Thinking of that past Sub-Warden whose fame was linked with the sun-dial, the Warden eyed this one keenly.
“Well, gentlemen,” he presently said, “our young men seem to be already at table. Shall we follow their example?” And he led the way up the steps.
Already at table? The dons’ dubiety toyed with this hypothesis. But the aspect of the Hall’s interior was hard to explain away. Here were the three long tables, stretching white towards the dais, and laden with the usual crockery and cutlery, and with pots of flowers in honour of the occasion. And here, ranged along either wall, was the usual array of scouts, motionless, with napkins across their arms. But that was all.
It became clear to the Warden that some organised prank or protest was afoot. Dignity required that he should take no heed whatsoever. Looking neither to the right nor to the left, stately he approached the dais, his Fellows to heel.
In Judas, as in other Colleges, grace before meat is read by the Senior Scholar. The Judas grace (composed, they say, by Christopher Whitrid himself) is noted for its length and for the excellence of its Latinity. Who was to read it to-night? The Warden, having searched his mind vainly for a precedent, was driven to create one.
“The Junior Fellow,” he said, “will read grace.”
Blushing to the roots of his hair, and with crablike gait, Mr. Pedby, the Junior Fellow, went and unhooked from the wall that little shield of wood on which the words of the grace are carven. Mr. Pedby was—Mr. Pedby is—a mathematician. His treatise on the Higher Theory of Short Division by Decimals had already won for him an European reputation. Judas was—Judas is—proud of Pedby. Nor is it denied that in undertaking the duty thrust on him he quickly controlled his nerves and read the Latin out in ringing accents. Better for him had he not done so. The false quantities he made were so excruciating and so many that, while the very scouts exchanged glances, the dons at the high table lost all command of their features, and made horrible noises in the effort to contain themselves. The very Warden dared not look from his plate.
In every breast around the high table, behind every shirt-front or black silk waistcoat, glowed the recognition of a new birth. Suddenly, unheralded, a thing of highest destiny had fallen into their academic midst. The stock of Common Room talk had to-night been re-inforced and enriched for all time. Summers and winters would come and go, old faces would vanish, giving place to new, but the story of Pedby’s grace would be told always. Here was a tradition that generations of dons yet unborn would cherish and chuckle over. Something akin to awe mingled itself with the subsiding merriment. And the dons, having finished their soup, sipped in silence the dry brown sherry.