Chapter Twenty Six.

Hazlet’s Vision.

“And ride on his breast, and trouble his rest
In the shape of his deadliest sin.”

Before the scholarship, came the Little-go, so called in the language of men, but known to the gods as the Previous Examination. As it is an examination which all must pass, the standard required is of course very low, and the subjects are merely Paley’s Evidences, a little Greek Testament, some easy classic, Scripture History, and a sprinkling of arithmetic and algebra.

The reading men simply regard it as a nuisance, interrupting their reading and wasting their time, i e, until the wisdom of maturer years shows them its necessity and use. But to the idle and the stupid, the name Little-go is fraught with terror. It begins to loom upon them from the commencement of their second year, and all their efforts must be concentrated to avoid the disgrace and hindrance of a pluck. There are regular tutors to cram Poll men for this necessary ordeal, and the processes applied to introduce the smallest possible modicum of information into the heads of the victims, the surgical operations necessary to inculcate into them the simplest facts, would, if narrated, form a curious chapter in morbid psychology. I suggest this merely as a pregnant hint for the future historian of Camford; personally I am only acquainted by report with the system resorted to.

Hazlet began to be in a fright about the Little-go from the very commencement of his second October. His mother well knew that the examination was approaching, and thought it quite impossible that her ingenuous and right-minded son could fall a victim to the malice of examiners. Hazlet was not so sure of this himself, and as the days had passed by when he could speak of the classics with a holy indignation against their vices and idolatry, he was wrought up by dread of the coming papers into a high state of nervous excitement.

I will not betray the mistakes he made, or dish up in this place the “crambe repétita” of those Little-go anecdotes, which at this period of the year awaken the laughter of combination-rooms, and dissipate the dulness of Camford life. Suffice it to say that Hazlet displayed an ignorance at once egregious and astounding; the ingenious perversity of his mistakes, the fatuous absurdity of his confusions, would be inconceivable to any who do not know by experience the extraordinary combinations of ignorance and conceit. The examiners were very lenient and forbearing, but Hazlet was plucked; plucked too in Scripture History, which astonished everybody, until it became known that he had attributed John the Baptist’s death to his having “danced with Herodias’s daughter”—traced a connection between the Old and New Testaments in the fact of Saint Peter’s having cut off the ear of Malachi the last of the prophets—and stated that the substance of Saint Paul’s sermon at Athens, was “crying vehemently about the space of two hours, Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”

It is a sad pity that such ludicrous associations should centre round the word “pluck.” It is anything but a laughing matter to those who undergo the process; they have tried hard and worked diligently perhaps to pass the examination, and if they fail they see before them another long period of weary and dissatisfied effort, with the same probability of failure again and again repeated: for until the barrier of the Little-go is passed they can advance no further, and must simply stay at Camford until in some way or other they can succeed in getting up the requisite minimum of information. I have seen a strong man in the senate-house turn as white as a sheet, when a paper which he was unable to answer was placed before him. I fancy I see him now, and distinctly remember my strong feeling of compassion for his distress, and my earnest hope that he would not be “floored.”

There was a general laugh in Saint Werner’s when it was announced that Hazlet was plucked; and in Scripture History too! His follies and inconsistencies had unhappily made him a butt, but men little knew how heavily the misfortune would weigh upon him.

He happened at this time to be living on the same stair-case with Lillyston, and Lillyston, who was in the rooms below him, was quite amazed at the sounds which he heard proceeding from his rooms. For a long time there was a series of boo-hoos, long, loud, and wailing as of some animal in distress, and then there was an uproar as of some one running violently about, and throwing the furniture out of his way. Lillyston was just on the point of going to see what was the matter when the breathless bedmaker appeared at the door, and said—“Oh, Mr Lillyston, sir, do go and look at Mr Hazlet, sir; he’s took very bad, he is.”

“Took very bad—how do you mean?”

“Why, sir, it’s the Little-go, sir, as done it. He’s plucked, sir, and it’s upset him like. So, when I asked him if he’d a-tea’d, and if I should take away the things, he begins a banging his chairs about, you see, sir, quite uncomfortable.”

Lillyston immediately ran up-stairs. The violent fit seemed to have subsided, for Hazlet, peering out of a corner, with wandering, spectacled eyes, quite cowered when he saw him. Lillyston was shocked at the spectacle he presented. Hazlet was but half dressed, his hands kept up an uneasy and vague motion, his face was blank, and his whole appearance resembled that of an idiot.

“Why, Hazlet, my man, what’s the matter with you?” said Lillyston, cheerily.

Hazlet trembled, and muttered something about a dog. It happened that just before coming back from the senate-house, a large Newfoundland had run against him, and his excited imagination had mingled this most recent impression with the vagaries of a temporary madness.

“The dog, my dear fellow; why, there’s no dog here.”

Hazlet only cowered farther into the corner.

“Here, won’t you have some tea?” said Lillyston; “I’ll make it for you. Come and help me.”

He began to busy himself about setting the tea-things, and cutting the bread, while he occupied Hazlet in pouring out the water and attending to the kettle. Hazlet started violently every now and then, and looked with a terrified side-glance at Lillyston, as though apprehensive of some wrong.

At last Lillyston got him to sit down quietly, and gave him a cup of tea and some bread. He ate it in silence, except that every now and then he uttered a sort of wail, and looked up at Lillyston. The look didn’t seem to satisfy him, for, after a few minutes, he seized his knife, and said, “I shall cut off your whiskers.”

What put the grotesque fancy into his head, Lillyston did not know; probably some faint reminiscence of having been forced to shave after the trick which Bruce had played on him by painting his face with lamp-black and ochre.

Lillyston decidedly declined the proposition, and they both started up from their seats—Hazlet brandishing his knife with determined purpose, and looking at his companion with a strange savage glare under his spectacles.

After darting round the room once or twice to escape his attack, Lillyston managed with wonderful skill to clutch the wrist of Hazlet’s right hand, and, being very strong, he held him with the grasp of a vice, while with his left hand he forced the knife out of his clutch, and dropped it on the floor. He held him tight for a minute or two, although Hazlet struggled so fiercely that it was no easy task, and then quietly forced him into a chair, and spoke to him in a firm authoritative voice—

“No mischief, Hazlet; we shan’t allow it. Now listen to me: you must go to bed.”

The tone of voice and the strength of will which characterised Lillyston’s proceedings, awed Hazlet into submission. He cried a little, and then suffered Lillyston to see him into his rooms, and to put him into a fair way towards going to bed. Taking the precaution to remove his razor, Lillyston locked the door upon him, and determined at once to get medical advice. The doctor, however, could give very little help; it was, he said, a short fit of temporary madness, for which quiet and change of air were the only effectual remedies. He did not anticipate that there would be any other outbreak of violence, or anything more than a partial imbecility.

“Do come and help me to manage Hazlet,” said Lillyston to Julian next morning; “his head has been turned by being plucked for the Little-go, and he’s as mad as Hercules Furens.”

Julian went, and they stayed in Hazlet’s room till he had quietly breakfasted. He then appeared to be so calm that Lillyston agreed to leave Julian there for the morning, and to take the charge of Hazlet for the afternoon and evening. It seemed absolutely necessary that someone should take charge of him, and they thought it best to divide the labour.

Julian sorely felt the loss of time. He had a great deal to get through before the all-important scholarship examination, and the loss of every available hour fretted him, for since he had failed in the Clerkland, he was doubly anxious to gain a Saint Werner’s scholarship at his first time of trial. Still he never wavered for a moment in the determination to fulfil the duty of taking care of his Ildown acquaintance, and he spent the whole tedious morning in trying to amuse him.

Hazlet’s ceaseless allusions to “the dog,” and the feeble terror which it seemed to cause him, made it necessary to talk to him incessantly, and to turn his attention, as far as possible, to other things. He had to be managed like a very wilful and stupid child, and when one of the five hours which Julian had to spend with him was finished, he was worn out with anxiety and fatigue. It is a dreadful thing to be alone in charge of a human being—a being in human shape, who is, either by accident or constitution, incapable alike of responsibility and thought. Hazlet had been able to play draughts pretty well, so Julian got out a board and challenged him to a game, but instead of playing, Hazlet only scrabbled on the board, and pushed the pieces about in a meaningless confusion, while every now and then the sullen glare came into his eye which showed Julian the necessity of being on his guard if self-defence should be needed. Then Julian tried to get him to draw, and showing him a picture, sketched a few strokes of outline, and said—

“Now, Hazlet, finish copying this picture for me.”

Hazlet took the pencil between his unsteady fingers, and let it make futile scratches on the paper, and, when Julian repeated his words, wrote down in a slow painful hand—

“Finish copying pict–ure pict–.”

What was to be done in such a case as this? Julian suggested a turn in the grounds, but Hazlet betrayed such dread at the thought of leaving his rooms, and encountering “the dog,” that Julian was afraid, if he persisted, of driving him into a fit.

Just as the dilemma was becoming seriously unpleasant, Brogten came up to the rooms, and begged Julian to intrust Hazlet to his charge.

Your time is valuable, Home—particularly just now. Mine is all but worthless. At any rate I have no special work as you have, and I can take care of poor Hazlet very well.”

“Oh, no,” said Julian; “I mustn’t shrink from the duty I have undertaken, and besides you’ll find it very dull and unpleasant work.”

“Never mind that. I once had an idiot brother—dead now—and I understand well how to manage any one in a case like this. Besides, Hazlet is one of the many I have injured. Let me stay.”

“I really am afraid you won’t like it.”

“Nonsense, Home; I won’t give in, depend upon it. I am quite in earnest, and am besides most anxious that you should get a scholarship this time. Don’t refuse me the privilege of helping you.”

Julian could refuse no longer, and went back to his rooms with perfect confidence that Brogten would do his work willingly and well. He looked in about mid-day to see how things were going on, and found that, after thoroughly succeeding in amusing his patient, Brogten had persuaded him to go to sleep, in the conviction that by the time he awoke he would be nearly well. Nor was he mistaken. The next day Hazlet was sufficiently recovered to go home for the Easter vacation.

It was a very bitter and humiliating trial to him; but misfortune, however frequently it causes reformation, is not invariably successful in changing a man’s heart and life. Hazlet came back after the Easter vacation with recovered health, but damaged constitution, and in no respect either better or wiser for the misfortune he had undergone.

One peculiarity of his recent attack was a strong nervous excitability, which was induced by very slight causes, and Hazlet had not long returned to Saint Werner’s when the dissipation of his life began once more to tell perniciously upon his state of health. It must not be imagined that because he was the easiest possible victim of temptation, he suffered no upbraidings of a terrified and remorseful conscience. Many a time they overwhelmed him with agony and a dread of the future, mingling with his slavish terrors of a material Gehenna, and stirring up his turbid thoughts until they drove him to the verge of madness. But the inward chimera of riotous passions was too fierce for the weak human reason, and while he hated himself he continued still to sin.

Late one night he was returning to his rooms from the foul haunts of squalid dissipation and living death, when the thought of his own intolerable condition pressed on him with a heavier than usual weight. It was a very cloudy night, and he had long exceeded the usual college hours. The wind tossed about his clothes, and dashed in his face a keen impalpable sleet, while nothing dispelled the darkness except the occasional gleam of a lamp struggling fitfully with the driving mist. Hazlet reached Saint Werner’s wet and miserable; in returning he had lost his way, and wandered into the most disreputable and poverty-stricken streets, the very homes of thievery and dirt, where he seriously feared for his personal safety. By the time he got to the college gates he was drenched through and through, and while his body shivered with the cold air, the condition of his mind was agitated and terrified, and the sudden blaze of light that fell on him from the large college lamp, as the gates opened, dazzled his unaccustomed eyes.

Hastily running across the court to his own rooms, he groped his way—giddy and crapulous—giddy and crapulous—up the dark and narrow stair-case, and after some fumbling with his key opened the door.

Lillyston, who was just going to bed after a long evening of hard work, heard his footstep on the stairs, and thought with sorrow that he had not mended his old bad ways. He heard him open the door, and then a long wild shriek, followed by the sound of some one falling, rang through the buildings.

In an instant, Lillyston had darted up-stairs, and the other men who “kept” on the stair-case, jumped out of bed hastily, thrust on their slippers, and also ran out to see what was the matter. As Lillyston reached the threshold of Hazlet’s rooms, he stumbled against something, and stooping down found that it was the senseless body of Hazlet himself stretched at full length upon the floor.

He looked up, but saw nothing to explain the mystery; the rooms were in darkness, except that a dull, blue flame, flickering over the black and red relics of the fire, threw fantastic gleams across the furniture and ceiling, and gave an odd, wild appearance to the cap and gown that hung beside the door.

Lillyston was filled with surprise, and lit the candle on the table. Lifting Hazlet on the sofa, he carefully looked at him to see if he was correct in his first surmise, that the unhappy man had swallowed poison, or committed suicide in some other way. But there was no trace of anything of the kind, and Hazlet merely appeared to have fainted and fallen suddenly.

Aided by Noel, one of those who had been alarmed by that piercing shriek, Lillyston took the proper means to revive Hazlet from his fainting fit, and put him to bed. He rapidly recovered his consciousness, but earnestly begged them not to press him on the subject of his alarm, respecting which he was unable or unwilling to give them any information.

The next morning he was very ill; excitement and anxiety brought on a brain fever, which kept him for many weary weeks in his sick-room, and from which he had not fully recovered until after a long stay at Ildown. As he lost, in consequence of this attack, the whole of the ensuing term, he was obliged to degrade, as it is called, i e to place his name on the list of the year below; and he did not return to Camford till the following October, where his somewhat insignificant individuality had been almost forgotten.

Let us anticipate a little to throw light on what we have narrated.

When Hazlet did come back to undergraduate life, he at once sought the alienated friends from whom he had been separated ever since the disastrous period of his acquaintanceship with Bruce. He came back to them penitent and humble, with those convictions now existing in his mind in their reality and genuineness, which before he had only simulated so successfully as to deceive himself. I will not say that he did not continue ignorant and bigoted, but he was no longer conceited and malicious. I will not say that he never showed himself dogmatic and ill-informed, but he was no longer obtrusive and uncharitable. His life was better than his dogmas, and the sincerity of his good intentions counteracted and nullified the ill effects of a narrow and unwholesome creed. There were no farther inconsistencies in his conduct, and he showed firmly, yet modestly, the line he meant to follow, and the side he meant to take. As his conscience had become scrupulous, and his life irreproachable, it mattered comparatively little that his intellectual character was tainted with fanaticism and gloom.

I would not be mistaken to mean that he found his penitence easy, or that he was, like Saint Paul, transformed as it were by a lightning flash—“a fusile Christian.” I say, there were—after his two sicknesses and long suffering, and experiences bitter as wormwood—there were, I say, no more outward inconsistencies in his life; but I do not say that within there were no fierce, fearful struggles, so wearisome at times that it almost seemed better to yield than to feel the continued anguish of such mighty temptations. All this the man must always go through who has warmed in his bosom the viper whose poisoned fang has sent infection into his blood. But through God’s grace Hazlet was victorious: and as, when the civilisation of some infant colony is advancing on the confines of a desert, the wild beasts retire before it, until they become rare, and their howling is only heard in the lonely night, and then even that sign of their fury is but a strange occurrence, until it is heard no more; so in Hazlet, the many-headed monsters, which breed in the slime of a fallen human heart, were one by one slain or driven backwards by watchfulness, and shame, and prayer.

Julian and Lillyston had never shunned his society, either when he breathed the odour of sanctity, or when he sank into the slough of wretchlessness. Both of them were sufficiently conscious of the heart’s weakness to prevent them from the cold and melancholy presumption which leads weak and sinful men to desert and denounce those whom the good spirits have not yet deserted, and whom the good God has not finally condemned. As long as he sought their society, they were always open to his company, however distasteful; and the advice they gave him was tendered in simple good-will—not as though from the haughty vantage-ground of a superior excellence. Even when Hazlet was at the worst—when to be seen with him, after the publicity of his vices, involved something like a slur on a man’s fair name—even in these his worst days neither Julian nor Lillyston would have refused, had he so desired it, to walk with him under the lime-tree avenue, or up and down the cloisters of Warwick’s Court.

But they naturally met him more often when his manner of life was changed for the better, and were both glad to see that he had found the jewel which adversity possessed. It happened that he was with them one evening when the conversation turned on supernatural appearances, the possibility of which was maintained by Julian and Owen, while Lillyston in his genial way was pooh-poohing them altogether. Hazlet alone sat silent, but at last he said—

“I have never yet mentioned to any living soul what once happened to me, but I will do so now. Lillyston, you remember the night when I aroused you with a scream?”

“Well!” said Lillyston.

“That night I was returning in all the bitterness of remorse from places where, but for God’s blessing, I might have perished utterly”—and Hazlet shuddered—“when from out of the storm and darkness I reached my room door. You know that a beam ran right across my ceiling. When I threw open the door to enter, I saw on that beam as clearly as I now see you—no, more clearly, far more clearly than I now see you, for your presence makes no special impression on me, and this was burnt into my very brain—I saw there written in letters of fire—


“Struck dumb with horror, I stared at it; there could be no doubt about it, the letters burned and glared and reddened before my very eyes, and seemed to wave like the northern lights, and bicker into angrier flame as I looked at them. They fascinated me as I stood there dumb and stupefied, when suddenly I saw the dark and massive form of a hand, over which hung the skirt of a black robe, moving slowly away from the last letter. What more I might have seen I cannot tell;—it was then that I fell and fainted, and my shriek startled all the men on the stair-case.”

Hazlet told his story with such deep solemnity, and such hollow pauses of emotion, that the listeners sat silent for a while.

“But yet,” said Lillyston, “if you come to analyse this, it resolves itself into nothing. You were confessedly agitated, and almost hysterical that night; your body was unstrung; you were wet through, and it was doubtless the sudden passage from the darkness outside to the dim and uncertain glimmer of your own room, which acted so powerfully on your excited imagination, as to project your inward thoughts into a shape which you mistook for an external appearance. I remember noticing the aspect of your rooms myself that evening; the mysterious shadows, and the mingled effects of dull red firelight with black objects, together with the rustle of the red curtain in front of your window which you had left open, and the weird waving of your black gown in the draught, made such an impression even on me merely in consequence of the alarm your shriek had excited, that I could have fancied anything myself, if I wasn’t pretty strong-headed, and rather prosaic. As it was, I did half fancy an unknown Presence in the room.”

“Yes, but you say inward thoughts,” replied Hazlet eagerly. “Now these weren’t my inward thoughts; on the contrary they flashed on me like a revelation, and the strange word, ‘And,’ (for I read distinctly, ‘And this is—’) was to me like an awful copula connecting time and eternity for ever. I had always thought of quite another, quite a different hell; but this showed me for the first time that the state of sinfulness is the hell of sin. It was only the other day that I came across those lines of Milton—oh, how true they are—

“Which way I fly is hell, myself am hell,
And in the lowest deep a lower deep
Still gaping to devour me opens wide,
To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.”

“It was the truth conveyed in those lines which I then first discovered, and discovered, it seems to me, from without. I know very very little—I am shamefully ignorant, but I do think that the vision of that night taught me more than a thousand volumes of scholastic theology. And let me say too,” he continued humbly, “that by it I was plucked like a brand from the burning; by it my conversion was brought about.”

None of the others were in a mood to criticise the phraseology of Hazlet’s religious convictions, and he clearly desired that the subject of his own immediate experiences, as being one full of awfulness for him, might be dropped.

“Apropos of your argument, I care very little, Hugh,” said Julian, “whether you make supernatural appearances objective or subjective. I mean I don’t care whether you regard the appearance as a mere deception of the eye, wrought by the disordered workings of the brain, or as the actual presence of a supernatural phenomenon. The result, the effect, the reality of the appearance is just the same in either case. Whether the end is produced by an illusion of the senses, or an appeal to them, the end is produced, and the senses are impressed by something which is not in the ordinary course of human events, just as powerfully as if the ghost had flesh and blood, or the voice were a veritable pulsation of articulated air. The only thing that annoys me is a contemptuous and supercilious denial of the facts.”

“I hold with you, Julian,” said Owen. “Take for instance the innumerable recorded instances where intimation has been given of a friend’s or relative’s death by the simultaneous appearance of his image to some one far absent, and unconscious even of his illness. There are four ways of treating such stories—the first is to deny their truth, which is, to say the least, not only grossly uncharitable, but an absurd and impertinent caprice adopted in order to reject unpleasant evidence; the second is to account for them by an optical delusion, accidentally synchronising with the event, which seems to me a most monstrous ignoring of the law of chances; a third is to account for them by the existence of some exquisite faculty, (existing in different degrees of intensity, and in some people not existing at all), whereby physical impressions are invisibly conveyed by some mysterious sympathy of organisation a faculty of which it seems to me there are the most abundant traces, however much it may be sneered and jeered at by those shallow philosophers who believe nothing but what they can grasp with both hands: and a fourth is to suppose that spirits can, of their own will, or by superior permission, make themselves sometimes visible to human eyes.”

“Or,” said Julian, “so affect the senses as to produce the impression that they are present to human eyes.”

“And to show you, Lillyston,” said Owen, “how little I fear any natural explanations, and how much I think them beside the point, I’ll tell you what happened to me only the other night, and which yet does not make me at all inclined to rationalise Hazlet’s story. I had just put out the candle in my bedroom, when over my head I saw a handwriting on the wall in characters of light. I started out of bed, and for a moment fancied that I could read the words, and that somebody had been playing me a trick with phosphorus. But the next minute, I saw how it was; the moonlight was shining in through the little muslin folds of the lower blind, and as the folds were very symmetrical, the chequered reflection on the wall looked exactly like a series of words.”

“Well, now, that would have made a capital ghost story,” said Lillyston, “if you had been a little more imaginative and nervous. And still more if the illusion had only been partially optical, and partly the result of excited feelings.”

“It matters nothing to me,” said Hazlet, rising, “whether the characters I saw were written by the finger of a man’s hand, or limned by spirits on the sensorium of the brain. All I know is that—thank God—they were there.”

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