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XIII Edward Shaw

I SOON discovered that my fellow students regarded the professors as bores, and their lectures a dreary farce. Attendance was compulsory, and enforced with fines and other penalties; otherwise the classes had become presently extinct. I make an exception in favour of the women. They always regularly attended, and seemed to put up with the infliction cheerfully. To them were assigned the front rows of benches, and it was noteworthy that most of the lecturers frankly addressed their discourse to the front benches alone. The men “cut” lectures whenever they could afford it, and lounged about the common-rooms smoking and gambling at cards. The few who seemed to take life seriously, and to be students with a purpose, were left completely to their own devices, and were looked upon by the remainder with good-humoured contempt. There were about 200 freshmen in the first year.


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Of these a third resided in the various colleges, and the others, like myself, boarded out or lived with their relations in the city. At first I tried honestly enough to acquire whatever benefit might be derivable from the lectures. I paid the greatest attention to all that passed, and took copious notes. With the exception, however, of Mathematics and English, two subjects presided over by really eminent speakers and able scholars, Professors Gurney and McCallum, I was presently obliged to concur in the opinion of the majority, that time was wasted in attempting to absorb addresses which were no doubt profound, but unhappily obscured with verbiage, stilted and halting. The trouble was that each lecturer had a different system of delivery, which he made no effort to render either interesting or intelligible, and, saving the exceptions I have mentioned, they appeared to consider their offices as sinecures. Perhaps they were very learned and earnest men; they were certainly dry as dust, and only occasionally comprehensible. I unhesitatingly declare that from any ordinary examination coach could be obtained more purposeful information in a week than from the lectures of all the professors in a quarter. In spite of my resolute desire to profit, I very soon adopted the plan of conducting my studies in my bedroom, and reading novels during hours of class. These methods of mine rendered me an acceptable companion to the unstudious spirits, and for a week or two I enjoyed a sort of quiet popularity. But when it was ascertained that I was unwilling to disturb the professors by blowing horns, stamping feet, whistling, and making other idiotic noises during class, and, moreover, when one day I inconsiderately confessed that I cared nothing for either football or cricket, games for which the majority appeared to exist, I was voted an undesirable, and avoided.

This, however, was not to my fancy. It was to my advantage to make as many friends as possible, both in order to render my University life agreeable, and for the sake of my future career.

The question arose, how to achieve this object! Nearly every freshman was either a footballer or a cricketer; most cricketers were also footballers. They were, for the most


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part, uncouth, recently emancipated schoolboys, who cared for nothing seriously, except sport, cutting lectures, and larking with rowdy girls (not students); two of which amusements I heartily disliked. Very few of them were gentlemen by birth, but nearly all sons of tradesmen, publicans, or wealthy parvenus. The gentlemen's sons, with one or two exceptions, formed a coterie apart, and only mingled with the others for the sake of football or cricket. Oh, that eternal football and cricket! I grew to detest the very names. But I foresaw that if I wished to make friends I must conquer my aversion, and learn the wretched games; for no one would consent to converse for longer than five minutes upon any other subject under heaven. I took the plunge at last, joined the sports' union, and paid a year's subscription. The football season had just commenced. I was put into a junior team, and obliged to spend all my afternoons practising among a lot of shouting hoodlums. Fortunately, I had a turn of speed, and good staying powers, in spite of my spare and weedy frame. These facts induced John Voyce, the captain of the III. B's, the name of my fifteen, to take a rather special interest in me. He explained at length the Rugby rules, and taught me how to smuggle a try, sneak the ball out of a scrum, punt, fend, and collar; “always collar low,” was the advice he particularly strove to instil. Poor man, if he had but known; the very idea of tackling a running giant, all bony knees and elbows, made my very marrow freeze. But I advanced; I skilfully concealed my cowardice, and was actually picked as quarter-back for the first match that we played. It took place at Ryde. Our opponents were miners, all heavy, full grown men, twice our size and weight. But we beat them, and by great good luck I secured two touches. I was the hero of the hour, and so delighted that, although my pockets were picked during the game of a couple of sovereigns, I did not regret the loss.

Next morning, my appearance at the common-room was greeted with a shout, and crowds clustered round me wherever I went. My next bid for popularity was at the card table. The favourite games played were euchre, solo whist, and “kitty nap.” I was fairly skilful at all three,


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from having often watched members of the Dogs' Push playing. Larrikins prefer gambling and dancing to all other human pleasures. Now, from long experience I knew that men love to win and hate to lose, larrikins at all events, and somehow I did not rate my new companions very much higher than the old. I therefore resolved to lose. It was quite easy. Luckily the stakes were trifling; a shilling a game for euchre, and a penny per point for whist and “nap.” I discovered that my loss of a few shillings put my opponents in the best of humours with themselves, and delighted them with me. They loved to play with me. Naturally I took good care to lose very little, and gradually less and less. Many of them were cheats. Often in a game of nap, when several were playing, two would be secretly partners, and play into each other's hands. I pretended to notice nothing. I grew quickly popular, but made no real friends; why, I do not in the least understand even now. None of the town students invited me to their homes, and although I was always made welcome at the colleges, particularly at John's, there was no pretence at inviting me for any other purpose than to play cards or billiards, and I believe that had I commenced to win, even these invitations would have ceased. I became very weary of attempting to please everybody. In three weeks I made so little progress that I almost despaired. I wanted to conquer at once, and I foresaw that I should not conquer at all. At last I determined to ingratiate myself with the gentlemen if I could. There were not more than a dozen in my year, but I fancied they enjoyed more real influence than the rest; for although they were not popular—in fact, the others professed to regard them as “stuck up” snobs—I noticed that everyone did their best to enter the exclusive little clique whenever occasion offered. But it was hard; they were standoffish and suspicious. I used to engage them separately in conversation. They would talk to me courteously enough, until one of their own set arrived; then stroll off arm in arm. One of them sat next to me in the Greek class, a man of twenty-five or six, named Edward Shaw. His father occupied an important post in the civil service of the Colony. He was a tall, rather good-looking fellow, who rejoiced in a pair of dark


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moustachios, which were the envy of the whole University. He looked physically experienced and intelligent rather than mentally, but he was in reality a clever fellow. I admired his eyes, which were bold and insolent, although kindly in expression. He was very formal in his manner towards me; always polite, but cold. He seemed to be a society man, and to have built around himself a prickly hedge of polished habits, which suited him perfectly, but which I found very irritating. I wanted to climb the hedge, but I did not know how without hurting myself. All the conventionalities which I daily made acquaintance with annoyed me beyond words. We had no conventions in the Push. One day I said to Shaw during class, “Are you doing anything this evening?”

He shook his head. “Why, may I ask?”

“Will you dine with me, and go to the theatre afterwards?” It was in this manner that I first attacked the hedge.

“I haven't the honour of your acquaintance!” he replied, civilly, but —— Bah! was it not ridiculous? I knew it was absurd and nonsensically high-flown, but that did not prevent me from feeling snubbed. My cheeks flamed as I muttered back: “Forgive me; I forgot your sex!”

The colour mounted into his face. He looked startled, and twirled his moustaches as though to reassure himself about the sex upon which I had reflected.

“What do you mean?” he demanded.

“The answer of a woman!” I retorted.

He flushed and paled, then lost his temper. “I'll punch your head for you afterwards!” he said.

“The threat of a child!” I muttered.

He was silent for some time, then, during a lull in Professor Scott's remarks, he turned and whispered, “Who the dickens are you?”

“Lucas Rowe.”

“Where do you come from?”

This was the first time I had been so questioned. No one had before evinced the least curiosity in my antecedents. But I had long been prepared.

“England,” I replied.




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“Do you live with your people?”

“I have none; I am an orphan!”

“Why did you come out here?”

“For my health. I could not stand the English climate.”

“What was your father?”

Oh, these gentlemen! “A great musician!” I replied, and it was true, though then I did not know it; but all my vague memories of my father were indelibly associated with music.

Edward Shaw appeared surprised. “Queer!” he observed. “I don't know the name.”

I shrugged my shoulders, and muttered insolently, “He was a rich man, and a gentleman; he did not play to amuse the crowd!”

“Oh!” said Edward Shaw.

Afterwards he did not offer to assault me; but next day he asked me, Could I play the piano?

“No,” said I, “but almost anything else.”

“What, then?”

“The concertina!”

He looked shocked. I went on, “The violin, the tin whistle, the cornet, the mouth-organ, the kettle-drum, the Jew's harp. Is that enough?”

He raised his eyebrows. “Quite!”

“You know you are a snob, don't you?” I enquired, softly.

He started back as though he had been struck. “Eh, what!” he cried.

“You and your friends!” I proceeded, tranquilly. “You affect to contemn people of doubtful origin, and utterly despise the offspring of trade. Do you think I haven't noticed the way that you, who think yourselves ‘swells’ no doubt, keep aloof from the crowd as though you were fashioned from another sort of clay? Go back a little. Take yourself. Your father is in a gentleman's position. But what was your grandfather? a convict, perhaps!”

Edward Shaw turned white to the lips with fury.

“What was your grandfather?” he muttered.

“Did it hurt?” I asked, with a smile.




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“Who told you?” he demanded; he had recovered his composure.

“Do you mean to say I struck home?” I gasped.

He nodded.

I felt myself an utter brute. “On my honour, Shaw,” I whispered, “I knew nothing. I wouldn't have hurt your feelings for the world.”

“Oh, come off!”

“I have given you my word!” To be truthful, I was covered with remorse. I cannot bear to hurt anything that lives. I am so much a coward of pain that even reflected pain hurts me.

“He was a political prisoner,” muttered Shaw; “not a common lag!”

“I am sorry.”

“No need. I have nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Believe me, I intended no insult!”

He looked into my eyes. “Yes, I believe you!”

“Then shake hands!”

He smiled, and we shook hands underneath the desk. “I felt like murder just now!” he whispered.

“I don't blame you.”

“You are staying at the Kentish, are you not?”

“Yes!”

“Well off?”

“Fairly.”

“What do you intend to do afterwards?”

“How do you mean?”

“What are you going to be?”

“I hope to enter politics! And you?”

“Medicine.”

“Silence in the class!” shouted Professor Scott, and the ladies in the front benches glanced at us reprovingly.

Shaw wrote upon a piece of paper, and passed it to me. I read:

“Why do you waste your time with the riff-raff? Cards and so on. You always lose; and you'll never make a footballer. I've watched you play. You funk like the deuce. They all say so, too, behind your back. Voyce only keeps you in the team because you can run!”




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I coloured to the eyes. Shaw was attentively studying his book. I mentally thanked him for his delicacy.

I wrote: “I know no one in Sydney. I must have something to do to pass the time. But thanks for your hint about football. I'll cut it.”

Back came his answer: “What about cards? It does you no good to play; you'll get the name of being a gambler, possibly that of a cheat.”

I replied, “Perhaps you can suggest a better occupation?”

He turned and looked at me. “Study!” he muttered.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I read a great deal.”

“Society?”

I smiled. “How? I need a cicerone.”

“I am at your service.”

“Thanks.”

“Lunch with me after class!”

“I can't; I have promised to take a hand at euchre in the common-room.”

He shrugged his shoulders, and said no more. But I was palpitating with pleasure. I felt that at last I had won a friend.

When class was over, I made my way to the common-room, where I found three medical students awaiting me—Burn, Somerset, and Graves. We immediately sat down before a table, and the cards were dealt. Edward Shaw strolled into the room, and stood behind my chair. In the very second round Burn revoked. It was passed by in silence by the others; but it struck me as an opportunity, if properly managed, to end the game. In reality I wanted to get away with Shaw. I looked at Burn. “You revoked!” I observed.

“No!” he cried. “I did nothing of the kind.”

“Yes!” I insisted.

“You are a liar!” he retorted, and threw the cards into a heap, so that the issue could not be determined.

A crowd instantly collected. Burn bent across the table and struck me in the mouth. “He accused me of cheating!” he explained, addressing the others.

I stood up shaking in every limb. Already Burn had thrown off his coat. There was a deadly silence in the


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room. The door was locked, the window blinds were drawn, and a ring formed, all with the noiselessness and speed of magic. But Edward Shaw stepped forward.

“It's not fair,” he protested. “Burn is twice Rowe's weight and size.”

“He called me a cheat!” shouted Burn. “Besides, he's taller than me.”

“You are a cheat,” retorted Shaw, “I saw you revoke distinctly. What I have to propose is this: I'll take Rowe's place. You can fight me!”

I was thrilled with wildest gratitude. My terror was so great that I was perfectly willing to let anyone take my place. But Burn was not! He growled out, “You mind your own business. I have nothing to do with you!”

“You are a coward!” said Shaw, contemptuously; “a cheat and a coward!”

But the room was at that cast into a commotion. They were nearly all medical students present; second year's men; and they did not like to see one of their set baited by a freshman in arts. None of them had seen Burn revoke, and opinion was much divided as to the merits of the case. In a moment, however, Shaw was offered a dozen opponents who vociferously expressed their unselfish willingness to blacken both his eyes. In the confusion I found time to think. I perceived that if I did not stand forward, and take my own part, Shaw must think me cowardly. For the opinion of the others I cared very little, but for Shaw's, much. I wished to attach him to me as a friend, and I decided that he would not respect me if I failed in manliness. With a terrible effort I forced my fainting courage to the front. I felt that I was going to execution, but it was necessary. “Gentlemen!” I cried, as loudly as I could.

They ceased their clamour to attend to me.

“This is my quarrel!” I said, trying hard to subdue the tremors of my limbs. “My quarrel entirely. It was no doubt kind and chivalrous of Shaw to take my part, but I cannot thank him for his action. He appears to think I cannot take care of myself. I can! If Burns will step out I shall show you. He may beat me, for he's bigger than me, but that won't make him any the less a cheat. I did


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not call him a cheat till now. I merely said he had revoked. I thought perhaps he might have revoked accidentally, but his conduct has proved that it was not an accident. He gave me no opportunity of proving my accusation, for immediately I had spoken he mixed up the cards. Was that the act of an innocent man?”

“Liar!” cried Burn, and sprang into the ring.

Somerset, who had been my partner in the game, came to me. “I'll second you!” he said.

“You be hanged!” said Shaw. “There'd be no occasion for this if you and Evan had spoken out.”

“I did not see him revoke!” protested Somerset.

“Nor I!” cried Evan.

“You did not see him mix the cards, I suppose?”

“No.”

“Bah!” said Shaw, “you were blind, then!”

“Look here, Shaw. If fight's your game, I'm ready for you.”

“Wherever and whenever you please!” replied Shaw, with frank contempt, and, turning to me, helped me off with my coat.

The ring had re-formed, and I stepped forward, white to the lips, and shaking like a leaf. I prayed that the others would think my agitation caused by rage, but, as a fact, I was in a panic.

Burn rushed at me. I fell back before him, with clenched hands outstretched, not even striking, so deep was my preoccupation, until I at last fell against the clothes' cupboards.

Time was called, and I felt like death. I had been badly punished on the body, but my face was not touched. Burn, a big, red-headed fellow, was panting with fury.

Again we stood face to face. Again he rushed at me. Something forced me to extend my left hand. I drew it back bruised. A blow on my neck made me choke. In a sort of desperation, fighting more for breath than against my adversary, I struck out wildly. How it came to pass I do not know, but in a few seconds I found myself standing alone, oppressed with a sense of unreality. The whole affair seemed to be happening to another man. I thought I


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was reading and trying to realise the feelings of another man situated like myself. I was dazed and dreaming. I wondered why the attack had ceased, then, looking slowly to the floor, perceived Burn lying quite still, covered with blood, and breathing heavily.

“Time!” cried someone.

Burn did not move. Somerset and Evan went to examine him.

“His nose is broken, simply smashed,” said Evan.

“The work of a ring!” said another.

“No!” I cried, waking to sudden life; “I don't possess a ring.”

“A fist like a leg of mutton!” said Somerset.

I looked at my hand. It was small and delicately formed; but there was blood upon the knuckles. I shuddered. Everyone watched me in a sort of vague awe.

“Better carry him to the bath room,” said Shaw. “Come, Rowe, put on your coat.”

“But——” I objected.

“The fight is over, man. You don't want any more, do you?”

“No.”

“Come, then!”

The crowd melted, following the unconscious Burn.

“He's not dead, is he?” I asked, shuddering violently.

Shaw laughed. “No, old chap. Let us come to lunch,” and he led me away. “Do you know,” he said presently, “I believe it was an accident that you floored him. You can't fight a bit.”

“Shaw,” I muttered, “I don't know how it happened. I feel like death.”

He put his arm round my shoulder. “You are shaking. Don't faint!” he cried.

“No, I won't faint”; but as I uttered the words, I swayed. He hurried me into a waiting hansom; presently the air revived me.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Home.”

“To your house?”

“My father's.”




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“Why are you taking me there?”

“Do you mind? My cousin wants to meet you.”

“No, I do not mind. But for yourself, Shaw—are you not rather venturesome?”

“How do you mean?”

“You know nothing of me. I may be a wolf in sheep's clothing.”

He laughed gaily. “Was your grandfather a convict too?” he asked.

His frank and manly reference to his own family misfortune taught me my duty. I could not help deceiving him in part, for I was not my own master; but I could not bear to be an utter hypocrite. “Stop the cab!” I said suddenly.

“Why?”

“Do you know what I am?”

“Tell me!”

“I have only a Roman right to the name I bear.”

“You mean?”

“It is my mother's.”

Shaw smiled. “I like you for telling me that, Rowe. I thought you had a story the first time I ever set eyes on you. Something in your face——”

“Shaw,” I urged, “you have not stopped the cab!”

He smiled again, and answered musingly, “The bar sinister is not a great thing, Rowe. Our governor is sprung from Nell Gwynne.”

“He is an earl!”

“You could not help yourself, old boy.”

“Shaw, I am commencing to think you are broad-minded.”

“I am beginning to think the same thing myself,” he answered. “Have you a cigarette about you?”

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