E-text prepared by Delphine Lettau and Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D.
Author of "Barchester Towers," "Doctor Thorne," etc.
In Three Volumes
London: Chapman & Hall, 193 Piccadilly. 1859.
[The right of Translation is reserved.]
London: Printed by W. Clowes and Sons, Stamford Street.
CONTENTS OF VOL. I.
I. VAE VICTIS! II. BREAKFAST AND LUNCH. III. THE NEW VICAR. IV. OUR PRIMA DONNA. V. THE CHOICE OF A PROFESSION. VI. JERUSALEM. VII. THE MOUNT OF OLIVES. VIII. SIR LIONEL BERTRAM. IX. MISS TODD'S PICNIC. X. THE EFFECTS OF MISS TODD'S PICNIC. XI. VALE VALETE. XII. GEORGE BERTRAM DECIDES IN FAVOUR OF THE BAR. XIII. LITTLEBATH. XIV. WAYS AND MEANS. XV. MR. HARCOURT'S VISIT TO LITTLEBATH.
This is undoubtedly the age of humanity—as far, at least, as England is concerned. A man who beats his wife is shocking to us, and a colonel who cannot manage his soldiers without having them beaten is nearly equally so. We are not very fond of hanging; and some of us go so far as to recoil under any circumstances from taking the blood of life. We perform our operations under chloroform; and it has even been suggested that those schoolmasters who insist on adhering in some sort to the doctrines of Solomon should perform their operations in the same guarded manner. If the disgrace be absolutely necessary, let it be inflicted; but not the bodily pain.
So far as regards the low externals of humanity, this is doubtless a humane age. Let men, women, and children have bread; let them have if possible no blows, or, at least, as few as may be; let them also be decently clothed; and let the pestilence be kept out of their way. In venturing to call these low, I have done so in no contemptuous spirit; they are comparatively low if the body be lower than the mind. The humanity of the age is doubtless suited to its material wants, and such wants are those which demand the promptest remedy. But in the inner feelings of men to men, and of one man's mind to another man's mind, is it not an age of extremest cruelty?
There is sympathy for the hungry man; but there is no sympathy for the unsuccessful man who is not hungry. If a fellow mortal be ragged, humanity will subscribe to mend his clothes; but humanity will subscribe nothing to mend his ragged hopes so long as his outside coat shall be whole and decent.
To him that hath shall be given; and from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath. This is the special text that we delight to follow, and success is the god that we delight to worship. "Ah! pity me. I have struggled and fallen—struggled so manfully, yet fallen so utterly—help me up this time that I may yet push forward once again!" Who listens to such a plea as this? "Fallen! do you want bread?" "Not bread, but a kind heart and a kind hand." "My friend, I cannot stay by you; I myself am in a hurry; there is that fiend of a rival there even now gaining a step on me. I beg your pardon; but I will put my foot on your shoulder—only for one moment. Occupet extremum scabies."
Yes. Let the devil take the hindmost; the three or four hindmost if you will; nay, all but those strong-running horses who can force themselves into noticeable places under the judge's eye. This is the noble shibboleth with which the English youth are now spurred on to deeds of—what shall we say?—money-making activity. Let every place in which a man can hold up his head be the reward of some antagonistic struggle, of some grand competitive examination. Let us get rid of the fault of past ages. With us, let the race be ever to the swift; the victory always to the strong. And let us always be racing, so that the swift and strong shall ever be known among us. But what, then, for those who are not swift, not strong? Vae victis! Let them go to the wall. They can hew wood probably; or, at any rate, draw water.
Were we to ask Lord Derby, or Lord Palmerston, or to consult the shade of Lord George Bentinck—or to go to those greater authorities on the subject, Mr. Scott, for instance, and the family of the Days—we should, I believe, be informed that the race-horse requires a very peculiar condition. It is not to be obtained quickly, and, when obtained, will fit the beast for no other than that one purpose of running races. Crucifix was never good at going in a cab; Ilione never took her noble owner down to the house of Parliament; nor has Toxopholite been useful in Leicestershire.
But, nevertheless, let all our work be done by race-horses; all, at least, that shall be considered honourable. Let us have strength and speed. And how shall we know who are strong and swift if we do not train our horses to run against each other? But this early racing will hardly produce that humanity of spirit of which we now deplore the want. "The devil take the hindmost" is the very essence of the young man's book of proverbs. The devil assuredly will take all the hindmost. None but the very foremost can enter the present heaven of good things. Therefore, oh my brother, my friend, thou companion of my youth! may the devil take thee; thee quickly, since it needs must be thee or me.
Vae victis—alas! for these hindmost ones; there are so many of them! The skim-milk will always be so much more in quantity than the cream. With us at present cream is required for everything; nothing can be well done now unless it be done by cream of some sort. That milk has been skimmed; the cream has been taken away. No matter; skim it again. There shall be something yet which we will call cream. Competitive examination will produce something that shall look to be strong; that shall be swift, if it be only for a start of twenty yards.
This is the experiment of the present day. Wise men say that when nothing but cream is accepted, all mankind, all boykind rather, will prepare itself for a skimming of some sort; and that the quantity of cream produced will be immense. It is only done as an instigation to education. Much may be said in opposition to this; but nothing shall be said here. It is merely of the cruelty of spirit that is thus engendered that we now speak. Success is the only test of merit. Words have lost their old significance, and to deserve only is not meritorious. Vae victis! there are so many of them!
"Thompson," says Johnson, the young poet, when he has at last succeeded in getting the bosomest of his friends alone into his chamber with him, "have you happened to look at my Iphigenia yet?"
Thompson can't say that he has. He has been busy; has had so many water-parties; and then, somehow, he doesn't think that he is very partial to modern poetry on subjects of old mythology. Of course, however, he means to read it—some of these days.
"I wish you would," says Johnson, tendering a copy of the thin volume. "I really wish you would; and let me have your candid opinion. The press certainly have not noticed it much, and what they have said has been very luke-warm."
"I am sorry for that," says Thompson, looking grave.
"And I did my best with it too. You would hardly believe how hard I worked at it. There is not a line that has not been weighed and written, perhaps, three times over. I do not think I am conceited; but I cannot but believe that there is something in it. The reviewers are so jealous! if a man has not a name, they will give him credit for nothing; and it is so hard to begin."
"I am sure it is," says Thompson.
"I don't expect fame; and as for money, of course I don't think of that. But I should like to know that it had been read by one or two persons who could understand it. I have given to it the best of my time, the best of my labour. I cannot but think that there is something in it." Thus pleads the unsuccessful one for mercy.
And thus answers to him the successful one, with no grain of mercy in his composition:—"My dear Johnson, my maxim is this, that in this world every man gets in the long run exactly what he deserves—"
"Did Milton get what he deserved?"
"These are not the days of Milton. I don't want to hurt your feelings; but old friends as we are, I should not forgive myself if I didn't tell you what I really think. Poetry is all very well; but you can't create a taste for it if it doesn't exist. Nobody that I know of cares a d—— for Iphigenia."
"You think I should change my subject, then?"
"To tell you the truth, I think you should change your trade. This is the third attempt, you know. I dare say they are very good in their way; but if the world liked them, the world would have found it out by this time. 'Vox populi, vox Dei'—that is my motto—I don't trust my own judgment; I trust that of the public. If you will take my advice, you will give up Iphigenia and the rest of them. You see you are doing nothing whatever at the bar," &c., &c.
And thus Johnson is left, without a scrap of comfort, a word of consolation, a spark of sympathy; and yet he had given to that Iphigenia of his the best that was in him to give. Had his publisher sold ten thousand copies of it, how Thompson would have admired it! how he would have pressed the poet in his arms, and have given him champagne up at Richmond! But who now has sympathy for failure? To fail is to be disgraced. Vae victis!
There is something very painful in these races, which we English are always running, to one who has tenderness enough to think of the nine beaten horses instead of the one who has conquered. Look at that list which has just come out after our grand national struggle at Cambridge. How many wranglers are there? Thirty, shall we say? and it is always glorious to be a wrangler. Out of that thirty there is probably but one who has not failed, who is not called on to submit to the inward grief of having been beaten. The youth who is second, who has thus shown himself to be possessed of a mass of erudition sufficient to crush an ordinary mind to the earth, is ready to eat his heart with true bitterness of spirit. After all his labour, his midnight oil, his many sleepless nights, his deserted pleasures, his racking headaches, Amaryllis abandoned, and Neaera seen in the arms of another—! After all this, to be beaten by Jones! Had it been Green or Smith he could have borne it. Would it not have been better to do as others had done? he could have been contented to have gone out in the crowd; but there is nothing so base as to be second—and then second to Jones!
Out of the whole lot, Jones alone is contented; and he is told by his physician that he must spend his next two winters at Cairo. The intensity of his application has put his lungs into very serious jeopardy.
It was at Oxford, in the year 184—, that a young man sat in his college-rooms at Balliol a wretched victim to unsuccessful competition. It had been everything to him to come out as a first in classics, and he had dared to dream even of a double-first. But he had failed in both. The lists had just appeared, and he was only a second-class man. Now, a second-class man is not much thought of at Balliol, and he had lost his chance of an immediate fellowship.
But this was perhaps hardly the worst of it. Arthur Wilkinson, for such was this gentleman's name, had hitherto run his race in life alongside a friend and rival named George Bertram; and in almost every phase of life had hitherto been beaten. The same moment that had told Wilkinson of his failure had told him also that Bertram had obtained the place he had so desired. Bertram was the only double-first man of his year.
As these two young men will play the foremost parts in the following pages, I will endeavour to explain, in as few words as possible, who each of them was. As Bertram seems to have been the favourite with fortune, I will begin with him.
His father at the time alluded to was still alive, but his son George had seen but little of him. Sir Lionel Bertram had been a soldier of fortune, which generally, I believe, means a soldier without a fortune, and in that capacity he was still in some sort fighting his country's battles. At the present moment he held a quasi-military position in Persia, where he had been for the last five years, and previously to that he had served in Canada, India, the Cape of Good Hope, and on some special mission at Monte Video. He had, therefore, seen a good deal of the world; but very little of his only child. Mrs. Bertram, George's mother, had died early in life, and Mr. (afterwards Sir Lionel) Bertram had roamed the world free from all encumbrances.
The Rev. Arthur Wilkinson, vicar of Hurst Staple, on the borders of Hampshire and Berkshire, had married a first-cousin of Mrs. Bertram's; and when young George Bertram, at the age of nine, was tossing about the world rather in want of a fixed home, Mr. Wilkinson undertook to give him that home, and to educate him with his own eldest child till they should both be sent to some school. For three years George Bertram lived at Hurst Staple, and was educated accordingly. During these years he used to go annually for one month to the house of an uncle, who in due time will also be introduced to the reader; and therefore, not unnaturally, this month was regarded by the boy as his holidays.
Now, it may as well be explained in this place that Sir Lionel Bertram, though a very gallant man, and peculiarly well adapted to do business with outlandish people, had never succumbed to a habit of punctuality in pecuniary matters. An arrangement had been perhaps rather named than made, that one hundred and thirty pounds per annum should be paid for young Bertram's needs; and as this was to include pocket-money, clothing, and washing, as well as such trifles as the boy's maintenance and education, perhaps the bargain was not a very hard one as regarded Sir Lionel. The first seventy-five pounds were paid; but after that, up to the end of the second year, Mr. Wilkinson had received no more. As he was a poor man, with six children of his own, and little besides his living, he then thought it better to mention the matter to Sir Lionel's brother in London. The balance was instantly paid, and Mr. Wilkinson had no further trouble on that head. Nor had he much trouble on any other head as regarded young Bertram. The lad was perhaps not fit to be sainted, and gave Mrs. Wilkinson the usual amount of trouble as regarded his jackets and pantaloons; but, on the whole, he was a good boy, free and generous in his temper, quick in his parts, affectionate in disposition, and full of humour. Those who examined him most closely (among whom, perhaps, Mr. Wilkinson was not included) might have observed that he was hardly as steady as he might have been in his likings and dislikings; that he made too little of the tasks which he learnt without trouble; and that, in fact, he was not sufficiently solicitous about anything. He was, however, undoubtedly a lad of great promise, and one of whom any father might have been proud.
He was not a handsome boy, nor did he become a handsome man. His face was too solid, his cheeks too square, and his forehead too heavy; but his eyes, though small, were bright, and his mouth was wonderfully marked by intelligence. When he grew to be a man, he wore no beard, not even the slightest apology for a whisker, and this perhaps added to the apparent heaviness of his face; but he probably best understood his own appearance, for in those days no face bore on it more legible marks of an acute mind.
At the age of twelve, he was sent to Winchester, and as his holidays were still passed with his uncle, he then ceased to regard Hurst Staple as his home. Twice a year, as he went up to town, he stayed there for a couple of days; but he was soon looked on as a visitor, and the little Wilkinsons no longer regarded him as half a brother in reality and quite a brother in love.
Arthur Wilkinson was very nearly of the same age. He was just older than young Bertram—by three months or so; just sufficiently to give to Wilkinson a feeling of seniority when they first met, and a consciousness that as he was the senior in age, he should be the senior in scholastic lore. But this consciousness Wilkinson was not able to attain; and during all the early years of his life, he was making a vain struggle to be as good a man as his cousin; that is, as good in scholarship, as good in fighting, as good in play, and as good in spirit.
In looks, at any rate, Arthur was superior to George; and much consolation did his mother receive from this conviction. Young Wilkinson was a very handsome lad, and grew up to be a handsome man; but his beauty was of that regular sort which is more pleasing in a boy than in a man. He also was an excellent lad, and no parent could be so thankless as to be other than proud of him. All men said all good things of him, so that Mr. Wilkinson could not but be contented. Nevertheless, one would always wish to see one's own son not less bright than one's friend's son.
Arthur Wilkinson was also sent to Winchester. Perhaps it would have been better for the cousins that they should have gone to different schools. The matter, however, had been left to Mr. Wilkinson, and as he thought Winchester good for his own son, he naturally thought the same school good for Sir Lionel's son. But Bertram was entered as a commoner, whereas Wilkinson was in the college. Those who know Winchester will understand, that though, as regarded school business and school hours, they were at the same establishment, they were not together at the much more important hours of eating, sleeping, and playing. They did not cease to be friends, but they did cease to live together as friends generally do live when educated at the same school.
At Winchester they both did fairly well; but Bertram did much the best. He got the prizes, whereas his cousin did but nearly get them. He went up from class to class above the other, and when the last tussle for pride of place came on at the close of their boyish career, Bertram was the victor. He stood forth to spout out Latin hexameters, and to receive the golden medal, while Wilkinson had no other privilege but to sit still and listen to them.
I believe masters but seldom recognize the agony of spirit with which boys endure being beaten in these contests. Boys on such subjects are very reticent; they hardly understand their own feelings enough to speak of them, and are too much accustomed both to ridicule and censure to look anywhere for sympathy. A favourite sister may perhaps be told of the hard struggle and the bitter failure, but not a word is said to any one else. His father, so thinks the boy, is angry at his failure; and even his mother's kisses will hardly be warmed by such a subject. We are too apt to think that if our children eat pudding and make a noise they require no sympathy. A boy may fail at school, and afterwards eat much pudding, and make much noise; but, ah! how his young heart may sigh for some one to grieve with him over his failures!
Wilkinson was unfortunate at school. It was a great object with his father that he should get a scholarship at New College, to which, as all the world knows, his path lay through the college of Winchester. When his time came, he was all but successful—but he was not successful. The vacancies in his year were few in number, only three, and of these two were preoccupied, according to the then rule of the place, by those heaven-born Wykamists, called founder's kin He was only the second best on the list, and lost the prize.
Bertram, having been a commoner, had had no right to think of New College; but at the time when he was to be removed to Oxford, his uncle gave him to understand that money was a great object to him. His father's mind was still too fully absorbed in the affairs of his country to enable him to think much of his son's expenditure, and his uncle at this period took a fit of disgust on the subject.
"Very well," said George, "I will give up Oxford if I cannot do something for myself."
He went up, however, to Trinity, and became a candidate for a scholarship there. This he obtained to the great surprise of all the Wilkinsons and of himself. In those days, a lad of eighteen who could get a scholarship at Trinity was considered to be nearly safe in his career. I do not know how far this may be altered now. The uncle, when he heard of his nephew's success, immediately allowed him what would have been amply sufficient for him had he been in possession of no income from his scholarship. Bertram, therefore, had been almost a rich man during his residence at Oxford.
Young Wilkinson, though he lost New College, received a small scholarship from Winchester, and he also was sent by his father to Oxford. To enable him to do this, Mr. Wilkinson was forced to make a great struggle. He had five other children—four daughters, and one younger son, and it was with difficulty that he could make up the necessary allowance to carry Arthur through the University. But he did do so, and the disappointed Wykamist went up to Balliol with an income amounting to about half that which his cousin enjoyed.
We need not follow them very accurately through their college careers. They both became prizemen—one by force of intellect, and the other by force of industry. They both went through their little goes and other goes with sufficient zeal, up to that important day on which the great go of all was to be undergone. They both belonged to the same debating society at Oxford, and though they thought very differently on most important subjects, they remained, with some few temporary interruptions, fast friends through their four years of Oxford residence.
There were periods when the Balliol man was considered by his friends to run a better chance of academical success than his brighter cousin at Trinity. Wilkinson worked hard during his three first years, and Bertram did not. The style of mind, too, of the former was the more adapted to win friends at Oxford. In those days the Tracts were new, and read by everybody, and what has since been called Puseyism was in its robust infancy. Wilkinson proclaimed himself, while yet little more than a boy, to be an admirer of poor Froude and a follower of Newman. Bertram, on the other hand, was unsparing in his ridicule of the "Remains," set himself in full opposition to the Sewells, and came out as a poet—successfully, as far as the Newdegate was concerned—in direct opposition to Keble and Faber.
For three years Wilkinson worked hard and regularly; but the eclat attending on his success somewhat injured him. In his fourth year, or, at any rate, in the earlier part of it, he talked more than he read, and gave way too much to the delights of society—too much, at least, for one who was so poor, and to whom work was so necessary. He could not keep his position by dint of genius, as Bertram might do; consequently, though he was held to have taken honours in taking his degree, he missed the high position at which he had aimed; and on the day which enabled him to write himself bachelor of arts, he was in debt to the amount of a couple of hundred pounds, a sum which it was of course utterly out of his power to pay, and nearly as far out of the power of his father.
It had always been Bertram's delight to study in such a manner that men should think he did not study. There was an affectation in this, perhaps not uncommon to men of genius, but which was deleterious to his character—as all affectations are. It was, however, the fact, that during the last year before his examination, he did study hard. There was a set round him at his college among whom he was esteemed as a great man—a little sect of worshippers, who looked for their idol to do great things; and it was a point of honour with them to assist this pretence of his. They gloried in Bertram's idleness; told stories, not quite veracious, of his doings at wine-parties; and proved, to the satisfaction of admiring freshmen, that he thought of nothing but his horse and his boating. He could do without study more than any other man could do with it; and as for that plodding Balliol hero, he might look to be beaten out of the field without an effort.
The Balliol men had been very confident in their hero up to the last half-year; but then they began to doubt. Poor Wilkinson was beaten by his rival out of the field, though, probably, not without an effort. We may say that no man ever gets a double-first in anything without an effort. But be that as it may, Wilkinson was sitting alone, a very unhappy man, in his rooms at Balliol, while Bertram was being feted to his heart's content at Trinity.
It is a grievous thing to have to write home to one's father, and to say that one has failed when that father has so anxiously longed for success. Arthur Wilkinson would have been a made man for life—made according to the making which both his father and himself at that time thought the most desirable—if his name had but appeared in that first-class list. A double-first his father had not hoped for; but, in resolving not to hope for it, he had consoled himself with thinking that the hopes which he did form were the more certain of success;—and then there would always be that further chance of happiness in store. But now Arthur Wilkinson had to tell his father that he was neither first nor double-first. His degree was very respectable for a man who had not looked for much, for one who had not been talked of in high places; but it was not respectable for Wilkinson of Balliol.
Vae victis! He was indeed unhappy as he sat there alone, meditating how he would frame his letter. There were no telegraphs or telegrams in those days, and it behoved him to write. If he did not, his father would be at Oxford before the next night was over. How should he write? Would it not be better to write to his mother? And then what should he do, or what should he say, about that accursed debt?
His pen and ink and paper were on the table, and he had got into his chair for the purpose. There he had been for some half-hour, but still not a word was written; and his chair had somehow got itself dragged round to the fire. He was thus sitting when he heard a loud knock at his outer door.
"Come; open the door," said Bertram's voice, "I know you are there."
Wilkinson still sat silent. He had not seen Bertram since the lists had come out, and he could hardly make up his mind whether he could speak to him or no.
"I know you're there, and I'll have the door down if you don't open it. There's nobody with me," shouted the manly voice of his triumphant friend.
Slowly Wilkinson got up and undid the lock. He tried to smile as he opened the door; but the attempt was a failure. However, he could still speak a few words, heavy as his heart was.
"I have to congratulate you," said he to Bertram, "and I do it with all my heart."
There was very little heart in the tone in which this was spoken; but then, what could be expected?
"Thank'ee, old fellow, I'm sure you do. Come, Wilkinson, give us your hand. It's better to have it all out at once. I wish you'd had more luck, and there's an end of it. It's all luck, you know."
"No, it's not," said Wilkinson, barely able to suppress the tears.
"Every bit of it. If a chap gets a headache, or a fit of the colic, it's all up with him. Or if he happens to have been loose as to some pet point of the examiners, it's all up with him. Or if he has taken a fad into his head, and had a pet point of his own, it's all up with him then, too, generally. But it will never do, Wilkinson, to boody over these things. Come, let you and I be seen walking together; you'll get over it best in that way. We'll go over to Parker's, and I'll stand a lunch. We'll find Gerard, and Madden, and Twisleton there. Twisleton's so disgusted at getting a fourth. He says he won't take it, and swears he'll make them let him go out in the ruck."
"He's got as much as he thought he'd get, at any rate, and therefore he can't be unhappy."
"Unhappy! who's unhappy? Nonsense, my dear fellow. Shy all that to the dogs. Come, let's go over to Parker's; we shall find Harcourt there. You know he's up, don't you?"
"No; and I had rather not meet him just at present."
"My dear fellow, you must get over that."
"That's all very well for you, who have got nothing to get over."
"And have I never had anything to get over? I'll tell you what it is; I've come here to prevent you from moping, and I don't mean to leave you. So, you see, you may as well come with me at first."
With some little hesitation, Wilkinson made his friend understand that he had not yet written home, and that he could not go out till he had done so.
"Then I'll give you ten minutes to write your letter; it can't possibly take you more, not even if you put into it my love to my aunt and cousins."
"I cannot do it while you are here."
"Nonsense! gammon! You shall do it while I'm here. I'll not allow you to make yourself a miserable ass all for nothing. Come, write. If it's not written in ten minutes, I'll write it;" and so saying, he took up a play of Aristophanes wherewith to amuse himself, by way of light reading, after the heavy work of the week.
Poor Wilkinson again drew his chair to the table, but his heart was very heavy. Vae victis!
BREAKFAST AND LUNCH.
Wilkinson took the pen in his hand and bent himself over the paper as though he were going to write; but not an ink-mark fell upon the paper. How should he write it? The task might have been comparatively light to him but for that dreadful debt. Bertram in the meantime tossed over the pages of his book, looking every now and then at his watch; and then turning sharply round, he exclaimed, "Well!"
"I wish you'd leave me," said Wilkinson; "I'd rather be alone."
"May I be doomed to live and die a don if I do; which style of life, next to that of an English bishop, I look on as the most contemptible in the world. The Queen's royal beef-eaters come next; but that, I think, I could endure, as their state of do-nothingness is not so absolute a quantity. Come; how far have you got? Give me the paper, and I'll write you a letter in no time."
"Thank you; I'd rather write my own letter."
"That's just what I want you to do, but you won't;" and then again he turned for two minutes to the "Frogs." "Well—you see you don't write. Come, we'll both have a try at it, and see who'll have done first. I wonder whether my father is expecting a letter from me?" And, so saying, he seized hold of pen and paper and began to write.
My dearest Father,
This weary affair is over at last. You will be sorry to hear that the event is not quite as well as it might have been as far as I am concerned. I had intended to be a first, and, lo! I am only a second. If my ambition had been confined to the second class, probably I might have come out a first. I am very sorry for it, chiefly for your sake; but in these days no man can count on the highest honours as a certainty. As I shall be home on Tuesday, I won't say any more. I can't give you any tidings about the fellowships yet. Bertram has had his old luck again. He sends his love to mamma and the girls.
Your very affectionate son,
"There, scribble that off; it will do just as well as anything else."
Poor Wilkinson took the paper, and having read it, to see that it contained no absurdity, mechanically copied the writing. He merely added one phrase, to say that his friend's "better luck" consisted in his being the only double-first of his year, and one short postscript, which he took good care that Bertram should not see; and then he fastened his letter and sent it to the post.
"Tell mamma not to be very unhappy." That was the postscript which he added.
That letter was very anxiously expected at the vicarage of Hurst Staple. The father was prepared to be proud of his successful son; and the mother, who had over and over again cautioned him not to overwork himself, was anxious to know that his health was good. She had but little fear as to his success; her fear was that he should come home thin, pale, and wan.
Just at breakfast-time the postman brought the letter, and the youngest girl running out on to the gravel brought it up to her expectant father.
"It is from Arthur," said she; "isn't it, papa? I'm sure I know his handwriting."
The vicar, with a little nervousness, opened it, and in half a minute the mother knew that all was not right.
"Is he ill?" said she; "do tell me at once."
"Ill! no; he's not ill."
"Well, what is it? He has not lost his degree?"
"He has not been plucked, papa, has he?" said Sophia.
"Oh, no; he has got his degree—a second in classics!—that's all;" and he threw the letter over to his wife as he went on buttering his toast.
"He'll be home on Tuesday," said Mary, the eldest girl, looking over her mother's shoulder.
"And so George is a double-first," said Mrs. Wilkinson.
"Yes," said the vicar, with his mouth full of toast; not evincing any great satisfaction at the success of his late pupil.
When the mother read the short postscript her heart was touched, and she put her handkerchief up to her face.
"Poor Arthur! I am sure it has not been his own fault."
"Mamma, has George done better than Arthur?" said one of the younger girls. "George always does do better, I think; doesn't he?"
"He has made himself too sure of it," said the father, in almost an angry tone. Not that he was angry; he was vexed, rather, as he would be if his wheat crop failed, or his potatoes did not come up properly.
But he felt no sympathy with his son. It never occurred to him to think of the agony with which those few lines had been written; of the wretchedness of the young heart which had hoped so much and failed so greatly; of the misery which the son felt in disappointing the father. He was a good, kind parent, who spent his long days and longer nights in thinking of his family and their welfare; he would, too, have greatly triumphed in the triumph of his son; but it went beyond his power of heart to sympathize with him in his misery.
"Do not seem to be vexed with him when he comes home," said the mother.
"Vexed with him! you mean angry. Of course, I'm not angry. He has done his best, I suppose. It's unlucky, that's all."
And then the breakfast was continued in silence.
"I don't know what he's to do," said the father, after awhile; "he'll have to take a curacy, I suppose."
"I thought he meant to stop up at Oxford and take pupils," said Mary.
"I don't know that he can get pupils now. Besides, he'll not have a fellowship to help him."
"Won't he get a fellowship at all, papa?"
"Very probably not, I should think." And then the family finished their meal in silence.
It certainly is not pleasant to have one's hopes disappointed; but Mr. Wilkinson was hardly just in allowing himself to be so extremely put about by his son's failure in getting the highest honours. Did he remember what other fathers feel when their sons are plucked? or, did he reflect that Arthur had, at any rate, done much better than nineteen out of every twenty young men that go up to Oxford? But then Mr. Wilkinson had a double cause for grief. Had George Bertram failed also, he might perhaps have borne it better.
As soon as the letter had been written and made up, Wilkinson suffered himself to be led out of the room.
"And now for Parker's," said Bertram; "you will be glad to see Harcourt."
"Indeed, I shall not. Harcourt's all very well; but just at present, I would much rather see nobody."
"Well, then, he'll be glad to see you; and that will be quite the same thing. Come along."
Mr. Harcourt was a young barrister but lately called to the bar, who had been at Oxford spending his last year when Bertram and Wilkinson were freshmen; and having been at Bertram's college, he had been intimate with both of them. He was now beginning to practise, and men said that he was to rise in the world. In London he was still a very young man; but at Oxford he was held to be one who, from his three years' life in town, had become well versed in the world's ways. He was much in the habit of coming to Oxford, and when there usually spent a good deal of his time with George Bertram.
And so Wilkinson walked forth into the street arm and arm with his cousin. It was a grievous trial to him; but he had a feeling within him that the sooner the sorrow was encountered the sooner it would be over. They turned into the High Street, and as they went they met crowds of men who knew them both. Of course it was to be expected that Bertram's friends should congratulate him. But this was not the worst; some of them were so ill advised as to condole with Wilkinson.
"Get it over at once," whispered Bertram to him, "and then it will be over, now and for ever."
And then they arrived at Parker's, and there found all those whom Bertram had named, and many others. Mr. Parker was, it is believed, a pastrycook by trade; but he very commonly dabbled in more piquant luxuries than jam tarts or Bath buns. Men who knew what was what, and who were willing to pay—or to promise to pay—for their knowledge, were in the habit of breakfasting there, and lunching. Now a breakfast or a lunch at Parker's generally meant champagne.
Harcourt was seated on the table when they got into the back room, and the other men were standing.
"Sound the timbrels, beat the drums; See the conqu'ring hero comes,"
he sung out as Bertram entered the room. "Make way for the double-first—the hero of the age, gentlemen! I am told that they mean to put up an alabaster statue to him in the Common Room at Trinity. However, I will vote for nothing more expensive than marble."
"Make it in pie-crust," said Bertram, "and let Parker be the artist."
"Yes; and we'll celebrate the installation with champagne and pate de foie gras," said Twisleton.
"And afterwards devour the object of our idolatry, to show how short-lived is the fame for which we work so hard," said Madden.
"I should be delighted at such tokens of your regard, gentlemen. Harcourt, you haven't seen Wilkinson."
Harcourt turned round and shook hands warmly with his other friend. "Upon my word, I did not see you, Master Wilkinson. You have such a habit of hiding yourself under a bushel that one always misses you. Well; so the great day is over, and the great deed done. It's a bore out of the way, trampled under foot and got rid of; that's my idea of a degree."
Wilkinson merely smiled; but Harcourt saw at once that he was a deeply-disappointed man. The barrister, however, was too much a man of the world either to congratulate him or condole with him.
"There are fewer firsts this year than there have been for the last nine years," said Gerard, thinking to soften the asperity of Wilkinson's position.
"That may be because the examiners required more, or because the men had less to give," said Madden, forgetting all about Wilkinson.
"Why, what noodles you are," said Bertram, "not to know that it's all settled by chance at roulette the night before the lists come down! If it's not, it ought to be. The average result would be just as fair. Come, Harcourt, I know that you, with your Temple experiences, won't drink Oxford wine; but your good nature will condescend to see the children feeding. Wilkinson, sit opposite there and give Twisleton some of that pie that he was talking of." And so they sat down to their banquet; and Harcourt, in spite of the refinement which London had doubtless given to his taste, seemed perfectly able to appreciate the flavour of the University vintage.
"Gentlemen, silence for one moment," said Harcourt, when the graver work of eating began to lull, and men torpidly peeled their pears, and then cut them up into shapes instead of eating them. "It is always said at all the breakfasts I go to—"
"This is not a breakfast," said Bertram, "it's a lunch."
"Well, all the lunches, then; and God bless you. It's always said at these matutinal meals—which, by-the-by, would be the nicest things in the world, only one doesn't know what on earth to do when they're over."
"It's time to go to dinner then," said Twisleton.
"That may do for the 'dura ilia' of a freshman, but now that you're a B.A., you'll find that that power fails you greatly. But, for heaven's sake, let me go on with my speech, or you'll not get away either to dinner or to supper. It is commonly declared, I say, that there should be no speaking at these delicious little morning repasts."
"Do you call that a little repast?" said Madden, who was lying back in his chair with a cigar in his mouth, of which he hardly had strength enough left to puff out the smoke.
"I mean no offence to the feed, which, of its kind, has been only too good. If I'm to be allowed to go on, I'll say, that this rule, which is always laid down, is always broken; and therefore I feel no hesitation in breaking it on this occasion. A long speech is a long bore, and a little speech is a little bore; but bores must be endured. We can't do very well without them. Now my bore shall be a very short bore if I'm allowed to make an end of it without interruption."
"All right, Harcourt," said Bertram. "Go ahead; we're only too delighted to hear you. It isn't every day we have a London barrister here."
"No; and it isn't every day that we have a double-first at old Trinity. Gentlemen, there are, I think, five, six Trinity men here including myself. It will be a point of honour with you to drink health and prosperity to our friend Bertram with all the honours. We have many men of whom we can boast at Trinity; but if I have any insight into character, any power of judging what a man will do"—it must be remembered that Mr. Harcourt, though a very young man in London, was by no means a young man at Oxford—"there have been very few before him who have achieved a higher place than will fall to his lot, or whose name will be more in men's mouths than his. There are also here four gentlemen of other colleges; they will not, I am sure, begrudge us our triumph; they are his old friends, and will be as proud of the Oxford man as we are of the Trinity man. Gentlemen, here is prosperity to our friend the double-first, and health to enjoy the fruits of his labour."
Whereupon the toast was drunk with a great deal of fervour. It was astonishing that ten men should make so much uproar; even Wilkinson, whose heart the wine had just touched sufficiently to raise it a little from the depth to which it had fallen—even he cheered; and Madden, overcoming by degrees his not unnatural repugnance to rise, produced from certain vast depths a double-bass hurrah.
"Bertram," said he, when the voices and glasses were once more silent, "you're a credit to your college, and I've a regard for you; so I don't mind running the risk for once. But I must beg that I may not be asked to repeat it."
Bertram of course returned thanks to his guests with all the mawkish modesty which usually marks such speeches—or, rather, with modesty which would be mawkish were it not so completely a matter of course. And then he sat down; and then, with a face rather heightened in colour, he got upon his legs again.
"In spite of Madden's difficulty of utterance," said he, "and his very visible disinclination to move—"
"I'm not going to do any more shouting," said Madden, "even though you propose the health of the chancellor, vice-chancellor, and two members."
"Not even though he throws the proctor's into the bargain," said Twisleton.
"You may shout or not as you like; but at the risk of giving some temporary pain to as good a friend as I have in the world, I will ask you to drink the health of one whom on this occasion fortune has not favoured—I mean my cousin, Arthur Wilkinson. The lists as they come down are, I dare say, made out with tolerable fairness. It is not at any rate for me to grumble at them. But of this I am quite sure, that did there exist some infallible test for finding out the best man, no man's name in this year would have been placed before his. He is not so jovial as the rest of us now, because he has partly failed; but the time will come when he will not fail." And then Arthur Wilkinson's health was toasted with a somewhat bated enthusiasm, but still with sufficient eclat to make every glass in Mr. Parker's house ring on its shelf.
Poor Wilkinson's ears tingled when he heard his name pronounced; and he would at the moment have given anything to be allowed to be quiet. But it may be doubted whether he would not have been more hurt had he been left there without any notice. It is very hard to tune oneself aright to a disappointed man. "I'll break the ice for him, at any rate," said Bertram to himself. "When he's used to talk about it, he will suffer less."
Wilkinson had been accounted a good hand at speaking in the debating society, and though rather more prolix than Bertram, and not quite so vivacious, had been considered almost more than a match for his cousin on account of his superior erudition and more practised delivery; but now his voluble gift of words deserted him. "He was much obliged to them," he said; "though perhaps, on the whole, it was better that men who placed themselves in a mediocre condition should be left to their mediocrity. He had no doubt himself of the justness of the lists. It would be useless for him to say that he had not aspired; all the world"—it was all the world to him—"knew too well that he had aspired. But he had received a lesson which might probably be useful to him for the rest of his life. As for failing, or not failing, that depended on the hopes which a man might form for himself. He trusted that his would henceforth be so moderate in their nature as to admit of a probability of their being realized." Having uttered these very lugubrious words, and almost succeeded in throwing a wet blanket over the party, he sat down.
"Now, you're not going to do anybody else, are you?" said Madden.
"Only Twisleton, and Gerard, and Hopgood," answered Bertram; "and Fortescue looks as if he expected it. Perhaps, however, he'll let us off till the day after to-morrow."
And then, with a round of milk punch, another cigar apiece, and a little more chat, the party broke up.
Bertram and Harcourt remained together, and Bertram endeavoured to induce Wilkinson to stay with them. He, however, wished to be alone, and got home to his college by himself.
"You always overrated that man," said Harcourt.
"I think not; but time will show. After all, a good degree is not everything in the world. Who in London cares about senior wranglers and double-firsts? When all is done, I don't see the use of it."
"Nobody cares much about wranglers and double-firsts; but these are the men, nevertheless, who get the best of what's going. Wood that will swim in one water will swim in all waters."
"You'll find Wilkinson will swim yet."
"That is, he won't sink. I don't say he will. Nine-tenths of the men in the world neither swim nor sink; they just go along with their bows above the wave, but dreadfully water-logged, barely able to carry the burdens thrown on them; but yet not absolutely sinking; fighting a hard fight for little more than mere bread, and forgetting all other desires in their great desire to get that. When such a man does get bread, he can't be said to sink."
"Ah! Wilkinson will do more than that."
"Something more, or something less, as the case may be. But, believe me, he is not the man to make other men fall before him. Industry alone never does that, and certainly not that sort of industry which breaks down once in every six months. But come, Mr. Parker's champagne makes my head buzz: let us take a walk up the river; Twisleton's idea of going to dinner requires far too much pluck for me."
And so they walked out along the towing-path, discussing many things of much importance to them.
"There is a tide in the affairs of men Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune."
In nine cases out of ten, this flood-tide comes but once in life, and then in early years. A man may have a second or a third chance for decent maintenance, but hardly a second chance for fortune's brighter favours. The horse that is to win the race needs not make all his best running at once; but he that starts badly will rarely do so. When a young man discusses what shall be his future walk in life, he is talking of all that concerns his success as far as this world is concerned. And it is so hard for a youth to know, to make even a fair guess, as to what his own capacities are! The right man is wanted in the right place; but how is a lad of two and twenty to surmise what place will be right for him? And yet, if he surmises wrong, he fails in taking his tide at its single flood. How many lawyers are there who should have been soldiers! how many clergymen who should have been lawyers! how many unsuccessful doctors who might have done well on 'Change, or in Capel Court!
Bertram had an inkling of this; and Harcourt had more than an inkling. His path in life was chosen, and he had much self-confidence that he had chosen it well. He had never doubted much, and since he had once determined had never doubted at all. He had worked hard, and was prepared to work hard; not trusting over much in his own talents, but trusting greatly in his own industry. But Bertram, with double his friend's genius, had, at any rate as yet, but little of his friend's stability. To him the world was all before him where to choose; but he was sadly in want of something that should guide his choice. He had a high, but at the same time a vague ambition. The law, the church, letters, art, and politics all enticed him; but he could not decide of which mistress the blandishments were the sweetest.
"Well, when shall we have you up in London?" said Harcourt.
"In London! I don't know that I shall go to London. I shall go down to Hadley for a few weeks of course"—Bertram's uncle lived at the village of that name, in the close vicinity of Barnet—"but what I shall do then, I don't in the least know."
"But I know you'll come to London and begin to keep your terms."
"What, at the Middle Temple?"
"At some Temple or some Inn: of course you won't go where anybody else goes; so probably it will be Gray's Inn."
"No, I shall probably do a much more commonplace thing; come back here and take orders."
"Take orders! You! You can no more swallow the thirty-nine articles than I can eat Twisleton's dinner."
"A man never knows what he can do till he tries. A great deal of good may be done by a clergyman if he be in earnest and not too much wedded to the Church of England. I should have no doubt about it if the voluntary principle were in vogue."
"A voluntary fiddlestick!"
"Well, even a voluntary fiddlestick—if it be voluntary and well used."
"Of course you'll be a barrister. It is what you are cut out for, and what you always intended."
"It is the most alluring trade going, I own;—but then they are all such rogues. Of course you will be an exception."
"I shall do at Rome as Romans do—I hope always. My doctrine is, that we have no immutable law of right and wrong."
"A very comfortable code. I wish I could share it."
"Well, you will some of these days; indeed, you do now practically. But the subject is too long to talk of here. But as I know you won't go into the church, I expect to see you settled in London before Christmas."
"What am I to live on, my dear fellow?"
"Like all good nephews, live on your uncle. Besides, you will have your fellowship; live on that, as I do."
"You have more than your fellowship; and as for my uncle, to tell you the truth, I have no fancy for living on him. I am not quite sure that he doesn't mean me to think that it's charity. However, I shall have the matter out with him now."
"Have the matter out with him!—and charity! What an ass you are! An uncle is just the same as a father."
"My uncle is not the same to me as my father."
"No; and by all accounts it's lucky for you that he is not. Stick to your uncle, my dear fellow, and come up to London. The ball will be at your foot."
"Did you ever read Marryat's novel, Harcourt?"
"What, Peter Simple?"
"No, that other one: I think of going out as another Japhet in search of a father. I have a great anxiety to know what mine's like. It's fourteen years now since I saw him."
"He is at Teheran, isn't he?"
"At Hong Kong, I think, just at present; but I might probably catch him at Panama; he has something to do with the isthmus there."
"You wouldn't have half the chance that Japhet had, and would only lose a great deal of time. Besides, if you talk of means, that would want money."
They were now walking back towards Oxford, and had been talking about fifty indifferent subjects, when Bertram again began.
"After all, there's only one decent career for a man in England."
"And what is the one decent career?"
"Politics and Parliament. It's all very well belonging to a free nation, and ruling oneself, if one can be one of the rulers. Otherwise, as far as I can see, a man will suffer less from the stings of pride under an absolute monarch. There, only one man has beaten you in life; here, some seven hundred and fifty do so,—not to talk of the peers."
"Yes, but then a fellow has some chance of being one of the seven hundred and fifty."
"I shall go in for that, I think; only who the deuce will return me? How does a man begin? Shall I send my compliments to the electors of Marylebone, and tell them that I am a very clever fellow?"
"Exactly; only do something first to show that you are so. I mean also to look to that; but I shall be well contented if I find myself in the house in twenty years' time,—or perhaps in thirty."
"Ah, you mean as a lawyer."
"How else should a man without property get into Parliament?"
"That's just what I want to know. But I have no idea, Harcourt, of waiting twenty years before I make my start in life. A man at any rate may write a book without any electors."
"Yes, but not have it read. The author who does any good must be elected by suffrages at least as honestly obtained as those of a member of Parliament."
THE NEW VICAR.
Poor Arthur Wilkinson was in a very unhappy frame of mind when he left the party at Parker's, and, indeed, as he went to bed that night he was in a state not to be envied; but, nevertheless, when the end of the week came, he was able to enter the parsonage with a cheerful step, and to receive his mother's embrace with a smiling face. God is good to us, and heals those wounds with a rapidity which seems to us impossible when we look forward, but which is regarded with very insufficient wonder when we look backward.
Before he left Oxford he had seen the head of his college and the tutor; and had also felt himself bound to visit the tradesmen in whose black books he was written down as a debtor. None of these august persons made themselves so dreadful to him as he had expected. The master, indeed, was more than civil—was almost paternally kind, and gave him all manner of hope, which came as balm poured into his sick heart. Though he had failed, his reputation and known acquirements would undoubtedly get him pupils; and then, if he resided, he might probably even yet have a college fellowship, though, no doubt, not quite immediately. The master advised him to take orders, and to remain within the college as long as the rules permitted. If he should get his fellowship, they would all be delighted to have him as one of their body; there could—so thought the master—be no doubt that he might in the meantime maintain himself at the University by his pupils. The tutor was perhaps not quite so encouraging. He was a working man himself, and of a harder temperament than his head. He thought that Wilkinson should have got a first, that he had owed it to his college to do so, and that, having failed to pay his debt, he should not be received with open arms—at any rate just at first. He was therefore cool, but not generous. "Yes; I am sorry too; it is a pity," was all he said when Wilkinson expressed his own grief. But even this was not so bad as Arthur had expected, and on the whole he left his college with a lightened heart.
Nor were his creditors very obdurate. They did not smile so sweetly on him as they would have done had his name been bruited down the High Street as that of a successful University pet. Had such been his condition, they would have begged him not to distress their ears by anything so unnecessarily mundane as the mention of his very small account. All that they would have wanted of him would have been the continuation of his favours. As it was, they were very civil. Six months would do very well. Oh! he could not quite undertake to pay it in six months, but would certainly do so by instalments in two years. Two years was a long time, certainly; would not Mr. Wilkinson senior prefer some quicker arrangement? Oh! Mr. Wilkinson senior could do nothing! Ah! that was unfortunate! And so the arrangement for two years—with interest, of course—was accepted. And thus Mr. Wilkinson junior began the swimming-match of life, as so many others do, with a slight millstone round his neck. Well; it may be questioned whether even that is not better than an air-puffed swimming-belt.
When he got home, his mother and sisters hung about him as they always had done, and protected him in some measure from the cold serenity of the vicar. To his father he said little on the subject, and his father said as little to him. They talked, indeed, by the hour as to the future; and Arthur, in spite of his having resolved not to do so, told the whole story of his debts, and of his arrangement for their payment.
"Perhaps I could do something in the spring," said Mr. Wilkinson.
"Indeed, father, you shall do nothing," said the son. "I had enough, and should have lived on it; as I did not, I must live the closer now." And so that matter was settled.
In a very few days Arthur found himself going into society with quite a gay heart. His sisters laughed at him because he would not dance; but he had now made up his mind for the church, and it would, he thought, be well for him to begin to look to those amusements which would be befitting his future sacerdotal life. He practised singing, therefore, fasted on Fridays, and learnt to make chessmen with a lathe.
But though his sisters laughed at him, Adela Gauntlet, the daughter of the neighbouring vicar at West Putford, did not laugh. She so far approved that by degrees she almost gave over dancing herself. Waltzes and polkas she utterly abandoned; and though she did occasionally stand up for a quadrille, she did it in a very lack-a-daisical way, as though she would have refused that also had she dared to make herself so peculiar. And thus on the whole Arthur Wilkinson enjoyed himself that winter, in spite of his blighted prospects, almost as well as he had on any previous winter that he remembered.
Now and again, as he walked along the little river bank that ran with so many turnings from Hurst Staple down to West Putford, he would think of his past hopes, and lament that he could talk of them to no one. His father was very good to him; but he was too cold for sympathy. His mother was all affection, and kindly suggested that, perhaps, what had happened was for the best: she kindly suggested this more than once, but her imagination carried her no further. Had she not four daughters, hitherto without husbands, and also, alas! without portions? Was it not enough for her to sympathize with them? As for his sisters—his sisters were well enough—excellent girls; but they were so gay, so light-hearted, so full of fun and laughter, that he could not talk to them of his sorrows. They were never pensive, nor given to that sober sadness which is prone to sympathy. If, indeed, Adela Gauntlet had been his sister—! And so he walked along the river to West Putford.
He had now fully made up his mind to go into the church. While yet thinking of high academical honours, and the brighter paths of ambition, he also had dreamed of the bar. All young men I believe do, who have high abilities, a taste for labour, and scanty fortune. Senior wranglers and double-firsts, when not possessed of means for political life, usually find their way to the bar. It is on the bench of judges, not on the bench of bishops, that we must look for them in after life. Arthur, therefore, had thought of the joys of a Chancery wig, and had looked forward eagerly to fourteen hours' daily labour in the purlieus of Lincoln's Inn. But when, like many another, he found himself disappointed in his earliest hopes, he consoled himself by thinking that after all the church was the safer haven. And when he walked down to West Putford there was one there who told him that it was so.
But we cannot follow him too closely in these early days. He did go into the church. He did take pupils at Oxford, and went abroad with two of them in the long vacation. After the lapse of the year, he did get his fellowship; and had by that time, with great exertion, paid half of that moiety of his debt which he had promised to liquidate. This lapse in his purposed performance sat heavy on his clerical conscience; but now that he had his fellowship he would do better.
And so somewhat more than a year passed away, during which he was but little at Hurst Staple, and very little at West Putford. But still he remembered the sweetly-pensive brow that had suited so well with his own feelings; and ever and again, he heard from one of the girls at home, that that little fool, Adela Gauntlet, was as bad as a parson herself, and that now she had gone so far that nothing would induce her to dance at all.
So matters stood when young Wilkinson received at Oxford a letter desiring his instant presence at home. His father had been stricken by paralysis, and the house was in despair. He rushed off, of course, and arrived only in time to see his father alive. Within twenty-four hours after his return he found himself the head of a wailing family, of whom it would be difficult to say whether their wants or their griefs were most heartrending. Mr. Wilkinson's life had been insured for six hundred pounds; and that, with one hundred a year which had been settled on the widow, was now the sole means left for the maintenance of her and her five children;—the sole means excepting such aid as Arthur might give.
"Let us thank God that I have got the fellowship," said he to his mother. "It is not much, but it will keep us from starving."
But it was not destined that the Wilkinsons should be reduced even to such poverty as this. The vicarage of Hurst Staple was in the gift of the noble family of Stapledean. The late vicar had been first tutor and then chaplain to the marquis, and the vicarage had been conferred on him by his patron. In late years none of the Wilkinsons had seen anything of the Stapledean family. The marquis, though not an old man, was reported to be very eccentric, and very cross. Though he had a beautiful seat in the neighbourhood—not in the parish of Hurst Staple, but in that of Deans Staple, which adjoins, and which was chiefly his property—he never came to it, but lived at a much less inviting mansion in the north of Yorkshire. Here he was said to reside quite alone, having been separated from his wife; whereas, his children had separated themselves from him. His daughters were married, and his son, Lord Stanmore, might more probably be found under any roof in the country than that of his father.
The living had now to be given away by the marquis, and the Wilkinson family, who of late years had had no communication with him, did not even think of thinking of it. But a fortnight after the funeral, Arthur received a letter with the postmark of Bowes on it, which, on being opened, was found to be from Lord Stapledean, and which very curtly requested his attendance at Bowes Lodge. Now Bowes Lodge was some three hundred miles from Hurst Staple, and a journey thither at the present moment would be both expensive and troublesome. But marquises are usually obeyed; especially when they have livings to give away, and when their orders are given to young clergymen. So Arthur Wilkinson went off to the north of England. It was the middle of March, and the east wind was blowing bitterly. But at twenty-four the east wind does not penetrate deep, the trachea is all but invulnerable, and the left shoulder knows no twinges.
Arthur arrived at the cold, cheerless village of Bowes with a red nose, but with eager hopes. He found a little inn there, but he hardly knew whether to leave his bag or no. Lord Stapledean had said nothing of entertaining him at the Lodge—had only begged him, if it were not too much trouble, to do him the honour of calling on him. He, living on the northern borders of Westmoreland, had asked a man in Hampshire to call on him, as though their houses were in adjacent streets; but he had said nothing about a dinner, a bed, or given any of those comfortable hints which seem to betoken hospitality.
"It will do no harm if I put my bag into the gig," said Arthur; and so, having wisely provided for contingencies, he started for Bowes Lodge.
Wisely, as regarded probabilities, but quite uselessly as regarded the event! Hardy as he was, that drive in the gig from Bowes did affect him unpleasantly. That Appleby road has few sheltered spots, and when about three miles from Bowes he turned off to the right, the country did not improve. Bowes Lodge he found to be six miles from the village, and when he drove in at the gate he was colder than he had been since he left Hurst Staple.
There was very little that was attractive about the house or grounds. They were dark and sombre, and dull and dingy. The trees were all stunted, and the house, of which half the windows were closed, was green with the effects of damp. It was large enough for the residence of a nobleman of moderate pretensions; but it had about it none of that spruce, clean, well-cared-for appearance which is common to the country-houses of the wealthy in England.
When he descended from the gig he thought that he might as well leave his bag there. The sombre-looking servant in black clothes who opened the door made no inquiry on the subject; and, therefore, he merely told his Jehu to drive into the yard and wait for further orders.
His lordship was at home, said the sombre, dingy servant, and in half a minute Arthur found himself in the marquis's study and in the marquis's presence, with his nose all red and moist, his feet in an agony of cold, his fingers benumbed, and his teeth chattering. He was barely allowed time to take off his greatcoat, and, as he did so, he felt almost disinclined to part with so good a friend.
"How do you do, Mr. Wilkinson?" said the marquis, rising from his chair behind the study table, and putting out the ends of his fingers so as to touch the young clergyman's hand. "Pray take a seat." And Arthur seated himself—as, indeed, he had no alternative—on a straight-backed old horsehair-bottomed chair which stood immediately under a tall black book-case. He was miles asunder from the fire; and had he been nearer to it, it would have availed him but little; for the grate was one of those which our grandfathers cleverly invented for transmitting all the heat up the chimney.
The marquis was tall, thin, and gray-haired. He was, in fact, about fifty; but he looked to be at least fifteen years older. It was evident from his face that he was a discontented, moody, unhappy man. He was one who had not used the world over well; but who was quite self-assured that the world had used him shamefully. He was not without good instincts, and had been just and honest in his dealings—except in those with his wife and children. But he believed in the justness and honesty of no one else, and regarded all men as his enemies—especially those of his own flesh and blood. For the last ten years he had shut himself up, and rarely appeared in the world, unless to make some statement, generally personal to himself, in the House of Lords, or to proffer, in a plaintive whine to his brother peers, some complaint as to his neighbour magistrates, to which no one cared to listen, and which in latter years the newspapers had declined to publish.
Arthur, who had always heard of the marquis as his father's old pupil, was astonished to see before him a man so aged. His father had been only fifty-five when he died, and had appeared to be a hale, strong man. The marquis seemed to be worn out with care and years, and to be one whose death might be yearly expected. His father, however, was gone; but the marquis was destined to undergo yet many more days of misery.
"I was very sorry to hear of your father's sudden death," said Lord Stapledean, in his cold, thin voice.
"It was very sudden, my lord," said Arthur, shuddering.
"Ah—yes; he was not a prudent man;—always too fond of strong wine."
"He was always a temperate man," said the son, rather disgusted.
"That is, he never got drunk. I dare say not. As a parish clergyman, it was not likely that he should. But he was an imprudent man in his manner of living—very."
Arthur remained silent, thinking it better to say nothing further on the subject.
"I suppose he has not left his family well provided for?"
"Not very well, my lord. There is something—and I have a fellowship."
"Something!" said the marquis, with almost a sneer. "How much is this something?" Whereupon Arthur told his lordship exactly the extent of his mother's means.
"Ah, I thought as much. That is beggary, you know. Your father was a very imprudent man. And you have a fellowship? I thought you broke down in your degree." Whereupon Arthur again had to explain the facts of the case.
"Well, well, well. Now, Mr. Wilkinson, you must be aware that your family have not the slightest claim upon me."
"Your lordship is also aware that we have made none."
"Of course you have not. It would have been very improper on your part, or on your mother's, had you done so—very. People make claims upon me who have been my enemies through life, who have injured me to the utmost of their power, who have never ceased striving to make me wretched. Yes, these very people make claims on me. Here—here is a clergyman asking for this living because he is a friend of Lord Stanmore—because he went up the Pyramids with him, and encouraged him in all manner of stupidity. I'd sooner—well, never mind. I shan't trouble myself to answer this letter." Now, as it happened that Lord Stanmore was a promising young nobleman, already much thought of in Parliament, and as the clergyman alluded to was known by Arthur to be a gentleman very highly reputed, he considered it best to hold his tongue.
"No one has a claim on me; I allow no one to have such claims. What I want I pay for, and am indebted for nothing. But I must put some one into this living."
"Yes; your lordship must of course nominate some one." Wilkinson said so much, as the marquis had stopped, expecting an answer.
"I can only say this: if the clergymen in Hampshire do their duty as badly as they do here, the parish would be better off without a parson."
"I think my father did his duty well."
"Perhaps so. He had very little to do; and as it never suited me to reside there, there was never any one to look after him. However, I make no complaint. Here they are intolerable—intolerable, self-sufficient, impertinent upstarts, full of crotchets of their own; and the bishop is a weak, timid fool; as for me, I never go inside a church. I can't; I should be insulted if I did. It has however gone so far now that I shall take permission to bring the matter before the House of Lords."
What could Wilkinson say? Nothing. So he sat still and tried to drive the cold out of his toes by pressing them against the floor.
"Your father certainly ought to have made some better provision," continued Lord Stapledean. "But he has not done so; and it seems to me, that unless something is arranged, your mother and her children will starve. Now, you are a clergyman?"
"Yes, I am in orders."
"And can hold a living? You distinctly understand that your mother has no claim on me."
"Surely none has been put forward, Lord Stapledean?"
"I don't say it has; but you may perhaps fancy by what I say that I myself admit that there is a claim. Mind; I do no such thing. Not in the least."
"I quite understand what you mean."
"It is well that you should. Under these circumstances, if I had the power, I would put in a curate, and pay over the extra proceeds of the living for your mother's maintenance. But I have no such power."
Arthur could not but think that it was very well his lordship had no such power. If patrons in general were so privileged there would be, he thought, but little chance for clergymen.
"As the law stands I cannot do that. But as you are luckily in orders, I can put you in—on this understanding, that you shall regard the income as belonging rather to your mother and to your sisters than to yourself."
"If your lordship shall see fit to present me to the living, my mother and sisters will of course want nothing that I can give them."
"Ah—h—h—h, my young friend! but that will not be sufficient for me. I must have a pledge from you—your word as a gentleman and a clergyman, that you take the living on an understanding that the income is to go to your father's widow. Why should I give you five hundred pounds a year? Eh? Tell me that. Why should I nominate a young man like you to such a living? you, whom I never saw in my life? Tell me that."
Arthur Wilkinson was a man sufficiently meek in spirit, as ordinary meekness goes—the ordinary meekness, that is, of a young clergyman of the Church of England—but he was not quite inclined to put up with this.
"I am obliged, my lord, to say again that I have not asked for so great a favour from you. Indeed, till I received your letter desiring me to come here, I had no other thought of the living than that of vacating the house whenever your nominee should present himself."
"That's all very well," said Lord Stapledean; "but you must be a very unnatural son if on that account you refuse to be the means of providing for your unfortunate mother and sisters."
"I refuse! why, my lord, I regard it as much my duty to keep my mother and sisters from want as my father did. Whether I am to have this living or no, we shall live together; and whatever I have will be theirs."
"That's all very well, Mr. Wilkinson; but the question I ask you is this: if I make you vicar of Hurst Staple, will you, after deducting a fair stipend for yourself as curate—say one hundred and fifty pounds a year if you will—will you make over the rest of the income to your mother as long as she lives?"
This was a question to which Wilkinson found it very difficult to give a direct answer. He hardly knew whether he would not be guilty of simony in making such a promise, and he felt that at any rate the arrangement would be an improper one.
"If you knew," said he, at last, "the terms on which my mother and I live together, you would perceive that such a promise is not needed."
"I shall not the less think it necessary to exact it. I am putting great trust in you as it is, very great trust; more so perhaps than I am justified in doing." His lordship here alluded merely to the disposition of the vicarial tithes, and not at all to the care of souls which he was going to put into the young man's hands.
Arthur Wilkinson again sat silent for awhile.
"One would think," said his lordship, "that you would be glad to have the means of securing your mother from beggary. I imagined that you would have been in some measure gratified by my—my—my good intentions towards your family."
"So I am, my lord; so I am. But I doubt whether I should be justified in giving such a pledge."
"Justified! you will make me almost doubt, Mr. Wilkinson, whether I shall be justified in putting the living into your hands; but, at any rate, I must have an answer."
"What time can you allow me to consider my answer?"
"What time! It never struck me that you could require time. Well; you can let me have your decision to-morrow morning. Send it me in writing, so that I may have it before ten. The post goes out at twelve. If I do not hear from you before ten, I shall conclude that you have refused my offer." And so speaking the marquis got up from his chair.
Arthur also got up, and promised that he would send a letter over from Bowes the first thing on the following morning.
"And tell the messenger to wait for an answer," said his lordship; "and pray express yourself definitely, so that there may be no doubt." And then, muttering something as to his hope that the inn was comfortable, and saying that the state of his health prohibited him from entertaining visitors, the marquis again put out his fingers, and Arthur soon found himself in the gig on his journey to Bowes.
He intended returning to town on the following day by the twelve-o'clock mail, of which Lord Stapledean had spoken. But before that he had a difficult task to perform. He had no friend to consult, no one of whom he could ask advice, nothing to rely on but his own head and his own heart. That suggestion as to simony perplexed him. Had he the right, or could he have it, to appropriate the income of the living according to terms laid down by the lay impropriator? At one time he thought of calling on the old clergyman of the parish and asking him; but then he remembered what the marquis had said of the neighbouring parsons, and felt that he could not well consult one of them on any matter in which his lordship was concerned.
In the evening he considered the matter long and painfully, sitting over a cup of some exquisitely detestable concoction called tea by the Bowesian landlady. "If he had only left me to myself," thought Arthur, "I should do at least as much as that for them. It is for them that I want it; as for myself, I should be more comfortable at Oxford." And then he thought of West Putford, and Adela Gauntlet. This arrangement of Lord Stapledean's would entirely prevent the possibility of his marrying; but then, the burden of his mother and sisters would prevent that equally under any circumstances.
It would be a great thing for his mother to be left in her old house, among her old friends, in possession of her old income. As regarded money, they would all be sufficiently well provided for. For himself, his fellowship and his prescribed stipend would be more than enough. But there was something in the proposition that was very distasteful to him. He did not begrudge the money to his mother; but he did begrudge her the right of having it from any one but himself.
But yet the matter was of such vital moment. Where else was he to look for a living? From his college in the course of years he might get one; but he could get none that would be equal in value to this of Hurst Staple, and to his fellowship combined. If he should refuse it, all those whom he loved would in truth suffer great privation; and that privation would not be rendered more endurable by the knowledge that such an offer had been refused.
Thus turning the matter over painfully in his mind, he resolved at last to accept the offer of the marquis. The payment after all was to be made to his own mother. The funds of the living were not to be alienated—were not, in truth, to be appropriated otherwise than they would have been had no such conditions as these been insisted on. And how would he be able to endure his mother's poverty if he should throw away on her behalf so comfortable a provision? He determined, therefore, to accept the goods the gods had provided him, clogged though they were with alloy, like so many other gifts of fortune; and accordingly he wrote a letter to Lord Stapledean, in which he stated "that he would accept the living, subject to the stipulations named—namely, the payment to his mother, during her life, of three hundred and fifty pounds per annum out of the tithes." To this he received an answer from the marquis, very short and very cold, but nevertheless satisfactory.
The presentation to the living was, in fact, made in his favour, and he returned home to his family laden with good news. The dear old vicarage would still be their own; the trees which they had planted, the flower-beds which they had shaped, the hives which they had put up, would not go into the hands of strangers. And more than this, want no longer stared them in the face. Arthur was welcomed back with a thousand fond caresses, as one is welcomed who bringeth glad tidings. But yet his heart was sad. What should he now say to Adela Gauntlet?
OUR PRIMA DONNA.
When Arthur first explained to his mother the terms on which the living had been given to him, she refused to receive the income. No such promise with reference to money matters between mother and son could be binding. Were they not, moreover, one and the same household? Would it not be in the end the same if Arthur should keep the money himself? If it were paid to her, she should only pay it back again; and so on. But the vicar declared that he would adhere strictly to his promised engagement; and the mother soon fell into the way of thinking the arrangement not altogether a bad one. She had received intimation through the lord's man of business of the exact steps which had been taken for the relief of her great pecuniary distress—so the letter was worded—and it was not long before she regarded the income as fairly her own.
We are so apt to be generous in the hot moments of impulse; but so equally apt to be only coldly just, even if coldly just, in the long years of our ordinary existence.
And so the family again settled down; the commenced packings were again unpacked; the preliminary arrangements for living on a very small income were thrown to the winds; the pony that was to have been sold, and which with that object was being fattened up on boiled barley, was put on his accustomed rations; the old housekeeper's warning was revoked, as was also that of the old gardener. It was astonishing how soon the new vicar seemed to fill the old vicar's shoes in the eyes and minds of the people of Hurst Staple. Had Mr. Wilkinson come up from his grave at the end of three months, he would hardly have found that he was missed. A very elegant little tablet had been placed to his memory; and there apparently was an end of him. The widow's cap did make some change in the appearance of the family circle; but it is astonishing how soon we get used even to a widow's cap!
There had of course been visits of condolence between West Putford and Hurst Staple, and the Hurst Staple girls and Adela had been as much, or perhaps more, together than usual. But Arthur's walks along the river had not been frequent. This, however, was not thought of by any one. He had had new duties to assume, and old duties to put off. He had been a fortnight up at Oxford; and when at home, had been calling on all his parishioners. He had been attending to the dilapidations of the vicarage, and rearranging the books in the book-room. The dingy volumes of thirty years since had been made to give way to the new and brighter bindings which he had brought from college.
And therefore no one had remarked that he had but once been at West Putford. But he thought of it himself. He often longed to go thither, and as often feared to do so. When he next went, it must be to tell Adela, not that he loved her, but that such love was forbidden to him.
The family at West Putford consisted only of the vicar and his daughter. Mrs. Gauntlet had been long dead, and there had been no other child. A maiden sister of Mr. Gauntlet's occasionally visited them, and had, indeed, lived there altogether while Adela's education had required it; but this lady preferred her own lodgings at Littlebath, and Adela, therefore, was in general the sole mistress of the parsonage.
I beg my reader not to imagine that there had been love-passages between Arthur Wilkinson and Adela Gauntlet: nothing of the sort had occurred. They had known and loved each other as children together, and now that they were no longer children, they still knew and loved each other—that was all. It is true that Arthur, when he had wished to talk of his own disappointments, had found a better listener at West Putford than any that he could find at Hurst Staple. It is true that Adela had always been glad to listen to him; that she had had pleasure in cheering his fainting heart, and telling him that the work of a soldier of Christ was worthier of a man than the bickerings of a statesman or the quibbles of a lawyer; that she had gravely, yet withal so sweetly, spoken to him of the comforts of a rural life, and made him almost in love with his own failure. Such passages there had been between them; but Arthur had never taken her hand and sworn that it must be his own, nor had Adela ever blushed while half refusing to give him all he asked.
Why then need he trouble himself about West Putford? Why not let matters rest as they were? Miss Gauntlet would still be his friend; though seeing that she could never be more, it might not be well for him to walk so often along that river. As there had been no love-passages, one would say that nothing else was necessary.
But he could not content himself that this should be so. Adela would think him strange if he should say nothing to her of his future prospects. True, he had spoken no word of love, but had he not looked at her as though it was in his mind to speak such? Was it not incumbent on him to make her understand why he threw from him such golden hopes? And then, as to her, he did not flatter himself that she loved him—at least, not much; but yet it might be well to let her know that she was now at liberty to love any other swain. So at last he once more went his way to West Putford.
Adela Gauntlet was— No; for once I will venture to have a heroine without describing her. Let each reader make what he will of her; fancy her of any outward shape and colour that he please, and endow her with any amount of divine beauty. But for her inner character, let him take that from me as I go on, if so be that I can succeed in making clear to others that which is clear enough to my own mind's eye. I have called her a heroine; it is the novelist's customary name for his prima donna, and so I use it. But many opera companies have more than one prima donna. There is the donna prima, and if one may so say, the donna primissima. Now Adela Guantlet is no more than my donna prima. My donna primissima will be another guess sort of lady altogether.
Arthur, as he walked along, communed with himself as to what he was going to say. "At any rate, she shall know it all; we shall be more comfortable when we meet afterwards. Not that it will make any difference to her;" and then he sighed deeply, and cut at the river rushes with his walking-stick.
He found her as usual alone in the drawing-room, and, as usual, she smiled sweetly when she saw him. Since the day on which he had first gone up to Oxford, she had always called him "Mr. Wilkinson"—so instructed by Aunt Penelope; but in other respects her manner to him was almost that of a sister, only that it was softer, and more gracious.
"I declare, I thought we were never to see you again, Mr. Wilkinson." Ah, Adela! whom did the we mean? But is it possible that any girl should live fairly before the world without some little insincerities?
"I have been so occupied, Adela. There is so much to do in taking up a parish. Even though I know all the people so well, there has been so much to do."
"Yes, yes, I am sure of it. But now that you are settled, I do so hope that you will be comfortable. I saw Mary the other day, and she told me that your mother was quite well again."
"Yes, she is pretty well. We are all very well now, I think."
"I do so love that old lord for giving you the living, though they say he is such a Turk. It was such a good thing in him to do; so considerate to everybody."
"Yes; it has made my mother and the girls comfortable; that, of course, is what I had first to think of."
"As for yourself, I have no doubt you would have done better at Oxford. But you could have got no home for them like their old home; could you?"
"No, of course not," said Arthur, answering almost at random, and thinking how best he might explain the sacrifice which he had made without taking too much credit to himself.
"And then, if you had remained up there, you would only have become a musty old don. I don't think you would have been happy, not so happy as in a parish. And when a man is a clergyman"—this she said in a lower and somewhat a solemn voice—"surely he cannot be so well placed as in charge of a parish. Don't you think so, Mr. Wilkinson?"
"Certainly. It is the life for which he is intended; for which he should have intended himself."
"And I am sure it is a happy life: look at papa; I do not know any happier man—only that poor mamma died."
And upon this hint he spake. "Yes, your father I am sure has been a happy man, and he is an excellent clergyman."
"Is he not? even still so active! And he is so glad now to have you near him."
"I wish I had received my living as he did his; not that it would make any real difference."
"He got his, you know, from the bishop. But do you dislike being Lord Stapledean's nominee?"
"It would be ungrateful to say that; but I certainly do not like Lord Stapledean. However, I have taken his living, and should not complain."
"I did not know that there was anything disagreeable."
"There is this, Adela. I had rather tell you; and I came over to-day in part to do so: but you will see that the matter is one that should not be talked about," and he looked down on the floor, poking about on the carpet pattern with his stick, being unable any longer to meet the clear gaze of her soft eye.
"Oh, I am sorry if there is anything to distress you."
"Not exactly to distress me, perhaps; but I will tell you. When the marquis offered me the living, he did it on the stipulation that I should pay over to my mother three hundred and fifty pounds a year during her life. I doubt whether it was right to accept it on these conditions; but I did so. The living, therefore, is rather hers than mine."
"Oh, Arthur, how good of you!" In spite of all Aunt Penelope's lessons, old habits would sometimes get the better of her.
"I don't know; I am afraid that it was not good."
"Why? I can't understand? Surely it must be good to give up your time, your labour, your hopes"—Adela did not say his heart—"for your mother and sisters' good! Why, how can it be else than good? I think it good, and shall think so."