Tales of College Life/"Aeger;" or, Mistaken Identity/Chapter 7

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Tales of College Life by Cuthbert Bede
"Aeger;" or, Mistaken Identity
Chapter 7



The Old Boy was as good as his word, and at once made his way to his son's rooms. It was not the first time that he had visited them, so that he had not to inquire his road, but, with unfaltering memory and with unswerving steps, walked across the correct "quad.," laboured up the correct staircase, and paused to regain breath at the correct "oak," which was surmounted with the name of "Wylde."

"Come in!" cried a faint voice, in reply to the tap at the door; and, saluted by the furious barking of" Mac," the Old Boy walked into the room, and immediately gave vent to exclamations of the greatest surprise at the very unexpected tableau vivant that met his gaze. Percie had made the best use of the few minutes that intervened between his own and his father's arrival, and had produced a stage effect that proved his dramatic powers to be of no ordinary kind. The scout being fortunately in the way, a basin containing a gruelly compound had been extemporised, and placed judiciously upon the table, in company with a stout physic-bottle, and a wine-glass. Drawn up to the table was a sofa; and, reclining languidly thereupon, his feeble body supported by the pillows from his bed, was the figure of Mr. Percival Wylde, denuded of coat, waist coat, neckcloth, and boots, and clad in a loose dressing-gown and slippers. His pallid features betokened, either the rapid inroads of his malady, or the superficial use of a certain cretaceous tooth-powder. A close scrutiny would, perhaps, have enabled the spectator to determine under which head he might assign the palor; but the window-blind was drawn down, and a dim religious light pervaded the apartment. As the Old Boy entered the room, Mr. Percival Wylde was lying back upon his pillows, apparently engaged in sipping the gruellous compound.

"Why, Percie! good gracious! can it be you?" gasped the Old Boy.

"Why father! good gracious! can it be you?" responded Percie, in a weak voice, like an echo in a consumption.

"Why—how—eh—what—you—eh!" gasped the Old Boy, in a fit of unintelligible monosyllables, which, if they were meant to express what was passing in his mind, ought to have been expanded into these words: "Why, how did you get here, when I have just left you in London? Can I have been deceived after all? Was it really a stranger to whom I spoke at Hyde Park Corner? And yet, it was a very great likeness. But then, there are great likenesses in the world. Oh! of course, it must have been a stranger: my own son would not have denied himself to his own father. Bless my life! how I have wronged the poor lad by my suspicions! And so wretchedly ill as he is, too! How shall I forgive myself? But, am I obliged, therefore, to confess my mistake to my son, and expose my own head strong blunder? Shall I show him that I have suspected him without a cause? No! I must let him suppose that I am come up to see him solely in consequence of having received the information of his illness. Poor lad! how I have wronged him, to be sure."

The Old Boy was assisted to the conclusion of his mental plan of action by Percie saying, "It was very kind of you to run up to see me; but, when I wrote to tell you that I was æger, I had no thought that I should thus put you to the trouble of coming up to Oxford, or I would not have said a word about my illness."

"Trouble! my dear Percie," said the Old Boy, really relieved at his son putting this construction on his visit: "as soon as I knew that you were ill, I could not rest until I had seen you."

"That's a thumper!" thought Percie.

"And so, I said to your mother, I don't feel at all comfortable about Percie, until I have seen that he has got proper advice."

"That 's another!" thought Percie.

"So I at once came up to Oxford, without delay—"

"Thumper the third!" thought Percie.

"And I am quite grieved to find you such an invalid, and looking so miserably pale."

"The tooth-powder is a success!" thought Percie.

"I am afraid you have been studying a great deal too hard. You should be careful about yourself, Percie, and not overtax your constitution. You should n't burn the—what is it?—the midnight oil, too much, you know." And the Old Boy said to himself, "Bless my life! how I have wronged the poor lad!"

"Oh! I am much better," said Percie, making a show of an attempt at cheerfulness, and thinking that the Old Boy would probably have changed his idea of his son's use of the midnight oil, if he had been one of the wine-party that had tenanted that apartment last night, and had clouded the midnight oil with the fumes of tobacco until the small hours of the morning;—"I am much better, though still on the æger list, and under the Doctor's hands, as you see. But I hope this is my last day of living on slops, for it is not very agreeable fare. I can't ask you to join me; but I will soon get you some thing from the Buttery, or the Confectioner. At any rate, I can give you a glass of something better than this;" and Percie indicated the medicine bottle. "By the way, it is my time for taking it. But, no! I will postpone it for awhile—I think I may throw the Doctor over this once."

"Certainly, my dear Percie," said the Old Boy; "'throw physic to the dogs'—as What's-his-name says in the play—and take a glass of port instead. You look as though you wanted something strengthening. Those doctors are always on the lowering system: it makes good for their trade."

"Well! I really should like a glass of port," said Percie, with the air of a man whom circumstances had compelled to be a stranger to such a luxury: "and I think I may venture on one, if it 's only to drink your good health."

"Of course! certainly!" said the Old Boy; "it can't do you any harm, and it may put some colour in your cheeks. Your mother would be quite distressed if she were to see you looking so pale. Where have you felt your chief pain?"

"Chiefly here," replied the sick man, with a subdued smile, as he laid his hand over the region of his heart, and placed the port wine upon the table. "The symptoms have been unusually severe to-day. Let me fill your glass."

"Thank you, Percie! and fill your own also; I 'm sure it won't do you any harm. And here 's to your better health!" said the Old Boy. And as the wine gurgled in his throat, he thought, "Bless my life! how I have wronged the poor lad. His mother would be quite distressed to see him."

And thus Mr. Wylde senior was filled with the deepest repentance for the imaginary wrong he had done his son, in supposing that he had met him at Hyde Park Corner, when he had been lying so ill and pale in his Oxford rooms. And after the Scout had cleared away the remains of the dainty little banquet that had been sent in by the Confectioner,—in which feast Mr. Percival Wylde did eat more than was benefiting for the character of an æger man; excusing himself, however, on the presumptive medical fact, that heart complaints brought on great voracity of appetite when this banquet had been brought to a satisfactory termination, and when the Old Boy had been well warmed with a further supply of port—a generous beverage forwarded from his own cellars—he, then and there, in order to make an atonement for his unworthy suspicions of his son, did, in the noblest manner, fill up for him a cheque for double the amount he had asked for.

"But you will soon throw the doctor over," said the Old Boy, as he looked at Percie, whose face had been cleared of the tooth-powder. "These doctors always keep to the lowering system. You already look fifty per cent. better for having had a good dinner and a glass of wine, instead of slops and physic; and I hope that to-morrow I shall be able to take home a better account of you to your mother."

And the Old Boy did so; for Mr. Percival Wylde, who professed himself to be greatly benefited by his father's visit—which, at any rate, he was as to purse—with the Old Boy's departure was at once restored to perfect convalescence. And, as it happened, this was the last time that Mr. Percival Wylde was "æger."