“You have been very good to me. I—I shall never forget it,” he murmured as he shook hands with Mrs. Ambrose. “And you, too, sir—” he added turning to the vicar. But the old clergyman cut him short, being himself rather uncertain about the throat.
“Good-bye, my lad. God bless you. We shall hear of you soon—showing them what you can do with your Alcaics—Good-bye.”
So John got into the dogcart and was driven off by the ancient Reynolds—past the “Duke’s Head,” past the “Feathers,” past the churchyard and the croft—the “croat,” they called it in Billingsfield—and on by the windmill on the heath, a hideous bit of grassless common euphemistically so named, and so out to the high-road towards the railway station, feeling very miserable indeed. It is a curious fact, too, in the history of his psychology that in proportion as he got farther from the vicarage he thought more and more of his old tutor and less and less of his unfinished dream, and he realised painfully that the vicar was nearly the only friend he had in the world. He would of course find Cornelius Angleside at Cambridge, but he suspected that Cornelius, turned loose among a merry band of undergraduates of his own position would be a very different person from the idle youth he had known at Billingsfield, trembling in the intervals of his idleness at the awful prospect of the entrance examination, and frantically attempting to master some bit of stray knowledge which might possibly be useful to him. Cornelius would hunt, would gamble, would go to the races and would give wines at college; John was to be a reading man who must avoid such things as he would avoid the devil himself, not only because he was too wretchedly poor to have any share whatever in the amusements of Cornelius and his set, but because every minute was important, every hour meant not only learning but meant, most emphatically, money. He thought of his poor father, grinding out the life of a literary hack in a wretched London lodging, dining Heaven knew where and generally supping not at all, saving every penny to help his son’s education, hard working, honest, lacking no virtue except the virtue of all virtues—success. Then he thought how he himself had been favoured by fortune during these last years, living under the vicar’s roof, treated with the same consideration as the high-born young gentlemen who had been his companions, living well, sleeping well and getting the best education in England for nothing or next to nothing, while that same father of his had never ceased to slave day and night with his pen, honestly doing his best and yet enjoying none of the good things of life. John thought of all this and set his teeth boldly to face the world. A few months, he thought, and he might have earned a scholarship—he might be independent. Then a little longer—less than three years—and he might, nay, he would, take high honours in the university and come back crowned with glory, with the prospect of a fellowship, with every profession open to him, with the world at his feet and with money in his hand to help his father out of all his troubles.