TOM BROWN'S SCHOOLDAYS
[hold] it truth, with him who sings,
to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
* * * *
it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside,
The turning-point in our hero's school career had
now come, and the manner of it was as follows.
On the evening of the first day of the next half-year, Tom, East, and
another School-house boy, who had just been dropped at the Spread Eagle by the
old Regulator, rushed into the matron's room in high spirits, such as all real
boys are in when they first get back, however fond they may be of home.
"Well, Mrs. Wixie," shouted one, seizing
on the methodical, active, little dark-eyed woman, who was busy stowing away the
linen of the boys who had already arrived into their several pigeon-holes,
"here we are again, you see, as jolly as ever. Let us help you put the
"And, Mary," cried another (she was
called indifferently by either name), "who's come back? Has the Doctor made old Jones leave? How many new boys are there?"
"Am I and East to have Gray's study?
You know you promised to get it for us if you could," shouted Tom.
"And am I to sleep in Number 4?" roared
"How's old Sam, and Bogle, and Sally?"
"Bless the boys!" cries Mary, at last
getting in a word; "why, you'll shake me to death.
There, now, do go away up to the housekeeper's room and get your suppers;
you know I haven't time to talk. You'll
find plenty more in the house. --Now, Master East, do let those things alone.
You're mixing up three new boys' things." And she rushed at East, who escaped round the open trunks
holding up a prize.
"Hullo! look here, Tommy," shouted he;
"here's fun!" and he brandished above his head some pretty little
night-caps, beautifully made and marked, the work of loving fingers in some
distant country home. The kind
mother and sisters who sewed that delicate stitching with aching hearts little
thought of the trouble they might be bringing on the young head for which they
were meant. The little matron was
wiser, and snatched the caps from East before he could look at the name on them.
"Now, Master East, I shall be very angry if
you don't go," said she; "there's some capital cold beef and pickles
upstairs, and I won't have you old boys in my room first night."
"Hurrah for the pickles!
Come along, Tommy--come along, Smith. We shall find out who the young
count is, I'll be bound. I hope he'll sleep in my room.
Mary's always vicious first week."
As the boys turned to leave the room, the matron
touched Tom's arm, and said, "Master Brown, please stop a minute; I want to
speak to you."
"Very well, Mary. I'll come in a minute, East.
Don't finish the pickles."
"O Master Brown," went on the little
matron, when the rest had gone, "you're to have Gray's study, Mrs. Arnold
says. And she wants you to take in
this young gentleman. He's a new
boy, and thirteen years old though he don't look it.
He's very delicate, and has never been from home before.
And I told Mrs. Arnold I thought you'd be kind to him, and see that they
don't bully him at first. He's put
into your form, and I've given him the bed next to yours in Number 4; so East
can't sleep there this half."
Tom was rather put about by this speech.
He had got the double study which he coveted, but here were conditions
attached which greatly moderated his joy. He
looked across the room, and in the far corner of the sofa was aware of a slight,
pale boy, with large blue eyes and light fair hair, who seemed ready to shrink
through the floor. He saw at a
glance that the little stranger was just the boy whose first half-year at a
public school would be misery to himself if he were left alone, or constant
anxiety to any one who meant to see him through his troubles.
Tom was too honest to take in the youngster, and then let him shift for
himself; and if he took him as his chum instead of East, where were all his pet
plans of having a bottled-beer cellar under his window, and making night-lines
and slings, and plotting expeditions to Brownsover Mills and Caldecott's
Spinney? East and he had made up
their minds to get this study, and then every night from locking-up till ten
they would be together to talk about fishing, drink bottled-beer, read Marryat's
novels, and sort birds' eggs. And
this new boy would most likely never go out of the close, and would be afraid of
wet feet, and always getting laughed at, and called Molly, or Jenny, or some
derogatory feminine nickname.
The matron watched him for a moment, and saw what
was passing in his mind, and so, like a wise negotiator, threw in an appeal to
his warm heart. "Poor little
fellow," said she, in almost a whisper; "his father's dead, and he's
got no brothers. And his
mamma--such a kind, sweet lady--almost broke her heart at leaving him this
morning; and she said one of his sisters was like to die of decline, and
"Well, well," burst in Tom, with
something like a sigh at the effort, "I suppose I must give up East. --Come
along, young un. What's your name? We'll
go and have some supper, and then I'll show you our study."
"His name's George Arthur," said the
matron, walking up to him with Tom, who grasped his little delicate hand as the
proper preliminary to making a chum of him, and felt as if he could have blown
him away. "I've had his books
and things put into the study, which his mamma has had new papered, and the sofa
covered, and new green-baize curtains over the door" (the diplomatic matron
threw this in, to show that the new boy was contributing largely to the
partnership comforts). "And
Mrs. Arnold told me to say," she added, "that she should like you both
to come up to tea with her. You
know the way, Master Brown, and the things are just gone up, I know."
Here was an announcement for Master Tom!
He was to go up to tea the first night, just as if he were a sixth or
fifth form boy, and of importance in the School world, instead of the most
reckless young scapegrace amongst the fags.
He felt himself lifted on to a higher social and moral platform at once.
Nevertheless he couldn't give up without a sigh the idea of the jolly supper in
the housekeeper's room with East and the rest, and a rush round to all the
studies of his friends afterwards, to pour out the deeds and wonders of the
holidays, to plot fifty plans for the coming half-year, and to gather news of
who had left and what new boys had come, who had got who's study, and where the
new prepostors slept. However, Tom
consoled himself with thinking that he couldn't have done all this with the new
boy at his heels, and so marched off along the passages to the Doctor's private
house with his young charge in tow, in monstrous good-humour with himself and
all the world.
It is needless, and would be impertinent, to tell
how the two young boys were received in that drawing-room.
The lady who presided there is still living, and has carried with her to
her peaceful home in the north the respect and love of all those who ever felt
and shared that gentle and high-bred hospitality.
Ay, many is the brave heart, now doing its work and bearing its load in
country curacies, London chambers, under the Indian sun, and in Australian towns
and clearings, which looks back with fond and grateful memory to that
School-house drawing-room, and dates much of its highest and best training to
the lessons learnt there.
Besides Mrs. Arnold and one or two of the elder
children, there were one of the younger masters, young Brooke (who was now in
the sixth, and had succeeded to his brother's position and influence), and
another sixth-form boy, talking together before the fire.
The master and young Brooke, now a great strapping fellow six feet high,
eighteen years old, and powerful as a coal-heaver, nodded kindly to Tom, to his
intense glory, and then went on talking. The
other did not notice them. The
hostess, after a few kind words, which led the boys at once and insensibly to
feel at their ease and to begin talking to one another, left them with her own
children while she finished a letter. The
young ones got on fast and well, Tom holding forth about a prodigious pony he
had been riding out hunting, and hearing stories of the winter glories of the
lakes, when tea came in, and immediately after the Doctor himself.
How frank, and kind, and manly was his greeting to
the party by the fire! It did Tom's
heart good to see him and young Brooke shake hands, and look one another in the
face; and he didn't fail to remark that Brooke was nearly as tall and quite as
broad as the Doctor. And his cup
was full when in another moment his master turned to him with another warm shake
of the hand, and, seemingly oblivious of all the late scrapes which he had been
getting into, said, "Ah, Brown, you here!
I hope you left your father and all well at home?"
"Yes, sir, quite well."
"And this is the little fellow who is to
share your study. Well, he doesn't look as we should like to see him.
He wants some Rugby air, and cricket.
And you must take him some good long walks, to Bilton Grange, and
Caldecott's Spinney, and show him what a little pretty country we have about
Tom wondered if the Doctor knew that his visits to
Bilton Grange were for the purpose of taking rooks' nests (a proceeding strongly
discountenanced by the owner thereof), and those to Caldecott's Spinney were
prompted chiefly by the conveniences for setting night-lines.
What didn't the Doctor know? And
what a noble use he always made of it! He
almost resolved to abjure rook-pies and night-lines for ever.
The tea went merrily off, the Doctor now talking of holiday doings, and
then of the prospects of the half-year--what chance there was for the Balliol
scholarship, whether the eleven would be a good one. Everybody was at his ease,
and everybody felt that he, young as he might be, was of some use in the little
School world, and had a work to do there.
Soon after tea the Doctor went off to his study,
and the young boys a few minutes afterwards took their leave and went out of the
private door which led from the Doctor's house into the middle passage.
At the fire, at the farther end of the passage,
was a crowd of boys in loud talk and laughter.
There was a sudden pause when the door opened, and then a great shout of
greeting, as Tom was recognized marching down the passage.
"Hullo, Brown! where do you come from?"
"Oh, I've been to tea with the Doctor,"
says Tom, with great dignity.
"My eye!" cried East, "Oh! so
that's why Mary called you back, and you didn't come to supper.
You lost something. That
beef and pickles was no end good."
"I say, young fellow," cried Hall,
detecting Arthur and catching him by the collar, "what's your name?
Where do you come from? How old are you?"
Tom saw Arthur shrink back and look scared as all
the group turned to him, but thought it best to let him answer, just standing by
his side to support in case of need.
I come from Devonshire."
"Don't call me 'sir,' you young muff.
How old are you?"
"Can you sing?"
The poor boy was trembling and hesitating.
Tom struck in--"You be hanged, Tadpole.
He'll have to sing, whether he can or not, Saturday twelve weeks, and
that's long enough off yet."
"Do you know him at home, Brown?"
"No; but he's my chum in Gray's old study,
and it's near prayer- time, and I haven't had a look at it yet. --Come along,
Away went the two, Tom longing to get his charge
safe under cover, where he might advise him on his deportment.
"What a queer chum for Tom Brown," was
the comment at the fire; and it must be confessed so thought Tom himself, as he
lighted his candle, and surveyed the new green-baize curtains and the carpet and
sofa with much satisfaction.
"I say, Arthur, what a brick your mother is
to make us so cozy! But look here now; you must answer straight up when the
fellows speak to you, and don't be afraid.
If you're afraid, you'll get bullied.
And don't you say you can sing; and don't you ever talk about home, or
your mother and sisters."
Poor little Arthur looked ready to cry.
"But, please," said he, "mayn't I
talk about--about home to you?"
"Oh yes; I like it. But don't talk to boys you don't know, or they'll call you
home-sick, or mamma's darling, or some such stuff. What a jolly desk! Is
that yours? And what stunning
binding! Why, your school-books
look like novels."
And Tom was soon deep in Arthur's goods and
chattels, all new, and good enough for a fifth-form boy, and hardly thought of
his friends outside till the prayer-bell rang.
I have already described the School-house prayers.
They were the same on the first night as on the other nights, save for
the gaps caused by the absence of those boys who came late, and the line of new
boys who stood all together at the farther table-- of all sorts and sizes, like
young bears with all their troubles to come, as Tom's father had said to him
when he was in the same position. He
thought of it as he looked at the line, and poor little slight Arthur standing
with them, and as he was leading him upstairs to Number 4, directly after
prayers, and showing him his bed. It
was a huge, high, airy room, with two large windows looking on to the School
close. There were twelve beds in
the room. The one in the farthest
corner by the fireplace, occupied by the sixth-form boy, who was responsible for
the discipline of the room, and the rest by boys in the lower-fifth and other
junior forms, all fags (for the fifth-form boys, as has been said, slept in
rooms by themselves). Being fags,
the eldest of them was not more than about sixteen years old, and were all bound
to be up and in bed by ten. The
sixth-form boys came to bed from ten to a quarter-past (at which time the old
verger came round to put the candles out), except when they sat up to read.
Within a few minutes therefore of their entry, all
the other boys who slept in Number 4 had come up. The little fellows went quietly to their own beds, and began
undressing, and talking to each other in whispers; while the elder, amongst whom
was Tom, sat chatting about on one another's beds, with their jackets and
waistcoats off. Poor little Arthur
was overwhelmed with the novelty of his position.
The idea of sleeping in the room with strange boys had clearly never
crossed his mind before, and was as painful as it was strange to him.
He could hardly bear to take his jacket off; however, presently, with an
effort, off it came, and then he paused and looked at Tom, who was sitting at
the bottom of his bed talking and laughing.
"Please, Brown," he whispered, "may
I wash my face and hands?"
"Of course, if you like," said Tom,
staring; "that's your washhand-stand, under the window, second from your
bed. You'll have to go down for
more water in the morning if you use it all."
And on he went with his talk, while Arthur stole timidly from between the
beds out to his washhand-stand, and began his ablutions, thereby drawing for a
moment on himself the attention of the room.
On went the talk and laughter.
Arthur finished his washing and undressing, and put on his night-gown.
He then looked round more nervously than ever.
Two or three of the little boys were already in bed, sitting up with
their chins on their knees. The
light burned clear, the noise went on. It
was a trying moment for the poor little lonely boy; however, this time he didn't
ask Tom what he might or might not do, but dropped on his knees by his bedside,
as he had done every day from his childhood, to open his heart to Him who
heareth the cry and beareth the sorrows of the tender child, and the strong man
Tom was sitting at the bottom of his bed unlacing
his boots, so that his back was towards Arthur, and he didn't see what had
happened, and looked up in wonder at the sudden silence.
Then two or three boys laughed and sneered, and a big, brutal fellow who
was standing in the middle of the room picked up a slipper, and shied it at the
kneeling boy, calling him a snivelling young shaver.
Then Tom saw the whole, and the next moment the boot he had just pulled
off flew straight at the head of the bully, who had just time to throw up his
arm and catch it on his elbow.
"Confound you, Brown! what's that for?"
roared he, stamping with pain.
"Never mind what I mean," said Tom,
stepping on to the floor, every drop of blood in his body tingling; "if any
fellow wants the other boot, he knows how to get it."
What would have been the result is doubtful, for
at this moment the sixth-form boy came in, and not another word could be said.
Tom and the rest rushed into bed and finished their unrobing there, and the old
verger, as punctual as the clock, had put out the candle in another minute, and
toddled on to the next room, shutting their door with his usual
There were many boys in the room by whom that
little scene was taken to heart before they slept.
But sleep seemed to have deserted the pillow of poor Tom.
For some time his excitement, and the flood of memories which chased one
another through his brain, kept him from thinking or resolving.
His head throbbed, his heart leapt, and he could hardly keep himself from
springing out of bed and rushing about the room.
Then the thought of his own mother came across him, and the promise he
had made at her knee, years ago, never to forget to kneel by his bedside, and
give himself up to his Father, before he laid his head on the pillow, from which
it might never rise; and he lay down gently, and cried as if his heart would
break. He was only fourteen years
It was no light act of courage in those days, my
dear boys, for a little fellow to say his prayers publicly, even at Rugby.
A few years later, when Arnold's manly piety had begun to leaven the
School, the tables turned; before he died, in the School- house at least, and I
believe in the other house, the rule was the other way.
But poor Tom had come to school in other times. The first few nights
after he came he did not kneel down because of the noise, but sat up in bed till
the candle was out, and then stole out and said his prayers, in fear lest some
one should find him out. So did
many another poor little fellow. Then he began to think that he might just as
well say his prayers in bed, and then that it didn't matter whether he was
kneeling, or sitting, or lying down. And
so it had come to pass with Tom, as with all who will not confess their Lord
before men; and for the last year he had probably not said his prayers in
earnest a dozen times.
Poor Tom! the first and bitterest feeling which
was like to break his heart was the sense of his own cowardice.
The vice of all others which he loathed was brought in and burnt in on
his own soul. He had lied to his
mother, to his conscience, to his God. How
could he bear it? And then the poor
little weak boy, whom he had pitied and almost scorned for his weakness, had
done that which he, braggart as he was, dared not do.
The first dawn of comfort came to him in swearing to himself that he
would stand by that boy through thick and thin, and cheer him, and help him, and
bear his burdens for the good deed done that night.
Then he resolved to write home next day and tell his mother all, and what
a coward her son had been. And then
peace came to him as he resolved, lastly, to bear his testimony next morning.
The morning would be harder than the night to begin with, but he felt
that he could not afford to let one chance slip.
Several times he faltered, for the devil showed him first all his old
friends calling him "Saint" and "Square-toes," and a dozen
hard names, and whispered to him that his motives would be misunderstood, and he
would only be left alone with the new boy; whereas it was his duty to keep all
means of influence, that he might do good to the largest number.
And then came the more subtle temptation, "Shall I not be showing
myself braver than others by doing this? Have
I any right to begin it now? Ought
I not rather to pray in my own study, letting other boys know that I do so, and
trying to lead them to it, while in public at least I should go on as I have
done?" However, his good angel was too strong that night, and he
turned on his side and slept, tired of trying to reason, but resolved to follow
the impulse which had been so strong, and in which he had found peace.
Next morning he was up and washed and dressed, all
but his jacket and waistcoat, just as the ten minutes' bell began to ring, and
then in the face of the whole room knelt down to pray. Not five words could he
say--the bell mocked him; he was listening for every whisper in the room--what
were they all thinking of him? He
was ashamed to go on kneeling, ashamed to rise from his knees.
At last, as it were from his inmost heart, a still, small voice seemed to
breathe forth the words of the publican, "God be merciful to me a
sinner!" He repeated them over
and over, clinging to them as for his life, and rose from his knees comforted
and humbled, and ready to face the whole world.
It was not needed: two other boys besides Arthur had already followed his
example, and he went down to the great School with a glimmering of another
lesson in his heart--the lesson that he who has conquered his own coward spirit
has conquered the whole outward world; and that other one which the old prophet
learnt in the cave in Mount Horeb, when he hid his face, and the still, small
voice asked, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" that however we may fancy
ourselves alone on the side of good, the King and Lord of men is nowhere without
His witnesses; for in every society, however seemingly corrupt and godless,
there are those who have not bowed the knee to Baal.
He found, too, how greatly he had exaggerated the
effect to be produced by his act. For
a few nights there was a sneer or a laugh when he knelt down, but this passed
off soon, and one by one all the other boys but three or four followed the lead.
I fear that this was in some measure owing to the fact that Tom could
probably have thrashed any boy in the room except the prepostor; at any rate,
every boy knew that he would try upon very slight provocation, and didn't choose
to run the risk of a hard fight because Tom Brown had taken a fancy to say his
prayers. Some of the small boys of
Number 4 communicated the new state of things to their chums, and in several
other rooms the poor little fellows tried it on--in one instance or so, where
the prepostor heard of it and interfered very decidedly, with partial success;
but in the rest, after a short struggle, the confessors were bullied or laughed
down, and the old state of things went on for some time longer.
Before either Tom Brown or Arthur left the School-house, there was no
room in which it had not become the regular custom.
I trust it is so still, and that the old heathen state of things has gone
out for ever.