Chapter 3.

{353} NOTHING happened to Charles worth relating before his arrival at Steventon next day; when, the afternoon being fine, he left his portmanteau to follow him by the omnibus, and put himself upon the road. If it required some courage to undertake by himself a long journey on an all-momentous errand, it did not lessen the difficulty that that journey took in its way a place and a person so dear to him as Oxford and Carlton.

He had passed through Bagley Wood, and the spires and towers of the University came on his view, hallowed by how many tender associations, lost to him for two whole years, suddenly recovered—recovered to be lost for ever! There lay old Oxford before him, with its hills as gentle and its meadows as green as ever. At the first view of that beloved place he stood still with folded arms, unable to proceed. Each college, each church—he counted them by their pinnacles and turrets. The silver Isis, the grey willows, the far-stretching plains, the dark groves, the distant range of Shotover, the pleasant village where he had lived with Carlton and Sheffield—wood, water, stone, all so calm, so bright, they might have been his, but his they were {354} not. Whatever he was to gain by becoming a Catholic, this he had lost; whatever he was to gain higher and better, at least this and such as this he never could have again. He could not have another Oxford, he could not have the friends of his boyhood and youth in the choice of his manhood. He mounted the well-known gate on the left, and proceeded down into the plain. There was no one to greet him, to sympathise with him; there was no one to believe he needed sympathy; no one to believe he had given up anything; no one to take interest in him, to feel tender towards him, to defend him. He had suffered much, but there was no one to believe that he had suffered. He would be thought to be inflicting merely, not undergoing, suffering. He might indeed say that he had suffered; but he would be rudely told that every one follows his own will, and that if he had given up Oxford, it was for a whim which he liked better than it. But rather, there was no one to know him; he had been virtually three years away; three years is a generation; Oxford had been his place once, but his place knew him no more. He recollected with what awe and transport he had at first come to the University, as to some sacred shrine; and how from time to time hopes had come over him that some day or other he should have gained a title to residence on one of its ancient foundations. One night in particular came across his memory, how a friend and he had ascended to the top of one of its many towers with the purpose of making observations on the stars; and how, while his friend was busily engaged with the pointers, he, earthly-minded youth, had been {355} looking down into the deep, gas-lit, dark-shadowed quadrangles, and wondering if he should ever be Fellow of this or that College, which he singled out from the mass of academical buildings. All had passed as a dream, and he was a stranger where he had hoped to have had a home.

He was drawing near Oxford; he saw along the road before him brisk youths pass, two and two, with elastic tread, finishing their modest daily walk, and nearing the city. What had been a tandem a mile back, next crossed his field of view, shorn of its leader. Presently a stately cap and gown loomed in the distance; he had gained the road before their owner crossed him; it was a college-tutor whom he had known a little. Charles expected to be recognised; but the resident passed by with that half-conscious uncertain gaze which seemed to have some memory of a face which yet was strange. He had passed Folly Bridge; troops of horsemen overtook him, talking loud, while with easy jaunty pace they turned into their respective stables. He crossed to Christ Church, and penetrated to Peckwater. The evening was still bright, and the gas was lighting. Groups of young men were stationed here and there, the greater number in hats, a few in caps, one or two with gowns in addition; some were hallooing up to their companions at the windows of the second story; scouts were carrying about æger dinners; pastry-cook boys were bringing in desserts; shabby fellows with Blenheim puppies were loitering under Canterbury Gate. Many stared but no one knew him. He hurried up Oriel Lane; {356} suddenly a start and a low bow from a passer-by; who could it be? It was a superannuated shoeblack of his college, to whom he had sometimes given a stray shilling. He gained the High Street, and turned down towards the Angel. What was approaching? the vision of a proctor. Charles felt some instinctive quiverings; but it passed by him, and did no harm. Like Kehama, he had a charmed life. And now he had reached his inn, where he found his portmanteau all ready for him. He chose a bedroom, and, after fully inducting himself into it, turned his thoughts towards dinner.

He wished to lose no time, but, if possible, to proceed to London the following morning. It would be a great point if he could get to his journey's end so early in the week, that by Sunday, if he was thought worthy, he might offer up his praises for the mercies vouchsafed to him in the great and holy communion of the Universal Church. Accordingly he determined to make an attempt on Carlton that evening; and hoped, if he went to his room between seven and eight, to find him returned from Common-Room. With this intention he sallied out at about the half-hour, gained Carlton's College, knocked at the gate, entered, passed on, up the worn wooden steep staircase. The oak was closed; he descended, found a servant; "Mr. Carlton was giving a dinner in Common-Room; it would soon be over". Charles determined to wait for him.

The servant lighted candles in the inner room, and Charles sat down at the fire. For awhile he sat in reflection; then he looked about for something to occupy him. His eye caught an Oxford paper; it was but a {357} few days old. "Let us see how the old place goes on," he said to himself, as he took it up. He glanced from one article to another, looking who were the University-preachers of the week, who had taken degrees, who were public examiners, &c., &c., when his eye was arrested by the following paragraph:—

"DEFECTION FROM THE CHURCH.—We understand that another victim has lately been added to the list of those whom the venom of Tractarian principles has precipitated into the bosom of the Sorceress of Rome. Mr. Reding of St. Saviour's, the son of a respectable clergyman of the Establishment, deceased, after eating the bread of the Church all his life, has at length avowed himself the subject and slave of an Italian Bishop. Disappointment in the schools is said to have been the determining cause of this infatuated act. It is reported that legal measures are in progress for directing the penalties of the Statute of Præmunire against all the seceders; and a proposition is on foot for petitioning her Majesty to assign the sum thereby realised by the Government to the erection of a 'Martyrs' Memorial' in the sister University."

"So," thought Charles, "the world, as usual, is beforehand with me;" and he sat speculating about the origin of the report till he almost forgot that he was waiting for Carlton.

Chapter 3-4

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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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