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Part 12 A

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« on: December 24, 2022, 07:40:22 am »

As a Tulipant to the Sun (which our herbalists call Narcissus) when it shines, is admirandus flos ad radios solis se pandens, a glorious Flower exposing itself; but when the Sun sets, or a tempest comes, it hides itself, pines away, and hath no pleasure left ... do all Enamoratoes to their Mistress.
    ---Robert Burton

The mind most effectually works upon the body, producing by his passions and perturbations miraculous alterations, as melancholy, despair, cruel diseases, and sometimes death itself.... They that live in fear are never free, resolute, secure, never merry, but in continual pain.... It causeth oft-times sudden madness.

The arrival of Miss Edwards, together with the rearrangements of residences due to the completion of the Library Building, greatly strengthened the hands of authority at the opening of the Trinity Term. Miss Barton, Miss Burrows and Miss de Vine moved into the three new sets on the ground-floor of the Library; Miss Chilperic was transferred to the New Quad, and a general redistribution took place; so that Tudor and Burleigh Buildings were left entirely denuded of dons. Miss Martin, Harriet, Miss Edwards and Miss Lydgate established a system of patrols, by which the New Quad, Queen Elizabeth and the Library Building could be visited nightly at irregular intervals and an eye kept on all suspicious movements.

Thanks to this arrangement, the more violent demonstrations of the Poison-Pen received a check. It is true that a few anonymous letters continued to arrive by post, containing scurrilous insinuations and threats of revenge against various persons. Harriet was carefully docketing as many of these as she could hear of or lay hands on--she noticed that by this time every member of the S.C.R. had been persecuted, with the exception of Mrs. Goodwin and Miss Chilperic; in addition, the Third Year taking Schools began to receive sinister prognostications about their prospects, while Miss Flaxman was presented with an ill-executed picture of a harpy tearing the flesh of a gentleman in a mortar-board. Harriet had tried to eliminate Miss Pyke and Miss Burrows from suspicion, on the ground that they were both fairly skilful with a pencil, and would therefore be incapable of producing such bad drawings, even by taking thought; she discovered, however, that, though both were dexterous, neither of them was ambidexterous, and that their left-handed efforts were quite as bad as anything produced by the Poison-Pen, if not worse. Miss Pyke, indeed, on being shown the Harpy picture, pointed out that it was, in several respects, inconsistent with the classical conception of this monster; but there again it was clearly easy enough for the expert to assume ignorance; and perhaps the eagerness with which she drew attention to the incidental errors told as much against her as in her favour.

Another trifling but curious episode, occurring on the third Monday in term, was the complaint of an agitated and conscientious First-Year that she had left a harmless modern novel open upon the table in the Fiction Library, and that on her return to fetch it after an afternoon on the river, she had found several pages from the middle of the book--just where she was reading--ripped out and strewn about the room. The First-Year, who was a County Council Scholar, and as poor as a church mouse, was almost in tears; it really wasn't her fault; should she have to replace the book? The Dean, to whom the question was addressed, said No; it certainly didn't seem to be the First-Year's fault. She made a note of the outrage: 'The Search by C. P. Snow, pp. 327 to 340 removed and mutilated, May 13th,' and passed the information on to Harriet, who incorporated it in her diary of the case, together with such items as: 'March 7--abusive letter by post to Miss de Vine,' 'March 11, do, to Miss Hillyard and Miss Layton,' 'April 29--Harpy drawing to Miss Flaxman,' of which she had now quite a formidable list.

So the Summer Term set in, sun-flecked and lovely, a departing April whirled on wind-spurred feet towards a splendour of May. Tulips danced in the Fellows' Garden; a fringe of golden green shimmered and deepened upon the secular beeches; the boats put out upon the Cher between the budding banks, and the wide reaches of the Isis were strenuous with practising eights. Black gowns and summer frocks fluttered up and down the streets of the city and through the College gates, making a careless heraldry with the green of smooth turf and the silver-sable of ancient stone; motor-car and bicycle raced perilously side by side through narrow turnings and the wail of gramophones made hideous the water-ways from Magdalen Bridge to far above the new By-pass. Sunbathers and untidy tea-parties desecrated Shrewsbury Old Quad, newly-whitened tennis-shoes broke out like strange, unwholesome flowers along plinth and window-ledge, and the Dean was forced to issue a ukase in the matter of the bathing-dresses which flapped and fluttered, flag-fashion, from every coign of vantage. Solicitous tutors began to cluck and brood tenderly over such ripening eggs of scholarship as were destined to hatch out damply in the Examination Schools after their three-years' incubation; candidates, realising with a pang that they had no fewer than eight weeks in which to make up for cut lectures and misspent working hours, went flashing from Bodley to lecture-room and from Camera to coaching; and the thin trickle of abuse from the Poison-Pen was swamped and well-nigh forgotten in that stream of genial commination always poured out from the lips of examinees elect upon examining bodies. Nor, in the onset of Schools Fever, was a lighter note lacking to the general delirium. The draw for the Schools' Sweep was made in the Senior Common Room, and Harriet found herself furnished with the names of two 'horses,' one of whom, a Miss Newland, was said to be well fancied. Harriet asked who she was, having never to her knowledge seen or heard of her.

'I don't suppose you have,' said the Dean. 'She's a shy child. But Miss Shaw thinks she's pretty safe for a First.'

'She isn't looking well this term, though,' said the Bursar. 'I hope she isn't going to have a breakdown or anything. I told her the other day she ought not to cut Hall so often.'

'They will do it,' said the Dean. 'It's all very well to say they can't be bothered to change when they come off the river and prefer pyjamas and an egg in their rooms; but I'm sure a boiled egg and a sardine aren't sustaining enough to do Schools on.'

'And the mess it all makes for the scouts to clear up,' grumbled the Bursar. 'It's almost impossible to get the rooms done by eleven when they're crammed with filthy crockery.'

'It isn't being out on the river that's the matter with Newland,' said the Dean. 'That child works.'

'All the worse,' said the Bursar. 'I distrust the candidate who swots in her last term. I shouldn't be a bit surprised if your horse scratched, Miss Vane. She looks nervy to me.'

'That's very depressing,' said Harriet. 'Perhaps I'd better sell half my ticket while the price is good. I agree with Edgar Wallace, "Give me a good stupid horse who will eat his oats." Any offers for Newland?'

'What's that about Newland?' demanded Miss Shaw, coming up to them. They were having coffee in the Fellows' Garden at the time. 'By the way, Dean, couldn't you put up a notice about sitting on the grass in the New Quad? I have had to chase two parties off. We cannot have the place looking like Margate Beach.'

'Certainly not. They know quite well it isn't allowed. Why are women undergraduates so sloppy?'

'They're always exceedingly anxious to be like the men,' said Miss Hillyard, sarcastically, 'but I notice the likeness doesn't extend to showing respect for the College grounds.'

'Even you must admit that men have some virtues,' said Miss Shaw.

'More tradition and discipline, that's all,' said Miss Hillyard.

'I don't know,' said Miss Edwards. 'I think women are messier by nature. They are naturally picnic-minded.'

'It's nice to sit in the open air in this lovely weather,' suggested Miss Chilperic, almost apologetically (for her student days were not far behind her) 'and they don't think how awful it looks.'

'In hot weather,' said Harriet, moving her chair back into the shade, 'men have the common sense to stay indoors, where it's cooler.'

'Men,' said Miss Hillyard, 'have a passion for frowst.'

'Yes,' said Miss Shaw, 'but what were you saying about Miss Newland? You weren't offering to sell your chance, Miss Vane, were you? Because, take it from me, she's a hot favourite. She's the Latymer Scholar, and her work's brilliant.'

'Somebody suggested she was off her feed and likely to be a non-starter.'

'That's very unkind,' said Miss Shaw, with indignation. 'Nobody's any right to say such things.'

'I think she looks harassed and on edge,' said the Bursar. 'She's too hardworking and conscientious. She hasn't got the wind-up about Schools, has she?'

'There's nothing wrong with her work,' said Miss Shaw. 'She does look a little pale, but I expect it's the sudden heat.'

'Possibly she's worried about things at home,' suggested Mrs. Goodwin. She had returned to College on the 9th May, her boy having taken a fortunate turn for the better, though he was still not out of the wood. She looked anxious and sympathetic.

'She'd have told me if she had been,' said Miss Shaw. 'I encourage my students to confide in me. Of course she's a very reserved girl, but I have done my best to draw her out, and I feel sure I should have heard if there was anything on her mind.'

'Well,' said Harriet, 'I must see this horse of mine before I decide what to do about my sweep-stake ticket. Somebody must point her out.'

'She's up in the Library at this moment, I fancy,' said the Dean; 'I saw her stewing away there just before dinner--cutting Hall as usual. I nearly spoke to her. Come and stroll through, Miss Vane. If she's there, we'll chase her out for the good of her soul. I want to look up a reference anyhow.'

Harriet got up, laughing, and accompanied the Dean.

'I sometimes think,' said Miss Martin, 'that Miss Shaw would get more real confidence from her pupils if she wasn't always probing into their little insides. She likes people to be fond of her, which I think is rather a mistake. Be kind, but leave 'em alone, is my motto. The shy ones shrink into their shells when they're poked, and the egotistical ones talk a lot of rubbish to attract attention. However, we all have our methods.'

She pushed open the Library door, halted in the end bay to consult a book and verify a quotation, and then led the way through the long room. At a table near the centre, a thin, fair girl was working amid a pile of reference books. The Dean stopped.

'You still here, Miss Newland? Haven't you had any dinner?'

'I'll have some later, Miss Martin. It was so hot, and I want to get this language paper done.'

The girl looked startled and uneasy. She pushed the damp hair back from her forehead. The whites of her eyes showed like those of a fidgety horse.

'Don't you be a little juggins,' said the Dean. 'All work and no play is simply silly in your Schools term. If you go on like this, we'll have to send you away for a rest-cure and forbid work altogether for a week or so. Have you got a headache? You look as if you had.'

'Not very much, Miss Martin.'

'For goodness' sake,' said the Dean, 'chuck that perishing old Ducange and Meyer-Lbke or whoever it is and go away and play. I'm always having to chase the Schools people off to the river and into the country,' she added, turning to Harriet, 'I wish they'd all be like Miss Camperdown--she was after your time. She frightened Miss Pyke by dividing the whole of her Schools term between the river and the tennis-courts, and she ended up with a First in Greats.'

Miss Newland looked more alarmed than ever.

'I don't seem able to think,' she confessed. 'I forget things and go blank.'

'Of course you do,' said the Dean, briskly. 'Sure sign you're doing too much. Stop it at once. Get up now and get yourself some food and then take a nice novel or something, or find somebody to have a knock-up with you.'

'Please don't bother, Miss Martin. I'd rather go on with this. I don't feel like eating and I don't care about tennis--I wish you wouldn't bother!' she finished, rather hysterically.

'All right,' said the Dean; 'bless you, I don't want to fuss. But do be sensible.'

'I will, really, Miss Martin. I'll just finish this paper. I couldn't feel comfortable if I hadn't. I'll have something to eat then and go to bed. I promise I will.'

'That's a good girl.' The Dean passed on, out of the Library, and said to Harriet:

'I don't like to see them getting into that state. What do you think of your horse's chance?'

'Not much,' said Harriet. 'I do know her. That is, I've seen her before. I saw her last on Magdalen Tower.'

'What?' said the Dean. 'Oh, lord!'


Of Lord Saint-George, Harriet had not seen very much during that first fortnight of term. His arm was out of a sling; but a remaining weakness in it had curbed his sporting activities, and when she did see him, he informed her that he was working. The matter of the telegraph pole and the insurance had been safely adjusted, and the parental wrath avoided. 'Uncle Peter,' to be sure, had had something to say about it, but Uncle Peter, though scathing, was safe as houses. Harriet encouraged the young gentleman to persevere with his work and refused an invitation to dine and meet 'his people.' She had no particular wish to meet the Denvers, and had hitherto successfully avoided doing so.

Mr. Pomfret had been assiduously polite. He and Mr. Rogers had taken her on the river, and had included Miss Cattermole in the party. They had all been on their best behaviour, and a pleasant time had been enjoyed by all, the mention of previous encounters having, by common consent, been avoided. Harriet was pleased with Miss Cattermole; she seemed to have made an effort to throw off the blight that had settled upon her, and Miss Hillyard's report had been encouraging. Mr. Pomfret had also asked Harriet to lunch and to play tennis; on the former occasion she had truthfully pleaded a previous engagement and, on the second, had said, with rather less truth, that she had not played for years, was out of form and was not really keen. After all, one had one's work to do (Lefanu, 'Twixt Wind and Water, and the History of Prosody among them made up a fairly full programme), and one could not spend all one's time idling with undergraduates.

On the evening after her formal introduction to Miss Newland, however, Harriet encountered Mr. Pomfret accidentally. She had been to see an old Shrewsburian who was attached to the Somerville Senior Common Room, and was crossing St. Giles on her way back, shortly before midnight, when she was aware of a group of young men in evening dress, standing about one of the trees which adorn that famous thoroughfare. Being naturally inquisitive, Harriet went to see what was up. The street was practically deserted, except for through traffic of the ordinary kind. The upper branches of the tree were violently agitated, and Harriet, standing on the outskirts of the little group beneath, learned from their remarks that Mr. Somebody-or-the-other had undertaken, in consequence of an after-dinner bet, to climb every tree in St. Giles without interference from the Proctor. As the number of trees was large and the place public, Harriet felt the wager to be rather optimistic. She was just turning away to cross the street in the direction of the Lamb and Flag, when another youth, who had evidently been occupying an observation-post, arrived, breathless, to announce that the Proggins was just coming into view round the corner of Broad Street. The climber came down rather hastily, and the group promptly scattered in all directions--some running past her, some making their way down side-streets, and a few bold spirits fleeing towards the small enclosure known as the Fender, within which (since it belongs not to the Town but to St. John's) they could play at tig with the Proctor to their hearts' content. One of the young gentlemen darting in this general direction passed Harriet close, stopped with an exclamation, and brought up beside her.

'Why, it's you!' cried Mr. Pomfret, in an excited tone.

'Me again,' said Harriet. 'Are you always out without your gown at this time of night?'

'Practically always,' said Mr. Pomfret, falling into step beside her. 'Funny you should always catch me at it. Amazing luck, isn't it ...? I say, you've been avoiding me this term. Why?'

'Oh, no,' said Harriet; 'only I've been rather busy.'

'But you have been avoiding me,' said Mr. Pomfret. 'I know you have. I suppose it's ridiculous to expect you to take any particular interest in me. I don't suppose you ever think about me. You probably despise me.'

'Don't be so absurd, Mr. Pomfret. Of course I don't do anything of the sort. I like you very much, but--'

'Do you?... Then why won't you let me see you? Look here, I must see you. There's something I've got to tell you. When can I come and talk to you?'

'What about?' said Harriet, seized with a sudden and awful qualm.

'What about? Hang it, don't be so unkind. Look here, Harriet--No, stop, you've got to listen. Darling, wonderful Harriet--'

'Mr. Pomfret, please--'

But Mr. Pomfret was not to be checked. His admiration had run away with him, and Harriet, cornered in the shadow of the big horse-chestnut by the Lamb and Flag, found herself listening to as eager an avowal of devotion as any young gentleman in his twenties ever lavished upon a lady considerably his senior in age and experience.

'I'm frightfully sorry, Mr. Pomfret. I never thought--No, really, it's quite impossible. I'm at least ten years older than you are. And besides--'

'What does that matter?' With a large and clumsy gesture Mr. Pomfret swept away the difference of age and plunged on in a flood of eloquence, which Harriet, exasperated with herself and him, could not stop. He loved her, he adored her, he was intensely miserable, he could neither work nor play games for thinking of her, if she refused him he didn't know what he should do with himself, she must have seen, she must have realised--he wanted to stand between her and all the world--

Mr Pomfret was six feet three and broad and strong in proportion.

'Please don't do that,' said Harriet, feeling as though she were feebly saying 'Drop it, Csar,' to somebody else's large and disobedient Alsatian. 'No, I mean it. I can't let you--' And then in a different tone:

'Look out, juggins! Here's the Proctor.'

Mr. Pomfret, in some consternation, gathered himself together and turned as to flee. But the Proctor's bulldogs, who had been having a lively time with the tree-climbers in St. Giles, and were now out for blood, had come through the archway at a smart trot, and, seeing a young gentleman not only engaged in nocturnal vagation without his gown but actually embracing a female (mulier vel meretrix, cujus consortio Christianis prorsus interdictum est) leapt gleefully upon him, as upon a lawful prey.

'Oh, blast!' said Mr. Pomfret. 'Here, you--'

'The Proctor would like to speak to you, sir,' said the Bulldog, grimly.

Harriet debated with herself whether it might not be more tactful to depart, leaving Mr. Pomfret to his fate. But the Proctor was close on the heels of his men; he was standing within a few yards of her and already demanding to know the offender's name and college. There seemed to be nothing for it but to face the matter out.

'Just a moment, Mr. Proctor,' began Harriet, struggling, for Mr. Pomfret's sake, to control a rebellious uprush of laughter. 'This gentleman is with me, and you can't--Oh! good evening, Mr. Jenkyn.'

It was, indeed, that amiable pro-Proctor. He gazed at Harriet, and was struck dumb with embarrassment.

'I say,' broke in Mr. Pomfret, awkwardly, but with a gentlemanly feeling that some explanation was due from him; 'it was entirely my fault. I mean, I'm afraid I was annoying Miss Vane. She--I--'

'You can't very well prog him, you know,' said Harriet, persuasively, 'can you now?'

'Come to think of it,' replied Mr. Jenkyn, 'I suppose I can't. You're a Senior Member, aren't you?' He waved his bulldogs to a distance. 'I beg your pardon,' he added, a little stiffly.

'Not at all,' said Harriet. 'It's a nice night. Did you have good hunting in St. Giles?'

'Two culprits will appear before their dean to-morrow,' said the pro-Proctor, rather more cheerfully. 'I suppose nobody came through here?'

'Nobody but ourselves,' said Harriet; 'and I can assure you that we haven't been climbing trees.'

A wicked facility in quotation tempted her to add 'except in the Hesperides'; but she respected Mr. Pomfret's feelings and restrained herself.

'No, no,' said Mr. Jenkyn. He fingered his bands nervously and hitched his gown with its velvet facings protectively about his shoulders. 'I had better be away in pursuit of those that have.'

'Good night,' said Harriet.

'Good night,' said Mr. Jenkyn, courteously raising his square cap. He turned sharply upon Mr. Pomfret. 'Good night, sir.'

He stalked away with brisk steps between the posts into Museum Road, his long liripipe sleeves agitated and fluttering. Between Harriet and Mr. Pomfret there occurred one of those silences into which the first word spoken falls like the stroke of a gong. It seemed equally impossible to comment on the interruption or to resume the interrupted conversation. By common consent, however, they turned their backs upon the pro-Proctor and moved out once more into St. Giles. They had turned left and were passing through the now-deserted Fender before Mr. Pomfret found his tongue.

'A nice fool I look,' said Mr. Pomfret, bitterly.

'It was very unfortunate,' said Harriet, 'but I must have looked much the more foolish. I very nearly ran away altogether. However, all's well that ends well. He's a very decent sort and I don't suppose he'll think twice about it.'

She remembered, with another disconcerting interior gurgle of mirth, an expression in use among the irreverent: 'to catch a Senior girling.' 'To boy' was presumably the feminine equivalent of the verb 'to girl'; she wondered whether Mr. Jenkyn would employ it in Common Room next day. She did not grudge him his entertainment; being old enough to know that even the most crashing social bricks make but a small ripple in the ocean of time, which quickly dies away. To Mr. Pomfret, however, the ripple must inevitably appear of the dimensions of a maelstrom. He was muttering sulkily something about a laughing-stock.

'Please,' said Harriet, 'don't worry about it. It's of no importance. I don't mind one bit.'

'Of course not,' said Mr. Pomfret. 'Naturally, you can't take me seriously. You're treating me like a child.'

'Indeed I'm not. I'm very grateful--I'm very much honoured by everything you said to me. But really and truly, it's quite impossible.'

'Oh, well, never mind,' said Mr. Pomfret, angrily.

It was too bad, thought Harriet. To have one's young affections trampled upon was galling enough; to have been made an object of official ridicule as well was almost unbearable. She must do something to restore the young gentleman's self-respect.

'Listen, Mr. Pomfret. I don't think I shall ever marry anybody. Please believe that my objection isn't personal at all. We have been very good friends. Can't we--?'

Mr. Pomfret greeted this fine old bromide with a dreary snort.

'I suppose,' he said, in a savage tone, 'there's somebody else.'

'I don't know that you've any right to ask that.'

'Of course not,' said Mr. Pomfret, affronted. 'I've no right to ask you anything. I ought to apologise for asking you to marry me. And for making a scene in front of the Proggins--in fact, for existing. I'm exceedingly sorry.'

Very clearly, the only balm that could in the least soothe the wounded vanity of Mr. Pomfret would be the assurance that there was somebody else. But Harriet was not prepared to make any such admission; and besides, whether there was anybody else or not, nothing could make the notion of marrying Mr. Pomfret anything but preposterous. She begged him to take a reasonable view of the matter; but he continued to sulk; and indeed, nothing that could possibly be said could mitigate the essential absurdity of the situation. To offer a lady one's chivalrous protection against the world in general, and to be compelled instead to accept her senior standing as a protection for one's self against the just indignation of the Proctor is, and remains, farcical.

Their ways lay together. In resentful silence they paced the stones, past the ugly front of Balliol and the high iron gates of Trinity, past the fourteen-fold sneer of the Csars and the top-heavy arch of the Clarendon Building, till they stood at the junction of Cat Street and Holywell.

'Well,' said Mr. Pomfret, 'if you don't mind, I'd better cut along here. It's just going twelve.'

'Yes. Don't bother about me. Good night ... And thank you again very much.'

'Good night.'

Mr. Pomfret ran hurriedly in the direction of Queen's College pursued by a yelping chorus of chimes.

Harriet went on down Holywell. She could laugh now if she wanted to; and she did laugh. She had no fear of any permanent damage to Mr. Pomfret's heart; he was far too cross to be suffering in anything but his vanity. The incident had that rich savour of the ludicrous which neither pity nor charity can destroy. Unfortunately, she could not in decency share it with anybody; she could only enjoy it in lonely ecstasies of mirth. What Mr. Jenkyn must be thinking of her she could scarcely imagine. Did he suppose her to be an unprincipled cradle-snatcher? or a promiscuous sexual maniac? or a disappointed woman eagerly grasping at the rapidly disappearing skirts of opportunity? or what? The more she thought about her own part in the episode, the funnier it appeared to her. She wondered what she should say to Mr. Jenkyn if she ever met him again.

She was surprised to find how much Mr. Pomfret's simple-minded proposal had elated her. She ought to have been thoroughly ashamed of herself. She ought to be blaming herself for not having seen what was happening to Mr. Pomfret and taken steps to stop it. Why hadn't she? Simply, she supposed, because the possibility of such a thing had never occurred to her. She had taken it for granted that she could never again attract any man's fancy, except the eccentric fancy of Peter Wimsey. And to him she was, of course, only the creature of his making and the mirror of his own magnanimity. Reggie Pomfret's devotion, though ridiculous, was at least single-minded; he was no King Cophetua; she had not to be humbly obliged to him for kindly taking notice of her. And that reflection, after all, was pleasurable. However loudly we may assert our own unworthiness, few of us are really offended by hearing the assertion contradicted by a disinterested party.

In this unregenerate mood she reached the College, and let herself in by the postern. There were lights in the Warden's Lodgings, and somebody was standing at the gate, looking out. At the sound of Harriet's footsteps, this person called out, in the Dean's voice:

'Is that you, Miss Vane. The Warden wants to see you.'

'What's the matter, Dean?'

The Dean took Harriet by the arm.

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