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Chapter 31

Late in September, having been chosen to preach on St. Michael's Day in St. Michael's Church the sermon annually delivered by a Fellow of Lincoln, John travelled up to Oxford, whither Charles followed him a week or two later, to take up his residence in Christ Church, and be matriculated on the first day of the October term.

John had deferred his journey to the last moment, in order to stand godfather to Nancy's healthy firstborn. John Lambert--honest man and proud father--had honoured the event with a dinner, and very nearly wrecked his own domestic peace by sending out the invitations in his own hand and including Mr. and Mrs. Wright. For weeks after, Nancy shuddered to think what might have happened if Hetty and her father had come face to face at the ceremony or the feast. By good luck--or rather by using her common sense and divining the mistake--Hetty refused. Her husband, however, insisted on attending, and she let him go. With his presence the Rector could not decently quarrel.

"But look here," said he, "I am getting tired of the line the old man takes. It wasn't in our bond: he waited to spring it on me after the wedding. If I can overlook things, he should be able to, and I've a mind to tell him so." He urged her to come. But Hetty pleaded that she could not; it was now past the middle of September, and her baby would be born early in the new year. "Well, well," he grumbled, "but 'tis hard to have married a lady, and a beauty to boot, and never a chance to show her." The speech was gracious after his fashion, as well as honest: but she shivered inwardly. For as time wore on, she perceived this desire growing in him, to take her abroad and display her with pride. Failing this, he had once or twice brought his own cronies home, to sit and smoke with him while he watched their uneasy admiration and enjoyed the tribute. She blamed herself that she had not been more genial on those occasions; but in truth she dreaded them horribly. By sheer force of will she had managed hitherto, and with fair success, to view her husband as a good honest man, and overlook his defects of breeding. In her happiest moods she almost believed in the colours with which (poor soul, how eagerly!) she decked him. But she could not extend the illusion to his friends. "You shall show him off," she pleaded, meaning the unborn babe. "We will show him off together." But her face was white.

So William Wright had gone alone to the christening feast, and there John Wesley had met him for the first time, and talked with him, and afterwards walked home full of thought. For, in truth, Hetty's husband had drunk more of John Lambert's wine than agreed with him, and had asserted himself huskily, if not aggressively, under the cold eye of Mr. Wesley senior. John, as godfather, had been called upon for a speech, and his brother-in-law's "Hear, hear" had been so vociferous that while his kinsfolk stole glances at one another as who should say, "But what can one expect?" the Rector put out a hand with grim mock apprehension and felt the leaded window casements. "I'll mend all I break, and for nothing," shouted Mr. Wright heartily: and amid a scandalised silence Charles exploded in merry laughter, and saved the situation.

For a fortnight after his return to Oxford, college work absorbed all John's leisure: but he found time as a matter of course to meet Charles on his arrival at the Angel Inn, and took him straight off to Christ Church to present him to the Senior Censor. Next day he called to find his brother installed in Peckwater, on the topmost floor, but in rooms very much more cheerful than the garret suggested by Mr. Sherman. Charles, at any rate, was delighted with them and his sticks of furniture, and elated--as thousands of undergraduates have been before his day and since--at exchanging school for college and qualified liberty and the dignity of housekeeping on one's own account.

"Est aliquid quocunque loco, quocunque recessu," he quoted, and showed John with triumph the window seat which, lifted, disclosed a cupboard to contain his wine, if ever he should possess any.

"Are you proposing to become a wine-bibber in your enthusiasm?" asked John.

Charles closed the lid, seated himself upon it, drew up his legs, and gazed out across the quadrangle. He had made a friend or two already among the freshmen, and this life seemed to him very good.

"My dear Jack, you would not have me be a saint all at once!"

John frowned. "You do not forget, I hope, in what hope you have been helped to Christ Church?"

Charles sat nursing his knees. A small frown puckered his forehead, but scarcely interfered with the good-tempered smile about his mouth.

"Others beside my father have helped or are willing to help. See that letter?"--he nodded towards one lying open on the table-- "It is from Ireland. It has been lying in the porter's lodge for a week, and my scout brought it up this morning."

John picked it up, smiling at his boyish air of importance. "Am I to read it?"

Charles nodded, and while his brother read, gazed out of window. The smile still played about his mouth, but queerly.

"It is a handsome offer," said John slowly, and laid the letter down. "Have you taken any decision?"

"Father leaves it to me, as you know," Charles answered and paused, musing. "I suppose, now, ninety-nine out of a hundred would jump at it."

"Assuredly."

"Somehow our family seems to be made up of odd hundredths. You, for example, do not wish me to accept."

"I have said nothing to influence your choice."

"No, my dear Jack, you have not. Yet I know what you think, fast enough."

John picked up the letter again and folded it carefully.

"An estate in Ireland; a safe seat in the Irish Parliament; and money. Jack, that money might help to make many happy. Think of our mother, often without enough to eat; think of father's debts. He knows I would pay them," said Charles.

"And yet he has not tried to influence your choice."

"He's a Trojan, Jack; an old warhorse. You have cause to love him, for he loves you so much above all of us--and you know it--that, had the choice been offered you, he'd have moved heaven and earth to prevent your accepting a fortune."

He swung round, dropping his feet to the floor, and eyed his brother quizzically.

"Upon my word," he went on, "this thing annoys me. I've a mind to--" Here he dived a hand into his breeches pocket and fished out a shilling. "We'll settle it here and now, and you shall be witness. Heads for Dangan Castle and Parliament House; tails for poverty!"

He spun the coin and slapped it down on his knee. His hand still covered it.

--"Come Jack, stand up and be properly excited."

"Nay," said John; "would you jest with God's purpose for you?"

"I have seen you open the Bible at random and take your omen from the first words your eyes light on. Yet I never accused you of jesting with Holy Writ. Cannot God as easily determine the fall of a coin?"

He withdrew his hand, and drew a deep breath. "Tails!" he announced, and faced his brother, smiling. "I am in earnest," he said. "But if you prefer the other way--"

He stepped to the shelf, took down his Bible and opened it, not looking himself, but holding the page under his brother's eyes.

"Well, what does it say?" he asked.

"It says," John answered, "'Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand.'"

Charles closed the Bible and restored it to its shelf; then faced his brother again, still with his inscrutable smile.


Arthur Quiller-Couch