Chapter 12.

{93} CHARLES was an affectionate son, and the Long Vacation passed very happily at home. He was up early, and read steadily till luncheon, and then he was at the service of his father, mother, and sisters for the rest of the day. He loved the calm, quiet country; he loved the monotonous flow of time, when each day is like the other; and, after the excitement of Oxford, the secluded parsonage was like a haven beyond the tossing of the waves. The whirl of opinions and perplexities which had encircled him at Oxford now were like the distant sound of the ocean—they reminded him of his present security. The undulating meadows, the green lanes, the open heath, the common with its wide-spreading dusky elms, the high timber which fringed the level path from village to village, ever and anon broken and thrown into groups, or losing itself in copses—even the gate, and the stile, and the turnpike road had the charm, not of novelty, but of long familiar use; they had the poetry of many recollections. Nor was the dilapidated, deformed church, with its outside staircases, its unsightly galleries, its wide intruded windows, its uncouth pews, its low nunting table, its forlorn vestry, and its damp earthy {94} smell, without its pleasant associations to the inner man; for there it was that for many a year, Sunday after Sunday, he had heard his dear father read and preach; there were the old monuments, with Latin inscriptions and strange devices, the black boards with white letters, the Resurgams and grinning skulls, the fire-buckets, the faded militia-colours, and, almost as much a fixture, the old clerk, with a Welsh wig over his ears, shouting the responses out of place—which had arrested his imagination, and awed him when a child. And then there was his home itself; its well-known rooms, its pleasant routine, its order, and its comfort—an old and true friend, the dearer to him because he had made new ones. "Where I shall be in time to come I know not," he said to himself; "I am but a boy; many things which I have not a dream of, which my imagination cannot compass, may come on me before I die—if I live; but here at least, and now, I am happy, and I will enjoy my happiness. Some say that school is the pleasantest time of one's life; this does not exclude college. I suppose care is what makes life so wearing. At present I have no care, no responsibility; I suppose I shall feel a little when I go up for my degree. Care is a terrible thing; I have had a little of it at times at school. What a strange thing to fancy, I shall be one day twenty-five or thirty! How the weeks are flying by! the Vacation will soon be over. Oh, I am so happy, it quite makes me afraid. Yet I shall have strength for my day."

Sometimes, however, his thoughts took a sadder {95} turn, and he anticipated the future more vividly than he enjoyed the present. Mr. Malcolm had come to see them, after an absence from the parsonage for several years: his visit was a great pleasure to Mr. Reding, and not much less to himself, to whom a green home and a family circle were agreeable sights, after his bachelor-life at college. He had been a great favourite with Charles and his sisters as children, though now his popularity with them for the most part rested on the memory of the past. When he told them amusing stories, or allowed them to climb his knee and take off his spectacles, he did all that was necessary to gain their childish hearts; more is necessary to conciliate the affection of young men and women; and thus it is not surprising that he lived in their minds principally by prescription. He neither knew this, nor would have thought much about it if he had, for, like many persons of advancing years, he made himself very much his own centre, did not care to enter into the minds of others, did not consult for them, or find his happiness in them. He was kind and friendly to the young people, as he would be kind to a canary-bird or a lap-dog; it was a sort of external love; and, though they got on capitally with him, they did not miss him when gone, nor would have been much troubled to know that he was never to come again. Charles drove him about the country, stamped his letters, secured him his newspapers from the neighbouring town, and listened to his stories about Oxford and Oxford men. He really liked him, and wished to please him; but, as to consulting him in any {96} serious matter, or going to him for comfort in affliction, he would as soon have thought of betaking him to Dan the pedlar, or old Isaac who played the Sunday bassoon.

"How have your peaches been this year, Malcolm?" said Mr. Reding one day after dinner to his guest.

"You ought to know that we have no peaches in Oxford," answered Mr. Malcolm.

"My memory plays me false, then: I had a vision of, at least, October peaches on one occasion, and fine ones too."

"Ah, you mean at old Tom Spindle's, the jockey's," answered Mr. Malcolm: "it's true, he had a bit of a brick wall, and was proud of it. But peaches come when there is no one in Oxford to eat them; so either the tree, or at least the fruit, is a great rarity there. Oxford wasn't so empty once; you have old mulberry-trees there in record of better days."

"At that time, too," said Charles, "I suppose, the more expensive fruits were not cultivated. Mulberries are the witness, not only of a full college, but of simple tastes."

"Charles is secretly cutting at our hothouse here," said Mr. Reding; "as if our first father did not prefer fruits and flowers to beef and mutton."

"No, indeed," said Charles, "I think peaches capital things: and as to flowers, I am even too fond of scents."

"Charles has some theory, then, about scents, I'll be bound," said his father; "I never knew a boy who so placed his likings and dislikings on fancies. He began to eat olives directly he read the Œdipus of {97} Sophocles; and, I verily believe, will soon give up oranges from his dislike to King William."

"Every one does so," said Charles: "who would not be in the fashion? There's Aunt Kitty, she calls a bonnet 'a sweet' one year, which makes her 'a perfect fright' the next."

"You're right, papa, in this instance," said his mother; "I know he has some good reason, though I never can recollect it, why he smells a rose, or distils lavender. What is it, my dear Mary?"

"'Relics ye are of Eden's bowers,'" said she.

"Why, sir, that was precisely your own reason just now," said Charles to his father.

"There's more than that," said Mrs. Reding, "if I knew what it was."

"He thinks the scent more intellectual than the other senses," said Mary, smiling.

"Such a boy for paradoxes!" said his mother.

"Well, so it is in a certain way," said Charles, "but I can't explain. Sounds and scents are more ethereal, less material; they have no shape—like the angels."

Mr. Malcolm laughed. "Well, I grant it, Charles," he said; "they are length without breadth!"

"Did you ever hear the like?" said Mrs. Reding, laughing too; "don't encourage him, Mr. Malcolm; you are worse than he. Angels length without breadth!"

"They pass from place to place, they come, they go," continued Mr. Malcolm.

"They conjure up the past so vividly," said Charles. {98}

"But sounds surely more than scents," said Mr. Malcolm.

"Pardon me; the reverse as I think," answered Charles.

"That is a paradox, Charles," said Mr. Malcolm; "the smell of roast-beef never went further than to remind a man of dinner; but sounds are pathetic and inspiring."

"Well, sir, but think of this," said Charles; "scents are complete in themselves, yet do not consist of parts. Think how very distinct the smell of a rose is from a pink, a pink from a sweet-pea, a sweet-pea from a stock, a stock from lilac, lilac from lavender, lavender from jasmine, jasmine from honeysuckle, honeysuckle from hawthorn, hawthorn from hyacinth, hyacinth—"

"Spare us," interrupted Mr. Malcolm; "you are going through the index of Loudon!"

"And these are only the scents of flowers; how different flowers smell from fruits, fruits from spices, spices from roast-beef or pork-cutlets, and so on. Now, what I was coming to is this—these scents are perfectly distinct from each other, and sui generis; they never can be confused; yet each is communicated to the apprehension in an instant. Sights take up a great space, a tune is a succession of sounds; but scents are at once specific and complete, yet indivisible. Who can halve a scent? they need neither time nor space; thus they are immaterial or spiritual."

"Charles hasn't been to Oxford for nothing," said his mother, laughing and looking at Mary; "this is what I call chopping logic!" {99}

"Well done, Charles," cried Mr. Malcolm; "and now, since you have such clear notions of the power of smells, you ought, like the man in the story, to be satisfied with smelling at your dinner, and grow fat upon it. It's a shame you sit down to table."

"Well, sir," answered Charles, "some people do seem to thrive on snuff at least."

"For shame, Charles!" said Mr. Malcolm; "you have seen me use the common-room snuff-box to keep myself awake after dinner; but nothing more. I keep a box in my pocket merely as a bauble—it was a present. You should have lived when I was young. There was old Dr. Troughton of Nun's Hall, he carried his snuff loose in his pocket; and old Mrs. Vice-Principal Daffy used to lay a train along her arm, and fire it with her nose. Doctors of medicine took it as a preservative against infection, and doctors of divinity against drowsiness in church."

"They take wine against infection now," said Mr. Reding; "it's a much surer protective."

"Wine?" cried Mr. Malcolm; "oh, they didn't take less wine then, as you and I know. On certain solemn occasions they made a point of getting drunk, the whole college, from the Vice-Principal or Sub-Warden down to the scouts. Heads of houses were kept in order by their wives; but I assure you the jolly god came very near Mr. Vice-Chancellor himself. There was old Dr. Sturdy of St. Michael's, a great martinet in his time. One day the King passed through Oxford; Sturdy, a tall, upright, iron-faced man, had to meet him in procession at Magdalen Bridge, and walked down with his {100} pokers before him, gold and silver, vergers, cocked hats, and the rest. There wasn't one of them that wasn't in liquor. Think of the good old man's horror: Majesty in the distance, and his own people swaying to and fro under his very nose, and promising to leave him for the gutter before the march was ended."

"No one can get tipsy with snuff, I grant," said Mr. Reding; "but if wine has done some men harm, it has done others a deal of good."

"Hair-powder is as bad as snuff," said Mary, preferring the former subject; "there's old Mr. Butler of Cooling, his wig is so large and full of powder that when he nods his head I am sure to sneeze."

"Ah, but all these are accidents, young lady," said Mr. Malcolm, put out by this block to the conversation, and running off somewhat testily in another direction; "accidents after all. Old people are always the same; so are young. Each age has its own fashion: if Mr. Butler wore no wig, still there would be something about him odd and strange to young eyes. Charles, don't you be an old bachelor. No one cares for old people. Marry, my dear boy; look out betimes for a virtuous young woman, who will make you an attentive wife."

Charles slightly coloured, and his sister laughed as if there was some understanding between them.

Mr. Malcolm continued: "Don't wait till you want some one to buy flannel for your rheumatism or gout; marry betimes".

"You will let me take my degree first, sir?" said Charles.

"Certainly, take your M.A.'s if you will; but don't {101} become an old Fellow. Don't wait till forty; people make the strangest mistakes."

"Dear Charles will make a kind and affectionate husband, I am sure," said his mother, "when the time comes; and come it will, though not just yet. Yes, my dear boy," she added, nodding at him, "you will not be able to escape your destiny, when it comes."

"Charles, you must know," said Mr. Reding to his guest, "is romantic in his notions just now. I believe it is that he thinks no one good enough for him. Oh, my dear Charlie, don't let me pain you, I meant nothing serious; but somehow he has not hit it off very well with some young ladies here, who expected more attention than he cared to give."

"I am sure," said Mary, "Charles is most attentive whenever there is occasion, and always has his eyes about him to do a service; only he's a bad hand at small-talk."

"All will come in time, my dear," said his mother; "a good son makes a good husband."

"And a very loving papa," said Mr. Malcolm.

"Oh, spare me, sir," said poor Charles; "how have I deserved this?"

"Well," proceeded Mr. Malcolm; "and young ladies ought to marry betimes too."

"Come, Mary, your turn is coming," cried Charles; and taking his sister's hand, he threw up the sash, and escaped with her into the garden.

They crossed the lawn, and took refuge in a shrubbery. "How strange it is!" said Mary, as they strolled along the winding walk; "we used to like {102} Mr. Malcolm so, as children; but now—I like him still, but he is not the same."

"We are older," said her brother; "different things take us now."

"He used to be so kind," continued she; "when he was coming, the day was looked out for; and mamma said, 'Take care you be good when Mr. Malcolm comes'. And he was sure to bring a twelfth-cake, or a Noah's ark, or something of the sort. And then he romped with us, and let us make fun of him."

"Indeed it isn't he that is changed," said Charles, "but we;—we are in the time of life to change; we have changed already, and shall change still."

"What a mercy it is," said his sister, "that we are so happy among ourselves as a family! If we change, we shall change together, as apples of one stock if one fails, the other does. Thus we are always the same to each other."

"It is a mercy, indeed," said Charles; "we are so blest that I am sometimes quite frightened."

His sister looked earnestly at him. He laughed a little to turn off the edge of his seriousness. "You would know what I mean, dear Mary, if you had read Herodotus. A Greek tyrant feared his own excessive prosperity, and therefore made a sacrifice to fortune. I mean, he gave up something which he held most precious; he took a ring from his finger and cast it into the sea, lest the Deity should afflict him, if he did not afflict himself."

"My dear Charles," she answered, "if we do but enjoy God's gifts thankfully, and take care not to set {103} our hearts on them or to abuse them, we need not fear for their continuance."

"Well," said Charles, "there's one text which has ever dwelt on my mind, 'Rejoice with trembling'. I can't take full unrestrained pleasure in anything."

"Why not, if you look at it as God's gift?" asked Mary.

"I don't defend it," he replied; "it's my way; it may be a selfish prudence, for what I know; but I am sure that, did I give my heart to any creature, I should be withdrawing it from God. How easily could I idolise these sweet walks which we have known for so many years!"

They walked on in silence. "Well," said Mary, "whatever we lose, no change can affect us as a family. While we are we, we are to each other what nothing external can be to us, whether as given or as taken away."

Charles made no answer.

"What has come to you, dear Charles?" she said, stopping and looking at him; then gently removing his hair and smoothing his forehead, she said, "you are so sad today."

"Dearest Mary," he made answer, "nothing's the matter, indeed. I think it is Mr. Malcolm who has put me out. It is so stupid to talk of the prospects of a boy like me. Don't look so, I mean nothing; only it annoys me."

Mary smiled.

"What I mean is," continued Charles, "that we can rely on nothing here, and are fools if we build on the future." {104}

"We can rely on each other," she repeated.

"Ah, dear Mary, don't say so; it frightens me."

She looked round at him surprised, and almost frightened herself.

"Dearest," he continued, "I mean nothing; only everything is so uncertain here below."

"We are sure of each other, Charles."

"Yes, Mary," and he kissed her affectionately, "it is true, most true;" then he added, "all I meant was that it seems presumptuous to say so. David and Jonathan were parted; St. Paul and St. Barnabas."

Tears stood in Mary's eyes.

"Oh, what an ass I am," he said, "for thus teasing you about nothing; no, I only mean that there is One only who cannot die, who never changes, only One. It can't be wrong to remember this. Do you recollect Cowper's beautiful lines? I know them without having learned them—they struck me so much the first time I read them;" and he repeated them:—

Thou art the source and centre of all minds,
Their only point of rest, Eternal Word.
From Thee departing, they are lost, and rove
At random, without honour, hope, or peace.
From Thee is all that soothes the life of man,
His high endeavour and his glad success,
His strength to suffer and his will to serve.
But oh, Thou Sovereign Giver of all good,
Thou art of all Thy gifts Thyself the crown.
Give what Thou canst, without Thee we are poor,
And with Thee rich, take what Thou wilt away.

Chapter 1-13

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