The Whirl of Youth by Mrs. Margaret Oliphant


John Rushton's early life had been so peculiar that it was not wonderful if he found himself very much at sea when he was first plunged into the curious conventional life of an English University. He was older than most of the young men whom he found there—yet not very old, if he had not been already knocked about the world a good deal and filled with many experiences: and the first year at least passed over his head in great confusion, during which he let himself go with the stream in whatsoever eddy or current he might find himself,—which perhaps was not very profitable for his moral being, nor yet for his education properly so called. Life in the University is even more than in other places a congeries of whirls, one round or dance of wildly rushing figures, each encircling some swaying standard of its own, dance of the Mænads or of the Berserkers going on for ever in a mode that sets aside all that peacefulness of study and learning which we all, perhaps, vainly suppose is, or ought to be, found in the very atmosphere of these abodes of letters. I wonder if it ever was so. Did not the young clergy whirl too, in circles of asceticism or mutual devotion, or perhaps forbidden and secret pleasure, one trooping after another in the earliest days? Certainly the young Cavaliers must have done so, and likewise the young Puritans each treading in the other's steps, holding the other's coats, rushing round and round. It is not Fashion or Society alone that puts up those unsteady flagstaff's and leads the wild dance around them. It is nature, we must believe, since they exist everywhere. John got into the rush of the idle, and flew along in a monotonous circle among them like the merry-go-round at a fair. He did not like it much, but the whirl caught him and plucked at his feet and set him all in motion in the pathway of the others. And then he fell farther down into a wilder rush, still the whirl (so called) of pleasure and dissipation: and then recovering with an effort got back into the rush of the cultured and æsthetic and whirled through the world of pictures and furniture and poetry, finding no rest for the sole of his foot. His head was a little dazed with all these gyrations: he was a steady fellow, in fact, liking to feel firm ground under him, and to live his own way. And it was chiefly because his guardians and best friends—though in fact the sway of the guardians was virtually over—were intent upon conforming him to the recognised models, and subduing his instinct to be independent, a word into which they read other meanings, that he had come to the University at all, a place for which he felt that he was not fitted by previous training, nor likely to do much good in any way. At the beginning of his second year John returned a little ashamed of himself, feeling the strong likelihood that he would be led into one or another of his previous follies, and the almost conviction that he would find himself spinning like the rest in the contagion of youth and activity before he knew.

He was pondering upon this with a little discouragement of heart, wondering within himself with a rueful touch of humour when the first bevy of comrades would arrive and which it would be, when a summons came to him to go and see the Warden, which was rather an alarming call, considering that the work which had been given to him to occupy his vacation had not been done any more than the work of the previous year. He pulled on accordingly that shabby little pinafore (worn the wrong way about) of black stuff which in Oxford is called a gown, and took up his cap and went across the quadrangle, green with the chilly greens of October though sprinkled with yellow leaves which every breath of wind brought down. The Warden was not an ordinary or common Don (may the rash pen be pardoned which combines such words), but a man of note and of judgment, though like other men he had his weaknesses. The chief of these was that he preferred the young men of family and great position who were put into his hands, to the humbler crew of nobodies who swarmed around them. In the Warden, however, this was not a weakness, but a matter of principle. When it is a weakness it is called by the opprobrious name of snobbishness or tuft-hunting, or other still more disagreeable appellations; but when it is a principle, it is a very lofty one, and means that it is a finer thing to exert influence over those who will have a great deal of power in their hands, than over those who will have none—and that accordingly to make a great man wise and good is a greater achievement than to influence a poor one, even if the poor one might by chance be made into even a greater paragon of virtue than the great. This is a perfectly solid and defensible principle—when it is a principle, as we say; and altogether different from that love of honours and titles which has been attributed to other heads of houses in a less elevated way. The Warden received John with an austere smile, followed by a look of great gravity. He said, "I hear, Mr Rushton, and have unfortunately observed, that very little work was got from you last year,—that, in short, your first year at the University was to a great degree a year lost to you and no credit to the college."

"I am afraid, sir," said John, hanging his head, "that it is quite true."

"And now we are at the beginning of another academical year, I should like to know what you intend. Are you to join the ranks of the idlers for good—or perhaps I should say for bad—or do you mean to make an effort to do better? I always like to know how a man means to begin: then we know where we are."

"I am sure you know, sir, better than any one," said John, plucking up a heart and facing his monitor, "that a man never means it to begin with, even if he does badly. It's not the intention that is in fault."

"Sometimes. I admit, that is the case—often, perhaps; but I am not sure, Mr Rushton, that to yield weakly to a passing temptation is not as bad, or nearly so, as to begin with a plan of merely pleasing oneself. It comes to the same thing in the end."

"I did not mean it as an excuse, sir. I was merely stating a fact."

"Very well; allowing the fact—am I to understand that you are going to let yourself be blown about by every wind, and begin without any intention at all?"

"That's logical, I don't doubt, sir," said John; "but naturally that is not what I mean."

The Warden gave up the point, and resumed in a different tone. "I don't suppose," he said, "from the opportunities I have had of seeing your work, so much, or so little rather, as it has been, that you have any very high expectations of success at the University—of distinguishing yourself, in short?"

No man, however stupid, likes to be told that he has no expectations of success; and John reddened in spite of himself. But he was very sensible, and replied with a sort of laugh, "No; I never thought I was clever, sir, if that is what you mean?"

The Warden did not deny that that was what he meant. But he said, "With that conviction, and not much enthusiasm for work, will you forgive me for asking what brought you to the University at all?"

John laughed outright at this, being struck by the humour of the question. "If every man that came up was asked that, sir," he said, "a great many of us would be in the same box, I'm afraid."

The Warden was not a man who disliked a straightforward answer. He preferred a young man who stood to his guns. "That is true enough," he said; "but there are other motives in many of these cases. Parents insist on it—or future prospects demand it. Some men would find their future profession barred to them without a University education; or, at least, would find it more difficult to get on; or would be discredited more or less among the people they are naturally with. But you, I believe, don't contemplate entering any profession?"

The rapid reflection in John's mind that he was evidently not one of those who was considered to be naturally in the society of people who cared for a University degree, was inevitable; and it perhaps moved him to the unintentional impertinence of a personal reference. "You don't say that to Scarfield, sir," he said, quickly, "and he has no more intention of entering a profession than I have." He said it quickly, and repented it even more quickly than he spoke.

"Lord Scarfield," said the Warden, calmly, "is a man who will have a great deal of influence in his generation. He will be what is called a great man in his county; he may be a power for good or evil according as his mind is trained now. I make this explanation for the sake of the prejudices which are abroad on the subject, though it is one you have no right to ask, and it has no bearing on your case."

"I beg your pardon, sir," said John; "I know I had no right to say that. I'm aware," he added, "that I'm nobody; and it's of no consequence whether I take my degree or not. But perhaps, sir, that's rather a new view."

"It may be a new view. I do not bind myself to old views. I have heard that you are or will be rich, Mr Rushton; but you have no stake in the country, nothing to bind you to it, and, I hear, rather a love of wandering. You don't want to be fitted for the exercise of great influence or to fill a great place. You have no parents, I understand, to insist upon any special career, or whose place you would fill in the world."

"It is true," said John, very red and hot, "that I never saw my father; and that he left me only money, and no place to fill, as you say, sir. But I have a mother whom I am as anxious to please as if she were a duchess, and no antecedents that I know of that would deprive me of a man's usual responsibilities. But if you think, sir, that I am no credit, and had better withdraw from the college——"

The Warden interrupted with a wave of the hand, and indeed John's voice was somewhat choked in his throat. "I mean nothing of the kind, nothing of the kind, Mr Rushton! You are a young man of sense. If you think a moment you will understand my meaning—which is that, having no special incentive, either within yourself or without, to intellectual work, I see no object you can have in remaining at the University, if it is only as a method of amusing yourself,—if, in short, this year is to be a repetition of last year, I think it well for you to turn the matter over in your mind. If,—that is the problem. It is very likely," said the Warden, holding out his hand to be shaken, in token of dismissal, "that you have it in you to solve it in the right way."

John went out from this interview with a great buzzing in his head, and the sensation of having been pricked up with red-hot irons or goaded with sharp bayonet points, for the shock was physical as well as mental. His pulses went at railroad speed. The blood in his veins stung him, it flew so fiercely to the heart and back again. Such a commotion within him must have been as good for his health as the strongest dose of the best tonic ever known. A beggar like Scarfield, he said to himself, a mild dilettante puppy, to be coddled and cooked into a great man—and I, nobody! A wild young brute like So-and-so to be of importance to his country—and I, no matter, no account! If the Warden had meant to humble him, it was a bad way to do it; if he had meant to stimulate him, to stir up all his energies, to taunt and defy and bully him into well-doing—then it might be a queer way, but it was an effectual way. And no doubt that was what the Warden meant. He had been too long accustomed to the process of flaying young men to care very much whether it hurt them or not. If it hurt them, so much the better, perhaps. The hopeless kind were those whom it did not hurt.

John went back to his rooms and busied himself in arranging his books—those books especially which he had been required to work up during the vacation, and which, alas, he had scarcely looked at—which had been the immediate cause of the Warden's address. He looked at them with his head on one side as if he had been looking at a picture, and asked himself why he had not paid the proper attention to his orders, and thus put himself above the reach of such a reproof? But he knew very well why his vacation work had been neglected. He had spent these merry months in the society and the occupations which he loved best, among a varying company of painters, now in one region of beauty, now in another, in the fresh air, in the roughest quarters, drinking in sunshine and dew, light and shade, to the very depths of his being. Ah, that was life! No doubt it was a whirl too; and the young men rushed and circled round with the others in clouds of smoke, in noisy rooms where no man could hear his neighbour speak—sometimes, too, with equivocal associates enough—a noisy ring, caring for nothing in heaven or earth except "effects" and points of view and tones of colour. But probably, because that was his own way, John lingered upon it, seeing all its good things and none of its evils. A man could not be altogether idle among all these busy men. He had to make a dash at an effect, to put in a study, to fling colour on canvas somehow, or he could not keep his place among them. It was not a mere rush of foolish feet, a mere following one or another in a hackneyed round. He rushed to his own door and secured it, "sporting his oak," according to a term which has probably grown old-fashioned, against the inroad of those foolish feet which he heard afar off clattering upon the staircase. He had to think: he would not be driven away from his point by any invasion to-day.

But when the attempt upon his doors, and the shouts that accompanied it, had died away, and the staircase was for a few minutes silent again, and John sat down among his books to think over that problem, his mind, instead of grappling with it, floated away to the scenes of his holiday, to the wilds of Brittany and the trees of Fontainebleau, between which he had divided himself. He had not gone far afield. He was not an adventurous fellow. The places where everybody went were good enough for him. He followed in his mind with a smile many a riotous expedition, setting out in a tumult of shouts and fun, but gradually stilling into quietude as one man after another came to the "bit" he wanted, or stopped short arrested in a corner to record an impression, or dashed with flying touches an effect of the ever-changing light; while the old fellows, the steady, middle-aged men who had outgrown the great hopes and ideals which still flushed the horizon of the young ones, settled themselves and pegged away at pictures which were called, not according to their subjects, but by their authors' names, as a Dupin, a Merryweather, and so on—as recognisable as the painter's card among all the bands of the cognoscenti. A smile came upon his face as he wandered among these pleasing recollections—and then he came to with a sudden start, and to the sense that he was not in the least considering his problem, but only living over again the life that he loved best. What a life it was! But he must put a stop to these reminiscences; he must think of the question before him. Then a smile came over John's face as he asked himself whether if he were to send the Warden a picture or a drawing, representing the best he could do—that would please the head of the college as well as the essay which John knew he could not do half so well? He remembered having heard some one say that if a certain minor canon with a beautiful voice had sung something out of the "Messiah" when he went up into the pulpit, instead of insisting on preaching a very poor sermon, how much better it would have been,—how much more edifying for his audience and satisfactory for himself. Then John pulled himself up again. The only distinct thing before him was that he did not mean to allow himself to be beaten. They should see that he was not to be bullied out of the University. "If the work has to be done," he said to himself, "why, I must do it. I was a fool not to do it when I had time. But I am not going to be beaten. I shan't write myself down an ass to please the Warden. And here goes!"

Did he accomplish that essay? Did he read his books, the books which he ought to have read in the Long Vacation? All I can say at this moment is that he set himself down very squarely at his table as if he meant it, placed one of them open before him, one which he had already looked into, dipped his pen into the ink——

But just then there came another tumult of footsteps up the staircase, and kicks against the closed doors. What a noise they made, one encouraging another to "sing out" to him, "Rushton, I say! Jack, old fellow! Confound you, can't you open?" they shouted, and a great deal more; while John sat and grinned to himself within the castle gate.


The essay, I need not say, on which John laboured, inking himself body and soul, was not by any means finished at one sitting. He toiled at it during the whole of the first week which was the term of grace. It was not a good essay. The books, read in a hurry and very imperfectly, did not convey to him by any means all the sense that was in them; his remarks were very conventional, and, if truth must be told, commonplace. That was not John's line, neither is it by any means the only one in which a man even at the University can distinguish himself. He may row or he may run, which all the world knows are still more ready ways to distinction, or he may play racquets or something else for the 'Varsity, or he may at least make a good score in the college eleven—all of which things count, at least, as much as essays. John, however, did none of these. He knew more of some things, and these not inconsiderable things, than some of the Dons, and he was no more to be compared with the silly young undergraduates who carried him (sometimes) away in their whirls, than Hyperion to a Satyr. Alas! that happens often enough: it is a mystery, one of the greatest within mortal ken, but none of us can tell why. With John it was different: it was in the carelessness of strength, not the fatal lapse of weakness, that he went astray.

But he did not know how to write an essay: he did it against the grain, and knowing all the time how bad it was, even in the midst of the current which soon began again to rush around him. He was still sitting at it labouring to finish it, seeing land he thought, and panting and struggling to get to that blessed shore, when his rooms filled one afternoon with a crowd that was very much at leisure though it had a hundred things to do. There was a capital match on at the Parks, and he must come to see it, they cried. And there were two fellows going out for a spin on the river, on whose heads a great many bets were laid; and there was—but it will not be expected of me that I should know what was going on in an afternoon in October to occupy a band of boys calling themselves men, and agog after any and every amusement. A few sat on the table dangling their legs, and shutting out the light from John's laboured page, while the others stood about—one pair calling out of the window over their shoulders remarks upon the passers-by, and another pair inside lunging at each other with John's foils, and a few more turning over the yellow novels of which he had always a great stock. "I say, Rushton," they cried, "come along; you're losing all the afternoon on that rot. We shan't see half of the match if you don't look sharp."

"Who would have thought of Jack turning out a sap," cried another, who was from Eton, and used the language of that valuable seminary.

"A fellow with his pockets full of money," cried another, "and nobody to call him over the coals."

"Oh, look here," cried the men at the window; "here's old Chortles going out for a walk, and Peters after him. Oh, you fellows, shouldn't you like to be Peters, going out for an hour and a half's viva voce, ambulando! that's what it is to be a pet of old Chortles, oh ho! oh ho!"

Chortles, it may be here said, was an affectionate nickname, or otherwise, applied to the Warden, on account of a peculiarity in his voice.

"Jove," cried the others, "if there isn't Scarfield sailing along with the Jolly Bruiser right across old Chortles' nose. By George, what's going to happen? Chortles' got an eye like a hawk, though he pretends to wear glasses, and Scarry, poor wretch, is as blind as a bat. Oh, good Lord!" cried the spectators, in tones of awe.

Three other young men precipitated themselves on the shoulders of the foregoing to see the fun, as they said: that a dilettante young nobleman, the pink of propriety, should know the Jolly Bruiser at all, was an unthought-of delight, and all the company crowded to see, if not with their own yet with others' eyes.

"Oh, Lord!" reported the first speaker, "to see Scarry sailing on, with a deal of side, too—not a thought of what he's coming to. Bravo, Peters! he's putting up a signal, but the blind ass doesn't see. Bruiser's in a dead funk now, trying to run away—Scarry's got hold of his arm. Oh, by Jove!"

"What's up now?" they all cried.

"Peters' behaving like a brick," said another, over his shoulder. "Pointing over to the other side—to Shrimpton's, by all that's dreadful!—where the last thing out is Chortles himself as large as life. Out of the frying-pan into the fire for Peters, eh?"

"Did he think he'd do it, then?" said another. "I say, you fellows, don't squeeze a man flat! Chortles ain't so innocent as he looks, not by a long way. Gives a nod, as much as to say I'll come to you by-and-by; and goes for Scarry straight——"

Here there was a chorus of laughter, suddenly subdued.

"Silence, you fellows! he's looking this way. Just one glance, Rushy, but he sees it's your windows, and you're in for it. Oh, Jove! to see the Warden touching his hat to Jim Tucker! Jim squashed, the unjolliest Bruiser you ever saw, half a foot shorter at the least, makes tracks—and, Lord! to see Chortles holding Scarry with his eye! I'd give all my lands and castles to hear what he says!"

"Ah! it's all very well for Scarry," said another—"cool as a cucumber, don't you know, with nothing against him, and a title at his back; whereas if it were you or me——"

"Explaining he is, by Jove! Don't you see old Chortles shutting him up? Come to me this evening after hall—that's what he's saying, bet you anything! Oh, I wish I could be there to see; and, Lord! there he goes across to Shrimpton's: Peters has remembered, poor old man! He's being led to execution, and he knows it. It was all to save that prig Scarry, who will never lift a finger for him."

"I say, you fellows, are we going to stay here all the afternoon?" said—this incident being over—another of the band. John had been sitting, his pen suspended in his hand, during the little episode above described. The cloud of young men at the window had shut out the light, while the cries and stamps of the fencers who had carried on through all the tumult came in now suddenly like a solo after a chorus. John's ideas were not very quick to come at any time, and that last bit of struggling towards the end of a very unwilling literary exercise is perhaps the worst of all. You are breathless with sight of the shore so near at hand, and longing to get to it. He had not been able to refuse his interest to these incidents as seen from the window, and of course he wanted to be out in the fresh air, and the contagion of restlessness in the others—who could not keep either legs or arms quiet for a moment, and now began to sprawl all about his room, some taking sides in the mock contest between the fencers, some pulling about his books, his photographs on the mantelpiece, and even his portfolios of sketches in the corner—gained on him in spite of himself: and the obstinacy of pride was not perhaps a very sustaining motive, though indeed it was this alone, and not any pleasure in work or desire to do it well, which chained him to that hopeful manuscript. "I wish you'd go," he said, with the straightforwardness which was not out of place in that society. "Brunton, there's drinks in the cupboard; you know where to find them. Help yourselves, for goodness' sake, and go! I must get this confounded thing before I stir, and how can I get on with all of you ballyragging about?"

"Rubbish!" said Brunton. "Leave it till after. You can get it done another time."

"What other time?" said John, setting his elbows square on the table.

"I never knew Jack to be a sap before," said the Eton man. "Come on, and leave him to his fate."

Then one detachment went rushing down the staircase, filling the air with the tumult of their steps and voices. But the fencers and their audience still kept the ground.

"What a deuced waste of time!" said Brunton, turning over the sheets. "By George, Jack, you'll spoil the college! Look here, Gaison, and blush if you can for your confounded swagger of a place. See what we can do here—and the first week of term, too!"

"Rushy, my boy, you're too good to live!" said the other man.

"I'll tell you what!" said John, in his impatience—but he checked himself, for the fencers had put up their foils and were preparing to move.

"Come along," they said; "let's look up the Bruiser and see how he likes to meet old Chortles full face in the High. Let's go and have a game of billiards. Let's have a stroll somewhere. Let's do something. That fellow with his pen is enough to bore a man out of his life."

Brunton alone stayed, the most intimate, but not the most desirable, of John's friends. He was intimate solely because he had made up his mind to be so, independent of John's sentiments, perhaps because he had an admiration for John—which was the most flattering way of explaining it, and even over a sensible fellow like John Rushton exercised a certain agreeable influence—perhaps for other reasons. He had sought him by night and day. He had always been at hand when the young man wanted diversion, or even merely a reason for amusing himself—and the consequence was that Brunton had grown into a necessity, a sort of accompaniment to John's life. He had helped himself to some of the drinks in the cupboard, and now sat astride on a chair with his glass in his hand staring across the back of it at John's composition which had been resumed with doubtful success. John was unspeakably burdened and angered by the presence of this spectator, but it is not so easy to dismiss a single visitor as it is to adjure a crowd to go away. At length "I say, old fellow," Brunton said.

John made a movement of impatience with his hand, and laboured on.

"I say, when are you coming down by Iffley, the Old Hatchet way? What jolly days we had there last term. By the way, there's some one there——Beg pardon, old man, if I'm interrupting——"

"Of course you're interrupting," cried John. "Look here. I'm going to finish this before I budge, if the devil himself were to interfere." He threw down his pen and looked his friend in the face. "If you've got anything to say that wants saying, say it and be done with it in the name of——"

"Ah! I knew I'd fetch you so!" cried the other. "Well, I'll tell you what it is. There's a little person there that wants to see you very badly—and a very pretty little person too. She says, 'Ain't Mr Rushton up this year?—ain't Mr Rushton a-coming out to see us? Me and mother thinks a deal of Mr Rushton. He ain't a bit like the rest of you gentlemen.'"

"Well?" said John, red, but fierce.

"Well! I told her I'd tell you. It's a poor compliment for the rest of us, Jack: but you've only to go in and win."

"Stuff," said John, "and fudge and bosh, and whatever else there is that's silly. I understand what she means. I have some respect for a woman, whoever she is."

"Oh, respect!" said Brunton; "I expect she would like something a little warmer than that. And she says you promised to bring her something the very first day you were up—and you've been up a week—hence those tears."

"I promised to bring her something?" said John, with confusion: and then he became fiery red once more.

"Don't you think you'd like a stroll?" he added; "don't you think you'd like a game at billiards? there's always some one about that has nothing to do. It's a pity to lose the whole afternoon here."

"That's a broad hint, anyhow," cried the other, laughing. "Well, I'll go—but don't forget the Hatchet, old fellow, and the arbour in the garden, and the maid of the inn. Oh, I'm off. You need not spoil your books throwing them at me."

When he was alone John put down his pen again and took out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead. His countenance was crimson and the blood all a-boil in his veins. "What a fool I am, what a double-dashed fool I have been," he said to himself. And it was some time before he could resume the work at which he had so laboured and struggled. This was a greater interruption than anything made by the comrades who had thronged and troubled him. Yet after a while he surmounted this also, and betook himself to his work with such energy that he did at last struggle through. Well! it was not very much when it was done: probably no less valuable piece of work ever took so much time before. It had cost him a great deal of trouble, and now that it was completed it was of less than no use to anybody. The unfortunate tutor to whom he would have to read it would groan his head off before it was finished, and then it would be flung with relief into the fire. And yet he had spent all these days at it, cudgelled his brains, and almost cudgelled some of the idle fellows who had tried to stop him—for this wretched thing that was nothing, which was less than worthless! Few can perhaps see this so distinctly and with so powerful an apprehension as John did. He put it away in his desk with a grim smile, and then just as twilight was coming on he went out—to stretch his limbs and fill his lungs with that damp Oxford air which is perhaps just better than no air at all.

He was swinging along over Maudlin Bridge on his walk, "thinking hard," as he would have said, when there came suddenly up out of the twilight a little figure, which stopped and clasped its hands at sight of him, with a little cry. "Oh, is it really you, Mr Rushton?" which chimed in, in a very troublous and distressing manner, with John's thoughts.

"And is this you, Miss—Miss Millar," he said, perturbed, "so far from home?"

"Yes," she said, "it's a bit late. I've been in town doin' two or three little things for mother, and I see it was getting dark, and started runnin'—and then I thought that would just make folks stare—and then I saw as it was you——Oh, Mr Rushton, you've never been to see us—though you promised——"

"I have only been up a very little time. I—I have had a great deal to do."

"Ah," said the girl, "I know what you gentlemen has to do—just to find out every day something new to amuse yourselves—not like us as has to work."

"I assure you, Mary, it was work with me—real work, though you may not believe it," he said.

She came a little nearer to him at the sound of her own name, and, looking up, said in a subdued tone, "I'd believe anything you said."

Fiercely red once more became John, hot as with a furnace-blast: but nobody saw this, not even the pair of eyes that were for a moment lifted to his.

"I'm afraid I don't deserve as much as that," he said, humbly. "I say things I don't mean, just like the rest."

"I wouldn't believe anybody but yourself as said so. Perhaps you didn't mean it then, Mr Rushton, when you promised me that."

"What did I promise you, Mary?"

"Oh, Mr Rushton, you can't—you can't have forgotten! You promised me a nice gold locket with your picture in it."

They were walking on now side by side in the growing dimness, and John had not even daylight to protect him, or the expression of his face.

"My picture?" he said, in dismay. "Was I such a fool as all that? You shall have the gold locket and welcome, Mary; but you don't mean to say you would like my ugly mug inside?"

"Oh, ugly, indeed!" she said; "that's just what I should like best."

Poor John, not knowing what to say, overwhelmed with humiliation and shame, yet a little ruefully elated, too, that she should like his ugly mug, made a clumsy diversion by a total change of subject, and asked hurriedly whether anything had happened since he had been away.

"Oh, happened!" she cried, annoyed not to pursue the more interesting subject. "Nothing ever happens down Iffley way: at least no more than the old thing as mother is always at me to—marry: and I shouldn't wonder if I did some day, just for a change——"

"And who," said John, with that instant impulse to kick him, which is natural to his kind, "is the happy man?"

"Oh, you know, Mr Rushton. It's Jim Kington, as you've heard before. It's a bit hard," said the girl, with something like a suppressed sob, "after seeing so much of you gentlemen and your ways, to settle down for life with such a common man."

"Would you like, then, to marry—a gentleman?" John said. He did not know why he said it—unthinking, and yet not without a thought—wantonly, because it was dangerous, because he wanted to see what she would say.

"Oh, Mr Rushton!" she said, hanging her head: and suddenly, to his consternation, he felt a timid touch, her hand stealing within his arm.

"It wouldn't be for your good, Mary," he said, with energy. "You don't know what you would have to go through. How would you like to have people looking down upon you, laughing at you behind your back, perhaps mocking you before your face, and all your little faults made a fuss about, and nobody to be at ease with. I don't think you would find it a happy fate."

"If you think I have such bad manners, Mr Rushton! but not when I take pains. I know how to hold my head as high as the best, and give them back as good——And, besides, I am very quick at picking things up, and I'd soon learn——"

"Some things are not so easily learned," said John. "I don't think you'd find it a happy fate."

"Oh, Mr Rushton," she said, again hanging with a little weight upon his arm, holding it close, "why should I mind if he loved me?—I'd be 'appy anywhere, if I never saw a single soul, only to pass my life along of——'im!"

She said "'im," but meant "you," plainer than words could say. And John for a moment stood still, planting his feet on the soil, feeling the whirl catch them, the quickening current, the sweep of a senseless flood: yet conscious to the very core that he did not love the girl—not the very least in the world.


It was not very long after this evening walk that John found himself in a company of the very élite of his college. They knew themselves to be the élite, and that was enough for them. Sometimes their claim to this place was rudely assailed by outsiders; sometimes it was the subject of mockery: but this mattered very little to the certainty which filled their youthful bosoms. They did not sit upon tables and hang out of windows like the others. The table in the centre of the room was strewn with prints, with photographs from pictures, and curiosities of all kinds. There was a little Tanagra figure on the mantelpiece, holding a central place in its little shrine of red velvet, and other ornaments of equal refinement arranged with the greatest care on either side. On the wall above, usually occupied by an imbecile mirror, was a round picture which Lord Scarfield, the owner of the rooms, who had a lisp, sometimes talked of as "my Tondo" and sometimes as "my Bottithelli." It was but a copy, I need not say, but it came a great deal into his conversation. He himself sat in an antique chair with a high back, at one side of the fireplace, and his little colourless head, with its very light hair, stood out almost like an ivory from the dark damask. He was aware of the fact and liked it, and so were the other habitués of these rooms aware of it, feeling themselves called upon to be struck by this, as they came in one by one, and nodded at their host, and sat down somewhere within reach of the table if they could, if not in twos and little groups round the wall, where a number of abstruse conversations went on, chiefly about art, but likewise upon social subjects. John had been drawn into this supreme company chiefly on the score that he knew something practically of art, though they thought in a rude way, without a due sense of its fine affinities and symbolisms—but yet with a vulgar, practical acquaintance which no doubt counted for something. When he went in Scarfield was giving a description of that meeting with the Warden which John's other friends had watched from the window.

"He ith always very thivil," said the little lord, "but I had every reathon to expect a row. Peterth made me a thign to cut and run—but why thould I cut and run? The Bruither is a perthonage in his way—and Thortles loves a perthonage. I was very punctual after Hall—likes you to be punctual, Thortles doth. Thaid he was very thorry to thee me in thuch company. 'Why, thir?' I thaid. Thortles taken aback by that. 'Why thir! do I need to thay why?' 'Yeth thir, pleath,' thaid I, and I waited for an answer. Never thaw a man more done in my life."

"Chortles like a nettle, soft as silk," cried another, losing the thread of his metaphor, "when you face him out."

"It wathn't that," said Scarfield; "it wath theething the kid in his mother'th milk—that's what it was. Very fond of talking to me about my influence and tho forth. 'You tell me, thir,' thaid I, 'to exercise a good influence. Can't do that without knowing men of all thorts, thir, don't you know? Bruither's a very thelect thort. Had a very improving conversation—lotth of information in it. Know his thort quite well now. Able to exercise influence. Just your own line, thir; what you've always thaid——"

"Bravo, Scarfield!" said his intimates, in chorus. "Nobody can manage Chortles like old Scar."

"Laughed and stared a bit, and then thays he, 'If it's from tho high a principle, Scarfield!'—and let me off. Poor old Peterth got it hot after me. You're bound to put it out on thome one when you are a Don."

"I say," said an eager youth, "where can one get anything like that jolly little statue there? I'd give a lot of money for one. I suppose it costs the eyes out of your head."

"It costs personal research and knowledge," said another, "which are more expensive still. There are imitations, however, which I daresay you'd find do just as well."

"Where could one get it, Rushton?" said the young man. "You're not so high and mighty as these other fellows—you'll give a man an answer. I've got rooms as bare as a post, and I must get them fit for a Christian to live in."

"Christian!" said the man at the other side. "Don't go in for that bastard incongruity called Christian art, for goodness' sake: and don't put questions of that sort in Scarfield's rooms. He's what they call an eclectic, don't you know—mixes up styles and things in a way that makes you shudder. A priceless Tanagra there and a heavy-jowelled Botticelli over it—saints and angels, what a mixture! I could show you——"

"A lot of sweepings of the excavations," said John, in the boy's ear.

"Oh, will you, please?" said the lad. He was eager to follow wherever the learned might lead.

"Influence is the great thing," said another, whose name was Sutton. "Give us only a little time and we'll move the world. But nobody half owns the power of it yet. I was speaking to some of those fellows by the river the other day. I told them they didn't see their power. Why, they've got the lever in their hands to upset everything, if they choose! Talk of a House of Lords! I told them they're all hereditary legislators by right of their knotty fists and the sweat of their brows!"

"Let 'em wath it off first," said Scarfield, solemnly, from his chair.

"Why should they wash it off? We must meet the people on their own ground. Would you let a little squeamish prejudice or nicety come between you and the masters of the world?"

"I take a little exception to that," said another. "Why shouldn't they all learn to be gentlemen in their habits? Oxford fellows scattered here and there in every workshop and trades union, and so forth—that is what would do good. I said so to Bristowe up at the People's Palace, as they call it. I said, 'Get a few Oxford men to sit in the reading-room and mix with those fellows.' You would see a transformation in no time."

"We took a lot to Florence, don't you remember, Bailey?" said a third young man; "all excited with what they were going to see: but they were rather puzzled, though, when we got there. We had to talk ourselves hoarse explaining—and I doubt if they were much the wiser."

"Don't say so, Harry! Lady Betty had them out to her villa to tea, and how they did stare and gaze at the landscape—don't you remember?—and then at her, in her shimmering silks, like a lady of King Arthur's court—her face full of expression, and that reminiscent expressiveness in particular, which is the special portion of——"

"Woman is the great mystery after all," said a thoughtful young man.

"The ladies did their best, I must say, out there," said Harry, neglecting this challenge. "But then those fellows expected, don't you know, that it was to be the same in town. We told them it couldn't be just the same, with all a woman's engagements. Nothing much to do in Florence, but a whirl in London—but some of them didn't see it. We told them to come to our rooms and welcome; but after a while they didn't seem to care so much for our rooms. They want social advancement, don't you see—and to make friends there will be of use."

"The Bruither, tho far as I could make out," said Scarfield, "wanths a public-house—thays they all come to public-houthes in the course of time. And that's his ambition—if you like to call it thocial advancement, you can."

"The Bruiser is abnormal," said Bailey. "He's a creation of false needs and false interests, so far as Oxford is concerned. Curiosity to know what such a being is like must have been your motive, Scarfield: for I ask what would the highest illumination and the purest influence do for a man like that—all physical force and brute strength—with an ambition for a public-house: a public-house!"

"I shouldn't mind starting a public-house myself," said Sutton; "fine sphere, if you approach it rightly. Why, you might get the very lives of all these fellows in your hands, and play upon them like an instrument. Get them to drop their beer, don't you know, little by little. I once offered to take the pledge myself if one of them would. And he did—or rather she did, for it was a woman, as it happened. Oh, they're very open to influence! You can get them to do almost anything—for a time."

"Now it is fully established what an Oxford Settlement can do in a poor neighbourhood, we have the game in our own hands," said another. "Give them refined pleasures—that's the thing—and you see how it answers. In Bethnal Green they respond to Brahms and Rubinstein, as none of your smart people do. You see it is virgin soil—they never knew till now what beautiful things were."

"And yet they say the People's Palace is a failure!"

"Ah, I told you! It was not in the hands of University men. I said to Bristowe, 'Don't you think a few Oxford men mixing among them would soon change the tone?' He didn't seem to see it. But there is nothing else. Diffuse culture among the masses: let them see what it has done for us: give them examples to study as well as principles. There is no other way to work—at least it is the best. Christ and the apostles did the same sort of thing. It was more rudimentary in their day. Civilisation has multiplied the wants of humanity, and scientific methods have increased our power. We have got everything in our hands. What are politics or theories? a settlement of ours in every district, leaving our own sphere to leaven theirs—that is what the people want."

"When they don't like the Bruither better, and his public-house," said Scarfield. "I had thome of those fellowth up once to thee my Tondo. They stared, and then they made their remarks. 'I don't call her pretty,' they thaid—'not a bit; and nobody could write like that. I'm sure I couldn't write with my hand out like that; and them shavers in wings making eyes at her: and she might a put a rag on the babby to thave it from catching cold.'"

Scarfield was something of a mimic, and the party was in his rooms, and there was a laugh, but a laugh very speedily suppressed.

"That's not my experience," said Bailey. "I find them full of respect. If you fellows would only put your shoulders to the wheel, and all of you do something, by Heaven we'd move the world."

"Don't sneer at politics," said a young man, who had just come in. "You should first feel the swing of them, and hundreds of fellows roaring at your back. I'm in with all the strikes, don't you know. I tell them they oughtn't to stand it—not a day. A man's wages should be what he can live on comfortably with his wife and children, not any cursed balance of trade. What does it matter whether the masters get their profit or not? Confound the masters!—selfish beggars, setting up their unions too, forsooth, as if they had an equal right. The right's with the masses that have the work to do. When I see them sitting down contented and taking whatever is offered them, off I go and hold a meeting or two. And as for response!—if you once heard them shouting with you, by Jove you'd never try any of your dilettante ways again."

"Thoftly, my good fellow, thoftly," said Scarfield, from his chair. "We don't like such coarth thpeaking here——"

"Brutal," said Bailey, "brutal, encouraging all their worst instincts. That is not, from my point of view, the mission of the Oxford man. I wouldn't interfere with these rude problems: if you let them alone they will settle themselves. Why must they marry and fill the world with hungry children and get into difficulties about wages? I don't want to marry. I make myself a happy life of art and refined enjoyment. Why shouldn't they? I have no sympathy with your shouting, your talk of wages, and so forth. If they did without wives and children they would get on well enough. I can't afford wives and children. Scarfield's Botticelli to look at, or one of your own if you can afford it, is enough for me."

"There's something in strikes when you can do it," said a youth in one of the groups by the wall. "Schoolmasters, now—I'm going to be a schoolmaster—if we could strike, it would be a fine thing; but there's a hundred beggars waiting to step into your shoes."

"Then you must stop them," said John, in reply, who was nearest to him. "Pull down their houses, burn their books, blow up their schoolrooms—blind them or deafen them, if you can, still better; then they would be out of your way."

"Oh, I say," said the youth, "that would be a cowardly business; that would not be fair fighting; that would be a cad's way."

"There are no cads," said John. "Everything's fair on your side, nothing on the other—that's the new doctrine. Ask Sutton: he knows."

"Everything's fair against a rat who goes against his own side," cried the revolutionary; "everything's fair against the masters. Whenever there's force against you, you've got a licence to meet it any way you can. That is strategy, it's not a cowardly way."

"I am all for the rights of man, too," cried another youth, standing up against the wall. "And Chortles is brute force, and he's going to send me down—what am I to do?"

A sudden pause came upon the assembly. It was a fate to which all of them were subject, and the boldest held his breath. Besides, what could be done? there was nothing to be suggested amid all the expedients which theoretical revolution has in store.

"I dare thay, Ripton, you deserved it," said Scarfield, in a subdued tone.

"One is powerless," said Sutton aloud, with a sigh; "it's against natural justice, but there's no help for it. You can't stand up alone."

"We could not stand up against Chortles if he were to send us all down," another voice, still more subdued and solemn, said.

"You could bully him after in all the newspapers."

"Throw stones at his windows—but they'd have you up for that: blow up the next fellow that is given your rooms."

These suggestions were made with a perilous inclination towards frivolity which had to be stopped in the bud.

"We have no combination," said Bailey. "We're an inferior lot altogether to the working men. Besides, the whole case is different. We pay the Dons, don't you see, they don't pay us, and——Well, it's not a thing to argue about. If Chortles were to send us all down——"

"Well, this is a fine thing," said the youth, who was desperate; "you're going to move the world and upset the whole country, and you daren't jaw old Chortles, not one of you. And I've got to go down to-morrow, and what shall I say to my people?" the poor young fellow cried.

They all looked at him aghast, compassionate, no doubt, but quite unwilling to share the stigma thus put upon him, or identify themselves with his disgrace. It was John who took him by the arm and led him out, and was the confidant of his trouble, which indeed was no out of the way, or original, or unusual trouble, but only a tale of idleness, of recklessness, of the usual rush and round of careless life. "I went and apologised too," the young fellow said. "I give you my word, Rushton, it wasn't all billiards and that, as Chortles thinks—I used to go to play the violin, you know, for Bailey—and carry their messages for them, and go to their meetings. I've done a little myself in the East End," he added, with forlorn pride. "But not one of them will speak up for me, or tell Chortles if I was a fool that it wasn't all in the one way. Scarry can do what he likes with Chortles, but he never would mix himself up with a fellow that's sent down."

"I am very sorry for you," said John, "and I don't want to preach: but after this, if I were you, I would stick to my own business and get that done first of all."

"Oh, don't you think, then, as they say," cried the young unfortunate, "that it's a fine thing to work for other people? That's what they all say—to do good to the lower class that haven't our advantages."

"And in what way did you think you could do good to the lower class?" said John, grimly: but he did not pursue his subject. He kept the young man in view, and soothed him, which was perhaps better, and saw him off next day in somewhat better spirits, and with a certain sense that he was a martyr to his principles stealing into his soul—which he was able to communicate to his mother, at least, consoling, nay, making that poor lady proud, even of the sending down.

John had quite enough to do, however, with his own difficulties, which he had brought on himself as he well knew. He too had gone speechifying in his time, and tried to do good to the lower classes, carried on by the whirl of the movement of the others, whose sense of the high superiority of the Oxford man, and his certain effect upon the world, he had not perhaps ever seriously, certainly never enthusiastically, shared. To do good to the lower classes, to make a transformation by his mere presence, to influence the whole fabric of life and the rolling of its wheels—John asked himself with a blush which there was no one to perceive, what there was in him to do all this? and the very direction which his feet took, almost against his will, gave him the information he sought. Where was he going? he was turning mechanically towards the road in which he knew another person—a person very easily influenced indeed, and one who had taken too much the impressions of his mind, unconsciously at first, perhaps unwillingly to himself—was likely to be found. It was not an appointment: that would have alarmed her as well as him; though he was not now so sure of that as he had been. Was it possible that perhaps little Mary, innocent little girl as she seemed and was, was playing for what were to her high stakes, and risking a good deal in the spirit of the gamester? He did not allow this, and yet it came in. But that did not in the least extenuate his guilt or explain how his footsteps sought that way and no other in those early twilights, now wan with the November chill. What game was he playing? Was it to lose—everything—his head, his feet, his self-command in some whirl of foolish feeling which was not passion or anything real at all? or was it to win—in any shameful way? Certainly not that, certainly not that. He said it over to himself raising his head, setting down his foot with a stamp upon the ground. But while he made this vow to himself, once more against the pale background of the willows and the dusk of the damp fields that little figure rose, with its air of fictitious surprise. "Oh, Mr Rushton! are you really walking this way again?" she said.


"But, my dear little Mary, your mother, who is a kind woman, will never press you to marry him—if you don't like him," John said.

"Oh, Mr Rushton, you don't know what mother is. She says it's for my good. They always think it is for our good when they go against us. She says I'd be a deal better with a house of my own and a man to work for me, instead of slaving in the bar drawing beer, and forced to laugh and talk with all you gentlemen."

This was a new view of the matter to John. "Were you forced to laugh and talk to us?" he said, with a sort of rueful chuckle. "That was perhaps a pity on all sides."

"Oh, Mr Rushton!" cried Mary, "that's what mother says. It's not what I think—don't you believe that."

"It might have been better, however, if you had thought it," John said.

"Oh, don't say so!" cried the girl. "Then I never should have known anything better. When I think of you with your nice clean ways, and your white shirtfronts, and your soft clothes—and Jim comes in all as he has been working——"

Mary paused with a little shudder, thinking of that honourable dew of labour which Scarfield had gently suggested might be washed off. It gave John the most curious, whimsical sensation of universal misunderstanding and general topsy-turvy to hear the girl's statement of that influence which his friends had been discussing with so much more exalted ideas of its power.

"But surely you could get him to wash?" he said, with a laugh.

"It ain't so easy as you think," said Mary. "When you're only keeping company they'll do it, and keep themselves tidy; but when they are married men!—then they think only of what's comfortable," the girl said, with a sigh. Her head inclined almost upon John's shoulder as she made her plaint, which was half ludicrous to him, not wholly touching as she hoped. "Oh, Mr Rushton, how can I ever make up my mind to such a fate?" Mary said.

"But, my little girl," he said, "you know there is always one way out of it. You needn't marry at all—at least, I mean just at present," he added, hastily.

"What, and 'ave mother nagging at me from morning to night?" said Mary, hastily; and then in a softened tone, "I'd wait—ah, for twenty years!—for one as I was really fond of," she said.

And then there was a pause, and they went on together arm in arm: and the silence thrilled with meaning to poor little Mary, and perhaps to the young man, too, half carried out by the tide with which he had been so long dallying, half upon the dry ground to which he held with a sort of desperation—"One foot on sea and one on shore." John was not of the kind of those who are "to one thing constant never": yet he felt very strongly the force of this statement of his position. He could not bear to break her poor little heart, to fling her off into the arms of the unwashed Jim; but what could he do? To marry the daughters of the masses was not perhaps the way in which Oxford men could best influence those masses for good—and yet why not so if all their theories were true? He did not speak, though it was he who ought to have spoken. It was she who, after that moment of thrilling suspense which again came to nothing, took the word.

"I've been brought up too particular," she said. "We shouldn't be perhaps when it's only to end in that. I've been brought up so that I'm only fit for another spear."

"And what sphere is that, Mary?" He was a little amused, but he did, there was no denying, press to his side a little slender hand that clung to his arm.

"Oh, Mr Rushton, what you said yourself that time. Don't you remember, just after you came up, you said, 'Would you like to marry a gentleman?'" She began to cry softly in the dark, clinging to him. "Oh, Mr Rushton, when you said that it was like opening the gate just a little bit—to see heaven!"

"Did it look like that?" he said; his voice trembled a little. "It would be a poor heaven, Mary. I fear it wouldn't be happy for you at all. Think! You would have to give up your own people—your mother and everything."

"Well," she said, "that's only like what's in the Bible—'Forget thine own people and thy father's house.'"

"And his people, don't you know, would be very angry, and perhaps would not—be civil. It may be very bad, but that is what they would do."

"Oh, Mr Rushton!" she cried, clinging closer: "but if he should have no people—like—like—some gentlemen?" Mary did not venture yet to say "like you."

"Everybody has some one," he said, hastily, offended by this imputation, and feeling for the moment a strong impulse to push her away—which, however, was impossible to him. "My dear, you wouldn't like it," he said; "you wouldn't be a bit happy; you would be out of it on both sides. And then, fancy if the man was poor—as most of us are when we offend our people. You think marrying a gentleman means having plenty of money, getting everything you wish, and nice dresses and a nice house, and all that; but it would be far worse to be poor as a gentleman's wife than as—than in a different sphere."

His taste revolted from saying "as Jim's wife," which were the natural words. John was not æsthetic, but to speak of a girl, even the maid of the inn, balancing thus between two men, was more than he could do.

"Oh, Mr Rushton," she said, again, "what should I mind being poor if—if he loved me?" Her head touched his breast with a little soft sensation as of a—dreadful thought, for which he loathed himself!—a little soft cat rubbing itself against him. But yet it moved him all the same. Then Mary said, very low, raising the whiteness of her face towards him—"But, oh, Mr Rushton!—oh, Jack!—you're not poor!"

His heart gave a startled leap, and then subsided. He laughed aloud, which broke the spell of the darkness and the whispering tones. "No, Mary," he said; "I'm not poor. I'll give you a little dot to make you happy with Jim. You shall have enough to set up in a Barley Mow of your own, where Jim, will make short work with the gentlemen. Have nothing more to do with the gentlemen, Mary. Now, come, let's step out, and I'll see you home."

"Oh, Jack!" she cried; "Jack!"—still clinging to his arm.

"No more of that, my dear little girl; no more of that. It would be a great mistake for both of us. Play is very nice, but not when it goes too far. Come, you shall have a nice little fortune, which will be far better for you" (he remembered that she would not know what dot meant); "and marry Jim, and make him wash, and keep him up to the mark. He is a fine strong fellow; he looks very nice in his Sunday clothes. Come, little Mary, look up and don't cry. Tell your mother she's to come and see me to-morrow. We'll do it all honestly and above board. We've nothing to be ashamed of, thank God! I'll always think of you as a sweet little friend, very kind to me; and you'll think of me, Mary——"

"Oh, Mr Rushton!—oh, Mr Rushton!" she cried, drooping from his arm, still hanging on tight: but with something different in the hold, something—John felt it almost with a pang—which meant perhaps that she had been able to keep her footing, too, in spite of the dragging of the tide, which had almost, yet more nearly, carried himself away. Then Mary had a sudden little access of pride, and let his arm drop. "If you think I'm not good enough, after—after saying such things and making me believe! But you're all the same; you are nothing but deceivers, as mother says. Or if you think I care for your money! I want none of your money!—as if it was got out of you for a breach of promise or something to buy me off! I go into court on a breach of promise to get money out of you! I would rather die!"

"And there's no question of promise, breached or otherwise," said John. "Here we are, Mary, in sight of your home; and you'll send your mother to me to-morrow. Good-bye, my dear, and good-bye——"

"I won't!" she murmured, but it was under her breath. And John stood and watched till she had reached the spot where the lights of the little tavern shone out upon the road. Then he turned and walked quickly home. He was not very comfortable, poor fellow. It had cost him something to drop poor Mary's clinging hands, and something more to hurt her feelings, which he sadly feared he must have done. It was brutal, he felt. If it had been a lady to whom he had spoken so, what flogging would have been too much for him? And yet, what else—what else could he have done? Suppose he had married her instead? The suggestion filled him with consternation. He said hurriedly to himself that it would not, could not have made her happy. And yet he felt that he was ashamed of himself as he marched home. He had played a poor part. It was heroic in its way, if the truth were known; but of that wretched kind of heroism which felt almost like shame. To treat a woman badly! He never thought, whatever censure he might incur, that such a thing as that would ever be said of him. And the dot, which had occurred to him on the spur of the moment to quiet his conscience—no doubt it would be flung back to him in his teeth, filling him with double shame.

He was still uncertain and excited about this when Mrs Brown, the landlady of the Old Hatchet, appeared in his rooms next day. His heart began to beat at the sight of her. He was no cynic. He thought it just as likely as not, and almost hoped for the sake of some foolish ideal—that she was coming to fling his promise back in his throat. But Mrs Brown was very friendly, with no warlike ideas. "My Mary said as I was to come to see you, sir," she said. "I doubt she's got some nonsense in her head, for it don't sound likely: but something about a present, as she said you was a-going to give her for her wedding—I'm sure it's most wonderful kind of you, if it's true."

"It is quite true, Mrs Brown," said John, with a curious sick sensation, something between disappointment and relief. The ground seemed somehow cut from beneath his feet, leaving him faintly struggling for standing. Neither indignation nor lamentation—neither the moan of injured love nor the resentment of virtue assailed. A wedding-present! how much more rational, how much better every way to call it that—but he made a gasp for his breath before he went on. "Yes, Mrs Brown, it is quite true. I admire your daughter very much. I am sure she is as good as gold."

"That she is, sir," cried the good woman, with energy; "and a girl had need be that, I can tell you, to see all you gentlemen so familiar and paying her such compliments and never to give way, not a step."

"It's very creditable, indeed," said John, with a smile, which was a little rueful. He would have liked to laugh, but dared not—nor did he feel at all like laughing if truth must be told. "I am going to leave Oxford," he said, "and I'd like to show my appreciation. I hope you are quite sure that the young man is worthy of her," he added, as he pulled his cheque-book out of its drawer.

"Oh, sir, he's worthy of her if ever a man was—and they've kep' company so long, ever since she was a little slip of a girl. I'm not a bit afraid of that. Lord, Mr Rushton, you don't mean to say as this is all for my Mary! A hundred pound! if it had been a matter of ten to buy her her wedding-gown——Sir, sir," cried the good woman, getting up from her chair, "there was nothing between you but good-day and good-night, for the Lord's sake tell me that!"

"Never!" said John, the blood flushing to his face—"on my honour, and as God hears me: nothing but friendship and admiration for as good a little girl as there is in the world."

Mrs Brown went away well pleased, with the cheque folded up very small in her purse. She drew her own conclusions—which were that John had endeavoured to establish other relations and had been confounded by Mary's goodness and sense of her own place. "He's been a-trying to carry on," she said to herself, nodding her head, "and has just got as good a settin' down as ever a gentleman had: or else he's asked her to marry him, private-like, and she wouldn't. Oh, trust my Mary for that! She's one as knows her place, and wouldn't consent to nothing of that sort: but he 'as behaved 'andsome for a disappointed man, and I never will hear a word against him," Mrs Brown said.

John stood at his window for some time after she had gone, with his hands in his pockets, whistling loudly. He felt as if he were digging his heels very deep into the soil to keep himself from doing something or other which it would not have been very wise to do. The tide was very strong, and if it once caught him, he did not know what he might do. Nor did he know what he wanted to do. He was in that state in which Satan finds some mischief still for every idle hand. He might have been led to concoct a strike or preach revolution had that stream caught the foot which he was digging into his carpet: or he might have done—worse. He might very easily have been plunged into unmentionable things: or he might have flung himself at the feet of the first pretty barmaid he encountered, out of spite against this one who had—behaved so very nicely. It was not a moment to stand and consider, even with the advantage of digging out two round holes in the carpet. He snatched up his rag of a gown and his college cap—(I will not pretend that he usually wore these things out of doors; he did not: and had got into the hands of proctors, and been disapproved of by Dons in consequence more times than I can reckon. But when one goes to see the Warden one is bound to academical costume.) He went there as fast as his feet could carry him,—to do something quickly and at once was the only salvation for him.

He was received by the Warden with a sort of grim kindness. "I perceive, Mr Rushton," that dignitary said, "that you have done the work the College required of you. It is done, but it is not at all well done, I am sorry to say."

"I know it isn't well done, sir," said John, with a rueful recollection of how hard it had been to do it at all.

"You have read your books flying—probably not in the vacation at all—probably since you came up. And you have not understood very well what you read. The work is done, however, and I'll say no more about how it was done. Let me ask you, however, Mr Rushton, what you think is the use of producing such an essay as that?"

"No use at all, sir," cried John. "I thought so all the time: more than no use. It has only driven me half mad and disgusted you. It is fit for nothing but to put in the fire. It should never have been written at all."

"Do you suppose, then, that you come to the University to amuse yourself, and that no work should be asked from you?"

"I don't amuse myself a bit," cried John. "And if you call that rot (I beg your pardon, sir) work——Well, yes, I suppose it was work, it was such a horrible task to me."

"Take care what you are saying, Mr Rushton: it's as easy for me to send you down, remember, as to throw your essay into the fire."

"I wish you would, sir," cried John; "it would give me an excuse for going away. It would give me satisfaction to see that rot burning, and myself too almost, in one way or other. I thought once I'd paint a little picture and bring you that instead."

"Oh, you can paint pictures?"

"I try," said John. He smiled a little to think that while the Warden probably expected him to produce a daub like a schoolboy's or schoolgirl's, there were people quite as good as the Warden in their way who would have needed no further information than his name as to what he could do. He who could produce nothing better than that very bad essay; he——Well, he had heard a picture of his recognised as a "little Rushton" once, by a man who knew. He laughed in a way which the Warden did not understand and thought silly, and then he grew grave. "I think, sir, on the whole," he said, suddenly, "I will take the advice you were good enough to give me when I first came up."

"And what was that?" said the Warden, with a faint smile. "I believe I have given you a great deal of good advice."

"It was—to go down," said John; and he felt a little attack of the wounded vanity which that advice had roused in him as he repeated the words, notwithstanding that he was making them his own.

"Oh," said the Warden, with a little surprise, "was that my advice?—and why was it my advice?"

"It was chiefly, I think, because this miserable essay, which you think disgraceful, and so do I, had not been written—the writing of it has convinced me of the justice of what you said."

"But not me," said the Warden; "the essay is not very good, certainly" (he had tacitly allowed it to be "rot," in its author's forcible language, two minutes before); "still it is a piece of work creditably gone through with, though against the grain. That does not count in literature, perhaps, but it does in morals."

"I don't think so," said the audacious John: few were the men who had dared to say so to the Warden before. "Bad work is bad work, sir, if it were done with the best motive in the world."

The great man's face wavered a little between wrath and approval. There was a spark of humour in him. "Thank you," he said, "for the lesson"—while John's countenance blazed like fire.

"Oh, sir, I hope you don't think——"

"You need not apologise. I thought a week or two ago you had better go down. I don't think so now. I need not stand upon my consistency. You had better work out the problem for yourself."

John stood before him doubtfully, shaking his head. "The tides outside are very strong," he said; "they catch a man's feet——"

"And do you know, my young Daniel," said the Warden, "any place where the tides outside are not strong?"

All I know is that John Rushton did take his degree—a mere pass, of course—and I don't know that it was of the least use to him. But he was very strong in his sense that it was best not to be beaten, whatever the battle might be.