The Master of St. Benedict's (Complete)
Alan St. Aubyn
Library of Alexandria
The Master of St. Benedict's had got as much out of life as most men. His had been a longer life than is allotted to many men—it had exceeded four score. There had been room in these eight decades for all the things that men desire: for ambition, for wealth, for the world's favour, for success—well-earned success—and for love. There had also been distinction, and the soft, delightful voice of praise had not been silent. The success and the distinction had come early in life, and the love had come late. In the nature of things it could not have come earlier. It came in time to crown the rest of the good gifts that Providence had poured into the lap of the Master of St. Benedict's. It had been his already for twenty years, and it was his still. Surely we are right in saying that he had got as much out of life as most men? He had begun life on a bleak Yorkshire moor, following the plough over his father's fields. A kindly North Riding vicar, noting the boy's taste for reading, and his inaptitude for the drudgery of the farm, had placed him at his own cost at the grammar school of the adjoining town. With a small scholarship the Yorkshire ploughboy came up to Cambridge. He came up with a very few loose coins in the pocket of his homely-cut clothes, and with a broad North-country dialect as barbarous as the cut of his coat. He was the butt of all the witty men of St. Benedict's during his freshman's year. He was the subject of all the rough practical jokes which undergraduates in old days were wont to play upon impecunious youths who had the audacity to elbow them out of the highest places in the examinations. He had survived the practical jokes, and he had stayed 'up' when the witty men had gone 'down.' He had won the highest honours of his year, and in due course he had been promoted to a college Fellowship. Everything had come in delightful sequence: honour, riches, distinction, love. It had all fallen out exactly as he would have had it to fall out. He might have liked the love to have come earlier—he had waited for it forty years: it came at sixty, and he had enjoyed it for over twenty years! When Anthony Rae had come up to Cambridge, a poor scholar from a country grammar school, he had set before himself two things that seemed at the time equally impossible. He had set before himself the winning of a high place, perhaps the highest, among the great scholars of his great University, and he had also set before himself—in his secret heart—the hope of winning, to share this distinction with him, the daughter of the kind friend who had paved the way to distinction and honour. He had achieved both these things—the dearest wishes of his heart—but he had to serve a longer apprenticeship than most men. He had to wait forty years. Rachel Thorne was worth waiting for. She was a child when he went away to college; she had run down to the Vicarage gate after him on that memorable morning to wish him 'good luck,' and she had stood watching him until a turn of the road hid him from her eyes. She had watched for him turning that corner many times since. She had met him at the gate of the dear old Yorkshire Vicarage when he came back, term after term, a modest undergraduate blushing beneath his well-earned honours, with the eager question on her lips: 'What great things, have you done this term, Anthony?' She always expected him to do great things, and he justified her faith in him. Perhaps her girlish faith had more to do with his success than he dreamed of. It was his beacon through all his lonely hours, and it had led him onward to distinction and honour. She was brown-haired and fresh-cheeked when he went away; she was a middle-aged woman, with silver streaks in her brown hair, when he came back and asked her to share with him the honours he had won.