I had not told Nina that our eight was a bad one, and what she would say I did not care to think, for she never paid any attention to excuses, and was rather inclined to consider that I was insulting her personally when I was connected with anything which was not successful. At any rate I was thankful that we were still a long way above Oriel, for I knew that Nina would never understand that Oriel had given themselves up, more or less, to cricket and soccer, and were not very afflicted by the fact that their boat was nearly bottom of the river.
I was sure that when Fred explained things to her she would say, "But why don't you row as well, I should hate to have my college at the bottom?" and this was almost exactly what happened. Fred made an effort to get out of it by saying that Oriel was only a small college and could not be expected to be good at everything, but Nina evidently thought that it was large enough to have eight men who could row, and she was not inclined to be pleased with either Fred or me when we went to the Rudolf and lunched with Mrs. Faulkner on the Monday. It was characteristic of Mr. Faulkner that he had not been able to come to Oxford, and his chief function in life, as far as I ever discovered it, was to get out of accompanying his wife on her countless expeditions.
"It seems stupid coming up here to see St. Cuthbert's bumped and Oriel nearly last on the river. I understood from Godfrey that St. Cuthbert's had a great reputation for rowing," Nina said.
I avoided Fred's eye, for I thought that he might be amused, and to turn the conversation away from a dangerous subject, I took upon myself to make what seemed to me a wise remark.
"There are other things to see in Oxford besides the bumping races," I answered.
Nina sniffed very audibly, but Mrs. Faulkner hastened to the rescue.
"I think Godfrey is quite right," she said; "it is disappointing to find that the colleges in which we are especially interested are so unlucky, but Nina hasn't seen Oxford before, and I am sure she will be delighted with it;" and Nina, who really could be quite nice when she liked, forgave Fred and me for the iniquities of our eights, and answered that she was longing to go out.
Of course Mrs. Faulkner fell to my lot, and while we walked down the Broad it pleased her to talk about Nina and to make me say that she was very pretty. I did think that Nina was not bad-looking, but she was my sister and I should as soon have thought of saying that she was wonderfully pretty, as I should of declaring that there was a striking resemblance between the Apollo Belvedere and myself, and my imagination has never carried me as far as that. As I was not saying much about Nina Mrs. Faulkner tried to make me talk about myself, but I interrupted her.
"This is St. Cuthbert's," I said; "shall we go in?"
She looked at me and smiled. "You are really rather extraordinary, Godfrey; if any one tries to flatter you, you shut up like a hedgehog. I am sure you have improved immensely and I am beginning to like you very much," she declared.
I simply detested her at that moment, for when people make remarks like that I feel as if some one was pouring cold water down my spine, and as I meant to show Nina round St. Cuthbert's I managed to change companions in the lodge, and left Fred to listen to the improvements in himself, which Mrs. Faulkner, with her great gift for romance, was sure to say that she had discovered.
As soon as I got Nina into the big St. Cuthbert's quad she forgot that she had started by almost quarrelling with me. I was born, unfortunately, without a keen eye for beautiful things, and even when I see something which I like to look at again and again, some scene which gives you a peaceful feeling or a picture which helps you to forget that there is anything ugly in the world, I cannot express myself. When I like anybody I want to tell them so, but once when I saw a splendid sunset in Bavaria and said, "How simply ripping," my father told me not to make a fool of myself, and somehow or other I felt that he was right. So I was very glad that I had to show Nina the beauties of St. Cuthbert's while it was her duty to admire them. She had never been inside an Oxford quadrangle before, and though I think any one with two eyes and a grain of common-sense would say that Oxford is beautiful, I must admit that Nina saw St. Cuthbert's for the first time under the most favourable circumstances possible. She looked at the old walls and the flower-boxes which were outside nearly all the windows, and did not talk any nonsense about them; even the creepers seemed to be greener than usual in the sunlight of the afternoon. In the chapel somebody was playing the organ, which may have been a meretricious effect, but it pleased Nina, and that was all I cared about. The whole college was most wonderfully peaceful, no one could imagine that the quadrangle had ever been made hideous by Bacchanalian yells. And I felt proud of it, which was quite a new sensation to me, and I suppose it was Nina's delight that made me see things differently. I took her to my rooms, which seemed to be small and gloomy enough after the hall and the quadrangle, but she said that they were far more comfortable than she had expected them to be, and she sat down in the most comfortable of my easy-chairs and looked as if she intended to stop for ever. I suggested to her that we should go down to the river and see Oriel struggling in the second division, but she decided that one dose of racing would be enough for her, and said that Fred could take Mrs. Faulkner to the river if she wanted to go. She had not been so fond of my society for a long time, and for quite ten minutes, with the aid of cherries, we got on splendidly together. Then the conversation languished and I began to show her things which she did not want to see; it is so very hard to please anybody who does not pretend to like things which they do not like. Nina began to hum at last, and if there is one noise which I detest it is humming. To make matters worse her tune was one I especially disliked, but as I was her host I made a gallant attempt not to listen to it. So I whistled, and I expect we had nearly reached a crisis when Mrs. Faulkner and Fred appeared. I was very fond indeed of Nina, and I am sure that she would have been indignant if any one had told her that she was not fond of me, but when we had not seen each other for some time and were left alone together we often irritated each other. It was a terrible nuisance, but it is no use denying that I was glad to see Mrs. Faulkner again, and if any one had told me that such a thing was possible when I left her at the lodge I should have denounced him with many words. I could see that Fred had not been enjoying himself, and while Mrs. Faulkner and Nina were discussing loudly what they should do next, he told me that he had been asked a perfect fusillade of questions none of which he could answer. "How old is that fig-tree in your garden?" he asked thoughtlessly, and Mrs. Faulkner's attention was turned upon me.
"What fig-tree?" I asked.
Fred tittered audibly, and Mrs. Faulkner seemed to forget that only a short time before she had discovered an immense improvement in me.
"Do you mean to say that you live close to that beautiful fig-tree and don't even know of its existence?" she demanded.
"Oh yes, I know about it," I answered; "it has stuff put round to keep it warm in the winter, but I have never asked how old it is. You see the dons more or less monopolize our gardens, so you can't expect us to know much about them."
"Notices are put up to say that certain parts of them are reserved for the dons of the college, aren't they?" Foster said, and he laughed again, but I said nothing. "I shall tell Nina the tale if you don't," he added.
"I should like to hear something amusing," Nina said, as if there was not the slightest chance of her wish being gratified.
"It's not very funny," I began, for I had a feeling that Mrs. Faulkner would not like this tale.
"Well, anything's better than nothing," Nina declared wisely, and so, to pacify her, I continued.
"These notices annoyed some men, so they dug a hole and bought a large sort of milk-pail arrangement to fit into it and a box of sardines. Then we filled the pail with water and put in the sardines, and Jack Ward put up a little notice, 'This fishing is reserved for the dons of the college. Licences may be obtained at the lodge.' The dons should not be so greedy about the garden," I added, because Mrs. Faulkner looked very disgusted.
"Did you really make a large hole in that beautiful turf?" she asked at once. "You began in the third person, but I expect you and this Mr. Ward did it; you ought to have been rusticated, or whatever the word is."
"We were never found out, and the dons didn't mind; they thought it not a bad joke of its kind," I answered.
"Then their sense of humour must have become perverted," she replied. "I think Mr. Ward must have a very bad influence over you."
Nina laughed and said she insisted upon meeting Jack.
"I sincerely hope you won't do anything of the kind," Mrs. Faulkner stated. "The dons must know what is best for the undergraduates, and such tricks are very unbecoming; I am sure my husband always admitted this when he was at Cambridge."
It was hardly fair to pull in Mr. Faulkner, so I said that I would get some tea, which put an end to the discussion, for I did not think it wise to say that I had asked Jack to meet Nina at luncheon on the following day. By the time we had finished tea Fred was tired of Mrs. Faulkner, and he slipped off with Nina in a way which was really too clever to be very nice. Mrs. Faulkner, however, was quite amiable, and she smiled on me steadily from the beginning of the Broad Walk to the end of it, which as a feat of endurance I feel it my duty to mention.
When we got down to the river the band was playing on the 'Varsity barge, and Mrs. Faulkner really began to enjoy herself. The flags flying from all the barges pleased her, and the smartness of the ladies made her compare the scene to church parade on a June morning in Hyde Park. I knew nothing about church parades and very little about Hyde Park, but I said that I thought this must beat anything in London. Then I got a chair for her and looked round to find Nina and Fred, but as I could not see them anywhere, I said that I must go and hunt for them. Mrs. Faulkner, however, had no intention of letting me go, and I had to be a kind of Baedeker for over half-an-hour. I was not a very good Baedeker, I confess, but I had found out that one way to make things uncomfortable with this lady was not to answer every question she asked, so I supplied her with a good deal of information which I sincerely hope she never passed on to any one else. Unfortunately our barge is near the 'Varsity's, and during the races a string of little flags fly from the 'Varsity barge to show the order of the colleges on the river. I knew them well enough down to ours, and I even knew the ninth and tenth, but when Mrs. Faulkner wanted to know the whole lot, I had to use my imagination. I know that I said Hertford twice and I finished up with All Souls, who only have about three undergraduates, so if they had rowed at all they would have been several men short.
"I should like to write the colleges down if I had a pencil," she said; "you rattle them off so fast. Didn't you say that one flag belonged to the University, but the University flag is surely dark blue?"
And then I had to explain that University was a college and not the whole place, and she replied that she knew so much more about Cambridge than Oxford, and complained that our colleges had very confusing names. "Oriel!" she said scornfully, "it reminds me of a window, and then you have no originality. Exeter, Worcester, Lincoln, why they are just names of towns, you can find them all in Bradshaw."
"Well, at any rate Bradshaw's got nothing to do with it," I replied. "These colleges are hundreds of years old, and Bradshaw's a chicken compared with them."
"What dreadful slang. Fancy calling Bradshaw a chicken!" she exclaimed. "Besides, you have a college called Keble, and my father knew Dr. Keble, so that can't be hundreds of years old. No, Cambridge have chosen their names better than Oxford."
"Sidney Sussex," I said, for I thought it necessary to make some reply; "it's more like the name of one of Ouida's heroes than a college."
She shook her head gently. "I can't get over your colleges sounding like railway-stations," she answered.
"You must blame the bishops who founded them and not Bradshaw or me," I replied, for I was getting very tired.
"Some one told me Keble is built of red-brick," she said.
"Red-brick is so bright," I answered, but I wanted to say something quite different, and at last a dim noise which quickly developed into a tremendous roar told us that the boats were coming.
Brasenose paddled home first, and not one of the next six boats were in any danger of being caught. It was reserved for us and Merton to give the people on the barges some excitement, but when I saw Merton pressing us fearfully I wished that I was not hemmed in by a crowd of ladies. I yelled tremendously because I could not help myself, and Mrs. Faulkner, after saying something which I did not catch, put her hands over her ears. But shouting was useless. The abominable thing happened right in front of our barge, and when I saw our cox's hand go up to show that all was over, it was a very bad moment indeed.
"Poor St. Cuthbert's, how very unfortunate they are," I heard a girl say; and some one else answered, "Yes, it's quite pathetic, so different from what one used to expect from them, but I am told that they are not the college they were." That remark made me feel furious, and it was not until Mrs. Faulkner pulled my coat violently that I remembered that she was sitting close to me.
"Did you make a bump?" I heard her asking me.
"No, Merton bumped us. We shall soon be sandwich boat," I answered, for I spoke without thinking.
"Sandwich boat, my dear Godfrey, is this a picnic?" she returned, and I did not know whether she was serious or only trying to be funny.
"There's not much picnic about it," I replied; "we've gone down four places in four nights."
"But what is a sandwich boat. They don't have such things at Cambridge."
"They do, at any rate my cousin rowed eight times in four nights and nearly died after it. A sandwich boat is bottom of one division and top of the other, so it has got to row in both; it's got nothing to do with ham. Shall we go?"
Every one was leaving the barges, but Mrs. Faulkner remained in her chair.
"Isn't that girl in mauve a perfect dream?" she said to me, but I pretended not to hear. I had to wait for several minutes while dresses and the people who wore them were criticized, and I am sure that nothing but the National Anthem or force could have stirred Mrs. Faulkner from her seat.
We found Nina and Fred waiting for us, and Nina said she had been having a splendid time on the Oriel barge. But I could think of nothing except that we were not the college we used to be, and I left Fred to talk to both Mrs. Faulkner and Nina.
GUIDE, HOST AND NURSE
When I got back to my rooms after leaving Mrs. Faulkner and Nina I found a note from Owen asking me to go and see him at once. Since he had, until then, avoided me in every possible way I guessed that something serious had happened, and when I got to his rooms in Lomax Street, I found him in bed with a cough which ought to have frightened his landlady instead of making her in a very bad temper. He was, however, more worried about the interruption to his reading than anxious about himself, and he said flatly that he could not afford to have a doctor. I tried to cheer him up—but you can't cheer up a man with a cough—and I told him I would come to him whenever he wanted me, and made him promise he would send for me if I could do anything for him. He did not seem to have a single friend in Oxford, and the loneliness of the man made me feel absolutely wretched.
I went to a very confidential chemist who knew nearly every man who had ever been at Oxford, and everything under the sun, and explained to him what sort of cough Owen had. He understood instantly, and said that he would send a mixture which worked miracles, but I could not get Owen off my mind at once, and when Jack Ward came in very late to see me I sat up talking to him until a most unrighteous hour, with the result that I lay in bed the next morning until I was perfectly tired of my scout coming to call me.
A letter from my mother was on my table in which she said that I was on no account to allow Nina to interrupt my reading, but I had only just finished breakfast, when Mrs. Faulkner and Nina came into my rooms. Mrs. Faulkner fixed her eyes on the tea-pot and said nothing; Nina, however, asked if everybody in Oxford breakfasted at eleven o'clock. I had not expected them, and was consequently a little flurried; the truth is that I was not properly dressed, which handicapped my movements considerably. Decency compelled me to keep my legs under the table, until I could slip into my bedder. I was not in a condition to treat visitors who goaded at my laziness with any courage; tact was the only thing possible. In my agitation I did not notice that Nina had put on the clock quite twenty minutes, and when she asked me if I was going to sit in front of the marmalade for the rest of the day, I had to reply that I thought it was rather a good place to sit. I had managed to hide myself behind the table-cloth when I stood up to wish them good-morning, but I simply did not dare to move again.
Mrs. Faulkner fluttered round the room looking at photographs; the bare knees of the Rugger XV. compelled her to say that she did not think them at all nice. I put my legs farther under the table and felt like blushing. She began to suspect that I was hiding something, and I am afraid she was the sort of woman who did not understand, until she had discovered them, that there are some things which had better remain hidden. She tried little tricks to entice me from my seat, and even came and examined the table-cloth, which was ordinary enough, though she said it was a beautiful one. I did not see how a white table-cloth could be beautiful, but I clutched it most fervently and her ruse failed. She then asked me if a plate which had cost elevenpence-farthing was Wedgwood, and asked me to take it off the wall so that she might see the mark on the back. I told her I had bought it at the Japanese shop and mentioned the sum it cost, but she declared that I had got a bargain and she must have it down. I replied that it was a fixture, though I meant that I was, and that no one had ever been known to find a bargain in a Japanese shop. Then she grew plaintive; "I think you might please me in this, Godfrey," she said.
The time had come for me to take Nina into my confidence. Mrs. Faulkner's eyes were fixed on the plate and her back was turned to me; I poked out one leg tentatively and Nina understood. There was one splendid thing about Nina, you could always rely upon her in a crisis. She took up a chair at once and said that she would get the plate down; she added that unless I sat still after meals I might have very bad indigestion, but that was too much for Mrs. Faulkner.
"I shouldn't think Godfrey has had indigestion in his life," she said. "I don't believe he has ever heard of pepsine. He is in a disgracefully bad temper; there is nothing else the matter with him as far as I can see."
"He was a very delicate child," Nina answered, "and has always been quite disgracefully spoilt. He never does anything which he doesn't like." I felt that Nina was over-playing her part, but I could not defend myself.
"It is so nice having Nina here to do things for me," I said meekly; "and I hope you don't mind me treating you as if you are a relation," I added to Mrs. Faulkner.
"I do mind very much; nothing is an excuse for being lazy and ill-natured. I was brought up in the old school, I suppose," she answered, and I wished to goodness she had never left it.
Nina got up on the chair and pretended that she could not reach the plate.
"Now if you stood up here you could reach it," she said, turning round to Mrs. Faulkner.
"But Godfrey will surely not allow me to do that," she replied.
"I always said that you were taller than Nina," I could not help remarking, for Nina prided herself on being about three inches taller than she was; and she had said all sorts of things about me.
"I wonder if I could reach the plate," Mrs. Faulkner said.
"It would be rather a sporting thing to try," I answered. "Nina couldn't reach it."
"I think not," she returned; "I might fall over backwards." And she sat down carefully in my biggest arm-chair.
My scout came in to clear away breakfast, and the situation was desperate. I picked up a piece of toast hastily and told him to come back in half-an-hour. Mrs. Faulkner had taken her seat behind me, and I could only turn with difficulty to talk to her; while Nina's enthusiasm on my behalf seemed to have waned since her plot to get Mrs. Faulkner on the chair had failed. If I had only dressed the lower part of myself properly instead of the top part it would not have mattered so much, but as it was a collar and a St. Cuthbert's XI. tie were superfluous when other more necessary garments were lacking. I was on the point of throwing myself upon the mercy of Mrs. Faulkner and of explaining to her that a lot of men I knew wore very short pyjama trousers and no socks in the mornings if they intended to read, when Murray burst into my rooms and almost asked me why I had cut a lecture before he saw that I had visitors.
I introduced him, and in the same breath declared that he would be delighted to show his rooms. I was becoming reckless, and did not care if he thought me mad. I went on to say that he had some splendid prints which Mrs. Faulkner would like to see, and Nina was kind enough to ask him if he would mind very much if they invaded his rooms. He saw that something odd was happening; but Mrs. Faulkner was looking at me, and I could make only one sign to him. I reached as far as I could under the table and having kicked off a bedroom slipper, I stuck out enough toes to tell him as much as he wanted to know.
"Will you come?" he asked Mrs. Faulkner. "I am afraid I have only one print; but I should like you to see my rooms."
Mrs. Faulkner said that she would be delighted.
"Let us all go," she added; "I am sure Godfrey has been sitting long enough at that table."
"I will be with you in two minutes," I answered.
Murray stood aside for them to go out, and closed the door behind him, and I fairly bolted into my bedroom. But in two minutes I was dressed and able to go to Murray's rooms, armed with the most beautiful suggestions for spending the day.
"Will your digestion really allow you to walk about so soon?" Mrs. Faulkner asked.
"He never has anything the matter with him," Murray said, with all the thoughtlessness of a dyspeptic. "He used to eat huge lunches, and then play footer; there's not much wrong with a man like that."
"You don't know what I have suffered in secret," I replied; and Nina now that I was clothed again turned upon me and said, "Have you known him all these years and not found that out, Mrs. Faulkner?"
"There is a good deal about Godfrey that I don't quite understand," was the answer, and since I could not wonder at that, I begged to be allowed to take her wherever she wished to go.
We strolled about Oxford until lunch-time, and I answered every question asked me, and most of my answers were accurate. For I had been careful enough to take an Oxford guide-book to bed with me, and had not entirely wasted the early morning. In fact Mrs. Faulkner's visit forced me to see that I knew very little about Oxford. My guide-book knowledge was so condensed that it was more satisfying than satisfactory, and if I had been asked what I charged per hour, I should have had no right to be angry.
However, I did march Mrs. Faulkner and Nina round some of the sights of the place. I showed them the Bodleian, All Souls, Shelley's memorial, and finally brought them to a shady seat in Addison's Walk. I had been compelled to hurry for two reasons; in the first place we had not very much time, and secondly, my knowledge was not proof against the string of questions which only want of breath could stop Mrs. Faulkner from asking. I should imagine that a large number of men never find out how great their ignorance of Oxford is until they have to show people round it, and I candidly confess that on this day I was ashamed of myself. I was more at home in Addison's Walk than in any other place to which I had taken them, for it was in the open air, and also there was something about Addison and Steele and Gay which made me like them. The coffee-houses at which they met must have had some mysterious attraction for me, I think, and led me on to read what they had written. I should have liked to have Sir Roger de Coverley for my uncle, and I cannot imagine a nicer man to have a day's fishing with than Will Wimble. I hated Pope as much as I liked Addison, and though Mrs. Faulkner said he was a great satirist, I thought of him only as a man who wrote most disagreeable things about his friends.
"It is necessary to separate the man from his work, if you are to be a good critic," Mrs. Faulkner said, and though this remark may be true enough I did not answer it, for Nina was looking extremely bored by the conversation we had been having about Addison.
"We may as well go to Oriel and find Fred," I suggested, and Nina got up at once.
"Unfortunately the art of satire is dead, drowned by exaggeration," Mrs. Faulkner said as we went through the cloisters.
"I think it's a better death than it deserves, don't you, Nina?" I replied.
"I know nothing whatever about it," she answered.
"Abuse has taken the place of satire," Mrs. Faulkner continued.
"And a jolly good job, too," I said, for Nina's face of disgust made me forget to whom I was talking; "it is those sly digs in the ribs which make me ill."
"My dear Godfrey, what dreadful slang you use. A few minutes ago you surprised me by being interested in English literature, and now you talk as if there had never been such a thing."
"You surprised me, too," I said, for I felt as if I had concealed enough for one day.
"How? Do tell me," Mrs. Faulkner said quickly.
"I should not have thought that you cared about Addison or any of those old people," I answered, but I began to wish I had been more cautious.
"Oh, I don't know."
"But, why not?"
"Well, I thought you were more modern."
"I don't know what you mean," she said.
"I am sure I don't," I answered; and as we passed Long Wall Street I managed to get on the far side of Nina, and to beseech her to say something.
"I insist on you telling me what you mean," I heard Mrs. Faulkner say, but before I could even think of my answer Nina had come to my rescue by declaring that she admired the hat of a girl who was walking in front of us. It was a flower-garden hat, and looked more like an advertisement for somebody's seeds than a decent covering for the head. Nina's remark, however, turned Mrs. Faulkner's attention away from me, and we listened to a lecture on taste until we were safely in Oriel.
But Fred was not forthcoming, and Mrs. Faulkner promptly decided that he was working. Comparisons, in which I took no kind of interest, were drawn between his industry and my laziness. I endured them in silence, though I could have given Fred away had I liked, for his cap and gown were both in his rooms, and I knew that he was more probably batting in a net than taking notes at a lecture.
After looking round Oriel, Mrs. Faulkner and Nina went back to the Rudolf, and I said that I must go to St. Cuthbert's and see that their luncheon had not been forgotten. Mrs. Faulkner smiled at me sorrowfully when I left her, and I believe she intended me to believe that I had hurt her feelings very much. If I live to threescore years and ten I shall not understand Mrs. Faulkner. I felt very bothered that morning, for Nina and Mrs. Faulkner would not be in a good temper at the same time; but I met Dennison in the quad, who introduced me to his mother, two sisters, two cousins and an aunt. He looked quite tired, and asked me to luncheon, but unless he had engaged the biggest room at the Sceptre I should think he must have been glad when I refused. He was, however, most palpably short of men. I had hardly got rid of Dennison when I ran into Lambert, escorting four more ladies with prodigiously long names; I think he must have found them at the theatre, and he looked more pleased with himself than ever. When I got back to my rooms I felt quite thankful that my party had not reached an unwieldy size, and I had not to wait long before Mrs. Faulkner, Nina and Fred all arrived together.
It is no use trying to give a luncheon party in a very small room, which was not built for parties of any kind, unless every one is prepared to be thoroughly uncomfortable. You have got to put dishes wherever they will go and worry through as best you can. I had taken quite a lot of trouble over the food, and the size of the room was not my fault. My scout had made many subtle dispositions of furniture, but the fact remained that the table was not made to hold five people, unless the whole lot were really good sorts. So I was delighted to find that Mrs. Faulkner was in her amiable mood and to hear her say that she was prepared for anything, though had I not been so sure that she would be inconvenienced, not to say squashed, before she finished, I am not sure that I should have accepted this reckless mood as much of a compliment. The table was so crowded that it was not easy to see how many people were expected to sit at it, and I was not surprised when Nina suggested that we should begin luncheon. I pretended not to hear what she said, and poked my head into a cupboard in the vain hope that I might find something which I did not know I had lost. Mrs. Faulkner, however, ranged herself by the table and counted the napkins.
"Five," I heard her say, and I withdrew my head from the cupboard and whispered "Jack Ward" to Nina.
"Five," Mrs. Faulkner repeated and looked at Nina, Fred and me, as if she was holding a roll-call.
"Who's the fifth?" Fred asked; "at any rate, I vote we begin."
At that moment I heard some one rushing up-stairs several steps at a time. Outside my door he stopped to get some breath, and when I introduced him to Mrs. Faulkner and Nina he was so apologetic for being late that it was quite difficult for me to stop him. I must say that Mrs. Faulkner tried to adapt herself to the spirit of this luncheon. There was not much shyness about Jack Ward, and in a very few minutes Mrs. Faulkner was fairly beaming upon him. She found out that she knew his cousins, and Jack, who would say anything to please any lady, declared that he had often heard of her. As he asked me afterwards what her name was, I had to tell him that he was a regular humbug, but he said that he was sure that she was the kind of lady who liked to think she was never forgotten, and it was a pity to miss a harmless chance of making her feel pleased.
At first I think Jack made her almost too pleased, and later on there was rather a distinct reaction. She was not content with discovering his cousins, but also found out that his father was what she called a most generous benefactor. "The sort of man who does so much good quietly, so unlike those noisy, discomforting people who will give something if somebody will give something else. Charity ought not to be limited by conditions," I heard her say.
"I don't think my father exactly throws his money about," Jack said.
"I am sure he doesn't," Mrs. Faulkner agreed readily.
"I mean that if he gives a lot away he expects to make a lot besides. He is a business man, you see," Jack returned.
"Business men are the backbone of England," Mrs. Faulkner said at once.
"But they aren't heroes or anybody of that kind," Jack answered.
Mrs. Faulkner shook her head sorrowfully. "You young men are all alike, you will never allow your parents to have any virtues."
I was on the point of breaking a silence which had been extraordinarily prolonged, but Jack got ahead of me.
"I know every one is always saying that," he began, "but I don't think it is true. If you praised my father for being generous he would simply laugh at you. He isn't built that way, you see, and he would think anybody a fool who gave a tremendous lot without hoping to get something back. It is a matter of business with him and he is honest enough to admit it."
"You do allow that he is honest," Mrs. Faulkner put in.
"Of course," Jack replied quite good-temperedly, "only no one cares to brag about their relations unless they want to be called a snob or a bore. It wouldn't do, you see, for a man to go about declaring that he had an uncle who was miles ahead of everybody else's uncle, or an aunt who could give a start to any other aunt in the world."
"It depends upon what sort of start the aunt gave," Nina, who had been talking to Fred, remarked, and I knew by her smile that she intended this for humour; but Fred did not hear what she said, or I expect he would have laughed. Sometimes he was very weak with Nina.
"I am to believe then," Mrs. Faulkner said, "that all of you are very proud of your parents, only it is what you call bad form to admit it."
Jack gave a great laugh which made everything rattle on the table, and Mrs. Faulkner, being unaccustomed to him, looked surprised.
"Why is it such a joke?" she asked.
"I am sorry," Jack replied; "I laugh sometimes quite unexpectedly, in my bath and places like that. I think my nerves must be wrong."
"Cigarettes," Mrs. Faulkner declared. "I think I shall write to the papers about the University man of the day; I don't understand him in the least," and I unfortunately caught Fred's eye and smiled. Her statement seemed to account for so much unnecessary correspondence.
"Do," Jack answered, "and Foster, Godfrey and I will answer it."
"There wouldn't be much to write, which any one who hasn't been at Cambridge or here would believe," Fred said.
"Why not?" Mrs. Faulkner asked.
"Because they wouldn't understand that a great many men amuse themselves in odd ways and yet are not complete idiots. If you saw us dancing round a bonfire you might think we were all mad, but we aren't a bit."
"I shouldn't choose a bonfire to dance round," Mrs. Faulkner said.
"That's just it," Fred replied; "but it's very good sport when you happen to like it."
The college messenger came into the room with a note for me which was marked "urgent," and I asked if I might read it. Jack Ward was the only man who ever wanted me in a hurry, and so confident was I in the infallibility of my chemist that I was not thinking of Owen. When I had finished reading the note I found that the conversation had taken a more lively turn.
"It is so fortunate I brought something fit to wear," Mrs. Faulkner was saying.
"I have only got four tickets, I wish I had got one for you," Fred said to Jack Ward, and then I remembered that Fred had promised to get tickets for the Brasenose ball which was taking place that evening.
"You can have mine," I told Jack Ward.
"Of course I can't do that," Jack answered; "I expect I can get one all right, if I may join you."
Nina, who was nothing if not expeditious, said that he had better go at once and see if he could get a ticket, but I stopped him by repeating that he could have mine.
"It won't be used unless you take it," I added.
Every one except Fred, who saw that something had happened, led me to believe that I was very disagreeable and foolish.
"We arranged last night that we should go if Fred could get the tickets," Nina said, and then by way of propitiating me she told me that I knew how well I danced.
"You will spoil Nina's evening," Mrs. Faulkner declared, and Nina, I must say, was pouting most magnificently.
"Why can't you come?" she asked. "Has it got anything to do with that wretched note?"
"Not another row?" Jack Ward put in most inconsiderately.
"Fred never said anything about it till too late," I answered; "he kept the whole thing so dark."
"I knew before luncheon," Nina replied, as if she had settled me completely.
I managed to let Fred know that I wanted him to read the note, and having opened the Oxford "Mag" no one saw that he had got the letter inside the pages. For a minute I persuaded Jack steadfastly to take my ticket and he refused with determination. If it had not been that Nina was upset very easily, and Mrs. Faulkner had been known to have hysteria without giving any one a moment's notice, I would have brandished the note in their faces instead of standing first on one leg and then on the other and looking a most hopeless fool.
I did not know what to say next, when Fred put down the magazine and joined us by the window.
"If you can't well manage to come to-night," he said, "and it was most awfully stupid of me not to tell you at once that we were going, I am sure Ward will have this ticket," and he pulled it out of his pocket and simply made Jack take it.
"I don't really think I can go, though I will turn up if I can," I said, and Fred made the most of my promise and talked so much that before I had to say anything else I found that he had persuaded Mrs. Faulkner and Nina to go down to the river and watch Oriel rowing in the earlier division. I went with them as far as the college lodge and then I disappeared, for the note which I had received upset all my hopes of enjoying myself for the rest of the day.
The first part of it was from Owen, who said he was feeling dreadfully ill, but the second part was written by his landlady, and she seemed to be in a terrible temper. As far as I could make out Owen was very much worse and still refused to have a doctor. "He says," his landlady wrote, "that if I send for a physician he won't pay him and I was up last night five times and who is going to stand it cough he coughs something awful and what's going to happen I don't know I expect he's got typhoid fever or something horrible." She did not use any stops, but that might have been because she was in a hurry; clearly, however, she was very angry, and there was only one thing for me to do.
I went round to Lomax Street as fast as I could, and I had no sooner got inside the house then I heard Owen coughing. I found his landlady in the state her letter had suggested I should find her, she was infinitely more sorry for herself than she was for Owen, and since he was too ill for her to get any satisfaction from visiting her grievance upon him she started off upon me.
"You are his friend," she said as she met me in the passage, "and you ought to have been here before. I was just doing myself up before putting on my bonnet to go out and report this case."
"To whom were you going to report it?" I asked, for I felt very much as if I should like to know.
"You can report it now, I put all responsibility upon you," she stated loudly, and she took me up-stairs and announced me in a voice which would have shaken the nerves of a strong man. I could not put up with her any longer and I told her abruptly to go. She went energetically, her shoulders protesting against my rudeness, and she marched down the stairs with as much noise as she could make without hurting her feet. I am glad that there are very few landladies left, at least in Oxford, who look upon any illness as an opportunity for showing how nasty they can be. I simply hated that woman, and before I had done with her I was weak enough to tell her so. I was defeated in that battle of plain speaking. To me, unaccustomed to illness, Owen looked as bad as anyone could look, and apart from his cough and his temperature he had got all sorts of worries on his mind which he wanted me to hear. I listened to what he said without interrupting him, but I was impressed with the fact that I must creep about a sick-room, and I am afraid I was ostentatiously quiet. His troubles had to do with the expenses of his illness, and he beseeched me not to send for a doctor or a nurse. I tried to set his mind at rest, but I failed; he saw that I thought him very ill, and when I moved round the room on tiptoe he asked me to make as much noise as I liked. I was no use as a sick nurse, and my efforts to make the room look fit to live in, though meant splendidly, seemed to me to make the place more uncomfortable and cheerless than ever.
I promised faithfully that I would stay with him during the night, but he could not make me say that I would not see a doctor, and as soon as I could I went off and got a man whom I had once met at a smoking conceit. This doctor was a bustling little man who did not sympathize with nonsense, and I had to explain a lot of things before I made him understand that this was a peculiar case.
"What is the good of you sitting up all night, even if it is necessary," he said to me as we walked from his house to Lomax Street; "you would certainly go to sleep and do more harm than good."
"Owen has a fairly bad cough," I answered.
"If it is bad enough to keep you awake he ought to have a proper nurse."
"He doesn't want to have a proper nurse, he is rather hard up," I said.
"Pish," was his only answer, but when he got to Owen's rooms I should think he must have known that I had spoken the truth.
I got leave from the Subby to stay with Owen during the night, but I cannot say that I was a successful nurse. I took some books with me because I thought it would be a good opportunity to do some reading, but of course I went to sleep, and woke up with a snort which would have made me unpopular in any dormitory in the world. Owen was so much worse in the morning that he had to be moved out of his wretched lodgings into a place where he would be properly looked after.
I went back to St. Cuthbert's about eleven o'clock in a state of horrible depression. I had promised to pay all the expenses of this illness, and how I was to do it I had not an idea. The year was nearly over and my funds were exceedingly low, but I could not help making Owen believe that I had more money than I knew how to spend.
Outside St. Cuthbert's I met Mrs. Faulkner and Nina, and while Mrs. Faulkner was commenting upon my dejected appearance Nina told me frankly that I looked dirty.
"I have been up all night," I said, for there was no longer any reason why I should not explain what had happened.
"We were not in bed until four o'clock," Nina answered proudly.
"What have you been doing?" Mrs. Faulkner asked.
"I have been nursing a man who is ill," I replied.
"Infectious?" Mrs. Faulkner asked breathlessly.
"Pneumonia, double pneumonia, I believe," I answered.
"And you heard about it yesterday afternoon?" Nina said.
"Then why didn't you tell us?" Mrs. Faulkner asked. "Fred and Nina have been quarrelling about you, and I have said the most awful things. You really might have more consideration."
"I thought it would spoil your dance if I told you; I didn't know what was the matter with the man."
"You are a dear, Godfrey," Nina said, and she linked her arm in mine.
"I am an idiot if you want to call me any names," I replied.
"You were always that," Nina said in the manner which is called playful; "we are just going to see Mr. Ward, who is perfectly charming; won't you come with us?"
"I am going to have a bath, and then I must see Fred."
Nina looked displeased.
"What's the matter with Fred?" I asked.
"He's as perfect as usual," Nina answered, and swung her parasol to show that she was not interested in him.
"We are blocking the street, and you nearly hit a man in the eye with that thing," I said.
"You will be in a better temper when you are cleaner," Nina retorted.
"We go down at 4.15," Mrs. Faulkner said as we went into the lodge; "we are going on some river, the one that isn't deep, in a punt with Mr. Ward, and he is taking luncheon for us. Do you think it is quite safe, Godfrey?"
"Quite, if Nina doesn't try to punt," I answered.
"Must we go away this afternoon?" Nina asked.
"My dear, I have three, if not four, people arriving to-night," Mrs. Faulkner replied.
"I will be at the station to see you off," I said, for even if they wanted me I did not feel like punting on the Cherwell.
I pointed out Jack Ward's rooms to Nina, and had walked half-way across the quad when Mrs. Faulkner called me back.
"I hope your friend is better?" she asked.
"He has only just begun to be ill," I answered.
After I had been to my rooms and had a bath I went round to Oriel to see Fred, but he was not in his rooms, so I left a note to tell him that he must come to luncheon with me. Then I rushed back to St. Cuthbert's and went to hear Mr. Edwardes lecturing. I missed the beginning of the lecture, and I might just as well have stayed away altogether, for Mr. Edwardes asked me to speak to him at the end of it, though what he meant was that he was going to speak while I was to listen. Grave things were happening, at least I thought them grave, and Mr. Edwardes had nothing whatever to do with them. While he talked to me I was trying by a process of mental arithmetic to discover how much money I had to my credit in the bank; the voice which I heard seemed to me to belong to bygone ages, and I was so worried by actual and present facts that I could not screw up a vestige of interest in antiquities. I know that it was always my fate to arouse either the irony or the anger of my tutor, for to other men he was far more pleasant than he was to me, but I could not help thinking of him as representative of a system which could never influence me in the least. He soon discovered that I was paying no attention to him, and I suppose that I must have got most vigorously on his nerves, for he really became quite humanly angry, I must have been nearer to an understanding with him at that moment than I had ever been. But when his rage abated, his lips snapped and the thunderbolts ceased. He went on too long and became sarcastic again, as if ashamed of being properly angry, and I left him with the usual hopeless feeling that we should never understand each other.
I went into the common room as I was crossing the quad, and before I had been there two minutes Dennison came in with Lambert and two or three other men of their set. No one else was in the room except Murray, who was reading, and absolutely refused to talk to me about Edwardes, so I turned over various papers until Dennison asked me if I did not think our eight was quite the most comically bad boat I had ever seen.
"The whole college is going to the deuce," I answered.
"You look as if you were up late last night, and have got a fair old head on this morning," Dennison declared.
"I haven't been to bed at all, if you want to know," I said.
"Going to the deuce with the rest of the college, well, you have the consolation of being quite the most amusing man in it."
I think I was fool enough to say that I was not amusing.
"Not consciously," Dennison replied, "but I get more fun from you than from anybody, and when you are in a serious mood you are the most comic man I know. He's delicious, isn't he, Lambert?"
"If you can't see the funny side of our eight, you must be a madman," Lambert said to me.
"We used to be head of the river, and now we can't row for sour apples," Dennison chuckled, "the thing's a perfect pantomime."
"And you are the stupidest clown in it," I said suddenly, for although I did not want to lose my temper the "sour apples" expression, on the top of being told that I had "a fair old head," compelled me to say something.
"One to Marten," Lambert said, as he stalked about the room; they were a most trying lot to have anything to do with. Everything they said was just the thing that made me want to get away from them, and Dennison had told me once that he considered conversation a very fine art.
It would have been wise of me to have gone away without waiting for Dennison's attempts to get level with me, but I felt like staying where I was.
"Poor old fellow," Dennison groaned, "he sits up all night, and then his conscience smites him and his head aches, and he thinks the college is going to the deuce and is to be saved from perdition by his being rude. What you want, old chap, is a sedlitz powder; go and have one, and you won't be so gloomy, you may even smile when you see our eight bumped to-night."
"You laugh and jeer at our boat when it goes down, but I'll bet you would be the first to kick up a row if we ever make any bumps again, though you don't care whether we go to the bottom of the river and stop there," I answered.
"I don't see that it matters," Lambert put in, "and I would much rather be bottom than bottom but one or even two, there's something dignified about being absolutely last."
"Take a sedlitz powder and become a philosopher," Dennison suggested.
"I always thought your philosophy was founded on something confoundedly odd," I returned, "and now I know all about it."
"I suppose you think that very witty," he replied, and he almost lost his temper, "but though I may not be much of a philosopher I am a first-rate doctor, so when a man wants medicine I tell him so."
"Thanks," I said.
"You are on the wrong track," he went on, beginning to smile again, "the wretched school-boy notion of being sick to death when you are beaten at anything is all humbug here, the thing to do is to laugh whatever happens, and to-day you look as if you hadn't a laugh left in you."
"That's sitting up all night," Lambert said, "you can't laugh all day and night."
Then I told them that if they wanted to see the college perfectly useless at everything they must be the biggest fools in Oxford, and I appealed to Murray to support me, because Dennison never spoke to him if he could help doing so.
"It is much easier to laugh than it is to row," was all Murray said, and he went out of the room at once.
"That man's the most complete prig in the 'Varsity," Dennison declared, "and as long as a college has a lot of men like him in it nothing else matters. We don't want smugs here."
"Murray," I said solidly, "is neither a prig nor a smug, and as you have never said half-a-dozen words to him you can't possibly know anything about him."
"A smug is always labelled," he answered, "and that man looks one from his hat to his boots, don't you think so, Lambert?"
Of course Lambert thought so, and I, having already said much more than I intended, was just going to say a lot more, when a whole crowd of men came into the room and saved me from the impossible task of making Dennison believe that he could make a mistake.
I went back to my rooms and found Fred waiting for me, but from the way I banged my note-book on the table and threw my gown into a corner, I should not think that he expected me to be very pleasant. Fred, however, understood me, and it seems to me that I have always been very lucky in having one friend who never tried to make out that I was in a good temper when I was in a bad one. Some people when they suspect that you are angry ask silly little questions just to find out if their suspicious are true, but Fred always left me alone. He simply took no notice of me at all, and though that was very annoying, it was not half as bad as a string of questions or a lot of stupid remarks about things which I did not want to hear. I banged about the room tremendously, but Fred went on reading The Sportsman and waited for me to become fit to speak to.
At last I threw myself into a chair close to him.
"For goodness' sake stop reading that blessed paper," I said; "why I take the wretched thing I don't know, who cares whether Kent beats Lancashire or whether Cambridge makes four hundred against the M.C.C."
"You and I do," Fred answered, and tossed The Sportsman on to the table.
"I have been waiting here for half-an-hour to hear what has happened, but you seem to be in such an infernally bad temper that I should think I had better go. There is a very fair chance of a row if I stay here, for I can't stand much to-day," he went on, when I had picked up the paper to see who had made the runs for Cambridge.
"What's wrong with you?" I asked.
"Did you have a good ball?"
"Did Nina get plenty of partners?"
"And you didn't feel like going on the 'Cher' this morning?"
"I have had two pros bowling to me," he answered, "I was bowled about a dozen times. Besides I wasn't asked to go on the 'Cher.'"
"Nina and Mrs. Faulkner said all sorts of things about me last night?"
"Who told you so?"
"Sometimes Nina's temper isn't any better than yours," he said. "What happened to you? How's Owen?"
"Owen is very bad," I answered, and while we had lunch I told him what I had been doing. "In a few hours I have made a fool of myself three times," I said, "I've promised to pay for Owen, and I have had rows with both Edwardes and Dennison. This college is going to blazes, and it is men like Edwardes, who is a great lump of ice, and Dennison, who just wants to be a blood in his own miserable little way, who will be responsible. Edwardes never cares what happens, and Dennison is collecting a set round him who can do nothing but wear waistcoats, eat and drink. You have all the luck in belonging to a college where men don't become bloods by drinking hard, and where everybody takes an interest in the place. St. Cuthbert's will never get a decent fresher to come to it if we don't do something to make it alive again."
Fred stretched himself and yawned, all the life seemed to have gone out of him in some way.
"You wouldn't like to belong to a college which has been something and is on the road to be nothing," I said.
"It takes a lot to ruin a college," he answered; "every one knows that St. Cuthbert's is a good enough place, and one man like Dennison won't make much difference."
"Won't he? you don't know him as well as I do. He'd ruin the Bank of England if he could be the only director for a year."
"But there are heaps of other men besides him."
"No one seems to care; we just live on our reputation, and when Dennison is no longer a fresher he will wreck the whole place, he is clever enough to do it."
"You are in a villainous temper and exaggerate everything," Fred said.
"You know that Oriel is all right, and you don't care what happens to us," I retorted, and then Fred woke up and we very nearly had a terrific row.
The remembrance of this day still makes me feel uncomfortable, and I am quite certain that Fred was the only man in Oxford who could have put up with me. I simply walked from quarrel to quarrel, and I seemed to want each one to be more violent than the last. Now I come to think of it, it is possible that Dennison's advice was sound; I must certainly have needed something which I did not take, but after all I think a long sleep was probably what I wanted. At any rate I was a most unpleasant companion, and Fred told me afterwards that he had not known me for so many years, without finding out that I could be thoroughly unreasonable when I had a really bad day.
Undoubtedly that day was a very bad one, and when any one stays up all night I advise him to go to bed during the next day, just to save trouble.
We had arrived at a state of silence, for I had nothing left to say, and Fred refused to say anything, when Jack Ward strolled into the room, as if he had nothing more than usual to do, and had just come to waste his time and mine. He must have tried to make what is called a dramatic entry, for most people who were in his condition would have hurried up for all they were worth. He was wet through from head to foot, his collar hung round his neck like a dirty rag, and his whole appearance reminded me of a scarecrow which has suffered dreadfully from the weather.
"What has happened?" I asked at once, for he walked straight up to an empty bottle and shook his head mournfully.
"Nothing," he answered, "except that your sister fell into the 'Cher' and I hauled her out, and Mrs. What's-her-name shrieked and had hysterics. They are all right now, but as soon as I got your sister to the bank, I had to throw water over the other lady; I began by sprinkling her face, but as she rather liked that I had to give her a regular good dose, and then she opened her eyes and said her dress was spoilt. I must have some hot whisky, or I shall catch cold."
We besieged Jack with questions, but we did not get much satisfaction from his replies.
"It was all my fault," he said. "I thought I could teach your sister to punt, and she fell in and I pulled her out. I have told you that before."
"Nina can swim," I said.
"There wasn't much time to think about that, besides, she had a long dress on. I am afraid we made rather a sensation when I got a cab for them down at Magdalen."
"We must go round at once," I said to Fred.
"I don't think it is much good doing that," Jack went on. "I am awfully sorry that it happened, because Mrs. Faulkner was annoyed at first, and that was bad enough, but just before I left it suddenly occurred to her that I was very plucky and ought to be thanked, which was much worse. She says they are both going to bed until it is time for them to get up and catch the train. In that way she hopes to avoid the most serious consequences. Your sister thinks it rather a good joke; I hope she won't catch a bad cold."
"You had better go and change," I said, and I asked Fred if he would come to the Rudolf, but he said that it was no use for him to go if Mrs. Faulkner and Nina were in bed, and that he would meet me at the station. Then I said something to Jack about it being awfully good of him to have jumped into the "Cher" to fish Nina out, but I was very glad when he asked me to shut up, for Fred was looking more gloomy than ever, and I am sure that he, having seen Nina swimming heaps of times, thought the whole thing was thoroughly stupid. I did not quite know what to think about it, but I wished most sincerely that Nina had never tried to punt.
Fred walked with me for a short way down the Broad, but stopped by Balliol, and said he was going in to see a man.
"This affair is a horrid nuisance," I remarked.
"Nina wouldn't drown very easily," he returned.
"But she had a long dress on," and of this remark Fred took no notice.
"I don't think I shall come down to the station," he said; "will you wish Mrs. Faulkner and Nina good-bye from me?"
"No, I won't," I replied, and we stared at each other so hard that we were nearly run over by a cab; "you must come, do come to please me."
"You do such a precious lot to make me want to please you," he retorted, and he looked most desperately down on his luck.
"Do forget all about this afternoon. I didn't mean one word I said."
"You said a precious lot. I'll come all right, but they won't want to see me," and he walked off before I could tell him that they had better want to see him, or I would have even another row.
When I got to the Rudolf I sent up a card to Nina on which I wrote something which at the moment I thought funny. But she did not seem to see the humour of it, for she sent me down an angry little note in which she told me to go away and meet her at four o'clock. I went away sorrowfully, for there was a sense of importance about that note which told me that Nina was not going to tumble into the Cher for nothing, and I knew I should hear more than enough about it before long.
But I did not think that I should be made to suffer until I got to the station. But when your luck is dead out it is wise to be prepared for anything.
I strolled aimlessly down the Corn-market, and having nothing whatever to do, I turned into the Union to read the papers, or write a letter to my brother, or do anything to pass the time. I stood in the hall for some minutes looking at, but not reading, the telegrams; I was trying to remember whether it was my turn to write to my brother or his to write to me, and two or three men who found me planted in front of the telegrams shoved me a little, so I moved away and met a man whom I knew.
"Halloa, Marten," he said, "I've just seen the pluckiest thing; that man Ward, you know him, fairly saved a girl's life. She fell out of a punt on the Cher, a pretty girl too. Ward's a lucky brute, you ought to have been there."
"I've heard all about it," I answered.
"But it only happened an hour ago."
"Ward told me, he didn't think much of it."
"Well, you should have seen him, I tell you he did it splendidly; I always thought he was a friend of yours, but you don't look very keen. However, it's something to talk about," he said, as he strolled off to find some one who would suit him better than I did.
I drifted from the hall to one of the smoking-rooms, where I sat down next to a big, bearded man, who was wearing a most extraordinary wide pair of trousers, and who looked as if he would discourage the attempts of any one who wanted to talk. He looked at me over the top of The Times, and having had the courage to sit next to him, I felt that if he would only look at other men as he did at me I should get all the protection I required. I read in the aimless way which makes me turn the paper over frequently in the futile hope of finding something interesting, and I could not help knowing that my neighbour's eyes were far oftener on me than on The Times. But I had no intention of leaving him, for we were members of a defensive alliance, though he knew nothing about it; two or three men I knew walked through the room and left me alone; I was, I thought, in an almost impregnable position and I closed my eyes, but before I had passed from the stage of wondering whether I should snore if I went to sleep, I felt a touch on my arm, and found Learoyd standing by me.
"Go away," I said sleepily, "I am very tired."
He leant over my chair and began to whisper; his back unfortunately was turned to my ally, or I think I could have stopped him.
"Do you know," he began, "that your sister has been nearly drowned in the Cher, and Ward jumped in after her? Everybody says he saved her life and will get a medal."
"Who's everybody?" I asked, and I heard a noise, which was more like a grunt than anything else, from the chair behind Learoyd.
"Pratt told me, and I knew it must have been your sister because I saw Ward start out of the college with her and some one else. It was your sister, wasn't it?"
"Yes," I answered, and my friend in the wide trousers got up and walked by us.
"I am awfully glad it was your sister now that I have told Pratt so," Learoyd said. "He told me that he didn't think it could have been, because you didn't tell him."
"I never tell an ass like Pratt anything," I replied, "he would die if he hadn't got something to talk about."
"I am very glad she wasn't drowned."
"You are only glad she fell in," I could not help saying.
He looked rather bothered for a minute. "No, I didn't mean that, only Pratt isn't the man to tell anything which isn't true, he's such a gossip," he answered.
"I suppose every one is bound to know all about it. I shouldn't wonder if it isn't in the papers this evening," I said, as I got out of my chair.
"It is sure to be," Learoyd replied cheerfully. "Jack Ward will have to pretend not to like it."
"He won't like it," I said, and I gave Learoyd my paper to read and made my escape into the garden. I sat down as far away from every one as I could and asked a waiter to bring me some tea, and for quite five minutes I was not molested. It was very early for tea, and the waiter was talkative when he came back.
"Going down to the river this afternoon, sir?" he said, as I fumbled in my pockets for some money.
"No," I replied.
"Nearly a sad accident on the Cherwell this morning I heard some gentleman saying. A gentleman from St. Cuthbert's College saved a young lady from drowning; he ought to marry the young lady, I say," he concluded with a waggish shake of the head, and he began to grope in his pockets for sixpence.
"Don't bother about the change," I said, "you're a humorist."
"A what, sir?"
"A humorist," I answered so loudly that nearly every one in the garden looked round.
"I am a bit of a comic, thank you, sir. I sings a bit and acts a bit when I get the chance. But people ought to be more careful when they go boating, many a good life's been lost by drowning, leaving sorrow behind it."
"Some one is calling you," I said desperately, and just then I saw Pratt come into the garden and fix his eyes on me. I rose hurriedly, and leaving my tea bolted for the door which leads into Castle Street. I turned round when I reached the door and saw the waiter tapping his forehead with one finger and talking to Pratt. It was not difficult to guess what he was saying.
I did not know what to do next, so I walked very slowly to the station and stood in front of the book-stall. Business unfortunately was slack when I arrived and one of the boys would not leave me alone, he offered me so many papers that in sheer desperation I bought several; I told him that I would have two shillings' worth, and left the selection of them to him. Then I walked off to a seat at the end of the platform to do a little thinking, but before I had really got settled I saw Fred walking towards me with his head somewhere near the second button of his waistcoat. I shouted to him, and after we had sat on the bench for quite a minute without speaking we both began to laugh at the same time, until a porter and a ticket-collector came to see what was happening. The porter was a burly man with a cheerful countenance, and he seemed so pleased to see any one enjoying themselves that he came close to us, but the ticket-collector stood afar off.
"Nice weather, gentlemen," he said, and having agreed with him we began to laugh again.
"I've not 'eard a good joke for many a fine day, you seem to be a-enjoying of yourselves, my missis 'as got the mumps," and he took off his cap and scratched his head.
Fred said that mumps were very painful.
"Nearly what you call a tragedy on the river to-day, seemingly," he went on, and I groaned aloud, but Fred, who had no idea what was coming, asked him what had happened.
"It's like this," he began, "one of my mates, who 'as a brother what belongs to one of them boat-'ouses where they let out most anything to anybody what'll pay for it, 'eard in 'is dinner 'our as 'ow a young woman would 'ave gone to 'er death only 'er young man 'opped into the river and saved 'er life. That's what my mate told me, but 'e's a bit of a liar."
I jumped up from the seat before he had time to tell us anything more, and pushing a shilling into his hand said that the ticket-collector was beckoning to him. He was so surprised that he had not enough breath to thank me, but he was kind enough to go away. When he thought I was not looking I saw him tapping his forehead and grinning like that abominable waiter in the Union. After two or three minutes of peace the ticket-collector thought he might as well try his luck with us, and began to stroll casually in our direction, but just as he was going to begin a conversation I seized Fred by the arm, and having fled to the end of the platform, we sat down on a luggage-barrow.
"I should have hit that man," I said, "I can't stand any more," and then I told him what I had been through since I had left him. "It isn't half as comic as you seem to think," I finished up, "every blessed man I know in the 'Varsity will talk to me about it. Nina can swim as well as you can, and I shall tell her what I think of her."
"Don't get into another rage," Fred replied; "I shouldn't say anything nasty to her if I were you, she didn't fall into the Cher on purpose. What is that huge great bundle of papers you are hugging?"
"They are for Mrs. Faulkner to read on the way down, to show that I don't bear her any malice. I wish I had never seen her."
Fred took the bundle, and as he looked through the papers he gave way to such unrighteous laughter that the barrow tipped up, and he, I, and all the papers were scattered about the platform. I hurt myself and told him so rudely, but he laughed at nothing that afternoon, and as soon as he had picked up the papers he went back to the barrow and proceeded to chuckle to himself until I had to ask whether he had gone mad.
"For Mrs. Faulkner," he said, and really he was enough to annoy any one.
"Why shouldn't I give her what I like?" I asked.
"She won't thank you for this lot," he answered. "Cricket, The Sportsman, The Sporting Life, The Pink 'Un, A Life of W. G. Grace, The Topical Times, Pick-me-up, The Pelican,—by Jove she will have something to tell your people when she gets home."
"It's that boy at the bookstall," I said, "let's go and change some of them, though I believe you have only picked out the ones which Mrs Faulkner wouldn't read. I let the boy choose what he liked."
We made the bundle look as respectable as we could, and started down the platform, but before we got to the bookstall we saw Mrs. Faulkner, Nina and Jack Ward.
"Oh, here you are at last," Nina said, "if it hadn't been for Mr. Ward I don't know what we should have done with our luggage."
"If it hadn't been for Mr. Ward we should not only have lost our luggage but yourself, my dear," Mrs. Faulkner exclaimed, and she put her hand on Nina's arm.
"I am sure we are horribly obliged to you, Jack," I said, for I had to say something.
"I hope you won't catch cold," Fred said to Nina.
"Thanks, I think I shall be all right now," she answered.
"It is the terrible nervous shock which may be disastrous," Mrs. Faulkner remarked.
"Won't you have some tea?" I asked, and it seemed to me that I was always asking Mrs. Faulkner to have tea when I didn't know what to do with her.
"We should miss the train, it goes in twelve minutes," she replied.
We stood on the platform for an interminable time trying to talk, but neither Mrs. Faulkner nor Nina seemed to take any interest in Fred and me, and I must say that Jack looked terribly uncomfortable at all the things which were said to him. Just before the train was due, however, Nina took my arm and drew me away from the others, and I hoped that she was going to tell me something pleasant, but her first words banished that idea.
"I want you to ask Mr. Ward to stay with us in July," she said.
"I shall do nothing of the kind," I answered.
"He jumped into the river to save me."
"You can swim all right."
"But he didn't know that."
"Mrs. Faulkner makes me ill. I think you might stop her making such a fuss; she has made Jack feel uncomfortable, and Fred never says a word. I think you are treating Fred jolly badly," I said.
"I suppose he will be down in July," she replied, rather disagreeably.
"Of course he will."
"And you won't ask Mr. Ward?"
"For goodness' sake, Nina, don't be stupid," I answered, "and let me ask what friends I like."
"I shall get mother to ask him if you don't."
Before I had time to reply the train came into the station, and Fred, Jack and I had to work hard to get a compartment to suit Mrs. Faulkner. It took some time to get her properly settled, and after she had thanked Jack once more and wished us all good-bye, Nina came to the carriage-window and said that I was not to forget what she told me.
"Are those papers for us?" she called out as the train started.
I took off my hat and pretended not to hear, for I had completely forgotten to change them, but before I could stop him Jack had taken the bundle out of my hand, and by means of running much faster than I thought possible he got the whole lot into the carriage.
"I felt such a fool on that platform that I never remembered anything," he said, when he came back.
"I wish you had forgotten how to run," I replied, and when Fred told him why I had kept my bundle to myself we managed to talk about the way Mrs. Faulkner would criticize my taste until we separated.
THE SCHEMES OF DENNISON
My life for several days after Nina went away was just what I expected it would be. Everybody I knew wanted to be told about the accident, and congratulated me on her narrow escape. I was gloriously rude to several men, but nothing I could do was really any good. The first man at whom I let myself go was Dennison, and in this I made a very great mistake, because in letting him know that I was sick of the whole business I gave him a chance which he did not miss. He went round finding men who had not seen me, and persuaded them to come to me and say how sorry they had been to hear of the accident, and how glad they were that Jack Ward had saved Nina, and a lot of other desperate twaddle. Finally, Dennison having worked this joke most diligently, decided that a dinner must be given in Jack's honour, and when he met me in the quad on Sunday and told me about it I refused flatly to go.
"Of course you will come," he said, "it would be a disgrace to the college if we didn't do something to celebrate Ward's pluck and your sister's escape."
"It is a disgrace to the college to make a wretched fuss about nothing," I replied.
"You are the only man who thinks that. Next Thursday night, half-past seven, at the Sceptre," he said, and walked off.
Ward and I had been avoiding each other ever since the Wednesday night, when he having first of all been to Brasenose because they were Head of the River and lively, came to see me afterwards and talked very stupidly. I was in bed, and he woke me up to talk to me for over half-an-hour about love. Any one would have been angry, and though I tried to be polite, because he had jumped into the Cher, I told him to go away several times before he went. I had never thought it possible that I could have so much trouble about Nina. I suppose he knew that he had made an idiot of himself that evening, for if there is any time when it is decent to wake a man up and talk to him about wonderful subjects, I am sure it can never be after a huge celebration at Brasenose. I didn't know much about love, but I thought that there must be the wrong and the right kind, and that Jack had made a bad start.
So we kept out of each other's way as much as possible, and I did not know that he hated the idea of this dinner even more than I did. We might together have done something to stop it, but we had no chance unless we combined. I thought Jack wanted to be feted, and in consequence I felt absolutely savage with him, while he told me afterwards that he was simply dragged into the thing by Dennison. However, I am not altogether sorry that the dinner took place, for though neither Jack nor I were anything like wily enough to score off Dennison, we got some rare fun out of him before that evening finished.
Collier, Lambert and Learoyd all came to tell me that I must go to the dinner before I could be persuaded to have anything to do with it, and it was really comical to hear why each of them was so keen on the affair. Collier gloried openly in the fact that it would be a huge feed, and said he was glad Dennison had engaged Rodoski to play the fiddle because music gave him a better appetite, and he advised me strongly not to miss such a good chance of enjoying myself, and thought me mad to hesitate. Lambert said that Dennison had asked him to propose Ward's health, and that he hoped his speech—though quite unprepared—would not be unworthy of the evening. "The dinner itself will be nothing, just like any other kind of dinner, but don't you miss it," he concluded, and I felt sure that he had already got his speech in his pocket. Learoyd begged me not to stay away from a jolly good rag. "If we can't row, we can rag," he said, and when I told him that I was sick to death of ragging, he took such a serious view of my case that I promised that I would go so that I could get rid of him.
There were about fourteen men at the dinner-party, including Ward, Dennison, Lambert, Learoyd, Collier, Webb, and Bunny Langham, and since Dennison had taken a free hand in arranging everything, it was a tremendous affair. I never doubted that his idea was to make Ward and me look as foolish as possible, for he was the kind of man who was never really contented unless he was trying to make some one feel uncomfortable. The whole thing, I knew, was an elaborate joke at our expense, but I was not going to starve because Nina had fallen into the "Cher" and Jack had pulled her out, so I set to work to enjoy myself, though I had to sit next to Dennison. In fact, having once got to the Sceptre, I think I made more row than any one at dinner, and this must have disappointed Dennison, who started by saying those half sweet and half bitter things to me, which I never know how to answer, but which make me long to put the man who says them under the table. So I talked and shouted loud enough to drown Dennison's remarks, for it would never have done to put him out of sight during the dinner. I suppose that being unable to get any fun out of me, and having Collier, who did not like to speak much at meals, on the other side of him, he must have found some fresh amusement, for he became very quiet as the evening went on, and there was only one thing which ever made him silent and that was the kind of thing which makes most people talk.
He was, however, capable of asking Lambert to propose the toast of the evening, but nothing would make Lambert stir before some one had proposed the royal toasts, which Dennison had forgotten; and three or four men who did not want any one to talk except themselves shouted, "No speeches," until Bunny Langham got up and surprised every one by making them laugh. He did not stick to his subject very much, but he managed to make everything he said ramble round in an odd sort of way to an apology for Dennison's forgetfulness, and if only he had been sitting on the other side of me I should not have been compelled to shout during the whole of dinner, for I believe he would have been able to help me in answering the gibing remarks which had been made to me. Dennison smiled across the table at Langham, but his smile looked as if it had been glued on to his face, and if I had been in his place I should have thrown something solid, like a pine-apple, at Bunny.
My penance, however, was to come, and when Lambert at last got up to finish off the business of making fools of Jack Ward and me, I thought of pretending that my nose had begun to bleed and of hurrying out of the room, only it seemed to be rather a weak thing to do. So I just sat there and imagined that everybody was looking at me, which made me feel most uncomfortably hot. Lambert admitted afterwards that he was in his very best form that evening, and I think he must have been, for I never heard anybody talk such a lot of nonsense in all my life. I looked at Jack Ward once, and he was evidently having a very bad time, but every one else except Collier, who was sleepy, seemed to think that Lambert was amusing. He referred to Jack in a patronizing way as "our young hero," and said that my mind had been so completely upset by this brave deed that for some days I had been a cause of considerable anxiety to my friends. When he made that remark I took a very ripe pear from a dish in front of me, but Learoyd persuaded me not to throw it. I couldn't have missed Lambert, and I think he deserved to be mobbed, but he saw what was happening and I think it made him forget some of the things he was going to say about me. At the end of his speech he actually began to recite a piece of poetry of his own, though the first line was about the brave deserving the fair and sounded like somebody else's, which was a way his poems had. He had arranged for slow music to be turned on while he did this, and there was such a general feeling against the combination that he had to sit down before he had finished. Bunny Langham, who was a member of the Horace Club, and disliked any poems made in Oxford except those which he wrote himself, led the hubbub, and after we had drunk Jack's health there was such a noise that he escaped having to reply. When any one shouted for him, as they did fitfully for some time, their voices were always drowned in the general cheerfulness of the evening, and he finally came round from the other side of the table and sat down by me.
"You have been making a most awful row," he said.
"Self-defence," I answered, "I didn't want to hear anything which Dennison said."
"A most rotten evening, the proggins will come in a few minutes if he is within shouting distance. They have been trying to get us out for the last quarter of an hour."
"Several men seem to have gone already."
We talked for some minutes, and then a waiter came in and said the proctor was coming down "The High," so we all bolted as hard as we could. Instead of turning down the Turl, I saw Dennison run down the High, with Lambert pursuing him and telling him to stop. But Dennison had been careful during the last part of the evening, and had arrived at the state when any one shouting at him made him run all the faster, while Lambert, excited by oratory and the after-effects of it, declared very loudly that he would catch Dennison if he had to run a mile.
"Dennison thinks that the proggins and all his bulldogs are after him," Bunny Langham said; "the whole thing was only a trick to get us out before anything happened."
"They can catch me if they like," Ward replied, "I can't run to-night."
So the three of us walked back to St. Cuthbert's, and Bunny complained bitterly that he could not come in and wait until Lambert and Dennison turned up. The first man to come into college after us was Collier, who said he had been dodging round the Radcliffe for a quarter of an hour, and soon afterwards Learoyd and Webb strolled in and pretended that they had been sitting under the table in the Sceptre, but they looked exceedingly warm. We all went to Ward's rooms, which were a kind of club for any men he knew and very often used when he was not even in them, to wait for Dennison and Lambert; but we had to stay until nearly twelve o'clock before either of them came, and then there was a tremendous thumping on the door, and Dennison, in a most exhausted condition, tottered in and nearly collapsed in the porter's arms.
It was some time before he had breath enough to walk across to Ward's rooms, but when we had got him settled in an arm-chair he began to feel better.
"At any rate I did the brute," he said, "that bulldog will remember me for the rest of his life."
I should have given the whole thing away by laughing if I had said anything, and I moved to the window so that I could put my head outside if I really had to laugh, while Collier, who had been scored off by Dennison very often, began to ask him questions. He had not to ask many, because when Dennison once began to talk, he told us everything without needing much encouragement.
"That big bull-dog has had his eye on me for ages," he said, "ever since I dodged him one night last term in the Corn, and I know that he has been saying that he would catch me some day." He stopped for a minute, being still rather breathless, and Collier asked him where he had been. "Directly I went out of the Sceptre he started off after me, and I made up my mind I would give him the deuce of a time before I had done with him, so I ran like blazes down the High, and when I turned round by Magdalen to see if he was coming I saw the brute in the distance. So off I went again, and when we got to the running-ground I heard him panting and swearing and shouting a hundred yards away. I let him get a bit closer and then went on towards Iffley; but I got a most horrible stitch, so I went as hard as I could for a bit, and then climbed over a gate and sat down under a hedge. I waited until he had gone past, and then came back to college. It is the easiest thing in the world to score off a bull-dog, they are simply the stupidest men in the world."
"He must have got a long way past Iffley by now," Collier said.
"I don't care where he is, but I shall have to look out that he doesn't get level with me," Dennison replied.
"You will always have to wear a cap and gown now," Learoyd remarked.
But Dennison took no notice of this advice.
"Where's Lambert?" he asked; "everybody else seems to be here except him and that fool, Bunny Langham."
"We don't know, he has not come in yet," Collier answered, and at that moment there was a rap at the door, and as soon as Lambert got into the porch I put my head out of the window and told him to come up to Ward's rooms. As he walked across the quad I saw that he had been having a rough time of it, for his clothes did not look as immaculate as usual. He was carrying an overcoat over his arm, and his shirt and collar had given way so badly that the first thing he did when he got into the room was to go to a looking-glass, and see how he could improve the appearance of things. A lot of men asked him where he had been, but he had forgotten that any of us had seen him start after Dennison, and he answered that he had just been for a stroll. "I like to have a walk by myself after a noise," he added; "the heat of that room made me feel absolutely ill."
Then Ward could not restrain himself any longer, and told Dennison that we all knew Lambert had been running after him, and that there had been no proctor and bull-dogs in the High.
"Coming suddenly out of a hot room into the open air always affects me," Lambert said. "I made up my mind I would catch Dennison if I ran until my legs gave way."
"It's all a silly lie," Dennison exclaimed; "I was chased by the big bull-dog; I should have seen that shirt, which was white when you started."
"I had on an overcoat," was Lambert's reply.
"Did you go to Iffley?" Collier asked.
"Iffley? Good heavens, no, I never went any further than Magdalen Bridge."
There was such a shout of laughter that I believe I should have thought anybody else except Dennison had been rotted enough.
"Then I was chased by a bull-dog!" he said emphatically.
"You weren't chased by any one after I stopped, for I sat on the bridge for quite ten minutes, and then I thought I would come home by Long Wall Street, the High being rather exposed at night. I made an unfortunate choice." He shot his cuffs down, but they were terribly limp, and he looked at them with disgust.
"What happened?" Ward asked.
"I met the proggins, and having got my wind I charged right past him. Then I ran round by the Racquet Courts, and finally hid in a garden by Keble. I ought not to have done that, because the bull-dogs know me, and I found them waiting outside when I came in. It is all your fault for running away when I told you to stop," he said to Dennison.
"I expect you were hiding in the garden at the same time Dennison was hiding from you behind a hedge in the Iffley Road," Collier said, and the idea pleased Lambert so much that he took off his tie and went to the looking-glass again. But he soon made up his mind that no tie, however beautifully tied, had a chance with a collar which looked like a piece of moderately white blotting-paper, so he stalked out of the room without wishing any one good-night, though he did wave his tie in Jack Ward's direction as he went, and since it was very late I followed him.
During the rest of the term I hardly saw anything of Fred, as he was playing cricket for the 'Varsity, and whenever I tried to see him I nearly always failed. I did not try much, for I did not see why he wanted to avoid me, and I thought he was treating me very badly. Besides, my people were bothering me a lot during the last few days of the term, and I didn't see any use in telling Fred that my mother wanted Jack Ward to come down to Worcestershire during the summer. As a matter-of-fact I was in an awkward position, for my mother had written to Jack Ward to thank him for pulling Nina out of the "Cher," and to say that she would be very glad if he could come down sometime to stay with us. But I thought Jack Ward would not come unless I asked him myself, and that rotten jumble he talked about love on my bed, and a sort of feeling that Fred would not like him to come kept me from saying anything to him. Jack only told me that my mother had written to him, and I heard from her that she had asked him to stay, so I had some time to think of what I had better do, and the more I thought the more bothered I became.
I had one idea which pleased me for a quarter of an hour; it was that Jack should come while Nina was away, but as soon as I thought of the temper Nina would be in when she found out this little plan I abandoned it quickly. Another idea, which did not please me for so long, was that I should tell Jack that my people simply hated any one who flirted, but that seemed both to be taking a good deal for granted and to be rather hard on Nina; besides, it reminded me unpleasantly of those advertisements for servants which end up, "No followers allowed," and which, I should think, are a great waste of money. In addition to this bother which I manufactured more or less for myself, I had another trouble which did not worry so much because I understood it better. Mrs. Faulkner had told my mother, quite privately, that I was in her opinion doing very little work at Oxford, and my mother was not as disturbed at this as her informant thought she ought to have been. At least I suppose that must have been the reason why Mrs. Faulkner told my father the same tale, and even took the trouble to show him some of the papers which were in that wretched parcel. I could not expect him to approve of all those papers, and I did not dare to tell him that I had not chosen them myself, because he would then have accused me of laziness and extravagance and a whole host of unpleasant things, so I accepted his rebukes with a contrite spirit and wrote and told him, quite truthfully, that I read very serious papers nearly every week. But when you have been fairly caught buying a host of sporting and theatrical literature, it isn't much good trying to persuade your father that it was a fluke. I sent him The Spectator soon afterwards, but he never acknowledged it, and my mother in her next letter drew my attention to the fact that he had subscribed to this review for the last seven years. My luck was very bad just then, I seemed unable to do anything right.
There was only one thing which cheered me up, and it was that Owen had got over the worst part of his illness. But I could not even think of this without being bothered, for when a man is ill you don't mind promising to do anything, and it is only when he is getting better that you begin to realize how much you have promised. It was certain that I must pay the expenses of his illness, and it was equally certain that I should not have enough money to pay my college bills as well; the whole thing made me very pensive.