“ —— Foot and eye opposed
In dubious strife.”
“AND so here’s Rugby, sir, at last, and you’ll be in plenty of time for dinner at the School-house, as I tell’d you,” said the old guard, pulling his horn out of its case, and tootle-tooing away; while the coachman shook up his horses, and carried them along the side of the school close, round Dead-man’s Corner, past the school gates, and down the High Street to the Spread Eagle; the wheelers in a spanking trot, and leaders cantering, in a style which would not have disgraced “Cherry Bob,” “ramping, stamping, tearing swearing Billy Harwood,” or any other of the old coaching heroes.
Tom’s heart beat quick as he passed the great school field or close, with its noble elms, in which several games at football were going on, and tried to take in at once the long line of grey buildings, beginning with the chapel, and ending with the School-house, the residence of the head-master, where the great flag was lazily waving from the highest round tower. And he began already to be proud of being a Rugby boy, as he passed the school-gates, with the oriel-window above, and saw the boys standing there, looking as if the town belonged to them, and nodding in a familiar manner to the coachman, as if any one of them would be quite equal to getting on the box and working the team down street as well as he.
One of the young heroes, however, ran out from the rest, and scrambled up behind; where, having righted himself and nodded to the guard with “How do, Jem?” he turned short round to Tom, and, after looking him over for a minute, began —
“I say, you fellow, is your name Brown?”
“Yes,” said Tom, in considerable astonishment; glad however to have lighted on some one already who seemed to know him.
“Ah, I thought so; you know my old aunt, Miss East; she lives somewhere down your way in Berkshire. She wrote to me that you were coming to-day, and asked me to give you a lift.”
Tom was somewhat inclined to resent the patronizing air of his new friend — a boy of just about his own height and age, but gifted with the most transcendent coolness and assurance, which Tom felt to be aggravating and hard to bear, but couldn’t for the life of him help admiring and envying — especially when young my lord begins hectoring two or three long loafing fellows, half-porter, half stableman, with a strong touch of the blackguard, and in the end arranges with one of them, nicknamed Cooey, to carry Tom’s luggage up to the School-house for sixpence.
“And heark’ee, Cooey, it must be up in ten minutes, or no more jobs from me. Come along, Brown.” And away swaggers the young potentate, with his hands in his pockets, and Tom at his side.
“All right, sir,” says Cooey, touching his hat, with a leer and a wink at his companions.
“Hullo though,” says East, pulling up, and taking another look at Tom, “this’ll never do — haven’t you got a hat? — we never wear caps here. Only the louts wear caps. Bless you, if you were to go into the quadrangle with that thing on, I—— don’t know what’d happen.” The very idea was quite beyond young Master East, and he looked unutterable things.
Tom thought his cap a very knowing affair, but confessed that he had a hat in his hat-box; which was accordingly at once extracted from the hind boot, and Tom equipped in his go-to-meeting roof, as his new friend called it. But this didn’t quite suit his fastidious taste in another minute, being too shiny; so, as they walk up the town, they dive into Nixon’s the hatter’s, and Tom is arrayed, to his utter astonishment, and without paying for it, in a regulation cat-skin at seven-and-sixpence; Nixon undertaking to send the best hat up to the matron’s room, School-house, in half an hour.
“You can send in a note for a tile on Monday, and make it all right, you know,” said Mentor; “we’re allowed two seven-and-sixers a half, besides what we bring from home.”
Tom by this time began to be conscious of his new social position and dignities, and to luxuriate in the realized ambition of being a public-school boy at last, with a vested right of spoiling two seven-and-sixers in half a year.
“You see,” said his friend, as they strolled up towards the school gates, in explanation of his conduct — “a great deal depends on how a fellow cuts up at first. If he’s got nothing odd about him, and answers straightforward and holds his head up, he gets on. Now you’ll do very well as to rig, all but that cap. You see I’m doing the handsome thing by you, because my father knows yours; besides, I want to please the old lady. She gave me a half-a-sov. this half, and perhaps’ll double it next, if I keep in her good books.”
There’s nothing for candour like a lower-school boy; and East was a genuine specimen — frank, hearty, and good-natured, well satisfied with himself and his position, and chock full of life and spirits, and all the Rugby prejudices and traditions which he had been able to get together, in the long course of one half year, during which he had been at the School-house.
And Tom, notwithstanding his bumptiousness, felt friends with him at once, and began sucking in all his ways and prejudices, as fast as he could understand them.
East was great in the character of cicerone; he carried Tom through the great gates, where were only two or three boys. These satisfied themselves with the Stock questions, — “You fellow, what’s your name? Where do you come from? How old are you? Where do you board? and, What form are you in?” — and so they passed on through the quadrangle and a small courtyard, upon which looked down a lot of little windows (belonging, as his guide informed him, to some of the School-house studies), into the matron’s room, where East introduced Tom to that dignitary; made him give up the key of his trunk that the matron might unpack his linen, and told the story of the hat and of his own presence of mind: upon the relation whereof the matron laughingly scolded him, for the coolest new boy in the house; and East, indignant at the accusation of newness, marched Tom off into the quadrangle, and began showing him the schools, and examining him as to his literary attainments; the result of which was a prophecy that they would be in the same form, and could do then lessons together.
“And now come in and see my study; we shall have just time before dinner; and afterwards, before calling over, we’ll do the close.”
Tom followed his guide through the School-house hall, which opens into the quadrangle. It is a great room thirty feet long and eighteen high, or thereabouts, with two great tables running the whole length, and two large fireplaces at the side, with blazing fires in them, at one of which some dozen boys were standing and lounging, some of whom shouted to East to stop; but he shot through with his convoy, and landed him in the long dark passages, with a large fire at the end of each upon which the studies opened. Into one of these, in the bottom passage, East bolted with our hero, slamming and bolting the door behind them, in case of pursuit from the hall, and Tom was for the first time in a Rugby boy’s citadel.
He hadn’t been prepared for separate studies, and was not a little astonished and delighted with the palace in question.
It wasn’t very large certainly, being about six feet long by four broad. It couldn’t be called light, as there were bars and a grating to the window; which little precautions were necessary in the studies on the ground floor looking out into the close, to prevent the exit of small boys after locking-up, and the entrance of contraband articles. But it was uncommonly comfortable to look at, Tom thought. The space under the window at the further end was occupied by a square table covered with a reasonably clean and whole red and blue check table-cloth; a hard-seated sofa covered with red stuff occupied one side, running up to the end, and making a seat for one, or, by sitting close, for two, at the table; and a good stout wooden chair afforded a seat to another boy, so that three could sit and work together. The walls were wainscoted half-way up, the wainscot being covered with green baize, the remainder with a bright-patterned paper, on which hung three or four prints, of dogs’ heads, Grimaldi winning the Aylesbury steeplechase, Amy Robsart, the reigning Waverley beauty of the day, and Tom Crib in a posture of defence, which did no credit to the science of that hero, if truly represented. Over the door were a row of hat-pegs, and on each side bookcases with cupboards at the bottom; shelves and cupboards being filled indiscriminately with school-books, a cup or two, a mousetrap, and brass candlesticks, leather straps, a fustian bag, and some curious-looking articles, which puzzled Tom not a little, until his friend explained that they were climbing irons, and showed their use. A cricket-bat and small fishing-rod stood up in one corner.
This was the residence of East and another boy in the same form, and had more interest for Tom than Windsor Castle, or any other residence in the British Isles. For was he not about to become the joint owner of a similar home, the first place which he could call his own? One’s own! What a charm there is in the words! How long it takes boy and man to find out their worth! how fast most of us hold on to them! faster and more jealously the nearer we are to that general home into which we can take nothing, but must go naked as we came into the world. When shall we learn that he who multiplieth possessions multiplieth troubles, and that the one single use of things which we call our own is that they may be his who hath need of them?
“And shall I have a study like this too?” said Tom.
“Yes, of course, you’ll be chummed with some fellow on Monday, and you can sit here till then.”
“What nice places!”
“They’re well enough,” answered East patronizingly, “only uncommon cold at nights sometimes. Gower — that’s my chum — and I make a fire with paper on the floor after supper generally, only that makes it so smoky.”
“But there’s a big fire out in the passage,” said Tom.
“Precious little good we get out of that though,” said East; “Jones the præpostor has the study at the fire end, and he has rigged up an iron rod and green baize curtain across the passage, which he draws at night, and sits there with his door open, so he gets all the fire, and hears if we come out of our studies after eight, or make a noise. However, he’s taken to sitting in the fifth-form room lately, so we do get a bit of fire now sometimes; only to keep a sharp look-out that he don’t catch you behind his curtain when he comes down — that’s all.”
A quarter-past one now struck, and the bell began tolling for dinner, so they went into the hall and took their places, Tom at the very bottom of the second table, next to the præpostor (who sat at the end to keep order there), and East a few paces higher. And now Tom for the first time saw his future school-fellows in a body. In they came, some hot and ruddy from football or long walks, some pale and chilly from hard reading in their studies, some from loitering over the fire at the pastrycook’s, dainty mortals, bringing with them pickles and sauce-bottles to help them with their dinners. And a great big-bearded man, whom Tom took for a master, began calling over the names, while the great joints were being rapidly carved on a third table in the corner by the old verger and the housekeeper. Tom’s turn came last, and meanwhile he was all eyes, looking first with awe at the great man who sat close to him, and was helped first, and who read a hard-looking book all the time he was eating; and when he got up and walked off to the fire, at the small boys round him, some of whom were reading, and the rest talking in whispers to one another, or stealing one another’s bread, or shooting pellets, or digging their forks through the table-cloth. However, notwithstanding his curiosity, he managed to make a capital dinner by the time the big man called “Stand up!” and said grace.
As soon as dinner was over, and Tom had been questioned by such of his neighbours as were curious as to his birth, parentage, education, and other like matters, East, who evidently enjoyed his new dignity of patron and Mentor, proposed having a look at the close, which Tom, athirst for knowledge, gladly assented to, and they went out through the quadrangle and past the big fives’-court, into the great playground.
“That’s the chapel, you see,” said East, “and there just behind it is the place for fights; you see it’s most out of the way of the masters, who all live on the other side and don’t come by here after first lesson or callings-over. That’s when the fights come off. And all this part where we are is the little side-ground, right up to the trees, and on the other side of the trees is the big side-ground, where the great matches are played. And there’s the island in the furthest corner; you’ll know that well enough next half, when there’s island fagging. I say, it’s horrid cold, let’s have a run across,” and away went East, Tom close behind him. East was evidently putting his best foot foremost, and Tom, who was mighty proud of his running, and not a little anxious to show his friend that although a new boy he was no milksop, laid himself down to the work in his very best style. Right across the close they went, each doing all he knew, and there wasn’t a yard between them when they pulled up at the island moat.
“I say,” said East, as soon as he got his wind, looking with much increased respect at Tom, “you ain’t a bad scud, not by no means. Well, I’m as warm as a toast now.”
“But why do you wear white trousers in November?” said Tom. He had been struck by this peculiarity in the costume of almost all the School-house boys.
“Why, bless us, don’t you know? — No, I forgot. Why, to-day’s the School-house match. Our house plays the whole of the School at football. And we all wear white trousers, to show ’em we don’t care for hacks. You’re in luck to come to-day. You just will see a match; and Brooke’s going to let me play in quarters. That’s more than he’ll do for any other lower-school boy, except James, and he’s fourteen.”
“Why that big fellow who called over at dinner, to be sure. He’s cock of the school, and head of the School-house side, and the best kick and charger in Rugby.”
“Oh, but do show me where they play? And tell me about it. I love football so, and have played all my life. Won’t Brooke let me play?”
“Not he,” said East, with some indignation; “why, you don’t know the rules — you’ll be a month learning them. And then it’s no joke playing-up in a match, I can tell you. Quite another thing from your private school games. Why, there’s been two collar-bones broken this half, and a dozen fellows lamed. And last year a fellow had his leg broken.”
Tom listened with the profoundest respect to this chapter of accidents, and followed East across the level ground till they came to a sort of gigantic gallows of two poles eighteen feet high, fixed upright in the ground some fourteen feet apart, with a cross bar running from one to the other at the height of ten feet or thereabouts.
“This is one of the goals,” said East, “and you see the other across there, right opposite, under the Doctor’s wall. Well, the match is for the best of three goals; whichever side kicks two goals wins: and it won’t do, you see, just to kick the ball through these posts, it must go over the cross bar; any height’ll do, so long as it’s between the posts. You’ll have to stay in goal to touch the ball when it rolls behind the posts, because if the other side touch it they have a try at goal. Then we fellows in quarters, we play just about in front of goal here, and have to turn the ball and kick it back before the big fellows on the other side can follow it up. And in front of us all the big fellows play, and that’s where the scrummages are mostly.”
Tom’s respect increased as he struggled to make out his friend’s technicalities, and the other set to work to explain the mysteries of “off your side,” “drop-kicks,” “punts,” “places,” and the other intricacies of the great science of football.
“But how do you keep the ball between the goals?” said he. “I can’t see why it mightn’t go right down to the chapel.”
“Why, that’s out of play,” answered East. “You see this gravel walk running down all along this side of the playing-ground, and the line of elms opposite on the other? Well, they’re the bounds. As soon as the ball gets past them, it’s in touch, and out of play. And then whoever first touches it, has to knock it straight out amongst the players-up, who make two lines with a space between them, every fellow going on his own side. Ain’t there just fine scrummages then! and the three trees you see there which come out into the play, that’s a tremendous place when the ball hangs there, for you get thrown against the trees, and that’s worse than any hack.”
Tom wondered within himself as they strolled back again towards the fives’ court, whether the matches were really such break-neck affairs as East represented, and whether, if they were, he should ever get to like them and play-up well.
He hadn’t long to wonder, however, for next minute East cried out, “Hurra! here’s the punt-about, — come along and try your hand at a kick.” The punt-about is the practice ball, which is just brought out and kicked about anyhow from one boy to another before callings over and dinner, and at other odd times. They joined the boys who had brought it out, all small School-house fellows, friends of East; and Tom had the pleasure of trying his skill, and performed very creditably, after first driving his foot three inches into the ground, and then nearly kicking his leg into the air, in vigorous efforts to accomplish a drop-kick after the manner of East.
Presently more boys and bigger came out, and boys from other houses on their way to calling-over, and more balls were sent for. The crowd thickened as three o’clock approached; and when the hour struck, one hundred and fifty boys were hard at work. Then the balls were held, the master of the week came down in cap and gown to calling-over, and the whole school of three hundred boys swept into the big school to answer to their names.
“I may come in, mayn’t I?” said Tom, catching East by the arm and longing to feel one of them.
“Yes, come along, nobody’ll say anything. You won’t be so eager to get into calling-over after a month,” replied his friend; and they marched into the big school together, and up to the further end, where that illustrious form, the lower fourth, which had the honour of East’s patronage for the time being, stood.
The master mounted into the high desk by the door, and one of the præpostors of the week stood by him on the steps, the other three marching up and down the middle of the school with their canes, calling out “Silence, silence!” The sixth form stood close by the door on the left, some thirty in number, mostly great big grown men, as Tom thought, surveying them from a distance with awe. The fifth form behind them, twice their number and not quite so big. These on the left; and on the right the lower fifth, shell, and all the junior forms in order; while up the middle marched the three præpostors.
Then the præpostor who stands by the master calls out the names, beginning with the sixth form, and as he calls, each boy answers “Here” to his name, and walks out. Some of the sixth stop at the door to turn the whole string of boys into the close; it is a great match day, and every boy in the school, will-he, nill-he, must be there. The rest of the sixth go forwards into the close, to see that no one escapes by any of the side gates.
To-day, however, being the School-house match, none of the School-house præpostors stay by the door to watch for truants of their side; there is carte blanche to the School-house fags to go where they like: “They trust to our honour,” as East proudly informs Tom; “they know very well that no School-house boy would cut the match. If he did, we’d very soon cut him, I can tell you.”
The master of the week being short-sighted, and the præpostors of the week small and not well up to their work, the lower school boys employ the ten minutes which elapse before their names are called, in pelting one another vigorously with acorns, which fly about in all directions. The small præpostors dash in every now and then, and generally chastise some quiet, timid boy who is equally afraid of acorns and canes, while the principal performers get dexterously out of the way; and so calling-over rolls on somehow, much like the big world, punishments lighting on wrong shoulders, and matters going generally in a queer, cross-grained way, but the end coming somehow, which is after all the great point. And now the master of the week has finished, and locked up the big school; and the præpostors of the week come out, sweeping the last remnant of the school fags — who had been loafing about the corners by the fives’ court, in hopes of a chance of bolting — before them into the close.
“Hold the punt-about!” “To the goals!” are the cries, and all stray balls are impounded by the authorities; and the whole mass of boys moves up towards the two goals, dividing as they go into three bodies. That little band on the left, consisting of from fifteen to twenty boys, Tom amongst them, who are making for the goal under the School-house wall, are the School-house boys who are not to play-up, and have to stay in goal. The larger body moving to the island goal, are the school-boys in a like predicament. The great mass in the middle are the players-up, both sides mingled together; they are hanging their jackets, and, all who mean real work, their hats, waistcoats, neck-handkerchiefs, and braces, on the railings round the small trees; and there they go by twos and threes up to their respective grounds. There is none of the colour and tastiness of get-up, you will perceive, which lends such a life to the present game at Rugby, making the dullest and worst-fought match a pretty sight. Now each house has its own uniform of cap and jersey, of some lively colour: but at the time we are speaking of, plush caps have not yet come in or uniforms of any sort, except the School-house white trousers, which are abominably cold to-day: let us get to work, bare-headed and girded with our plain leather straps — but we mean business, gentlemen.
And now that the two sides have fairly sundered, and each occupies its own ground, and we get a good look at them what absurdity is this? You don’t mean to say that those fifty or sixty boys in white trousers, many of them quite small, are going to play that huge mass opposite? Indeed I do, gentlemen; they’re going to try at any rate, and won’t make such a bad fight of it either, mark my word; for hasn’t old Brooke won the toss, with his lucky halfpenny, and got choice of goals and kick-off? The new ball you may see lie there quite by itself, in the middle, pointing towards the school or island goal; in another minute it will be well on its way there. Use that minute in remarking how the School-house side is drilled. You will see in the first place, that the sixth-form boy, who has the charge of goal, has spread his force (the goal-keepers) so as to occupy the whole space behind the goal-posts, at distances of about five yards apart; a safe and well-kept goal is the foundation of all good play. Old Brooke is talking to the captain of quarters; and now he moves away; see how that youngster spreads his men (the light brigade) carefully over the ground, half-way between their own goal and the body of their own players-up (the heavy brigade). These again play in several bodies; there is young Brooke and the bull-dogs — mark them well — they are the “fighting brigade,” the “die-hards,” larking about at leap-frog to keep themselves warm, and playing tricks on one another. And on each side of old Brooke, who is now standing in the middle of the ground and just going to kick off, you see a separate wing of players-up, each with a boy of acknowledged prowess to look to — here Warner, and there Hedge; but over all is old Brooke, absolute as he of Russia, but wisely and bravely ruling over willing and worshipping subjects, a true football king. His face is earnest and careful as he glances a last time over his array, but full of pluck and hope, the sort of look I hope to see in my general when I go out to fight.
The School side is not organized in the same way. The goal-keepers are all in lumps, anyhow and nohow; you can’t distinguish between the players-up and the boys in quarters, and there is divided leadership; but with such odds in strength and weight it must take more than that to hinder them from winning; and so their leaders seem to think, for they let the players-up manage themselves.
But now look, there is a slight move forward of the School-house wings; a shout of “Are you ready?” and loud affirmative reply. Old Brooke takes half-a-dozen quick steps, and away goes the ball spinning towards the School goal; seventy yards before it touches ground, and at no point above twelve or fifteen feet high, a model kick-off; and the School-house cheer and rush on; the ball is returned, and they meet it and drive it back amongst the masses of the School already in motion. Then the two sides close, and you can see nothing for minutes but a swaying crowd of boys, at one point violently agitated. That is where the ball is, and there are the keen players to be met, and the glory and the hard knocks to be got: you hear the dull thud thud of the ball, and the shouts of “Off your side,” “Down with him,” “Put him over,” “Bravo!” This is what we call a scrummage, gentlemen, and the first scrummage in a School-house match was no joke in the consulship of Plancus.
But see! it has broken; the ball is driven out on the School-house side, and a rush of the School carries it past the School-house players-up. “Look out in quarters,” Brooke’s and twenty other voices ring out; no need to call though, the School-house captain of quarters has caught it on the bound, dodges the foremost school-boys, who are heading the rush, and sends it back with a good drop-kick well into the enemy’s country. And then follows rush upon rush, and scrummage upon scrummage, the ball now driven through into the School-house quarters, and now into the School goal; for the School-house have not lost the advantage which the kick-off and a slight wind gave them at the outset, and are slightly “penning” their adversaries. You say you don’t see much in it all; nothing but a struggling mass of boys, and a leather ball, which seems to excite them all to great fury, as a red rag does a bull. My dear sir, a battle would look much the same to you, except that the boys would be men, and the balls iron; but a battle would be worth your looking at for all that, and so is a football match. You can’t be expected to appreciate the delicate strokes of play, the turns by which a game is lost and won, — it takes an old player to do that, but the broad philosophy of football you can understand if you will. Come along with me a little nearer, and let us consider it together.
The ball has just fallen again where the two sides are thickest, and they close rapidly around it in a scrummage; it must be driven through now by force or skill, till it flies out on one side or the other. Look how differently the boys face it! Here come two of the bull-dogs, bursting through the outsiders; in they go, straight to the heart of the scrummage, bent on driving that ball out on the opposite side. That is what they mean to do. My sons, my sons! you are too hot; you have gone past the ball, and must struggle now right through the scrummage, and get round and back again to your own side, before you can be of any further use. Here comes young Brooke; he goes in as straight as you, but keeps his head, and backs and bends, holding himself still behind the ball, and driving it furiously when he gets the chance. Take a leaf out of his book, you young chargers. Here come Speedicut, and Flashman the School-house bully, with shouts and great action. Won’t you two come up to young Brooke, after locking up, by the School-house fire, with “Old fellow, wasn’t that just a splendid scrummage by the three trees!” But he knows you, and so do we. You don’t really want to drive that ball through that scrummage, chancing all hurt for the glory of the School-house — but to make us think that’s what you want — a vastly different thing; and fellows of your kidney will never go through more than the skirts of a scrummage, where it’s all push and no kicking. We respect boys who keep out of it, and don’t sham going in; but you — we had rather not say what we think of you.
Then the boys who are bending and watching on the outside, mark them — they are most useful players, the dodgers; who seize on the ball the moment it rolls out from amongst the chargers, and away with it across to the opposite goal; they seldom go into the scrummage, but must have more coolness than the chargers: as endless as are boys’ characters, so are their ways of facing or not facing a scrummage at football.
Three-quarters of an hour are gone; first winds are failing, and weight and numbers beginning to tell. Yard by yard the School-house have been driven back, contesting every inch of ground. The bull-dogs are the colour of mother earth from shoulder to ankle, except young Brooke, who has a marvellous knack of keeping his legs. The School-house are being penned in their turn, and now the ball is behind their goal, under the Doctor’s wall. The Doctor and some of his family are there looking on, and seem as anxious as any boy for the success of the School-house. We get a minute’s breathing time before old Brooke kicks out, and he gives the word to play strongly for touch, by the three trees. Away goes the ball, and the bull-dogs after it, and in another minute there is a shout of “In touch,” “Our ball.” Now’s your time, old Brooke, while your men are still fresh. He stands with the ball in his hand, while the two sides form in deep lines opposite one another: he must strike it straight out between them. The lines are thickest close to him, but young Brooke and two or three of his men are shifting up further, where the opposite line is weak. Old Brooke strikes it out straight and strong, and it falls opposite his brother. Hurra! that rush has taken it right through the School line, and away past the three trees, far into their quarters, and young Brooke and the bull-dogs are close upon it. The School leaders rush back shouting “Look out in goal,” and strain every nerve to catch him, but they are after the fleetest foot in Rugby. There they go straight for the School goal-posts, quarters scattering before them. One after another the bull-dogs go down, but young Brooke holds on. “He is down.” No! a long stagger, and the danger is past; that was the shock of Crew, the most dangerous of dodgers. And now he is close to the School goal, the ball not three yards before him. There is a hurried rush of the School fags to the spot, but no one throws himself on the ball, the only chance, and young Brooke has touched it right under the School goal-posts.
The School leaders come up furious, and administer toco to the wretched fags nearest at hand: they may well be angry, for it is all Lombard-street to a china orange that the School-house kick a goal with the ball touched in such a good place. Old Brooke of course will kick it out, but who shall catch and place it? Call Crab Jones. Here he comes, sauntering along with a straw in his mouth, the queerest, coolest fish in Rugby: if he were tumbled into the moon this minute, he would just pick himself up without taking his hands out of his pockets or turning a hair. But it is a moment when the boldest charger’s heart beats quick. Old Brooke stands with the ball under his arm motioning the School back; he will not kick-out till they are all in goal, behind the posts; they are all edging forwards, inch by inch, to get nearer for the rush at Crab Jones, who stands there in front of old Brooke to catch the ball. If they can reach and destroy him before he catches, the danger is over; and with one and the same rush they will carry it right away to the School-house goal. Fond hope! it is kicked out and caught beautifully. Crab strikes his heel into the ground, to mark the spot where the ball was caught, beyond which the School line may not advance; but there they stand, five deep, ready to rush the moment the ball touches the ground. Take plenty of room! don’t give the rush a chance of reaching you! place it true and steady! Trust Crab Jones — he has made a small hole with his heel for the ball to lie on, by which he is resting on one knee, with his eye on old Brooke. “Now!” Crab places the ball at the word, old Brooke kicks, and it rises slowly and truly as the School rush forward.
Then a moment’s pause, while both sides look up at the spinning ball. There it flies, straight between the two posts, some five feet above the cross-bar, an unquestioned goal; and a shout of real genuine joy rings out from the School-house players-up, and a faint echo of it comes over the close from the goal-keepers under the Doctor’s wall. A goal in the first hour — such a thing hasn’t been done in the School-house match this five years.
“Over!” is the cry: the two sides change goals, and the School-house goal-keepers come threading their way across through the masses of the School; the most openly triumphant of them, amongst whom is Tom, a School-house boy of two hours’ standing, getting their ears boxed in the transit. Tom indeed is excited beyond measure, and it is all the sixth-form boy, kindest and safest of goal-keepers, has been able to do, to keep him from rushing out whenever the ball has been near their goal. So he holds him by his side, and instructs him in the science of touching.
At this moment Griffith, the itinerant vendor of oranges from Hill Morton, enters the close with his heavy baskets; there is a rush of small boys upon the little pale-faced man, the two sides mingling together, subdued by the great Goddess Thirst, like the English and French by the streams in the Pyrenees. The leaders are past oranges and apples, but some of them visit their coats, and apply innocent looking ginger-beer bottles to their mouths. It is no ginger-beer though, I fear, and will do you no good. One short mad rush, and then a stitch in the side, and no more honest play; that’s what comes of those bottles.
But now Griffith’s baskets are empty, the ball is placed again midway, and the School are going to kick off. Their leaders have sent their lumber into goal, and rated the rest soundly, and one hundred and twenty picked players-up are there, bent on retrieving the game. They are to keep the ball in front of the School-house goal, and then to drive it in by sheer strength and weight. They mean heavy play and no mistake, and so old Brooke sees; and places Crab Jones in quarters just before the goal, with four or five picked players, who are to keep the ball away to the sides, where a try at goal, if obtained, will be less dangerous than in front. He himself, and Warner and Hedge, who have saved themselves till now, will lead the charges.
“Are you ready?” “Yes.” And away comes the ball kicked high in the air, to give the School time to rush on and catch it as it falls. And here they are amongst us. Meet them like Englishmen, you School-house boys, and charge them home. Now is the time to show what mettle is in you — and there shall be a warm seat by the hall fire, and honour, and lots of bottled beer to-night, for him who does his duty in the next half-hour. And they are well met. Again and again the cloud of their players-up gathers before our goal, and comes threatening on, and Warner or Hedge, with young Brooke and the relics of the bull-dogs, break through and carry the ball back; and old Brooke ranges the field like Job’s war-horse, the thickest scrummage parts asunder before his rush, like the waves before a clipper’s bows; his cheery voice rings over the field, and his eye is everywhere. And if these miss the ball, and it rolls dangerously in front of our goal, Crab Jones and his men have seized it and sent it away towards the sides with the unerring drop-kick. This is worth living for; the whole sum of school-boy existence gathered up into one straining, struggling half-hour, a half-hour worth a year of common life.
The quarter to five has struck, and the play slackens for a minute before goal; but there is Crew, the artful dodger, driving the ball in behind our goal, on the island side, where our quarters are weakest. Is there no one to meet him? Yes! look at little East! the ball is just at equal distances between the two, and they rush together, the young man of seventeen and the boy of twelve, and kick it at the same moment. Crew passes on without a stagger; East is hurled forward by the shock, and plunges on his shoulders, as if he would bury himself in the ground; but the ball rises straight into the air, and falls behind Crew’s back, while the “bravos” of the School-house attest the pluckiest charge of all that hard-fought day. Warner picks East up lame and half stunned, and he hobbles back into goal conscious of having played the man.
And now the last minutes are come, and the School gather for their last rush every boy of the hundred and twenty who has a run left in him. Reckless of the defence of their own goal, on they come across the level big-side ground, the ball well down amongst them straight for our goal, like the column of the Old Guard up the slope at Waterloo. All former charges have been child’s play to this. Warner and Hedge have met them, but still on they come. The bull-dogs rush in for the last time; they are hurled over or carried back, striving hand, foot, and eyelids. Old Brooke comes sweeping round the skirts of the play, and, turning short round, picks out the very heart of the scrummage, and plunges in. It wavers for a moment — he has the ball! No, it has passed him, and his voice rings out clear over the advancing tide “Look out in goal.” Crab Jones catches it for a moment; but before he can kick, the rush is upon him and passes over him; and he picks himself up behind them with his straw in his mouth, a little dirtier, but as cool as ever.
The ball rolls slowly in behind the School-house goal not three yards in front of a dozen of the biggest School players-up.
There stand the School-house præpostor, safest of goal-keepers, and Tom Brown by his side, who has learned his trade by this time. Now is your time, Tom. The blood of all the Browns is up, and the two rush in together, and throw themselves on the ball, under the very feet of the advancing column; the præpostor on his hands and knees arching his back, and Tom all along on his face. Over them topple the leaders of the rush, shooting over the back of the præpostor, but falling flat on Tom, and knocking all the wind out of his small carcase. “Our ball,” says the præpostor, rising with his prize; “but get up there, there’s a little fellow under you.” They are hauled and roll off him, and Tom is discovered a motionless body.
Old Brooke picks him up. “Stand back, give him air,” he says; and then feeling his limbs, adds, “No bones broken. How do you feel, young un?”
“Hah-hah,” gasps Tom as his wind comes back, “pretty well, thank you — all right.”
“Who is he?” says Brooke. “Oh, it’s Brown; he’s a new boy; I know him,” says East, coming up.
“Well, he is a plucky youngster, and will make a player,” says Brooke.
And five o’clock strikes. “No side” is called, and the first day of the School-house match is over.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55