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Limitations written by E. F. Benson who was an English novelist, biographer, memoirist, archaeologist and short story writer. This book was published in 1896. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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E. F. Benson
“Is it,” he asked, "because of the little tiny spark of the Divine which men have within them that we care for them, or because they are human not divine, limited not immeasurable, faulty not perfect?”
And the Professor of Ignorance, as usual, sat silent, wishing to hear what the others had to say about it, rather than to speak himself.
The Professor of Ignorance.”
Tom Carlingford was sitting at his piano, in his rooms at King’s College, Cambridge, playing the overture to Lohengrin with the most indifferent success. It was a hot night in the middle of August, and he was dressed suitably, if not elegantly, in a canvas shirt, a pair of flannel trousers, and socks. He had no tie on, and he was smoking a meerschaum bowl of peculiarly spotted appearance, through a long cherry-wood stem. The remains of a nondescript meal laid coldly on the table, and a cricket-bag on the hearth-rug, seemed to indicate that he had been away playing cricket, and had got back too late for hall. The piano was almost as disreputable in appearance as its master, for it stood in a thorough draught, between the windows opening on to the front lawn and the door opening into the smaller sitting-room, and the guttering candle was making a fine stalactite formation of wax on D in alt. Several good pictures and college photographs hung on the walls, and between the windows stood a small bookcase, suspiciously tidy. Tom played with the loud pedal down, and treated his hands in the way in which we are told we should bestow our alms. D in alt had stuck fast to C sharp and C, and the effect, when either of these three notes was played, was extremely curious. However, he finished the overture after a fashion, and got up.
“This is a red-letter day for Wagner,” he remarked. “What do you do with pipes when they get leprous, Teddy?” he asked, looking dubiously at the meerschaum bowl.
“I sit down and do Herodotus,” remarked a slightly irritated voice from the window-seat, behind the lamp.
“I don’t think that’s any use,” said Tom.
“Perhaps you’ve never tried it. I wish to goodness you’d sit quiet for ten minutes, and let me work!”
Tom walked up to the lamp, and examined the pipe more closely.
“It is as spotted and ringstraked as Jacob’s oxen,” he remarked. “Teddy, do stop working! It’s after eleven, and you said you’d stop at eleven.”
“And if you inquire what the reason for——” murmured Teddy.
“I never inquired the reason,” interrupted Tom. “I don’t want to know. Do stop! You’re awfully unsociable!”
“Five minutes more,” said Ted inexorably.
Tom took a turn up and down the room, and whistled a few bars of a popular tune. Then he took up a book, yawned prodigiously, and read for the space of a minute and a quarter, lying back in a long basket-chair.
“What the use of my learning classics is, I don’t know,” he remarked. “I’m not going to be a schoolmaster or a frowsy don.”
“No, we can’t all be schoolmasters or frowsy dons, any more than we can all be sculptors,” said the voice from the window-seat vindictively.
“Dear old boy, I mean no reflection on you. You’ll be a capital don, if you succeed in getting a fellowship, and it will always be a consolation to you to know that you probably won’t be as frowsy as some of your colleagues. I can’t think how you can possibly contemplate teaching Latin prose to a lot of silly oafs like me for the remainder of your mortal life.”
“You must remember that all undergraduates aren’t such fools as you.”
“That’s quite true; but some are much more unpleasant. They are, really; it’s no use denying it.”
Ted shut his books, and looked meditatively out on to the court through the intervening flower-box, filling his pipe the while, and Tom, finding he got no answer, continued—
“And I suppose, in course of time, they’ll make you a dean. That’s a jolly occupation! Eight a.m. on a winter’s morning. And the warming apparatus of the chapel is defective. Furthermore, you must remember that those are the dizzy heights to which you will rise, if you are successful; if not, you will have spent the six best years of your life in writing about the deliberative subjunctive, and, at the end, have the consolation of being told that the electors considered your dissertation very promising, but unfortunately there was no vacancy for you. They will also recommend you to publish it, and it will be cut up in the Classical Review, by a Dead Sea ape with bleary eyes and a bald head, who will say you are an ignoramus, and had better read his grammar before you write one of your own. Oh, it’s a sweet prospect! It is grammar you do, isn’t it?”
“No; but it doesn’t matter,” said Ted. “Go on.”
“How a sensible man can contemplate spending his life in a place like this, I cannot conceive,” said Tom. “It’s the duty of every man to knock about a bit, and learn that the outer darkness does not begin at Cambridge Station. There is a place called London, and there are other places called Europe, Asia, Africa, and America.”
“And Australia. Do you propose to go to them all?” asked Ted. “It’s a new idea, isn’t it? Yesterday you said that, as soon as you went down, you were going to bury yourself at home for five years, and work. Why is Applethorpe so much better than Cambridge?”
“Why?” said Tom. “The difference lies in me. I shall continue to be aware of the existence of other countries, and other interests. Great heavens! I asked Marshall to-day, in an unreflective moment, if he knew Thomas Hardy, and he said, ‘No; when did he come up?’ And Marshall is a successful, valuable man, according to their lights here. He’s a tutor, and he collects postmarks. That’s what you may become some day. My hat, what a brute you will be!”
Ted Markham left the window-seat, and came and stood on the hearth-rug.
“You don’t understand,” he said. “It’s not necessary to vegetate because you live here, and it’s not necessary to be unaware of the existence of Hardy because you know Thucydides. I don’t want fame in the way you want it in the least. I haven’t the least desire to make a splash, as you call it. It seems to me that one can become educated, in your sense of the word, simply by living and seeing people. It doesn’t really help you to live in a big town, and have five hundred acquaintances instead of fifty.”
“No, I know,” said Tom, “but as a matter of experience, of men who settle down here, a larger proportion are vegetables than should be. They want to be the authorities on gerunds, or Thucydides, or supines in -um, or binomial theorems, or acid radicals, and they get to care for nothing else. If there were only a dozen fellowships reserved for men who didn’t mean to work at anything, it would be all right, but when every one cares for his own line more than anything else, you get a want of proportion. Collectively they care for nothing but lines, individually each for his own line. And, after all, lines are a very small part of life. What difference would it make to any one if there was no such thing as the deliberative subjunctive?”
Markham did not reply for a moment.
“No one supposes it would,” he said, after a pause, “but you must remember that grammar is not necessarily uninteresting because it doesn’t interest you. In any case let’s walk down to the bridge.”
“All right. Where are my shoes, and my coat? Ah, I’m sitting on it!”
Tom’s rooms were on the ground floor on the side of the court facing the chapel. The moon had risen in a soft blue sky, and as they stepped into the open air they paused a moment.
The side of the chapel opposite them was bathed in whitest light, cast obliquely on to it, and buttresses and pinnacles were outlined with shadows. The great shield-bearing dragons perched high above the little side-chapels stood out clear-lined and fantastic from their backgrounds, and the great crowned roses and portcullis beneath them looked as if they were cut in ivory and ebony. The moon caught a hundred uneven points in the windows, giving almost the impression that the chapel was lighted inside. To the east and west rose the four pinnacles dreamlike into the vault of the sky. In front of them stretched the level close-cut lawn looking black beneath the moonlight, and from the centre came the gentle metallic drip of the fountain into its stone basin. Towards the town the gas-lit streets shot a reddish glare through the white light, and now and then a late cab rattled across the stone-lined rails of the tramway. From the left there came from the rooms of some musically minded undergraduate the sound of a rich, fruity voice, singing, “I want no star in heaven to guide me,” followed by “a confused noise within,” exactly as if some one had sat down on the piano.
Tom murmured, “I want no songs by Mr. Tosti,” drew his hand through Markham’s arm, and they strolled down together towards the river.
“Of course I don’t mean that you’ll become like Marshall,” he said, “but it does make me wild to think of the lives some of these people lead. They don’t care for anything they should care about, and even if they do care about it, they never let you know it, or talk of it. Oh, Teddy, don’t become a vegetable!”
“And yet when I came up,” said Markham, “my father used to write me letters, asking me about my new impressions, and this fresh world that was opening round me, and there really wasn’t any fresh world opening round me, and I didn’t have any new impressions of any sort. It seemed to me like any other place—and I was expected to feel the bustle and the stir, and the active thought, and temptations, and I don’t know what beside.”
“O Lord!” sighed Tom. “I know just the sort of thing. I don’t know if there is any bustle and stir, and active thought, but I certainly never came across them. Doesn’t the Cambridge Review call itself the ‘Journal of University Life and Thought?’ Meditate on that a moment. As for temptations, the only temptations I know of are not to be dressed by eight, not to go to Sunday morning chapel, and not to work from nine till two. But I’ve been acquainted with all those temptations all my life, except that one had to be up by 7.30 at Eton. The temptations, in fact, are less severe here.”
“I don’t know how it is,” said Ted, “but whenever people write books about Cambridge, they make the bad undergraduates go to gambling hells on the Chesterton Road, and the good ones be filled with ennobling thoughts when they contemplate their stately chapel. Did you ever go to a gambling hell on the Chesterton Road, Tom?”
“No; do you ever have ennobling thoughts when you look at the stately chapel? Of course you don’t. You think it’s deuced pretty, and so do I, and we both play whist with threepenny points; and as a matter of fact we don’t fall in love with each other’s cousins at the May races, nor do we sport deans into their rooms, nor do deans marry bedmakers. Oh, we are very ordinary!”
“I feel a temptation to walk across the grass,” said Ted.
“Yes, you’re the wicked B.A. who leads the fresh, bright undergraduate—that’s me—into all sorts of snares. What fools people are!”
Tom sat on the balustrade of the bridge and lit a pipe. The match burned steadily in the still night air.
“Now, Teddy, listen,” he said, and he dropped it over into the black water. There was a moment’s silence as it fell through the air; then a sudden subdued hiss as the red-hot dottel was quenched.
“I wonder if you know how nice that is,” said Tom. “I don’t believe you enjoy that sort of thing a bit.”
“Dropping matches into the river?” asked Markham. “No, I don’t know that I care for it very much.”
“Oh, it’s awfully nice,” said Tom. “Here goes another. There—that little hiss after the silence. Fusees would be even better. No; you haven’t got an artistic soul. Never mind; it would be dreadfully in your way up here. Teddy, stop up here till the end of the month, and then come and stay with us a bit. You needn’t shoot unless you like.”
“Yes, I shall stop up till the end, but I don’t know whether I can come home with you. I ought to work.”
“What rot it is!” said Tom angrily. “You’ve been working for six months quite continuously, and you think you can’t spare a week to be sociable in. What on earth does your wretched work matter, if you do nothing else? What is the good of a man who only works?”
“More good than a man who never works. But I agree with you, really.”
“Well, but you behave as if you didn’t think so,” said Tom. “The other day you said you sympathized with that wretched grammarian in Browning, who spent his whole life in settling the question of the Enclitic ἀν, or some folly of that sort, and caught a cold on his chest in consequence, and had integral calculus and tussis, and a hundred other things. Very right and proper. Have you got any syphons? I wish for whisky. Well, will you come home with me or not? I’m not going to press you.”
“No, I don’t want pressing. Yes, I’ll come. I should like to very much. You leave one alone, which is the first quality of a host.”
They strolled up again, as the clock began to strike twelve.
“I’m sure I’ve done you much more good than you’d have got in an hour out of your Herodotus,” said Tom. “There is one really good point about you, and that is that if you are told something you think about it. I shouldn’t wonder if I found you dropping matches into the Cam some night soon.”
“It’s quite possible. Let’s see, what is the point of it?—the sudden splash at the end of the silence, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is like so many things. It’s like a mole burrowing silently in the earth, and then suddenly coming out at a different place. You needn’t examine that analogy. It’s like what I am going to do. I’m going to work very hard and quite silently for several years, and then suddenly I’m going to make a splash.”
“But are you going out immediately afterwards—like the match?”
“I don’t know; perhaps I shall—who knows?”
“Tom, are you aware that we are talking exactly like the people in books about Cambridge—the two friends, you know, who walk about on moonlight nights, and meditate on life and being?”
“God forbid!” said Tom piously. “But we’d better go indoors, just to be safe. Those people are so ridiculous only because they are always the same. Of course we all do meditate a little on life and being, but we do other things besides. But they come out in the evening like rabbits out of their burrow, and disappear again till the next evening. I’m going to play cricket to-morrow. They never do that.”
“And drink whisky now. They never do that.”
“No. To drink whisky is next door to going to the gambling hell on the Chesterton Road. Don’t go to bed yet. Come to my room.”
“I thought you wanted a syphon.”
“Yes; go and get one, will you, and bring it round.”
“Any more orders?” asked Markham.
“Oh yes,” said Tom—“some tobacco. I’ve run out.”
The Long Vacation Term was, so Tom thought, a really admirable institution, and it might have been invented exclusively for him. None of the colleges are more than half full, there are no lectures, and no need of wearing caps and gowns. The usual things go on as usual, but in a less emphatic manner. Those who wish to work do so, but not with any sense of being ill-used if they are interrupted; college matches take place, but they are not matters of first-class importance, or of first-class cricket. There is a country-house atmosphere about the place, an atmosphere of flannel trousers in the morning, of never being in a hurry, of a good deal of slackly played lawn tennis, and going on the river in canoes. This suited Tom very well, for he was more than anything else an ambitious loafer, who might turn out a loafer without ambition or an ambitious man. Successful loafing is not a gift to be despised; it requires a certain amount of ability, for the successful loafer must never be bored with doing nothing. Tom had quite enough ability to be thoroughly successful in this line; he was clever, artistic, original, and full of many interests, and in consequence he loafed from year’s end to year’s end without ever wishing to do anything else, though he meant to do other things often enough. He played games well, but amateurishly, not taking them seriously enough to be pre-eminent in anything from rowing down to chess, but finding amusement in them, often playing a good innings at cricket when it was not wanted, and given to slog at dangerous balls when it was particularly important that he should keep his wicket up. “College matches in the Long,” as he explained, were about his form.
He was for ever coming into harmless little collisions with the arm of the academic law, being found in the streets after dark without cap or gown, not from any wish to transgress the regulations which the accumulated wisdom of generations had framed, but from considering in a genial way, on each particular occasion, that it was a matter of no importance. In the same way, if he more frequently walked across the hallowed grass than he went round by the path, or if Mr. Carlingford’s name was more often conspicuous by its absence than its presence from the boards that told how many undergraduates attended lectures, he evinced such frank surprise when the matter was brought home to him, was so ready to express regret for what had happened, and so identified himself with his tutor’s wish that it should not occur again, that the offence seemed at once to appear in an almost wholly unobjectionable light. He was now at the end of his second year at Cambridge, and the prospects of his getting through a Tripos with any credit either to himself or his teachers were small. His teachers regretted this more probably than Tom himself, for they were quite aware of his ability, or at least his power to do better than badly, while Tom was supremely unconscious of it. He had been told that a Tripos was a test of merit, and he accepted the fact cheerfully, even when coupled with the assurance that he would probably only get a third. Tom drew the inference that he was therefore a fool, and neither wished to dispute it nor disprove it. He was, perhaps, conscious of a feeling that a great many men who seemed to him to be extraordinarily dull took brilliant degrees, and supposed that he was wrong in thinking them dull, or at any rate that the abilities which ensured good degrees were compatible in the same man with the extremes of social deficiencies. Meantime he made admirable little sketches of his friends in the margin of his books, and on sheets of paper during lecture hours; settled down to the belief that his mission was to be a sculptor, and was almost surprised that the hour had passed so soon. For the rest he was a young man of twenty-one, of rather more than medium height, with an extraordinarily pleasant face and a pair of honest brown eyes, which looked quite straight at you, and always seemed to be glad to see you. He looked intensely English, and pre-eminently clean among that race of clean men. Even Mr. Marshall, about whom Tom has already hazarded an opinion, had been heard to say that Carlingford was an uncommonly pleasant fellow, though he hardly ever came to have his Latin prose looked over.
It was nearer ten o’clock than nine when Tom emerged half dressed from his bedroom next morning, to find two or three cold pieces of bacon waiting for him, which he inspected with an air of slight but resigned curiosity. It really seemed so odd that this world should contain things so undesirable as pieces of cold crinkled bacon; the reasons for their existence were as unintelligible as the causes which produced centipedes or deliberative subjunctives. Markham came in at this moment, for Tom had said he was coming to work with him at half-past nine, but his face expressed no surprise.
“Come in, old man,” said Tom. “I hate people who say ‘old man,’ don’t you? Have you come to breakfast? That’s right. Sit down, and help yourself. I’ve breakfasted ages ago, and I’m afraid the tea’s quite cold. Never mind, I’ll make some more. You may think I’m foolish, but it’s not so. As a matter of fact, I didn’t wake till half-past nine. Make tea, Teddy; I’ll be ready in a minute.”
“I didn’t come here to make tea for you, but to work,” said Markham, lighting the spirit-lamp.
“Well, you’re late, then,” said Tom; “you said you’d be here at half-past nine, and it’s close on ten. And I wish it was eleven.”
“Because I should have shaved, and have eaten a little cold crinkled bacon. Also perhaps have done a little work. But about that I can’t say. By the way,” he called out from his bedroom, “Teddy!”
“I’m going to study the antique this morning in the Cast Museum. Come too?”
“Oh! This is rather a brilliant conversation, isn’t it? Well, I’m going there really. Do come. You’ll see some pretty things. I wish I’d done the Discobolus. I should have, if some one hadn’t thought of it first. I shall do a man shying a cricket-ball. Pull the string and the model will work.”
Tom emerged from his bedroom and sat down to the cold bacon.
“I shall complain of the cook,” he remarked. “This bacon is cold. I didn’t order cold bacon. I’m not a hedger and ditcher. What are hedgers and ditchers? Anyhow, they eat cold bacon in hedges and ditches. I’ve seen them myself.”
“Perhaps you didn’t order your breakfast at three minutes to ten.”
“Don’t be snappy, Ted. But you’re quite right. I don’t know what they mean by it. Was it you who came in here about half-past eight, and knocked at my door?”
“No. I shouldn’t have stopped there. But I thought you said you didn’t awake till after nine.”
“Oh, that was afterwards. I didn’t awake that time till after nine. You see it was quite an accident that some one came in here at half-past eight, and I couldn’t conscientiously count that. I’m sure you must see that no one with any sense of honour could have taken advantage of that.”
“No, it would have been hardly fair, would it?” said Markham dryly. “A tricky sort of thing to do. Where did you say you were going to spend the morning?”
“At the Archæological Museum. I went there yesterday for the first time. They’ve got no end of casts. All the best Greek things, you know.”
“It won’t help you much in your Tripos, will it?”
“No, of course it won’t,” shouted Tom. “Good heavens, to hear you talk, one would think that a man’s place in heaven was decided by his Tripos, not to mention his place on earth! I’m not going to be a don or a schoolmaster, as I told you last night——”
“Frowsy don,” said Markham.
“All right, frowsy don, and I don’t care a blow whether I get ploughed or not. I don’t feel the least interest in any of the books I have to read, so why should I read them?”
“Then why do you ever read at all?”
“Because dons and other people, like you, for instance, make such a fuss if I don’t.”
Markham walked to the window and pulled up the blind, letting a great hot square of sunshine in upon the carpet.
“I wonder at your considering that sufficient reason. Of course I’m grateful for the compliment. Personally I should never think of doing a thing because you would make a fuss if I did not.”
“Oh, go home, Teddy,” said Tom in cordial invitation. “You talk like pieces for Latin prose. Look here, I’m going to the museum for an hour, and then I shall come and work. This afternoon we play some college—John’s, I think—on our ground. You said you’d play. We shall begin at two sharp. Mind you work very hard all the morning, and try to finish the fifth book of Herodotus—or whatever it is—before lunch. I hope you always mark your book with a pencil, and if you find any difficulties, bring them to me.”
Tom laid a paternal hand on Markham’s shoulder, and blew a smoke-ring at him.
“And now I’m going to study the heathen antique. I wish you’d come. It would really do you good. For me of course it’s necessary, as I’m going to be a sculptor. Teddy, will you be my model for ‘The Academic Don’? I’m going to do a statue of the academic don, a mixture of you and Marshall and a few others—a type, you know, not an individual. That’s always going to be my plan. I shall do a pedimental group, ‘Typical Developments of Modern Dons.’ In the centre the don stands upright, looking more or less like an ordinary man: then you see him beginning to stoop, then sitting down, getting more and more like a vegetable at each stage, and in the corner there will be two large decayed cauliflowers, with fine caterpillars crawling all over them. In ten years you shall sit for the cauliflower. Good-bye.”
Tom banged the door after him and went off to his museum, and there was nothing left for Ted but to follow his advice and begin working, which he did in a savage spirit. Like many rather silent, rather serious people, he found a great stimulus in the presence of some one who, like Tom, was hardly ever serious, and never silent. He made periodical attempts to take Tom in hand, but, like most people who had tried to do so, his efforts were not very successful. Tom had loafing in the blood, and his ambitions did not run in the lines of Triposes. At the same time it was owing to him that Tom had not at present failed very signally in college examinations, for Ted had succeeded in making him work, if not steadily, at least intermittently. Tom’s fits of intermittent work had not, it is true, occurred very often, but when they did occur they lasted sometimes for a week, of eight-hour days, and left him idler than ever. But, from Ted’s point of view, a widely supported and seemingly rational one—that men came up to the university partly at least to work, and that examinations were the criterion whereby the success of nine terms of residence was judged—these intermittent fits were better than nothing, and when they were induced just before an examination they led to results which, though superficial, were, according to the standard he measured them by, tolerably satisfactory. Tom never professed to feel the least interest in what he was working at, but pressure would sometimes make him work; and a very vivid memory, though one of short range, enabled him to reproduce the results of his week’s cramming.
But Tom’s influence over his friend was of a much more personal and vital kind. Ted looked on to the time when Tom should go down, and leave him, as he hoped, to a permanent university life, with blankness. He formed few friendships—and he had never been intimate with any one before. Tom’s healthy, out-of-door sort of mind, coupled with his artistic and picturesque ability, and his personal charm, had for him a unique attraction. You may see an even further development of the same phenomenon sometimes in the lower animals. A staid senior collie will often strike up an intimacy with a frisky young kitten, though it is hard to understand what the common ground between them is. The collie is not happy without the kitten, but unfortunately the kitten is quite happy without the collie—in fact, it would find the continuance of its exclusive society a little tedious.
Tom came back from his museum about twelve, in an unusually sombre mood: the Discobolus apparently had not proved inspiring; and he took his books to Markham’s rooms, tumbled them all down on the floor, lit a pipe, and took up his parable.
“Those things are no good to me,” he said; “they may have been all very well when the race of men was a race of gods, when all the best athletes went to the games naked, and wrestled and boxed together; but it is out of date. Of course they are awfully beautiful, but they are obsolete.”
“Do you mean that you prefer Dresden china shepherdesses?” asked Markham.
“No, of course not; they are out of date too, and they are not beautiful. They are only clever, which is a very lamentable thing to be. No one was ever like that. An artist must represent men and women as he sees them, and he doesn’t see them nowadays either in the Greek style or in the Dresden style. Yet how are you to make knickerbockers statuesque?”
“You aren’t; or do you mean to say that the artists of every age must reproduce the costume of every age? Surely, if we all dressed in sacks, you couldn’t represent them.”
“Yes, but we never shall dress in sacks,” said Tom; “that makes just the difference, or rather there will be no sculptors if we do. To look at a well-made man going out shooting gives one a sense of satisfaction: what I want to do is to make statues like them, which will give you the same satisfaction. Somebody wrote an article somewhere on the incomparable beauty of modern dress. I didn’t read it, but it must be all wrong. It is the ugliest dress ever invented. How can you make waistcoats statuesque? I haven’t got one on for that reason.”
“Tom, do you mean to do any work this morning?” asked Markham.
Tom shook his head.
“No, I’ve got something more important to think about. Do you see my difficulty? I want to make trousers beautiful, and women’s evening dress beautiful, and shirt sleeves beautiful.”
“Shirt sleeves are not beautiful,” said Markham; “how can you make them so, and yet be truthful?”
“My dear fellow, it is exactly that which it is a sculptor’s business to find out,” said Tom. “I don’t mean I shall make them beautiful in the same way as the robes of the goddesses in the Parthenon pediments are beautiful, but I shall make them admirable somehow. I shall make you feel satisfied when you look at them. Think of that boxer’s head in the British Museum: he must have been an ugly lout, but what a masterpiece it is! That is a much greater triumph than the Discobolus, simply because it represents an ugly man.”
“Tom, don’t pretend you belong to the school that says that everything that exists is worth representing. No one wants to see drawings of dunghills.”
Tom rose from his chair and began to walk about the room.
“I don’t know,” he said, “I can’t be sure about it. Before I judge I shall go and see the best things that are to be seen. I shall go to Rome, I shall go to Athens—Athens first, I think. I don’t want to be influenced by any modern art, and if you go to Rome you must fall in with some modern school or other: there are too many artists at Rome. Yes, I shall go to Athens the autumn after I have taken my degree. But I expect to be disappointed. It will all be beautiful, but it will be all obsolete, and that will be distressing. Greek statues are in the grand style, like the Acropolis, I expect. They were perfect for that age and for that people, but I don’t think they would do now. We’re not in the grand style at all. We wear cloth caps and Norfolk jackets. Fancy the Discobolus in a Norfolk jacket, or Athene in a bonnet and high heels. I shall go and talk to Marshall about Athens. He’s been there. You play this afternoon, Teddy, you know. Two sharp. I’m going to lunch in hall at one.”
Tom gathered his books together, preparatory to leaving the room. “I wish I hadn’t gone to that Museum,” he said; “it’s put me out of conceit. You can’t do anything good unless you believe in yourself. People talk of humility being a virtue; if so, it’s one of the seven deadly virtues.”
Tom met Mr. Marshall going across the court, and assailed him with questions about Athens. This eminent scholar was a small man, with a quick, nervous manner and weak, blinking eyes. He had a nose like a beak, which completed his resemblance to a young owl.
“Athens, yes. I was there six years ago,” he said. “I remember it rained a good deal. The Acropolis, of course, is very fine. There is, as you know, a beautiful temple to Minerva on it. I calculated that the blocks composing the row of masonry above the pillar must have weighed fifteen or twenty tons each. I was very much interested in speculating how they got them into place. Yes.”
“I’m going to work there,” said Tom, “after I’ve taken my degree. I suppose they’ve got masses of things there.”
“The museums are very considerable buildings,” said Marshall. “I was very much struck by the size of them. I should be most pleased to be of any use to you, in the way of recommending hotels and so forth.”
“Many thanks,” said Tom. “I shall ask you again about it, if I may.”
Tom went to his rooms, and addressed his piano dramatically. “That is a tutor,” he said.
He went up rather late to cricket, being the captain, and having warned every one that the match was going to begin at two sharp, won the toss, went in himself, and got bowled during the first over, in trying to slog a well-pitched ball over long-on’s head.
“I vote we declare the innings closed,” he said, as he returned to the pavilion. “To close our innings for one run would be so original that it would be really worth while just once. Hit them about, Teddy, and make a century!”
Tom had the satisfaction of seeing his side make between two and three hundred, but however gratifying this was to him as a member of the team, it was tempered with other feelings. He went and bowled at the nets for half an hour, watched the game a little, and felt that his applause was hollow. Markham was playing characteristically; that is to say, he left dangerous balls on the off alone, hit hard and well at badly pitched ones, and played good-length balls with care and precision.
“There’s no fun in that,” thought Tom to himself; “any one can do that. All the same any one can get out first ball, like me, if they play the ass.”
Markham was in about an hour, and when it was over he and Tom went to get tea.
“I wish you’d had a decent innings instead of me,” said Markham, as they walked off to the pavilion.
“Nonsense, Teddy; you played very well.”
“I mean you enjoy it much more than I do.”
“Well, that’s your fault. Hullo, there’s Pritchard out!”
Pritchard came up to them, dangling his glove in his hand, with much to say.
“It’s a beastly light,” he began, as soon as he was up to them. “I played the ball all right, but I simply couldn’t see it. Besides, it shot.”
“Well, it was just the other way with me,” remarked Tom. “I saw the ball all right, but I couldn’t play it, and it didn’t shoot.”
“Oh, you tried to slog your first ball,” said he, walking away.
Tom and Markham sat down under the chestnut-tree and drank their tea.
“Shall I come to you as soon as term is over?” asked Markham. “The last day of term is Saturday week, you know.”
“Hang it! So it is. Yes, come at once; it will be the twenty-ninth, won’t it? Thirty days hath—no there are thirty-one. Tuesday will be the first. You may come and carry my cartridges if you won’t shoot.”
“That will be charming. I can’t see what the fun of hitting little brown birds is.”
“Oh, well, you may always miss! But if you come to that, what’s the fun of hitting a little red cricket-ball?”
“Well, you may always miss that,” said Markham, “just as you did, Tom! Besides, if you hit it you score runs.”
“Well, if you hit the little brown bird twice, you score a brace of partridges. Besides, you have a nice walk over turnips and mangolds——”
“Well, you can do that in August.”
“Oh, Teddy, there’s no hope for you!” said Tom. “When you die and go to hell, they’ll make you shoot all day until you love it, and then they’ll send you to heaven, where there is no shooting at all. I don’t suppose there are such things as rocketing angels, are there?”
“Tom, the only excuse for being profane is being funny.”
“All right. But I don’t see why there shouldn’t be. There is such a thing as a shooting star.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Tom. “Of course there was some connection in my mind, or I shouldn’t have said it.”
“Do you mean that no one, even you, can talk sheer drivel?”
“Don’t ask so many questions, Teddy. We shall be all out in a minute; there’s the ninth wicket down. Come on, we’ll give those beggars a chance. You know it is all nonsense saying that trousers and shirts are not beautiful. Look at Harold bowling there. Do you see how the wind blows the shirt tight over his shoulder? That’s an opportunity for a sculptor which the Greeks didn’t use—you get all the shape of the arm, and that look of wind and motion which the loose flap of the sleeve gives.”
“I should advise you to do a statue of a man bowling in a high wind,” said Markham.
“I’m going to—just at the moment when the ball leaves his hand, one leg right forward, with the trouser loose on it, the other leg back with the trouser tight. It’s all nonsense about momentary postures not being statuesque. They are statuesque above all others. I don’t call those knights in armour on Gothic tombs statuesque. Sculpture represents life, not death. There! Why the deuce Hargrave tried to hit that ball, I don’t know. Of course it bowled him.”
“Thomas Carlingford did the same,” said Markham.
“I know he did. That’s why he has every right to express his opinion, as it is strictly founded on experience. Look sharp with the roller! We’ll go out at once.”
The remaining fortnight of the Long passed away quickly and uneventfully, and by degrees the colleges began to empty themselves. In King’s hardly any one was left except Tom and Markham, who played tennis together when there was no longer a cricket team available, and spent the mornings, Markham working, Tom doing anything else by preference. The latter got hold of a lump of modelling wax, and made the prettiest possible sketch, as he had intended, of a man bowling. The figure was charmingly fresh, and had a certain masterly look about it which showed through all its defects. Tom lost his temper with it twenty times a day, and twice crushed the whole thing into a shapeless mass, was sorry he had done so, and set to work again. He had never had any teaching, but there was no doubt that he had got the artist’s fingers, which are of more importance than many lessons. Lessons you can obtain in exchange for varying sums of money, and artist’s fingers are a free gift, but they are given to the few.
Meantime Markham bent his grave, black-haired head over his Herodotus, and sat on a cane-backed chair at the table, while Tom lolled in the window-seat, and poured out floods of desultory criticism on every subject under the sun. At times Markham gathered up his books impatiently, and left the room, declaring that it was impossible to do anything if Tom was there; but after a quarter of an hour or so he always wished that Tom would follow him, and at the end of half an hour he usually went back, finding that the wish to be with him was stronger than the wish to get on with his work. Tom apparently was quite unconscious of all this. He was always very fond of the other, but in a breezy, out-of-door manner, and he would always have preferred playing cricket, with or without his friend, to his undivided company at home, while Markham had been conscious on several occasions of being glad when it rained, making cricket impossible, but making it natural for Tom to come to him to be supplied with other amusements.
Once during this week the two had settled, in default of other things to do, to go up the river and have tea at Byron’s pool, bathe, and come home again in the evening. But during the morning a note had come for Tom, asking him to play for an inter-college club against a town club, and he accepted with alacrity, and went to Markham’s room to tell him that he couldn’t come with him.
Markham said, “All right,” without looking up from his books; but for some reason Tom was unsatisfied. He paused with his hand on the door.
“You don’t mind, do you?” he said.
“I don’t want you not to play,” said Markham coolly.
“What’s the matter?” asked Tom in surprise.
Markham got up and went to the window.
“Nothing. Mind you make some runs.”
But Tom still lingered.
“Look here, I’ll come up the river if you are keen about it. I only thought we settled to do it if nothing else turned up.”
Markham recovered himself.
“Yes, it’s perfectly right, Tom. Bring your books in here and work till lunch.”
“No, I can’t; we’re going to begin at one. I shall go and have some lunch now. You can get some one else to go up the river with you, you know; no one is doing anything this afternoon.”
“No, I don’t think I shall go; I don’t want to much. Are you playing on the Piece? I shall stroll down there after lunch.”
Markham’s father was the incumbent of a small living about ten miles from Cambridge, where he spent a happy, and therefore a good life, doing his parish work with great regularity and no enthusiasm, reading Sir Walter Scott’s novels through again and again, looking after a rather famous breed of spaniels, and editing, at intervals of about three years, an edition of some classic, adapted, as he suggested in his prefaces, for the higher forms in public schools. His religion was a matter of quiet conviction to him, and his other conviction in life—two convictions is a large allowance for an average man—was his belief in the classics. Ted had been brought up in the same convictions, and at present had shown no signs, outward or inward, of departing from either of them. The nearest approach he had had to abandoning either was due to Tom’s frank inability to find amusement or interest in classics, for Markham, recognizing his undoubted ability, could not quite dismiss his opinion off-hand. The father’s wish for the son was that he should be a great Christian apologist, in Orders as a matter of course, and a Fellow of his college. At times, Markham suspected that Tom’s religion had no greater place in his interests than classics; but of this he knew nothing, for nine young men out of ten do not talk about their religion, even if they know about it, and Tom was emphatically not the tenth.
Ted left Cambridge to go home two days before the end of term, for Chesterford was on Tom’s way, and he wished to pick up some books at home, and leave others there.
His father met him at the station, driving a neat, rather unclerically high dog-cart, accompanied by two spaniels and a horsey-looking lad, who was coachman, gardener, and organ-blower in church. Mr. Markham was a tallish, distinguished-looking man, in whom the resemblance to his son could be traced; he wore a straw hat and a grey coat, so that, had it not been for his white tie, you would perhaps have been at a loss to guess what his profession was.
“Well, my boy,” he said heartily, “I’m glad to see you, though it is for such a short time. Have you got all your luggage? Jim will put it in the cart for you. I’ve got a thing or two to do in the village,” he continued, taking the reins. “Wroxly tells me he’s got some wonderful stuff for the distemper, and Flo is down with it, poor lass! She’s a bit better this morning, and I think we shall pull her through.”
“Which is Flo?” asked Ted, who thought dogs were uninteresting.
“Flo? She’s one of the last lot, born in April—don’t you remember? She’s the best of them all, I think. Wonderful long silky ears.”
“That’s no clue to me, father,” said Ted. “I always think they are all just alike.”
“Ah, well, my boy, they aren’t so important as classics. I read that note of yours in the Classical Review, and it seemed to me uncommonly good. How has your work been getting on?”
“Oh, fairly well, thanks. I haven’t done much lately, though. I’ve been looking after Tom Carlingford.”
“That’s the boy who was here a year ago, isn’t it? You’re going to him to-morrow, I think you said. Get him to come here again, Ted; we all liked him so much. Not much of a classic, I should think——”
“No. Tom doesn’t care for classics,” said Ted, “and there’s no reason why he should work at them, you see. He’s awfully rich, and he’s going to be a sculptor.”
“A sculptor—that’s rather an irregular profession.”
“Yes. Tom’s irregular, too.”
“Has he got any ability?”
“I always think he’s extremely clever,” said Ted with finality.
“Dear me, he didn’t strike me as clever at all,” said his father. “I remember he spent most of his time skating, and sitting by the fire reading old volumes of Punch.”
“I dare say I’m wrong,” said Ted. “You see, I’m very fond of him. Ah, here we are, and here’s May coming down the drive to meet us!”
If Tom had spent his time skating and reading Punch when he might have been talking to May—always supposing that May did not skate and did not read Punch with him—he was a fool. That, however, is probably sufficiently obvious already. In this case, Tom’s folly consisted in preferring even old volumes of Punch to the society and conversation of a typical English girl of the upper classes, tall, fair, slim, just at that period of her life when the blush of girlhood is growing into the light of womanhood, a girl whose destiny it clearly was to be a wife, and the mother of long-limbed boys who yearn all their boyhood to be men, and who become men, real men, at the proper time.
Ted jumped down off the dog-cart as it turned up the steep drive, leaving his father there; and the brother and sister walked up to the house together.
“Yes, it’s always the way, Ted,” she said; “you come here one day and go off the next. And you promised to be here all September!”
“Well, I shall be here nearly all September,” said he. “I’m only going to the Carlingfords’ for a week.”
“How is Mr. Carlingford?” asked May, after a pause.
“He’s all right. He always is. He has talked a good deal, and done very little work. He also made one century in a college match, and followed it up by five ducks.”
“I thought you were going to bring him here again.”
“Yes,” said Ted, “I had thought of it. But he asked me to go back with him for a bit.”
They had reached the house by this time, and Mr. Markham was just going off to the kennels, to try the effect of the new medicine on Flo.
“Flo’s a good deal better, father,” said May; “I think she’s getting over it.”
“Ah, I’m glad of that. But I shall just try her with this. By the way, did you take those books you have been covering to the parish library?”
“Yes, I took them this morning, and brought back some others.”
“That’s a good girl! And the meeting of the outdoor relief fund?”
“It went all right. Come down to the lake, Ted, and we’ll paddle about.”
They walked across the lawn, down over two fields, now green and tall with the aftermath, and pushed off in a somewhat antiquated boat.
“Well, May, how have things been going?”
“Oh, much as usual! I’ve been busy lately. Oh, Ted, isn’t it lovely? Look at the reflections there. I do love this place!”
“Could you live here always?” asked Ted.
“Why, yes, of course; what more can one want? I should hate to live in a town! And think of leaving the village, and all the dear dull old people! I like dull old people—I like little ordinary things to do, like covering parish books. That’s the life I should choose—wouldn’t you?”
Ted did not answer for a moment.
“Yes, I think I should. All the same, you know—— No, I like this best.”
“People talk of the stir and bustle of London,” went on May, dipping her hand into the water, and pulling up a long flowering reed, “but I should detest that. It would frighten me.”
“It’s my opinion that the bustle and stir is exaggerated,” said Ted. “People are much the same all the world over.”
“I don’t think that,” said May. “Miss Wrexham was here last week, staying at the Hall; father and I dined there once while she was here. Well, she is quite a different sort of person. She was always talking, and wanting to do something else. She couldn’t sit still for two minutes together, and she talked in a way I didn’t understand.”
“How do you mean?”
“I can’t express it exactly,” said May. “She seemed to belong to a different order of woman altogether. One morning she asked me if I did any work in the parish. I told her the sort of things I spend my day in, and she said, ‘Oh, that must be so sweet! just living in a country place like this, and seeing poor people, and going to early celebrations. I suppose you go to London, don’t you, in the summer?’ Then, of course, I had to explain that country clergymen couldn’t do that sort of thing, and she said how stupid it was of her, and would I forgive her. She talked as if all one did was the same kind of thing—as if covering parish books was the same thing as going to communion. And why should she ask me to forgive her?”
“I imagine you didn’t like her much,” said Ted.
“No, I can’t say that I did. I don’t think she is genuine.”
“Oh, you can’t tell,” said Ted. “I know several people like that, and they are just the same as we are, just as genuine certainly, but they say whatever comes into their heads.”
“Well, that’s not genuine,” objected May.
“I don’t see why.”
“Because what you say ought to represent what you are. If you say anything that comes into your head, you make the big things and the little things all equal. Pull round, will you?—there’s the luncheon-bell.”
Mr. Carlingford lived in an ugly but comfortable house among the broad-backed Surrey Downs, generally alone, for a life of sixty-eight years had convinced him that he found his own society less tedious than that of his friends. He made, however, one exception in favour of Tom, for whom he had a considerable liking. He had married late, had been a widower for twenty-one years—since Tom’s birth—and had no other children. He seldom spoke of his wife, so that we have no means of finding out whether he included her in the verdict he mentally passed on his friends, but there is no reason to suppose that he did not.
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