“Who are your unshaven friends?” he heard as the door was closed behind them.
“Eleven o’clock,” said Crocker, as they went out of college. “I don’t feel sleepy; shall we stroll along the ‘High’ a bit?”
Shelton assented; he was too busy thinking of his encounter with the dons to heed the soreness of his feet. This, too, was the last day of his travels, for he had not altered his intention of waiting at Oxford till July.
“We call this place the heart of knowledge,” he said, passing a great building that presided, white and silent, over darkness; “it seems to me as little that, as Society is the heart of true gentility.”
Crocker’s answer was a grunt; he was looking at the stars, calculating possibly in how long he could walk to heaven.
“No,” proceeded Shelton; “we’ve too much common-sense up here to strain our minds. We know when it’s time to stop. We pile up news of Papias and all the verbs in ‘ui’ but as for news of life or of oneself! Real seekers after knowledge are a different sort. They fight in the dark—no quarter given. We don’t grow that sort up here.”
“How jolly the limes smell!” said Crocker.
He had halted opposite a garden, and taken hold of Shelton by a button of his coat. His eyes, like a dog’s, stared wistfully. It seemed as though he wished to speak, but feared to give offence.
“They tell you,” pursued Shelton, “that we learn to be gentlemen up here. We learn that better through one incident that stirs our hearts than we learn it here in all the time we’re up.”
“Hum!” muttered Crocker, twisting at the button; “those fellows who seemed the best sorts up here have turned out the best sorts afterwards.”
“I hope not,” said Shelton gloomily; “I was a snob when I was up here. I believed all I was told, anything that made things pleasant; my “set” were nothing but—”
Crocker smiled in the darkness; he had been too “cranky” to belong to Shelton’s “set.”
“You never were much like your ‘set,’ old chap,” he said.
Shelton turned away, sniffing the perfume of the limes. Images were thronging through his mind. The faces of his old friends strangely mixed with those of people he had lately met—the girl in the train, Ferrand, the lady with the short, round, powdered face, the little barber; others, too, and floating, mysterious,—connected with them all, Antonia’s face. The scent of the lime-trees drifted at him with its magic sweetness. From the street behind, the footsteps of the passers-by sounded muffled, yet exact, and on the breeze was borne the strain: “For he’s a jolly good fellow!”
“For he’s a jolly good fellow! For he’s a jolly good fe-ellow! And so say all of us!”
“Ah!” he said, “they were good chaps.”
“I used to think,” said Crocker dreamily, “that some of them had too much side.”