For a fortnight we heard nothing of him. Then suddenly he appeared again—on an evening when the College, having won the “Fours,” was commemorating its success by a bonfire in the big quad. A certain freshman, stealing down his staircase with a can of colza oil to feed the flames, was confronted by our missing Senior Fellow.
“No,” said the great scholar, “don’t be afraid, and don’t seek to hide that oil-can; but come in here.” And he led the way to his room.
This much is mere rumour; for the freshman was always reticent on the encounter, and what followed. But many who were present that night can bear witness that a big portmanteau appeared suddenly on the summit of the bonfire, and blazed merrily to ashes, having clearly been saturated with oil. Not until long after were its contents divined.
The Senior Fellow went back to his window above the bursar’s garden, though henceforward he dined but rarely in Common-room; and year by year scholars expected his edition of Athenaeus, until he died and left his desk full of notebooks to the youth who had carried the oil-can, and who in course of years had become junior don. Also his will expressed a wish that this, his favourite pupil, might be elected to succeed him as steward of Common-room.
The new steward, eager to fulfil his duties, made it his first business to inspect the college cellars. He found there abundance of old port, much fair claret, a bin of inestimable Madeira, several casks of more curious wines, and among them one labelled “For the Poor.”
It struck him as a pleasant trait in his dead friend, thus to have dispensed in charity that wine which doubtless had gone beyond its age, and become unfit for the Fellows’ palates. He drew a glassful and tasted it.
The first sip was a revelation. He returned to his rooms, wrote a score of letters inviting to dinner all the acknowledged connoisseurs of other colleges. When they had dined with him, and fallen into easy attitudes around the table, he introduced this wine casually among half a dozen others, and watched the result.
Not a man who tasted it would taste any other.
As for the notebooks—those priceless materials for the final edition of Athenaeus—they were empty, mere blank pages! Only in that labelled “No. 1” was there a scrap of the old scholar’s handwriting, and it began—
“Dulce cum sodalibus
Sapit vinum bonum:
Dulcius est donum:
Donum est dulcissimum
Spernit regis thronum!”