Chapter Fifteen.

Kennedy’s Dishonour.

“I fancied Cuthbert’s reddening face
Beneath its garniture of curly gold,
Dear fellow, till I almost felt him fold
An arm in mine, to fix me to the place.
That way he used, ... Alas! one hour’s disgrace!”
    Robert Browning. Childe Roland.

“I am very doubtful, after all, Julian, whether I shall be one of the Switzerland party,” said Kennedy, with a sigh, as he and Julian were walking round the Saint Werner’s gardens one bright evening of the May term. The limes and chestnuts were unfolding their tender sprays of spring-tide emerald, the willows shivered as their green buds made ripples in the water, and the soft light of sunset streamed over towers and colleges, giving a rich glow to the broad windows of the library, and bathing in its rosy tinge the white plumage of the swans upon the river. The friends were returning from a walk, during which they had thoroughly enjoyed the blue and golden weather. Up to this time Kennedy had seemed to be in the highest spirits, and Julian was astonished at the melancholy tone in which the words were spoken.

“Doubtful? Why?” said Julian, quickly.

“Because my father has made it conditional on my getting a first class in the May examination.”

“But, my dear fellow, there is not the ghost of a doubt of your doing that.”

“I don’t feel so sure.”

“Why, there are often thirty in the first class in the freshman’s year; and just as if you wouldn’t be among them!”

“All very well; I know that anybody can do it who works, but I am ashamed to say that I haven’t read one of the books yet.”

“Haven’t you, really? Well then, for goodness’ sake, lose no more time.”

“But there’s only a fortnight to the examination.”

“My dear Kennedy, what have you been doing to be so idle?”

“Somehow or other the time manages to slip away. Heigh ho!” said Kennedy, “my first year at college nearly over, and nothing done—nothing done! How quickly the time has gone!”

“Yes,” said Julian;

ptezugas gaz epoomaduas phezai
Kampes bzadutezoi ta poteemena syllabein,

“as Theocritus prettily observes.”

Seized with the strong determination not only to pass the examination, but even to excel in it, Kennedy devoted the next fortnight to unremitted study for the first time since he had been an undergraduate. But the more he read the more painfully he became aware of his own deficiencies, and the more bitterly he deplored the waste of time. He seemed to be toiling in vain after the opportunities he had lost. He knew that the examination, though limited in subjects, was searching in character, and he found it impossible to acquire, by a sudden impulse, what he should have learned by continuous diligence. As the time drew nearer, he grew more and more nervous. He had set his heart on the Swiss tour, and it now seemed to him painfully probable that he would fail in fulfilling the condition which his father had exacted, and without which he well knew that Mr Kennedy would insist on his spending the vacation either at Camford or at home.

Of the three main subjects for examination he had succeeded by desperate effort, aided by natural ability, in very quickly mastering two sufficiently well to secure a creditable result; but the third subject, the Agamemnon of Aeschylus, remained nearly untouched, and Kennedy was too good and accurate a scholar not to be aware that the most careful and elaborate study was indispensable to an even tolerable understanding of that masterpiece of Grecian tragedy. Besides this, he had a hatred of slovenly and superficial work, and he therefore determined to leave the Aeschylus untouched, while, at the same time, he was quite conscious that if he did so, all chance of distinction, and even all chance of a first class were out of the question. With some shame he reflected over this proof, that, for all purposes of study, a third of his academical life had been utterly and wholly lost.

As he had decided on giving up the Aeschylus, it became more imperative to make sure of the Tacitus and Demosthenes, and he therefore went to Mr Grayson’s rooms to get a library order which should entitle him to take from the Saint Werner’s library any books that would be most likely to give him effectual help.

At the moment of his arrival, Mr Grayson was engaged, and he was shown into another room until he should be ready. This room was the tutor’s library, and like many of the rooms in Camford, it opened into an inner and smaller study, the door of which was partly open.

Kennedy sat down, and after a few minutes, as there seemed to be no signs that he would be summoned immediately, he began to grow very restless. He tried some of the books on the table, but they were all unspeakably dull; he looked at the pictures on the wall, but they were most of them the likenesses of Camford celebrities which he already knew by heart; he looked out of the window, but the court was empty, and there was nothing to see. Reflecting that the only thing which can really induce ennui in a sensible man, is to be kept waiting when he is very busy for an indefinite period, which may terminate at any moment, and may last for almost any length of time, Kennedy, vexed at the interruption of his work, chose the most comfortable armchair in the room, and settled himself in it with a yawn.

At this moment, as ill fate would have it, his eye caught sight of a book lying on Mr Grayson’s reading-desk. Lazily rising to see what it was, he found it to be an Aeschylus, and turned over the leaves with a feeling of listless indifference. Between two of the leaves lay a written paper, and suddenly, after reading two or three lines, he observed it to be a manuscript copy of the much-dreaded Agamemnon paper for the May examination.

Temptation had surprised him with sudden and unexpected violence. He little knew that on this idle weary moment rested the destiny of many years.

As when in a hostile country one has laid aside his armour, and from unregarded ambush the enemy leaps on him, and, though he be strong and noble, stabs him with a festering wound, so this temptation to a base act sprang on poor Kennedy when he was unarmed and unprepared. In the gaieties of life, and the brightnesses of hope, and the securities of unbroken enjoyment, he had long been trusting in himself only, in his own high principle, his own generous impulses, his own unstained honour. But these were never sufficient for any human being yet, and they snapped in an instant under this unhappy boy.

The only honourable thing to do, the thing which at another moment Kennedy might have done, and which any man would have done, whose right instincts and high character had the reliable support of higher principles than mere personal self-confidence and pride, would have been to shut the book instantly, inform Mr Grayson that he had accidentally read one of the questions, and beg him to change it before the examination. This Kennedy knew well; it flashed before him in an instant as the only proper course but at the same instant he passionately obliterated the suggestion from his mind, fiercely stifled the impulse to do right, choked the rebukes of honour and principle, and blindly willed to save his reputation as a scholar, and his chance of enjoyment for the vacation by reading through the entire number of the questions. This mental struggle did not last an instant, for the emotions of the spirit belong only to eternity, and the guilt of human actions is not commensurate with the length of time they occupy. But in the intense wish to see what the examination would be like, and to secure his first class, Kennedy repressed altogether by one blow the moral element of his being, and concentrated his whole intellect on the paper before him. To read it through was the work of a minute; when it was read through, it was too late to wish the act undone, and without suffering himself to dwell, or even to recur in thought to the nature of his proceedings, Kennedy deliberately read through the whole paper a second time.

But this imperious effort of the will was not exercised without visible effects. Absorbed as he was in seizing every prominent subject in the questions, his forehead contracted, his hand shook, his knees trembled, and his heart palpitated with violence. He observed nothing; he did not notice the shadow that chequered the sunlight streaming from the door of the inner room; he did not hear the light step which passed over the carpet; he did not feel the breath of a man who stood behind him, looked over his shoulder, watched his eager determination to secure the unfair advantage, smiled at his agitation, and then slipped back again into the inner room, unnoticed as before.

It was done. Not a question but was printed indelibly on Kennedy’s memory. Quickly, fearfully, he shut the book, and glided back to the armchair, in the vain attempt to look and feel at ease.

At ease! No, now the tumult broke. Now Kennedy hated himself; called himself mean, vile, contemptible, a reptile, a cheat. Now his insulted honour began to vindicate its rights, and his trampled sense of truth to spring up with a menacing bound, and his conscience to speak out calmly and clearly the language of self-condemnation and contempt. Good heavens! how could he have sunk so low; fancy if Julian had seen him, or could know his meanness. Fancy if anybody had seen him. Hazlet, or Fitzurse, or Brogten himself, could hardly have been guilty of a more dishonourable act.

You miserable souls, that do not know what honour is, or what torments rend a truly noble heart, if ever it be led to commit an act which to your seared consciences and muddy intelligence appears a trivial sin, or even no sin at all; you, the mean men to whom an offence like this is so common, that, unless it were discovered, it would not trouble your recollections with a feather’s weight of remorse,—for you, I scorn to write, and I scorn from my inmost being the sneer with which you will regard the agony that Kennedy suffered from his fall. But to the high and the generous, who have erred and have bewailed their error in secret,—to them I appeal to imagine the anguish of self-reproach, the bitterness of humiliation, which stung him in those few moments after his first dishonour. It is the lofty tower that falls with the heaviest crash; it is the stately soul that suffers the deepest abasement; it is the white scutcheon on which the dark stain seems to wear its darkest hue.

He had not sat there for many minutes—though to him they seemed like hours—when a step on the stairs told him that his tutor’s visitor had departed, and the gyp blandly entering, observed—

“Now, sir, Mr Grayson can see you.”

“Oh! very well,” said Kennedy, rising and assuming, with a painful effort, his most indifferent look and tone.

“Pardon me, Mr Kennedy, my turn first; I have been waiting longest,” said a harsh voice behind him, that sounded mockingly to his excited ear. He turned sharply round, and with a low bow and a curl on the protruding lip, and a little guttural laugh, Brogten came from the inner room, and passed before him into Mr Grayson’s presence.

If a thunderbolt had suddenly fallen before Kennedy’s feet and cloven its sulphurous passage into the abyss, he could hardly have been more startled or more alarmed. Without a word he sat down half stupefied. Was any one else in the inner room? For very shame he dare not look. Had Brogten seen him? If so, would he at once tell Mr Grayson? What would be done in that case? Dare he deny the fact? Passionately he spurned the hateful suggestion. Would Brogten tell all the Saint Werner’s men? Brogten of all others, whom he had publicly insulted and branded with dishonour! Ah me, there is no anguish so keen, so deadly, as the anguish of awakened shame!

With unspeakable anxiety Kennedy awaited Brogten’s departure. Why should he be so long? Surely he must be telling Mr Grayson.

At last the heavy step was heard, the door opened, and the gyp once more announced that Mr Grayson was disengaged.

Pale and almost breathless, Kennedy went into the room.

“Good morning, Mr Kennedy.”

“Good morning, sir.”

He quite expected that Mr Grayson was about at once to address him on the subject of the paper, and, expecting this, totally forgot the purpose for which he had come. The tutor’s cold eye was upon him, and after a pause he said—

“Well, Mr Kennedy?”

“Well, sir?” he replied, with a start.

“Do you want anything?”

“Oh, I came for— Really, sir, I must beg your pardon, but I have forgotten what it was.”

“To look at an examination-paper,” were the words which, in his embarrassment, sprang to his lips, but he checked them just in time.

“Really, Mr Kennedy, you appear to be strangely absent this morning,” said Mr Grayson, in a tone the reverse of encouraging.

“Oh, I remember now,” he replied, desperately; “it was a library order I wanted.”

Mr Grayson wrote him the order. Kennedy took it, and, without even shaking the cold hand which the tutor proffered, hurried out of the room, relieved at least by the conviction that Brogten, if he had seen him look at the paper, had not, as yet at any rate, revealed it to the examiner.

“After all,” he reflected, “he was hardly likely to do that. But had he told the men?”

Kennedy did not go to the library; he could not bear to meet anybody, and hastened to bury himself in his own rooms. His walk, usually so erect and gay as he went across the court—the tune he used to hum so merrily in the sunshine—and the bright open glance of recognition with which he passed his acquaintances and friends, were gone to-day. He shuffled silently along the cloisters with downcast eyes.

Hall-time would be the time to know whether Brogten had seen him and betrayed him. And if he had seen him, surely there could be no doubt he would tell of him. What a sweet revenge it would be for that malicious heart! How completely it would turn the tables on Kennedy for the day when he had sarcastically alluded to Brogten’s bets! How amply it would fulfil the promise of which that parting scowl of hatred had been full.

He went to hall rather late on purpose; and instead of sitting in his usual place near Julian, he chose a vacant place at another table. Half a minute sufficed to show him that there was no difference in his reception; the same frequent nods and smiles from all sides still gave him the frank greeting of which, as a popular man, he was always sure. He looked round for Brogten, but could make nothing of his face; it simply wore a somewhat slight smile when their eyes met, and Kennedy’s fell. Kennedy began to convince himself that Brogten could not have seen what he had done in Mr Grayson’s room.

The thought rolled away a great load—a heavy, intolerable load from his heart. It was not that with him, as with so many thousands, the fear of discovery constituted the sense of sin, but young as he was, and high as his character had stood hitherto in man’s estimation, he prayed for any chastisement rather than that of detection, any stroke in preference to open shame. This was the one thing which he felt he could not bear.

Even now, as conscience strongly suggested, he might make, by private confession to his tutor, or at any rate by not using the knowledge he had thus acquired, the only reparation which was still in his power. But it was a hard thing for conscience to ask—too hard for poor Kennedy’s weakness. Much of the paper, as he saw at once, he could very easily have answered from his previous general knowledge and scholarship; so easily, that he now felt convinced that he might have done quite enough of it to secure his first class. His sin then had been useless, quite useless, worse than useless to him. Was he obliged also to make it positively injurious? was he to put himself in a worse position than if he had never committed it? After all the punishment which the sin had brought with it, was he also to lose, in consequence of it, the very advantage, the very enjoyment, for the sake of which he had harboured the temptation? It was too much—too much to expect.

The night before the Aeschylus examination he began to read up the general information on the subject, and he intended to do it quite as if he were unaware of what the actual questions were to be. But it was the merest self-deception. Each question was branded in fiery letters on his recollection, and he found that, as he read, he was skipping involuntarily every topic which he knew had not been touched on in Mr Grayson’s paper.

Oh, the sense of hypocrisy with which he eagerly seized the paper next morning, and read it over as though unaware of its contents.

Julian could not help observing that, during the last few days, Kennedy’s spirits had suffered a change. His old mirth came only in fitful bursts, and he was often moody and silent; but Julian attributed it to anxiety for the result of the examination, and doubt whether he should be allowed by his father to make one of the long-anticipated party in the foreign tour.

Kennedy dared not admit any one into his confidence, but the last evening, before they went down, he turned the conversation, as he sat at tea in Owen’s room, to the topic of character, and the faults of great men, and the aberrations of the good.

“Tell me, Owen,” he said, “as you’re a philosopher—tell me what difference the faults of good men make in our estimate of them?”

“In our real estimate,” said Owen, “I fancy we often adopt, half unconsciously, the maxim, that ‘the king can do no wrong’—that the true hero is all heroic.”

“Yes,” said Kennedy; “but when some one calls your attention to the fact of their failings, and makes you look at them—what then?”

“Why, in nine cases out of ten the faults are grossly exaggerated and misrepresented, and I should try to prove that such is the fact; and for the rest,—why, no man is perfect.”

“You shirk the question, though,” said Lillyston; “for you have to make very tremendous allowance indeed for some of the very best of men.”

As, for instance?

“As, for instance, king David.”

“Oh, don’t take Scripture instances,” said Suton, an excellent fellow whom they all liked, though he took very different views of things from their own.

“Why not, in heaven’s name?” said Kennedy; “if they suit, they are good because so thoroughly familiar.”

“Yes, but somehow one judges them differently.”

“I daresay you do,—in fact I know you do; but you’ve no business to. I maintain that even according to Moses, king David deserved a felon’s death. Murder and adultery were crimes every bit as heinous then as they are now. Yet David, this most human of heroes, was the man after God’s own heart. Solve me the problem.”

“Practically,” said Lillyston; “I believe one follows a genuine instinct in determining not to look at the spots, however wide or dark they are, upon the sun.”

“And in accepting theoretically old Strabo’s grand dictum, ouch oion agathon genesthai poieeteen mee pzotezon geneethenta anoza agathon. Eh?”

“As Coleridge was so fond of doing,” said Julian.

“Ay, he needed the theory,” said Suton.

“Hush!” said Julian, “I can’t stand any such Philadelphus hints about Coleridge. By the bye, Owen, you might have quoted a still more apt illustration from Seneca, who criticises Livy for saying ‘Vir ingenii magni magis quam boni’ with the remark, ‘Non potest illud separari; aut et bonum erit aut nec magnum.’”

Mr Admer, who was one of the circle, chuckled inwardly at the discussion. “I was once,” he said, “at a party where a lady sang one of Byron’s Hebrew melodies. At the close of it a young clergyman sighed deeply, and with an air of intense self-satisfaction, observed, ‘Ah! I was wondering where poor Byron is now!’ What should you have all said to that?”

“Detesting Byron’s personal character, I should have said that the very wonder was a piece of idle and meddling presumption,” said Owen.

“And I should have answered that the Judge will do right,” said Suton reverently.

“Or if he wanted a text, ‘Who art thou that judgest another?’” said Lillyston contemptuously.

“And I,” said Julian, should have said,—

“Let feeble hands iniquitously just,
Rake up the relics of the sinful dust,
Let Ignorance mock the pang it cannot heal,
And Malice brand what Mercy would conceal;—
It matters not!”

“And I,” said Kennedy, “should have been vehemently inclined to tweak the man’s nose.”

“But what did you say, Mr Admer?” asked Lillyston.

“I answered a fool according to his folly. I threw up my eyes and said, ‘Ah, where, indeed! What a good thing it is that you and I, sir, are not as that publican.’”

“I should think he skewered you with a glance, didn’t he?” said Kennedy.

“No, he was going to bore me with an argument, which I declined.”

“But you’ve all cut the question: tell me now, supposing you had known king David, should you have thought worse of him, should you have been cool to him—in a word, should you have cut him after his fall?”

“I think not—I mean, I shouldn’t have cut him,” said Owen.

“And yet you would have treated so any ordinary friend.”

“Not necessarily. But remember that the two best things happened to David which could possibly happen to a man who has committed a crime.”


“Speedy detection,” said Lillyston.

“And prompt punishment,” added Julian; “but for these there’s no knowing what would have become of him.”

Unsatisfactory as the discussion had been, yet those words rang hauntingly in Kennedy’s ears; he could not forget them. During all those first days of happy travel they were with him; with him as they strolled down the gay and lighted Boulevards of Paris; with him beside the quaint fountains of Berne; and the green rushing of the Rhine at Basle; with him amid the scent of pine-cones, and under the dark green umbrage of forest boughs; with him when he caught his first glimpse of the everlasting mountains, and plunged into the clear brightness of the sapphire lake—the thought of speedy detection and prompt punishment. It was no small pleasure to partake in Violet’s happiness, and mark the ever fresh delight that lent such a bright look to Cyril’s face; but before Kennedy in the midst of enjoyment, the memory of a dishonourable act started like a spectre, and threw a sudden shadow on his brow. He felt its presence when he saw the sun rise from Rigi; it stood by him amid the wreathing mists of Pilatus; it even checked his enthusiasm as they gazed together on the unequalled glories spread beneath the green summit of Monterone, and as their graceful boat made ripples on the moonlit waves of Orta and Lugans. In a word, the conviction of weakness was the only alloying influence to the pleasure of his tour, the one absinthe-drop that lent bitterness to the honeyed wine. It was not only the consciousness of the wrong act and its possible results, but horror at the instability of moral principle which it showed, and a deep fear lest the same weakness should prove a snare and a ruin to him in the course of future life.

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