did not realize in the least that cricket is a very important and tiring game. I told him frankly that I wanted to enjoy myself during my first summer term, and that if my work was neglected a little I hoped he would understand the reason. He failed to understand it, and instead of being pleased with my candour, he took up a sort of pouncing attitude. He was fairly on the look-out, and when a don gets into that state it is not likely he is going to watch for nothing.
In the freshers' match Foster and I were on opposite sides, which seemed to me a very poor kind of arrangement even before we began, and what I thought of it after the match was over is not worth saying. The weather on the first day of the game was never intended for cricket, and I have very rarely seen a nose glow quite so gorgeously as the umpire who no-balled me twice in my first over. I actually began the bowling, though I think the reason for this honour must have been that Cross of Magdalen, who was secretary to the 'Varsity XI. and captained our side, knew my name. Foster and Henderson began the batting, and my first ball which was supposed to be directed at Foster's wicket was a most abominable wide, the second and third he hit to the boundary, the fourth was a no-ball, and I really forget what happened after that, but I know that it was the sort of over which seemed as if it would never end. I had not been no-balled before, and this unexpected misfortune made my bowling quite comically bad. Cross kept me on for seven overs, because as I heard him say afterwards he thought the beginning was too bad to be true. Foster made 128 and Henderson 93, I got one wicket for 78 runs, but the man I got out was not supposed to be a batsman, and he confided to me as we went back to the pavilion that his highest score for his school during the last season had been 5. This information on the top of my inglorious performance was really rather trying; he might, I thought, have kept it to himself, but he had made 11 and was unduly elated. Their side made 358, and our two innings only totalled 301; I went in last, with the exception of Cross, and made such furiously ineffective efforts to hit some leg-breaks, that Rushden of New College, who was a most serious cricketer and captain of the 'Varsity XI., was compelled to laugh. But I did land one ball into the shrubbery, which was the only moment during the match when I felt that cricket in a cold wind was worth playing. After it was all over, however, I was delighted that Fred had started so well, and it did not surprise me at all when I saw that my name was not down to play for the Sixteen Freshmen against the 'Varsity XI.; in fact I should have been very surprised if Rushden had not made up his mind about me. Both Fred and Henderson did well in this second trial match and were chosen to play for the Varsity against the M.C.C., while I went back to college cricket and lived upon what reputation I had brought from Cliborough for quite three weeks. I could not get any wickets however much I tried until we played Pembroke, who were not exactly a strong batting side, and to make things easier for me they had their three best men away. After this match I got my college colours, but I am afraid that it is doubtful if I deserved them.
Jack Ward played for the College XI., but his best scores were made for the St. Cuthbert's Busters, who played villages round Oxford, and were not very depressed if they were beaten. Collier, Lambert and Dennison also played for the Busters, and a kind of truce had been patched up between Jack and Dennison, because Jack said that it was too much trouble to keep up a quarrel with any one whom he was always meeting, and Dennison was at that time so occupied with other schemes that he treated Jack as if he was his dearest friend.
Some senior men in the college were getting very dissatisfied with the state of it, for they said that it was all right to have an occasional rag if we had anything to rag about; but as we did not seem able to row, play footer or cricket, we had better keep quiet. They did nothing except talk, and Dennison played up to them with all his might; he had got his half-blue for racquets, and they, not knowing him as well as Jack, Collier and I did, thought that he was really keen on the college. But, as a matter of fact, he howled with laughter when our torpid went down six places, and said that if men were fools enough to row they deserved to be laughed at, whatever happened to them.
No one wants to belong to a college which can do nothing but howl at night, since the greatest slackers in the 'Varsity howl the loudest. Dennison worked hard for popularity among senior men, but he cared nothing for the college, and several of the freshers knew that if he got a set round him who intended to manage the place, St. Cuthbert's was doomed as far as athletics were concerned. He was made for some college which is in the habit of having only one blue every ten years or so, and may possibly treat him as if he is a very fine specimen when they have got him.
We could not help doing well in the schools, because we always had scholars who took Firsts with beautiful regularity; but no one thought very much about it, since it was a thing to which every one in the 'Varsity was accustomed.
Even Fred Foster told me that it was a pity St. Cuthbert's was going downhill so fast; but apart from being angry there was nothing for me to do, except wait. Our dons, taken in the mass, wanted us to work and be quiet; they did not care what happened to our eight or our eleven, and when a man got his blue he was generally told that he must not allow it to interfere with his reading. Unless dons meet undergraduates half-way a college is bound, sooner or later, to suffer; but a little humanity can do wondrous things. During my first year the Warden was the only don who was kind to me, and though I liked him so much that I forgave him for not appreciating the difference between bumping and being bumped, I must confess that his kindness was of a peculiar kind. St. Cuthbert's, in the opinion of the 'Varsity, had begun to go down rapidly, and we got very little sympathy from anybody outside the college. The outlook was gloomy enough, for I was bound to have rows with Mr. Edwardes as long as I had anything to do with him, and if I could have been of any use in trying to improve things, I knew that unless some new dons came I should have to spend most of my time in looking after myself. I wished that Fred had come to St. Cuthbert's, for Murray was too quiet to do anything, Collier was too sleepy, and Jack Ward seemed to be as happy-go-lucky as I was.
It looked as if Dennison was bound to win in the long run, for he was a thousand times cleverer at getting what he wanted than any of us, and he had the great advantage of knowing what he did want. His aim, I knew, was to be the leader of a set who gambled and yelled and played games which he thought were fit for bloods to play. Slackness during the day and liveliness at night were briefly his programme, and though it is all very well to be lively at night, it seemed to some of us that if we were to sink to the bottom of the river and care nothing for the reputation of the college, we were in for a very bad time. By nature both Jack Ward and I were cheerful, and if it had not been for hating Dennison I don't think that I should have wanted to check my cheerfulness. As it was, I had a vague sort of feeling that what Dennison liked must be wrong.
I saw Dennison as seldom as I could, but Jack Ward came to me one morning when there was no college match, and when I had nothing to do which could not conveniently be put off, to ask me to play for the Busters. Somebody had scratched at the last moment, and even if I had not wanted to play I should have found a difficulty in resisting Jack.
We drove seven miles to a village called Burlington, and had great difficulty in finding the wicket when we arrived, but our driver had been there before, and insisted on us getting out by a field which looked as if it might produce a bountiful crop of hay. Lambert—who had talked a lot about being asked to play for his county—pretended to be very disgusted, and strode about as if he owned the whole place; we had to be very rude to him, so that we might prevent him from hurting the feelings of the Burlington men.
In the middle of the field a small space had been mown, and the pitch itself, apart from a few holes, was not at all bad, but Bagshaw, who was captaining the Busters, decided at once that he should keep wicket because he did not want to stand up to his knees in grass. The captain of the Burtington team was the local publican, a hearty man who told us in the same breath that he was very glad to see us, and that he had played cricket for thirty years, boy and man. His name was Plumb, and I liked him very much; he played in both braces and a belt, because he told us belts were ticklish things and braces sometimes burst. I answered that it was always well to be on the safe side, and we had quite a confidential talk, until Lambert and Dennison came up and interrupted us. Lambert began to complain about the long grass, and I was afraid Mr. Plumb might be offended, but I expect he had seen a good many people like Lambert, and he only smiled compassionately at him.
"You see it's like this," he said, "this damp, not to call it a wet spring, has made this yer grass grow, and what I say is that weather that is good for farmers up to June is bad for us cricketers. But, bless me, there's nothing to complain of here—I've played cricket in some funny places if you like, and many a dap on the side of the head I've had in my time."
"This man," Dennison remarked, pointing at me, "is a very fast bowler."
Mr. Plumb shut one eye and looked at me with interest. "Then," he said, "I think you had better bowl up the hill; I have seen them kick a bit at the other end, nothing to speak of, but Bill Higgs got his nose cut open come next Saturday three weeks; he's a fast bowler if you like, I've seen Spofforth and I've seen Mold, but for pace give me Bill Higgs."
"Is he playing to-day?" Lambert asked as unconcernedly as he could.
"Oh yes, he's playing, he's the terror of the neighbourhood. There he is, the tall man, he's our policeman when he's not playing cricket. My eye, his arms are like tree-trunks," and Mr. Plumb left us and walked over to talk to Bill Higgs, but I am not at all sure that he did not wink at me before he went.
"You didn't score much there," I said to Dennison.
"Cricket isn't good enough in these outlandish holes," he answered, and seized Collier to tell him about Bill Higgs. Lambert went off hastily to get a drink, and was not seen again until Bagshaw had won the toss and decided to go in.
We began our innings with Lambert and Collier, and Bagshaw could not have chosen a funnier pair. There was some difficulty in getting them ready, for Collier had left his pads behind, and we had a desperate job to find any which were large enough to fit him, while Lambert was so engaged in persuading us that Higgs on a bumping wicket was nothing to a man who had been asked to play for his county that at one time he had lost both his bat and his gloves. Before they started Collier insisted on tossing to see who should have first ball, and when he won Lambert said it was of no consequence as he had always meant to have the first ball. The Burtington XI. waited patiently, and threw catches to each other with extraordinary violence, but although Mr. Plumb had announced that Higgs would begin the bowling, the terror of the neighbourhood had not allowed us to see how fast he bowled. There was an air of mystery about Higgs, which the nine of us who were not at the wickets found very entertaining, though Dennison, who was in next, looked anxious.
When our batsmen had got to the wickets it seemed as if the game would never begin, for Lambert took guard three times and looked round the ground so often to see where the fielders were placed that two or three of the Burtington men from sheer weariness began to turn somersaults. Higgs stood with the ball in his hand and talked to Collier, he knew that he was a great man and was quite unmoved by Lambert's little tricks. At last there was no excuse for waiting any longer, and the umpire, after Lambert had refused to have a trial ball, which I suppose he thought would have been an undignified thing for him to do, called "Play." The mystery was solved immediately, Higgs bowled very fast underhand, the kind of ball which is correctly termed a "sneak," but unfortunately for Lambert the first one was straight and his bat was still in the air when his middle stump was knocked to the ground. The Burtington XI. seemed to me to take this beginning as a matter-of-course, and started throwing catches to each other without even troubling to applaud Higgs. Lambert walked very slowly from the wickets, and when he got back to us he was smiling in his most magnificently contemptuous manner.
"I thought you asked me to play cricket," he said to Bagshaw. "I keep a special bat for that sort of bowling, and I did not want to smash this one."
He sat down on the grass, but we were all so suffocated by laughter that none of us could condole with him, and if any one had ventured to say "Bad luck," I am sure Lambert would have treated him with scorn.
Dennison had two balls which did not bowl him, but Higgs made no mistake with the next one, and the Burlington men played catch once more. In the end we managed to make 33, though hardly any of the runs were made off Higgs, and twelve of them came from two balls which were lost quite close to the wickets. Nine of the Burtington men made 18 runs, for Collier bowled very straight until he got hopelessly out of breath, and then Bagshaw, who laughed all the time Collier was bowling, would not take him off, though the wretched man was panting like a grampus. "This last fellow is sure to be a 'sitter,'" Bagshaw said, "here is Collier's chance to bowl right through an innings, I don't suppose he has ever done it before."
But Collier, who was searching after breath and not troubling about records, was indignant with Bagshaw, and when Lambert, who said that the sun was in his eyes, missed two catches off consecutive balls, Collier said something to him at the end of the over which disturbed the harmony of our XI. for several minutes. Unfortunately the last Burtington batsman was more of a wag than a "sitter," he was the funny man of the team, and was so delighted with his own wit that Bagshaw said it would be a shame not to let him enjoy himself.
"Every village team has its funny man," he said, "and we are jolly lucky to get him in last." I am sure Bagshaw was what is called a good sportsman, but he was too kind to be a good captain. I thought Sam Jenks was a harmless idiot when he came in with only one pad, and that on the wrong leg, but by the time he had fooled us out of eight or nine runs I was simply sick to death of him. Lambert stated in a loud voice that it was not cricket, and Collier, who was most completely disorganized both in body and temper, retorted that if it had been cricket Lambert would not have been playing; while Sam, who in some ways was not such an ass as he tried to make out, played the next ball slowly to Lambert at short leg, and ran down the pitch exhorting him to throw it at Collier's head as soon as he got hold of it. Possibly this advice, combined with a natural inability to stoop quickly, made Lambert even slower than usual in picking up the ball, but when he did pick it up he threw it violently at the wicket to which Sam was running. There was some doubt whether he threw at Sam or at the wickets, but he missed whatever he intended to hit and the ball went yards away into the long grass, where it remained until four runs had been made and Burtington had won the match.
Immediately afterwards Sam fell over his wickets in trying to make a stylish stroke with one leg poised in the air, and an excursion of Burtingtonians, headed by Mr. Plumb, sallied forth and carried him shoulder-high to the tent, where he was given much refreshment.
One or two men on our side tried to persuade Bagshaw that there was plenty of time left to make as many runs as we wanted and to get the Burtington men out again, but when Mr. Plumb was told what we were talking about he came out of the tent and joined us. He was inclined to be elated, and seizing Bagshaw by the arm said he should like to have a word with him. They walked away from the rest of us, and, as a friend of Mr. Plumb's, I went with them.
"Cricket is cricket, that's what I say, sir," Mr. Plumb began, and Bagshaw, whose manners were perfectly splendid, assented without a smile.
"But in this yer little village there are what the parson calls local considerations, which I as captain of this team have got to consider."
Bagshaw inquired quite patiently what these considerations were.
"Well, it's like this, I keep The Reindeer, and the parson he's a teetotaller, not one of those stumping men who think because they drink nothing nobody else ought to, but what I should call broad-minded for a man who drinks nothing but water. Now what the parson says to me is this: 'You give these young gentlemen luncheon for which they pays half-a-crown ahead, and it's worth it, and my missis drives up in the pony-cart at five and gives everybody tea.' It's like a bargain, you understand."
Bagshaw understood most thoroughly and tried to stop the flow of Mr. Plumb's conversation, but that excellent captain talked on for another five minutes, until two of our men who knew Bagshaw better than I did, took upon themselves to walk to the wickets. Then Mr. Plumb began to collect his men, which seemed to be a difficult matter, and it was half-past four before we began again. At five o'clock tea was ready and the game was interrupted for so long that we gave up all thoughts of winning it, but I heard afterwards from the parson himself that as a general rule only the batting side had tea and the other XI. had to take their chance of getting some. I believe we should have won that match if Mr. Plumb had captained our side, but the Busters were generally beaten, which possibly accounted for the fact that most of the villages round Oxford said they were a splendid eleven. No team which contained Lambert could help being splendid, but as regards cricket we were the most futile side it is possible to imagine, and Bagshaw, who was a really good sort, was also exactly the right man to captain it.
In our second innings Lambert made nine runs, which was not a great score for a man who said he had been asked to play for his county, but was unfortunately enough to make him very pleased with himself, and when he got into that state of mind he was a dangerous man, for he always wanted to do something which was better left undone. On this occasion he persuaded Jack Ward that a little dinner at The Reindeer would be the most sporting way of finishing the evening, and I have never seen any one support a suggestion more heartily than Mr. Plumb did this one of Lambert's. He had a couple of beautiful ducklings waiting to be cooked, some lamb which would be wasted upon any one but real gentlemen, and some port which would make our hair curl. Collier listened to this and thought it too good to miss, so he backed up Lambert, and Ward, who did not seem enthusiastic over the hair-curling port, said he would stay if I would. There were good reasons why I should not stay and I mentioned them one by one, but although in the lump they ought to have been enough to stop me, when mentioned singly they did not seem to be very important. Ward, however, saw that I did not want to stay, and he was on the point of chucking up the whole thing when Dennison said to Mr. Plumb, "You see, some of us are frightened to death of the dons; it is a fairly rotten state to be in, because we daren't call our lives our own."
That remark was directed at me, and if I had been sensible I should have taken no notice of it, but unluckily I am one of those wretched people who hate to hear that I am frightened of anybody or anything, and for Dennison to tell Mr. Plumb such silly nonsense made me furious. Of course I said that I would stay, and I saw Dennison wink at Lambert; the brute was for ever scoring off me, he had a most unrighteous way of getting what he wanted.
For some reason or other Bagshaw was always very decent to me, and when he heard that Ward, Dennison, Collier, Lambert and I were going to finish the evening at The Reindeer he asked me to come home in the brake, but that gibe of Dennison's was heavy upon me and I had determined to stick to my promise and do whatever came my way. I did not expect that the evening was going to be anything but a rowdy one, for when Lambert did undertake a thing he went at it most zealously. First of all he got Ward to wire and ask Bunny Langham to drive over about ten o'clock and fetch us all back, and then he asked four or five of the most comical people in the Burtington team to come to The Reindeer after dinner and help at a smoking concert. All of the Burtington team came and a number of their friends, in fact I should think that nearly all the labourers in the village were entertained by us during the evening. Mr. Plumb began by being very pleased, and the evening ended in what local newspapers call "harmony," which is the most polite way of saying that any one sang who liked and that the discord was something terrible. I sang a solo, the first and last time I have ever done such a thing, but I was rapturously applauded by an audience who were more kind and thirsty than critical. My song was "Tom Bowling," at least Ward said it was more like "Tom Bowling" than anything else.
At half-past ten Bunny Langham had not come, and by some means or other it was necessary that we should reach Oxford before twelve o'clock. Dennison suggested that we should have a "go-as-you-please" contest back to St. Cuthbert's, but Collier was not disposed to enter for a race in which he was bound to be last, and told us that if we were fools enough to go seven miles in an hour and a half, he would trouble us to rout up some don when we got back to college and say that he had been taken seriously unwell in Burlington, but hoped to be better in the morning. A man, who called himself a veterinary surgeon, but was described by Mr. Plumb as a cow-doctor, said he would give Collier a certificate of ill-health; I do not remember from what disease he was supposed to be suffering. The idea, however, of rushing seven miles as hard as we could was crushed by Lambert, who was in a kind of "coach and four" mood and very abusive. He secured Mr. Plumb and having pushed him into a corner stated that he required a pair of horses and a wagonette, but Mr. Plumb was not in a condition to be addressed in terms of authority. His sense of importance had been increasing as the evening went on, and from being a most innocently amusing man he had become an obstinate and bibulous publican. He would have nothing to say to Lambert and declared that getting to Oxford was our business and that we ought to have thought about it before. The best thing to do with such a man was to leave him to the remorse of the following morning, but Lambert had an insane desire to talk and, I must admit, a forcible way of talking. There seemed to be a reasonable chance of a row, for Mr. Plumb wasn't without supporters who were as tired of us as we were of them, but Jack Ward managed to get hold of the cow-doctor and persuaded him to find some vehicle to help us on our way. As soon as Mr. Plumb heard of this he declared that the cow-doctor was taking the bread out of his mouth, but Ward told him if that was the case he ought to have another drink, and after having it he became comatose and unobstructive.
Finally we started from The Reindeer at eleven o'clock in a light farm-cart, Ward and Dennison sitting on the seat with the driver, while Collier, Lambert and I sat on the floor of the conveyance. Lambert, when not singing Bacchanalian songs, complained of the indignity and discomfort of this performance, but I, having taken the precaution of propping myself against Collier, who was accustomed to being used as a cushion and very kind about it, was more sleepy than uncomfortable. Besides, men who begin to think of being dignified towards midnight are a nuisance, so I told Lambert he was a speechless idiot, which statement I found to be positively untrue.
We had reached the outskirts of Oxford, and even Lambert had passed from the state of song and abuse to that of sleep, when the cart was drawn up with such a jerk that my head collided with Collier's, and I heard Ward say—
"Why, Bunny, what the blazes are you doing here at this time of night?" and Bunny answered with no unnecessary length, "Walking."
"But why?" Ward said.
"Exercise. Any room for another pig in the bottom of that cart?"
"Jump up, quick," Ward answered, "it is a quarter to twelve, and jolly lucky there is a moon or I should have missed you."
Bunny said that he was not going to hurry for any one, and wasted two or three valuable minutes before we got him safely into the cart. He was in an exceedingly bad temper, and it was only by dint of innumerable questions that we found that he had actually started to drive to Burtington and that something disastrous had happened on the journey. The exact nature of that disaster none of us ever discovered, but what Bunny wished us to believe was that he went to sleep and was driven into by a furniture van, and since he had been kind enough to start to Burtington we should have been a complete set of bounders if we had not suppressed Dennison when he said that no one was likely to believe such a tale as that. Anybody with a grain of decency could see that Bunny had been having a very bad time, and though we all thanked him tremendously when we got out at St. Cuthbert's, and told the driver to take him on to Christchurch as fast as he could, he just sat in the bottom of the cart and said nothing.
"I am afraid Bunny's ill," Ward said to me as soon as we got into college, and we blamed ourselves for not seeing him to "The House," though had we done so we could not have got back to St. Cuthbert's until a quarter-past twelve.
On the following morning Ward went round to see Bunny and found him drinking beer with his breakfast, which was a thing he never dared to do unless he felt aggressively well. Ward lunched with me and said that Bunny was all right except that his feelings were in a state of disorder.
"There is only one thing he is conceited about and that is his driving," Ward explained, "and last night he was driving a cob which a baby in arms could steer. Well, Bunny got upset, and is so ashamed of himself that he is angry with everybody else. He will be all right by dinner-time if he is left alone."
THE USE AND ABUSE OF AN ESSAY
The day following the Burtington match was a very peaceful one, but the evening brought with it a disturbance which was altogether unexpected. I was engaged at nine o'clock to read an essay to Mr. Edwardes, and I had been so energetic that I had written it two days before, which made me feel virtuous. The subject of the essay was "Impressions of Roman Society as gathered from Cicero's Letters," and I had taken more than ordinary trouble over it, for it was the sort of question which I could not answer without definite knowledge.
I went to Murray's rooms after dinner, and I remember telling him that I believed I had written something which would persuade my tutor that I had at least made an attempt to satisfy him. And Murray, who was always trying to keep me out of rows and giving me help when I was in them, read a little of it, and said that it was ever so much longer than the one he had written. As length meant work, I was very satisfied with this remark of his, and I went off to Mr. Edwardes with a feeling that he might be mildly pleased.
He greeted me coldly and sat down by the side of the table, with his back almost turned to me; we did not even exchange our opinions about the weather, and he was evidently as anxious for me to begin as I was to finish. My opening sentence was stamped by my own style. If I say that no one else would have written it, I only wish to record that no one else would have thought it worth while; I will not quote it, because when I tried to read this essay a year after I had written it, I was struck by the fact that it was altogether too florid for every-day use. Mr. Edwardes objected strongly to phrases which seemed to me beautifully rounded, and I gave them up slowly as one of my most cherished possessions. I could not share his feelings about them at that time, whatever I may think of them now, and they formed a part of a scheme to make my essays less dull, and what I was fain to think even a little amusing. But apart from my opening sentence I had in this essay deprived myself of the pleasure of ornate phrasing and been as solid as possible. I had, however, taken great pains over my first words. I wished them to convey to Mr. Edwardes that I could still annoy him if I liked, and afterwards I intended to show him that though this power remained to me I was too kind to use it. These were not perhaps the reasons why I was compelled to write essays, and I doubt whether he would ever have discovered my scheme even if I had read him what I had written. And I never did read it, for after I had finished the first sentence and deprived it of much of its effect by getting the stops mixed up, which made me want to read it over again, he turned round in his chair so quickly that he bumped his arm against the table, and if he had not been a don I should have asked him if he had hurt himself. But as my efforts to please dons by inquiring after their health had not been successful, I went on reading until Mr. Edwardes stood up, and feeling then that something had gone hopelessly wrong, I stopped to look at him.
I could see that he was exceedingly angry, but why in the world he had become so suddenly afflicted I had not an idea.
"I do not require to hear any more of that. You may go," he said, and he actually pointed to the door. "But—" I began——
"You may go," he repeated, and since he looked as if he would continue pointing towards the door until I obeyed him, I collected the pages on which I had spent so much labour and walked slowly out of the room. I was too surprised to say anything more, and I did not even feel like banging the door. The only thought which occurred to me was that there must have been something very improper in that cherished sentence, but if my tutor imagined that I took any pleasure in indecencies, or would write them consciously, I felt that he was a very silly man. I stopped on the stairs and began reading my essay again; there was simply nothing in the beginning of it which could offend the most inquisitive and conscientious Mrs. Grundy. It might have bored any one, but the person who could have blushed at it had not yet been born.
I was most completely puzzled, and when I went back to my rooms and laid my rejected essay upon the table, I felt as if the only literature I wished to see again was the Commination Service. It had often been my fate to displease masters and dons, but it was a new experience for me to be turned out of a room without knowing in the least why I was expected to go. I came to the unsatisfying conclusion that Edwardes had gone mad, and I determined to see Murray so that I might tell him what had happened; but before I had finished writing a note which had to be written, both Murray and Foster came into my rooms.
"Foster has got something to tell you," Murray said.
"Not half as much as I have got to tell you," I answered.
"I will bet you a shilling you think it more important, and you can decide yourself," Murray replied.
I crammed my note into an envelope and looked at Fred, who was gazing, rather stupidly I thought, at a photo of Nina which she had sent me a few days before.
"How many did you make against Surrey this afternoon?" I asked him.
Murray began to laugh, which suggested to me that I was asking an awkward question. "Was it another blob?" I inquired.
"I made a hundred and two," Foster said, and looked quickly at me and then again at that wretched photo. I expect he was very anxious not to seem too pleased with himself, but there was no reason why I should not be as pleased as I liked, and for a minute I forgot all about Mr. Edwardes. I told Fred that he was simply a certainty for his blue, and Murray again seemed to be amused.
"I have got it," Fred said quietly, and he stepped away from me, fearing that my delight might be painful to him.
There is an extraordinarily small choice of things to do when you are very delighted; just talking seemed to be hopelessly futile, and even shouting was not satisfactory. But I had to do something, so I opened a bottle of port, which I knew both Fred and Murray disliked, and made them drink some of it. After Murray had tasted his and congratulated Fred again, he put his glass down by the large bowl which I had bought on my first expedition to the shops of Oxford, and presently fears of dyspepsia gripped him so furiously that he emptied the wine into the bowl, when he thought I was not looking. It was '63 port given me by my father, and if he had seen Murray getting rid of it in this way I am sure that there would have been trouble; but I, not being oppressed by a knowledge of vintages, just filled Murray's glass up again and kept an eye on him to see what he would do with it. I might, however, have spared myself the trouble, for he had no intention of pretending to drink two glasses, though he told me afterwards that some curious impulse had compelled him to get rid of one, and he had decided that it would be safer in the bowl than elsewhere. In fact, he wished me to believe that he had done this as a compliment to Foster, but I could not follow his line of reasoning.
I sat and talked for a long time about the rottenness of the Cambridge bowling—which, by the way, I had never seen—and the runs Fred was sure to make in the 'Varsity match, until he tried very hard to stop me saying anything more about cricket, and Murray set me going on another subject when he remarked that it had not taken me long to read my essay.
"Edwardes has gone completely cracked," I stated. Fred had often heard me express a similar opinion about masters at Cliborough, and was not inclined to think seriously of Edwardes' condition, but Murray had curiosity enough to ask me what had happened. "You saw the beginning of my essay," I said to him, "and there was nothing in it which could offend a baby in arms, was there?"
Murray said that as far as he knew I had been most modest, and he added, quite unnecessarily, that the only criticism he had to make upon it was that I had been asked to give Cicero's impression of Roman society, and had preferred my own. I was not going to set myself up against Cicero even to please Murray, so I took no notice of his remark, and went on with my grievance very slowly, for a grievance does not get proper treatment if you spring it upon people; they just say "What a confounded swindle," and go on talking about their own affairs. I had been badly treated, and I intended to make the most of it, so I did not mind being a bore if I could extract a little surprise and sympathy from Fred and Murray.
"I took a lot of trouble over this essay, I changed my style——"
"The first sentence was fairly magnificent; it reminded me of Lambert walking across the quad," Murray interrupted me by saying.
"I wrote that sentence on purpose so that Edwardes might enjoy the contrast afterwards."
"There aren't many men who would have thought of that," Fred said, and, as he was trying to rot me, I agreed with him quite seriously, and added that I thought it was very kind of me to think so much about Edwardes.
"But didn't he like the contrast?" Murray asked, and I thought the way he looked at Fred, as if something was amusing him, was fairly hard upon me.
"He would have liked it," I said emphatically, "if I had ever given him a chance. I mean if he had ever given me one."
"What do you mean?" Fred asked, and I could see that it was time for me to come to the point of my tale.
"After I had read a sentence and a half, Edwardes hopped out of his chair, glared at me and said he wanted to hear no more. He then kicked me out of the room, and what I want to know is the reason why he did it; and if you two fellows can tell me that instead of grinning like two Chinese idols, you will be of some use." The recital of my ill-treatment had made me annoyed with both Fred and Murray.
Neither of them said anything for a moment, but both of them were, I regret to say, amused. They missed the serious injustice of my story altogether, and though there was some excuse for Fred, who must have found it difficult to think of anything except his blue, there was no reason why Murray should not do or say something to show how sorry he was for me.
"He couldn't have turned you out of the room for that," was all he said.
"I tell you he did, and he was angry, very angry. The man has gone utterly and hopelessly cracked; it is just my luck to get a lunatic for a tutor," I replied, forgetting for the instant that Murray also had a share in Edwardes.
"He was sane enough yesterday," Murray said.
"Perhaps he is one of those fellows who is affected by the sun," Foster put in.
"There has been precious little sun to-day," Murray, who was in a most aggravating mood, declared.
"I never said anything to him, but just began to read my essay, and then he jumped on me. I shall complain to the Warden and see what he has to say about it. I like the Warden," I added, by way of showing Murray that I could appreciate a reasonable don when I found one.
Fred said that the whole thing was extraordinarily queer, and that there must be some explanation of it; but Murray, after being quiet for a minute, began to fidget like a man who has been puzzling over an acrostic, and is beginning to discover what it is all about. My people used to do acrostics, and, when they were completely defeated, I did not mind being in the same room with them; but, as soon as they got some clue, my father fairly ramped around seeking books which he could not find, or asking me for information which I could not give him. He had the acrostic mania quite badly.
"I can tell you why Edwardes kicked you out; at least I believe I can," he said at last.
"Well, let us have it quick," I answered.
"In the common-room the night before last you said that you were going to town to-day and that you wouldn't be able to read your essay to Edwardes."
"I was going up to see a dentist, and he wrote that he couldn't see me," I replied.
"And Dennison heard you say that you were going?"
"The silly fool tried to make out that I was manufacturing the dentist story. He simply makes me sick, but I don't see what he can have to do with this."
"Did you see either Dennison or Learoyd in hall to-night?"
"They weren't there, because I heard Webb asking Collier whether he had seen them."
"I've never heard of Learoyd," Foster said, and considering that he had just got his blue I am afraid he must have spent a very dull time, for he was accustomed to see me in trouble, and might reasonably have been annoyed to find that even on this special evening I was in my usual state. However, he did not seem to mind very much.
"Learoyd is Dennison's latest discovery," I said; "but he has been found by the wrong man."
"He is an exhibitioner and Edwardes is his tutor," Murray added; "and this afternoon about six o'clock I met Dennison coming out of here and Learoyd was waiting at the bottom of the staircase."
"What on earth was Dennison doing in here?" I asked.
"You aren't much good at guessing," Murray answered; "but I should say that having heard that you were not going to read your essay to Edwardes, and Learoyd not having done one to read, Dennison told him he would borrow yours. I heard you tell Ward that it was just like your luck to have written an essay when you wouldn't be able to read it, and Dennison must have heard you say the same thing."
"Do you mean that Learoyd had been reading out my stuff two or three hours before I went to Edwardes?" I asked, for port always makes my head feel stuffy however little I drink, and I wanted everything put quite clearly before me.
"I should say so," Murray replied.
My next remarks do not matter, but as soon as I had passed the explosive state I said, "That all comes from altering my style, and if I hadn't Edwardes must have known that it was my essay."
"Confound your style," Foster replied, "it seems to me that this is likely to land you in a very fair row unless we do something at once. What sort of man is Learoyd?"
"I hardly knew him until this term, and when I didn't know him I rather liked him, but he has been about a lot with Dennison, and seems to be going to the bad as hard as he can be pushed," I answered.
"That's true enough," Murray said; "Learoyd was one of the nicest men up here until this term, and then Dennison took a fancy to him and the idiot has chucked up working and spends his time trying to be a blood. I know his people, and have tried all I know to persuade him that he will never make a successful blood—he isn't made for one—but I have done no good. Marten isn't in it with Learoyd for rows with Edwardes, and the worst of it is that if his exhibition was taken away it would be serious. His people are most frightfully hard up."
"That makes the whole thing a thousand times more complicated," I replied, "I can't give a man away who is in a hole already. I had better sit still and see what happens."
"I should think you had better go and see Learoyd," Foster said, "he can't be in a bigger hole than you are." He got up to go, and I said that I should wire to my people in the morning and tell them he had got his blue, but he told me that they knew already, and asked me if I had heard that Nina was coming up during the next week to see the last nights of the eights.
"I had a letter from her last night," he continued, "and she said that Mrs. Marten was going to write to you."
"Who is coming up with her?" I asked, and I felt that if I never wrote to Nina, there was no reason why she should not write to me.
"She is going to stay at the Rudolf with the Faulkners. They are coming next Monday morning," and having told me this, which he knew I should not like, he was kind enough to go away before I told him again what I thought of Mrs. Faulkner. For when Fred had been staying with me at home the Faulkners were a fertile source of dispute between us. The Faulkners had plenty of money, nothing to do, and no children; they entertained a great deal, and had a mania for taking people up, as it is called. I am almost certain that Mrs Faulkner tried to take me up once, but unfortunately I was expected to run in double harness with a fellow who wore a yellow tie and was no use at anything except talking. I put up with him for nearly the whole of an afternoon, until he told me that an ordinary dahlia, over which he was gushing, reminded him of the sun rising over the Hellespont, and that was altogether too much for me. I left him and offended Mrs. Faulkner by telling her what I thought of him, and she told my mother that it was such a pity that I was so gauche. It took me a long time to forgive her for saying that, and I wished Nina was coming to Oxford with some one who did not bother my mother with her opinions.
I sat and pondered over this visit for some time, while Murray kept on telling me that Learoyd would be in bed if I did not hurry over to see him. But what good I could get out of seeing him I could not understand, and Murray became quite abusive before I started.
I knew Learoyd only in the most casual way, and I had never been in his rooms in my life, so I should not have been disappointed if he had been out. I found him, however, sitting by himself, and my first impression was that he was either very sleepy or very sad, but whatever was the matter with him he could hardly have wanted to see me. He was good enough, however, to say he was glad that I had come.
The conversation flagged for two or three minutes until he roused himself suddenly. "I have got the most vile attack of the blues to-night," he said, "and somehow or other I can't shake them off." He seized a decanter of whisky and began pouring some of it into a glass, and then I did one of those things which I do impulsively and which are occasionally right. I put my hand on his arm and said, "That stuff will only put them off until to-morrow morning." He looked at me for a moment and sat down again. "Why does every one preach to me?" he asked. "I shouldn't have thought you were that sort, though you are a friend of Dick Murray's." He was not angry, but just hopelessly tired of everything, and he looked so wretched that I felt really sorry for him.
"I don't preach," I answered, "though if I could remember half the things which have been fired off at me they would make a mighty fine sermon. When people take any notice of me they think that I want looking after and they begin to do it, the others leave me alone and say that I shall come to a bad end."
He was evidently feeling so miserable about everything that I thought he might like to hear these dismal prophecies about my future. I even thought they might cheer him up, and make him see that we were in the same boat. But I made a mistake, for he was annoyed at the idea that my future could possibly be as great a failure as his.
"You wouldn't say these things if you really thought you were in a hopeless muddle. I have gone through it all this term, and I know. I have tried to laugh, and I have drunk until I didn't care what happened, but it is all no use. I have made a mess of everything, and there is no one to blame except myself. And then this utterly idiotic row comes on the top of everything."
He sat looking in front of him, and did not seem to remember that I was in the room, and the thought passed through my mind that I should be glad to wring Dennison's neck. I asked him twice what row he was talking about before he spoke.
"Hasn't Dennison told you?" he asked. "I left him about an hour ago, and he said he would go and see you. I thought that was what you had come here for, though of course nothing can be done."
"I haven't seen Dennison," I said, and added, "I never do if I can help it," for Learoyd's statement that nothing could be done had given me no satisfaction.
"You said that you had done an essay for Edwardes which you weren't going to read. I hadn't done mine, so Dennison said you wouldn't mind me using yours. He got it, and I went to Edwardes at six o'clock to read it, but as soon as I started he began to jump about as if something was stinging him, and after I had read about half a page he kicked me out of the room."
"The man is mad after all," I said.
"No, he isn't, I wish he was," Learoyd continued. "This is what happened: Collier stayed in his rooms this afternoon to do his essay, but went to sleep, and never woke up until it was too late to do it, and then he remembered that you had one which wanted using so he read it to Edwardes at five o'clock. I wish to goodness he hadn't put it back in your rooms."
This was too much for me, and although Learoyd looked as miserable as ever, I had to laugh.
"You wouldn't be so amused if you were in for the row I am," he said, "they will probably take away my exhibition."
"I am in for exactly the same row," I answered. "I tried to read that essay to Edwardes after dinner, and he looked as if he was going to have a fit. I was out of the room in no time."
Then Learoyd and I just sat for two or three minutes and laughed until he felt ever so much better.
"What are we to do next?" he asked. "After all, it was your essay."
"It was no wonder Edwardes jumped about," I said, "I thought he was mad."
"So did I, until I saw Collier. But what are we to do?"
"You say you are in a fairly tight hole," I replied.
"Yes," he said, "I have been in for row after row all this term."
"Then I won't claim this wretched essay, and it can't matter to Collier, because he hasn't got anything which the dons can take away."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Why, Collier has got to tell Edwardes he borrowed the thing, and I shall sit tight, so they will naturally think it is yours."
"I can't stand that," he replied.
"Why not?" I asked. "They won't do anything desperate to me, and of course Collier won't mind at all."
I talked until I thought that Learoyd saw how much better my arrangement was than anything he could suggest, and although he would not promise to do what I proposed, I thought that I had arranged everything when I left him. But Learoyd was not the sort of man who would get out of a row by sacrificing any one else, and on the following morning both he and Collier went to Edwardes and told him exactly what had happened. It was very nice of them to do it, but it deprived me of the comfortable feeling of having done Learoyd a really good turn, and brought me to the ground again rather too abruptly to please me. So having been kicked out of the room for nothing, I went at once to Edwardes and tried to convey to him, as one man would to another, that I would forget his treatment of me if he would let off Collier and Learoyd, but especially Learoyd, as lightly as possible. That mission of mine, however, was a mistake. Mr. Edwardes said he was not in a position to bargain with any undergraduate, and that he had no doubt that should the dons require my assistance in managing the college they would ask me to help them. After I had left him I should think he must have regretted saying such sarcastic things, for Learoyd only got a final warning that his exhibition would be taken away at the end of the term unless he worked properly, and nothing whatever happened to Collier. But I am afraid Edwardes never gave me the credit for my essay which I felt that I deserved.
NINA COMES TO OXFORD
There can be few men in Oxford who do not enjoy themselves during Eights' Week, and I imagine that the only miserable people to be found are those who happen to be in an eight which is bumped several times during the week. If any one is so misguided that he wants to make a study of depression I should advise him to take a seat on the barge of a college which has a very bad eight, and if he waits until the boat comes back to the barge he will see some of the most unsmiling faces in the world.
Rowing is a most serious form of sport, and no one can wonder that a crew which has been bumped is unable to look very cheerful. It seems to me that a rowing man deserves a lot of credit even if he rows very badly; indeed I am not sure that the man who rows the worst does not deserve the most credit, for he has gone through the same drudgery as the rest of the crew, and has probably been sworn at a thousand times more often. I should be very surprised if a rowing man at the end of so much forcible criticism and strenuous labour could smile when his boat is bumped. I know that if I had ever been in a boat which had been bumped, and the only reason why I have not been is because I have never rowed in a bumping race, I should want to hit somebody over the head with my oar or denounce the cox. Coxes, indeed, have told me that although they have never seen my first wish put into practice, my second is such an ordinary occurrence that the cox who has not suffered from it must be either deaf or a genius. And if a reasonable man cannot help being sorry for an eight which has toiled many weeks only to be bumped, I think he ought to be far more sorry for the cox, whose cool appearance when the rest of his crew are hot and angry, is in itself an aggravation.
I must say, however, that the only cox I ever knew well could not have failed to deserve all he ever heard, he was one of those pretentious little people who can only be described by the word "perky," and his side was simply terrific. But all the same, if a very small man goes up to Oxford and guesses that it will be his fate to steer slow eights during the time he is there, I should advise him to start a society for the protection of coxes, and elect himself the first president. He will not do the slightest good, but he will get some fun from being president, and he will also be able to choose colours for the society and wear a gorgeous tie, if there is any combination of colours which has not already been annexed, and there can't be many left to choose from.
It is the easiest thing in the world to start clubs if all you want to get out of them is a remarkable tie and hatband, and I knew a man—by sight—who started three clubs in two years. The first he called "The Roysterers," and they were supposed to dine twice a term in waistcoats decorated with R.D.C. buttons; the second he named "The Oddfish," a club which was intended to be eccentric, and from the extraordinary colours they adopted I should think they were aptly named. Their chief function was drinking, and although I never went to any of their carousals I believe they discharged it thoroughly. The third club which this energetic man founded was not given up to eating and drinking, but devoted itself to the discussion of moral and artistic subjects. They called themselves "The Bumble-Bees," though I never could understand the reason why they chose such a name, unless it was, as Murray suggested, that after they had touched a thing there was no sweetness left in it. I should not like to say how many more clubs this man would have started had he been given the opportunity, but he was sent down at the end of his second year, and I have met him since in Florence wearing a Bumble-Bee tie and Oddfish ribbon round his straw-hat. I regret to say that he belonged to St. Cuthbert's, and he was really a nuisance, because there was so strong a feeling against these miscellaneous colours during my first summer term that nearly all the men who could do anything respectably wore black bands on their straw-hats, and the effect was most dismal.
Dennison heard that my sister was coming up for Eights' week, and he told me calmly that he should like to meet her. I may have imagined that he considered this an act of condescension on his part, for I cannot pretend that I was always fair to him. I distrusted him so thoroughly that I never believed a word he said, and the only possible way for peace between us was for each of us to leave the other alone. But this way did not suit him, for I suppose that I knew too many men to be left out entirely from his consideration, and it seems to me that it is more annoying for a man to be friendly when you want to have nothing to do with him, than it is for anybody to take no notice of you when you would be glad to be his friend. I did not, however, mean to let Nina meet Dennison, for I never knew whom she might like or dislike, and it would have been a most horrible complication if she had fallen a victim to Dennison's smile. So I told him that Nina would not be in Oxford for more than two or three days, and that I did not know her plans, which was true enough as far as it went, and must have been enough for him to understand what I meant.
Although I was useless in a boat, I was always most vigorously excited during Eights' week. Three years before I went to Oxford St. Cuthbert's had been head of the river, but we had by slow degrees dwindled down to fifth, and in spite of one or two men who assured me that we had a much better eight than we were thought to have, I knew that we were more likely to go down than up. Still I am sorry for the man who does not feel his nerves tingle at the prospect of a race, and you tingle all the more if you do not expect to be beaten, so I tried to forget the general opinion about our eight and to imagine that the boat in front of us was going to have an anxious time.
Brasenose was head of the river, and after them came New College, Magdalen, and Christ Church; we were fifth, and I took no interest in the boat behind us, though I did know that it was Trinity. So keen was I that I resolved to run with our boat if I could get any one to run with me, and I asked quite half-a-dozen men before I found somebody who was not looking after his own or somebody else's sisters. The man who said he would run with me was Jack Ward, and he surprised me very much when he told me that he would far rather see some of the racing than sit on a barge with a crowd of ladies, and he even consented to run all the first three nights and then help me to look after Nina when she came up. He knew, I expect, that I was not likely to run very far, and that there was no danger of his being left somewhere near Iffley to walk up by himself.
I have a feeling that if I had to sit in a boat and hear the seconds counted out before the starting-gun is fired that my first stroke would be a most terrific crab. Even standing on the bank is nervous enough work, and what it must be like for those who have got to row I cannot imagine. I kept moving about so much before the start that Ward told me I should be tired before I began to run, but I am unable to keep still when things are going to happen, and just before the last gun went I had an inspiration and moved up to the place from which Christ Church started. By this means I kept up for quite a long way, but it would be untrue to say I enjoyed myself. We began to gain on Christ Church at once, and were very soon within half-a-length of them, but I had no breath to use for shouting, and not having a rattle I could make no row at all; moreover I am an erratic runner, so whenever I looked at the boats I kicked or ran into somebody, and I could not retort when they said things to me. I pounded along as far as the Long Bridges, which was really quite a long way, and when I stopped I was sure that we should catch Christ Church. I stood away from the path and tried to persuade myself that I was not feeling very unwell, but I waited until the crowds with the other boats had passed by, and then I walked as fast as I could up the towing-path. I even ran once, for a short way, because I wanted to get back before all the excitement had stopped on our barge. I felt certain that we were going head of the river, and that comfortable sensation seemed to improve my wind, but it took me some time to get up the towing-path. The first disconcerting thing I saw were a lot of people cheering frantically on what I thought was the Trinity barge, but I did not know all the barges properly, and I came to the conclusion that whoever had told me that this one belonged to Trinity could not have spoken the truth. So I forced my way up the path until I got opposite to our barge, and there I found Jack Ward looking very purple in the face.
"Did we catch them?" I asked, and I thought that all our men who were waiting to be punted across to the barge might have made a little more noise.
"Catch what?" he said.
"Why, the House of course," I answered, for it was not very likely we should catch any one else.
"Trinity caught us," he replied, and as the punt came over at that moment he gave a huge shove and managed to get into it. I looked across the river and saw a very silent crowd on our barge, so I decided it was no place for me and walked solidly to the end of the towing-path and went home over Folly Bridge. It was a long way round, and I cannot imagine any one going back to St. Cuthbert's by such a route if he felt happy. When I saw Jack Ward at dinner I said that I should not run any more, and he replied that I was a fairly poor sort of sportsman; so I did run on both Friday and Saturday, and on Saturday night St. Cuthbert's was eighth on the river instead of fifth, and as we could find no other excuse we said that our crew was stale, but I am afraid the truth was that they were fairly fast for about half the course and then went to pieces.