by Charles Reade
"HARD CASH," like "The Cloister and the Hearth," is a matter-of-fact Romance—that is, a fiction built on truths; and these truths have been gathered by long, severe, systematic labour, from a multitude of volumes, pamphlets, journals, reports, blue-books, manuscript narratives, letters, and living people, whom I have sought out, examined, and cross-examined, to get at the truth on each main topic I have striven to handle.
The madhouse scenes have been picked out by certain disinterested gentlemen, who keep private asylums, and periodicals to puff them; and have been met with bold denials of public facts, and with timid personalities, and a little easy cant about Sensation* Novelists; but in reality those passages have been written on the same system as the nautical, legal, and other scenes: the best evidence has been ransacked; and a large portion of this evidence I shall be happy to show at my house to any brother writer who is disinterested, and really cares enough for truth and humanity to walk or ride a mile in pursuit of them.
6 BOLTON ROW, MAYFAIR, December 5, 1868.
*This slang term is not quite accurate as applied to me. Without sensation there can be no interest: but my plan is to mix a little character and a little philosophy with the sensational element.
IN a snowy villa, with a sloping lawn, just outside the great commercial seaport, Barkington, there lived a few years ago a happy family. A lady, middle-aged, but still charming; two young friends of hers; and a periodical visitor.
The lady was Mrs. Dodd; her occasional visitor was her husband; her friends were her son Edward, aged twenty, and her daughter Julia, nineteen, the fruit of a misalliance.
Mrs. Dodd was originally Miss Fountain, a young lady well born, high bred, and a denizen of the fashionable world. Under a strange concurrence of circumstances she coolly married the captain of an East Indiaman. The deed done, and with her eyes open, for she was not, to say, in love with him, she took a judicious line—and kept it: no hankering after Mayfair, no talking about "Lord this" and "Lady that," to commercial gentlewomen; no amphibiousness. She accepted her place in society, reserving the right to embellish it with the graces she had gathered in a higher sphere. In her home, and in her person, she was little less elegant than a countess; yet nothing more than a merchant-captain's wife; and she reared that commander's children in a suburban villa, with the manners which adorn a palace. When they happen to be there. She had a bugbear; Slang. Could not endure the smart technicalities current; their multitude did not overpower her distaste; she called them "jargon"—"slang" was too coarse a word for her to apply to slang: she excluded many a good "racy idiom" along with the real offenders; and monosyllables in general ran some risk of' having to show their passports. If this was pedantry, it went no further; she was open, free, and youthful with her young pupils; and had the art to put herself on their level: often, when they were quite young, she would feign infantine ignorance, in order to hunt trite truth in couples with them, and detect, by joint experiment, that rainbows cannot, or else will not, be walked into, nor Jack-o'-lantern be gathered like a cowslip; and that, dissect we the vocal dog—whose hair is so like a lamb's—never so skilfully, no fragment of palpable bark, no sediment of tangible squeak, remains inside him to bless the inquisitive little operator, &c., &c. When they advanced from these elementary branches to Languages, History, Tapestry, and "What Not," she managed still to keep by their side learning with them, not just hearing them lessons down from the top of a high tower of maternity. She never checked their curiosity, but made herself share it; never gave them, as so many parents do, a white-lying answer; wooed their affections with subtle though innocent art, thawed their reserve, obtained their love, and retained their respect. Briefly, a female Chesterfield; her husband's lover after marriage, though not before; and the mild monitress the elder sister, the favourite companion and bosom friend of both her children.
They were remarkably dissimilar; and perhaps I may be allowed to preface the narrative of their adventures by a delineation; as in country churches an individual pipes the keynote, and the tune comes raging after.
Edward, then, had a great calm eye, that was always looking folk full in the face, mildly; his countenance comely and manly, but no more; too square for Apollo; but sufficed for John Bull. His figure it was that charmed the curious observer of male beauty. He was five feet ten; had square shoulders, a deep chest, masculine flank, small foot, high instep. To crown all this, a head, overflowed by ripples of dark brown hair, sat with heroic grace upon his solid white throat, like some glossy falcon new lighted on a Parian column.
This young gentleman had decided qualities, positive and negative. He could walk up to a five-barred gate and clear it, alighting on the other side like a fallen feather; could row all day, and then dance all night; could fling a cricket ball a hundred and six yards; had a lathe and a tool-box, and would make you in a trice a chair, a table, a doll, a nutcracker, or any other moveable, useful, or the very reverse. And could not learn his lessons, to save his life.
His sister Julia was not so easy to describe. Her figure was tall, lithe, and serpentine; her hair the colour of a horse-chestnut fresh from its pod; her ears tiny and shell-like, her eyelashes long and silky; her mouth small when grave, large when smiling; her eyes pure hazel by day, and tinged with a little violet by night. But in jotting down these details, true as they are, I seem to myself to be painting fire, with a little snow and saffron mixed on a marble pallet. There is a beauty too spiritual to be chained in a string of items; and Julia's fair features were but the china vessel that brimmed over with the higher loveliness of her soul. Her essential charm was, what shall I say? Transparence.
"You would have said her very body thought."
Modesty, Intelligence, and, above all, Enthusiasm, shone through her, and out of her, and made her an airy, fiery, household joy. Briefly, an incarnate sunbeam.
This one could learn her lessons with unreasonable rapidity, and until Edward went to Eton, would insist upon learning his into the bargain, partly with the fond notion of coaxing him on, as the company of a swift horse incites a slow one; partly because she was determined to share his every trouble, if she could not remove it. A little choleric, and indeed downright prone to that more generous indignation which fires at the wrongs of others. When heated with emotion, or sentiment, she lowered her voice, instead of raising it like the rest of us. She called her mother "Lady Placid," and her brother "Sir Imperturbable." And so much for outlines.
Mrs. Dodd laid aside her personal ambition with her maiden name; but she looked high for her children. Perhaps she was all the more ambitious for them, that they had no rival aspirant in Mrs. Dodd. She educated Julia herself from first to last: but with true feminine distrust of her power to mould a lordling of creation, she sent Edward to Eton, at nine. This was slackening her tortoise; for at Eton is no female master, to coax dry knowledge into a slow head. However, he made good progress in two branches—aquatics and cricket.
After Eton came the choice of a profession. His mother recognised but four; and these her discreet ambition speedily sifted down to two. For military heroes are shot now and then, however pacific the century; and naval ones drowned. She would never expose her Edward to this class of accidents. Glory by all means; glory by the pail; but safe glory, please; or she would none of it. Remained the church and the bar: and, within these reasonable limits, she left her dear boy free as air; and not even hurried—there was plenty of time to choose: he must pass through the university to either. This last essential had been settled about a twelvemonth, and the very day for his going to Oxford was at hand, when one morning Mr. Edward formally cleared his throat: it was an unusual act, and drew the ladies' eyes upon him. He followed the solemnity up by delivering calmly and ponderously a connected discourse, which astonished them by its length and purport. "Mamma, dear, let us look the thing in the face." (This was his favourite expression, as well as habit.) "I have been thinking it quietly over for the last six months. Why send me to the university? I shall be out of place there. It will cost you a lot of money, and no good. Now, you take a fool's advice; don't you waste your money and papa's, sending a dull fellow like me to Oxford. I did bad enough at Eton. Make me an engineer, or something. If you were not so fond of me, and I of you, I'd say send me to Canada, with a pickaxe; you know I have got no headpiece."
Mrs. Dodd had sat aghast, casting Edward deprecating looks at the close of each ponderous sentence, but too polite to interrupt a soul, even a son talking nonsense. She now assured him she could afford very well to send him to Oxford, and begged leave to remind him that he was too good and too sensible to run up bills there, like the young men who did not really love their parents. "Then, as for learning, why, we must be reasonable in our turn. Do the best you can, love. We know you have no great turn for the classics; we do not expect you to take high honours like young Mr. Hardie; besides, that might make your head ache: he has sad headaches, his sister told Julia. But, my dear, an university education is indispensable Do but see how the signs of it follow a gentleman through life, to say nothing of the valuable acquaintances and lasting friendships he makes there: even those few distinguished persons who have risen in the would without it, have openly regretted the want, and have sent their children: and that says volumes to me."
"Why, Edward, it is the hall-mark of a gentleman," said Julia eagerly. Mrs. Dodd caught a flash of her daughter: "And my silver shall never be without it," said she warmly. She added presently, in her usual placid tone, "I beg your pardon, my dears, I ought to have said my gold." With this she kissed Edward tenderly on the brow, and drew an embrace and a little grunt of resignation from him. "Take the dear boy and show him our purchases, love!" said Mrs. Dodd, with a little gentle accent of half reproach, scarce perceptible to a male ear.
"Oh, yes," and Julia rose and tripped to the door. There she stood a moment, half turned, with arching neck, colouring with innocent pleasure. "Come, darling. Oh, you good-for- nothing thing."
The pair found a little room hard by, paved with china, crockery, glass, baths, kettles, &c.
"There, sir. Look them in the face; and us, if you can."
"Well, you know, I had no idea you had been and bought a cart-load of things for Oxford." His eye brightened; he whipped out a two-foot rule, and began to calculate the cubic contents. "I'll turn to and make the cases, Ju."
The ladies had their way; the cases were made and despatched; and one morning the Bus came for Edward, and stopped at the gate of Albion Villa. At this sight mother and daughter both turned their heads quickly away by one independent impulse, and set a bad example. Apparently neither of them had calculated on this paltry little detail; they were game for theoretical departures; to impalpable universities: and "an air-drawn Bus, a Bus of the mind," would not have dejected for a moment their lofty Spartan souls on glory bent; safe glory. But here was a Bus of wood, and Edward going bodily away inside it. The victim kissed them, threw up his portmanteau and bag, and departed serene as Italian skies; the victors watched the pitiless Bus quite out of sight; then went up to his bedroom, all disordered by packing, and, on the very face of it, vacant; and sat down on his little bed intertwining and weeping.
Edward was received at Exeter College, as young gentlemen are received at college; and nowhere else, I hope, for the credit of Christendom. They showed him a hole in the roof, and called it an "Attic;" grim pleasantry! being a puncture in the modern Athens. They inserted him; told him what hour at the top of the morning he must be in chapel; and left him to find out his other ills. His cases were welcomed like Christians, by the whole staircase. These undergraduates abused one another's crockery as their own: the joint stock of breakables had just dwindled very low, and Mrs. Dodd's bountiful contribution was a godsend.
The new comer soon found that his views of a learned university had been narrow. Out of place in it? why, he could not have taken his wares to a better market; the modern Athens, like the ancient, cultivates muscle as well as mind. The captain of the university eleven saw a cricket-ball thrown all across the ground; he instantly sent a professional bowler to find out who that was; through the same ambassador the thrower was invited to play on club days; and proving himself an infallible catch and long-stop, a mighty thrower, a swift runner, and a steady, though not very brilliant bat, he was, after one or two repulses, actually adopted into the university eleven. He communicated this ray of glory by letter to his mother and sister with genuine delight, coldly and clumsily expressed; they replied with feigned and fluent rapture. Advancing steadily in that line of academic study towards which his genius lay, he won a hurdle race, and sent home a little silver hurdle; and soon after brought a pewter pot, with a Latin inscription recording the victory at "Fives" of Edward Dodd: but not too arrogantly; for in the centre of the pot was this device, "The Lord Is My Illumination." The Curate of Sandford, who pulled number six in the Exeter boat, left Sandford for Witney: on this he felt he could no longer do his college justice by water, and his parish by land, nor escape the charge of pluralism, preaching at Witney and rowing at Oxford. He fluctuated, sighed, kept his Witney, and laid down his oar. Then Edward was solemnly weighed in his jersey and flannel trousers, and proving only eleven stone eight, whereas he had been ungenerously suspected of twelve stone,* was elected to the vacant oar by acclamation. He was a picture in a boat; and, "Oh!!! well pulled, six!!" was a hearty ejaculation constantly hurled at him from the bank by many men of other colleges, and even by the more genial among the cads, as the Exeter glided at ease down the river, or shot up it in a race.
*There was at this time a prejudice against weight, which has yielded to experience
He was now as much talked of in the university as any man of his college, except one. Singularly enough that one was his townsman; but no friend of his; he was much Edward's senior in standing, though not in age; and this is a barrier the junior must not step over—without direct encouragement—at Oxford. Moreover, the college was a large one, and some of "the sets" very exclusive: young Hardie was Doge of a studious clique; and careful to make it understood that he was a reading man who boated and cricketed, to avoid the fatigue of lounging; not a boatman or cricketer who strayed into Aristotle in the intervals of Perspiration.
His public running since he left Harrow was as follows: the prize poem in his fourth term; the sculls in his sixth; the Ireland scholarship in his eighth (he pulled second for it the year before); Stroke of the Exeter in his tenth; and reckoned sure of a first class to consummate his twofold career.
To this young Apollo, crowned with variegated laurel, Edward looked up from a distance. The brilliant creature never bestowed a word on him by land; and by water only such observations as the following: "Time, Six!" "Well pulled, Six!" "Very well pulled, Six!" Except, by-the-bye, one race; when he swore at him like a trooper for not being quicker at starting. The excitement of nearly being bumped by Brasenose in the first hundred yards was an excuse. However, Hardie apologised as they were dressing in the barge after the race; but the apology was so stiff, it did not pave the way to an acquaintance.
Young Hardie, rising twenty-one, thought nothing human worthy of reverence, but Intellect. Invited to dinner, on the same day, with the Emperor of Russia, and with Voltaire, and with meek St. John, he would certainly have told the coachman to put him down at Voltaire.
His quick eye detected Edward's character; but was not attracted by it: says he to one of his adherents, "What a good-natured spoon that Dodd is; Phoebus, what a name!" Edward, on the other hand, praised this brilliant in all his letters, and recorded his triumphs and such of his witty sayings as leaked through his own set, to reinvigorate mankind. This roused Julia's ire. It smouldered through three letters; but burst out when there was no letter; but Mrs. Dodd, meaning, Heaven knows, no harm, happened to say meekly, a propos of Edward, "You know, love, we cannot all be young Hardies." "No, and thank Heaven," said Julia defiantly. "Yes, mamma," she continued, in answer to Mrs. Dodd's eyebrow, which had curved; "your mild glance reads my soul; I detest that boy." Mrs. Dodd smiled: "Are you sure you know what the word 'detest' means? And what has young Mr. Hardie done, that you should bestow so violent a sentiment on him?"
"Mamma, I am Edward's sister," was the tragic reply; then, kicking off the buskin pretty nimbly, "There! he beats our boy at everything, and ours sits quietly down and admires him for it: oh! how can a man let anybody or anything beat him! I wouldn't; without a desperate struggle." She clenched her white teeth and imagined the struggle. To be sure, she owned she had never seen this Mr. Hardie; but after all it was only Jane Hardie's brother, as Edward was hers; "And would I sit down and let Jane beat me at Things? Never! never! never! I couldn't."
"Your friend to the death, dear; was not that your expression?"
"Oh, that was a slip of the tongue, dear mamma; I was off my guard. I generally am, by the way. But now I am on it, and propose an amendment. Now I second it. Now I carry it."
"And now let me hear it."
"She is my friend till death—or Eclipse; and that means until she eclipses me, of course." But she added softly, and with sudden gravity: "Ah! Jane Hardie has a fault which will always prevent her from eclipsing your humble servant in this wicked world."
"What is that?"
"She is too good. Much."
"Oh, that is another matter."
"For shame, mamma! I am glad to hear it: for I scorn a life of frivolity; but then, again, I should not like to give up everything, you know." Mrs. Dodd looked a little staggered, too, at so vast a scheme of capitulation But "everything" was soon explained to mean balls, concerts, dinner-parties in general, tea-parties without exposition of Scripture, races, and operas, cards, charades, and whatever else amuses society without perceptibly sanctifying it. All these, by Julia's account, Miss Hardie had renounced, and was now denouncing (with the young the latter verb treads on the very heels of the former). "And, you know, she is a district visitor."
This climax delivered, Julia stopped short, and awaited the result.
Mrs. Dodd heard it all with quiet disapproval and cool incredulity. She had seen so many young ladies healed of many young enthusiasms by a wedding ring. But, while she was searching diligently in her mine of ladylike English—mine with plenty of water in it, begging her pardon—for expressions to convey inoffensively, and roundabout, her conviction that Miss Hardie was a little, furious simpleton, the post came and swept the subject away in a moment.
Two letters; one from Calcutta, one from Oxford.
They came quietly in upon one salver, and were opened and read with pleasurable interest, but without surprise, or misgiving; and without the slightest foretaste of their grave amid singular consequences.
Rivers deep and broad start from such little springs.
David's letter was of unusual length for him. The main topics were, first, the date and manner of his return home. His ship, a very old one, had been condemned in port: and he was to sail a fine new teak-built vessel, the Agra, as far as the Cape; where her captain, just recovered from a severe illness, would come on board, and convey her and him to England. In future, Dodd was to command one of the Company's large steamers to Alexandria and back.
"It is rather a come-down for a sailor, to go straight ahead like a wheelbarrow in all weathers with a steam-pot and a crew of coalheavers But then I shall not be parted from my sweetheart such long dreary spells as I have been thus twenty years, my dear love: so is it for me to complain?"
The second topic was pecuniary; the transfer of their savings from India, where interest was higher than at home, but the capital not so secure.
And the third was ardent and tender expressions of affection for the wife and children he adored. These effusions of the heart had no separate place, except in my somewhat arbitrary analysis of the honest sailor's letter; they were the under current. Mrs. Dodd read part of it out to Julia; in fact all but the money matter: that concerned the heads of the family more immediately; and Cash was a topic her daughter did not understand, nor care about. And when Mrs. Dodd had read it with glistening eyes, she kissed it tenderly, and read it all over again to herself, and then put it into her bosom as naively as a milkmaid in love.
Edward's letter was short enough, and Mrs. Dodd allowed Julia to read it to her, which she did with panting breath, and glowing cheeks, and a running fire of comments.
"'Dear Mamma, I hope you and Ju are quite well——'"
"Ju," murmured Mrs. Dodd plaintively.
"'And that there is good news about papa coming home. As for me, I have plenty on my hands just now; all this term I have been ('training' scratched out, and another word put in: C — R — oh, I know) 'cramming.'"
"Yes, that is the Oxfordish for studying."
Mrs. Dodd contrived to sigh interrogatively. Julia, who understood her every accent, reminded her that "smalls" was the new word for "little go."
"'—Cramming for smalls; and now I am in two races at Henley, and that rather puts the snaffie on reading and gooseberry pie' (Goodness me), 'and adds to my chance of being ploughed for smalls.'"
"What does it all mean?" inquired mamma, "'gooseberry pie'? and 'the snaffle'? and 'ploughed' ?"
"Well, the gooseberry pie is really too deep for me: but 'ploughed' is the new Oxfordish for 'plucked.' O mamma, have you forgotten that? 'Plucked' was vulgar, so now they are 'ploughed.' 'For smalls; but I hope I shall not be, to vex you and Puss.'"
"Heaven forbid he should be so disgraced! But what has the cat to do with it?"
"Nothing on earth. Puss? that is me. How dare he? Did I not forbid all these nicknames and all this Oxfordish, by proclamation, last Long."
"Hem! last protracted vacation."
"'—Dear mamma, sometimes I cannot help being down in the mouth,' (why, it is a string of pearls) 'to think you have not got a son like Hardie.'" At this unfortunate reflection it was Julia's turn to suffer. She deposited the letter in her lap, and fired up. "Now, have not I cause to hate, and scorn, and despise le petit Hardie?"
"I mean to dislike with propriety, and gently to abominate— Mr. Hardie, junior."
"'—Dear mamma, do come to Henley on the tenth, you and Ju. The university eights will not be there, but the head boats of the Oxford and Cambridge river will; and the Oxford head boat is Exeter, you know; and I pull Six.'"
"Then I am truly sorry to hear it; my poor boy will overtask his strength; and how unfair of the other young gentlemen; it seems ungenerous; unreasonable; my poor child against so many."
"'—And I am entered for the sculls as well, and if you and "the Impetuosity"' (Vengeance!) 'were looking on from the bank, I do think I should be lucky this time. Henley is a long way from Barkington, but it is a pretty place; all the ladies admire it, and like to see both the universities out and a stunning race.' Oh, well, there is an epithet. One would think thunder was going to race lightning, instead of Oxford Cambridge."
"'—If you can come, please write, and I will get you nice lodgings; I will not let you go to a noisy inn. Love to Julia and no end of kisses to my pretty mamma. —From your affectionate Son,
They wrote off a cordial assent, and reached Henley in time to see the dullest town in Europe; and also to see it turn one of the gayest in an hour or two; so impetuously came both the universities pouring into it—in all known vehicles that could go their pace—by land and water.
IT was a bright hot day in June. Mrs. Dodd and Julia sat half reclining, with their parasols up, in an open carriage, by the brink of the Thames at one of its loveliest bends.
About a furlong up stream a silvery stone bridge, just mellowed by time, spanned the river with many fair arches. Through these the coming river peeped sparkling a long way above, then came meandering and shining down; loitered cool and sombre under the dark vaults, then glistened on again crookedly to the spot where sat its two fairest visitors that day; but at that very point flung off its serpentine habits, and shot straight away in a broad stream of scintillating water a mile long, down to an island in mid-stream: a little fairy island with old trees, and a white temple. To curl round this fairy isle the broad current parted, and both silver streams turned purple in the shade of the grove; then winded and melted from the sight.
This noble and rare passage of the silvery Thames was the Henley racecourse. The starting-place was down at the island, and the goal was up at a point in the river below the bridge, but above the bend where Mrs. Dodd and Julia sat, unruffled by the racing, and enjoying luxuriously the glorious stream, the mellow bridge crowded with carriages—whose fair occupants stretched a broad band of bright colour above the dark figures clustering on the battlements—and the green meadows opposite with the motley crowd streaming up and down.
Nor was that sense, which seems especially keen and delicate in women, left unregaled in the general bounty of the time. The green meadows on the opposite bank, and the gardens at the back of our fair friends, flung their sweet fresh odours at their liquid benefactor gliding by; and the sun himself seemed to burn perfumes, and the air to scatter them, over the motley merry crowd, that bright, hot, smiling, airy day in June.
Thus tuned to gentle enjoyment, the fair mother and her lovely daughter leaned back in a delicious languor proper to their sex, and eyed with unflagging though demure interest, and furtive curiosity, the wealth of youth, beauty, stature, agility, gaiety, and good temper, the two great universities had poured out upon those obscure banks; all dressed in neat but easy-fitting clothes, cut in the height of' the fashion; or else in jerseys white or striped, and flannel trousers, and straw hats, or cloth caps of bright and various hues; betting, strolling, laughing, chaffing, larking, and whirling stunted bludgeons at Aunt Sally.
But as for the sport itself they were there to see, the center of all these bright accessories, "The Racing," my ladies did not understand it, nor try, nor care a hook-and-eye about it. But this mild dignified indifference to the main event received a shock at 2 p. m.: for then the first heat for the cup came on, and Edward was in it. So then Racing became all in a moment a most interesting pastime—an appendage to Loving. He left to join his crew. And, soon after, the Exeter glided down the river before their eyes, with the beloved one rowing quietly in it: his jersey revealed not only the working power of his arms, as sunburnt below the elbow as a gipsy's, and as corded above as a blacksmith's, but also the play of the great muscles across his broad and deeply indented chest: his oar entered the water smoothly, gripped it severely, then came out clean, and feathered clear and tunably on the ringing rowlock: the boat jumped and then glided, at each neat, easy, powerful stroke. "Oh, how beautiful and strong he is!" cried Julia. "I had no idea.
Presently the competitor for this heat came down: the Cambridge boat, rowed by a fine crew in broad-striped jerseys. "Oh, dear " said Julia, "they are odious and strong in this boat too. I wish I was in it—with a gimlet; he should win, poor boy."
Which corkscrew staircase to Honour being inaccessible, the race had to be decided by two unfeminine trifles called "Speed" and "Bottom."
Few things in this vale of tears are more worthy a pen of fire than an English boat-race is, as seen by the runners; of whom I have often been one. But this race I am bound to indicate, not describe; I mean, to show how it appeared to two ladies seated on the Henley side of the Thames, nearly opposite the winning-post. These fair novices then looked all down the river, and could just discern two whitish streaks on the water, one on each side the little fairy isle, and a great black patch on the Berkshire bank. The threatening streaks were the two racing boats: the black patch was about a hundred Cambridge and Oxford men, ready to run and hallo with the boats all the way, or at least till the last puff of wind should be run plus halloed out of their young bodies. Others less fleet and enduring, but equally clamorous, stood in knots at various distances, ripe for a shorter yell and run when the boats should come up to them. Of the natives and country visitors, those who were not nailed down by bounteous Fate ebbed and flowed up and down the bank, with no settled idea but of getting in the way as much as possible, and of getting knocked into the Thames as little as might be.
There was a long uneasy suspense.
At last a puff of smoke issued from a pistol down at the island; two oars seemed to splash into the water from each white streak; and the black patch was moving; so were the threatening streaks. Presently was heard a faint, continuous, distant murmur, and the streaks began to get larger, and larger, and larger; and the eight splashing oars looked four instead of two.
Every head was now turned down the river. Groups hung craning over it like nodding bulrushes.
Next the runners were swelled by the stragglers they picked up; so were their voices; and on came the splashing oars and roaring lungs.
Now the colours of the racing jerseys peeped distinct. The oarsmen's heads and bodies came swinging back like one, and the oars seemed to lash the water savagely, like a connected row of swords, and the spray squirted at each vicious stroke. The boats leaped and darted side by side, and, looking at them in front, Julia could not say which was ahead. On they came nearer and nearer, with hundreds of voices vociferating "Go it, Cambridge " "Well pulled, Oxford!" "You are gaining, hurrah!" "Well pulled Trinity!" "Hurrah!" "Oxford!" "Cambridge!" "Now is your time, Hardie; pick her up!" "Oh, well pulled, Six!" "Well pulled, Stroke!" "Up, up! lift her a bit!" "Cambridge!" "Oxford!" "Hurrah!"
At this Julia turned red and pale by turns. "O mamma!" said she, clasping her hands and colouring high, "would it be very wrong if I was to pray for Oxford to win?"
Mrs. Dodd had a monitory finger; it was on her left hand; she raised it; and that moment, as if she had given a signal, the boats, fore-shortened no longer, shot out to treble the length they had looked hitherto, and came broadside past our palpitating fair, the elastic rowers stretched like greyhounds in a chase, darting forward at each stroke so boldly they seemed flying out of the boats, and surging back as superbly, an eightfold human wave: their nostrils all open, the lips of some pale and glutinous their white teeth all clenched grimly, their young eyes all glowing, their supple bodies swelling, the muscles writhing beneath their jerseys, and the sinews starting on each bare brown arm; their little shrill coxswains shouting imperiously at the young giants, and working to and fro with them, like jockeys at a finish; nine souls and bodies flung whole into each magnificent effort; water foaming and flying, rowlocks ringing, crowd running, tumbling, and howling like mad; and Cambridge a boat's nose ahead.
They had scarcely passed our two spectators, when Oxford put on a furious spurt, and got fully even with the leading boat. There was a louder roar than ever from the bank. Cambridge spurted desperately in turn, and stole those few feet back; and so they went fighting every inch of water. Bang! A cannon on the bank sent its smoke over both competitors; it dispersed in a moment, and the boats were seen pulling slowly towards the bridge—Cambridge with four oars, Oxford with six, as if that gum had winged them both.
The race was over.
But who had won our party could not see, and must wait to learn.
A youth, adorned with a blue and yellow rosette, cried out, in the hearing of Mrs. Dodd, "I say, they are properly pumped, both crews are:" then, jumping on to a spoke of her carriage-wheel, with a slight apology, he announced that two or three were shut up in the Exeter.
The exact meaning of these two verbs passive was not clear to Mrs. Dodd; but their intensity was. She fluttered, and wanted to go to her boy and nurse him, and turned two most imploring eyes on Julia, and Julia straightway kissed her with gentle vehemence, and offered to ruin and see.
"What, amongst all those young gentlemen, love? I fear that would not be proper. See, all the ladies remain apart." So they kept quiet and miserable, after the manner of females.
Meantime the Cantab's quick eye had not deceived him; in each racing boat were two young gentlemen leaning collapsed over their oars; and two more, who were in a cloud, and not at all clear whether they were in this world still, or in their zeal had pulled into a better. But their malady was not a rare one in racing boats, and the remedy always at hand: it combined the rival systems; Thames was sprinkled in their faces— Homoeopathy: and brandy in a teaspoon trickled down their throats— Allopathy: youth and spirits soon did the rest; and, the moment their eyes opened, their mouths opened; and, the moment their mouths opened, they fell a chaffing.
Mrs. Dodd's anxiety and Julia's were relieved by the appearance of Mr. Edward, in a tweed shooting-jacket sauntering down to them, hands in his pockets, and a cigar in his mouth, placidly unconscious of their solicitude on his account. He was received with a little guttural cry of delight; the misery they had been in about him was duly concealed from him by both, and Julia asked him warmly who had won.
"Cambridge! Why, then you are beaten?"
"And you can come here with that horrible calm, and cigar, owning defeat, and puffing tranquillity, with the same mouth. Mamma, we are beaten. Beaten! actually."
"Never mind," said Edward kindly; "you have seen a capital race, the closest ever known on this river; and one side or other must lose."
"And if they did not quite win, they very nearly did," observed Mrs. Dodd composedly; then, with heartfelt content, "He is not hurt, and that is the main thing."
"Well, my Lady Placid, and Mr. Imperturbable, I am glad neither of your equanimities is disturbed; but defeat is a Bitter Pill to me.
Julia said this in her earnest voice, and drawing her scarf suddenly round her, so as almost to make it speak, digested her Bitter Pill in silence. During which process several Exeter men caught sight of Edward, and came round him, and an animated discussion took place. They began with asking him how it had happened, and, as he never spoke in a hurry, supplied him with the answers. A stretcher had broken in the Exeter? No, but the Cambridge was a much better built boat, and her bottom cleaner. The bow oar of the Exeter was ill, and not fit for work. Each of these solutions was advanced and combated in turn, and then all together. At last the Babel lulled, and Edward was once more appealed to.
"Well, I will tell you the real truth," said he, "how it happened." (Puff.)
There was a pause of expectation, for the young man's tone was that of conviction, knowledge, and authority.
"The Cambridge men pulled faster than we did." (Puff.)
The hearers stared and then laughed.
"Come, old fellows," said Edward, "never win a boat-race on dry land! That is such a plain thing to do; gives the other side the laugh as well as the race. I have heard a stretcher or two told, but I saw none broken. (Puff.) Their boat is the worst I ever saw; it dips every stroke. (Puff.) Their strength lies in the crew. It was a good race and a fair one. Cambridge got a lead and kept it. (Puff.) They beat us a yard or two at rowing; but hang it all, don't let them beat us at telling the truth, not by an inch." (Puff.)
"All right, old fellow!" was now the cry. One observed, however, that Stroke did not take the matter so coolly as Six; for he had shed a tear getting out of the boat.
"Shed a fiddlestick!" squeaked a little sceptic.
"No" said another, "he didn't quite shed it; his pride wouldn't let him."
"So he decanted it, and put it by for supper, suggested Edward, and puffed.
"None of your chaff, Six. He had a gulp or two, and swallowed the rest by main force."
"Don't you talk: you can swallow anything, it seems." (Puff.)
"Well, I believe it," said one of Hardie's own set. "Dodd doesn't know him as we do. Taff Hardie can't bear to be beat."
When they were gone, Mrs. Dodd observed, "Dear me! what if the young gentleman did cry a little, it was very excusable; after such great exertions it was disappointing, mortifying. I pity him for one, and wish he had his mother alive and here, to dry them."*
*Oh where, and oh where, was her Lindley Murray gone?
"Mamma, it is you for reading us," cried Edward, slapping his thigh. "Well, then, since you can feel for a fellow, Hardie was a good deal cut up. You know the university was in a manner beaten, and he took the blame. He never cried; that was a cracker of those fellows. But he did give one great sob, that was all, and hung his head on one side a moment. But then he fought out of it directly, like a man; and there was an end of it, or ought to have been. Hang chatterboxes!"
"And what did you say to console him, Edward?" inquired Julia warmly.
"What—me? Console my senior, and my Stroke? No, thank you."
At this thunderbolt of etiquette both ladies kept their countenances this was their muscular feat that day—and the racing for the sculls came on: six competitors. two Cambridge, three Oxford, one London. The three heats furnished but one good race, a sharp contest between a Cambridge man and Hardie, ending in favour of the latter; the Londoner walked away from his opponent Sir Imperturbable's competitor was impetuous, and ran into him in the first hundred yards; Sir I. consenting calmly. The umpire, appealed to on the spot, decided that it was a foul, Mr. Dodd being in his own water. He walked over the course, and explained the matter to his sister, who delivered her mind thus—
"Oh! if races are to be won by going slower than the other, we may shine yet: only, I call it Cheating, not Racing."
He smiled unmoved; she gave her scarf the irony twist, and they all went to dinner. The business recommenced with a race between a London boat and the winner' of yesterday's heat, Cambridge. Here the truth of Edward's remark appeared. The Cambridge boat was too light for the men, and kept burying her hose; the London craft, under a heavy crew, floated like a cork. The Londoners soon found out their advantage, and, overrating it, steered into their opponents water prematurely, inn spite of a warning voice from the bank. Cambridge saw, and cracked on for a foul; and for about a minute it was anybody's race. But the Londoners pulled gallantly, and just scraped clear ahead. This peril escaped, they kept their backs straight and a clear lead to the finish. Cambridge followed a few feet in their wake, pulling wonderfully fast to the end, but a trifle out of form, and much distressed.
At this both universities looked blue, their humble aspiration being, first to beat off all the external world, and then tackle each other for the prize.
Just before Edward left his friends for "the sculls," the final heat, a note was brought to him. He ran his eye over it, and threw it open into his sister's lap. The ladies read it. Its writer had won a prize poem, and so now is our time to get a hint for composition:
"DEAR SIR,—Oxford must win something. Suppose we go in for these sculls. You are a horse that can stay; Silcock is hot for the lead at starting, I hear; so I mean to work him out of wind; then you can wait on us, and pick up the race. My head is not well enough to-day to win, but I am good to pump the Cockney; he is quick, but a little stale—Yours truly,
Mrs. Dodd remarked that the language was sadly figurative; but she hoped Edward might be successful in spite of his correspondent's style.
Julia said she did not dare hope it. "The race is not always to the slowest and the dearest." This was in allusion to yesterday's "foul."
The skiffs started down at the island, and, as they were longer coming up than the eight oars, she was in a fever for nearly ten minutes. At last, near the opposite bank, up came the two leading skiffs struggling, both men visibly exhausted—Silcock ahead, but his rudder overlapped by Hardie's bow; each in his own water.
"We are third," sighed Julia, and turned her head away from the river sorrowfully. But only for a moment, for she felt Mrs. Dodd start and press her arm; and lo! Edward's skiff was shooting swiftly across from their side of the river. He was pulling Just within himself, in beautiful forum, and with far more elasticity than the other two had got left. As line passed his mother and sister, his eyes seemed to strike fire, and he laid out all his powers, and went at the leading skiffs hand over head There was a yell of astonishment and delight from both sides of the Thames. He passed Hardie, who upon that relaxed his speed. In thirty seconds more he was even with Silcock. Then came a keen struggle: but the new comer was "the horse that could stay:" he drew steadily ahead, and the stern of his boat was in a line with Silcock's person when the gun fired; and a fearful roar from the bridge, the river, and the banks, announced that the favourite university had picked up the sculls in the person of Dodd of Exeter.
In due course he brought the little silver sculls, and pinned them on his mother.
While she and Julia were telling him how proud they were, and how happy they should be, but for their fears that he would hurt himself, beating gentlemen ever so much older than himself, came two Exeter men with wild looks hunting for him.
"Oh, Dodd! Hardie wants you directly."
"Don't you go, Edward," whispered Julia; "why should you be at Mr. Hardie's beck and call? I never heard of such a thing. That youth will make me hate him."
"Oh, I think I had better just go and see what it is about," replied Edward: "I shall be back directly." And on this understanding he went off with the men.
Half-an-hour passed; an hour; two hours, and he did not return. Mrs. Dodd and Julia sat wondering what had become of him, and were looking all around, and getting uneasy, when at last they did hear something about him, but indirectly, and from an unexpected quarter. A tall young man in a jersey and flannel trousers, and a little straw hat, with a purple rosette, came away from the bustle to the more secluded part where they sat, and made eagerly for the Thames as if he was a duck, and going in. But at the brink line flung himself into a sitting posture, and dipped his white handkerchief into the stream, then tied it viciously round his brow, doubled himself up with his head in his hands, and rocked himself hike an old woman—minus the patience, of course.
Mrs. Dodd and Julia, sitting but a few paces behind him, interchanged. a look of intelligence. The young gentleman was a stranger; but they had recognised a faithful old acquaintance at the bottom of his pantomime. They discovered, too, that the afflicted one was a personage: for line had not sat there long when quite a little band of men came after him. Observing his semi-circularity and general condition, they hesitated a moment; and then one of them remonstrated eagerly.: "For Heaven's sake come back to the boat! There is a crowd of all the colleges come round us; and they all say Oxford is being sold. We had a chance for the four-oared race, and you are throwing it away."
"What do I care what they all say?" was the answer, delivered with a kind of plaintive snarl.
"But we care."
"Care then! I pity you." And he turned his back fiercely on them, and then groaned by way of half apology. Another tried him: "Come, give us a civil answer, please."
"People that intrude upon a man's privacy, racked with pain, have no right to demand civility," replied the sufferer, more gently, but sullenly enough.
"Do you call this privacy?"
"It was, a minute ago, Do you think I left the boat, and came here among the natives, for company? and noise? With my head splitting?"
Here Julia gave Mrs. Dodd a soft pinch, to which Mrs. Dodd replied by a smile. And so they settled who this petulant young invalid must be.
"'There, it is no use," observed one, sotto voce, "the bloke really has awful headaches, like a girl, and then he always shuts up this way. You will only rile him, and get the rough side of his tongue."
Here, then, the conference drew towards a close. But a Wadham man, who was one of the ambassadors, interposed. "Stop a minute," said he. "Mr. Hardie, I have not the honour to be acquainted with you, and I am not here to annoy you, nor to be affronted by you. But the university has a stake in this race, and the university expostulates through us—through me, if you like."
"Who have I the honour?" inquired Hardie, assuming politeness sudden and vast.
"Badham, of Wadham."
"Badham o' Wadham? Hear that, ye tuneful nine! Well, Badham o' Wadham, you are no acquaintance of mine; so you may possibly not be a fool. Let us assume by way of hypothesis that you are a man of sense, a man of reason as well as of rhyme. Then follow my logic. Hardie of Exeter is a good man in a boat when he has not got a headache.
"When he has got a headache, Hardie of Exeter is not worth a straw in a boat.
"Hardie of Exeter has a headache now.
"Ergo, the university would put the said Hardie into a race, headache and all, and reduce defeat to a certainty.
"And, ergo, on the same premises, I, not being an egotist, nor an ass, have taken Hardie of Exeter and his headache out of the boat, as I should have done any other cripple.
"Secondly, I have put the best man on the river into this cripple's place.
"Total, I have given the university the benefit of my brains; and the university, not having brains enough to see what it gains by the exchange, turns again and rends me, like an animal frequently mentioned in Scripture; but, nota bene, never once with approbation."
And the afflicted Rhetorician attempted a diabolical grin, but failed signally; and groaned instead.
"Is this your answer to the university, sir?
At this query, delivered in a somewhat threatening tone, the invalid sat up all in a moment, like a poked lion. "Oh, if Badham o' Wadham thinks to crush me auctoritate sua et totius universitatis, Badham o' Wadham may just tell the whole university to go and be d——d, from the Chancellor down to the junior cook at Skimmery Hall, with my compliments."
Ill-conditioned brute!" muttered Badham of Wadham. "Serve you right if the university were to chuck you into the Thames." And with this comment they left him to his ill temper. One remained; sat quietly down a little way off, struck a sweetly aromatic lucifer, and blew a noisome cloud; but the only one which betokens calm.
As for Hardie, he held his aching head over his knees, absorbed in pain, and quite unconscious that sacred pity was poisoning the air beside him, and two pair of dovelike eyes resting on him with womanly concern.
Mrs. Dodd and Julia had heard the greatest part of this colloquy. They had terribly quick ears and nothing better to do with them just then. Indeed, their interest was excited.
Julia went so far as to put her salts into Mrs. Dodd's hand with a little earnest look. But Mrs. Dodd did not act upon the hint. She had learned who the young man was: had his very name been strange to her, she would have been more at her ease with him. Moreover, his rudeness to the other men repelled her a little. Above all, he had uttered a monosyllable and a stinger: a thorn of speech not in her vocabulary, nor even in society's. Those might be his manners, even when not aching. Still, it seems, a feather would have turned the scale in his favour, for she whispered, "I have a great mind; if I could but catch his eye."
While feminine pity and social reserve were holding the balance so nicely, and nonsensically, about half a split straw, one of the racing four-oars went down close under the Berkshire bank. "London!" observed Hardie's adherent.
"What, are you there, old fellow?" murmured Hardie, in a faint voice. "Now, that is like a friend, a real friend, to sit by me, and not make a row. Thank you! thank you!"
Presently the Cambridge four-oar passed: it was speedily followed by the Oxford; the last came down in mid-stream, and Hardie eyed it keenly as it passed. "There," he cried, "was I wrong? There is a swing for you; there is a stroke. I did not know what a treasure I had got sitting behind me."
The ladies looked, and lo! the lauded Stroke of the four-oar was their Edward.
"Sing out and tell him it is not like the sculls. We must fight for the lead at starting, and hold it with his eyelids when he has got it."
The adherent bawled this at Edward, and Edward's reply came ringing back in a clear, cheerful voice, "We mean to try all we know."
"What is the odds?" inquired the invalid faintly.
"Even on London; two to one against Cambridge; three to one against us."
"Take all my tin and lay it on," sighed the sufferer.
"Fork it out, then. Hallo! eighteen pounds? Fancy having eighteen pounds at the end of term. I'll get the odds up at the bridge directly. Here's a lady offering you her smelling-bottle."
Hardie rose and turned round, and sure enough there were two ladies seated in their carriage at some distance, one of whom was holding him out three pretty little things enough, a little smile, a little blush, and a little cut-glass bottle with a gold cork. The last panegyric on Edward had turned the scale.
Hardie went slowly up to the side of the carriage, and took off his hat to them with a half-bewildered air. Now that he was so near, his face showed very pale; the more so that his neck was a good deal tanned; his eyelids were rather swollen, and his young eyes troubled and almost filmy with the pain. The ladies saw, and their gentle bosoms were touched: they had heard of him as a victorious young Apollo trampling on all difficulties of mind and body; and they saw him wan, and worn, with feminine suffering: the contrast made him doubly interesting.
Arrived at the side of the carriage, he almost started at Julia's beauty. It was sun-like, and so were her two lovely earnest eyes, beaming soft pity on him with an eloquence he had never seen in human eyes before; for Julia's were mirrors of herself; they did nothing by halves.
He looked at her and her mother, and blushed, and stood irresolute, awaiting their commands. This sudden contrast to his petulance with his own sex paved the way. "You have a sad headache, sir," said Mrs. Dodd; "oblige me by trying my salts."
He thanked her in a low voice.
"And, mamma," inquired Julia, "ought he to sit in the sun?"
"Certainly not. You had better sit there, sir, and profit by our shade and our parasols."
"Yes, mamma, but you know the real place where he ought to be is Bed."
"Oh, pray don't say that," implored the patient.
But Julia continued, with unabated severity, "And that is where he would go this minute, if I was his mamma."
"Instead of his junior, and a stranger," said Mrs. Dodd, somewhat coldly, dwelling with a very slight monitory emphasis on the "stranger."
Julia said nothing, but drew in perceptibly, and was dead silent ever after.
"Oh, madam!" said Hardie eagerly, "I do not dispute her authority, nor yours. You have a right to send me where you please, after your kindness in noticing my infernal head, and doing me the honour to speak to me, and lending me this. But if I go to bed, my head will be my master. Besides, I shall throw away what little chance I have of making your acquaintance; and the race just coming off!"
"We will not usurp authority, sir," said Mrs. Dodd quietly; "but we know what a severe headache is, and should be glad to see you sit still in the shade, and excite yourself as little as possible."
"Yes, madam," said the youth humbly, and sat down like a lamb. He glanced now and then at the island, and now and then peered up at the radiant young mute beside him.
The silence continued till it was broken by—a fish out of water. An undergraduate in spectacles came mooning along, all out of his element. It was Mr. Kennet, who used to rise at four every morning to his Plato, and walk up Shotover Hill every afternoon, wet or dry, to cool his eyes for his evening work. With what view he deviated to Henley has not yet been ascertained. He was blind as a bat, and did not care a button about any earthly boat-race, except the one in the AEneid, even if he could have seen one. However, nearly all the men of his college went to Henley, and perhaps some branch, hitherto unexplored, of animal magnetism drew him after. At any rate, there was his body; and his mind at Oxford and Athens, and other venerable but irrelevant cities. He brightened at sight of his doge, and asked him warmly if he had heard the news.
"No: what? Nothing wrong, I hope?"
"Why, two of our men are ploughed; that is all," said Kennet, affecting with withering irony to undervalue his intelligence.
"Confound it, Kennet, how you frightened me! I was afraid there was some screw loose with the crew."
At this very instant, the smoke of the pistol was seen to puff out from the island, and Hardie rose to his feet. "They are off!" cried he to the ladies, and after first putting his palms together with a hypocritical look of apology, he laid one hand on an old barge that was drawn up ashore, and sprang like a mountain goat on to the bow, lighting on the very gunwale. The position was not tenable an instant, but he extended one foot very nimbly and boldly, and planted it on the other gunwale; and there he was in a moment, headache and all, in an attitude as large and inspired as the boldest gesture antiquity has committed to marble—he had even the advantage in stature over most of the sculptured forms of Greece. But a double opera-glass at his eye "spoiled the lot," as Mr. Punch says.
I am not to repeat the particulars of a distant race coming nearer and nearer. The main features are always the same; only this time it was more exciting to our fair friends, on account of Edward's high stake in it. And then their grateful though refractory patient, an authority in their eyes, indeed all but a river-god, stood poised in air, and in excited whispers interpreted each distant and unintelligible feature down to them:
"Cambridge was off quickest."
"But not much."
"Anybody's race at present, madam."
"If this lasts long we may win. None of them can stay like us."
"Come, the favourite is not so very dangerous."
"Cambridge looks best."
"I wouldn't change with either, so far."
"Now, in forty seconds more, I shall be able to pick out the winner."
Julia went up this ladder of thrills to a high state of excitement; and, indeed, they were all so tuned to racing pitch, that some metal nerve or other seemed to jar inside all three, when the piercing, grating voice of Kennet broke in suddenly with—
"How do you construe [Greek text]?"
The wretch had burrowed in the intellectual ruins of Greece the moment the pistol went off, and college chat ceased. Hardie raised his opera-glass, and his first impulse was to brain the judicious Kennet, gazing up to him for an answer, with spectacles goggling like supernatural eyes of dead sophists in the sun.
"How do you construe 'Hoc age'? you incongruous dog. Hold your tongue, and mind the race."
"There, I thought so. Where's your three to one, now? The Cockneys are out of this event, any way. Go on, Universities, and order their suppers!"
"But which is first, sir?" asked Julia imploringly. "Oh, which is first of all?"
"Neither. Never mind; it looks well. London is pumped; and if Cambridge can't lead him before this turn in the river, the race will be ours. Now, look out! By Jove, we are ahead!"
The leading boats came on, Oxford pulling a long, lofty, sturdy stroke, that seemed as if it never could compete with the quick action of its competitor. Yet it was undeniably ahead, and gaining at every swing.
Young Hardie writhed on his perch. He screeched at them across the Thames, "Well pulled, Stroke! Well pulled all! Splendidly pulled, Dodd! You are walking away from them altogether. Hurrah, Oxford for ever, hurrah!" The gun went off over the heads of the Oxford crew in advance, and even Mrs. Dodd and Julia could see the race was theirs.
"We have won at last," cried Julia, all on fire, "and fairly; only think of that!"
Hardie turned round, grateful to beauty for siding with his university. "Yes, and the fools may thank me; or rather my man, Dodd. Dodd for ever! Hurrah!"
At this climax even Mrs. Dodd took a gentle share in the youthful enthusiasm that was boiling around her, and her soft eyes sparkled, and she returned the fervid pressure of her daughter's hand; and both their faces were flushed with gratified pride and affection.
"Dodd!" broke in "the incongruous dog," with a voice just like a saw's. "Dodd? Ah, that's the man who is just ploughed for smalls."
Ice has its thunderbolts.
WINNING boat-races was all very fine; but a hundred such victories could not compensate Mr. Kennet's female hearers for one such defeat as he had announced—a defeat that, to their minds, carried disgrace. Their Edward plucked! At first they were benumbed, and sat chilled, with red cheeks, bewildered between present triumph and mortification at hand. Then the colour ebbed out of their faces, and they encouraged each other feebly in whispers, "Might it not be a mistake?"
But unconscious Kennet robbed them of this timid hope. He was now in his element, knew all about it, rushed into details, and sawed away all doubt from their minds. The sum was this. Dodd's general performance was mediocre, but passable; he was plucked for his Logic. Hardie said he was very sorry for it. "What does it matter?" answered Kennet; "he is a boating-man.
"Well, and I am a boating-man. Why, you told me yourself, the other day, poor Dodd was anxious about it on account of his friends. And, by-the-bye, that reminds me they say he has got two pretty sisters here."
Says Kennet briskly, "I'll go and tell him; I know him just to speak to."
"What! doesn't he know?"
"How can he know ?" said Kennet jealously; "the testamumrs were only just out as I came away." And within this line started on his congenial errand.
Hardie took two or three of his long strides, and fairly collared him. "You will do nothing of the kind."
"What, not tell a man when he's ploughed? That is a good joke."
"No. There's time enough. Tell him after chapel to-morrow, or in chapel if you must; but why poison his triumphal cup? And his sisters, too, why spoil their pleasure? Hang it all, not a word about 'ploughing' to any living soul to-day.
To his surprise, Kennet's face expressed no sympathy, nor even bare assent. At this Hardie lost patience, and burst out impetuously, "Take care how you refuse me; take care how you thwart me in this. He is the best-natured fellow in college. It doesn't matter to you, and it does to him; and if you do, then take my name off the list of your acquaintance, for I'll never speak a word to you again in this world; no, not on my death-bed, by Heaven!"
The threat was extravagant; but Youth's glowing cheek and eye, and imperious lip, and simple generosity, made it almost beautiful.
Kennet whined, "Oh, if you talk like that, there is an end to fair argument."
"End it then, and promise me; upon your honour!"
"Why not? What bosh! There, I promise. Now, how do you construe [Greek text]?"
The incongruous dog ("I thank thee, Taff, for teaching me that word") put this query with the severity of an inquisitor bringing back a garrulous prisoner to the point. Hardie replied gaily, "Any way you like, now you are a good fellow again."
"Come, that is evasive. My tutor says it cannot be rendered by any one English word; no more can [Greek text]."
"Why, what on earth can he know about English? [Greek text] is a Cormorant: [Greek text] is a Skinflint; and your tutor is a Duffer. Hush! keep dark now! here he comes." And he went hastily to meet Edward Dodd: and by that means intercepted him on his way to the carriage. "Give me your hand, Dodd," he cried; "you have saved the university. You must be stroke of the eight-oar after me. Let me see more of you than I have, old fellow."
"Within all my heart," replied Edward calmly, but taking the offered hand cordially; though he rather wanted to get away to his mother and sister. "We will pull together, and read together into the bargain," continued Hardie.
"Read together? You and I? What do you mean?"
"Well, you see I am pretty well up in the Imigliner books; what I have got to rub up is my Divinity and my Logic—especially my Logic. Will you grind Logic with me? Say 'Yes,' for I know you will keep your word."
"It is too good an offer to refuse, Hardie; but now I look at you, you are excited: wonderfully excited: within the race, eh? Now, just—you—wait—quietly—till next week, and then, if you are so soft as to ask me in cool blood——"
"Wait a week?" cried the impetuous youth. "No, not a minute. It is settled. There, we cram Logic together next term."
And he shook Edward's hand again with glistening eyes and an emotion that was quite unintelligible to Edward; but not to the quick, sensitive spirits, who sat but fifteen yards off.
"You really must excuse me just now," said Edward, and ran to the carriage, and put out both hands to the fair occupants. They kissed him eagerly, with little tender sighs; and it cost them no slight effort not to cry publicly over "the beloved," "the victorious," "the ploughed."
Young Hardie stood petrified. What? These ladies Dodd's sisters. Why, one of them had called the other mamma. Good heavens! all his talk in their hearing had been of Dodd; and Kennet and he between them had let out the very thing he wanted to conceal, especially from Dodd's relations. He gazed at them, and turned hot to the very forehead. Then, not knowing what to do or say, and being after all but a clever boy, not a cool, "never unready" man of the world, he slipped away, blushing. Kennet followed, goggling.
Left to herself, Mrs. Dodd would have broken the bad news to Edward at once, and taken the line of consoling him under her own vexation: it would not have been the first time that she had played that card. But young Mr. Hardie had said it would be unkind to poison Edward's day: and it is sweet woman's nature to follow suit; so she and Julia put bright faces on, and Edward passed a right jocund afternoon with them. He was not allowed to surprise one of the looks they interchanged to relieve their secret mortification. But, after dinner, as the time drew near for him to go back to Oxford, Mrs. Dodd became silent, and a little distraite; and at last drew her chair away to a small table, and wrote a letter.
In directing it she turned it purposely, so that Julia could catch the address: "Edward Dodd, Esq., Exeter College, Oxford."
Julia was naturally startled at first, and her eye roved almost comically to and fro the letter and its Destination, seated calm and unconscious of woman's beneficent wiles. But her heart soon divined the mystery: it was to reach him the first thing in the morning, and spare him the pain of writing the news to them; and, doubtless, so worded as not to leave him a day in doubt of their forgiveness and sympathy.
Julia took the missive unobserved by the Destination, and glided out of the room to get it quietly posted.
The servant-girl was waiting on the second-floor lodgers, and told her so, with a significant addition, viz., that the post was in this street, and only a few doors off. Julia was a little surprised at her coolness, but took the hint with perfect good temper, and just put on her shawl and bonnet, and went with it herself. The post-office was not quite so near as represented; but she was soon there, for she was eager till she had posted it. But she came back slowly and thoughtfully; here in the street, lighted only by the moon, and an occasional gaslight, there was no need for self-restraint, and soon her mortification betrayed itself in her speaking countenance. And to think that her mother, on whom she doted, should have to write to her son, there present, and post the letter! This made her eyes fill, and before she reached the door of the lodging, they were brimming over.
As shine put her foot on the step, a timid voice addressed her in a low tone of supplication. "May I venture to speak one word to you, Miss Dodd?—one single word?"
She looked up surprised; and it was young Mr. Hardie.
His tall figure was bending towards her submissively, and his face, as well as his utterance, betrayed considerable agitation.
And what led to so unusual a rencontre between a young gentleman and lady who had never been introduced?
"The Tender Passion," says a reader of many novels.
Why, yes; the tenderest in all our nature:
Naturally proud and sensitive, and inflated by success and flattery, Alfred Hardie had been torturing himself ever since he fled Edward's female relations. He was mortified to the core. He confounded "the fools" (his favourite synonym for his acquaintance) for going and calling Dodd's mother an elder sister, and so not giving him a chance to divine her. And then that he, who prided himself on his discrimination, should take them for ladies of rank, or, at all events, of the highest fashion and, climax of humiliation, that so great a man as he should go and seem to court them by praising Dodd of Exeter, by enlarging upon Dodd of Exeter, by offering to grind Logic with Dodd of Exeter. Who would believe that this was a coincidence, a mere coincidence? They could not be expected to believe it; female vanity would not let them. He tingled, and was not far from hating the whole family; so bitter a thing is that which I have ventured to dub "The Tenderest Passion." He itched to soothe his irritation by explaining to Edward. Dodd was a frank, good-hearted fellow; he would listen to facts, and convince the ladies in turn. Hardie learned where Dodd's party lodged, and waited about the door to catch him alone: Dodd must be in college by twelve, and would leave Henley before ten. He waited till he was tired of waiting. But at last the door opened; he stepped forward, and out tripped Miss Dodd. "Confound it!" muttered Hardie, and drew back. However, he stood and admired her graceful figure and action, her ladylike speed without bustling. Had she come back at the same pace, he would never have ventured to stop her: on such a thread do things hang: but she returned very slowly, hanging her head. Her look at him and his headache recurred to him—a look brimful of goodness. She would do as well as Edward, better perhaps. He yielded to impulse, and addressed her, but with all the trepidation of a youth defying the giant Etiquette for the first time in his life.
Julia was a little surprised and fluttered, but did not betray it; she had been taught self-command by example, if not by precept.
"Certainly, Mr. Hardie," said she, within a modest composure a young coquette might have envied under the circumstances.
Hardie had now only to explain himself; but instead of that, he stood looking at her within silent concern. The fair face she raised to him was wet with tears; so were her eyes, and even the glorious eyelashes were fringed with that tender spray; and it glistened in the moonlight.
This sad and pretty sight drove the vain but generous youth's calamity clean out of his head. "Why, you are crying! Miss Dodd, what is the matter? I hope nothing has happened."
Julia turned her head away a little fretfully, with a "No, no!" But soon her natural candour and simplicity prevailed; a simplicity not without dignity; she turned round to him and looked him in the face. "Why should I deny it to you, sir, who have been good enough to sympathise with us? We are mortified, sadly mortified, at dear Edward's disgrace; and it has cost us a struggle not to disobey you, and poison his triumphal cup within sad looks. And mamma had to write to him, and console him against to-morrow: but I hope he will not feel it so severely as she does: and I have just posted it myself, and, when I thought of our dear mamma being driven to such expedients, I—Oh!" And the pure young heart, having opened itself by words, must flow a little more.
"Oh, pray don't cry," said young Hardie tenderly; "don't take such a trifle to heart so. You crying makes me feel guilty for letting it happen. It shall never occur again. If I had only known, it should never have happened at all."
"Once is enough," sighed Julia.
"Indeed, you take it too much to heart. It is only out of Oxford a plough is thought much of; especially a single one; that is so very common. You see, Miss Dodd, an university examination consists of several items: neglect but one, and Crichton himself would be ploughed; because brilliancy in your other papers is not allowed to count; that is how the most distinguished man of our day got ploughed for Smalls. I had a narrow escape, I know, for one. But, Miss Dodd, if you knew how far your brother's performance on the river outweighs a mere slip in the schools, in all university men's eyes, the dons' and all, you would not make this bright day end sadly to Oxford by crying. Why, I could find you a thousand men who would be ploughed to-morrow with glory and delight to win one such race as your brother has won two."
Julia sighed again. But it sounded now half like a sigh of relief—the final sigh, with which the fair consent to be consoled.
And indeed this improvement in the music did not escape Hardie. He felt he was on the right tack: he enumerated fluently, and by name, many good men, besides Dean Swift, who had been ploughed, yet had cultivated the field of letters in their turn; and, in short, he was so earnest and plausible, that something like a smile hovered about his hearer's lips, and she glanced askant at him with furtive gratitude from under her silky lashes. But it soon recurred to her that this was rather a long interview to accord to "a stranger," and under the moon; so she said a little stiffly, "And was this what you were good enough to wish to say to me, Mr. Hardie?"
"No, Miss Dodd, to be frank, it was not. My motive in addressing you, without the right to take such a freedom, was egotistical. I came here to clear myself; I—I was afraid you must think me a humbug, you know."
"I do not understand you, indeed."
"Well, I feared you and Mrs. Dodd might think I praised Dodd so, and did what little I did for him, knowing who you were, and wishing to curry favour with you by all that; and that is so underhand and paltry a way of going to work, I should despise myself."
"Oh, Mr. Hardie," said the young lady, smiling, "How foolish: why, of course, we knew you had no idea."
"Indeed I had not; but how could you know it?"
"Why, we saw it. Do you think we have no eyes? Ah, and much keener ones than gentlemen have. It is mamma and I who are to blame, if anybody; we ought to have declared ourselves: it would have been more generous, more—manly. But we cannot all be gentlemen, you know. It was so sweet to hear Edward praised by one who did not know us; it was like stolen fruit; and by one whom others praise: so, if you can forgive us our slyness, there is an end of the matter."
"Forgive you? you have taken a thorn out of my soul."
"Then I am so glad you summoned courage to speak to me without ceremony. Mamma would have done better, though; but after all, do not I know her? my mamma is all goodness and intelligence. And be assured, sir, she does you justice; and is quite sensible of your disinterested kindness to dear Edward." With this she was about to retire.
"Ah! But you, Miss Dodd? with whom I have taken this unwarrantable liberty?" said Hardie imploringly.
"Me, Mr. Hardie? You do me the honour to require my opinion of your performances: including of course this self-introduction?"
Hardie hung his head; there was a touch of satire in the lady's voice, he thought.
Her soft eyes rested demurely on him a moment; she saw he was a little abashed.
"My opinion of it all is that you have been very kind to us; in being most kind to our poor Edward. I never saw, nor read of anything more generous, more manly. And then so thoughtful, so considerate, so delicate! So instead of criticising you, as you seem to expect, his sister only blesses you, and thanks you from the very bottom of her heart."
She had begun within a polite composure borrowed from mamma; but, once launched, her ardent nature got the better: her colour rose and rose, and her voice sank and sank, and the last words came almost in a whisper; and such a lovely whisper: a gurgle from the heart; and, as she concluded, her delicate hand came sweeping out with a heaven-taught gesture of large and sovereign cordiality, that made even the honest words and the divine tones more eloquent. It was too much; the young man, ardent as herself, and not, in reality, half so timorous, caught fire; and seeing a white, eloquent hand rather near him, caught it, and pressed his warm lips on it in mute adoration and gratitude.
At this she was scared and offended. "Oh; keep that for the Queen!" cried she, turning scarlet, and tossing her fair head into the air, like a startled stag; and she drew her hand away quickly and decidedly, though not roughly. He stammered a lowly apology—in the very middle of it she said quietly, "Good-bye, Mr. Hardie," and swept, with a gracious little curtsey, through the doorway, leaving him spell-bound.
And so the virginal instinct of self-defence carried her off swiftly and cleverly. But none too soon; for, on entering the house, that external composure her two mothers Mesdames Dodd and Nature had taught her, fell from her like a veil, and she fluttered up the stairs to her own room with hot cheeks, and panted there like some wild thing that has been grasped at and grazed. She felt young Hardie's lips upon the palm of her hand plainly; they seemed to linger there still; it was like light but live velvet This, and the ardent look he had poured into her eyes, set the young creature quivering. Nobody had looked at her so before, and no young gentleman had imprinted living velvet on her hand. She was alarmed, ashamed, and uneasy. What right had he to look at her like that? What shadow of a right to go and kiss her hand? He could not pretend to think she had put it out to be kissed; ladies put forth the back of the hand for that, not the palm. The truth was he was an impudent fellow, and she hated him now, and herself too, for being so simple as to let him talk to her: mamma would not have been so imprudent when she was a girl.
She would not go down, for she felt there must be something of this kind legibly branded on her face: "Oh! oh! just look at this young lady! She has been letting a young gentleman kiss the palm of her hand; and the feel has not gone off yet; you may see that by her cheeks."
But then, poor Edward! she must go down.
So she put a wet towel to her tell-tale cheeks, and dried them by artistic dabs, avoiding friction, and came downstairs like a mouse, and turned the door-handle noiselessly, and glided into the sitting-room looking so transparent, conscious, and all on fire with beauty and animation, that even Edward was startled, and, in a whisper, bade his mother observe what a pretty girl she was: "Beats all the country girls in a canter." Mrs. Dodd did look; and, consequently, as soon as ever Edward was gone to Oxford, she said to Julia, "You are feverish, love; you have been excited with all this. You had better go to bed."
Julia complied willingly; for she wanted to be alone and think. She retired to her own room, and went the whole day over again; and was happy and sorry, exalted and uneasy, by turns; and ended by excusing Mr. Hardie's escapade, and throwing the blame on herself. She ought to have been more distant; gentlemen were not expected, nor indeed much wanted, to be modest. A little assurance did not misbecome them. "Really, I think it sets them off," said she to herself.
Grand total: "What must he think of me?"
Time gallops in reverie: the town clock struck twelve, and with its iron tongue remorse entered her youthful conscience. Was this obeying mamma? Mamma had said, "Go to bed:" not, "Go upstairs and meditate: upon young gentlemen." She gave an expressive shake of her fair shoulders, like a swan flapping the water off its downy wings, and so dismissed the subject from her mind.
Then she said her prayers.
Then she rose from her knees, and in tones of honey said, "Puss! puss! pretty puss!" and awaited a result.
Thieves and ghosts she did not believe in, yet credited cats under beds, and thought them neither "harmless" nor "necessary" there.
After tenderly evoking the dreaded and chimerical quadruped, she proceeded none the less to careful research, especially of cupboards. The door of one resisted, and then yielded with a crack, and blew out the candle. "There now," said she.
It was her only light, except her beauty. They allotted each Hebe but one candle, in that ancient burgh. "Well," she thought, "there is moonlight enough to undress by." She went to draw back one of the curtains; but in the act she started back with a little scream. There was a tall figure over the way watching the house.
The moon shone from her side of the street full on him, and in that instant her quick eye recognised Mr. Hardie.
"Well!" said she aloud, and with an indescribable inflexion; and hid herself swiftly in impenetrable gloom.
But, after a while, Eve's daughter must have a peep. She stole with infinite caution to one side of the curtain, and made an aperture just big enough for one bright eye. Yes, there he was, motionless. "I'll tell mamma," said she to him, malignantly, as if the sound could reach him.
Unconscious of the direful threat, he did not budge.
She was unaffectedly puzzled at this phenomenon; and, not being the least vain, fell to wondering whether he played the nightly sentinel opposite every lady's window who exchanged civilities within him. "Because, if he does, he is a fool," said she, promptly. But on reflection, she felt sure he did nothing of the kind habitually, for he had too high an opinion of himself; she had noted that trait in him at a very early stage. She satisfied herself, by cautious examination, that he did not know her room. He was making a temple of the whole lodging. "How ridiculous of him!" Yet he appeared to be happy over it; there was an exalted look in his moonlit face; she seemed now first to see his soul there. She studied his countenance like an inscription, and deciphered each rapt expression that crossed it; and stored them in her memory.
Twice she heft her ambuscade to go to bed, and twice Curiosity, or Something, drew her back. At last, having looked, peered, and peeped, till her feet were cold, and her face the reverse, she informed herself that the foolish Thing had tired her out.
"Good-night, Mr. Policeman," said she, pretending to bawl to him. "And oh! Do rain! As hard as ever you can. With this benevolent aspiration, a little too violent to he sincere, she laid her cheek on her pillow doughtily.
But her sentinel, when out of sight, had more power to disturb her. She lay and wondered whether he was still there, and what it all meant, and whatever mamma would say; and which of the two, she or he, was the head culprit in this strange performance, to which Earth, she conceived, had seen no parallel; and, above all, what he would do next. Her pulse galloped, and her sleep was broken; and she came down in the morning a little pale. Mrs. Dodd saw it at once, with the quick maternal eye; and moralised: "It is curious; youth is so fond of pleasure; yet pleasure seldom agrees with youth; this little excitement has done your mother good, who is no longer young; but it has been too much for you. I shall he glad to have you back to our quiet home."
Ah! Will that home be as tranquil now?
THE long vacation commenced about a month afterwards, and Hardie came to his father's house, to read for honours, unimpeded by university races and college lectures; and the ploughed and penitent one packed up his Aldrich and his Whately, the then authorities in Logic, and brought them home, together with a firm resolution to master that joyous science before the next examination for Smalls in October. But lo! ere he had been an hour at home, he found his things put neatly away in his drawers on the feminine or vertical system—deep strata of waistcoats, strata of trousers, strata of coats, strata of papers—and his Logic gone.
In the course of the evening he taxed his sister good-humouredly, and asked "What earthly use that book was to her, not wearing curls."
"I intend to read it, and study it, and teach you it," replied Julia, rather languidly—considering the weight of the resolve.
"Oh, if you have boned it to read, I say no more; the crime will punish itself."
"Be serious, Edward, and think of mamma! I cannot sit with my hands before me, and let you be reploughed."
"I don't want. But—reploughed!—haw, haw! but you can't help me at Logic, as you used at Syntax. Why, all the world knows a girl can't learn Logic."
"A girl can learn anything she chooses to learn. What she can't learn is things other people set her down to." Before Edward could fully digest this revelation, she gave the argument a new turn by adding fretfully, "And don't be so unkind, thwarting and teasing me!" and all in a moment she was crying.
"Halloa!" ejaculated Edward, taken quite by surprise. "What is the matter, dears?" inquired maternal vigilance from the other end of the room. "You did not speak brusquely to her, Edward?"
"No, no," said Julia eagerly. "It is I that am turned so cross and so peevish. I am quite a changed girl. Mamma, what is the matter with me?" And she laid her brow on her mother's bosom.
Mrs. Dodd caressed the lovely head soothingly with one hand, and made a sign over it to Edward to leave them alone. She waited quietly till Julia was composed: and then said, softly, " Come, tell me what it is: nothing that Edward said to you; for I heard almost every word, and I was just going to smile, or nearly, when you—— And, my love, it is not the first time, you know. I would not tell Edward, but I have more than once seen your eyes with tears in them."
"Have you, mamma?" said Julia, scarcely above a whisper.
"Why, you know I have. But I said to myself it was no use forcing confidence. I thought I would be very patient, and wait till you came to me with it; so now, what is it, my darling? Why do you speak of one thing and think of another? and cry without any reason that your mother can see?"
"I don't know, mamma," said Julia, hiding her head. "I think it is because I sleep so badly. I rise in the morning hot and quivering, and more tired then I lay down."
Mrs. Dodd inquired how long this had been.
Julia did not answer this question; she went on, with her face still hidden: "Mamma, I do feel so depressed and hysterical, or else in violent spirits: but not nice and cheerful as you are, and I used to be; and I go from one thing to another, and can settle to nothing—even in church I attend by fits and starts: I forgot to water my very flowers last night: and I heard Mrs. Maxley out of my window tell Sarah I am losing my colour. Am I? But what does it matter? I am losing my sense; for I catch myself for ever looking in the glass, and that is a sure sign of a fool, you know. And I cannot pass the shops: I stand and look in, and long for the very dearest silks, and for diamonds in my hair." A deep sigh followed the confession of these multiform imperfections; and the culprit half raised her head to watch their effect.
As for Mrs. Dodd, she opened her eyes wide with surprise; but at the end of the heterogeneous catalogue she smiled, and said, "I cannot believe that. If ever there was a young lady free from personal vanity, it is my Julia. Why, your thoughts run by nature away from yourself; you were born for others."
Her daughter kissed her gratefully, and smiled: but after a pause, said, sorrowfully, "Ah! that was the old Julia, as seen with your dear eyes. I have almost forgotten her. The new one is what I tell you, dear mamma, and that" (within sudden fervour) "is a dreamy, wandering, vain, egotistical, hysterical, abominable girl."
"Let me kiss this monster that I have brought into the world," said Mrs. Dodd. "And now let me think." She rested her eyes calm and penetrating upon her daughter; and at this mere look, but a very searching one, the colour mounted and mounted in Julia's cheek strangely.
"After all," said Mrs. Dodd thoughtfully, "yours is a critical age. Perhaps my child is turning to a woman; my rosebud to a rose. And she sighed. Mothers will sigh at things none other ever sighed at.
"To a weed, I fear," replied Julia. "What will you say when I own I felt no real joy at Edward's return this time? And yesterday I cried, 'Do get away, and don't pester me!'"