Read CHAPTER XVII - TRINITY COLLEGE. A LECTURE of Charles O' Malley‚ The Irish Dragoon Volume 1, free online book, by Charles Lever, on

I had not been many weeks a resident of Old Trinity ere the flattering reputation my chum, Mr. Francis Webber, had acquired, extended also to myself; and by universal consent, we were acknowledged the most riotous, ill-conducted, disorderly men on the books of the university. Were the lamps of the squares extinguished, and the college left in total darkness, we were summoned before the dean; was the vice-provost serenaded with a chorus of trombones and French horns, to our taste in music was the attention ascribed; did a sudden alarm of fire disturb the congregation at morning chapel, Messrs. Webber and O’Malley were brought before the board, and I must do them the justice to say that the most trifling circumstantial evidence was ever sufficient to bring a conviction. Reading men avoided the building where we resided as they would have done the plague. Our doors, like those of a certain classic precinct commemorated by a Latin writer, lay open night and day, while mustached dragoons, knowingly dressed four-in-hand men, fox-hunters in pink, issuing forth to the Dubber or returning splashed from a run with the Kildare hounds, were everlastingly seen passing and repassing. Within, the noise and confusion resembled rather the mess-room of a regiment towards eleven at night than the chambers of a college student; while, with the double object of affecting to be in ill-health, and to avoid the reflections that daylight occasionally inspires, the shutters were never opened, but lamps and candles kept always burning. Such was N, Old Square, in the goodly days I write of. All the terrors of fines and punishments fell scathless on the head of my worthy chum. In fact, like a well-known political character, whose pleasure and amusement it has been for some years past to drive through acts of Parliament and deride the powers of the law, so did Mr. Webber tread his way, serpenting through the statute-book, ever grazing, but rarely trespassing upon some forbidden ground which might involve the great punishment of expulsion. So expert, too, had he become in his special pleadings, so dexterous in the law of the university, that it was no easy matter to bring crime home to him; and even when this was done, his pleas of mitigation rarely failed of success.

There was a sweetness of demeanor, a mild, subdued tone about him, that constantly puzzled the worthy heads of the college how the accusations ever brought against him could be founded on truth; that the pale, delicate-looking student, whose harsh, hacking cough terrified the hearers, could be the boisterous performer upon a key-bugle, or the terrific assailant of watchmen, was something too absurd for belief. And when Mr. Webber, with his hand upon his heart, and in his most dulcet accents, assured them that the hours he was not engaged in reading for the medal were passed in the soothing society of a few select and intimate friends of literary tastes and refined minds, who, knowing the delicacy of his health, here he would cough, were kind enough to sit up with him for an hour or so in the evening, the delusion was perfect; and the story of the dean’s riotous habits having got abroad, the charge was usually suppressed.

Like most idle men, Webber never had a moment to spare. Except read, there was nothing he did not do; training a hack for a race in the Phoenix, arranging a rowing-match, getting up a mock duel between two white-feather acquaintances, were his almost daily avocations. Besides that, he was at the head of many organized societies, instituted for various benevolent purposes. One was called “The Association for Discountenancing Watchmen;” another, “The Board of Works,” whose object was principally devoted to the embellishment of the university, in which, to do them justice, their labors were unceasing, and what with the assistance of some black paint, a ladder, and a few pounds of gunpowder, they certainly contrived to effect many important changes. Upon an examination morning, some hundred luckless “jibs” might be seen perambulating the courts, in the vain effort to discover their tutors’ chambers, the names having undergone an alteration that left all trace of their original proprietors unattainable: Doctor Francis Mooney having become Doctor Full Moon; Doctor Hare being, by the change of two letters, Doctor Ape; Romney Robinson, Romulus and Remus, etc. While, upon occasions like these, there could be but little doubt of Master Frank’s intentions, upon many others, so subtle were his inventions, so well-contrived his plots, it became a matter of considerable difficulty to say whether the mishap which befell some luckless acquaintance were the result of design or mere accident; and not unfrequently well-disposed individuals were found condoling with “Poor Frank” upon his ignorance of some college rule or etiquette, his breach of which had been long and deliberately planned. Of this latter description was a circumstance which occurred about this time, and which some who may throw an eye over these pages will perhaps remember.

The dean, having heard (and, indeed, the preparations were not intended to secure secrecy) that Webber destined to entertain a party of his friends at dinner on a certain day, sent a peremptory order for his appearance at Commons, his name being erased from the sick list, and a pretty strong hint conveyed to him that any evasion upon his part would be certainly followed by an inquiry into the real reasons for his absence. What was to be done? That was the very day he had destined for his dinner. To be sure, the majority of his guests were college men, who would understand the difficulty at once; but still there were some others, officers of the 14th, with whom he was constantly dining, and whom he could not so easily put off. The affair was difficult, but still Webber was the man for a difficulty; in fact, he rather liked one. A very brief consideration accordingly sufficed, and he sat down and wrote to his friends at the Royal Barracks thus:

Saturday. DEAR POWER, I have a better plan for Tuesday than that I had proposed. Lunch here at three (we’ll call it dinner), in the hall with the great guns. I can’t say much for the grub; but the company glorious! After that we’ll start for Lucan in the drag; take our coffee, strawberries, etc., and return to N for supper at ten. Advertise your fellows of this change, and believe me,

Most unchangeably yours, FRANK WEBBER.

Accordingly, as three o’clock struck, six dashing-looking light dragoons were seen slowly sauntering up the middle of the dining-hall, escorted by Webber, who, in full academic costume, was leisurely ciceroning his friends, and expatiating upon the excellences of the very remarkable portraits which graced the walls.

The porters looked on with some surprise at the singular hour selected for sight-seeing; but what was their astonishment to find that the party, having arrived at the end of the hall, instead of turning back again, very composedly unbuckled their belts, and having disposed of their sabres in a corner, took their places at the Fellows’ table, and sat down amidst the collective wisdom of Greek lecturers and Regius professors, as though they had been mere mortals like themselves.

Scarcely was the long Latin grace concluded, when Webber, leaning forward, enjoined his friends, in a very audible whisper, that if they intended to dine no time was to be lost.

“We have but little ceremony here, gentlemen, and all we ask is a fair start,” said he, as he drew over the soup, and proceeded to help himself.

The advice was not thrown away; for each man, with an alacrity a campaign usually teaches, made himself master of some neighboring dish, a very quick interchange of good things speedily following the appropriation. It was in vain that the senior lecturer looked aghast, that the professor of astronomy frowned. The whole table, indeed, were thunderstruck, even to the poor vice-provost himself, who, albeit given to the comforts of the table, could not lift a morsel to his mouth, but muttered between his teeth, “May the devil admire me, but they’re dragoons!” The first shock of surprise over, the porters proceeded to inform them that except Fellows of the University or Fellow-commoners, none were admitted to the table. Webber however assured them that it was a mistake, there being nothing in the statute to exclude the 14th Light Dragoons, as he was prepared to prove. Meanwhile dinner proceeded, Power and his party performing with great self-satisfaction upon the sirloins and saddles about them, regretting only, from time to time, that there was a most unaccountable absence of wine, and suggesting the propriety of napkins whenever they should dine there again. Whatever chagrin these unexpected guests caused among their entertainers of the upper table, in the lower part of the hall the laughter was loud and unceasing; and long before the hour concluded, the Fellows took their departure, leaving to Master Frank Webber the task of doing the honors alone and unassisted. When summoned before the board for the offence on the following morning, Webber excused himself by throwing the blame upon his friends, with whom, he said, nothing short of a personal quarrel a thing for a reading man not to be thought of could have prevented intruding in the manner related. Nothing less than his tact could have saved him on this occasion, and at last he carried the day; while by an act of the board the 14th Light Dragoons were pronounced the most insolent corps in the service.

An adventure of his, however, got wind about this time, and served to enlighten many persons as to his real character, who had hitherto been most lenient in their expressions about him. Our worthy tutor, with a zeal for our welfare far more praiseworthy than successful, was in the habit of summoning to his chambers, on certain mornings of the week, his various pupils, whom he lectured in the books for the approaching examinations. Now, as these séances were held at six o’clock in winter as well as summer, in a cold fireless chamber, the lecturer lying snug amidst his blankets, while we stood shivering around the walls, the ardor of learning must indeed have proved strong that prompted a regular attendance. As to Frank, he would have as soon thought of attending chapel as of presenting himself on such an occasion. Not so with me. I had not yet grown hackneyed enough to fly in the face of authority, and I frequently left the whist-table, or broke off in a song, to hurry over to the doctor’s chambers and spout Homer and Hesiod. I suffered on in patience, till at last the bore became so insupportable that I told my sorrows to my friend, who listened to me out, and promised me succor.

It so chanced that upon some evening in each week Dr. Mooney was in the habit of visiting some friends who resided a short distance from town, and spending the night at their house. He, of course, did not lecture the following morning, a paper placard, announcing no lecture, being affixed to the door on such occasions. Frank waited patiently till he perceived the doctor affixing this announcement upon his door one evening; and no sooner had he left the college than he withdrew the paper and departed.

On the next morning he rose early, and concealing himself on the staircase, waited the arrival of the venerable damsel who acted as servant to the doctor. No sooner had she opened the door and groped her way into the sitting-room than Frank crept forward, and stealing gently into the bedroom, sprang into the bed and wrapped himself up in the blankets. The great bell boomed forth at six o’clock, and soon after the sounds of the feet were heard upon the stairs. One by one they came along, and gradually the room was filled with cold and shivering wretches, more than half asleep, and trying to arouse themselves into an approach to attention.

“Who’s there?” said Frank, mimicking the doctor’s voice, as he yawned three or four times in succession and turned in the bed.

“Collisson, O’Malley, Nesbitt,” etc., said a number of voices, anxious to have all the merit such a penance could confer.

“Where’s Webber?”

“Absent, sir,” chorussed the whole party.

“Sorry for it,” said the mock doctor. “Webber is a man of first-rate capacity; and were he only to apply, I am not certain to what eminence his abilities might raise him. Come, Collisson, any three angles of a triangle are equal to are equal to what are they equal to?” Here he yawned as though he would dislocate his jaw.

“Any three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles,” said Collisson, in the usual sing-song tone of a freshman.

As he proceeded to prove the proposition, his monotonous tone seemed to have lulled the doctor into a doze, for in a few minutes a deep, long-drawn snore announced from the closed curtains that he listened no longer. After a little time, however, a short snort from the sleeper awoke him suddenly, and he called out, “Go on, I’m waiting. Do you think I can arouse at this hour of the morning for nothing but to listen to your bungling? Can no one give me a free translation of the passage?”

This digression from mathematics to classics did not surprise the hearers, though it somewhat confused them, no one being precisely aware what the line in question might be.

“Try it, Nesbitt, you, O’Malley. Silent all? Really this is too bad!” An indistinct muttering here from the crowd was followed by an announcement from the doctor that the speaker was an ass, and his head a turnip! “Not one of you capable of translating a chorus from Euripides, ’Ou, où, papai, papai,’ etc.; which, after all, means no more than, ’Oh, whilleleu, murder, why did you die!’ etc. What are you laughing at, gentlemen? May I ask, does it become a set of ignorant, ill-informed savages yes, savages, I repeat the word to behave in this manner? Webber is the only man I have with common intellect, the only man among you capable of distinguishing himself. But as for you, I’ll bring you before the board; I’ll write to your friends; I’ll stop your college indulgences; I’ll confine you to the walls; I’ll be damned, eh ”

This lapse confused him. He stammered, stuttered, endeavored to recover himself; but by this time we had approached the bed, just at the moment when Master Frank, well knowing what he might expect if detected, had bolted from the blankets and rushed from the room. In an instant we were in pursuit; but he regained his chambers, and double-locked the door before we could overtake him, leaving us to ponder over the insolent tirade we had so patiently submitted to.

That morning the affair got wind all over college. As for us, we were scarcely so much laughed at as the doctor; the world wisely remembering, if such were the nature of our morning’s orisons, we might nearly as profitably have remained snug in our quarters.

Such was our life in Old Trinity; and strange enough it is that one should feel tempted to the confession, but I really must acknowledge these were, after all, happy times, and I look back upon them with mingled pleasure and sadness. The noble lord who so pathetically lamented that the devil was not so strong in him as he used to be forty years before, has an echo in my regrets that the student is not as young in me as when these scenes were enacting of which I write.