Tom Brown's School Days, by Thomas Hughes

Chapter VIII.

Tom Brown’s Last Match.

“Heaven grant the manlier heart, that timely, ere

Youth fly, with life’s real tempest would be coping;

        The fruit of dreamy hoping

        Is, waking, blank despair.”

CLOUGH. Ambarvalia.

THE curtain now rises upon the last act of our little drama — for hard-hearted publishers warn me that a single volume must of necessity have an end. Well, well! the pleasantest things must come to an end. I little thought last long vacation, when I began these pages to help while away some spare time at a watering-place, how vividly many an old scene, which had lain hid away for years in some dusty old corner of my brain, would come back again, and stand before me as clear and bright as if it had happened yesterday. The book has been a most grateful task to me, and I only hope that all you, my dear young friends who read it, (friends assuredly you must be, if you get as far as this,) will be half as sorry to come to the last stage as I am.

Not but what there has been a solemn and a sad side to it. As the old scenes became living, and the actors in them became living too, many a grave in the Crimea and distant India, as well as in the quiet churchyards of our dear old country, seemed to open and send forth their dead, and their voices and looks and ways were again in one’s ears and eyes, as in the old school-days. But this was not sad; how should it be, if we believe as our Lord has taught us? How should it be, when, one more turn of the wheel, and we shall be by their sides again, learning from them again, perhaps, as we did when we were new boys?

Then there were others of the old faces so dear to us once, who had somehow or another just gone clean out of sight — are they dead or living? We know not; but the thought of them brings no sadness with it. Wherever they are, we can well believe they are doing God’s work and getting His wages.

But are there not some, whom we still see sometimes in the streets, whose haunts and homes we know, whom we could probably find almost any day in the week if we were set to do it, yet from whom we are really farther than we are from the dead, and from those who have gone out of our ken? Yes, there are and must be such; and therein lies the sadness of old School memories. Yet of these our old comrades, from whom more than time and space separate us, there are some, by whose sides we can feel sure that we shall stand again when time shall be no more. We may think of one another now as dangerous fanatics or narrow bigots, with whom no truce is possible, from whom we shall only sever more and more to the end of our lives, whom it would be our respective duties to imprison or hang, if we had the power. We must go our way, and they theirs, as long as flesh and spirit hold together; but let our own Rugby poet speak words of healing for this trial:—

“To veer how vain! on, onward strain,

    Brave barks! in light, in darkness too;

Through winds and tides one compass guides.

    To that, and your own selves, be true.

“But, O blithe breeze! and O great seas!

    Though ne’er that earliest parting past,

On your wide plain they join again,

    Together lead them home at last.

“One port, methought, alike they sought,

    One purpose hold where’er they fare.

O bounding breeze! O rushing seas!

    At last, at last, unite them there.”5

This is not mere longing, it is prophecy. So over these two, our old friends who are friends no more, we sorrow not as men without hope. It is only for those who seem to us to have lost compass and purpose, and to be driven helplessly on rocks and quicksands; whose lives are spent in the service of the world, the flesh, and the devil; for self alone, and not for their fellow-men, their country, or their God, that we must mourn and pray without sure hope and without light; trusting only that He, in whose hands they as well as we are who has died for them as well as for us, who sees all His creatures

“With larger, other eyes than ours,

To make allowance for us all,”

will, in His own way and at His own time, lead them also home.

Another two years have passed, and it is again the end of the summer half-year at Rugby; in fact, the School has broken up. The fifth-form examinations were over last week, and upon them have followed the Speeches, and the sixth-form examinations for Exhibitions; and they too are over now. The boys have gone to all the winds of heaven, except the town boys and the eleven, and the few enthusiasts besides who have asked leave to stay in their houses to see the result of the cricket-matches. For this year the Wellesburn return match and the Marylebone match are played at Rugby, to the great delight of the town and neighbourhood, and the sorrow of those aspiring young cricketers who have been reckoning for the last three months on showing off at Lord’s ground.

The Doctor started for the Lakes yesterday morning, after an interview with the captain of the eleven, in the presence of Thomas, at which he arranged in what School the cricket dinners were to be, and all other matters necessary for the satisfactory carrying out of the festivities; and warned them as to keeping all spirituous liquors out of the close, and having the gates closed by nine o’clock.

The Wellesburn match was played out with great success yesterday, the School winning by three wickets; and to-day the great event of the cricketing year, the Marylebone match, is being played. What a match it has been! The London eleven came down by an afternoon train yesterday, in time to see the end of the Wellesburn match; and as soon as it was over, their leading men and umpire inspected the ground, criticising it rather unmercifully. The Captain of the School eleven, and one or two others, who had played the Lord’s match before, and knew old Mr. Aislabie and several of the Lord’s men, accompanied them: while the rest of the eleven looked on from under the Three Trees with admiring eyes, and asked one another the names of the illustrious strangers, and recounted how many runs each of them had made in the late matches in Bell’s Life. They looked such hard-bitten, wiry, whiskered fellows, that their young adversaries felt rather desponding as to the result of the morrow’s match. The ground was at last chosen, and two men set to work upon it to water and roll; and then, there being yet some half-hour of daylight, some one had suggested a dance on the turf. The close was half full of citizens and their families, and the idea was hailed with enthusiasm. The cornopean-player was still on the ground; in five minutes the eleven and half-a-dozen of the Wellesburn and Marylebone men got partners somehow or another, and a merry country-dance was going on, to which every one flocked, and new couples joined in every minute, till there were a hundred of them going down the middle and up again — and the long line of School buildings looked gravely down on them, every window glowing with the last rays of the western sun, and the rooks clanged about in the tops of the old elms, greatly excited, and resolved on having their country-dance too, and the great flag flapped lazily in the gentle western breeze. Altogether it was a sight which would have made glad the heart of our brave old founder, Lawrence Sheriff, if he were half as good a fellow as I take him to have been. It was a cheerful sight to see; but what made it so valuable in the sight of the Captain of the School eleven was, that he there saw his young hands shaking off their shyness and awe of the Lord’s men, as they crossed hands and capered about on the grass together; for the strangers entered into it all, and threw away their cigars, and danced and shouted like boys; while old Mr. Aislabie stood by looking on in his white hat, leaning on a bat, in benevolent enjoyment. “This hop will be worth thirty runs to us to-morrow, and will be the making of Raggles and Johnson,” thinks the young leader, as he revolves many things in his mind, standing by the side of Mr. Aislabie, whom he will not leave for a minute, for he feels that the character of the School for courtesy is resting on his shoulders.

But when a quarter-to-nine struck, and he saw old Thomas beginning to fidget about with the keys in his hand, he thought of the Doctor’s parting monition, and stopped the cornopean at once, notwithstanding the loud-voiced remonstrances from all sides; and the crowd scattered away from the close, the eleven all going into the School-house, where supper and beds were provided for them by the Doctor’s orders.

Deep had been the consultations at supper as to the order of going in, who should bowl the first over, whether it would be best to play steady or freely; and the youngest hands declared that they shouldn’t be a bit nervous, and praised their opponents as the jolliest fellows in the world, except perhaps their old friends the Wellesburn men. How far a little good-nature from their elders will go with the right sort of boys!

The morning had dawned bright and warm, to the intense relief of many an anxious youngster, up betimes to mark the signs of the weather. The eleven went down in a body before breakfast, for a plunge in the cold bath in the corner of the close. The ground was in splendid order, and soon after ten o’clock, before spectators had arrived, all was ready, and two of the Lord’s men took their places at the wicket; the School, with the usual liberality of young hands, having put their adversaries in first. Old Bailey stepped up to the wicket, and called play, and the match has begun.

“Oh, well bowled! well bowled, Johnson!” cries the captain, catching up the ball and sending it high above the rook trees, while the third Marylebone man walks away from the wicket, and old Bailey gravely sets up the middle stump again and puts the bails on.

“How many runs?” Away scamper three boys to the scoring-table, and are back again in a minute amongst the rest of the eleven, who are collected together in a knot between wicket. “Only eighteen runs, and three wickets down!” “Huzza for old Rugby!” sings out Jack Raggles the long-stop, toughest and burliest of boys, commonly called ‘Swiper Jack;’ and forthwith stands on his head, and brandishes his legs in the air in triumph, till the next boy catches hold of his heels, and throws him over on to his back.

“Steady there, don’t be such an ass, Jack,” says the captain; “we haven’t got the best wicket yet. Ah, look out now at cover-point,” adds he, as he sees a long-armed, bare-headed, slashing-looking player coming to the wicket. “And, Jack, mind your hits; he steals more runs than any man in England.”

And they all find that they have got their work to do now: the new-comer’s off-hitting is tremendous, and his running like a flash of lightning. He is never in his ground, except when his wicket is down. Nothing in the whole game so trying to boys; he has stolen three byes in the first ten minutes, and Jack Raggles is furious, and begins throwing over savagely to the further wicket, until he is sternly stopped by the captain. It is all that young gentleman can do to keep his team steady, but he knows that everything depends on it, and faces his work bravely. The score creeps up to fifty, the boys begin to look blank, and the spectators, who are now mustering strong, are very silent. The ball flies off his bat to all parts of the field, and he gives no rest and no catches to any one. But cricket is full of glorious chances, and the goddess who presides over it loves to bring down the most skilful players. Johnson, the young bowler, is getting wild, and bowls a ball almost wide to the off; the batter steps out and cuts it beautifully to where cover-point is standing very deep, in fact almost off the ground. The ball comes skimming and twisting along about three feet from the ground; he rushes at it, and it sticks somehow or other in the fingers of his left hand, to the utter astonishment of himself and the whole field. Such a catch hasn’t been made in the close for years, and the cheering is maddening. “Pretty cricket,” says the captain, throwing himself on the ground by the deserted wicket with a long breath; he feels that a crisis has passed.

I wish I had space to describe the whole match; how the captain stumped the next man off a leg-shooter, and bowled slow lobs to old Mr. Aislabie, who came in for the last wicket. How the Lord’s men were out by half-past twelve o’clock for ninety-eight runs. How the Captain of the School eleven went in first to give his men pluck, and scored twenty-five in beautiful style; how Rugby was only four behind in the first innings. What a glorious dinner they had in the fourth-form School, and how the cover-point hitter sang the most topping comic songs, and old Mr. Aislabie made the best speeches that ever were heard, afterwards. But I haven’t space, that’s the fact, and so you must fancy it all, and carry yourselves on to half-past seven o’clock, when the School are again in, with five wickets down and only thirty-two runs to make to win. The Marylebone men played carelessly in their second innings, but they are working like horses now to save the match.

There is much healthy, hearty, happy life scattered up and down the close; but the group to which I beg to call your especial attention is there, on the slope of the island, which looks towards the cricket-ground. It consists of three figures; two are seated on a bench, and one on the ground at their feet. The first, a tall, slight, and rather gaunt man with a bushy eyebrow and a dry humorous smile, is evidently a clergyman. He is carelessly dressed, and looks rather used up, which isn’t much to be wondered at, seeing that he has just finished six weeks of examination work; but there he basks, and spreads himself out in the evening sun, bent on enjoying life, though he doesn’t quite know what to do with his arms and legs. Surely it is our friend the young master, whom we have had glimpses of before, but his face has gained a great deal since we last came across him.

And by his side, in white flannel shirt and trousers, straw hat, the captain’s belt, and the untanned yellow cricket shoes which all the eleven wear, sits a stropping figure near six feet high, with ruddy tanned face and whiskers, curly brown hair and a laughing dancing eye. He is leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees, and dandling his favourite bat, with which he has made thirty or forty runs to-day, in his strong brown hands. It is Tom Brown, grown into a young man nineteen years old, a præpostor and captain of the eleven, spending his last day as a Rugby boy, and let us hope as much wiser as he is bigger since we last had the pleasure of coming across him.

And at their feet on the warm dry ground, similarly dressed, sits Arthur, Turkish fashion, with his bat across his knees. He too is no longer a boy, less of a boy in fact than Tom, if one may judge from the thoughtfulness of his face, which is somewhat paler too than one could wish; but his figure, though slight, is well knit and active, and all his old timidity has disappeared, and is replaced by silent quaint fun, with which his face twinkles all over, as he listens to the broken talk between the other two, in which he joins every now and then.

All three are watching the game eagerly, and joining in the cheering which follows every good hit. It is pleasing to see the easy, friendly footing which the pupils are on with their master, perfectly respectful, yet with no reserve and nothing forced in their intercourse. Tom has clearly abandoned the old theory of “natural enemies,” in this case at any rate.

But it is time to listen to what they are saying, and see what we can gather out of it.

“I don’t object to your theory,” says the master, “and I allow you have made a fair case for yourself. But now, in such books as Aristophanes for instance, you’ve been reading a play this half with the Doctor, haven’t you?”

“Yes, the Knights,” answered Tom.

“Well, I’m sure you would have enjoyed the wonderful humour of it twice as much if you had taken more pains with your scholarship.”

“Well, sir, I don’t believe any boy in the form enjoyed the sets-to between Cleon and the Sausage-seller more than I did — eh, Arthur?” said Tom, giving him a stir with his foot.

“Yes, I must say he did,” said Arthur. “I think, sir, you’ve hit upon the wrong book there.”

“Not a bit of it,” said the master. “Why, in those very passages of arms, how can you thoroughly appreciate them unless you are master of the weapons? and the weapons are the language, which you, Brown, have never half worked at; and so, as I say, you must have lost all the delicate shades of meaning which make the best part of the fun.”

“Oh! well played — bravo, Johnson!” shouted Arthur, dropping his bat and clapping furiously, and Tom joined in with a “Bravo, Johnson!” which might have been heard at the chapel.

“Eh! what was it? I didn’t see,” inquired the master; “they only got one run, I thought?”

“No, but such a ball, three-quarters length and coming straight for his leg bail. Nothing but that turn of the wrist could have saved him, and he drew it away to leg for a safe one. Bravo, Johnson!”

“How well they are bowling, though,” said Arthur; “they don’t mean to be beat, I can see.”

“There now,” struck in the master, “you see that’s just what I have been preaching this half-hour. The delicate play is the true thing. I don’t understand cricket, so I don’t enjoy those fine draws which you tell me are the best play, though when you or Raggles hit a ball hard away for six I am as delighted as any one. Don’t you see the analogy?”

“Yes, sir,” answered Tom, looking up roguishly, “I see; only the question remains whether I should have got most good by understanding Greek particles or cricket thoroughly. I’m such a thick, I never should have had time for both.”

“I see you are an incorrigible,” said the master with a chuckle; “but I refute you by an example. Arthur there has taken in Greek and cricket too.”

“Yes, but no thanks to him; Greek came natural to him. Why, when he first came I remember he used to read Herodotus for pleasure as I did Don Quixote, and couldn’t have made a false concord if he’d tried ever so hard — and then I looked after his cricket.”

“Out! Bailey has given him out — do you see, Tom?” cries Arthur. “How foolish of them to run so hard.”

“Well, it can’t he helped, he has played very well. Whose turn is it to go in?”

“I don’t know; they’ve got your list in the tent.”

“Let’s go and see,” said Tom, rising; but at this moment Jack Raggles and two or three more came running to the island moat.

“Oh, Brown, mayn’t I go in next?” shouts the Swiper.

“Whose name is next on the list?” says the Captain.

“Winter’s, and then Arthur’s,” answers the boy who carries it; “but there are only twenty-six runs to get, and no time to lose. I heard Mr. Aislabie say that the stumps must be drawn at a quarter past eight exactly.”

“Oh, do let the Swiper go in,” chorus the boys: so Tom yields against his better judgment.

“I dare say now I’ve lost the match by this nonsense,” he says, as he sits down again; “they’ll be sure to get Jack’s wicket in three or four minutes; however, you’ll have the chance, sir, of seeing a hard hit or two,” adds he, smiling, and turning to the master.

“Come, none of your irony, Brown,” answers the master. “I’m beginning to understand the game scientifically. What a noble game it is too!”

“Isn’t it? But it’s more than a game. It’s an institution,” said Tom.

“Yes,” said Arthur, “the birthright of British boys, old and young, as habeas corpus and trial by jury are of British men.”

“The discipline and reliance on one another which it teaches is so valuable, I think,” went on the master, “it ought to be such an unselfish game. It merges the individual in the eleven; he doesn’t play that he may win, but that his side may.”

“That’s very true,” said Tom, “and that’s why football and cricket, now one comes to think of it, are such much better games than fives’ or hare-and-hounds, or any others where the object is to come in first or to win for oneself, and not that one’s side may win.”

“And then the Captain of the eleven!” said the master, “what a post is his in our School-world! almost as hard as the Doctor’s; requiring skill and gentleness and firmness, and I know not what other rare qualities.”

“Which don’t he wish he may get?” said Tom, laughing; “at any rate he hasn’t got them yet, or he wouldn’t have been such a flat to-night as to let Jack Raggles go in out of his turn.”

“Ah! the Doctor never would have done that,” said Arthur, demurely. “Tom, you’ve a great deal to learn yet in the art of ruling.”

“Well, I wish you’d tell the Doctor so, then, and get him to let me stop till I’m twenty. I don’t want to leave, I’m sure.”

“What a sight it is,” broke in the master, “the Doctor as a ruler. Perhaps ours is the only little corner of the British Empire which is thoroughly, wisely, and strongly ruled just now. I’m more and more thankful every day of my life that I came here to be under him.”

“So am I, I’m sure,” said Tom; “and more and more sorry that I’ve got to leave.”

“Every place and thing one sees here reminds one of some wise act of his,” went on the master. “This island — you remember the time, Brown, when it was laid out in small gardens, and cultivated by frost-bitten fags in February and March?”

“Of course I do,” said Tom; “didn’t I hate spending two hours in the afternoons grubbing in the tough dirt with the stump of a fives’-bat? But turf-cart was good fun enough.”

“I dare say it was, but it was always leading to fights with the townspeople; and then the stealing flowers out of all the gardens in Rugby for the Easter show was abominable.”

“Well, so it was,” said Tom, looking down, “but we fags couldn’t help ourselves. But what has that to do with the Doctor’s ruling?”

“A great deal, I think,” said the master; “what brought island fagging to an end?”

“Why, the Easter Speeches were put off till Midsummer,” said Tom, “and the sixth had the gymnastic poles put up here.”

“Well, and who changed the time of the Speeches, and put the idea of gymnastic poles into the heads of their worships the sixth form?” said the master.

“The Doctor, I suppose,” said Tom. “I never thought of that.”

“Of course you didn’t,” said the master, “or else, fag as you were, you would have shouted with the whole school against putting down old customs. And that’s the way that all the Doctor’s reforms have been carried out when he has been left to himself — quietly and naturally, putting a good thing in the place of a bad, and letting the bad die out; no wavering and no hurry — the best thing that could be done for the time being, and patience for the rest.”

“Just Tom’s own way,” chimed in Arthur, nudging Tom with his elbow, “driving a nail where it will go;” to which allusion Tom answered by a sly kick.

“Exactly so,” said the master, innocent of the allusion and bye-play.

Meantime Jack Raggles, with his sleeves tucked up above his great brown elbows, scorning pads and gloves, has presented himself at the wicket; and having run one for a forward drive of Johnson’s, is about to receive his first ball. There are only twenty-four runs to make, and four wickets to go down; a winning match if they play decently steady. The ball is a very swift one, and rises fast, catching Jack on the outside of the thigh, and bounding away as if from india-rubber, while they run two for a leg-bye amidst great applause, and shouts from Jack’s many admirers. The next ball is a beautifully pitched ball for the outer stump, which the reckless and unfeeling Jack catches hold of, and hits right round to leg for five, while the applause becomes deafening: only seventeen runs to get with four wickets — the game is all but ours!

It is “over” now, and Jack walks swaggering about his wicket, with the bat over his shoulder, while Mr. Aislabie holds a short parley with his men. Then the cover-point hitter, that cunning man, goes on to bowl slow twisters. Jack waves his hand triumphantly towards the tent, as much as to say, “See if I don’t finish it all off now in three hits.”

Alas, my son Jack! the enemy is too old for thee. The first ball of the over Jack steps out and meets, swiping with all his force. If he had only allowed for the twist! but he hasn’t, and so the ball goes spinning up straight into the air, as if it would never come down again. Away runs Jack, shouting and trusting to the chapter of accidents, but the bowler runs steadily under it, judging every spin, and calling out “I have it,” catches it, and playfully pitches it on to the back of the stalwart Jack, who is departing with a rueful countenance.

“I knew how it would be,” says Tom, rising. “Come along, the game’s getting very serious.”

So they leave the island and go to the tent, and after deep consultation Arthur is sent in, and goes off to the wicket with a last exhortation from Tom to play steady and keep his bat straight. To the suggestions that Winter is the best bat left, Tom only replies, “Arthur is the steadiest, and Johnson will make the runs if the wicket is only kept up.”

“I am surprised to see Arthur in the eleven,” said the master, as they stood together in front of the dense crowd, which was now closing in round the ground.

“Well, I’m not quite sure that he ought to be in for his play,” said Tom, “but I couldn’t help putting him in. It will do him so much good, and you can’t think what I owe him.”.

The master smiled. The clock strikes eight, and the whole field becomes fevered with excitement. Arthur, after two narrow escapes, scores one; and Johnson gets the ball. The bowling and fielding are superb, and Johnson’s batting worthy the occasion. He makes here a two, and there a one, managing to keep the ball to himself, and Arthur backs up and runs perfectly: only eleven runs to make now, and the crowd scarcely breathe. At last Arthur gets the ball again, and actually drives it forward for two, and feels prouder than when he got the three best prizes, at hearing Tom’s shout of joy, “Well played, well played, young ’un!”

But the next ball is too much for a young hand, and his bails fly different ways. Nine runs to make, and two wickets to go down — it is too much for human nerves.

Before Winter can get in, the omnibus which is to take the Lord’s men to the train pulls up at the side of the close, and Mr. Aislabie and Tom consult, and give out that the stumps will be drawn after the next over. And so ends the great match. Winter and Johnson carry out their bats; and, it being a one day’s match, the Lord’s men are declared the winners, they having scored the most in the first innings.

But such a defeat is a victory: so think Tom and all the School eleven, as they accompany their conquerors to the omnibus, and send them off with three ringing cheers, after Mr. Aislabie has shaken hands all round, saying to Tom, “I must compliment you, sir, on your eleven, and I hope we shall have you for a member if you come up to town.”

As Tom and the rest of the eleven were turning back into the close, and everybody was beginning to cry out for another country-dance, encouraged by the success of the night before, the young master, who was just leaving the close, stopped him, and asked him to come up to tea at half-past eight, adding, “I won’t keep you more than half-an-hour, and ask Arthur to come up too.”

“I’ll come up with you directly, if you’ll let me,” said Tom, “for I feel rather melancholy, and not quite up to the country-dance and supper with the rest.”

“Do by all means,” said the master; “I’ll wait here for you.”

So Tom went off to get his boots and things from the tent, to tell Arthur of the invitation, and to speak to his second in command about stopping the dancing and shutting up the close as soon as it grew dusk. Arthur promised to follow as soon as he had had a dance. So Tom handed his things over to the man in charge of the tent, and walked quietly away to the gate where the master was waiting, and the two took their way together up the Hillmorton road.

Of course they found the master’s house locked up, and all the servants away in the close, about this time no doubt footing it away on the grass with extreme delight to themselves, and in utter oblivion of the unfortunate bachelor their master, whose one enjoyment in the shape of meals was his “dish of tea” (as our grandmothers called it) in the evening; and the phrase was apt in his case, for he always poured his out into the saucer before drinking. Great was the good man’s horror at finding himself shut out of his own house. Had he been alone, he would have treated it as a matter of course, and would have strolled contentedly up and down his gravel-walk until some one came home; but he was hurt at the stain on his character of host, especially as the guest was a pupil. However, the guest seemed to think it a great joke, and presently as they poked about round the house, mounted a wall, from which he could reach a passage window: the window, as it turned out, was not bolted, so in another minute Tom was in the house and down at the front door, which he opened from inside. The master chuckled grimly at this burglarious entry, and insisted on leaving the hall-door and two of the front windows open, to frighten the truants on their return; and then the two set about foraging for tea, in which operation the master was much at fault, having the faintest possible idea of where to find anything, and being moreover wondrously short-sighted; but Tom by a sort of instinct knew the right cupboards in the kitchen and pantry, and soon managed to place on the snuggery table better materials for a meal than had appeared there probably during the reign of his tutor, who was then and there initiated, amongst other things, into the excellence of that mysterious condiment, a dripping-cake. The cake was newly baked, and all rich and flaky; Tom had found it reposing in the cook’s private cupboard, awaiting her return; and as a warning to her, they finished it to the last crumb. The kettle sang away merrily on the hob of the snuggery, for, notwithstanding the time of year, they lighted a fire, throwing both the windows wide open at the same time. The heap of books and papers were pushed away to the other end of the table, and the great solitary engraving of King’s College Chapel over the mantelpiece looked less stiff than usual, as they settled themselves down in the twilight to the serious drinking of tea.

After some talk on the match, and other indifferent subjects, the conversation came naturally back to Tom’s approaching departure, over which he began again to make his moan.

“Well, we shall all miss you quite as much as you will miss us,” said the master. “You are the Nestor of the School now, are you not?”

“Yes, ever since East left,” answered Tom.

“By the bye, have you heard from him?”

“Yes, I had a letter in February, just before he started for India to join his regiment.”

“He will make a capital officer.”

“Aye, won’t he!” said Tom, brightening; “no fellow could handle boys better, and I suppose soldiers are very like boys. And he’ll never tell them to go where he won’t go himself. No mistake about that — a braver fellow never walked.”

“His year in the sixth will have taught him a good deal that will be useful to him now.”

“So it will,” said Tom, staring into the fire. “Poor dear Harry,” he went on, “how well I remember the day we were put out of the twenty. How he rose to the situation, and burnt his cigar-cases, and gave away his pistols, and pondered on the constitutional authority of the sixth, and his new duties to the Doctor, and the fifth form, and the fags. Aye, and no fellow ever acted up to them better, though he was always a people’s man — for the fags, and against constituted authorities. He couldn’t help that, you know. I’m sure the Doctor must have liked him?” said Tom, looking up inquiringly.

“The Doctor sees the good in every one, and appreciates it,” said the master, dogmatically; “but I hope East will get a good colonel. He won’t do if he can’t respect those above him. How long it took him, even here, to learn the lesson of obeying.”

“Well, I wish I were alongside of him,” said Tom. “If I can’t be at Rugby, I want to be at work in the world, and not dawdling away three years at Oxford.”

“What do you mean by ‘at work in the world?’” said the master, pausing, with his lips close to his saucerful of tea, and peering at Tom over it.

“Well, I mean real work; one’s profession; whatever one will have really to do, and make one’s living by. I want to be doing some real good, feeling that I am not only at play in the world,” answered Tom, rather puzzled to find out himself what he really did mean.

“You are mixing up two very different things in your head, I think, Brown,” said the master, putting down the empty saucer, “and you ought to get clear about them. You talk of ‘working to get your living,’ and ‘doing some real good in the world,’ in the same breath. Now, you may be getting a very good living in a profession, and yet doing no good at all in the world, but quite the contrary, at the same time. Keep the latter before you as your only object, and you will be right, whether you make a living or not; but if you dwell on the other, you’ll very likely drop into mere money-making, and let the world take care of itself for good or evil. Don’t be in a hurry about finding your work in the world for yourself; you are not old enough to judge for yourself yet, but just look about you in the place you find yourself in, and try to make things a little better and honester there. You’ll find plenty to keep your hand in at Oxford, or wherever else you go. And don’t be led away to think this part of the world important, and that unimportant. Every corner of the world is important. No man knows whether this part or that is most so, but every man may do some honest work in his own corner.” And then the good man went on to talk wisely to Tom of the sort of work which he might take up as an undergraduate; and warned him of the prevalent University sins, and explained to him the many and great differences between University and School life; till the twilight changed into darkness, and they heard the truant servants stealing in by the back entrance.

“I wonder where Arthur can be,” said Tom at last, looking at his watch: “why, it’s nearly half-past nine already.”

“Oh, he is comfortably at supper with the eleven, forgetful of his oldest friends,” said the master. “Nothing has given me greater pleasure,” he went on, “than your friendship for him; it has been the making of you both.”

“Of me, at any rate,” answered Tom; “I should never have been here now but for him. It was the luckiest chance in the world that sent him to Rugby, and made him my chum.”

“Why do you talk of lucky chances?” said the master; “I don’t know that there are any such things in the world; at any rate there was neither luck nor chance in that matter.”

Tom looked at him inquiringly, and he went on. “Do you remember when the Doctor lectured you and East at the end of one half-year, when you were in the shell, and had been getting into all sorts of scrapes?”

“Yea, well enough,” said Tom; “it was the half-year before Arthur came.”

“Exactly so,” answered the master. “Now, I was with him a few minutes afterwards, and he was in great stress about you two. And, after some talk, we both agreed that you in particular wanted some object in the School beyond games and mischief; for it was quite clear that you never would make the regular school work your first object. And so the Doctor, at the beginning of the next half-year, looked out the best of the new boys, and separated you and East, and put the young boy into your study, in the hope that when you had somebody to lean on you, you would begin to stand a little steadier yourself, and get manliness and thoughtfulness. And I can assure you he has watched the experiment ever since with great satisfaction. Ah! not one of you boys will ever know the anxiety you have given him, or the care with which he has watched over every step in your school lives.”

Up to this time, Tom had never wholly given in to or understood the Doctor. At first he had thoroughly feared him. For some years, as I have tried to show, he had learnt to regard him with love and respect, and to think him a very great and wise and good man. But, as regarded his own position in the School, of which he was no little proud, Tom had no idea of giving any one credit for it but himself; and, truth to tell, was a very self-conceited young gentleman on the subject. He was wont to boast that he had fought his own way fairly up the school, and had never made up to, or been taken up by any big fellow or master, and that it was now quite a different place from what it was when he first came. And, indeed, though he didn’t actually boast of it, yet in his secret soul he did to a great extent believe, that the great reform in the School had been owing quite as much to himself as to any one else. Arthur, he acknowledged, had done him good, and taught him a good deal; so had other boys in different ways, but they had not had the same means of influence on the School in general; and as for the Doctor, why, he was a splendid master, but every one knew that masters could do very little out of school hours. In short, he felt on terms of equality with his chief, so far as the social state of the School was concerned, and thought that the Doctor would find it no easy matter to get on without him. Moreover, his school Toryism was still strong, and he looked still with some jealousy on the Doctor, as somewhat of a fanatic in the matter of change; and thought it very desirable for the School that he should have some wise person (such as himself) to look sharply after vested School-rights, and see that nothing was done to the injury of the republic without due protest.

It was a new light to him to find, that, besides teaching the sixth, and governing and guiding the whole School, editing classics, and writing histories, the great Head-master had found time in those busy years to watch over the career even of him, Tom Brown, and his particular friends, — and, no doubt, of fifty other boys at the same time; and all this without taking the least credit to himself, or seeming to know, or let anyone else know, that he ever thought particularly of any boys at all.

However, the Doctor’s victory was complete from that moment over Tom Brown at any rate. He gave way at all points, and the enemy marched right over him, cavalry, infantry, and artillery, the land transport corps, and the camp followers. It had taken eight long years to do it, but now it was done thoroughly, and there wasn’t a corner of him left which didn’t believe in the Doctor. Had he returned to school again, and the Doctor begun the half-year by abolishing fagging, and football, and the Saturday half-holiday, or all or any of the most cherished school institutions, Tom would have supported him with the blindest faith. And so, after a half confession of his previous shortcomings, and sorrowful adieus to his tutor, from whom he received two beautifully bound volumes of the Doctor’s Sermons, as a parting present, he marched down to the School-house, a hero-worshipper, who would have satisfied the soul of Thomas Carlyle himself.

There he found the eleven at high jinks after supper, Jack Raggles shouting comic songs, and performing feats of strength; and was greeted by a chorus of mingled remonstrance at his desertion, and joy at his reappearance. And falling in with the humour of the evening, was soon as great a boy as all the rest; and at ten o’clock was chaired round the quadrangle, on one of the hall benches, borne aloft by the eleven, shouting on chorus, “For he’s a jolly good fellow,” while old Thomas, in a melting mood, and the other School-house servants, stood looking on.

And the next morning after breakfast he squared up all the cricketing accounts, went round to his tradesmen and other acquaintance, and said his hearty good-byes, and by twelve o’clock was in the train, and away for London, no longer a school-boy; and divided in his thoughts between hero-worship, honest regrets over the long stage of his life which was now slipping out of sight behind him, and hopes and resolves for the next stage, upon which he was entering with all the confidence of a young traveller.

5 CLOUGH. Ambarvalia.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hughes/thomas/tom_browns_school_days/chapter17.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38