MY COLLEGE FRIENDS.

No. III.

MR W. WELLINGTON HURST.

 

[MAGA. January 1846.]

 

It would probably puzzle Mr William Wellington Hurst, as much as any man, to find out on what grounds I placed him on the list of my College friends; for certainly our intimacy was hardly sufficient to warrant such a liberty; and he was one of those happy individuals who would never have suspected that it could be out of gratitude for much amusement afforded me by sundry of his sayings and doings. But so it is; and it happens, that while the images of many others of my companions—very worthy good sort of fellows, whom I saw more or less of nearly every day—have vanished from my memory, or only flit across occasionally, like shadows, the full-length figure of Mr W. Wellington Hurst, exactly as he turned out, after a satisfactory toilet, in the patent boots and scarf of many colours, stands fixed there like a daguerreotype—more faithful than flattering.

My first introduction to him was by running him down in a skiff, when I was steering the College eight—not less to his astonishment than our own gratification. It is (or used to be) perfectly allowable, by the laws of the river, if, after due notice, these small craft fail to get out of your way; but it is not very easy to effect. However, in this instance, we went clean over him, very neatly indeed. The men helped him into our boat, just as his own sunk from under him; and he accepted a seat by my side in the stern-sheets, with many apologies for being so wet, appearing considerably impressed with a sense of my importance, and still more of my politeness. When we reached Sandford, I prescribed a stiff tumbler of hot brandy and water, and advised him to run all the way home, to warm himself, and avoid catching cold; and, from that time, I believe he always looked upon me as a benefactor. The claim, on my part, certainly rested on a very small foundation originally; it was strengthened afterwards by a less questionable act of patronage. Like many other under-graduates of every man's acquaintance in those days, Hurst laboured under the delusion, that holding two sets of reins in a very confused manner, and flourishing a long whip, was driving; and that to get twenty miles out of Oxford in a "team," without an upset, or an imposition from the proctor, was an opus operatum of the highest possible merit. To do him justice, he laboured diligently in the only exercise which he seemed to consider strictly academical—he spent an hour every morning, standing upon a chair, "catching flies," as he called it, and occasionally flicking his scout, with a tandem whip; and practised incessantly upon tin horns of all lengths, with more zeal than melody, until he got the erysipelas in his lower lip, and a hint of rustication from the tutors. Yet he was more ambitious than successful. His reputation on the road grew worse and worse every day. He had a knack of shaving turnpike gates, and cutting round corners on one wheel, and getting his horses into every possible figure but a straight line, which made every mile got over without an accident almost a miracle. At last, after taking a four-in-hand over a narrow bridge, at the bottom of a hill, pretty much in the Olympic fashion—all four abreast—men got rather shy of any expeditions of the kind in his company. There was little credit in it, and a good deal of danger. First, he was reduced to soliciting the company of freshmen, who were flattered by any proposal that sounded fast. But they, too, grew shy, after one or two ventures; and poor Hurst soon found a difficulty in getting a companion at all. He was a liberal fellow enough, and not pushed for a guinea when his darling science was concerned: so he used to offer to "sport the team" himself; but even when he condescended to the additional self-devotion of "standing a dinner and champagne," he found that the closest calculators among his sporting acquaintance had as much regard for their necks as their pockets.

To this inglorious position was his fame as a charioteer reduced, when Horace Leicester and myself, early in his third term, had determined somewhat suddenly to go to see a steeple-chase about twelve miles off, where Leicester had some attraction besides the horses, in the shape of a pretty cousin; (two, he told me, and bribed me with the promise of an introduction to "the other," but she did not answer to sample at all.) We had engaged a very nice mare and stanhope, which we knew we could depend upon, when, the day before the race, the chestnut was declared lame, and not a presentable four-legged animal was to be hired in Oxford. Hurst had engaged his favourite pair of greys (which would really go very well with any other driver) a week beforehand, but had been canvassing the last batch of freshmen in vain for an occupant of the vacant seat. A huge red-headed north-country man, who had never seen a tandem in his life, but who, as far as pluck went, would have ridden postilion to Medea's dragons, was listening with some apparent indecision to Hurst's eloquence upon the delights of driving, just as we came up after a last unsuccessful search through the livery stables; and the pair were proceeding out of college arm in arm, probably to look at the greys, when Leicester, to my amusement, stepped up with—"Hurst, who's going with you to B——?"

"I—why, I hardly know yet; I think Sands here will, if"——

"I'll go with you then, if you like; and if you've got a cart, Hawthorne can come too, and it will be very jolly."

If the university had announced their intention of creating him a B.A. by diploma, without examination, Hurst could hardly have looked more surprised and delighted. Leicester, it should be borne in mind, was one of the most popular men in the college—a sort of arbiter elegantiarum in the best set. Hurst knew very little of him, but was no doubt highly flattered by his proposal. From coaxing freshmen to come out by the bribe of paying all expenses, to driving to B—— steeple-chase side by side with Horace (my modesty forbids me to include myself), was a step at once from the ridiculous to the sublime of tandemizing. For this advancement in life, he always, I fancy, considered himself indebted to me, as I had originally introduced him to Leicester's acquaintance; and when we both accepted an invitation, which he delivered himself of with some hesitation, to breakfast in his rooms on the morning of the expedition, his joy and gratitude appeared to know no bounds. It is not usual, be it remembered, for a junior man in college to ask a senior to a party from whom he has never received an invitation himself; but hunting and tandem-driving are apt occasionally to set ordinary etiquette at defiance. "Don't ask a lot of men, that's all—there's a good fellow," said Horace, whose good-natured smile, and off-hand and really winning manner, enabled him to carry off, occasionally, a degree of impudence which would not have been tolerated from others—"I hate a large formal breakfast party of all things; it disgusts me to see a score of men jostling each other over tough beefsteaks."

"I asked Sands yesterday," apologised Hurst. "I thought perhaps he would come out with me; but I daresay I can put him off, if"——

"Oh! on no account whatever; you mean the carroty freshman I saw you with just now? Have him by all means; it will be quite refreshing to meet any man so regularly green. So there will be just four of us; eight o'clock, I suppose? it won't do to be much later."

And Horace walked off, having thus arranged matters to his own satisfaction and his host's. I was an interested party in the business, however, and had my own terms to make. "You've disposed of me rather coolly," said I; "you don't surely imagine that at my time of life I'm going to trust my neck to that fellow's abominable driving?"

"Make your mind easy, Frank; William Wellington sha'n't finger a riband."

"Nonsense, Leicester; you can't treat a man in that kind of way—not to let him drive his own team. Hurst is a bit of an ass, certainly; but you can't with any decency first ask a man for a seat, and then refuse to give him up the reins."

"Am I in the habit, sir, of doing things in the very rude and ungentlemanly style you insinuate?" And Horace looked at me with mock dignity for a second or two, and then burst into a laugh. "Leave it to me, Hawthorne, and I'll manage it to the satisfaction of all parties: I'll promise you that Hurst shall have a capital day's fun, and your valuable neck shall be as safe as if you were tried by a Welsh jury."

With this indefinite assurance I was obliged to be content; and accordingly, at half-past eight the next morning, after a very correct breakfast, we mounted the tandem-cart at the college back-gates, got the leader hitched on, as usual, a mile out of the city, for fear of proctors, and were bowling merrily along, in the slight frost of an autumn morning, towards B——. Leicester took the driving first, by Hurst's special request, after one or two polite but faint refusals, the latter sitting by his side; while I occupied, for the present, the queer little box which in those days was stuck on behind, (the more modern carts, which hold four, are an improvement introduced into the University since my driving days). With wonderful gravity and importance did Leicester commence his lectures on the whip to his admiring companion: I almost think he began in the approved style, with a slight allusion to the Roman biga, and deduced the progress of the noble science from Ericthonius down to "Peyton and Ward." I have a lively recollection of a comparison between Automedon of the Homeric times, and "Black Will" of Oxford celebrity—the latter being decided as only likely to be less immortal, because there was no Homer among the contemporary under-graduates. A good deal was lost to me, no doubt, from my position behind; but Hurst seemed to suck it all in with every disposition to be edified. From the history of his subject, Horace proceeded, in due course, to the theory, from theory to facts, from facts to illustrations. In the practical department, Horace, I suspect, like many other lecturers, was on his weakest ground; for his own driving partook of the general under-graduate character.

"You throw the lash out so—you see—and bring it back sharp, so—no, not so exactly—so—hang the thing, I can't do it now; but that's the principle, you understand—and then you take up your double thong, so—pshaw, I did it very well just now—to put it into the wheeler, so—ah, I missed it then, but that's the way to do it."

He put me considerably in mind of a certain professor of chemistry, whose lectures on light and heat I once was rash enough to attend, who, after a long dry disquisition which had nearly put us all to sleep, used to arouse our attention to the "beautiful effects" produced by certain combinations, which he would proceed to illustrate, as he said, by a "little experiment." But, somehow or other, these little experiments always, or nearly always, failed: and after the room had been darkened, perhaps, for five minutes or so, in order to give the exhibition full effect, the result would be, a fizz or two, a faint blue light, and a stink, varying according to circumstances, but always abominable. "It's very odd, John," the discomfited operator used to exclaim to his assistant; "very odd; and we succeeded so well this morning, too: it's most unaccountable: I'm really very sorry, gentlemen, but I can assure you, this very same experiment we tried to-day with the most beautiful result; didn't we, John?" "We did, sir," was John's invariably dutiful reply; and so the audience took John's word for it, and the experiment was considered to have been, virtually, successful.

So we rattled on to the ground: Leicester occasionally putting the reins into his companion's hand, teaching him to perform some impossible movement with his third finger, and directing his attention to non-existent flies, which he professed to remove from the leader, out of sheer compassion, with the point of the whip.

"You are sure you wouldn't like to take the reins now? Well, you'll drive home then, of course? Hawthorne, will you try your hand now? Hurst's going to take up the tooling when we come back."

"No, thank you," said I; "I won't interfere with either of your performances."—"And if Hurst does drive home," was my mental determination, expressed to Leicester as far as a nod could do it, "I'll walk."

There was no difficulty in finding out the localities: the field in which the winning-flag was fixed was not far from the turnpike road, and conspicuous enough by the crowd already there collected. Of course, pretty nearly all the sporting characters among the gownsmen were there, the distance from the University being so trifling. Mounted on that seedy description of animal peculiar to Oxford livery-stables, which can never by any possibility be mistaken for anything but a hired affair, but will generally go all day, and scramble through almost anything; with showily mounted jockey-whips in their hands, bad cigars (at two guineas a-pound) in their mouths, bright blue scarfs, or something equivalent, round their necks—their neat white cords and tops (things which they did turn out well in Oxford) being the only really sportsmanlike article about them; flattering themselves they looked exceedingly knowing, and, in nine cases out of ten, being deceived therein most lamentably; clustered together in groups of four or five, discussing the merits of the horses, or listening, as to an oracle, to the opinion of some Oxford horse-dealer, delivered with insolent familiarity—here were the men who drank out of a fox's head, and recounted imaginary runs with the Heythrop. Happy was he amongst them, and a positive hero for the day, who could boast a speaking acquaintance with any of those anomalous individuals, at present enshrouded in great-coats, but soon to appear in all the varieties of jockey costume, known by the style and title of "gentlemen riders;" who could point out, confidentially, to his admiring companions, "Jack B——," and "Little M——," and announce, from authority, how many ounces under weight one was this morning, and how many blankets were put upon the other the night before, to enable him to come to the scales at all. Here and there, more plainly dressed, moving about quickly on their own thorough-breds, or talking to some neighbouring squire who knew the ground, were the few really sporting men belonging to the University; who kept hunters in Oxford, simply because they were used to keep them at home, and had been brought up to look upon fox-hunting as their future vocation. Lolling on their saddles, probably voting it all a bore, were two or three tufts, and their "tail;" and stuck into all sorts of vehicles, lawful and unlawful, buggies, drags, and tandems, were that ignoble herd, who, like myself, had come to the steeple-chase, just because it was the most convenient idleness at hand, and because other men were going. There were all sorts of people there besides, of course: carriages of all grades of pretension, containing pretty bonnets and ugly faces, in the usual proportion; "all the beauty and fashion of the neighbourhood," nevertheless, as the county paper assured us; and as I may venture to add, from personal observation, a very fair share of its disreputability and blackguardism besides.

After wandering for a short time among these various groups, Leicester halted us at last in front of one of those old-fashioned respectable-looking barouches, which one now so seldom sees, in which were seated a party, who turned out to consist of an uncle and aunt, and the pair of cousins before alluded to. Hurst and I were duly introduced; a ceremony which, for my own part, I could have very readily excused, when I discovered that the only pair of eyes in the party worth mentioning bestowed their glances almost exclusively on Horace, and any attempt at cutting into the conversation in that quarter was as hopeless, apparently, as ungracious. Our friend's taste in the article of cousins was undeniably correct; Flora Leicester was a most desirable person to have for a cousin; very pretty, very good-humoured, and (I am sure she was, though I pretend to no experience of the fact) very affectionate. If one could have put in any claim of kindred, even in the third or fourth degree, it would have been a case in which to stickle hard for the full privileges of relationship. As matters stood, it was trying enough to the sensibilities of us unfortunate bystanders, whose cousins were either ugly or at a distance; for the rest of our new acquaintances were not interesting. The younger sister was shy and insipid; the squire like ninety-nine squires in every hundred; and the lady-mother in a perpetual state of real or affected nervous agitation, to which her own family were happily insensible, but which taxed a stranger's polite sympathies pretty heavily. Though constantly in the habit, as she assured me, of accompanying her husband to race-courses, and enjoying the sport, she was always on the look-out for an accident, and was always having, as she said, narrow escapes; some indeed so very narrow, that, according to her own account, they ought to have had, by every rule of probability, fatal terminations. In fact, her tone might have led one to believe that she looked upon herself as an ill-used woman in getting off so easily—at least she was exceedingly angry when the younger daughter ventured to remark, en pendant to one of her most thrilling adventures, that "there was no great danger of an upset when the wheel stuck fast." Not content with putting her head out of the carriage every five minutes, to see if her own well-trained bays were standing quiet, as they always did, there was not a restive horse or awkward rider on the ground but attracted the good lady's ever watchful sense of danger. "He'll be thrown! I'm sure he will! foolish man, why don't he get off!" "Oh, oh! there they go! they're off, those horrid horses! they'll never stop 'em!" Such were the interjections, accompanied with extraordinary shudderings and drawings of the breath, with which Mrs John Leicester, her eyes fixed on some distant point, occasionally broke in upon the general conversation, sometimes with a vehemence that startled even her nephew and eldest daughter, though, to do them justice, they paid very little attention to any of us.

Just as I was meditating something desperate, in order to relieve myself from the office of soother-general of Mrs Leicester's imaginary terrors, and to bring Flora's sunny face once more within my line of vision (she had been turning the back of her bonnet upon me perseveringly for the last ten minutes), a general commotion gave us notice that the horses were started, and the race begun. The hill on which we were stationed was close to the winning-post, and commanded a view of pretty nearly the whole ground from the start. The race was, I suppose, pretty nearly like other steeple-chases, and there is the less need for me to describe it, because a very full and particular account appeared in the Bell's Life next ensuing. The principal impressions which remain on my mind, are of a very smart gentleman in black and crimson, mounted on a very powerful bay, who seemed as if he had been taking it easy, who came in first, and after having been sufficiently admired by an innocent public, myself among the number, as the winner, turned out to have gone on the right hand instead of the left of some flag or other, and to have lost the race accordingly; and of a very dirty-looking person, who arrived some minute or two afterwards without a cap, whose jacket was green and his horse grey, so far as the mud left any colour visible, and who, to the great disappointment of the ladies especially, turned out to be the real hero after all.

We had made arrangements to have an independent beefsteak together after the race, in preference to joining the sporting ordinary announced as usual on such occasions; but the squire insisted on Leicester bringing us both to dine with his party at five. After a few modest and conscientious scruples on my part, at intruding on the hospitality of comparative strangers, and a strong private remonstrance from Hurst, on the impropriety of sitting down to dinner with ladies in a surtout and white cords, we accepted the invitation, and betook ourselves to kill the intervening hour or so as we best could.

"Well, Horace," said I, as Hurst went off to make his apology for a toilette—"how are you going to settle about the driving home?"

"Oh! never fear; I'll manage it: I have just seen Miller and Fane; they've got a drag over here, and there's lots of room inside; so they've promised to take Hurst home with them, if we can only manage to leave him behind: they are going to dine here, and are sure not to go home till late; and we must be off early, you know, because I have some men coming to supper; so we'll leave our friend behind, somehow or other. A painful necessity, I admit; but it must be done, even if I have to lock him up in the stable."

Leicester seemed to have more confidence in his own resources than I had; but he was in too great a state of excitement to listen to any demurrers of mine on the point, and hurried us off to join his friends. Ushered into the drawing-room A.1. of the Saracen's Head, we found la bella Flora awaiting us alone, the rest of the family being not as yet visible. There was not the slightest necessity for inquiring whether she felt fatigued, for she was looking even more lovely than in the morning; or whether she had been amused or not, for if the steeple-chase had not delighted her, something else had, for there was a radiant smile on her face which could not be mistaken. Hurst was cut short rather abruptly in a speech which appeared tending towards a compliment, by Leicester's inquiring—"My good fellow, have you seen the horses fed?"

"No, upon my word," said Hurst, "I"——

"Well, I have then; but I wish you would just step across the yard, and see if that stupid ostler has rubbed them dry, as I told him. You understand those things, I know, Hurst—the fellows won't humbug you very easily; as to Hawthorne, I wouldn't trust him to see to anything of the sort. Flora here knows more about a horse than he does."

Any compliment to Hurst's acuteness in the matter of horse-flesh was sure to have its effect, and he walked off with an air of some importance to discharge his commission.

"Now, then," said Horace eagerly, "we have got rid of him for ten minutes, which was all I wanted; if you please, Flora dear, we must have your cleverness to help us in a little difficulty."

"Indeed!" said Miss Leicester, colouring a little, as her cousin, in his eagerness, seized her hand in both of his—"what scrape have you got into now, Horace, and how can I possibly help you?"

"Oh, I want you to hit upon some plan for keeping that fellow Hurst here after we are gone."

"Upon my word!"

"Stay; you don't know what I mean. I'll tell you why—if he drives home to Oxford, he'll infallibly upset us; and drive he must if he goes home with us, because, in fact, the team is his, and I drove them all the way here, and it's his turn back, you see."

"Then why, in the multitude of absurdities which you Oxonians perpetrate—I beg your pardon, Mr Hawthorne—but why need you have come out in a tandem at all, with a man who can't drive?"

"Simply, Flora, because I had no other way of coming at all."

"It was very absurd in us, Miss Leicester, I allow," said I, "but you know what an attraction a steeple-chase is, to your cousin especially; and after having made up his mind to come—altogether, you see, it would have been a disappointment"—(to all parties, I had a mind to add, but I thought the balance was on my side without it.)

"After all," said Horace, "I shouldn't care a straw to run the chance, as far as I am concerned. I dare say the horses will go home straight enough, if he'll only let them: or if he wouldn't, I shouldn't mind knocking him off the box at once—by accident; but Frank here is rather particular, and I promised him I would not let Hurst drive. I thought once, if we had dined by ourselves, of persuading him he was drunk, and sending him home in a fly; but I am afraid, as matters stand, that plea is hardly practicable."

"Could I persuade him to let you or Mr Hawthorne drive, do you think?"

Horace looked at her as if he thought, as I dare say he did, that his cousin Flora could, if she were so minded, persuade a man to do anything; so I was compelled, somewhat at the expense of my reputation for gallantry, to assure them both, that if Ulysses of old, among his various arts and accomplishments, had piqued himself upon his tandem-driving, his vanity would have stopped his ears effectually, and the Syren might have sung herself hoarse before he would have given up the reins.

"I'll give the Boots half-a-crown to steal his hat," said Horace, "and start while he is looking for it."

"Stay," said his cousin; "I dare say it may be managed." But I thought she looked disappointed. "Did you know we were all going to the B—— theatre to-night?"

"No! really! what fun!"

"No fun for you; for you must start early, as you said just now. The owners of the horses here patronise a play, and they have made papa promise to go, and so we must, I suppose, and"——

"Oh! we'll all go, of course," said Horace decidedly.—"You'll stay and go, won't you, Hawthorne?"

"You forget your supper party," said I.

"Oh! hang it, they'll take care of themselves, so long as the supper's there; they won't miss me much."

"Didn't I hear something of your being confined to college after nine?"

"Ah, yes; I believe I am—but it won't matter much for once; I'll call on the dean to-morrow, and explain."

"No, no, Horace, that won't do; you and Mr Hawthorne must go home like good boys," said Flora, with a smile only half as merry as usual, "and Mary and I will persuade Mr Hurst to stay and go to the theatre with us."

"Oh! confound it!"—Horace began.

"Hush! here comes papa; remember this is my arrangement; you ought to be very much obliged, instead of beginning to swear in that way; I'm sure Mr Hawthorne is very grateful to me for taking so much interest in the question of his breaking his neck, if you are not. Oh! papa," she continued, "do you know that we shall lose all our beaux to-night; they have some horrid supper party to go back to, and we shall have to go to the play by ourselves!"

Most of the Squire's sympathies were at this moment absorbed in the fact that dinner was already four minutes late, so that he had less to spare for his daughter's disappointment than Mrs Leicester, who on her arrival took up the lamentation with all her heart. She attacked her nephew at once upon the subject, whose replies were at first wavering and evasive, till he caught Flora's eye, and then he answered with a dogged sort of resolution, exceedingly amusing to me who understood his position, and at last got quite cross with his aunt for persisting in her entreaties. I declared, for my part, that I was dependent on Horace's movements; that, if I could possibly have anticipated the delightful evening which had awaited us, every other arrangement should have given way, &c. &c.; when Hurst's reappearance turned the whole force of Mrs Leicester's persuasions upon him, backed, too, as she was by both her daughters. "Won't you stay, Mr Hurst? Must you go too? Will you be so shabby as to leave us?" How could any man stand it? William Wellington Hurst could not, it was very plain. At first he looked astonished; wondered why on earth we couldn't all stay; then protested he couldn't think of letting us go home by ourselves; a piece of self-devotion which we at once desired might not be thought of; then hesitated—he was meditating, no doubt, on the delight of driving—how was he to get home? the inglorious occupant of the inside of a drag; or the solitary tenant of a fly (though I suggested he might drive that if he pleased); couldn't Leicester go home, and I and he follow together? I put in a decided negative; he looked from Mrs Leicester's anxious face to Flora's, and surrendered at discretion. We were to start at eight precisely in the tandem, and Miller and his party, who were sure to wait for the play, were to pick up Mr Wellington Hurst as a supernumerary passenger at some hour unknown. And so we went to dinner. Mrs Leicester marched off in triumph with her new capture, as if fearful he might give her the slip after all, and committed Flora to my custody. I was charitable enough, however, in consideration of all circumstances, to give up my right of sitting next to her to Horace, and established myself on the other side of the table, between Mrs Leicester and her younger daughter; and a hard post I had of it. Mary would not talk at all, and her mamma would do nothing else; and she was one of those pertinacious talkers, too, who, not content with running on themselves, and leaving you to put in an occasional interjection, inflict upon you a cross-examination in its severest form, and insist upon a definite and rational answer to every question. However, availing myself of those legitimate qualifications of a witness, an unlimited amount of impudence, and a determination not to criminate myself, I got on pretty tolerably. Who did I think her daughter Flora like? I took the opportunity of diligently examining that young lady's features for about four minutes—not in the least to her confusion, for she scarcely honoured me with a glance the whole time—and then declared the resemblance to mamma quite startling. Mary? Oh, her father's eyes decidedly; upon which the squire, whose pet she appeared to be—I suppose it was the contrast between her quietness and Mrs Leicester's incessant fidgetting that was so delightful—laughed, and took wine with me. Then she took up the subject of my private tastes and habits. Was I fond of riding? Yes. Driving? Pretty well. Reading? Very. Then she considerately hoped that I did not read much by candle-light—above all by an oil-lamp—it was very injurious. I assured her that I would be cautious for the future. Then she offered me a receipt for eye-water, in case I suffered from weakness arising from over-exertion of those organs;—declined, with thanks. Hoped I did not read above twelve hours a-day; some young men, she had heard, read sixteen, which she considered as really inconsistent with a due regard to health. I assured her that our sentiments on that point perfectly coincided, and that I had no tendency to excesses of that kind. At last she began to institute inquiries about certain under-graduates with whose families she was acquainted; and the two or three names which I recognised being hunting men, I referred her to Hurst as quite au fait in the sporting circles of Oxford, and succeeded in hooking them into a conversation which effectually relieved me.

Leicester, as I could overhear, had been still rather rebellious against going home before the play was over, and was insisting that his being in college by nine was not really material; nor did he appear over-pleased, when, in answer to an appeal from Flora, I said plainly, that the consequences of his "knocking in" late, when under sentence of strict confinement to the regular hour, might not be pleasant—a fact, however, which he himself, though with a very bad grace, was compelled to admit.

At last the time arrived for our party to separate: Horace and I to return to Oxford, and the others to adjourn to see Richard the Third performed at the B—— theatre, under the distinguished patronage of the members of the H—— Hunt. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and as Hurst accompanied us to the stable-yard to "start us," as he complacently phrased it, it was clear that he was suffering, like a great many unfortunate individuals in public and private life, under an overweening sense of his own importance. "You'll have an uncommon pleasant drive of it; upon my word you will," he remarked; "it wouldn't do for me to say I would not stay, you know, as Miss Leicester—Mrs Leicester, that is—seemed to make such a point of it; but really"——

"Oh, come, Hurst," said I, "don't pretend to say you've made any sacrifice in the matter; I know you are quite delighted; I'm sure I should have liked to stay of all things, only it would have been uncivil to our friend here to send him home by himself from his own party."

"Oh! hang it, I don't mean to call it a sacrifice; I have no doubt I shall have a very pleasant evening; only I wish we could all have stayed, and driven home together afterwards."

"You may keep Hawthorne with you now, if you like," said Horace, who was not in the best of tempers; "I can take the horses home myself."

"No, no, that would be hardly fair," said I.

"Oh! no—off with you both," said Hurst; "stay, Leicester, you'll find the grey go more pleasantly if you drive him from the cheek; I'll alter it in a second."

"Have the goodness just to let them alone, my good fellow; as I'm to drive, I prefer putting them my own way, if you have no objection."

"Well, as you please; good-night."

"Miller's coming to my rooms when he gets home; if you like to look in with him, you'll find some supper, I dare say."

Horace continued rather sulky for the first few miles, and only opened to anathematise, briefly but comprehensively, steeple-chases, tandems, deans and tutors, and "fellows like Hurst." I thought it best to let him cool down a little; so, after this ebullition, we rattled on in silence as long as his first cigar lasted.

"Come," said I, as I gave him a light, "we got rid of our friend's company pretty cleverly, thanks to your cousin."

"Ay, I told you I'd take care of that; ha, ha! poor Hurst! he little bargained, when he ordered his team, how precious little driving he was to get out of it; a strong instance of the vanity of human expectations. I wish him joy of it, stuck up in an old barn, as I suppose he is by this time, gaping at a set of strolling players; how Flora will laugh at him! I really shouldn't wonder if she were to tell him, before the evening is over, how nicely he has been humbugged, just for the fun of it!"

"At all events," said I, "I think we must have a laugh at him to-night when he comes home; though he's such a good-tempered fellow, it's rather a shame, too."

It was very plain, however, that it was not quite such a good joke to Master Horace himself as he was trying to make out; and that, in point of fact, he would have considerably preferred being seated, as Hurst probably was at that moment, by his pretty cousin's side in the B—— theatre, wherever and whatever that might chance to be (even with the full expectation of being laughed at afterwards), to holding the reins of the best team that ever was turned out of Oxford.

We reached Oxford just in time to hear the first stroke of "Old Tom." By the time I joined Leicester in his rooms, supper was ready, and most of the party assembled. The sport of the day was duly discussed; those who knew least about such matters being proportionately the most noisy and positive in giving their opinions. One young hero of eighteen, fresh from Winchester, in all the importance of a probationary Fellow of New College, explained for our benefit, by the help of the forks and salt-cellars, the line which the horses undoubtedly ought to have taken, and which they did not take; until one of his old schoolfellows, who was present, was provoked to treat us to an anecdote of the young gentleman's first appearance in the hunting-field—no longer ago than the last term—when he mistook the little rough Scotch terrier that always accompanied ——'s pack for the fox, and tally-ho'd him so lustily as to draw upon himself sundry very energetic, but not very complimentary, remarks from the well-known master of the hounds. By degrees Leicester recovered his usual good-humour; and supper passed over, and several songs had been sung with the usual amount of applause (except one very sentimental one which had no chorus), and we had got pretty deep into punch and politics, without Hurst's name having once been mentioned by either of us. A knock at the oak, and in walked Fane.

"So you're come back at last?" said Horace. "Sit down, if you can find room. Allow me to introduce your left-hand neighbour—Powell of Merton,—Fane, one of our brightest ornaments; quite the spes gregis we consider him; passed his little go, and started a pink only last week; give him a glass of punch. Perhaps you are not aware we've been drinking your health. But, by the way, Fane, where's our friend Wellington?"

"Who?" said Fane; "what on earth are you talking about?"

"Wellington Hurst; didn't you bring him home with you?"

"Certainly not; didn't you bring him home?"

"No; Miller promised me he should have a seat inside your drag, because we could not wait for him; did you stay to the play?"

"Yes, and capital fun it was; by the way, the last time I saw your friend Hurst was mounted up in a red baise place that was railed off for the patrons and patronesses, as they called them; there he was in the front row, doing the civil to a very odd-looking old dowager in bright blue velvet, with a neck like an ostrich."

"Thank you," said Leicester, "that's my aunt."

"Well, on that ground, we'll drink her health," said Fane, whose coolness was proverbial. "There was Hurst, however, sitting between her and an uncommonly pretty girl, with dark hair and eyes, dressed in—let me see"——

"Never mind; it was one of my cousins, I suppose," interposed Horace, who was engaged in lighting a cigar at the candle, apparently with more zeal than success.

"Well, we'll drink her health for her own sake, if you have no particular objection. I've no doubt the rest of the company will take my word for her being the prettiest girl on the ground to-day; Hurst would second me if he were here, for I never saw a man making love more decidedly in my life."

"Stuff!" said Horace, pitching his cigar into the fire; "pass that punch."

"What! jealous, Leicester?" said two or three of the party—"preserved ground, eh?"

"Not at all, not at all," said Horace, trying with a very bad grace to laugh off his evident annoyance; "at all events, I don't consider Hurst a very formidable poacher; but what I want to know is, how he didn't come home with Miller and your party?"

"Miller said he was coming up directly, so you can ask him; I really heard nothing of it. Hark, there are steps coming up the staircase now."

It proved to be Miller himself, followed by the under-porter, a good-tempered fellow, who was the factotum of the under-graduates at late hours, when the ordinary staff of servants had left college for the night.

"How are you, Leicester?" said he, as he walked straight to the little pantry, or "scouts' room," immediately opposite the door, which forms part of the usual suite of college apartments; "come here, Bob."

"Where's Hurst?" was Horace's impatient query.

"Wait a bit," replied Miller from inside, where he was rattling the plates in the course of investigating the remains of the supper—he was not the man to go to bed supperless after a twelve miles' drive. "Here, Bob," he continued, as he emerged at last with a cold fowl—"take this fellow down with you, and grill him in no time; here's a lump of butter—and Harvey's sauce—and—where do you keep the pickled mushrooms, Leicester? here they are—make a little gravy; and here, Bob—it's a cold night—here's a glass of wine; now you'll drink Mr Leicester's health, and vanish."

Bob drank the toast audibly, floored his tumbler of port at two gulps, and departed.

"Now," said Horace, "do just tell me—what is become of Hurst? how didn't you bring him home?"

"Confound it!" said Miller, as he looked into all the jugs—"no whisky punch?"

"Oh, really I forgot it; here's bishop, and that brandy punch is very good. But how didn't he come home with you?"

"Forgot it!" soliloquised Miller pathetically.

"Forgot it? how the deuce came you to forget it? and how will he come now?" rejoined Horace.

"How came you to forget it? I was talking about the whisky punch," said Miller, as we all roared with laughter. "I couldn't bring Hurst, you know, if he wouldn't come. He left the playhouse even before we did, with some ladies—and we came away before it was over—so I sent up to tell him we were going to start in ten minutes, and had a place for him; and the Boots came down and said they had just had supper in, and the gentleman could not possibly come just yet. Well, I sent up again, just as we were ready harnessed, and then he threatened to kick Boots down stairs."


"What a puppy!" said Horace.

"I don't quite agree with you there: I don't pretend to much sentiment myself, as you are all aware; but with a lady and a supper in the case, I should feel perfectly justified in kicking down stairs any Boots that ever wore shoes, if he hinted at my moving prematurely."

Miller's unusual enthusiasm amused us all except Horace. "Gad," said he, at last, "I hope he won't be able to get home to-night at all!" In this friendly wish he was doomed to be disappointed. It was now long past twelve o'clock; the out-college members of the party had all taken their leave; Miller and Fane, having finished their grilled chicken at a little table in the corner, had now drawn round the fire with the three or four of us who remained, and there was a debate as to the expediency of brewing more punch, when we heard a running step in the Quadrangle, which presently began to ascend the staircase in company with a not very melodious voice, warbling in a style which bespoke the owner's high state of satisfaction.

"Hush! that's Hurst to a certainty!"

"Queen of my soul, whose starlike eyes
Are all the light I seek"——

(Here came an audible stumble, as if our friend were beginning his way down again involuntarily by half-a-dozen steps at a time.) "Hallo! Leicester! just lend us a candle, will you? The lamp is gone out, and it's as dark as pitch; I've dropped my hat."

"Open the door, somebody," said Horace; and Hurst was admitted. He looked rather confused at first, certainly; for the sudden transition from outer darkness into a small room lighted by a dozen wax candles made him blink, and our first greeting consisting of "ha—ha's" in different keys, was perhaps somewhat embarrassing; but he recovered himself in a second.

"Well," said he, "how are you all? glad you got home safe, Hawthorne; hope I didn't keep you waiting, Miller? you got the start of me, all of you, coming home; but really I spent an uncommon jolly evening."

"Glad to hear it," said Leicester, with a wink to us.

"Yes;—'pon my life; I don't know when I ever spent so pleasant a one;" and, with a sort of chuckle to himself, Hurst filled a glass of punch.

"What did you think of Richard the Third?" said I.

"Oh! hang the play! there might have been six Richards in the field for all I can say: I was better engaged."

"Ay," said Fane, "I rather fancy you were."

"We had a very pleasant drive home," said I, willing to effect a diversion in favour of Leicester, who was puffing desperately at his cigar in a savage kind of silence;—"and a capital supper afterwards; I wish you had been with us."

"And I had a very jolly drive too: I got a gig, and galloped nearly all the way; and a very good supper, too, before I started; but I won't return your compliment; we were a very snug party without you. Upon my word, Leicester, your eldest cousin is one of the very nicest girls I ever met: the sort of person you get acquainted with at once, and so very lively and good-humoured—no nonsense about her."

"I'll make a point of letting her know your good opinion," replied Horace, in a tone conveying pretty plainly a rebuke of such presumption. But it was lost upon Hurst.

"Probably you need not trouble yourself," said Fane: "I dare say he has let her know it himself already."

"No—really no"—said Hurst, as if deprecating anything so decided; "but Miss Leicester is a very nice girl; clever, I should say, decidedly; there's a shade of—one can hardly call it rusticity—about her manner; but I like it, myself—I like it."

"Do you?"—said Horace, very drily.

"Oh! a season in London would take all that off." And Hurst began to quaver again—

"Queen of my soul, whose"—

"I'll tell you what," said Horace, rising, and standing with his back to the fire, with his hands under his coat-tails—"You may not be aware of it, but you're rather drunk, Hurst."

"Drunk!" said Hurst; "no, that's quite a mistake; three glasses, I think it was, of champagne at supper; and you men have sat here drinking punch all the evening; if anybody's drunk, it's not me."

Hurst's usually modest demeanour was certainly so very much altered as to justify, in some measure, Leicester's supposition; but I really believe Flora Leicester's bright eyes had more to answer for in that matter than the champagne, whether the said three glasses were more or less.

However, as Horace's temper was evidently not improving, Miller, Fane, and myself wished him good night, and Hurst came with us. We got him into Fane's rooms, and then extracted from him a full history of the adventures of that delightful evening, to our infinite amusement, and apparently to his own immense satisfaction. It was evident that Miss Flora Leicester had made an impression, of which I do not give that young lady credit for being in the least unconscious.

The impression, however, like many others of its kind, soon wore off, I fancy; for the next time I saw Mr Wellington Hurst, he had returned to his usual frame of mind, and appeared quite modest and deferential; but it will not perhaps surprise my readers any more than it did myself, that Horace was never fond of referring to our drive to the steeple-chase at B——, and did not appear to appreciate, as keenly as before, the trick we had played Hurst in leaving him behind; while all the after-reminiscences of the latter bore reference, whenever it was possible, to his favourite date—"That day when you and I and Leicester had that team to B—— together."