This present phase of his life, however, was the outcome of much that was turbulent and shapeless in his first youth. He seemed to himself to have passed through Oxford under a kind of eclipse. All that he could remember of two-thirds of his time there was an immoderate amount of eating, drinking, and sleeping. A heavy animal existence, disturbed by moments of unhappiness and remorse, or, at best, lightened by intervals and gleams of friendship with two or three men who tried to prod him out of his lethargy, and cherished what appeared, to himself in particular, a strange and unreasonable liking for him. Such, to his own thinking, had been his Oxford life, up to the last year of his residence there.
Then, when he was just making certain of an ignominious failure in the final schools, he became more closely acquainted with one of the college tutors, whose influence was to be the spark which should at last fire the clay. This modest, heroic, and learned man was a paralyzed invalid, owing to an accident in the prime of life. He had lost the use of his lower limbs—“dead from the waist down.” Yet such was the strength of his moral and intellectual life that he had become, since the catastrophe, one of the chief forces of his college. The invalid-chair on which he wheeled himself, recumbent, from room to room, and from which he gave his lectures, was, in the eyes of Oxford, a symbol not of weakness, but of touching and triumphant victory. He gave himself no airs of resignation or of martyrdom. He simply lived his life—except during those crises of weakness or pain when his friends were shut out—as though it were like any other life, save only for what he made appear an insignificant physical limitation. Scholarship, college business or college sports, politics and literature—his mind, at least, was happy, strenuous, and at home in them all. To have pitied him would have been a mere impertinence. While in his own heart, which never grieved over himself, there were treasures of compassion for the weak, the tempted, and the unsuccessful, which spent themselves in secret, simple ways, unknown to his most intimate friends.
This man’s personality it was which, like the branch of healing on bitter waters, presently started in Jacob Delafield’s nature obscure processes of growth and regeneration. The originator of them knew little of what was going on. He was Delafield’s tutor for Greats, in the ordinary college routine; Delafield took essays to him, and occasionally lingered to talk. But they never became exactly intimate. A few conversations of “pith and moment”; a warm shake of the hand and a keen look of pleasure in the blue eyes of the recumbent giant when, after one year of superhuman but belated effort, Delafield succeeded in obtaining a second class; a little note of farewell, affectionate and regretful, when Delafield left the university; an occasional message through a common friend—Delafield had little more than these to look back upon, outside the discussions of historical or philosophical subjects which had entered into their relation as pupil and teacher.