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Play was, and still is, a notable feature of the school year. Except for Fernando's own part in it, it was always in his time thoroughly well done.
The rehearsing of the play took a good deal of time, as did that of the parts in the scenes from Latin, English, or French plays given on Speech Days: Fernando was a very slow "study and singularly awkward and stupid in his efforts to profit by the instruction of the masters who coached the actors.
In 1877 he became president of the school debating society, in which he had been a speaker from the time of his arrival. All these things, and his long walks and excursions, filled up the time out of school very agreeably. Only one of the many debates lingers at all in his memory, and that for no important reason. The subject of the debate somehow brought in the Stuarts and the Hanoverians, and Fernando made a longand probably dull-speech, throughout which he consistently alluded to James III," "Charles III," and "Henry IX," as the Kings of England, and to the de facto monarchs of the House of Brunswick merely as the Electors of Hanover. Such blatant
Jacobitism was considered portentously aggressive.
On half-holidays Fernando never played either cricket or football, and for Prefects there were no bounds; they might walk whither they chose, so long as they were back in time for six o'clock Roll Call, and did not go anywhere by train.
As the other Prefects were almost always playing either cricket or football, Fernando's walks were mostly solitary, and he liked them none the worse. In college he was not at all unsociable, but he specially enjoyed these hours entirely to himself. It is much easier to build castles in the air alone than with a talking companion, and Fernando built thousands of castles. And he was still devoted to poetry, and repeated huge quantities of it aloud to himself during those long, long rambles.
Many of the walks were pilgrimages to places which he peopled with the men and women out of George Eliot's books-as has been told already. He fixed on an Adam Bede, but never tried to get in talk with him, lest he should disprove himself. Seth and their mother he also picked out; and at different times he saw Mr. Tulliver riding
through the deep rich lanes, and Aunt Pullet and her husband, and Aunt Gleg and hers, in their respective gigs—the former much the neater turn-out.
Getting leave to go by train, he made other pilgrimages of this sort. To Uttoxeter on a rainy market-day to see Dr. Johnson, his old and much-loved schoolfellow, doing penance in the market place. To Ashbourne to pick out (quite arbitrarily) the house where the great lexicographer used to stay with Dr. Taylor.
The old church at Ashbourne was quite delightful and packed with beautiful and interesting monuments; and there, too, Fernando spent happy, happy, dreamy hours, always bewailing the Reformation that had brought the Catholic Middle Ages to an end.
Fernando, I say, was not always thinking of religion, but much of amusement, if his amusements were not quite the same as those of his friends; much of books, secular books, and the people in them, whom he liked better to be with than most people in "real" life; of his castles in the air, of which he himself was master and castellan;
and very, very much of home and Gracechurch.
Also he wrote many letters, and some of them were addressed to exalted personages, who probably were little aware of the youth of their correspondent. For instance he wrote to Dr. Pusey, and the great Tractarian answered in a long letter on a small sheet of paper in a tiny, rather crabbed hand. Of course, he wanted Dr. Pusey to explain away something Protestant-seeming in the Church that Fernando was still trying hard to be sure was Catholic; and, of course, Pusey was ready to do it, but not much pleased that his correspondent should seem to have any misgivings.
Another to whom Fernando wrote, and very often, was Canon Carter, of Clewer, at that time a great luminary in the highest Anglican firmament. His replies were fuller than Dr. Pusey's and seemed a great deal more benign. He either did not, or did not choose to seem to, see that his correspondent had misgivings, but wrote as though counsel and encouragement were all that he needed. His letters were uniformly kind, friendly, and sympathetic, and gave the impression of an old man full of gentle graciousness. Perhaps
he kept the lad where he was a year or so longer.
A third correspondent of Fernando's was an Anglican Benedictine nun of Feltham, in Middlesex; her letters had nothing to do with Anglican difficulties, but simply dealt with life in the cloister, and how they who were hidden in it might help those out in the world. I am sure that she had a hold of the hem of Saint Benedict's garment, and I hope his prayers brought her, as they have since brought so many who have called themselves his daughters, into the light of his own faith: but I do not know, for it is seven and thirty years since I heard any word of her.
Just before Christmas of 1877, when he was nineteen, Fernando went in for the examination which, if he passed, would make him a master. Of course he hoped to pass, but he felt very uncertain about it, very doubtful even of scraping through: of "honours " he had not the slightest hope. One could get First Class in Honours, Second Class, and Third Class, and one might just squeeze through without honours at all.
The results were not known when the school broke up for the Christmas holidays. During them Fernando received a telegram from the