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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Blood Royal » CHAPTER III. DISCOUNTING IT.
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Mrs. Plantagenet looked across the table at her son with vague eyes of misgiving. 'This is all very sudden, Dick,' she faltered out, not without some slight tremor.

'Sudden for you, dear mother,' Dick answered, taking her hand in his own; 'but not for me.

Very much otherwise.. I've had it in my mind for a great many months; and this is what decided me.'

He drew from his pocket as he spoke a small scrap of newspaper and handed it across to her. It was a cutting from the Times. Mrs. Plantagenet read it through with swimming eyes. 'University Intelligence: Oxford.—Four Foundation Scholarships will be awarded after public examination at Durham College on May 20th. Two will be of the annual value of One Hundred Pounds, for Classics; one of the same value for Natural Science; and one for Modern History. Application to be made, on or before Wednesday, the 19th, to the Rev. the Dean, at Durham College, who will also supply all needful information to intending candidates.'

The words swam in a mist before Mrs. Planta-genet's eyes. 'What does it all mean, dear Dick?' she inquired almost tearfully.

'It means, mother,' Dick answered with the gentlest tenderness, 'that Durham is the only college in the University which gives as good a Scholarship as a hundred a year for Modern History. Now, ever since I left the grammar school, I haven't had it out of my mind for a day to go, if I could, to Oxford. I think it's incumbent upon a man in my position to give himself, if possible, a University training.'

He said the words without the slightest air of conceit or swagger, but with a profound consciousness of their import; for to Richard Plantagenet the myth or legend of the ancient greatness of his family was a spur urging him ever on to make himself worthy of so glorious an ancestry. 'So I've been working and saving ever since,' he went on, 'with that idea constantly before me; and I've looked out for twelve months or more in the Times every day for the announcement of an exam, for the Durham Scholarship.'

'But you won't get it, my boy,' Mr. Plantagenet put in philosophically, after a moment's consideration. 'You never can get it. Your early disadvantages, you know—your inadequate schooling—so many young fellows well coached from Eton and Harrow!'

'If it had been a classical one, I should agree with you: I couldn't, I'm afraid,' Bichard responded frankly, for he was by no means given to over-estimate his own abilities; 'but in history it's different. You see, so much of it's just our own family pedigree and details of our ancestry. That acted as a fillip—gave me an interest in the subject from the very first; and as soon as I determined to begin reading for Oxford, I felt at once my best chance would lie in Modern History. And that's why I've been working away at it as hard as ever I could in all my spare time for more than a twelvemonth.'

'But have you been reading the right books, Dick?—that's the question,' his father put in dubiously, with a critical air, making a manful effort to recall the names of the works that were most authoritative in the subject when he himself last looked at a history: 'Sharon Turner, Kemble, Palgrave, Thierry, Guizot and so forth?'

Richard had too deep a respect for the chief of the Plantagenets, miserable sot though he was, to be betrayed into a smile by this belated catalogue. He only answered with perfect gravity: 'I'm afraid none of those would be of much use to me nowadays in a Scholarship exam.: another generation has arisen, which knows not Joseph. But I've got up all the books recommended in the circular of the Board of Studies—Freeman, you know, and Stubbs and Green, and Froude and Gardner. And I've worked especially at the reigns of the earlier Plantagenets, and the development of the towns and guilds, and all that sort of thing, in Brentano and Seebohm.'

Mr. Plantagenet held his peace and looked profoundly wise. He had barely heard the names of any of these gentlemen himself: at the best of times his knowledge had always been shallow—rather showy than exact; a journalist's stock-in-trade—and since his final collapse into the ignominious position of dancing-master at Chiddingwick he had ceased to trouble himself much about any form of literature save the current newspaper. A volume of 'Barry Neville's Collected Essays,' bound in the antiquated style of the 'Book of Beauty,' with a portrait of the author in a blue frock-coat and stock for frontispiece, stood on his shelf by way of fossil evidence to his extinct literary pretensions; but Barry Neville himself had dropped with time into the usual listless apathy of a small English country town. So he held his peace, not to display his ignorance further; for he felt at once, from this glib list of authorities, that Dick's fluent display of acquaintance with so many new writers, whose very names he had never before heard—though they were well enough known in the modern world of letters to be recommended by an Oxford Board of Studies—put him hopelessly out of court on the subject under discussion.

'Jones tertius has a brother at Oxford,' Clarence put in very eagerly; 'and he's a howling swell—he lives in a room that's panelled with oak from top to bottom.'

'And if you get the Scholarship, Dick,' his mother went on wistfully, 'will you have to go and live there, and be away from us always?'

'Only half the year, mother dear,' Richard answered coaxingly; for he knew what she was thinking—how hard it would be for her to be left alone in Chiddingwick, among all those unruly children and her drunken husband, without the aid of her one help and mainstay. 'You know, there's only about five months of term, and all the rest's vacation. In vacation I'd come home, and do something to earn money towards making up the deficit.'

'It's a very long time, though, five months,' Mrs. Plantagenet said pensively. 'But, there!' she added, after a pause, brightening up, 'perhaps you won't get it.'

Grave as he usually was, Richard couldn't help bursting into a merry laugh at this queer little bit of topsy-turvy self-comfort. 'Oh, I hope to goodness I shall,' he cried, with a twinkle, 'in spite of that, mother. It won't be five months all in a lump, you know; I shall go up for some six or eight weeks at a time—never more than eight together, I believe—and then come down again. But you really needn't take it to heart just yet, for we're counting our chickens before they're hatched, after all. I mayn't get it, as you say; and, indeed, as father said just now, when one comes to think how many fellows will be in for it who have been thoroughly coached and crammed at the great public schools, my chance can't be worth much—though I mean to try it.'

Just at that moment, as Dick leaned back and looked round, the door opened, and Maud, the eldest sister, entered.

She had come home from her singing lesson; for Maud was musical, and went out as daily governess to the local tradesmen's families. She was the member of the household who most of all shared Dick's confidence. As she entered Harry looked up at her, full of conscious importance and a mouthful of Dutch cheese.

'Have you heard the news, Maudie?' he asked all breathless. 'Isn't it just ripping? Dick's going up to Oxford.'

Maud was pale and tired from a long day's work—the thankless work of teaching; but her weary face flushed red none the less at this exciting announcement, though she darted a warning look under her hat towards Richard, as much as to say:

'How could you ever have told him?'

But all she said openly was:

'Then the advertisement's come of the Durham Scholarship?'

'Yes, the advertisement's come,' Dick answered, flushing in turn. 'I got it this morning, and I'm to go up on Wednesday.'

The boys were rather disappointed at this tame announcement. It was clear Maud knew all about the great scheme already. And, indeed, she and Dick had talked it over by themselves many an evening on the hills, and debated the pros and cons of that important new departure.

Maud's face grew paler again after a minute, and she murmured half regretfully, as she unfastened her hat:

'I shall miss you if you get it, Dick. It'll be hard to do without you.'

'But it's the right thing for me to do,' Richard put in almost anxiously.

Maud spoke without the faintest hesitation' in her voice.

'Oh yes; it's the right thing,' she answered. 'Not a doubt in the world about that. It's a duty you owe to yourself, and to us—and to England. Only, of course, we shall all feel your absence a very great deal. Dick, Dick, you're so much to us! And I don't know,' she went on, as she glanced at the little ones with an uncertain air—'I don't know that I'd have mentioned it before babes and sucklings—well, till I was sure I'd got it.'

She said it with an awkward flush; for Dick caught her eye as she spoke, and read her inner meaning. She wondered he had blurted it out prematurely before her father. And Dick, too, saw his mistake. Mr. Plantagenet, big with such important news, would spread it abroad among his cronies in the White Horse parlour before tomorrow was over!

Richard turned to the children.

'Now, look here, boys,' he said gravely: 'this is a private affair, and we've talked it over here without reserve in the bosom of the family. But we've talked it over in confidence. It mustn't be repeated. If I were to go up and try for this Scholarship, and then not get it, all Chiddingwick would laugh at me for a fellow that didn't know his proper place, and had to be taught to know it.

For the honour of the family, boys—and you too, Nellie—I hope you won't whisper a word of all this to anybody in town. Consider what a disgrace it would be if I came back unsuccessful, and everybody in the parish came up and commiserated me: “We're so sorry, Mr. Dick, you failed at Oxford. But there, you see, you had such great disadvantages!”'

His handsome face burned bright red at the bare thought of such a disgrace; and the little ones, who, after all, were Plantagenets at heart as much as himself, every one of them made answer with one accord:

'We won't say a word about it.'

They promised it so earnestly, and with such perfect assurance, that Dick felt he could trust them. His eye caught Maud's. The same thought passed instinctively through both their minds. What a painful idea that the one person they couldn't beg for very shame to hold his tongue was the member of the family most likely to blab it out to the first chance comer!

Maud sat down and ate her supper. She was a pretty girl, very slender and delicate, with a fair pink-and-white skin, and curious flashing eyes, most unusual in a blonde, though she was perhaps just a shade less handsome and distinguished-looking than the Heir Apparent.

All through the meal little else was talked of than this projected revolution, Dick's great undertaking. The boys were most full of it. 'Our Dick at Oxford! It was ripping—simply ripping! A lark of the first dimensions!' Clarence made up his mind at once to go up and see Dick his very first term, in oak-panelled rooms at Durham College. They must be oak-panelled. While Harry, who had feasted on 'Verdant Green' for weeks, was anxious to know what sort of gown he'd have to wear, and whether he thought he'd have ample opportunities for fighting the proctors.

'Twas a foregone conclusion. So innocently did they all discount 'Our Dick's' success, and so firmly did they believe that whatever he attempted he was certain to succeed in!

After supper Mr. Plantagenet rose with an important air, and unhooked his hat very deliberately from its peg. His wife and Dick and Maud all cried out with one voice:

'Why, surely you're not going out to-night, father!'

For to go out, they knew well, in Mr. Planta-genet's dialect, meant to spend the evening in the White Horse parlour.

'Yes, my dear,' Mr. Plantagenet answered, in his blandest tone, turning round to his wife with apologetic suavity. 'The fact is, I have a very particular engagement this evening. No, no, Dick, my boy; don't try to detain me. Gentlemen are waiting for me. The claims of social life, my dear son—so much engaged—my sole time for the world—my one hour of recreation! Besides, strangers have been specially invited to meet me— people who have heard of my literary reputation! 'Twould be churlish to disappoint them.'

And, brushing his son aside, Mr. Plantagenet stuck his hat on jauntily just a trifle askew, with ponderous airiness, and strolled down the steps as he adjusted his Inverness cape on his ample shoulders, with the air of a gentleman seeking his club, with his martial cloak around him.

For in point of fact it had occurred to Mr. Plantagenet as they sat at supper that, if he burst in upon the White Horse as the first bearer of such novel and important gossip—how his son Richard was shortly going to enter as an undergraduate at Durham College, Oxford—not only would he gain for himself great honour and glory, but also some sympathizing friend, proud to possess the privilege of acquaintance with so distinguished a family, would doubtless mark his sense of the dignity of the occasion by offering its head the trifling hospitality of a brandy-and-soda. And since brandy-and-soda formed the mainspring of Mr. Plantagenet's scheme of being, so noble an opportunity for fulfilling the end and aim of his existence, he felt sure, was not to be lightly neglected.

He strolled out, all smiles, apologetic, but peremptory. As soon as he was gone, the three remaining elders glanced hard at one another with blank surmise in their eyes; but they said nothing openly. Only, in his heart, Richard blamed himself with bitter blame for his unwonted indiscretion in blurting out the whole truth. He knew that by ten to-morrow morning all the world of Chidding-wick would have heard of his projected little trip to Oxford.

When the younger ones were gone to bed, the three still held their peace and only looked at each other. Mutual shame prevented them from ever outwardly commenting on the father's weaknesses. Maud was the first to break the long deep silence.

'After this, Dick,' she said decisively, 'there's no other way out of it. You've burnt your boats. If you kill yourself to do it, you must win that Scholarship!'

'I must,' Dick answered firmly. 'And what's more, I will. I'll get it or die for it. I could never stand the disgrace, now, of coming back empty-handed to Chiddingwick without it.'

'Perhaps,' Mrs. Plantagenet suggested, speaking boldly out the thought that lurked in all their minds, 'he won't say a word of it.'

Maud and Dick looked up at her with incredulous amazement. 'Oh, mother!' was all they could say. They knew their father's moods too well by far to buoy themselves up with such impossible expectations.

'Well, it seals the business, anyhow,' Dick went on, after a moment's pause. 'I must get it now, that's simply certain. Though, to be sure, I don't know that anything could make me try much harder than I'd have tried before, for your sake, mother, and for Maud's, and the children's, and the honour of the family.'

'I wish I had your faith, Dick, in the honour of the family,' Mrs. Plantagenet sighed wearily. 'I can't feel it myself. I never could feel it, somehow. Though, of course, it's a good thing if it makes you work and hold your head up in life, and do the best you ever can for Maud and the children. Anything's good that's an incentive to exertion. Yet I often wish, when I see how hard you both have to toil and moil, with the music and all that, we didn't belong to the royal stock at all, but to the other Plantagenets, who left the money.'

Both Richard and Maud exclaimed with one accord at these painful words: 'Oh, don't, dear mother!' To them, her speech sounded like sheer desecration. Faith in their own unsullied Plan-tagenet blood was for both a religion. And, indeed, no wonder. It had spurred them on to all that was highest and best within them. To give up that magnificent heritage of princely descent for mere filthy lucre would have seemed to either an unspeakable degradation. They loved their mother dearly; yet they often reflected, in a vague, half-unconscious sort of undercurrent of thought, that after all she was not herself a born Plantagenet, as they were; she had only married into the family, and couldn't be expected to feel quite as they did on so domestic a matter. It never struck either of them that in point of fact all those better qualities in themselves which made them so jealous for the honour of the family had descended to them solely from their mother's side of the house, and were altogether alien to the lower nature of that good-humoured, idle, unprincipled scamp and ne'er-do-well, their father.

At the very same moment, indeed, in the cosiest corner of the White Horse parlour, Mr. Plantagenet himself, the head of the house, was observing complacently, in a mellifluous voice, to an eager little group of admiring listeners: 'Yes, gentlemen, my son Richard, I'm proud to say, will shortly begin his career at Oxford University. I'm a poor man myself, I admit; I might have been richer but for untoward events; and circumstances have compelled me to submit in my old age to a degrading profession, for which neither my birth, my education, nor my literary habits have naturally fitted me. But I trust I have, at least, been a good father to my children. A good—father—to my children. I have given them the very best education this poor town can afford; and now, though I know it will sadly cripple my slender resources, I mean to make a struggle, my friends, a manful struggle, and send my boy Richard up to Oxford. Richard has brains, undoubted brains; he's proud and reserved, as you all know, and doesn't shine in society; he lacks the proper qualities; but he has undoubted brains, for all that; and brilliancy, I know to my cost'—here he heaved a deep sigh—'is often a pitfall to a man of genius. Richard hasn't genius; but he's industrious and plodding, and possesses, I'm told, a remarkable acquaintance with the history of his country. So I've made up my mind to brave the effort and send him up to our ancestral University. He may do something in time to repair the broken fortunes of a respectable family. Gentlemen,' Mr. Plantagenet went on, glancing round him for confirmation of his coming statement, 'I think you'll all bear me witness that I've never boasted or bragged about my family in any way; but you'll all admit, too, that my family is a respectable one, and that the name I bear has not been wholly undistinguished in the history of this country.—Thank you, sir; I'm very much obliged indeed to you for your kindness; I don't mind if I do.—Brandy, if you please, as usual, Miss Brooks—and a split soda.—Gentlemen, I thank you for your generous sympathy. Misfortune has not wholly deprived me, I'm proud to notice, of appreciative friends. I will drain this sparkling beaker, which my neighbour is good enough to offer, to an appropriate toast—the toast of Success to Richard Plantagenet of Durham College, Oxford.'


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