by Logan Pearsall Smith
The two old gentlemen walked out of the Common Room, across the
quadrangle to the porter's lodge: the Vicar of North Mims, who had been
spending a few hours in Oxford and dining in College, wanted to catch
the evening train back to North Mims, the College living he had held for
the last ten years, and the Sub-Warden wanted to see the last of him.
"The point I make is this," the old Vicar said again, frowning with his
bushy eyebrows in the moonlight; "the point I make is this: There would
be no trouble at all, if it wasn't for the drinking. If they want
meetings, let them have Temperance meetings; and I say that those
Socialist fellows from London have absolutely no business meddling in
the affairs of my parish. And as for the undergraduates who come out
from Oxford to speak"—the Vicar's voice grew more solemnly irate—"as
for those undergraduates, they should be punished. It is, I consider, a
case in which both college and university authorities should intervene
with prompt severity."
They walked on for a little in silence, and then the Sub-Warden said, as
he looked at his companion, "Really, Philpotts, you know, you ought to
The truth is, that, as they had sat in the Common Room over their port,
the Rev. Mr. Philpotts had repeated himself a great many times; and, the
Sub-Warden's mind at last beginning to wander, he had said to himself,
as he looked at his glass and then at his old friend, "Really, Philpotts
is getting very heavy! I used to be heavier, and probably should be now,
if it wasn't for tricycling!" And, his mind being full of the thought,
he had suddenly said, "Really, Philpotts, you know, you ought to
"What!" said the Vicar, in a voice of slow amazement. "What on earth has
tricycling got to do with it?"
"Oh, I beg your pardon!" the Sub-Warden cried, who was the soul of
good-nature, "I am so absent-minded. You were speaking of the Radicals;
it is certainly shocking."
"Radicals! Pestilent Socialists I call them," and the Vicar's mind,
after its jolt, got back into the old groove. "Why, you would hardly
believe it, but they had the impertinence to advertise some young ninny
as a member of this College, and they actually posted it on the
vicarage gate. My wife had to soak it off with a sponge. Now, what I say
But they had arrived in the porch, and the Sub-Warden, telling the Vicar
it was late, hurried him out of College, and then turned and walked back
to his rooms.
"He certainly is getting heavy," he said to himself. "He has changed
very much. These country livings! And if I had only started to ride a
little earlier this afternoon, he wouldn't have caught me. Another time
when I miss my exercise I mustn't drink port! At my age one begins to
The Sub-Warden reached his staircase, and, resting one hand on the wall
of the building, he turned and looked at the moon. Then he went
upstairs, but, instead of sitting down at his table, he went to the
window and opened the sash. There was a curious look about the trees
and buildings, as if they had been turning round, and had just stopped.
It was odd. Poor old Philpotts! What an undergraduate he had been—up to
anything! What times they had had! And now he was on his way back to his
wife at North Mims! The Sub-Warden sighed; then smiled, and,
straightening himself, after a moment's hesitation, he went and put on
an old coat, and stole with soft steps out of the College. Perhaps it
was the moonlight; perhaps an old memory or two that had come back to
him, or the thought of the exercise he had missed; or, again (but this
is mere conjecture), the glass or two of College port may have done
something to put his mind in a mood for adventure. Anyhow, he got on his
tricycle, and started for a ride into the country. He only hoped the
Bursar had not seen him; not that there was any reason why he shouldn't
ride at night, but the Bursar made up such funny stories about the
Sub-Warden and his tricycle rides.
And so he rode lightly along, over the vague roads, barred here and
there by the blue shadows of the trees—rode lightly along through the
ancient Oxfordshire country; and he laughed in his genial Tory heart as
he thought of the Vicar's absurd political panic. No, a ripple of
Radical excitement in the towns perhaps, but it would hardly touch the
country. The labourers must know who were their real friends and
leaders. And yet it was outrageous, he thought, as he began pushing his
machine up a hill, it was outrageous that anyone should have such views.
But that members of the University should go and speak at their dreadful
meetings! The Sub-Warden shook his head and sighed, as he thought of
the University—its sad change, its evil state. Could it, indeed, be
still called a University? Ah, in the old days, before the Royal
Commissions! But when he mounted his machine again at the top of the
hill, he forgot these black thoughts, and rode quickly down—indeed, he
almost felt himself on wings—into the village he saw below him, an old
village, spread out asleep in the moonlight. He went on slow wheels
through the blue-shadowed streets; he breathed in the night air,
sweet-scented from the village gardens; he felt young in his soul, and
would hardly recognize as his own the respectable, fat shadow that
wheeled after him across each moon-lit space.
All at once, in the midst of the sleeping village, there appeared in
front of him a square red building, with brightly lighted windows.
Curious to know what was going on, he rode his machine up to one of the
windows, and, looking through the glass, misty from the heat and
perspiration within, he saw vague rows of dark figures, and an upright
shape moving its arms at the end of the hall. What could it be? Around
at the door, whither he wheeled himself, there was a big poster, partly
torn, with the word "Temperance" on it, and something else pinned across
it. "That's right, that's right!" the Sub-Warden exclaimed, "that's the
way to cut the ground from under the Radicals! Philpotts was right; it's
a question of drink, not of politics."
And so he got down from his tricycle and went in for a moment. Dazed by
the heat and light, he stood still and stared about. The orator also
stopped and stared at him. There were bright texts of Scripture and
temperance mottoes on the walls; but the Sub-Warden kept gazing at these
words, "The Lord is at Hand," hung in large letters over the orator's
head. But this orator was Thomas Woolley, his own pupil! Soon it all
seemed clear to him. Woolley was known as a Temperance speaker, and here
he had come to hold a meeting in a little village. The Sub-Warden
applauded, and Woolley began to speak again. But as he gasped a good
deal, and stuttered, the Sub-Warden could only catch phrases here and
there—cold remnants, they seemed to be, of what must have been written
as a fiery peroration. "The down-trodden—I mean the inactive ... the
great heart of humanity—and—and—things—.... Now is the time for
hand to join in hand, and rush to the banner—I mean, it would be better
if you would sign your names."
("That's the pledge-book," the Sub-Warden thought. "Yes, I dare say it's
right; you could not preach moderate drinking to labourers.")
"Deliver yourself from the classes—that—that profit by your
("That's the public-house keepers," the Sub-Warden reflected. "But why
does he call them classes?")
Woolley stared hard at the notes which he gripped in his hand, and then
he turned and pointed at a place at the back of the platform, which he
called "the Future," and began to speak about a model dwelling, a cow,
and a vine and fig-tree; then his voice sank, and he wavered and sat
"He expects a good deal from Temperance," the Sub-Warden thought; "what
a thing it is to be young!" And he applauded with vigour, such vigour
that several rustics in the audience turned and fixed him with their
ruminating eyes. Then the Sub-Warden rose (he never spoke in public, but
as he had interrupted this meeting!), rose with dignity and internal
tremors, and made a few smiling remarks; nothing very definite, for,
after all, he was not a total abstainer; just his sympathy with the
speech of his young friend, his entire approval of the objects of the
meeting, his regret that academic duties held him back from a more
active participation in the work.... But if there was anything that
he or the College authorities could do to forward the cause—he believed
that their College owned land in the neighbourhood—they must not
hesitate to call upon him. Then a mild joke, and he sat down and wiped
Certainly his speech was a great success. Woolley stared wildly at him,
but the audience applauded with vigour, and, as they were giving three
cheers for "the old College gentleman," the Sub-Warden slipped modestly
out. It was hot in there, and they might be handing pledge-books about.
The mood in which he rode home was a pleasant one. Really he had never
heard applause that was quite so warm, so evidently sincere, so
spontaneous. There had been nothing like it when the Warden of St.
Mary's had spoken at the Corn Exchange. And Temperance was such a dull
subject! It was a bore, of course, for a man who loved his quiet to find
he had the power of moving an audience; but still, if the Radicals were
working so hard, the other side must come forward.
The Sub-Warden went back into College, and, as he was walking across the
quadrangle, he heard a tumult of cheers and cries burst out on the
moon-lit stillness of the night. He started—the sounds fitted in so
well with his dreams! But, of course, it was a Debating Society; and the
window being open, the Sub-Warden went up and listened in his new
quality of an amateur. A small young man, with a round face and deep
voice, was thumping on a table. "What is the meaning, the outcome of
this agitation? It is putting blood into the mouth of a
tiger"—(applause)—"and when once the tiger has tasted blood, has
tasted property that is not his own, it demands more, and it will have
it! Yes, sir," he said, turning with a fierce look at the good-natured
president of the society, "mark my words, when the poor have divided,
like the tiger, everything there is to be divided; when there is nothing
left to feed their rage, then, sir, they will turn and rend
themselves—like the tiger!"
Great shouts of applause roared through the window, and the bald-headed
old gentleman listening outside smiled an indulgent smile. But as the
speaker went on, denouncing more definitely the Radical agitators, and
even Woolley, by name, the smile faded from the Sub-Warden's face. It
must have been a Temperance meeting; and yet—and yet—"Temperance" had
been printed on the poster—but hadn't there been something pinned over
that, something which he hadn't read? The Sub-Warden looked about. He
could see one or two towers against the faint sky, and near each College
tower was a Common Room, and in each Common Room the Fellows sat after
dinner, telling stories. But suppose he had really spoken at a meeting
which—which wasn't a Temperance meeting, and the Bursar should hear of
The Sub-Warden lurked about in the quadrangle, holding his hat in his
hand, and spying out for Woolley. He came at last.
"Good evening, Woolley," he said, "you have come from the Temperance
"Oh, sir, it wasn't a Temperance meeting, that was the night before!"
"Oh!" said the Sub-Warden, coldly.
"No, sir, it was a different meeting; in fact, the Radical League. I was
"What! Then it was very wrong of you, Woolley, to give me to understand
it was a Temperance meeting."
"Oh, please, sir—"
"Don't try to explain it, it admits of no explanation," the Sub-Warden
said severely. "I should be sorry to get you into trouble, Woolley, but
if this should get to be known, I couldn't answer for the consequences.
I shall take no steps personally to make it known, and I should advise
you to mention it to no one—to no one at all, do you understand?
It's—it's nothing to be proud of."
He walked indignantly away; and, indeed, for the moment his words had
made him feel really indignant. But when, on turning a corner, he
glanced back and saw the honest Woolley still standing there, he
hesitated. Should he return and explain? He took a step back, then he
thought of the Bursar, and, with a sudden, sinking fear he went quickly
to his room.