'Berkeley couldn't come to-day, Le Breton: it's Thursday, of course: I forgot about it altogether,' Oswald said, on the barge at Salter's. 'You know he pays a mysterious flying visit to town every Thursday afternoon--to see an imprisoned lady-love, I always tell him.'
'It's very late in the season for taking ladies on the water, Miss Oswald,' said Ernest, putting his oar into the rowlock, and secretly congratulating himself on the deliverance; 'but better go now than not see Iffley church and Nuneham woods at all. You ought to have come up in summer term, and let us have the pleasure of showing you over the place when it was in its full leafy glory. May's decidedly the time to see Oxford to the greatest advantage.'
'So Harry tells me, and he wanted me to come up then, but it wasn't convenient for them at home to spare me just at that moment, so I was obliged to put it off till late in the autumn. I have to help my mother a good deal in the house, you know, and I can't always go dancing about the world whenever I should like to. Which string must I pull, Harry, to make her turn into the middle of the river? She always seems to twist round the exact way I don't want her to.'
'Right, right, hard right,' cried Harry irom the bow--they were in a tub pair bound down the river for Iffley. 'Keep to the Oxfordshire shore as far as the willows; then cross over to the Berkshire. Le Breton'll tell you when and where to change sides; he knows the river as well as I do.'
'That'll do splendidly for the present,' Ernest said, looking ahead over his shoulder. 'Mind the flags there; don't go too near the corner. You certainly ought to see these meadows in early spring, when the fritillaries are all out over the spongy places, Miss Oswald. Has your brother ever sent you any of the fritillaries?'
'What? snake-heads? Oh, boxes full of them. They're lovely flowers, but not lovelier than our own Devonshire daffodils. You should see a Devonshire water-meadow in April! Why don't you come down some time to Calcombe Pomeroy? It's the dearest little peaceful seaside corner in all England.'
Harry bit his lip, for he was not over-fond of bringing people down to spy out his domestic sanctities; but Ernest answered cordially, 'I should like it above everything in the world, Miss Oswald. If you will let me, I certainly shall as soon as possible. Mind, quick, get out of the way of that practising eight, or we shall foul her! Left, as hard as you can! That'll do. The cox was getting as red as a salamander, till he saw it was a lady steering. When coxes catch a man fouling them, their language is apt to be highly unparliamentary.--Yes, I shall try to get away to Calcombe as soon as ever I can manage to leave Oxford. It wouldn't surprise me if I were to run down and spend Christmas there.'
'You'd find it as dull as ditch-water at Christmas, Le Breton,' said Harry. 'Much better wait till next summer.'
'I'm sure I don't think so, Harry dear,' Edie interrupted, with that tell-tale blush of hers. 'If Mr. Le Breton wants to come then, I believe he'd really find it quite delightful. Of course he wouldn't expect theatres, or dances, or anything like that, in a country village; and we're dreadfully busy just about Christmas day itself, sending out orders, and all that sort of thing,'--Harry bit his lip again:--'but if you don't mind a very quiet place and a very quiet time, Mr. Le Breton, I don't think myself our cliffs ever look grander, or our sea more impressive, than in stormy winter weather.'
'I wish to goodness she wasn't so transparently candid and guileless,' thought Harry to himself. 'I never can teach her duly to respect the prejudices of Pi. Not that it matters twopence to Le Breton, of course: but if she talks that way to any of the other men here, they'll be laughing in every common-room in Oxford over my Christmas raisins and pounds of sugar--commonplace cynics that they are. I must tell her about it the moment we get home again, and adjure her by all that's holy not to repeat the indiscretion.'
'A penny for your thoughts, Harry,' cried Edie, seeing by his look that she had somehow vexed him. 'What are you thinking of?'
'Thinking that all Oxford men are horrid cynics,' said Harry, boldly shaming the devil.
'Why are they?' Edie asked.
'I suppose because it's an inexpensive substitute for wit or intellect,' Harry answered. 'Indeed, I'm a bit of a cynic myself, I believe, for the same reason and on strictly economical principles. It saves one the trouble of having any intelligible or original opinion of one's own upon any subject.'
Below Iffley Lock they landed for half an hour, in order to give Edie time for a pencil sketch of the famous old Norman church-tower, with its quaint variations on the dog-tooth ornament, and its ancient cross and mouldering yew-tree behind. Harry sat below in the boat, propped on the cushions, reading the last number of the 'Nineteenth Century;' Ernest and Edie took their seat upon the bank above, and had a first chance of an unbroken tete-a-tete.
'How delicious to live in Oxford always!' said Edie, sketching in the first outline of the great round arches. 'I would give anything to have the opportunity of settling here for life. Some day I shall make Harry set up house, and bring me up here as his housekeeper:--I mean,' she added with a blush, thinking of Harry's warning look just before, 'as soon as they can spare me from home.' She purposely avoided saying 'when they retire from business,' the first phrase that sprang naturally to her simple little lips. 'Let me see, Mr. Le Breton; you haven't got any permanent appointment here yourself, have you?'
'Oh no,' Ernest answered: 'no appointment of any sort at all, Miss Oswald. I'm loitering up casually on the look-out for a fellowship. I've been in for two or three already, but haven't got them.'
'Why didn't you?' asked Edie, with a look of candid surprise.
'I suppose I wasn't clever enough,' Ernest answered simply. 'Not so clever, I mean, as the men who actually got them.'
'Oh, but you must be,' Edie replied confidently; 'and a great deal cleverer, too, I'm sure. I know you must, because Harry told me you were one of the very cleverest men in the whole 'Varsity. And besides, I see you are, myself. And Harry says most of the men who get fellowships are really great donkeys.'
'Harry must have been talking in one of those cynical moods he told us about,' said Ernest, laughing. 'At any rate, the examiners didn't feel satisfied with my papers, and I've never got a fellowship yet. Perhaps they thought my political economy just a trifle too advanced for them.'
'You may depend upon it, that's it,' said Edie, jumping at the conclusion with the easy omniscience of a girl of nineteen. 'Next time, make your political economy a little more moderate, you know, without any sacrifice of principle, just to suit them. What fellowship are you going in for now?'
'Pembroke, in November.'
'Oh, I do hope you'll get it.'
'Thank you very much. So do I. It would be very nice to have one.'
'But of course it won't matter so much to you as it did to Harry. Your family are such very great people, aren't they?'
Ernest smiled a broad smile at her delicious simplicity. 'If by very great people you mean rich,' he said, 'we couldn't very well be poorer--for people of our sort, I mean. My mother lives almost entirely on her pension; and we boys have only been able to come up to Oxford, just as Harry was, by the aid of our scholarships. If we hadn't saved in our first two years, while we had our government allowances, we shouldn't have been able to stop up for our degrees at all. So if I don't get a fellowship I shall have to take to school-mastering or something of the sort, for a livelihood. Indeed, this at Pembroke will be my very last chance, for I can't hold on much longer.'
'And if you got a fellowship you could never marry, could you?' asked Edie, going on with her work.
'Not, while I held it, certainly. But I wouldn't hold it long. I regard it only as a makeshift for a time. Unhappily, I don't know how to earn my own bread by the labour of my hands, as I think we ought all to do in a well-constituted society; so unless I choose to starve (about the rightfulness of which I don't feel quite certain), I must manage somehow to get over the interval. But as soon as I could I would try to find some useful work to do, in which I could repay society the debt I owe it for my bringing up. You see, I've been fed and educated by a Government grant, which of course came out of the taxes--your people have had to help, whether they would or not, in paying for my board and lodging--and I feel that I owe it as a duty to the world to look out some employment in which I could really repay it for the cost of my maintenance.'
'How funnily you do look at everything, Mr. Le Breton,' said Edie. 'It would never have struck me to think of a pension from the army in that light. And yet of course it's the right light; only we don't most of us take the trouble to go to the bottom of things, as you do. But what will you do if you don't get the fellowship?'
'In that case, I've just heard from my mother that she would like me to take a tutorship at Lord Exmoor's,' Ernest answered. 'Lynmouth, their eldest son, was my junior at school by six or seven years, and now he's going to prepare for Christ Church. I don't quite know whether it's a right place for me to accept or not; but I shall ask Max Schurz about it, if I don't get Pembroke. I always take Herr Max's advice in all questions of conscience, for I'm quite sure whatever he approves of is the thing one ought to do for the greatest good of humanity.'
'Harry told me about Herr Schurz,' Edie said, filling in the details of the doorway. 'He thinks him a very earnest, self-convinced, good old man, but a terrible revolutionist. For my part, I believe I rather like revolutionists, provided, of course, they don't cut off people's heads. Harry made me read Carlyle, and I positively fell in love with Camille Desmoulins; only I don't really think he ought to have approved of quite so much guillotining, do you? But why shouldn't you take the tutorship at the Exmoors'?'
'Oh, because it isn't a very useful work in the world to prepare a young hereditary loafer like Lynmouth for going to Christ Church. Lynmouth will be just like his father when he grows up--an amiable wholesale partridge-slayer; and I don't see that the world at large will be any the better or the worse off for his being able to grope his way somehow through two plays of Sophocles and the first six books of Euclid. If only one were a shoemaker now! What a delightful thing to sit down at the end of a day and say to oneself, "I have made two pairs of good, honest boots for a fellow-mortal this week, and now I deserve to have my supper!" Still, it'll be better, anyway, than doing nothing at all, and living off my mother.'
'If you went to Dunbude, when would you go?'
'After the Christmas vacation, I suppose, from what Lady Hilda says.'
'Lady Hilda? Oh, so there's a sister, is there?'
'Yes. A very pretty girl, about twenty, I should say, and rather clever too, I believe. My mother knows them a little.'
Poor little Edie! What made her heart jump so at the mere mention of Lady Hilda? and what made the last few strokes at the top of the broken yew-tree look so very weak and shaky? How absurd of herself, she thought, to feel so much moved at hearing that there was another girl in the world whom Ernest might possibly fall in love with! And yet she had never even seen Ernest only ten days ago! Lady Hilda! What a grand name, to be sure, and what a grand person she must be. And then Ernest himself belonged by birth to the same class! For in poor little Edie's mind, innocent as she was of the nice distinctions of the peerage, Lady So-and-So was Lady So-and-So still, whoever she might be, from the wife of a premier marquis to the wife of the latest created knight bachelor. To her, Lady Hilda Tregellis and Lady Le Breton were both 'ladies of title'; and the difference between their positions, which seemed so immense to Ernest, seemed nothing at all to the merry little country girl who sat sketching beside him. After all, how could she ever have even vaguely fancied that such a young man as Ernest, in spite of all his socialistic whims, would ever dream of caring for a girl of the people like her? No doubt he would go to the Exmoors', fall naturally in love with Lady Hilda, and marry decorously in what Edie considered his own proper sphere of life! She went on with the finishing touches of her little picture in silence, and folded it up into the tiny portfolio at last with a half-uttered sigh. So her poor wee castle in the air was knocked down before she had begun to build it up in any real seriousness, and she turned to join Harry in the boat almost without speaking.
'I hope you'll get the Pembroke fellowship,' she said again, a little later, as they rowed onward down the river to Nuneham. 'But in any case, Mr. Le Breton, you mustn't forget you've half promised to come and look us up at Calcombe Pomeroy in the Christmas vacation.'
Ernest smiled, and nodded acquiescence.
Meanwhile, on that same Thursday afternoon, Arthur Berkeley had gone up from Oxford by the fast train to Paddington, as was his weekly wont, and had dived quickly down one of the small lanes that open out from the left-hand side of Praed Street. He walked along it for a little way, humming an air to himself as he went, and then stopped at last in front of a small, decent brick house, with a clean muslin blind across the window (clean muslin forms a notable object in most London back streets), and a printed card hanging from the central pane, bearing the inscription, 'G. Berkeley, Working Shoemaker.--The Trade supplied with Ready-closed Uppers.' At the window a beaming face was watching for his appearance, and Arthur said to himself as he saw it through the curtain, 'The dear old Progenitor's looking better again this week, God bless him!' In a moment he had opened the door, and greeted his father in the old boyish fashion, with an honest kiss on either cheek. They had kissed one another so whenever they met from Arthur's childhood upward; and the Oxford curate had never felt himself grown too much of a man to keep up a habit which seemed to him by far the most sacred thing in his whole existence.
'Well, father dear, I needn't ask you how you are to-day,' said Arthur, seating himself comfortably in the second easy-chair of the trim little workshop parlour. 'I can see at once you're a good deal better. Any more pain in the head and eyes, eh, or any trouble about the forehead?'
The old shoemaker passed his hand over his big, bulging brow, bent outward as it is so often in men of his trade by the constant habit of stooping over their work, and said briskly, 'No, Artie, my boy, not a sign of it this week--not a single sign of it. I've been taking a bit of holiday, you see, and it's done me a lot of good, I can tell you;--made me feel another man entirely. I've been playing my violin till the neighbours began to complain of it; and if I hadn't asked them to come and hear me tune up a bit, I really believe they'd have been having me up before the magistrate for a public nuisance.'
'That's right, Daddy dear; I'm always glad when you've been having a little music. It does you more good than anything. And the jelly--I hope you've eaten the jelly?'
'Oh, I've eaten it right enough, Artie, thank your dear heart; and the soup too, dearie. Came by a boy from Walters's every day, addressed to "Berkeley, Esquire, 42 Whalley Street;" and the boy wouldn't leave it the first day, because he thought there must have been a mistake about the address. His contention was that a journeyman shoemaker wasn't an esquire; and my contention was that the "Berkeley" was essential, and the "Esquire" accidental, which was beyond his logic, bless you, Artie; for I've often noticed, my son, that your errand-boy is a naturally illogical and contradictory creature. Now, shoemakers aren't, you know. I've always taken a just pride in the profession, and I've always asserted that it develops logic; it develops logic, Artie, or else why are all cobblers good Liberals, I should like to know? Eh, can you tell me that; with all your Oxford training, sir, can you tell me that?'
'It develops logic beyond the possibility of a doubt. Daddy; and it develops a good kind heart as well,' said Arthur, smiling. 'And it develops musical taste, and literary talent, and a marked predilection for the beautiful in art and nature. In fact, whenever I meet a good man of any sort, anywhere, I always begin now by inquiring which of his immediate ancestors can have been a journeyman shoemaker. Depend upon it, Daddy, there's nothing like leather.'
'There you are, poking fun at your poor old Progenitor again,' said the old cobbler, with a merry twinkle in the corner of his eye. 'If it weren't for the jelly, and the natural affections always engendered by shoemaking, I think I should almost feel inclined to cut you off with a shilling, Artie, my boy--to cut you off with a shilling. Well, Artie, I'm quite convalescent now (don't you call it? I'm afraid of my long shoemaker's words before you, nowadays, you've grown so literary; for I suppose parsons are more literary than even shoemakers). I'm quite convalescent now, and I think, my boy, I must get to work again this week, and have no more of your expensive soups and jellies. If I didn't keep a sharp look-out upon you, Artie, lad, I believe you'd starve yourself outright up there at Oxford to pamper your poor old useless father here with luxuries he's never been accustomed to in his whole life.'
'My dear simple old Progenitor, you don't know how utterly you're mistaken,' cried Arthur, eagerly. 'I believe I'm really the most selfish and unnatural son in all Christendom. I'm positively rolling in wealth up there at Magdalen; I've had my room papered again since you saw it last long vacation; and I live like a prince, absolutely like a Russian prince, upon my present income. I assure you on my solemn word of honour, Father, that I eat meat for lunch--that's my dinner--every day; and an egg for tea as regular as clockwork. I often think when I look around my palatial rooms in college, what a shame it is that I should let you, who are worth ten of me, any day, live any longer in a back street up here in London; and I won't allow it, Daddy, I really won't allow it from this day forth, I'm determined. I've come up especially to speak to you about it this afternoon, for I've made up my mind that this abnormal state of things can't continue.'--'Very good word, abnormal,' murmured his father.--'And I've also made up my mind,' Arthur said, almost firmly, for him, 'that you shall come up and live at Oxford. I can't bear having you so far away from me, now that you're weaker than you used to be, Father dear, and so often ailing.'
The old shoemaker laughed aloud. 'Oh no, Artie, my boy,' he said cheerily, shaking his head with a continuous series of merry chuckles. 'It won't do at all, it won't do, I assure you. I may be a terrible free-thinker and all that kind of thing, as the neighbours say I am--poor bodies, they never read a word of modern criticism in their lives, heaven bless 'em--stragglers from the march of intellect, mere stragglers--but I've too much respect for the cloth to bring a curate of St. Fredegond's into such disgrace as that would mean for you, Artie. You shan't have your career at Oxford spoiled by its being said of you that your father was a working shoemaker. What with the ready-closed uppers, and what with your ten shillings a week, and what with all the presents you give me, and what with the hire of the piano, I'm as comfortable as ever I want to be, growing into a gentleman in my old age, Artie, and I even begin to have my doubts as to whether it's quite consistent in me as a good Radical to continue my own acquaintance with myself--I'm getting to be such a regular idle do-nothing aristocrat! Go to Oxford and mend shoes, indeed, with you living there as a full-fledged parson in your own rooms at Magdalen! No, no, I won't hear of it. I'll come up for a day or two in long vacation, my boy, as I've always done hitherto, and take a room in Holywell, and look in upon you a bit, accidentally, so as not to shame you before the scouts (who are a servile set of flunkeys, incapable of understanding the elevated feelings of a journeyman shoemaker); but I wouldn't dream of going to live in the place, any more than I'd dream of asking to be presented at court on the occasion of my receiving a commission for a pair of evening shoes for the Queen's head footman.'
'Father,' said Arthur, smiling, 'you're absolutely incorrigible. Such a dreadful old rebel against all constituted authority, human and divine, I never did meet in the course of my existence, I believe you're really capable of arguing a point of theology against an archbishop. But I don't want you to come up to Oxford as a shoemaker; I mean you to come up and live with me in rooms of our own, out of college. Whenever I think of you, dear Father--you, who are so infinitely nobler, and better, and truer, and more really a gentleman than any other than I ever knew in my life--whenever I think of you, coming secretly up to Oxford as if you were ashamed of yourself, and visiting your own son by stealth in his rooms in college as if you were a dun coming to ask him for money, instead of the person whom he delights to honour--whenever I think of it, Father, it makes my cheeks burn with shame, and I loathe myself for ever allowing you so to bemean your own frank, true, noble nature. I oughtn't to permit it, Father, I oughtn't to permit it; and I won't permit it any longer.'
'Well, you never would have permitted it, Artie, if I hadn't compelled you; for I've got all the prudence and common sense of the family bottled up here in my own forehead,' said the old man, tapping his bulging brow significantly. 'I don't deny that Oxford may be an excellent school for Greek and Latin, and philosophy, and so forth; but if you want prudence and sagacity and common-sense it's a well-known fact that there's nothing like the practice of making ready-closed uppers, sir, to develop 'em. If I'd taken your advice, my boy, I'd have come up to visit you when you were an undergraduate, and ruined your prospects at the very outset. No, no, Artie, I shall stop here, and stick to my last, my dear boy, stick to my last, to the end of all things.'
'You shall do nothing of the sort, Daddy; that I'm determined upon,' Arthur cried vehemently. 'I'm not going to let you do any more shoemaking. The time has come when you must retire, and devote all your undivided energies to the constant study of modern criticism. Whether you come to Oxford or stop in London, I've made up my mind that you shan't do another stroke of work as long as you live. Look here, dear old Daddy, I'm getting to be a perfect millionaire, I assure you. Do you see this fiver? well, I got that for knocking out that last trashy little song for Fradelli; and it cost me no more trouble to compose it than to sit down and write the score out on a sheet of ruled paper. I'm as rich as Croesus--made a hundred and eighty pounds last year, and expect to make over two hundred this one. Now, if a man with that perfectly prodigious fortune can't afford to keep his own father in comfort and affluence, what an absolute Sybarite and gourmand of a fellow he must be himself.'
'It's a lot of money, certainly, Artie,' said the old shoemaker, turning it over thoughtfully: 'two hundred pounds is a lot of money; but I doubt very much whether it's more than enough to keep you up to the standard of your own society, up there at Oxford. As John Stuart Mill says, these things are all comparative to the standard of comfort of your class. Now, Artie, I believe you have to stint yourself of things that everybody else about you has at Oxford, to keep me in luxuries I was never used to.'
'My dear Dad, it's only of the nature of a repayment,' cried Arthur, earnestly. 'You slaved and sacrificed and denied yourself when I was a boy to send me to school, without which I would never have got to Oxford at all; and you taught me music in your spare hours (when you had any); and I owe everything I have or am or ever will be to your unceasing and indefatigable kindness. So now you've got to take repayment whether you will or not, for I insist upon it. And if you won't come up to Oxford, which perhaps would be an uncongenial place for you in many ways, I'll tell you what I'll do, Daddy; I'll look out for a curacy somewhere in London, and we'll take a little house together, and I'll furnish it nicely, and there we shall live, sir, whatever you say, so not another word about it. And now I want you to listen to the very best thing I've ever composed, and tell me what you think of it.'
He sat down to the little hired cottage piano that occupied the corner of the neat small room, and began to run his deft fingers lightly over the keys. It was the Butterfly fantasia. The father sat back in his red easy-chair, listening with all his ears, first critically, then admiringly, at last enthusiastically. As Arthur's closing notes died away softly towards the end, the old shoemaker's delight could be restrained no longer. 'Artie,' he cried, gloating over it, 'that's music! That's real music! You're quite right, my boy; that's far and away the best thing you've ever written. It's exquisite--so light, so airy, so unearthlike. But, Artie, there's more than that in it. There's soul in it; and I know what it means. You don't deceive your poor old Progenitor in a matter of musical inspiration, I can tell you. I know where you got that fantasia from as well as if I'd seen you getting it. You got it out of your own heart, my boy, out of your own heart. And the thing it says to me as plain as language is just this--you're in love! You're in love, Artie, and there's no good denying it. If any man ever wrote that fantasia without being in love at the time--first love--ecstasy--tremor--tiptoe of expectation--why, then, I tell you, music hasn't got such a thing as a tongue or a meaning in it.'
Arthur looked at him gently and smiled, but said nothing.
'Will you tell me about her, Artie?' asked the old man, caressingly, laying his hand upon his son's arm.
'Not now, Father; not just now, please. Some other time, perhaps, but not now. I hardly know about it myself, yet. It may be something--it may be nothing; but, at any rate, it was peg enough to hang a fantasia upon. You've surprised my little secret, Father, and I dare say it's no real secret at all, but just a passing whiff of fancy. If it ever comes to anything, you shall know first of all the world about it. Now take out your violin, there's a dear old Dad, and give me a tune upon it.'
The father took the precious instrument from its carefully covered case with a sort of loving reverence, and began to play a piece of Arthur's own composition. From the moment the bow touched the chords it was easy enough to see whence the son got his musical instincts. Old George Berkeley was a born musician, and he could make his violin discourse to him with rare power of execution. There they sat, playing and talking at intervals, till nearly eight, when Arthur went out hurriedly to catch the last train to Oxford, and left the old shoemaker once more to his week's solitude. 'Not for much longer,' the curate whispered to himself, as he got into his third-class carriage quickly; 'not for much longer, if I can help it. A curacy in or near London's the only right thing for me to look out for!'
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