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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Blood Royal » CHAPTER VI. THE PROOF OF THE PUDDING.
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Dick slept little that night: he lay awake, despondent. Next day he rose unrefreshed, and by a quarter to ten was in the quad at Durham. Not another candidate as yet had showed up so early. But undergraduates were astir, moving aimlessly across the quad in caps and gowns, and staring hard at the intruder, as one might stare at a strange wild beast from some distant country. Dick shrank nervously from their gaze, hardly daring to remember how he had hoped at Chiddingwick to be reckoned in their number. One thing only gave him courage every time he raised his eyes—the Plantagenet leopards on the facade of the buildings. Should he, the descendant of so many great kings—ataris editas regibus—should he slink ashamed from the sons of men whom his ancestors would have treated as rebellious subjects? He refused such degradation. For the honour of the Plantagenets he would still do his best; and more than his best the Black Prince himself could never have accomplished.

He lounged around the quad till the doors of the hall were opened. A minute before that time Gillingham strolled casually up in sombrero and gray suit, and nodded a distant nod to him.

'Morning, Plantagenet,' he said languidly, putting his pipe in his pocket; and it was with an effort that Dick managed to answer, as if unconcerned: 'Good-morning, Gillingham.'

The first paper was a stiff one—a feeler on general European history, to begin with. Dick glanced over it in haste, and saw to his alarm and horror a great many questions that seemed painfully unfamiliar. Who on earth were Jacopo Nardi, and Requesens, and Jean Bey? What was meant by the publication of the Edict of Rostock? And he thought himself a historian! Pah! this was simply horrible! He glanced up mutely at the other candidates. One or two of them appeared every bit as ill at ease as himself; but others smiled satisfied; and as for the Born Poet, leaning back against the wall with pen poised in one hand, he surveyed the printed form with a pleased smirk on his face that said as plainly as words could say it, 'This paper was just made for me! If I'd chosen the questions myself, I couldn't have chosen anything that would have suited me better.' He set to work at it at once with a business-like air, while Dick chewed his quill-pen, evidently flooring every item in the lot consecutively. No picking and choosing for him; he dashed straight at it: Peter the Great or Charles XII., C?sar Borgia or Robespierre, it was all one, Dick could see, to the Born Poet. He wrote away for dear life with equal promptitude on the Reformation in Germany and the Picts in Scotland; he seemed just as much at home with the Moors at Granada as with the Normans in Sicily; he never hesitated for a second over that fearful stumper, 'State what you know of the rise and progress of the Bavarian Monarchy'; and he splashed off three whole pages of crowded foolscap without turning a hair in answer to the command: 'Describe succinctly the alterations effected in the Polish Constitution during the seventeenth century.' Such encyclopaedic knowledge appalled and alarmed poor Dick, with his narrower British outlook. He began to feel he had been ill-advised indeed to measure his own strength against the diplomatic service and the historical geniuses of the old foundations.

When they came out at mid-day he compared notes on their respective performances with Gillingham. All three young men lunched together at the Saracen's Head, Dick ordering cold beef and a glass of water, for Mr. Plantagenet's example had made him a teetotaler; while the two Rugby boys fared sumptuously every day off cutlets, asparagus, fresh strawberries, and claret. Gillingham had walked through the paper, he averred—a set of absurdly elementary questions.

'I floored Jacopo Nardi,' he remarked with a genial smile, 'and I simply polished off the Edict of Rostock.'

Dick, more despondent, went through it in detail, confessing with shame to entire ignorance of more than one important matter.

'Oh, the Poet wins!' Faussett exclaimed, with deep admiration. 'He wins in a canter. I tell you, it's no use any other fellow going in when the Poet's in the field. It's Gillingham first, and the rest nowhere. He knows his books, you see. He's a fearful pro. at them.'

'Perhaps there's a dark horse, though,' Gillingham suggested, smiling. 'The Prince of the Blood may hold the lists, after all, against all comers.'

'Perhaps so,' Faussett answered with a short little laugh. 'But I'll back the Rugby lot against the field, all the same, for a fiver. The rest are rank outsiders. Even money on the Poet! Now, gentlemen, now's your chance! The Poet for a fiver! even money on the Poet—the Poet wins! “Who'll back the Plantagenet?”'

Dick coloured to the very roots of his hair; he felt himself beaten in the race beforehand. Oh, why had he ever come up to this glorious, impossible place at all? And why did he ever confide the secret of his intentions to the imprudent head of the house of Plantagenet?

That day and the next day it was always the same. He sat and bit his pen, and looked hard at the questions, and waited for inspiration that never seemed to come; while Gillingham, the brilliant, the omniscient, the practical, fully equipped at all points, went on and wrote—wrote, scratching his foolscap noisily with a hurrying pen, straight through the paper. Dick envied him his fluency his readiness, his rapidity; the Born Poet kept his knowledge all packed for immediate use at the ends of his fingers, and seemed able to pour it forth, on no matter what topic, the very instant he required it. Words came to him quick as thought; he never paused for a second. Before the end of the examination Dick had long ago given up all for lost, and only went on writing at the papers at all from a dogged sense that it ill became a Plantagenet to admit he was beaten as long as a drop of blood or a whiff of breath remained in his body.

The three days of the examination passed slowly away, and each day Dick felt even more dissatisfied with his work than he had felt on the previous one. On the very last evening he indited a despondent letter to Maud, so as to break the disappointment for her gently, explaining how unequally he was matched with this clever fellow Gillingham, whom all Rugby regarded with unanimous voice as a heaven-sent genius, a natural historian, and a Born Poet. After which, with many sighs, he betook himself once more for the twentieth time to the study of the questions he had answered worst, wondering how on earth he could ever have made that stupid blunder about Aidan and the Synod of Whitby, and what could have induced him to suppose for one second that Peter of Amboise was really the same person as Peter the Hermit.. With these and other like errors he made his soul miserable that live-long night; and he worried himself with highly-coloured mental pictures of the disgrace he would feel it to return to Chiddingwick, no Oxford man at all, but a bookseller's assistant.

Not till twelve o'clock next day was the result to be announced. Richard spent the morning listlessly with Gillingham and Faussett. The Born Poet was not boastful; he hated ostentation; but he let it be clearly felt he knew he had acquitted himself with distinguished credit. Poor Dick was miserable. He half reflected upon the desirability of returning at once to Chiddingwick, without waiting to hear the result of the examination; but the blood of the Plantagenets revolted within him against such a confession of abject cowardice. At twelve o'clock or a little after he straggled round to Durham. In the big Chapel Quad a crowd of eager competitors gathered thick in front of the notice-board. Dick hardly dared to press in among them and read in plain black and white the story of his own unqualified discomfiture. He held back and hesitated. Two elderly men in caps and gowns, whom he knew now by sight as Fellows and Tutors, were talking to one another quite loud by the gate. 'But we haven't seen Plantagenet yet,' the gravest of them said to his neighbour; he was a tall fair man, with a cultivated red beard and a most aesthetic pince-nez. .

Dick's heart came up in his mouth. He stood forward diffidently.

'My name's Plantagenet,' he said, with a very white face. 'Did you want to speak to me?'

'Oh yes,' the Tutor answered, shaking him warmly by the hand; 'you must come up, you know, to enter your name on the books, and be introduced to the Warden.'

Dick trembled like a girl. His heart jumped within him.

'Why, what have I got?' he asked, hardly daring even to ask it, lest he should find himself mistaken.

The man with the red beard held out a duplicate copy of the paper on the notice-board.

'You can see for yourself,' he answered; and Dick looked at it much agitated.

'Modern History: Mr. Richard Plantagenet, late of Chiddingwick Grammar School, is elected to a Scholarship of the annual value of One Hundred Pounds. Proximo accessit, Mr. Trevor Gillingham, of Rugby School. Mr. Gillingham is offered a set of rooms, rent free, in the College.'

The world reeled round and round on Dick as a pivot. It was too good to be true. He couldn't even now believe it. Of what happened next he never had any clear or connected recollection. In some vague phantasmagoric fashion he was dimly aware of being taken by the Tutor into the College Hall and introduced by name to a bland-looking effigy in a crimson gown, supposed to represent the Head of the College; after which it seemed to him that somebody made him sign a large book of statutes or something of the sort in medieval Latin, wherein he described himself as 'Plantagenet, Ricardus, gen. fil., hujus ?dis alumnus,' and that somebody else informed him in the same tongue he was duly elected. And then he bowed himself out in what Mr. Plantagenet the elder would have considered a painfully inadequate manner, and disappeared with brimming eyes into the front quadrangle.

As yet he had scarcely begun to be faintly conscious of a vague sense of elation and triumph; but as he reached the open air, which freshened and revived him, it occurred to him all at once that now he was really to all practical intents and purposes an Oxford undergraduate, one of those very people whose gorgeous striped blazers and lordly manners had of late so overawed him. Would he ever himself wear such noble neckties? Would he sport a straw hat with a particoloured ribbon? He looked up at the big window of that beautiful chapel, with its flamboyant tracery, and felt forthwith a proprietary interest in it. By the door Faussett was standing. As Dick passed he looked up and recognised 'the dark horse,' the rank outsider. He came forward and took his hand, which he wrung with unfeigned admiration.

'By Jove, Plantagenet,' he cried, 'you've licked us; you've fairly licked us! It's wonderful, old man. I didn't think you'd have done it. The Poet's such an extraordinary dab, you know, at history. But you must be a dabber. Look here, I say, what a pity you didn't take me the other day when I offered even money on Trev against the field! You simply chucked away a good chance of a fiver.'

A little further on, Gillingham himself strolled up to them. His manner was pure gold. There was no trace of jealousy in the way he seized his unexpected rival's hand. To do him justice, indeed, that smallest and meanest of the human passions had no place at all in the Born Poet's nature.

'Well, I congratulate you,' he said with a passing pang of regret—for he, too, had wished not a little to get that Scholarship; 'as Sir Philip Sidney said, your need was the greater. And even for myself I'm not wholly dissatisfied. It's been a disappointment to me—and I don't very often secure the luxury of a disappointment. The true poet, you see, ought to have felt and known every human passion, good, bad or indifferent. As pure; experience, therefore, I'm not sorry you've licked me. It will enable me to throw myself henceforth more dramatically and realistically into the position of the vanquished, which is always the more pathetic, and therefore the more poetical.'

They parted a little further down on the way towards the High Street. After they'd done so, the Philistine turned admiringly towards his schoolfellow, whom no loyal Rugby boy could for a moment believe to have been really beaten in fair fight by a creature from a place called Chiddingwick Grammar School.

'By George! Trev,' he exclaimed with a glow of genuine admiration, 'I never saw anything like that. It was noble, it was splendid of you!'

The Born Poet hardly knew what his companion meant; but if it meant that he thought something which he, Trevor Gillingham, had done was noble and splendid, why, 'twas certainly not the Born Poet's cue to dispute the point with him. So he smiled a quiet non-committing sort of smile, and murmured in a gentle but distant voice: 'Aha! you think so?'

'Think so!' Faussett echoed. 'Why, of course I do; it's magnificent. Only—for the honour of the school, you know, Trev—I really think you oughtn't to have done it. You ought to have tried your very best to lick him.'

'How did you find it out?' Trevor Gillingham asked languidly. He affected languor at times as an eminently poetic attitude.

'How did I find it out? Why, you as good as acknowledged it yourself when you said to him just now, “Your need was the greater.” There aren't many, fellows who'd have done it, Trev, I swear; but it wasn't right, all the same; you've the school to consider; and you ought to have fought him through thick and thin for it!'

The Born Poet stroked his beardless chin with recovered self-satisfaction. This was a capital idea—a first-rate way out of it! For his own part, he had written all he knew, and tried his very best to get that Scholarship; but if Faussett chose to think he had deliberately given it away, out of pure quixotic goodness of heart, to his obscure competitor from Giggleswick School—or was the place called Chiddingwick?—whose need was the greater, why, it wasn't any business of his to correct or disclaim that slight misapprehension. And in three days more, indeed, it was the firm belief of every right-minded Rugby boy that 'Gillingham of our school' could easily have potted the Durham Scholarship if he'd chosen; but he voluntarily retired from the contest beforehand—morally scratched for it, so to speak—because he knew there was another fellow going in for the stakes 'whose need,' as he generously phrased it, 'was the greater.'

And meanwhile Dick Plantagenet himself, the real hero of the day, was straggling down, more dead than alive for joy, towards the Oxford postoffice, to send off the very first telegram he had ever despatched in his life:

'“Miss Maud Plantagenet, Chiddingwick, Surrey.—Hooray! I've got it, the hundred pound history.” Thirteen words: sixpence ha'penny. Strike out the Maud, and it's the even sixpence.'


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