Chapter Twenty Five.

Memory the Book of God.

“At Trompyngtoun, nat fer fra Cantebrigg,
Ther goth a brook, and over that a brigge,
Upon the whiche brook then stant a melle;
And this is verray sothe that I you telle.”
            Chaucer, The Reeve’s Tale.

There is little which admits of external record in Julian’s life at this period of his university career. It was the usual uneventful, quiet life of a studious Camford undergraduate. Happy it was beyond any other time, except perhaps a few vernal days of boyhood, but it was unmarked by any incidents. He read, and rowed, and went to lectures, and worked at classics, mathematics, and philosophy, and dropped in sometimes to a debate or a private-business squabble at the Union, and played racquets, fives, and football, and talked eagerly in hall and men’s rooms over the exciting topics of the day, and occasionally went to wine or to breakfast with a don, and, (absorbed in some grand old poet or historian), lingered by his lamp over the lettered page from chapel-time till the grey dawn, when he would retire to pure and refreshful sleep, humming a tune out of very cheerfulness.

Happy days, happy friendships, happy study, happy recreation, happy exemption from the cares of life! The bright visions of a scholar, the bright hilarity of a youth, the bright acquaintanceship with many united by a brotherly bond within those grey walls, were so many mingled influences that ran together “like warp and woof” in the web of a singularly enviable life. And every day he felt that he was knowing more, and acquiring a strength and power which should fit him hereafter for the more toilsome business and sterner struggles of common life. Well may old Cowley exclaim—

“O pulerae sine luxes aedes, vitaeque decore
Splendida paupertas ingenuusque pudor!”

All the reading men of his year were now anxiously occupied in working for the Saint Werner’s scholarships. They were the blue ribbon of the place. In value they were not much more than 50 pounds a year, but as the scholars had an honourable distinctive seat both in hall and chapel, and as from their ranks alone the Fellows were selected, all the most intelligent and earnest men used their best efforts to obtain them on the earliest possible occasion. At the scholars’ table were generally to be found the most distinguished among the alumni of Saint Werner’s.

Julian still moved chiefly among his old friends, although he had a large acquaintance, and by no means confined himself to the society of particular classes. But De Vayne’s illness made a sad gap in the circle of his most intimate associates, and he was not yet sufficiently recovered to attempt a correspondence. Among the dons, Julian began to like Mr Admer more and more, and found that his cynicism of manner was but the result of disappointed ambition and unsteady aims, while his heart was sound and right.

Kennedy, as well as Julian, had always hoped to gain a scholarship at his first trial, but now, with only one term left him to read in, his chance seemed to fade away to nothing. Poor fellow, he had returned with the strongest possible intention of working, and of abandoning at once and for ever all objectionable acquaintances and all dangerous ways. Hourly the sweet face of Violet looked in upon his silent thoughts, and filled him with shame as he thought of lost opportunities and wasted hours.

“Kennedy,” said Mr Admer, “how can you be so intolerably idle? I saw some of your Christmas papers, and they were wholly unworthy of your abilities.”

“I know it well. But what could you expect? The Pindar I had read once over with a crib; the morality I had not looked at; the mathematics I did not touch.”

“But what excuse have you? I really feel quite angry with you. You are wholly throwing away everything. What have you to show for your time and money? Only think, my dear fellow, that an opportunity like this comes only once in life, and soon your college days will be over with nothing to remember.”

“True, too true.”

“Well, I am glad that you see and own it. I began to fear that you were one of that contemptible would-be fine gentleman class that affects forsooth to despise work as a thing unworthy of their eminence.”

“No, Mr Admer,” said Kennedy, “my idleness springs from very different causes.”

“And then these Brogtens and people, whom you are so often seen with; which of them do you think understands you, or can teach you anything worth knowing? and which of them do you think you will ever care to look back to as acquaintances in after days?”

“Not one of them. I hate the whole set.”

“And then, my dear Kennedy—for I speak to you out of real good-will—I would say it with the utmost delicacy, but you must know that your name has suffered from the company you frequent.”

“Can I not see it to be so?” he answered moodily; “no need to tell me that, when I read it in the faces of nearly every man I see. The men have not yet forgiven me De Vayne’s absence, though really and truly that sin does not lie at my door. Except Julian and Lillyston there is hardly a man I respect, who does not look at me with averted eyes. Of course Grayson and the dons detest me to a man; but I don’t care for them.”

“Then, you mysterious fellow, seeing all this so clearly, why do you suffer it to be so?”

Kennedy only shook his head; already there had begun to creep over him a feeling of despair; already it seemed to him as though the gate of heaven were a lion-haunted portal guarded by a fiery sword.

For he had soon found that his intense resolutions to do right met with formidable checks. There are two stern facts—facts which it does us all good to remember—which generally lie in the path of repentance, and look like crouching lions to the remorseful soul. First, the fact that we become so entangled by habit and circumstance, so enslaved by association and custom, that the very atmosphere around us seems to have become impregnated with a poison which we cannot cease to breathe; secondly, the fact that “in the physical world there is no forgiveness of sins;” to abandon our evil courses is not to escape the punishment of them, and although we may have relinquished them wholly in the present, we cannot escape the consequences of the past. Remission of sin is not the remission of their results. The very monsters we dread, and the dread of which terrifies us into the consideration of our ways, glare upon us out of the future darkness, as large, as terrible, as irresistible, whether we approach them on the road to ruin, or whether we seem to fly from them through the hardly attained and narrow wicket of genuine repentance.

Both these difficulties acted with their full force on the mind of Kennedy. His error was its own punishment, and its heaviest punishment. The hours he had lost were lost so utterly, that he could never hope to recover them; the undesirable acquaintances he had formed were so far ripe as to render it no light task to abandon them; and above all, the fleck on his character, the connection of his name with the outrage on De Vayne, had injured his reputation in a manner which he never hoped, by future endeavours, to obviate or remove.

For instance, there was at once an objection to his dropping the society of the set to which Bruce and Brogten had introduced him. He owed them money, which at present he could not pay; his undischarged “debts of honour” hung like a millstone round his neck. To pay these seemed a necessary preliminary even to the possibility of commencing a new career.

But how to get the money? ah me! new temptations seemed springing up around like the crop of armed men from the furrows sown with the dragon’s teeth.

There was but one way which suggested itself to his mind, by which he would be able at once to deliver himself in part by meeting the most exigent demands. Let me hurry over the struggle which it cost him, but finally he adopted it. It was this.

Mr Kennedy was most liberal in allowing his son everything which could possibly further his university studies, and the most important item in his quarterly expenses was the charge for private tuition. This sum was always paid by Kennedy himself, and it amounted at least to seven pounds a term. Now, what if he should not only ask his father to allow him this term a classical and a mathematical tutor, but also request permission to read double with them both i e, to go for an hour every day instead of every other day? This would at once procure him from his father the sum of twenty-eight pounds, and by means of this he could, with great economy, clear off all the most pressing of those pecuniary obligations which bound him to company, which he longed to shun, and exposed him to dangers which he had learnt to fear. Of course he would be obliged to forego all assistance from private tutors, and simply to appropriate the money, without his father’s knowledge, to other ends. In a high point of view, it was simple embezzlement; it was little better than a form of swindling. But in this gross and repulsive shape, it never suggested itself to poor Kennedy’s imagination. Somehow one’s own sins never look so bad in our eyes as the same sins when committed by another. He argued that he would really be applying the money as his father intended, viz, to such purposes as should most advance the objects of his university career. He was committing a sin to save himself from temptation.

The near approach of the scholarship examination, and Kennedy’s failure at Christmas, made his father all the more ready to give him every possible advantage that money could procure. Ignorant of the fact that to “read double” with a tutor was almost a thing unprecedented at Camford, and that to do so, both in classics and mathematics, was a thing wholly unknown, and indeed practically impossible, Mr Kennedy was only delighted at Edward’s letter, as conveying a proof of his extreme and laudable eagerness to recover lost ground, and do his best. He very readily wrote the cheque for the sum required, and praised his son liberally for these indications of effort. How those praises cut Kennedy to the heart.

But he at once spent the money in the way which he had devised, and added thereby a new load of mental bitterness to the heavy weight which already oppressed him. The sum thus appropriated greatly lightened, although it did not remove, the pecuniary obligations which he had contracted at cards or in other ways to his set of “fast” companions; but it was at the cost of his peace of mind.

Externally he profited by the transaction. He was enabled in great measure, without the charge of meanness, to drop the most undesirable of his acquaintances, and awaking eagerly to the hope of at once redeeming his reputation and lessening his difficulties by gaining a scholarship, he began, for the first time since he had entered Saint Werner’s, to work steadily with all his might.

He seemed to be living two lives in one, and often asked himself whether there was in his character some deeply-rooted hypocrisy. With Julian and Owen, and the men who resembled them, he could talk nobly of all that was honourable, and he powerfully upheld a chivalrous ideal of duty and virtue. And as his face lighted up, and the thoughts flowed in the full stream of eloquent language in reprobation of some mean act, or in glowing eulogium of some recorded heroism for the performance of what was right, who would have fancied, who would have believed, that Kennedy’s own life had failed so egregiously in the commonest requirements of steadfastness and honesty?

None rejoiced more in the outward change of life than Julian Home; for Violet’s sake now, as well as for Kennedy’s, he felt a keen and brotherly interest in the progress and estimation of his friend. Once more they were to be found together as often as they had been in their freshman’s year, and it was Julian’s countenance and affection that tended more than anything else to repair Kennedy’s damaged popularity, and remove the tarnish attaching to his name.

One evening they were taking the usual two-hours’ constitutional—which is often the poor substitute for exercise in the case of reading men—and discussing together the chances of the coming scholarship examination, when they found themselves near a place called Gower’s Mill, and heard a sudden cry for help. Pressing forwards they saw a boat floating upside down, and whirling about tumultuously in the racing and rain-swollen eddies of the mill-dam. A floating straw hat was already being sucked in by the gurgling rush of water that roared under the mighty circumference of the wheel, and for a moment they saw nothing more. But as they ran up, a black spot emerged from the stream, only a few yards from the mill, and they saw a man, evidently in the last stage of exhaustion, struggling feebly in the white and boiling waves.

The position was agonising. The man’s utmost efforts only served to keep him stationary, and it was clear, from the frantic violence of his exertion, that he could not last an instant longer. Indeed, as they reached the bank, he began to sink and disappear—disappear as it seemed to the certainty of a most horrid death.

In one instant—without considering the danger and apparent hopelessness of the attempt, without looking at the wild force of the water, and the grinding roll of the big wheel, without even waiting to fling off their coats—Julian and Kennedy, actuated by the strong instinct to save a fellow-creature’s life, had both plunged into the mill-dam, and at the same moment struck out for the sinking figure. It was not till then that they felt their terrific danger; in the swirl of those spumy and hissing waves it was all but impossible for them to make head against the current, and they felt it carry them nearer and nearer to the black, dripping mass, one blow of which would stun them, and one revolution of it mangle them with horrible mutilation. They reached the drowning wretch, and each seizing him by the arm, shouted for assistance, and buffeted gallantly with the headstrong stream. The senseless burden which they supported clogged their efforts, and as they felt themselves gradually swept nearer, nearer, nearer to destruction, the passionate desire of self-preservation woke in both of them in all its wild agony;—yet they would not attempt to preserve themselves by letting go the man to save whose life they had so terribly endangered their own.

Meanwhile their repeated shouts and those of the swimmer, which had first attracted their own attention, had aroused the miller, who instantly, on hearing them, ran down with a rope to the water’s side. He threw it skilfully; with a wild clutch Kennedy caught it, and in another moment, as from the very jaws of death, when they were almost touching the fatal wheel, they were drawn to shore, still carrying, or rather dragging, with them their insensible companion.

After a word of hurried thanks to the miller for saving their lives, they began to turn their whole attention to the half-drowned man, and to apply the well-known remedies for restoring extinct animation.

“Good heavens,” said Julian, “it is Brogten!”

“Brogten?” said Kennedy; he looked on the face, and whispered half-aloud, “Thank God!”

They carried him into the mill, put him between the blankets in a warm bed, chafed his numb limbs, and sent off for the nearest doctor. Very soon he began to revive, and recovered his consciousness; immediately this was the case, Julian and Kennedy ran home as quickly as they could to change their wet clothes.

The next day the doctor ordered Brogten to lie in bed till after mid-day, and then allowed him, now thoroughly well and rested, to walk home to Saint Werner’s. He had not yet learnt the names of his deliverers.

He reached the college in the evening, and after changing his boating dress, his first care was to try and learn to whom he was indebted for his life. Almost the first man he met told him that the men who had risked their safety for his were Home and Kennedy.

Home and Kennedy! Home, to whom he had caused the bitterest disappointment and done the most malicious injury which had ever happened to him in his life; Kennedy, whom he had tried but too successfully to corrupt and ruin, tempt from duty, and push from his good name!

Deeply, very deeply, was Brogten humiliated; he felt that his enemies had indeed heaped coals of fire upon his head.

He determined, as his first duty, to go and thank them both—Kennedy first, as the one against whom he had most wilfully sinned.

He found Kennedy sitting down to tea, and Julian, Owen, and Suton were with him.

“Kennedy,” he said, “I have come to thank you and Home for a very gallant deed; I need not say how much I feel indebted to you for the risk you ran in saving my life.”

Genuine tears rushed into his dark eyes as he spoke, and cordially grasped the hands which, without a word, they proffered. Community of danger, consciousness of obligation, blotted out all evil memories; and to have stood side by side together on the very brink of the precipice of death was a bond of union which could not be ignored or set aside. That night, in spite of bygones, the feeling of those three young men for each other was of the kindliest cast.

“Won’t you stay to tea, Brogten?” said Kennedy.

He looked round, as though uncertain whether the others would like his company, but as they all seconded Kennedy’s request, he gladly stayed. It was the first evening that he had regularly spent in the society of reading men, and he was both delighted and surprised at the rare pleasure he received from the vigour and liveliness of their conversation. These were the men whom he had despised as slow, yet what a contrast between their way of talking and the inanities of Fitzurse or the shallow flippancy of Bruce. As he sat there and listened, his very face became softer in its lines from the expression of a real and intelligent interest, and they all thought that he was a better fellow, on closer acquaintance, than they had been accustomed to suppose. Ah me! how often one remains unaware of the good side of those whom we dislike.

Oh, those Camford conversations—how impetuous, how interesting, how thoroughly hearty and unconventional they were! How utterly presumption and ignorance were scouted in them, and how completely they were free from the least shadow of insincerity or ennui. If I could but transfer to my page a true and vivid picture of one such evening, spent in the society of Saint Werner’s friends—if I could write down but one such conversation, and at all express its vivacity, its quick flashes of thought and logic, its real desire for truth and knowledge, its friendly fearlessness, its felicitous illustrations, its unpremeditated wit, such a record, taken fresh from the life, would be worth all that I shall ever write. But youth flies, and as she flies all the bright colours fade from the wings of thought, and the bloom vanishes from the earnest eloquence of speech.

Yet, as I write, let me call to mind, if but for a moment, the remembrance of those happy evenings, when we would meet to read Shakespeare or the Poets in each other’s rooms, and pleasant sympathies and pleasant differences of opinion freely discussed, called into genial life, friendships which we once hoped and believed would never have grown cold. Let the image of that bright social circle, picturesquely scattered in armchairs round the winter fire, rise up before my fancy once more, and let me recall what can never be again. Of the honoured and well-loved few who one night recorded their names and thoughts in one precious little book, two are dead though it is but five years back; C E B— is dead; and R H P— is dead; C E B— the chivalrous and gallant-hearted, the champion of the past, the “Tory whom Liberals loved;” and R H P—, the honest and noble, the eloquent speaker, and the brave actor, and the fearless thinker—he, too, is dead, nobly volunteering in works of danger and difficulty during the Indian Mutiny; but L—, and B—, and M—, and others are living yet, and to them I consecrate this page they will forgive the digression, and for their sakes I will venture to let it pass. We are scattered now, and our friendship is a silent one, but yet I know that to them, at least, changed or unchanged, my words will recall the fading memory of glorious days.

The conversation, (but do not suppose that I shall attempt, after what I have said, to reproduce it), happened to turn that evening on the phenomena of memory. It started thus:— They had been discussing some subject of the day, when Owen observed to Julian—

“Why, how grave you look, Julian.”

“Do I? I was thinking of something odd. While you were talking—without the faintest apparent reason that I can discover, (and I was trying to hit upon one when you spoke)—a fact started up in my mind, which had no connection whatever with the subject, and yet which forced itself quite strongly and obtrusively on my notice.”

“Just as one catches sight suddenly of some stray bit of seaweed floating in a great world of waters, which seems to have no business there,” said Kennedy.

“Yes. But there must have been some reason for my thinking of it just then.”

“The law of association, depend upon it,” said Owen, “even if the connecting links were so subtle and swiftly moved that you failed to detect their presence.”

“Are you of the Materialist school, Owen, about memory?” said Julian, “i e, do you go with Hobbes and Condillac, and make it a decaying sense or a transformed sensation?”

“Not a bit; I believe it to be a spiritual faculty, entirely independent of mere physical organisation.”

“Wo-ho!” said Kennedy; “the physiologists will join issue with you there. How for instance do you account for such stories as that of the groom, who, getting a kick on a particular part of the head from a vicious horse, suffered no harm except in forgetting everything which had happened up to that time?”

“It isn’t a bit conclusive. I don’t say that the conscious exercise of memory mayn’t be temporarily dependent on organisation, but I do believe that every fact ever imprinted on the memory, however long it may be latent, is of its very nature imperishable.”

“Yes,” said Suton. “Memory is the book of God. Did you see that story of the shipwreck the other day? One of the survivors, while floating alone on the dark midnight sea, suddenly heard a voice saying to him distinctly, ‘Johnny, did you eat sister’s grapes?’ It was the revived memory of a long-forgotten childish theft. What have the Pineal-Gland-olaters to say to that?”

“What a profound touch that was of Themistocles,” said Kennedy, “who rejected the offer of a Memoria Technicha, with the aspiration that some one could teach him to forget. Lethe is the grandest of rivers after all.”

“I can illustrate what you are saying,” said Brogten, “and I believe it to be true that nothing can be utterly forgotten. Yesterday when you saw me I had sunk twice, and when you rescued me I was insensible. Strange things happened to my memory then!”

“Tell us,” said all of them eagerly.

“Well, I believe it’s an old story, but I’ll tell you. When the first agony of fear, and the sort of gulp of asphyxia was over, I felt as if I was sinking into a pleasant sleep, surrounded by the light of green fields—”

“Because the veins of the eye were bloodshot, and green is the complementary colour,” interpolated Kennedy, whereat Owen gave a little incredulous guffaw; and Brogten continued—

“Well, then, it was that all my past life flashed before me, from the least forgotten venial fault of infancy to the worst passion of youth,—only they came to me clear and vivid, in retrograde order. The lies I told when I was a little boy, the wicked words I spoke, the cruel things I did, the first taint that polluted my mind, the faces of school-fellows whom I had irreparably injured, the stolen waters of manhood—all were dashed into my remorseful recollection; they started up like buried, menacing ghosts, without, or even against my will. I felt convinced that they were indestructible.”

“That strain I heard was of a higher mood!” thought the auditors, for it was quite a new thing to hear Brogten talk like this, and in such a solemn, manly, sober voice.

“Fancy,” said Kennedy, sighing, “an everlasting memory!”

The others went away, but Brogten still lingered in Kennedy’s rooms, and, rising, took him by the hand. They both remembered another scene in these rooms, when they two were together,—the torturer and the tortured; but it was different now.

“The worst thing that haunted me, Kennedy, when you were saving my life, was the thought of my wickedness to you. I fear it can never be repaired; yet believe me, that from this day forth I have vowed before God to turn over a new leaf, and my whole effort will be to do all for you that ever may be in my power! Do you forgive me?”

“As I hope to be forgiven,” he replied.

Yet it was part of Brogten’s punishment in after days to remember that his hand had set the stone moving on the steep hill-side, which afterwards he had no power to stay. It would not come back to him for a wish, but leapt, and rushed, and bounded forward, splintering and splintered by the obstacles in its course, till at last— Could it be saved from being dashed to shivers among the smooth rocks of the valley and the brook?

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