Chapter Nineteen.

Only a Blush.

“Erubuit! salva res est!”—Plautus.

Back from the glistening snow-fields, where every separate crystal flashes with a separate gleam of light—back from the Alpine pastures, embroidered with their tissue of innumerable flowers, over which, like winged flowers, the butterflies flutter continually—back from the sunlit silver mantle of the everlasting hills, and the thunder of the avalanche, and the wild leap of the hissing cataract—back to the cold grey flats and ancient towers of Camford, and the lazy windings of the muddy Iscam, and the strife and struggle of a university career.

Kennedy arrived at Camford at mid-day, and as but few men had yet come up, he beguiled the time by going out to make the usual formal call on his tutor. As he passed the door of the room where temptation had brought on him so many heavy hours, he could hardly repress an involuntary shudder; but on the whole, he was in high spirits, and Mr Grayson received him with something almost approaching to cordiality.

“You did very well in the examination, Mr Kennedy; very well indeed. With diligence you might have been head of your year—as it was, you were in the first ten.”

“Was Owen head of the year, sir?”

“No, Home was head; his brilliant composition, and thorough knowledge of the books, brought him to the top. Either he or Owen were first in all the papers except one.”

“Which was that, sir?”

“The Aeschylus paper, in which you were first, Mr Kennedy; you did it remarkably accurately. If you had seen the paper, you could hardly have done it better.”

“Indeed! Would you give me a library order, sir?” said Kennedy, rising abruptly, to change the subject. Mr Grayson was offended at this sudden change of subject, and, silently writing the order, bade Kennedy a cold “good morning.” All that Kennedy hoped was that he would not tell others as well as himself, the odious fact of his success.

The thought damped his spirits, but he shook it off. The novelty of returning as a junior soph, the pleasure of meeting the familiar faces once more, the consciousness of that bright change of existence, which, during the past vacation, had bound the golden thread of Violet’s destiny with his, filled him with inward exultation. And then there was real delight in the warmth with which he was greeted by all alike.

He found himself, very unexpectedly, a hero in the general estimation. The romantic adventure on the Schilthorn had been rumoured about among the numerous English visitors to the Valley of Lauterbrunnen, until it had reached the editor of a local paper, and so had flowed through Galignani into the general stream of the English journals. True, the names had been suppressed, but all the Saint Werner’s men knew who was intended by “Mr K dash y,” and as he entered the hall there was a murmur of applause.

He was greeted on all sides with eager questions.

“I say, Mr K dash y,” said one, “did the fellow whom you shot die of his wound?”

“It was rather a chouse to shoot a cretin, though,” said another, in chaff.

“I didn’t shoot him,” said Kennedy.

“No, you very leerily managed to make the other fellow shoot him. Preserve me from my friends, must have been his secret reflections.”

“Have you kept the guns, Kennedy? You must let me have a look after hall.”

While this kind of talk was going on, Brogten, who was nearly opposite to Kennedy, sat silent, and watched him.

He did not join in the remarks about the night adventure in Switzerland, but when there was a slight pause in the fire of questions, he turned the conversation to the subject of the May examination.

“Those are not your only triumphs, Kennedy, it appears. You seem to have been doing uncommonly well in the examination, too.”

“Oh aye, you were in the first ten,” said Suton; “Mr Grayson told me so.”

“Who was first?” asked Lillyston.

“Oh, Home of course; except in one paper, and Kennedy was first in that.”

“I believe that was the Aeschylus paper,” said Brogten, throwing the slightest unusual emphasis into his tone; “you were first in that, weren’t you, Kennedy?”

The men were surprised to hear Brogten address him with such careless familiarity, knowing the old quarrel that existed between them; and they were still more surprised to hear Brogten interest himself about a topic usually so indifferent to him as the result of an examination. It seemed particularly strange that he should give himself any trouble to inquire about the present list, because he himself had been posted, in company with Hazlet and Lord Fitzurse, i e, their names had been written up below the eighth class, as “unworthy to be classed.”

“Was I?” said Kennedy in the most careless tone he could assume.

“Yes—really, didn’t you know it? You did it so well that Grayson said, you couldn’t have done the paper better if you had seen it beforehand.”

“I say, Kennedy, you must have come out swell, then,” said D’Acres, “for Grayson said just the same thing to me.”

“How very odd,” said Brogten, affectedly. “You didn’t see the papers beforehand, Kennedy—did you?”

The last few moments had been torture to Kennedy; he had moved uneasily; the bright look of gratified triumph, which the allusions to his courage had called forth, had gone out the moment the examination was mentioned, and it was only by a painful and violent exercise of the will that he was able to keep back the blood which had begun to rush towards his cheeks. In the endeavour to check or suppress the blush, he had grown ashy pale; but now that Brogten’s dark and cruel eye was upon him—now that the protruding underlip curled with a sneer that left no more room to doubt that he was master of Kennedy’s guilty secret—the effort was useless, and spite of will, the burning crimson of an uncontrollable shame burst and flashed over Kennedy’s usually clear and open face. It was no ordinary blush—no common passage of colour over the cheeks. Over face, and neck, and brow the guilty blood seemed to be crowding tumultuously, and when it had filled every vein and fibre till it swelled, then the rich scarlet seemed to linger there as though it would never die away again, and if for an instant it began to fade, then the hidden thought sent new waves of hot agony in fresh pulses to supply its place. And all the while the conscious victim made matters worse by his attempts to seem unconcerned, until his forehead was wet with heavy perspiration. By that time the men had turned to other topics, and were talking about Bruce’s laziness, and the utter manner in which he must have fallen off for his name to appear, as it had done, in the second class; and, in course of time, Kennedy’s face was as pale and cold as it before had burned and glowed.

And all this while, though he would not look—though he looked at his plate, and at the busts over his head, and the long portraits of Saint Werner’s worthies on the walls, and on this side and on that—Kennedy knew full well that Brogten’s eye had been on him from beginning to end, and that Brogten was enjoying, with devilish malignity, the sense of power which he had gained from the knowledge of another’s sin. The thought was intolerable to him, and, finishing his dinner with hasty gulps, he left the hall.

“Brogten, how rude you were to Kennedy,” said Lillyston.

“Was I?” said Brogten, in a tone of sarcasm and defiance.

“No wonder he blushed at your coarse insinuations.”

“No wonder,” said Brogten, in the same tone; “am I the only person who makes coarse insinuations, as you call them?”

“It is just like you to do so.”

“Is it? Oh well, I shall have to make some more, perhaps, before I have done.”

“Well, you’d better look out what you say to Kennedy, at any rate. He is a fiery subject.”

“Thank you, I will.”

This wrangling was very unprofitable, and Lillyston gladly dropped it, not however without feeling somewhat puzzled at the air which Brogten assumed.

That night Kennedy was sitting miserably in his room alone; he had refused all invitations, and had asked nobody to take tea with him. He was just making tea for himself, when Brogten came to see him.

“May I stay to tea?” he asked, in mock humility.

“If you like,” said Kennedy.

He stayed to tea, and talked about all kinds of subjects rather than the one which was prominent in the thoughts of both. He told Kennedy old Harton stories, and asked him about Marlby; he turned the subject to Home, and really interested Kennedy by telling him what kind of a boy Julian had been, and what inseparable friends he had always been with Lillyston, and how admirably he had recited on speech-day, and how stainless his whole life had been, and how vice and temptation seemed to skulk away at his very look.

“You are reconciled to him, then,” said Kennedy in surprise.

“Oh, yes. At heart, I always respected him. He wasn’t a fellow to take the worst view of one’s character, you know, or to make nasty innuendoes—” He stopped, and eyed Kennedy as a parrot eyes a finger put into his cage, which he could peck if he would. “He wasn’t, you know, a kind of fellow who would force you to leave the table by sneering at you in hall—” He still continued to eye Kennedy, but in vain, for Kennedy kept his moody glance on the table and was silent, and would not look at him or speak to him. Brogten could not help being struck with his appearance as he sat there motionless,—the noble and perfectly formed head, the well-cut features, the cheek a little pale now, so boyishly smooth and round, the latent powers of fire and sarcasm and strength in the bright eye and beautiful lip. It was a base source of triumph that made Brogten exult in the knowledge that this youth was in his power; that he held for a time at least the strings of his happiness or misery; that at any time by a word in any public place he could bring on his fine features that hue of shame; that for his own purposes he could at any time ruin his reputation, and put an end to his popularity.

Not that he intended to do so. He had the power, but unless provoked, he did not wish or mean to use it. It was far more luxurious to keep it to himself, and use it as occasion might serve. Everybody’s secret is nobody’s secret, and it was enough for Brogten to enjoy privately the triumph he had longed for, and which accident had put into his hands.

“Come, come, Kennedy,” he said, “this is nonsense; we understand each other. I saw you coolly read over the whole examination-paper, you know, which wasn’t the most honourable thing in the world to do—”

He paused and half relented as he saw a solitary tear on Kennedy’s cheek, which was indignantly brushed away almost as soon as it had started.

“Come,” he said, “cheer up, man. I’m not going to tell of you; neither Grayson nor any of the men shall know it, and at present not a soul has a suspicion of such a thing except ourselves. Come—I’ve had my triumph over you, for your sharp words in hall last term, before all the men, and that’s all I wanted. Don’t let’s be enemies any longer. Good-night.”

But Kennedy sat there passively, and when Brogten had gone away whistling “The Rat-catcher’s Daughter,” he leant his head upon his hand, and his thoughts wandered away to Violet Home.

O holy, ennobling, purifying love! He felt that if he had known Violet before, he should not now have been in Brogten’s power. He fancied that the secret had oozed out; he fancied that men eyed him sometimes with strange glances; he pictured to himself the degradation he should feel if Julian, or De Vayne, or Lillyston ever knew of what weakness he was capable. This one error rode like a night-mare on his breast.

But none of his gloomy presentiments on the score of detection were fulfilled. Except to Bruce, and that under pledge of secrecy, Brogten never betrayed what he knew, and the only immediate way in which he exercised the influence which his knowledge gave him, was by claiming with Kennedy a tone of familiarity, and asking him to card parties, suppers, and idle riots of all kinds, in which Bruce and Fitzurse were frequent visitors.

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