Says Giles, “Tis mortal hard to go;
But if so be’s I must,
I means to follow arter he
As goes hisself the fust.”
EVERYBODY, I suppose, knows the dreamy delicious state in which one lies, half asleep, half awake, while consciousness begins to return, after a sound night’s rest in a new place which we are glad to be in, following upon a day of unwonted excitement and exertion. There are few pleasanter pieces of life. The worst of it is that they last such a short time; for, nurse them as you will, by lying perfectly passive in mind and body, you can’t make more than five minutes or so of them. After which time, the stupid, obtrusive, wakeful entity which we call ‘I,’ as impatient as he is stiff-necked, spite of our teeth will force himself back again, and take possession of us down to our very toes.
It was in this state that Master Tom lay at half-past seven on the morning following the day of his arrival, and from his clean little white bed watched the movements of Bogle (the generic name by which the successive shoeblacks of the School-house were known), as he marched round from bed to bed, collecting the dirty shoes and boots, and depositing clean ones in their places.
There he lay, half doubtful as to where exactly in the universe he was, but conscious that he had made a step in life which he had been anxious to make. It was only just light as he looked lazily out of the wide windows, and saw the tops of the great elms, and the rooks circling about, and cawing remonstrances to the lazy ones of their commonwealth, before starting in a body for the neighbouring ploughed fields. The noise of the room-door closing behind Bogle, as he made his exit with the shoe-basket under his arm, roused Tom thoroughly, and he sat up in bed and looked round the room. What in the world could be the matter with his shoulders and loins? He felt as if he had been severely beaten all down his back, the natural result of his performance at his first match. He drew up his knees and rested his chin on them, and went over all the events of yesterday, rejoicing in his new life, what he had seen of it, and all that was to come.
Presently one or two of the other boys roused themselves, and began to sit up and talk to one another in low tones. Then East, after a roll or two, came to an anchor also, and, nodding to Tom, began examining his ankle.
“What a pull,” said he, “that it’s lie-in-bed, for I shall be as lame as a tree, I think.”
It was Sunday morning, and Sunday lectures had not yet been established; so that nothing but breakfast intervened between bed and eleven o’clock chapel — a gap by no means easy to fill up: in fact, though received with the correct amount of grumbling, the first lecture instituted by the Doctor shortly afterwards was a great boon to the School. It was lie in bed, and no one was in a hurry to get up, especially in rooms where the sixth-form boy was a good-tempered fellow, as was the case in Tom’s room, and allowed the small boys to talk and laugh, and do pretty much what they pleased, so long as they didn’t disturb him. His bed was a bigger one than the rest, standing in the corner by the fireplace, with a washing-stand and large basin by the side, where he lay in state, with his white curtains tucked in so as to form a retiring place: an awful subject of contemplation to Tom, who slept nearly opposite, and watched the great man rouse himself and take a book from under his pillow, and begin reading, leaning his head on his hand, and turning his back to the room. Soon, however, a noise of striving urchins arose, and muttered encouragements from the neighbouring boys, of — “Go it, Tadpole!” “Now, young Green!” “Haul away his blanket!” “Slipper him on the hands!” Young Green and little Hall, commonly called Tadpole, from his great black head and thin legs, slept side by side far away by the door, and were for ever playing one another tricks, which usually ended, as on this morning, in open and violent collision: and now, unmindful of all order and authority, there they were, each hauling away at the other’s bed-clothes with one hand, and with the other, armed with a slipper, belabouring whatever portion of the body of his adversary came within reach.
“Hold that noise, up in the corner,” called out the præpostor, sitting up and looking round his curtains; and the Tadpole and young Green sank down into their disordered beds, and then, looking at his watch, added “Hullo, past eight! — whose turn for hot water?”
(Where the præpostor was particular in his ablutions, the fags in his room had to descend in turn to the kitchen, and beg or steal hot water for him; and often the custom extended further, and two boys went down every morning to get a supply for the whole room.)
“East’s and Tadpole’s,” answered the senior fag, who kept the rota.
“I can’t go,” said East; “I’m dead lame.”
“Well, be quick, some of you, that’s all,” said the great man, as he turned out of bed, and putting on his slippers, went out into the great passage which runs the whole length of the bedrooms, to get his Sunday habiliments out of his portmanteau.
“Let me go for you,” said Tom to East, “I should like it.”
“Well, thank’ee, that’s a good fellow. Just pull on your trousers, and take your jug and mine. Tadpole will show you the way.”
And so Tom and the Tadpole, in night-shirts and trousers, started off down-stairs, and through “Thos’s hole,” as the little buttery, where candles and beer and bread and cheese were served out at night, was called; across the School-house court, down a long passage, and into the kitchen; where, after some parley with the stalwart, handsome cook, who declared that she had filled a dozen jugs already, they got their hot water, and returned with all speed and great caution. As it was, they narrowly escaped capture by some privateers from the fifth-form rooms, who were on the look-out for the hot-water convoys, and pursued them up to the very door of their room, making them spill half their load in the passage. “Better than going down again though,” Tadpole remarked, “as we should have had to do, if those beggars had caught us.”
By the time that the calling-over bell rang, Tom and his new comrades were all down, dressed in their best clothes, and he had the satisfaction of answering “here” to his name for the first time, the præpostor of the week having put it in at the bottom of his list. And then came breakfast, and a saunter about the close and town with East, whose lameness only became severe when any fagging had to be done. And so they whiled away the time until morning chapel.
It was a fine November morning, and the close soon became alive with boys of all ages, who sauntered about on the grass, or walked round the gravel walk, in parties of two or three. East, still doing the cicerone, pointed out all the remarkable characters to Tom as they passed: Osbert, who could throw a cricket-ball from the little-side ground over the rook trees to the Doctor’s wall; Gray, who had got the Balliol scholarship, and, what East evidently thought of much more importance, a half-holiday for the School by his success; Thorne, who had run ten miles in two minutes over the hour; Black, who had held his own against the cock of the town in the last row with the louts; and many more heroes, who then and there walked about and were worshipped, all trace of whom has long since vanished from the scene of their fame; and the fourth-form boy who reads their names rudely cut out on the old hall tables, or painted upon the big side-cupboard (if hall tables, and big side-cupboards still exist), wonders what manner of boys they were. It will be the same with you who wonder, my sons, whatever your prowess may be, in cricket, or scholarship, or football. Two or three years, more or less, and then the steadily advancing, blessed wave will pass over your names as it has passed over ours. Nevertheless, play your games and do your work manfully — see only that that be done, and let the remembrance of it take care of itself.
The chapel-bell began to ring at a quarter to eleven, and Tom got in early and took his place in the lowest row, and watched all the other boys come in and take their places, filling row after row; and tried to construe the Greek text which was inscribed over the door with the slightest possible success, and wondered which of the masters, who walked down the chapel and took their seats in the exalted boxes at the end, would be his lord. And then came the closing of the doors, and the Doctor in his robes and the service, which, however, didn’t impress him much, for his feeling of wonder and curiosity was too strong. And the boy on one side of him was scratching his name on the oak panelling in front, and he couldn’t help watching to see what the name was, and whether it was well scratched; and the boy on the other side went to sleep and kept falling against him; and on the whole, though many boys even in that part of the School were serious and attentive, the general atmosphere was by no means devotional; and when he got out into the close again, he didn’t feel at all comfortable, or as if he had been to church.
But at afternoon chapel it was quite another thing. He had spent the time after dinner in writing home to his mother, and so was in a better frame of mind; and his first curiosity was over, and he could attend more to the service. As the hymn after the prayers was being sung, and the chapel was getting a little dark, he was beginning to feel that he had been really worshipping. And then came that great event in his, as in every Rugby boy’s life of that day — the first sermon from the Doctor.
More worthy pens than mine have described that scene. The oak pulpit standing out by itself above the School seats. The tall gallant form, the kindling eye, the voice, now soft as the low notes of a flute, now clear and stirring as the call of the light infantry bugle, of him who stood there Sunday after Sunday, witnessing and pleading for his Lord, the King of righteousness and love and glory, with whose spirit he was filled, and in whose power he spoke. The long lines of young faces, rising tier above tier down the whole length of the chapel, from the little boy’s who had just left his mother to the young man’s who was going out next week into the great world rejoicing in his strength. It was a great and solemn sight, and never more so than at this time of year, when the only lights in the chapel were in the pulpit and at the seats of the præpostors of the week, and the soft twilight stole over the rest of the chapel, deepening into darkness in the high gallery behind the organ.
But what was it after all which seized and held these three hundred boys, dragging them out of themselves, willing or unwilling, for twenty minutes, on Sunday afternoon? True, there always were boys scattered up and down the School, who in heart and head were worthy to hear and able to carry away the deepest and wisest words there spoken. But these were a minority always, generally a very small one, often so small a one as to be countable on the fingers of your hand. What was it that moved and held us, the rest of the three hundred reckless, childish boys, who feared the Doctor with all our hearts, and very little besides in heaven or earth: who thought more of our sets in the School than of the Church of Christ, and put the traditions of Rugby and the public opinion of boys in our daily life above the laws of God? We couldn’t enter into half that we heard; we hadn’t the knowledge of our own hearts or the knowledge of one another; and little enough of the faith, hope, and love needed to that end. But we listened, as all boys in their better moods will listen (aye, and men too, for the matter of that), to a man who we felt to be, with all Ins heart and soul and strength, striving against whatever was mean and unmanly and unrighteous in our little world. It was not the cold clear voice of one giving advice and warning from serene heights to those who were struggling and sinning below, but the warm living voice of one who was fighting for us and by our sides, and calling on us to help him and ourselves and one another. And so, wearily and little by little, but surely and steadily on the whole, was brought home to the young boy, for the first time, the meaning of his life: that it was no fool’s or sluggard’s paradise into which he had wandered by chance, but a battle-field ordained from of old, where there are no spectators, but the youngest must take his side, and the stakes are life and death. And he who roused his consciousness in them showed them at the same time, by every word he spoke in the pulpit, and by his whole daily life, how that battle was to be fought; and stood there before them their fellow-soldier and the captain of their band. The true sort of captain, too, for a boy’s army, one who had no misgivings and gave no uncertain word of command, and, let who would yield or make a truce, would fight the fight out (so every boy felt) to the last gasp and the last drop of blood. Other sides of his character might take hold of and influence boys here and there, but it was this thoroughness and undaunted courage which more than anything else won his way to the hearts of the great mass of those on whom he left his mark, and made them believe first in him, and then in his Master.
It was this quality above all others which moved such boys as our hero, who had nothing whatever remarkable about him except excess of boyishness; by which I mean animal life in its fullest measure, good nature and honest impulses, hatred of injustice and meanness, and thoughtlessness enough to sink a three-decker. And so, during the next two years, in which it was more than doubtful whether he would get good or evil from the School, and before any steady purpose or principle grew up in him, whatever his week’s sins and shortcomings might have been, he hardly ever left the chapel on Sunday evenings without a serious resolve to stand by and follow the Doctor, and a feeling that it was only cowardice (the incarnation of all other sins in such a boy’s mind) which hindered him from doing so with all his heart.
The next day Tom was duly placed in the third form, and began his lessons in a corner of the big School. He found the work very easy, as he had been well grounded, and knew his grammar by heart; and, as he had no intimate companion to make him idle (East and his other School-house friends being in the lower fourth, the form above him), soon gained golden opinions from his master, who said he was placed too low, and should be put out at the end of the half-year. So all went well with him in School, and he wrote the most flourishing letters home to his mother, full of his success and the unspeakable delights of a public school.
In the house, too, all went well. The end of the half-year was drawing near, which kept everybody in a good humour, and the house was ruled well and strongly by Warner and Brooke. True, the general system was rough and hard, and there was bullying in nooks and corners, bad signs for the future; but it never got further, or dared show itself openly, stalking about the passages and hall and bedrooms, and making the life of the small boys a continual fear.
Tom, as a new boy, was of right excused fagging for the first month, but in his enthusiasm for his new life this privilege hardly pleased him; and East and others of his young friends discovering this, kindly allowed him to indulge his fancy, and take their turns at night fagging and cleaning studies. These were the principal duties of the fags in the house. From supper until nine o’clock, three fags taken in order stood in the passages, and answered any præpostor who called Fag, racing to the door, the last comer having to do the work. This consisted generally of going to the buttery for beer and bread and cheese (for the great men did not sup with the rest, but had each his own allowance in his study or the fifth-form room), cleaning candlesticks and putting in new candles, toasting cheese, bottling beer, and carrying messages about the house; and Tom, in the first blush of his hero-worship, felt it a high privilege to receive orders from, and be the bearer of, the supper of old Brooke. And besides this night-work, each præpostor had three or four fags specially allotted to him, of whom he was supposed to be the guide, philosopher, and friend, and who in return for these good offices had to clean out his study every morning by turns, directly after first lesson and before he returned from breakfast. And the pleasure of seeing the great men’s studies, and looking at their pictures, and peeping into their books, made Tom a ready substitute for any boy who was too lazy to do his own work. And so he soon gained the character of a good-natured willing fellow, who was ready to do a turn for any one.
In all the games too he joined with all his heart and soon became well versed in all the mysteries of football, by continued practice at the School-house little-side, which played daily.
The only incident worth recording here, however, was his first run at Hare-and-hounds. On the last Tuesday but one of the half-year he was passing through the Hall after dinner, when he was hailed with shouts from Tadpole and several other fags seated at one of the long tables, the chorus of which was “Come and help us tear up scent.”
Tom approached the table in obedience to the mysterious summons, always ready to help, and found the party engaged in tearing up old newspapers, copy-books, and magazines, into small pieces, with which they were filling four large canvas bags.
“It’s the turn of our house to find scent for big-side Hare-and-hounds,” exclaimed Tadpole; “tear away, there’s no time to lose before calling-over.”
“I think it’s a great shame,” said another small boy, “to have such a hard run for the last day.”
“Which run is it?” said Tadpole.
“Oh, the Barby run, I hear,” answered the other; “nine miles at least, and hard ground; no chance of getting in at the finish, unless you’re a first-rate scud.”
“Well, I’m going to have a try,” said Tadpole; “it’s the last run of the half, and if a fellow gets in at the end, big-side stands ale and bread and cheese, and a bowl of punch; and the Cock’s such a famous place for ale.”
“I should like to try too,” said Tom.
“Well then, leave your waistcoat behind, and listen at the door, after calling-over, and you’ll hear where the meet is.”
After calling-over, sure enough, there were two boys at the door, calling out, “Big-side Hare-and-hounds meet at White Hall;” and Tom, having girded himself with leather strap, and left all superfluous clothing behind, set off for White Hall, an old gable-ended house some quarter of a mile from town, with East, whom he had persuaded to join, notwithstanding his prophecy that they could never get in, as it was the hardest run of the year.
At the meet they found some forty or fifty boys, and Tom felt sure, from having seen many of them run at football, that he and East were more likely to get in than they.
After a few minutes’ waiting, two well-known runners, chosen for the hares, buckled on the four bags filled with scent, compared their watches with those of young Brooke and Thorne, and started off at a long slinging trot across the fields in the direction of Barby.
Then the hounds clustered round Thorne, who explained shortly, “They’re to have six minutes’ law. We run into the Cock, and every one who comes in within a quarter of an hour of the hares’ll be counted, if he has been round Barby church.” Then came a minute’s pause or so, and then the watches are pocketed, and the pack is led through the gateway into the field which the hares had first crossed. Here they break into a trot, scattering over the field to find the first traces of the scent which the hares throw out as they go along. The old hounds make straight for the likely points, and in a minute a cry of “forward” comes from one of them, and the whole pack quickening their pace make for the spot, while the boy who hit the scent first and the two or three nearest to him are over the first fence, and making play along the hedgerow in the long grass-field beyond. The rest of the pack rush at the gap already made, and scramble through, jostling one another. “Forward” again, before they are half through; the pace quickens into a sharp run, the tail hounds all straining to get up with the lucky leaders. They are gallant hares, and the scent lies thick right across another meadow and into a ploughed field, where the pace begins to tell; and then over a good wattle with a ditch on the other side, and down a large pasture studded with old thorns, which slopes down to the first brook; the great Leicestershire sheep charge away across the field as the pack comes racing down the slope. The brook is a small one, and the scent lies right ahead up the opposite slope, and as thick as ever; not a turn or a check to favour the tail hounds, who strain on, now trailing in a long line, many a youngster beginning to drag his legs heavily, and feel his heart beat like a hammer, and the bad plucked ones thinking that after all it isn’t worth while to keep it up.
Tom, East, and the Tadpole had a good start, and are well up for such young hands, and after rising the slope and crossing the next field, find themselves up with the leading hounds, who have over-run the scent and are trying back; they have come a mile and a half in about eleven minutes, a pace which shows that it is the last day. About twenty-five of the original starters only show here, the rest having already given in; the leaders are busy making casts into the fields on the left and right, and the others get their second winds.
Then comes the cry of “forward” again, from young Brooke, from the extreme left, and the pack settles down to work again steadily and doggedly, the whole keeping pretty well together. The scent, though still good, is not so thick; there is no need of that, for in this part of the run every one knows the line which must be taken, and so there are no casts to be made, but good downright running and fencing to be done. All who are now up mean coming in, and they come to the foot of Barby Hill without losing more than two or three more of the pack. This last straight two miles and a half is always a vantage ground for the hounds, and the hares know it well; they are generally viewed on the side of Barby Hill, and all eyes are on the look-out for them to-day. But not a sign of them appears, so now will be the hard work for the hounds, and there is nothing for it but to cast about for the scent, for it is now the hares’ turn, and they may baffle the pack dreadfully in the next two miles.
Ill fares it now with our youngsters that they are School-house boys, and so follow young Brooke, for he takes the wide casts round to the left, conscious of his own powers, and loving the hard work. For if you would consider for a moment, you small boys, you would remember that the Cock, where the run ends, and the good ale will be going, lies far out to the right on the Dunchurch road, so that every cast you take to the left is so much extra work. And at this stage of the run, when the evening is closing in already, no one remarks whether you run a little cunning or not, so you should stick to those crafty hounds who keep edging away to the right, and not follow a prodigal like young Brooke, whose legs are twice as long as yours and of cast-iron, wholly indifferent to two or three miles more or less. However, they struggle after him, sobbing and plunging along, Tom and East pretty close, and Tadpole, whose big head begins to pull him down, some thirty yards behind.
Now comes a brook, with stiff clay banks, from which they can hardly drag their legs, and they hear faint cries for help from the wretched Tadpole, who has fairly stuck fast. But they have too little run left in themselves to pull up for their own brothers. Three fields more, and another check, and then “forward” called away to the extreme right.
The two boys’ souls die within them; they can never do it. Young Brooke thinks so too, and says kindly, “You’ll cross a lane after next field, keep down it, and you’ll hit the Dunchurch road below the Cock,” and then steams away for the run in, in which he’s sure to be first, as if he were just starting. They struggle on across the next field, the “forwards” getting fainter and fainter, and then ceasing. The whole hunt is out of ear-shot, and all hope of coming in is over.
“Hang it all!” broke out East, as soon as he had got wind enough, pulling off his hat and mopping at his face, all spattered with dirt and lined with sweat, from which went up a thick steam into the still cold air. “I told you how it would be. What a thick I was to come! Here we are dead beat, and yet I know we’re close to the run in, if we knew the country.”
“Well,” said Tom mopping away, and gulping down his disappointment, “it can’t be helped. We did our best anyhow. Hadn’t we better find this lane, and go down it, as young Brooke told us?”
“I suppose so — nothing else for it,” grunted East. “If ever I go out last day again,” growl — growl — growl.
So they tried back slowly and sorrowfully, and found the lane, and went limping down it, plashing in the cold puddly ruts, and beginning to feel how the run had taken it out of them. The evening closed in fast, and clouded over, dark, cold, and dreary.
“I say, it must be locking-up, I should think,” remarked East, breaking the silence; “it’s so dark.”
“What if we’re late?” said Tom.
“No tea, and sent up to the Doctor,” answered East.
The thought didn’t add to their cheerfulness. Presently a faint halloo was heard from an adjoining field. They answered it and stopped, hoping for some competent rustic to guide them, when over a gate some twenty yards ahead crawled the wretched Tadpole, in a state of collapse; he had lost a shoe in the brook, and been groping after it up to his elbows in the stiff wet clay, and a more miserable creature in the shape of boy seldom has been seen.
The sight of him, notwithstanding, cheered them, for he was some degrees more wretched than they. They also cheered him, as he was now no longer under the dread of passing his night alone in the fields. And so in better heart, the three plashed painfully down the never-ending lane. At last it widened, just as utter darkness set in, and they come out on to a turnpike-road, and there paused, bewildered, for they had lost all bearings, and knew not whether to turn to the right or left.
Luckily for them they had not to decide, for lumbering along the road, with one lamp lighted, and two spavined horses in the shafts, came a heavy coach, which after a moment’s suspense they recognised as the Oxford coach, the redoubtable Pig and Whistle.
It lumbered slowly up, and the boys mustering their last run, caught it as it passed, and began scrambling up behind, in which exploit East missed his footing and fell flat on his nose along the road. Then the others hailed the old scarecrow of a coachman, who pulled up and agreed to take them in for a shilling; so there they sat on the back seat, drubbing with their heels, and their teeth chattering with cold, and jogged into Rugby some forty minutes after locking-up.
Five minutes afterwards, three small limping shivering figures steal along through the Doctor’s garden, and into the house by the servants’ entrance (all the other gates have been closed long since), where the first thing they light upon in the passage is old Thomas, ambling along, candle in one hand and keys in the other.
He stops and examines their condition with a grim smile. “Ah! East, Hall, and Brown, late for locking-up. Must go up to the Doctor’s study at once.”
“Well but, Thomas, mayn’t we go and wash first? You can put down the time, you know.”
“Doctor’s study d’recly you come in — that’s the orders,” replied old Thomas, motioning towards the stairs at the end of the passage which led up into the Doctor’s house; and the boys turned ruefully down it, not cheered by the old verger’s muttered remark, “What a pickle they boys be in!” Thomas referred to their faces and habiliments, but they construed it as indicating the Doctor’s state of mind. Upon the short flight of stairs they paused to hold counsel.
“Who’ll go in first?” inquires Tadpole.
“You — you’re the senior,” answered East.
“Catch me — look at the state I’m in,” rejoined Hall, showing the arms of his jacket. “I must get behind you two.”
“Well, but look at me,” said East, indicating the mass of clay behind which he was standing; “I’m worse than you, two to one; you might grow cabbages on my trousers.”
“That’s all down below, and you can keep your legs behind the sofa,” said Hall.
“Here, Brown, you’re the show-figure — you must lead.”
“But my face is all muddy,” argued Tom.
“Oh, we’re all in one boat for that matter; but come on, we’re only making it worse, dawdling here.”
“Well, just give us a brush then,” said Tom; and they began trying to rub off the superfluous dirt from each other’s jackets, but it was not dry enough, and the rubbing made it worse; so in despair they pushed through the swing door at the head of the stairs, and found themselves in the Doctor’s hall.
“That’s the library door,” said East in a whisper, pushing Tom forwards. The sound of merry voices and laughing came from within, and his first hesitating knock was unanswered. But at the second, the Doctor’s voice said “Come in,” and Tom turned the handle, and he, with the others behind him, sidled into the room.
The Doctor looked up from his task; he was working away with a great chisel at the bottom of a boy’s sailing boat, the lines of which he was no doubt fashioning on the model of one of Nicias’ galleys. Round him stood three or four children; the candles burnt brightly on a large table at the further end covered with books and papers, and a great fire threw a ruddy glow over the rest of the room. All looked so kindly, and homely, and comfortable, that the boys took heart in a moment, and Tom advanced from behind the shelter of the great sofa. The Doctor nodded to the children, who went out, casting curious and amused glances at the three young scarecrows.
“Well, my little fellows,” began the Doctor, drawing himself up with his back to the fire, the chisel in one hand and his coat-tails in the other, and his eyes twinkling as he looked them over; “what makes you so late?”
“Please, sir, we’ve been out Big-side Hare-and-hounds, and lost our way.”
“Hah! you couldn’t keep up, I suppose?”
“Well, sir,” said East, stepping out, and not liking that the Doctor should think lightly of his running powers, “we got round Barby all right, but then — ”
“Why, what a state you’re in, my boy!” interrupted the Doctor, as the pitiful condition of East’s garments was fully revealed-to him.
“That’s the fall I got, sir, in the road,” said East, looking down at himself; “the Old Pig came by — ”
“The what?” said the Doctor.
“The Oxford coach, sir,” explained Hall.
“Hah! yes, the Regulator,” said the Doctor.
“And I tumbled on my face trying to get up behind,” went on East.
“You’re not hurt, I hope?” said the Doctor.
“Oh no, sir.”
“Well now, run up-stairs, all three of you, and get clean things on, and then tell the housekeeper to give you some tea. You’re too young to try such long runs. Let Warner know I’ve seen you. Good night.”
“Good night, sir.” And away scuttled the three boys in high glee.
“What a brick, not to give us even twenty lines to learn!” said the Tadpole, as they reached their bedroom; and in half-an-hour afterwards they were sitting by the fire in the housekeeper’s room at a sumptuous tea, with cold meat, “twice as good a grub as we should have got in the hall,” as the Tadpole remarked with a grin, his mouth full of buttered toast. All their grievances were forgotten, and they were resolving to go out the first big-side next half, and thinking Hare-and-hounds the most delightful of games.
A day or two afterwards the great passage outside the bedrooms was cleared of the boxes and portmanteaus, which went down to be packed by the matron, and great games of chariot-racing, and cock-fighting, and bolstering, went on in the vacant space, the sure sign of a closing half-year.
Then came the making-up of parties for the journey home, and Tom joined a party who were to hire a coach, and post with four horses to Oxford.
Then the last Saturday, on which the Doctor came round to each form to give out the prizes, and hear the masters’ last reports of how they and their charges had been conducting themselves; and Tom, to his huge delight, was praised, and got his remove into the lower-fourth, in which all his School-house friends were.
On the next Tuesday morning, at four o’clock, hot coffee was going on in the housekeeper’s and matron’s rooms; boys wrapped in great coats and mufflers were swallowing hasty mouthfuls, rushing about, tumbling over luggage, and asking questions all at once of the matron; outside the School-gates were drawn up several chaises and the four-horse coach which Tom’s party had chartered, the post-boys in their best jackets and breeches, and a cornopean player, hired for the occasion, blowing away “A southerly wind and a cloudy sky,” waking all peaceful inhabitants half-way down the High Street.
Every minute the bustle and hubbub increased, porters staggered about with boxes and bags, the cornopean played louder. Old Thomas sat in his den with a great yellow bag by his side, out of which he was paying journey money to each boy, comparing by the light of a solitary dip the dirty crabbed little list in his own handwriting with the Doctor’s list, and the amount of his cash; his head was on one side, his mouth screwed up, and his spectacles dim from early toil. He had prudently locked the door, and carried on his operations solely through the window, or he would have been driven wild, and lost all his money.
“Thomas, do be quick, we shall never catch the Highflyer at Dunchurch.”
“That’s your money, all right, Green.”
“Hullo, Thomas, the Doctor said I was to have two-pound-ten; you’ve only given me two pound.” — I fear that Master Green is not confining himself strictly to truth. — Thomas turns his head more on one side than ever, and spells away at the dirty list. Green is forced away from the window.
“Here, Thomas, never mind him, mine’s thirty shillings.” “And mine too,” “and mine,” shouted others.
One way or another, the party to which Tom belonged all got packed and paid, and sallied out to the gates, the cornopean playing frantically “Drops of Brandy,” in allusion, probably, to the slight potations in which the musician and post-boys had been already indulging. All luggage was carefully stowed away inside the coach and in the front and hind boots, so that not a hat-box was visible outside. Five or six small boys, with pea-shooters, and the cornopean player, got up behind; in front the big boys, mostly smoking, not for pleasure, but because they are now gentlemen at large — and this is the most correct public method of notifying the fact.
“Robinson’s coach will be down the road in a minute, it has gone up to Bird’s to pick up, — we’ll wait till they’re close, and make a race of it,” says the leader. “Now, boys, half-a-sovereign apiece if you beat ’em into Dunchurch by one hundred yards.”
“All right, sir,” shouted the grinning post-boys.
Down comes Robinson’s coach in a minute or two with a rival cornopean, and away go the two vehicles, horses galloping, boys cheering, horns playing loud. There is a special Providence over school-boys as well as sailors, or they must have upset twenty times in the first five miles; sometimes actually abreast of one another, and the boys on the roofs exchanging volleys of peas, now nearly running over a post-chaise which had started before them, now half-way up a bank, now with a wheel-and-a-half over a yawning ditch; and all this in a dark morning, with nothing but their own lamps to guide them. However, it’s all over at last, and they have run over nothing but an old pig in Southam Street; the last peas are distributed in the Corn Market at Oxford, where they arrive between eleven and twelve, and sit down to a sumptuous breakfast at the Angel, which they are made to pay for accordingly. Here the party breaks up, all going now different ways; and Tom orders out a chaise and pair as grand as a lord, though he has scarcely five shillings left in his pocket and more than twenty miles to get home.
“Where to, sir?”
“Red Lion, Farringdon,” says Tom, giving ostler a shilling.
“All right, sir. Red Lion, Jem,” to the post-boy, and Tom rattles away towards home. At Farringdon, being known to the innkeeper, he gets that worthy to pay for the Oxford horses, and forward him in another chaise at once; and so the gorgeous young gentleman arrives at the paternal mansion, and Squire Brown looks rather blue at having to pay two-pound ten-shillings for the posting expenses from Oxford. But the boy’s intense joy at getting home, and the wonderful health he is in, and the good character he brings, and the brave stories he tells of Rugby, its doings and delights, soon mollify the Squire, and three happier people didn’t sit down to dinner that day in England (it is the boy’s first dinner at six o’clock at home, great promotion already), than the Squire and his wife and Tom Brown at the end of his first half-year at Rugby.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55