IN a snowy villa, with a sloping lawn, just outside the great commercial seaport, Barkington, there lived a few years ago a happy family. A lady, middle-aged, but still charming; two young friends of hers; and a periodical visitor.
The lady was Mrs. Dodd; her occasional visitor was her husband; her friends were her son Edward, aged twenty, and her daughter Julia, nineteen, the fruit of a misalliance.
Mrs. Dodd was originally Miss Fountain, a young lady well born, high bred, and a denizen of the fashionable world. Under a strange concurrence of circumstances she coolly married the captain of an East Indiaman. The deed done, and with her eyes open, for she was not, to say, in love with him, she took a judicious line — and kept it: no hankering after Mayfair, no talking about “Lord this” and “Lady that,” to commercial gentlewomen; no amphibiousness. She accepted her place in society, reserving the right to embellish it with the graces she had gathered in a higher sphere. In her home, and in her person, she was little less elegant than a countess; yet nothing more than a merchant-captain’s wife; and she reared that commander’s children in a suburban villa, with the manners which adorn a palace. When they happen to be there. She had a bugbear; Slang. Could not endure the smart technicalities current; their multitude did not overpower her distaste; she called them “jargon”—“slang” was too coarse a word for her to apply to slang: she excluded many a good “racy idiom” along with the real offenders; and monosyllables in general ran some risk of’ having to show their passports. If this was pedantry, it went no further; she was open, free, and youthful with her young pupils; and had the art to put herself on their level: often, when they were quite young, she would feign infantine ignorance, in order to hunt trite truth in couples with them, and detect, by joint experiment, that rainbows cannot, or else will not, be walked into, nor Jack-o’-lantern be gathered like a cowslip; and that, dissect we the vocal dog — whose hair is so like a lamb’s — never so skilfully, no fragment of palpable bark, no sediment of tangible squeak, remains inside him to bless the inquisitive little operator, &c., &c. When they advanced from these elementary branches to Languages, History, Tapestry, and “What Not,” she managed still to keep by their side learning with them, not just hearing them lessons down from the top of a high tower of maternity. She never checked their curiosity, but made herself share it; never gave them, as so many parents do, a white-lying answer; wooed their affections with subtle though innocent art, thawed their reserve, obtained their love, and retained their respect. Briefly, a female Chesterfield; her husband’s lover after marriage, though not before; and the mild monitress the elder sister, the favourite companion and bosom friend of both her children.
They were remarkably dissimilar; and perhaps I may be allowed to preface the narrative of their adventures by a delineation; as in country churches an individual pipes the keynote, and the tune comes raging after.
Edward, then, had a great calm eye, that was always looking folk full in the face, mildly; his countenance comely and manly, but no more; too square for Apollo; but sufficed for John Bull. His figure it was that charmed the curious observer of male beauty. He was five feet ten; had square shoulders, a deep chest, masculine flank, small foot, high instep. To crown all this, a head, overflowed by ripples of dark brown hair, sat with heroic grace upon his solid white throat, like some glossy falcon new lighted on a Parian column.
This young gentleman had decided qualities, positive and negative. He could walk up to a five-barred gate and clear it, alighting on the other side like a fallen feather; could row all day, and then dance all night; could fling a cricket ball a hundred and six yards; had a lathe and a tool-box, and would make you in a trice a chair, a table, a doll, a nutcracker, or any other moveable, useful, or the very reverse. And could not learn his lessons, to save his life.
His sister Julia was not so easy to describe. Her figure was tall, lithe, and serpentine; her hair the colour of a horse-chestnut fresh from its pod; her ears tiny and shell-like, her eyelashes long and silky; her mouth small when grave, large when smiling; her eyes pure hazel by day, and tinged with a little violet by night. But in jotting down these details, true as they are, I seem to myself to be painting fire, with a little snow and saffron mixed on a marble pallet. There is a beauty too spiritual to be chained in a string of items; and Julia’s fair features were but the china vessel that brimmed over with the higher loveliness of her soul. Her essential charm was, what shall I say? Transparence.
“You would have said her very body thought.”
Modesty, Intelligence, and, above all, Enthusiasm, shone through her, and out of her, and made her an airy, fiery, household joy. Briefly, an incarnate sunbeam.
This one could learn her lessons with unreasonable rapidity, and until Edward went to Eton, would insist upon learning his into the bargain, partly with the fond notion of coaxing him on, as the company of a swift horse incites a slow one; partly because she was determined to share his every trouble, if she could not remove it. A little choleric, and indeed downright prone to that more generous indignation which fires at the wrongs of others. When heated with emotion, or sentiment, she lowered her voice, instead of raising it like the rest of us. She called her mother “Lady Placid,” and her brother “Sir Imperturbable.” And so much for outlines.
Mrs. Dodd laid aside her personal ambition with her maiden name; but she looked high for her children. Perhaps she was all the more ambitious for them, that they had no rival aspirant in Mrs. Dodd. She educated Julia herself from first to last: but with true feminine distrust of her power to mould a lordling of creation, she sent Edward to Eton, at nine. This was slackening her tortoise; for at Eton is no female master, to coax dry knowledge into a slow head. However, he made good progress in two branches — aquatics and cricket.
After Eton came the choice of a profession. His mother recognised but four; and these her discreet ambition speedily sifted down to two. For military heroes are shot now and then, however pacific the century; and naval ones drowned. She would never expose her Edward to this class of accidents. Glory by all means; glory by the pail; but safe glory, please; or she would none of it. Remained the church and the bar: and, within these reasonable limits, she left her dear boy free as air; and not even hurried — there was plenty of time to choose: he must pass through the university to either. This last essential had been settled about a twelvemonth, and the very day for his going to Oxford was at hand, when one morning Mr. Edward formally cleared his throat: it was an unusual act, and drew the ladies’ eyes upon him. He followed the solemnity up by delivering calmly and ponderously a connected discourse, which astonished them by its length and purport. “Mamma, dear, let us look the thing in the face.” (This was his favourite expression, as well as habit.) “I have been thinking it quietly over for the last six months. Why send me to the university? I shall be out of place there. It will cost you a lot of money, and no good. Now, you take a fool’s advice; don’t you waste your money and papa’s, sending a dull fellow like me to Oxford. I did bad enough at Eton. Make me an engineer, or something. If you were not so fond of me, and I of you, I’d say send me to Canada, with a pickaxe; you know I have got no headpiece.”
Mrs. Dodd had sat aghast, casting Edward deprecating looks at the close of each ponderous sentence, but too polite to interrupt a soul, even a son talking nonsense. She now assured him she could afford very well to send him to Oxford, and begged leave to remind him that he was too good and too sensible to run up bills there, like the young men who did not really love their parents. “Then, as for learning, why, we must be reasonable in our turn. Do the best you can, love. We know you have no great turn for the classics; we do not expect you to take high honours like young Mr. Hardie; besides, that might make your head ache: he has sad headaches, his sister told Julia. But, my dear, an university education is indispensable Do but see how the signs of it follow a gentleman through life, to say nothing of the valuable acquaintances and lasting friendships he makes there: even those few distinguished persons who have risen in the would without it, have openly regretted the want, and have sent their children: and that says volumes to me.”
“Why, Edward, it is the hall-mark of a gentleman,” said Julia eagerly. Mrs. Dodd caught a flash of her daughter: “And my silver shall never be without it,” said she warmly. She added presently, in her usual placid tone, “I beg your pardon, my dears, I ought to have said my gold.” With this she kissed Edward tenderly on the brow, and drew an embrace and a little grunt of resignation from him. “Take the dear boy and show him our purchases, love!” said Mrs. Dodd, with a little gentle accent of half reproach, scarce perceptible to a male ear.
“Oh, yes,” and Julia rose and tripped to the door. There she stood a moment, half turned, with arching neck, colouring with innocent pleasure. “Come, darling. Oh, you good-for — nothing thing.”
The pair found a little room hard by, paved with china, crockery, glass, baths, kettles, &c.
“There, sir. Look them in the face; and us, if you can.”
“Well, you know, I had no idea you had been and bought a cart-load of things for Oxford.” His eye brightened; he whipped out a two-foot rule, and began to calculate the cubic contents. “I’ll turn to and make the cases, Ju.”
The ladies had their way; the cases were made and despatched; and one morning the Bus came for Edward, and stopped at the gate of Albion Villa. At this sight mother and daughter both turned their heads quickly away by one independent impulse, and set a bad example. Apparently neither of them had calculated on this paltry little detail; they were game for theoretical departures; to impalpable universities: and “an air-drawn Bus, a Bus of the mind,” would not have dejected for a moment their lofty Spartan souls on glory bent; safe glory. But here was a Bus of wood, and Edward going bodily away inside it. The victim kissed them, threw up his portmanteau and bag, and departed serene as Italian skies; the victors watched the pitiless Bus quite out of sight; then went up to his bedroom, all disordered by packing, and, on the very face of it, vacant; and sat down on his little bed intertwining and weeping.
Edward was received at Exeter College, as young gentlemen are received at college; and nowhere else, I hope, for the credit of Christendom. They showed him a hole in the roof, and called it an “Attic;” grim pleasantry! being a puncture in the modern Athens. They inserted him; told him what hour at the top of the morning he must be in chapel; and left him to find out his other ills. His cases were welcomed like Christians, by the whole staircase. These undergraduates abused one another’s crockery as their own: the joint stock of breakables had just dwindled very low, and Mrs. Dodd’s bountiful contribution was a godsend.
The new comer soon found that his views of a learned university had been narrow. Out of place in it? why, he could not have taken his wares to a better market; the modern Athens, like the ancient, cultivates muscle as well as mind. The captain of the university eleven saw a cricket-ball thrown all across the ground; he instantly sent a professional bowler to find out who that was; through the same ambassador the thrower was invited to play on club days; and proving himself an infallible catch and long-stop, a mighty thrower, a swift runner, and a steady, though not very brilliant bat, he was, after one or two repulses, actually adopted into the university eleven. He communicated this ray of glory by letter to his mother and sister with genuine delight, coldly and clumsily expressed; they replied with feigned and fluent rapture. Advancing steadily in that line of academic study towards which his genius lay, he won a hurdle race, and sent home a little silver hurdle; and soon after brought a pewter pot, with a Latin inscription recording the victory at “Fives” of Edward Dodd: but not too arrogantly; for in the centre of the pot was this device, “The Lord Is My Illumination.” The Curate of Sandford, who pulled number six in the Exeter boat, left Sandford for Witney: on this he felt he could no longer do his college justice by water, and his parish by land, nor escape the charge of pluralism, preaching at Witney and rowing at Oxford. He fluctuated, sighed, kept his Witney, and laid down his oar. Then Edward was solemnly weighed in his jersey and flannel trousers, and proving only eleven stone eight, whereas he had been ungenerously suspected of twelve stone,2 was elected to the vacant oar by acclamation. He was a picture in a boat; and, “Oh!!! well pulled, six!!” was a hearty ejaculation constantly hurled at him from the bank by many men of other colleges, and even by the more genial among the cads, as the Exeter glided at ease down the river, or shot up it in a race.
2 There was at this time a prejudice against weight, which has yielded to experience
He was now as much talked of in the university as any man of his college, except one. Singularly enough that one was his townsman; but no friend of his; he was much Edward’s senior in standing, though not in age; and this is a barrier the junior must not step over — without direct encouragement — at Oxford. Moreover, the college was a large one, and some of “the sets” very exclusive: young Hardie was Doge of a studious clique; and careful to make it understood that he was a reading man who boated and cricketed, to avoid the fatigue of lounging; not a boatman or cricketer who strayed into Aristotle in the intervals of Perspiration.
His public running since he left Harrow was as follows: the prize poem in his fourth term; the sculls in his sixth; the Ireland scholarship in his eighth (he pulled second for it the year before); Stroke of the Exeter in his tenth; and reckoned sure of a first class to consummate his twofold career.
To this young Apollo, crowned with variegated laurel, Edward looked up from a distance. The brilliant creature never bestowed a word on him by land; and by water only such observations as the following: “Time, Six!” “Well pulled, Six!” “Very well pulled, Six!” Except, by-the-bye, one race; when he swore at him like a trooper for not being quicker at starting. The excitement of nearly being bumped by Brasenose in the first hundred yards was an excuse. However, Hardie apologised as they were dressing in the barge after the race; but the apology was so stiff, it did not pave the way to an acquaintance.
Young Hardie, rising twenty-one, thought nothing human worthy of reverence, but Intellect. Invited to dinner, on the same day, with the Emperor of Russia, and with Voltaire, and with meek St. John, he would certainly have told the coachman to put him down at Voltaire.
His quick eye detected Edward’s character; but was not attracted by it: says he to one of his adherents, “What a good-natured spoon that Dodd is; Phoebus, what a name!” Edward, on the other hand, praised this brilliant in all his letters, and recorded his triumphs and such of his witty sayings as leaked through his own set, to reinvigorate mankind. This roused Julia’s ire. It smouldered through three letters; but burst out when there was no letter; but Mrs. Dodd, meaning, Heaven knows, no harm, happened to say meekly, a propos of Edward, “You know, love, we cannot all be young Hardies.” “No, and thank Heaven,” said Julia defiantly. “Yes, mamma,” she continued, in answer to Mrs. Dodd’s eyebrow, which had curved; “your mild glance reads my soul; I detest that boy.” Mrs. Dodd smiled: “Are you sure you know what the word ‘detest’ means? And what has young Mr. Hardie done, that you should bestow so violent a sentiment on him?”
“Mamma, I am Edward’s sister,” was the tragic reply; then, kicking off the buskin pretty nimbly, “There! he beats our boy at everything, and ours sits quietly down and admires him for it: oh! how can a man let anybody or anything beat him! I wouldn’t; without a desperate struggle.” She clenched her white teeth and imagined the struggle. To be sure, she owned she had never seen this Mr. Hardie; but after all it was only Jane Hardie’s brother, as Edward was hers; “And would I sit down and let Jane beat me at Things? Never! never! never! I couldn’t.”
“Your friend to the death, dear; was not that your expression?”
“Oh, that was a slip of the tongue, dear mamma; I was off my guard. I generally am, by the way. But now I am on it, and propose an amendment. Now I second it. Now I carry it.”
“And now let me hear it.”
“She is my friend till death — or Eclipse; and that means until she eclipses me, of course.” But she added softly, and with sudden gravity: “Ah! Jane Hardie has a fault which will always prevent her from eclipsing your humble servant in this wicked world.”
“What is that?”
“She is too good. Much.”
“Oh, that is another matter.”
“For shame, mamma! I am glad to hear it: for I scorn a life of frivolity; but then, again, I should not like to give up everything, you know.” Mrs. Dodd looked a little staggered, too, at so vast a scheme of capitulation But “everything” was soon explained to mean balls, concerts, dinner-parties in general, tea-parties without exposition of Scripture, races, and operas, cards, charades, and whatever else amuses society without perceptibly sanctifying it. All these, by Julia’s account, Miss Hardie had renounced, and was now denouncing (with the young the latter verb treads on the very heels of the former). “And, you know, she is a district visitor.”
This climax delivered, Julia stopped short, and awaited the result.
Mrs. Dodd heard it all with quiet disapproval and cool incredulity. She had seen so many young ladies healed of many young enthusiasms by a wedding ring. But, while she was searching diligently in her mine of ladylike English — mine with plenty of water in it, begging her pardon — for expressions to convey inoffensively, and roundabout, her conviction that Miss Hardie was a little, furious simpleton, the post came and swept the subject away in a moment.
Two letters; one from Calcutta, one from Oxford.
They came quietly in upon one salver, and were opened and read with pleasurable interest, but without surprise, or misgiving; and without the slightest foretaste of their grave amid singular consequences.
Rivers deep and broad start from such little springs.
David’s letter was of unusual length for him. The main topics were, first, the date and manner of his return home. His ship, a very old one, had been condemned in port: and he was to sail a fine new teak-built vessel, the Agra, as far as the Cape; where her captain, just recovered from a severe illness, would come on board, and convey her and him to England. In future, Dodd was to command one of the Company’s large steamers to Alexandria and back.
“It is rather a come-down for a sailor, to go straight ahead like a wheelbarrow in all weathers with a steam-pot and a crew of coalheavers But then I shall not be parted from my sweetheart such long dreary spells as I have been thus twenty years, my dear love: so is it for me to complain?”
The second topic was pecuniary; the transfer of their savings from India, where interest was higher than at home, but the capital not so secure.
And the third was ardent and tender expressions of affection for the wife and children he adored. These effusions of the heart had no separate place, except in my somewhat arbitrary analysis of the honest sailor’s letter; they were the under current. Mrs. Dodd read part of it out to Julia; in fact all but the money matter: that concerned the heads of the family more immediately; and Cash was a topic her daughter did not understand, nor care about. And when Mrs. Dodd had read it with glistening eyes, she kissed it tenderly, and read it all over again to herself, and then put it into her bosom as naively as a milkmaid in love.
Edward’s letter was short enough, and Mrs. Dodd allowed Julia to read it to her, which she did with panting breath, and glowing cheeks, and a running fire of comments.
“‘Dear Mamma, I hope you and Ju are quite well ——’”
“Ju,” murmured Mrs. Dodd plaintively.
“‘And that there is good news about papa coming home. As for me, I have plenty on my hands just now; all this term I have been (‘training’ scratched out, and another word put in: C— R— oh, I know) ‘cramming.’”
“Yes, that is the Oxfordish for studying.”
“’— For smalls.’”
Mrs. Dodd contrived to sigh interrogatively. Julia, who understood her every accent, reminded her that “smalls” was the new word for “little go.”
“’— Cramming for smalls; and now I am in two races at Henley, and that rather puts the snaffie on reading and gooseberry pie’ (Goodness me), ‘and adds to my chance of being ploughed for smalls.’”
“What does it all mean?” inquired mamma, “‘gooseberry pie’? and ‘the snaffle’? and ‘ploughed’?”
“Well, the gooseberry pie is really too deep for me: but ‘ploughed’ is the new Oxfordish for ‘plucked.’ O mamma, have you forgotten that? ‘Plucked’ was vulgar, so now they are ‘ploughed.’ ‘For smalls; but I hope I shall not be, to vex you and Puss.’”
“Heaven forbid he should be so disgraced! But what has the cat to do with it?”
“Nothing on earth. Puss? that is me. How dare he? Did I not forbid all these nicknames and all this Oxfordish, by proclamation, last Long.”
“Hem! last protracted vacation.”
“’— Dear mamma, sometimes I cannot help being down in the mouth,’ (why, it is a string of pearls) ‘to think you have not got a son like Hardie.’” At this unfortunate reflection it was Julia’s turn to suffer. She deposited the letter in her lap, and fired up. “Now, have not I cause to hate, and scorn, and despise le petit Hardie?”
“I mean to dislike with propriety, and gently to abominate — Mr. Hardie, junior.”
“’— Dear mamma, do come to Henley on the tenth, you and Ju. The university eights will not be there, but the head boats of the Oxford and Cambridge river will; and the Oxford head boat is Exeter, you know; and I pull Six.’”
“Then I am truly sorry to hear it; my poor boy will overtask his strength; and how unfair of the other young gentlemen; it seems ungenerous; unreasonable; my poor child against so many.”
“’— And I am entered for the sculls as well, and if you and “the Impetuosity”’ (Vengeance!) ‘were looking on from the bank, I do think I should be lucky this time. Henley is a long way from Barkington, but it is a pretty place; all the ladies admire it, and like to see both the universities out and a stunning race.’ Oh, well, there is an epithet. One would think thunder was going to race lightning, instead of Oxford Cambridge.”
“’— If you can come, please write, and I will get you nice lodgings; I will not let you go to a noisy inn. Love to Julia and no end of kisses to my pretty mamma. — From your affectionate Son,
They wrote off a cordial assent, and reached Henley in time to see the dullest town in Europe; and also to see it turn one of the gayest in an hour or two; so impetuously came both the universities pouring into it — in all known vehicles that could go their pace — by land and water.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59