“ —— Some food we had.” — Shakspere.
[Greek: ês potos hadys.] — THEOCR. Id.
AS the boys scattered away from the ground, and East leaning on Tom’s arm, and limping along, was beginning to consider what luxury they should go and buy for tea to celebrate that glorious victory, the two Brookes came striding by. Old Brooke caught sight of East, and stopped; put his hand kindly on his shoulder and said, “Bravo, youngster, you played famously; not much the matter, I hope?”
“No, nothing at all,” said East, “only a little twist from that charge.”
“Well, mind and get all right for next Saturday;” and the leader passed on, leaving East better for those few words than all the opodeldoc in England would have made him, and Tom ready to give one of his ears for as much notice. Ah! light words of those whom we love and honour, what a power ye are, and how carelessly wielded by those who can use you! Surely for these things also God will ask an account.
“Tea’s directly after locking-up, you see,” said East, hobbling along as fast as he could, “so you come along down to Sally Harrowell’s; that’s our school-house tuck-shop — she bakes such stunning murphies, we’ll have a penn’orth each for tea; come along, or they’ll all be gone.”
Tom’s new purse and money burnt in his pocket; he wondered, as they toddled through the quadrangle and along the street, whether East would be insulted if he suggested further extravagance, as he had not sufficient faith in a pennyworth of potatoes. At last he blurted out, —
“I say, East, can’t we get something else besides potatoes? I’ve got lots of money, you know.”
“Bless us, yes, I forgot,” said East, “you’ve only just come. You see all my tin’s been gone this twelve weeks, it hardly ever lasts beyond the first fortnight; and our allowances were all stopped this morning for broken windows, so I haven’t got a penny. I’ve got a tick at Sally’s, of course; but then I hate running it high, you see, towards the end of the half, ‘cause one has to shell out for it all directly one comes back, and that’s a bore.”
Tom didn’t understand much of this talk, but seized on the fact that East had no money, and was denying himself some little pet luxury in consequence. “Well, what shall I buy?” said he; “I’m uncommon hungry.”
“I say,” said East, stopping to look at him and rest his leg, “you’re a trump, Brown. I’ll do the same by you next half. Let’s have a pound of sausages, then; that’s the best grub for tea I know of.”
“Very well,” said Tom, as pleased as possible; “where do they sell them?”
“Oh, over here, just opposite;” and they crossed the street and walked into the cleanest little front room of a small house, half parlour, half shop, and bought a pound of most particular sausages; East talking pleasantly to Mrs. Porter while she put them in paper, and Tom doing the paying part.
From Porter’s they adjourned to Sally Harrowell’s, where they found a lot of School-house boys waiting for the roast potatoes, and relating their own exploits in the day’s match at the top of their voices. The street opened at once into Sally’s kitchen, a low, brick-floored room, with large recess for fire, and chimney-corner seats. Poor little Sally, the most good-natured and much enduring of womankind, was bustling about with a napkin in her hand, from her own oven to those of the neighbours’ cottages, up the yard at the back of the house. Stumps, her husband, a short, easy-going shoemaker, with a beery humorous eye and ponderous calves, who lived mostly on his wife’s earnings, stood in a corner of the room, exchanging shots of the roughest description of repartee with every boy in turn. “Stumps, you lout, you’ve had too much beer again to-day.” “‘Twasn’t of your paying for, then.” — “Stumps’s calves are running down into his ankles, they want to get to grass.” “Better be doing that, than gone altogether like yours,” &c. &c. Very poor stuff it was, but it served to make time pass; and every now and then Sally arrived in the middle with a smoking tin of potatoes, which were cleared off in a few seconds, each boy as he seized his lot running oft to the house with “Put me down two-penn’orth, Sally;” “Put down three-penn’orth between me and Davis,” &c. How she ever kept the accounts so straight as she did, in her head and on her slate, was a perfect wonder.
East and Tom got served at last, and started back for the School-house just as the locking-up bell began to ring; East on the way recounting the life and adventures of Stumps, who was a character. Amongst his other small avocations, he was the hind carrier of a sedan-chair, the last of its race, in which the Rugby ladies still went out to tea, and in which, when he was fairly harnessed and carrying a load, it was the delight of small and mischievous boys to follow him and whip his calves. This was too much for the temper even of Stumps, and he would pursue his tormentors in a vindictive and apoplectic manner when released, but was easily pacified by twopence to buy beer with.
The lower school-boys of the School-house, some fifteen in number, had tea in the lower-fifth school, and were presided over by the old verger or head-porter. Each boy had a quarter of a loaf of bread and pat of butter, and as much tea as he pleased; and there was scarcely one who didn’t add to this some further luxury, such as baked potatoes, a herring, sprats, or something of the sort; but few, at this period of the half-year, could live up to a pound of Porter’s sausages, and East was in great magnificence upon the strength of theirs. He had produced a toasting-fork from his study, and set Tom to toast the sausages, while he mounted guard over their butter and potatoes; “‘cause,” as he explained, “you’re a new boy, and they’ll play you some trick and get our butter, but you can toast just as well as I.” So Tom, in the midst of three or four more urchins similarly employed, toasted his face and the sausages at the same time before the huge fire, till the latter cracked; when East from his watch-tower shouted that they were done; and then the feast proceeded, and the festive cups of tea were filled and emptied, and Tom imparted of the sausages in small bits to many neighbours, and thought he had never tasted such good potatoes or seen such jolly boys. They on their parts waived all ceremony, and pegged away at the sausages and potatoes, and, remembering Tom’s performance in goal, voted East’s new crony a brick. After tea, and while the things were being cleared away, they gathered round the fire, and the talk on the match still went on; and those who had them to show, pulled up their trousers and showed the hacks they had received in the good cause.
They were soon however all turned out of the school, and East conducted Tom up to his bedroom, that he might get on clean things and wash himself before singing.
“What’s singing?” said Tom, taking his head out of his basin, where he had been plunging it in cold water.
“Well, you are jolly green,” answered his friend from a neighbouring basin. “Why, the last six Saturdays of every half, we sing of course; and this is the first of them. No first lesson to do, you know, and lie in bed to-morrow morning.”
“But who sings?”
“Why everybody, of course; you’ll see soon enough. We begin directly after supper, and sing till bed-time. It ain’t such good fun now though as in the summer half, ‘cause then we sing in the little fives’ court, under the library, you know. We take our tables, and the big boys sit round, and drink beer; double allowance on Saturday nights; and we cut about the quadrangle between the songs, and it looks like a lot of robbers in a cave. And the louts come and pound at the great gates, and we pound back again, and shout at them. But this half we only sing in the hall. Come along down to my study.”
Their principal employment in the study was to clear out East’s table, removing the drawers and ornaments and table-cloth; for he lived in the bottom passage, and his table was in requisition for the singing.
Supper came in due course at seven o’clock, consisting of bread and cheese and beer, which was all saved for the singing; and directly afterwards the fags went to work to prepare the hall. The School-house hall, as has been said, is a great long high room, with two large fires on one side, and two large iron-bound tables, one running down the middle, and the other along the wall opposite the fireplaces. Around the upper fire the fags placed the tables in the form of a horse-shoe, and upon them the jugs with the Saturday night’s allowance of beer. Then the big boys used to drop in and take their seats, bringing with them bottled beer and song-books; for although they all knew the songs by heart, it was the thing to have an old manuscript book descended from some departed hero, in which they were all carefully written out.
The sixth-form boys had not yet appeared; so, to fill up the gap, an interesting and time-honoured ceremony was gone through. Each new boy was placed on the table in turn, and made to sing a solo, under the penalty of drinking a large mug of salt and water if he resisted or broke down. However, the new boys all sing like nightingales to-night, and the salt water is not in requisition; Tom, as his part, performing the old west-country song of “The Leather Bottèl” with considerable applause. And at the half-hour down come the sixth and fifth form boys, and take their places at the tables, which are filled up by the next biggest boys, the rest, for whom there is no room at the table, standing round outside.
The glasses and mugs are filled, and then the fugleman strikes up the old sea song —
“A wet sheet and a flowing sea,
And a wind that follows fast,” &c.
which is the invariable first song in the School-house, and all the seventy voices join in, not mindful of harmony, but bent on noise, which they attain decidedly; but the general effect isn’t bad. And then follow the “British Grenadiers,” “Billy Taylor,” “The Siege of Seringapatam,” “Three Jolly Postboys,” and other vociferous songs in rapid succession, including the “Chesapeake and Shannon,” a song lately introduced in honour of old Brooke; and when they come to the words —
“Brave Broke he waved his sword, crying, Now my lads, aboard, And we’ll stop their playing Yankee-doodle-dandy oh!”
you expect the roof to come down. The sixth and fifth know that “brave Broke” of the Shannon was no sort of relation to our old Brooke. The fourth-form are uncertain in their belief, but for the most part hold that old Brooke was a midshipman then on board his uncle’s ship. And the lower school never doubt for a moment that it was our old Brooke who led the boarders, in what capacity they care not a straw. During the pauses the bottled-beer corks fly rapidly, and the talk is fast and merry, and the big boys, at least all of them who have a fellow-feeling for dry throats, hand their mugs over their shoulders to be emptied by the small ones who stand round behind.
Then Warner, the head of the house, gets up and wants to speak, but he can’t, for every boy knows what’s coming; and the big boys who sit at the tables pound them and cheer; and the small boys who stand behind pound one another, and cheer, and rush about the hall cheering. Then silence being made, Warner reminds them of the old School-house custom of drinking the healths, on the first night of singing, of those who are going to leave at the end of the half. “He sees that they know what he is going to say already — (loud cheers) — and so won’t keep them, but only ask them to treat the toast as it deserves. It is the head of the eleven, the head of big-side football, their leader on this glorious day — Pater Brooke!”
And away goes the pounding and cheering again, becoming deafening when old Brooke gets on his legs: till, a table having broken down, and a gallon or so of beer been upset, and all throats getting dry, silence ensues, and the hero speaks, leaning his hands on the table, and bending a little forwards. No action, no tricks of oratory; plain, strong, and straight, like his play.
“Gentlemen of the School-house! I am very proud of the way in which you have received my name, and I wish I could say all I should like in return. But I know I shan’t. However, I’ll do the best I can to say what seems to me ought to be said by a fellow who’s just going to leave, and who has spent a good slice of his life here. Eight years it is, and eight such years as I can never hope to have again. So now I hope you’ll all listen to me — (loud cheers of ‘that we will’) — for I’m going to talk seriously. You’re bound to listen to me; for what’s the use of calling me ‘pater,’ and all that, if you don’t mind what I say? And I’m going to talk seriously, because I feel so. It’s a jolly time, too, getting to the end of the half, and a goal kicked by us first day — (tremendous applause) — after one of the hardest and fiercest day’s play I can remember in eight years — (frantic shoutings). The school played splendidly, too, I will say, and kept it up to the last. That last charge of theirs would have carried away a house. I never thought to see anything again of old Crab there, except little pieces, when I saw him tumbled over by it — (laughter and shouting, and great slapping on the back of Jones by the boys nearest him). Well, but we beat ’em — (cheers). Aye, but why did we beat ’em? answer me that — (shouts of ‘your play.’) Nonsense! ‘Twasn’t the wind and kick-off either — that wouldn’t do it. ‘Twasn’t because we’ve half-a-dozen of the best players in the school, as we have. I wouldn’t change Warner, and Hedge, and Crab, and the young un, for any six on their side — (violent cheers.) But half-a-dozen fellows can’t keep it up for two hours against two hundred. Why is it, then? I’ll tell you what I think. It’s because we’ve more reliance on one another, more of a house feeling, more fellowship than the school can have. Each of us knows and can depend on his next hand man better — that’s why we beat ’em to-day. We’ve union, they’ve division — there’s the secret — (cheers). But how’s this to be kept up? How’s it to be improved? That’s the question. For I take it, we’re all in earnest about beating the school, whatever else we care about. I know I’d sooner win two School-house matches running than get the Balliol scholarship any day — (frantic cheers).
“Now, I’m as proud of the house as any one. I believe it’s the best house in the school, out-and-out — (cheers). But it’s a long way from what I want to see it. First there’s a deal of bullying going on. I know it well. I don’t pry about and interfere; that only makes it more underhand, and encourages the small boys to come to us with their fingers in their eyes telling tales, and so we should be worse off than ever. It’s very little kindness for the sixth to meddle generally — you youngsters, mind that. You’ll be all the better football players for learning to stand it, and to take your own parts, and fight it through. But depend on it, there’s nothing breaks up a house like bullying. Bullies are cowards, and one coward makes many; so good-bye to the School-house match if bullying gets ahead here. (Loud applause from the small boys, who look meaningly at Flashman and other boys at the tables.) Then there’s fuddling about in the public-houses, and drinking bad spirits, and punch, and such rot-gut stuff. That won’t make good drop-kicks or chargers of you, take my word for it. You get plenty of good beer here, and that’s enough for you; and drinking isn’t fine or manly, whatever some of you may think of it.
“One other thing I must have a word about. A lot of you think and say, for I’ve heard you, ‘There’s this new Doctor hasn’t been here so long as some of us, and he’s changing all the old customs. Rugby, and the School-house especially, are going to the dogs. Stand up for the good old ways, and down with the Doctor!’ Now I’m as fond of old Rugby customs and ways as any of you, and I’ve been here longer than any of you, and I’ll give you a word of advice in time, for I shouldn’t like to see any of you getting sacked. ‘Down with the Doctor!’ is easier said than done. You’ll find him pretty tight on his perch, I take it, and an awkwardish customer to handle in that line. Besides now, what customs has he put down? There was the good old custom of taking the linch-pins out of the farmers’ and bagmen’s gigs at the fairs, and a cowardly blackguard custom it was. We all know what came of it; and no wonder the Doctor objected to it. But, come now, any of you, name a custom that he has put down.”
“The hounds,” calls out a fifth-form boy, clad in a green cutaway with brass buttons and cord trousers, the leader of the sporting interest, and reputed a great rider and keen hand generally.
“Well, we had six or seven mangey harriers and beagles belonging to the house, I’ll allow, and had had them for years, and that the Doctor put them down. But what good ever came of them? Only rows with all the keepers for ten miles round; and big-side Hare and Hounds is better fun ten times over. What else?”
“Well, I won’t go on. Think it over for yourselves: you’ll find, I believe, that he don’t meddle with any one that’s worth keeping. And mind now, I say again, look out for squalls, if you will go your own way, and that way ain’t the Doctor’s, for it’ll lead to grief. You all know that I’m not the fellow to back a master through thick and thin. If I saw him stopping football, or cricket, or bathing, or sparring, I’d be as ready as any fellow to stand up about it. But he don’t — he encourages them; didn’t you see him out to-day for half-an-hour watching us? (loud cheers for the Doctor;) and he’s a strong, true man, and a wise one too, and a public-school man too. (Cheers.) And so let’s stick to him, and talk no more rot, and drink his health as the head of the house. (Loud cheers.) And now I’ve done blowing up, and very glad I am to have done. But it’s a solemn thing to be thinking of leaving a place which one has lived in and loved for eight years; and if one can say a word for the good of the old house at such a time, why, it should be said, whether bitter or sweet. If I hadn’t been proud of the house and you — aye, no one knows how proud — I shouldn’t be blowing you up. And now let’s get to singing. But before I sit down I must give you a toast to be drunk with three-times-three and all the honours. It’s a toast which I hope every one of us, wherever he may go hereafter, will never fail to drink when he thinks of the brave bright days of his boyhood. It’s a toast which should bind us all together, and to those who’ve gone before, and who’ll come after us here. It is the dear old school-house — the best house of the best school in England!”
My dear boys, old and young, you who have belonged, or do belong, to other schools and other houses, don’t begin throwing my poor little book about the room, and abusing me and it, and vowing you’ll read no more when you get to this point. I allow you’ve provocation for it. But, come now — would you, any of you, give a fig for a fellow who didn’t believe in, and stand up for his own house and his own school? You know you wouldn’t. Then don’t object to my cracking up the old School-house, Rugby. Haven’t I a right to do it, when I’m taking all the trouble of writing this true history for all your benefits? If you ain’t satisfied, go and write the history of your own houses in your own times, and say all you know for your own schools and houses, provided it’s true, and I’ll read it without abusing you.
The last few words hit the audience in their weakest place; they had been not altogether enthusiastic at several parts of old Brooke’s speech; but “the best house of the best school in England” was too much for them all, and carried even the sporting and drinking interests off their legs into rapturous applause, and (it is to be hoped) resolutions to lead a new life and remember old Brooke’s words; which, however, they didn’t altogether do, as will appear hereafter.
But it required all old Brooke’s popularity to carry down parts of his speech; especially that relating to the Doctor. For there are no such bigoted holders by established forms and customs, be they never so foolish or meaningless, as English school-boys — at least, as the school-boy of our generation. We magnified into heroes every boy who had left, and looked upon him with awe and reverence, when he revisited the place a year or so afterwards, on his way to or from Oxford or Cambridge; and happy was the boy who remembered him, and sure of an audience as he expounded what he used to do and say, though it were sad enough stuff to make angels, not to say head-masters, weep.
We looked upon every trumpery little custom and habit which had obtained in the school as though it had been a law of the Medes and Persians, and regarded the infringement or variation of it as a sort of sacrilege. And the Doctor, than whom no man or boy had a stronger liking for old school customs which were good and sensible, had, as has already been hinted, come into most decided collision with several which were neither the one nor the other. And as old Brooke had said, when he came into collision with boys or customs, there was nothing for them but to give in or take themselves off; because what he said had to be done, and no mistake about it. And this was beginning to be pretty clearly understood; the boys felt that there was a strong man over them, who would have things his own way; and hadn’t yet learned that he was a wise and loving man also. His personal character and influence had not had time to make itself felt, except by a very few of the bigger boys, with whom he came more directly in contact; and he was looked upon with great fear and dislike by the great majority even of his own house. For he had found school, and school-house, in a state of monstrous license and misrule, and was still employed in the necessary but unpopular work of setting up order with a strong hand.
However, as has been said, old Brooke triumphed, and the boys cheered him and then the Doctor. And then more songs came, and the healths of the other boys about to leave, who each made a speech, one flowery, another maudlin, a third prosy, and so on, which are not necessary to be here recorded.
Half-past nine struck in the middle of the performance of “Auld Lang Syne,” a most obstreperous proceeding; during which there was an immense amount of standing with one foot on the table, knocking mugs together and shaking hands, without which accompaniments it seems impossible for the youth of Britain to take part in that famous old song. The under-porter of the School-house entered during the performance, bearing five or six long wooden candlesticks, with lighted dips in them, which he proceeded to stick into their holes in such part of the great tables as he could get at; and then stood outside the ring till the end of the song, when he was hailed with shouts.
“Bill, you old muff, the half-hour hasn’t struck.” “Here, Bill, drink some cocktail,” “Sing us a song old boy,” “Don’t you wish you may get the table?” Bill drank the proffered cocktail not unwillingly, and putting down the empty glass, remonstrated, “Now, gentlemen, there’s only ten minutes to prayers, and we must get the hall straight.”
Shouts of “No, no!” and a violent effort to strike up “Billy Taylor” for the third time. Bill looked appealingly to old Brooke, who got up and stopped the noise. “Now then, lend a hand, you youngsters, and get the tables back; clear away the jugs and glasses. Bill’s right. Open the windows, Warner.” The boy addressed, who sat by the long ropes, proceeded to pull up the great windows, and let in a clear fresh rush of night air, which made the candles flicker and gutter, and the fires roar. The circle broke up, each collaring his own jug, glass, and song-book; Bill pounced on the big table, and began to rattle it away to its place outside the buttery-door. The lower-passage boys carried off their small tables, aided by their friends, while above all, standing on the great hall-table, a knot of untiring sons of harmony made night doleful by a prolonged performance of “God save the King.” His Majesty King William IV. then reigned over us, a monarch deservedly popular amongst the boys addicted to melody, to whom he was chiefly known from the beginning of that excellent, if slightly vulgar, song in which they much delighted —
“Come, neighbours all, both great and small,
Perform your duties here,
And loudly sing ‘live Billy our king,’
For bating the tax upon beer.”
Others of the more learned in songs also celebrated his praises in a sort of ballad, which I take to have been written by some Irish loyalist. I have forgotten all but the chorus, which ran —
“God save our good King William, be his name for ever blessed: He’s the father of all his people, and the guardian of all the rest.”
In troth, we were loyal subjects in those days, in a rough way. I trust that our successors make as much of her present Majesty, and, having regard to the greater refinement of the times, have adopted or written other songs equally hearty, but more civilized, in her honour.
Then the quarter to ten struck, and the prayer-bell rang. The sixth and fifth form boys ranged themselves in their school order along the wall, on either side of the great fives, the middle fifth and upper-school boys round the long table in the middle of the hall, and the lower-school boys round the upper part of the second long table, which ran down the side of the hall furthest from the fires. Here Tom found himself at the bottom of all, in a state of mind and body not at all fit for prayers, as he thought; and so tried hard to make himself serious, but couldn’t, for the life of him, do anything but repeat in his head the choruses of some of the songs, and stare at all the boys opposite, wondering at the brilliancy of their waistcoats, and speculating what sort of fellows they were. The steps of the head-porter are heard on the stairs, and a light gleams at the door. “Hush!” from the fifth-form boys who stand there, and then in strides the Doctor, cap on head, book in one hand, and gathering up his gown in the other. He walks up the middle, and takes his post by Warner, who begins calling over the names. The Doctor takes no notice of anything, but quietly turns over his book and finds the place, and then stands, cap in hand and finger in book, looking straight before his nose. He knows better than any one when to look, and when to see nothing; to-night is singing night, and there’s been lots of noise and no harm done; nothing but beer drunk, and nobody the worse for it; though some of them do look hot and excited. So the Doctor sees nothing, but fascinates Tom in a horrible manner as he stands there, and reads out the Psalm in that deep, ringing, searching voice of his. Prayers are over, and Tom still stares open-mouthed after the Doctor’s retiring figure, when he feels a pull at his sleeve, and turning round, sees East.
“I say, were you ever tossed in a blanket?”
“No,” said Tom; “why?”
“‘Cause there’ll be tossing to-night, most likely, before the sixth come up to bed. So if you funk, you just come along and hide, or else they’ll catch you and toss you.”
“Were you ever tossed? Does it hurt?” inquired Tom.
“Oh yes, bless you, a dozen times,” said East, as he hobbled along by Tom’s side up-stairs. “It don’t hurt unless you fall on the floor. But most fellows don’t like it.”
They stopped at the fireplace in the top passage, where were a crowd of small boys whispering together, and evidently unwilling to go up into the bedrooms. In a minute, however, a study door opened, and a sixth-form boy came out, and off they all scuttled up the stairs, and then noiselessly dispersed to their different rooms. Tom’s heart beat rather quick as he and East reached their room, but he had made up his mind. “I shan’t hide, East,” said he.
“Very well, old fellow,” replied East, evidently pleased; “no more shall I— they’ll be here for us directly.”
The room was a great big one, with a dozen beds in it, but not a boy that Tom could see, except East and himself. East pulled off his coat and waistcoat, and then sat on the bottom of his bed, whistling, and pulling off his boots; Tom followed his example.
A noise and steps are heard in the passage, the door opens, and in rush four or five great fifth-form boys, headed by Flashman in his glory.
Tom and East slept in the further corner of the room, and were not seen at first.
“Gone to ground, eh?” roared Flashman; “push ’em out then, boys! look under the beds:” and he pulled up the little white curtain of the one nearest him. “Who-o-op,” he roared, pulling away at the leg of a small boy, who held on tight to the leg of the bed, and sung out lustily for mercy.
“Here, lend a hand, one of you, and help me pull out this young howling brute. Hold your tongue, sir, or I’ll kill you.”
“Oh, please, Flashman, please, Walker, don’t toss me! I’ll fag for you, I’ll do anything, only don’t toss me.”
“You be hanged,” said Flashman, lugging the wretched boy along, “‘twont hurt you, —— you! Come along, boys, here he is.”
“I say, Flashy,” sung out another of the big boys, “drop that; you heard what old Pater Brooke said to-night I’ll he hanged if we’ll toss any one against their will — no more bullying. Let him go, I say.”
Flashman, with an oath and a kick, released his prey, who rushed headlong under his bed again, for fear they should change their minds, and crept along underneath the other beds, till he got under that of the sixth-form boy, which he knew they daren’t disturb.
“There’s plenty of youngsters don’t care about it,” said Walker. “Here, here’s Scud East — you’ll be tossed, won’t you, young un?” Scud was East’s nickname, or Black, as we called it, gained by his fleetness of foot.
“Yes,” said East, “if you like, only mind my foot.”
“And here’s another who didn’t hide. Hullo! new boy; what’s your name, sir?”
“Well, Whitey Brown, you don’t mind being tossed?”
“No,” said Tom, setting his teeth.
“Come along then, boys,” sung out Walker; and away they all went, carrying along Tom and East, to the intense relief of four or five other small boys, who crept out from under the beds and behind them.
“What a trump Scud is!” said one. “They won’t come back here now.”
“And that new boy, too; he must be a good plucked one.”
“Ah! wait till he has been tossed on to the floor; see how he’ll like it then!”
Meantime the procession went down the passage to Number 7, the largest room, and the scene of tossing, in the middle of which was a great open space. Here they joined other parties of the bigger boys, each with a captive or two, some willing to be tossed, some sullen, and some frightened to death. At Walker’s suggestion, all who were afraid were let off, in honour of Pater Brooke’s speech.
Then a dozen big boys seized hold of a blanket dragged from one of the beds. “In with Scud, quick! there’s no time to lose.” East was chucked into the blanket. “Once, twice, thrice, and away;” up he went like a shuttlecock, but not quite up to the ceiling.
“Now, boys, with a will,” cried Walker, “once, twice, thrice, and away!” This time he went clean up, and kept himself from touching the ceiling with his hand; and so again a third time, when he was turned out, and up went another boy. And then came Tom’s turn. He lay quite still, by East’s advice, and didn’t dislike the “once, twice, thrice;” but the “away” wasn’t so pleasant. They were in good wind now, and sent him slap up to the ceiling first time, against which his knees came rather sharply. But the moment’s pause before descending was the rub, the feeling of utter helplessness, and of leaving his whole inside behind him sticking to the ceiling. Tom was very near shouting to be set down, when he found himself back in the blanket, but thought of East, and didn’t; and so took his three tosses without a kick or a cry, and was called a young trump for his pains.
He and East, having earned it, stood now looking on. No catastrophe happened, as all the captives were cool hands, and didn’t struggle. This didn’t suit Flashman. What your real bully likes in tossing, is when the boys kick and struggle, or hold on to one side of the blanket, and so get pitched bodily on to the floor; it’s no fun to him when no one is hurt or frightened.
“Let’s toss two of them together, Walker,” suggested he.
“What a cursed bully you are, Flashy!” rejoined the other. “Up with another one.”
And so no two boys were tossed together, the peculiar hardship of which is, that it’s too much for human nature to lie still then and share troubles; and so the wretched pair of small boys struggle in the air which shall fall a-top in the descent, to the no small risk of both falling out of the blanket, and the huge delight of brutes like Flashman.
But now there’s a cry that the præpostor of the room is coming; so the tossing stops, and all scatter to their different rooms: and Tom is left to turn in, with the first day’s experience of a public school to meditate upon.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55