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Then came life, for the University is only the finishing school, except for those who mean to become pedagogues themselves, or to devote their whole lives to study, and even these latter generally go abroad, where the libraries and museums at their disposal are better than those of twenty Oxfords and Cambridges rolled into
And now the question arose, what was Philip to do? Tutors have stereotyped answers worthy only of a guide book. Ask them what your son is to do now that he has taken his degree. They begin with the Bar, profoundly pointing out that it is the quickest road to the peerage of any, except perhaps the Army, but that it requires immense industry and self-denial. In the same vein like the Fool of Jacques who took a dial from his poke, and, gazing at it with lack-lustre eye, quoth very wisely, “It is ten o'clock,” going on to observe that an hour ago it was nine, and that in another hour it would be eleven, they discourse on the relative advantages of civil engineering, of taking a mastership in a school, of taking orders, and becoming a curate, and so forth.
It is astonishing with how little wisdom, advice, apparently the most solemn, is often given. The wisdom of Polonius had no effect upon Philip, and next to none upon his mother.
“You had better be, my dear,” said that most sensible lady, "just whatever you think the best, for you can afford to be anything in reason. I would rather not see you in business ; nor do I want you to become at once a small country squire, a nobody among the Lord Lieutenant and his companions, and only just able to keep your couple of hunters; but if I do not want to see you in business, I certainly do not want to see you idle. Choose a profession, and make sure you choose one you like. I only hope it will not be the Army, or indeed any that will separate us during the rest of my life.”
“All right, mother,” said Philip, “I will think it over.” And giving her a kiss on each cheek, he took down his hat and stick from their place in the hall, whistled to his spaniels, and strolled out into the village.
The little country house in which mother and son lived was nine miles from Fairminster, and in that direction Philip marched along with great strides, for he was a capital walker, and could easily do his five-and-a-half miles an hour.
Now Fairminster is one of the most curious old towns in Surrey. The houses are red-tiled and quaintly gabled. Little streams of water unexpectedly make their appearance in the street, pursue a noisy rattling course for several yards, and then suddenly disappear again under the ground. There is a local trade in saddlery which is considerable. There are one or two old coaching inns, and there are several of the most marked features of a county market-town more strongly accentuated than usual.
Arriving at Fairminster about half-past. one, Philip felt hungry. “No good worrying your mind on an empty stomach,” he said to himself, as he sat down to cold ribs of beef, hot potatoes, and sound draught Burton ale. Then being soon satisfied that he should not have to think upon the dreaded empty stomach, he lit his briar, and sauntered out of the hotel into the pleasantly wooded environs of the town.
His spaniels followed happily at his heels, but beyond their occasional interchange of barks there was nothing to break the stillness of the air except the drowsy hum of insects or the occasional note of a wild bird.
On he went till he came to some felled and lopped trees lying in a vacant space by the roadside, and on one of these he sat, wondering whether sitting on a fallen tree might not somehow give him inspiration much in the same way that sitting on a three-legged stool with no seat to it over a vaporous hole in the ground inspired the priestess at Delphi, and he laughed at the quaintness of the idea.
There are certain lengths of distance in the Dutch canal where the bargemen calculate the ground they have covered, or have got to cover, by the number of pipes that can be smoked in its transit, saying, for instance, “It is four pipes to Utderdam, and from there it will be six pipes to Zuyprecken; so we can get to Zuyprecken in good time for supper, and at Zuyprecken the schnapps is good.”
In a frame of mind as philosophical as this Philip at last rose from his tree. “Five briars this sime," said he looking fondly at his favourite pipe, “ought to be time enough to any man with nerve to decide, even were it to be between peace and war. Thank Heaven I never had any difficulty from the first; but it is always pleasant, if you can, to come to the ultimate conclusion that you have been right all along. Now I must walk back, and after dinner I will tell my mother what result I have arrived at. Never talk business before dinner, or at any rate immediately before it. I know it puts you off your feed, and I have been told on credible authority that it injures your digestion. So, too, do gin and bitters, but—here we are," and he strolled through the open portals of “The Chequers," and ordered a wine-glass full of that invigorating giver of appetite for which it can, at any rate, be claimed that it is not, like absinthe, a distinct poison, judging by the results the latter produces if taken with sufficient devotion and perseverance.
After a kindly word to the landlady and the barmaid, Philip left the inn and commenced striding home with his immense long swinging, almost slouching step, through the streets where everybody knew him by sight, and where none had a bad word for him, and along the country lanes, reached after eleven miles, accomplished, to be exact, in two hours and thirteen minutes, the long shadow thrown by his across the road.
Mrs. Ainslie was standing at the gate, -not waiting for her son, but out of habit,—and she waved her handkerchief to him as he came up towards her with the spaniels at his heels.
“We'll have dinner, mother," he said ; "and then I will tell you the conclusions I have arrived at, and submit them to your approval.”
His mother smiled, and he presently descended from his chamber radiant in fresh linen, and redolent of that most homely of cosmetics, brown Windsor soap.
AFTER a meal, in which his own share would have done credit to Gargantua, Philip, in the plainest possible fashion, without hinting or suggesting, but laying down proposition after proposition as simply and yet completely as if he were demonstrating some problem in Euclid, with its “therefores” following each other like the links of a chain, gave his mother the whole of his mind.
Now it may be as well to say at once what it was that Philip had determined to do, and how he had abandoned his intention when he saw what pain it would be likely to cause his mother.
He had become, even so early in life, tired of the same trees, the same meadows, every square foot of which he could have mapped out, the same brook with its trout, and the same town with the same market-place, the same farmers round about the doors of “The Lion,” and “The Chequers," and “The Dragon," and “The Golden Heart," of the saddlers, of the old dealer in corn and seed, and of the veterinary surgeon, the same little knots of townsfolk discussing as usual whether it would rain to-morrow, whether turnips would be any more than an average crop, whether there would be a good show of cubs at which to enter the young hounds, and whether it was true that Sir Jacob, the member for the Eastern Division, was so drunk the other night in the House of Commons that he actually awoke to the fact himself and abruptly concluded a rambling incoherent soliloquy with the emphatic remark,“Those are my sentiments, Mr. Speaker; they have been my sentiments from a boy. There is no element of party feeling in them; and by adherence to them England will once again become the England of Pitt and of Burleigh, of Fox, Newcastle, and North."
The dream of Philip's life had been to travel from the East to the Western Ind. He knew, of course, that exploring was hopelessly beyond his reach. He was quite aware that you must be a very rich man indeed to equip yourself with waggons and bullocks, and make an attempt to see what there is six or seven hundred miles beyond the furthest known point on the Congo.
All this, as I have said, Philip clearly and fully explained to his mother. Mrs. Ainslie was less astonished than he thought, but it may be mentioned that she happened to be a very shrewd lady indeed. She could, to use a homely proverb, see as far into a brick wall as can most people. And if your vision is equal to even an attempt upon a brick wall, you may satisfy yourself that you are quite as intelligent as your neighbours, and probably
So the estimable lady listened to her son with all the judicial solemnity of a Burleigh, and finally put a very terrible question.
even more so.
“How long,” she asked, “ has all this nonsense been fermenting in your head ?”
“I am not at all sure that it is nonsense, dear mother. But it has been fermenting, as you call it, for some time. Indeed, it ought to have been bunged down and in the cellar a long time ago. That, however, is my loss and my laziness; and I can now only tell you that you know everything that I have to say."
“ Then you had better also know, my dear, that what you have to say has made your mother very unhappy and unquiet. She had always looked forward to your being, and she knows you would be if you were at home, a comfort and support to her in her old age. But she sees it all now, and is sorry if she has been selfish. You shall do as you please, my son, and it will perhaps, after all, make me the happier for you to do so." And Mrs. Ainslie got up out of her arm-chair, her state dress (always donned on important family occasions) rustling like a copse in autumn, and came towards him. Philip had his arms round her before she had advanced three yards.
“ All right, dearest mother, I shall never oppose your wishes. You may consider everything settled as you desire. And you may be sure I should never have acted against your views in the slightest degree. I owe you, and you only, everything in this world; and now you must have your tea, for look, it is past bedtime, and when you are off upstairs I will just have a smoke in the library, and to-morrow morning we will meet as usual at breakfast and settle matters without any argument. That will be easy enough, as we are quite agreed upon them. I will be up early, and I shall come to you fresh from the mill tail. And, unless the sunset misled me to-night, which I don't think it did, there will be my trout to-morrow for breakfast, as well as your ham and eggs. Some people say trout are the better for keeping a day or two. What a pleasant world it would be if there were not so many fools in it!”
And so mother and son parted; the former going off to her room, and the latter, who was no better than most young men of his age, to the library, where the Annual Register, the Encyclopædia Britannica, and some antiquated volumes of a similar description, some old novels, such as Thaddeus of Warsaw ; Shake