TOM BROWN'S SCHOOLDAYS
friend, past, present, and to be;
In the summer of 1842, our hero stopped once again
at the well- known station; and leaving his bag and fishing-rod with a porter,
walked slowly and sadly up towards the town.
It was now July. He had
rushed away from Oxford the moment that term was over, for a fishing ramble in
Scotland with two college friends, and had been for three weeks living on
oatcake, mutton-hams, and whisky, in the wildest parts of Skye.
They had descended one sultry evening on the little inn at Kyle Rhea
ferry; and while Tom and another of the party put their tackle together and
began exploring the stream for a sea-trout for supper, the third strolled into
the house to arrange for their entertainment. Presently he came out in a loose
blouse and slippers, a short pipe in his mouth, and an old newspaper in his
hand, and threw himself on the heathery scrub which met the shingle, within easy
hail of the fishermen. There he
lay, the picture of free-and- easy, loafing, hand-to-mouth young England,
"improving his mind," as he shouted to them, by the perusal of the
fortnight- old weekly paper, soiled with the marks of toddy-glasses and
tobacco-ashes, the legacy of the last traveller, which he had hunted out from
the kitchen of the little hostelry, and, being a youth of a communicative turn
of mind, began imparting the contents to the fishermen as he went on.
"What a bother they are making about these
wretched corn-laws! Here's three or four columns full of nothing but sliding
scales and fixed duties. Hang this
tobacco, it's always going out! Ah, here's something better--a splendid match
between Kent and England, Brown, Kent winning by three wickets.
Felix fifty-six runs without a chance, and not out!"
Tom, intent on a fish which had risen at him
twice, answered only with a grunt.
"Anything about the Goodwood?" called
out the third man.
"Rory O'More drawn. Butterfly colt amiss," shouted the student.
"Just my luck," grumbled the inquirer,
jerking his flies off the water, and throwing again with a heavy, sullen splash,
and frightening Tom's fish.
"I say, can't you throw lighter over there?
We ain't fishing for grampuses," shouted Tom across the stream.
"Hullo, Brown! here's something for
you," called out the reading man next moment.
"Why, your old master, Arnold of Rugby, is dead."
Tom's hand stopped half-way in his cast, and his
line and flies went all tangling round and round his rod; you might have knocked
him over with a feather. Neither of
his companions took any notice of him, luckily; and with a violent effort he set
to work mechanically to disentangle his line.
He felt completely carried off his moral and intellectual legs, as if he
had lost his standing-point in the invisible world.
Besides which, the deep, loving loyalty which he felt for his old leader
made the shock intensely painful. It
was the first great wrench of his life, the first gap which the angel Death had
made in his circle, and he felt numbed, and beaten down, and spiritless. Well,
well! I believe it was good for him
and for many others in like case, who had to learn by that loss that the soul of
man cannot stand or lean upon any human prop, however strong, and wise, and
good; but that He upon whom alone it can stand and lean will knock away all such
props in His own wise and merciful way, until there is no ground or stay left
but Himself, the Rock of Ages, upon whom alone a sure foundation for every soul
of man is laid.
As he wearily laboured at his line, the thought
struck him, "It may be all false--a mere newspaper lie."
And he strode up to the recumbent smoker.
"Let me look at the paper," said he.
"Nothing else in it," answered the
other, handing it up to him listlessly. "Hullo,
Brown! what's the matter, old fellow? Ain't
"Where is it?" said Tom, turning over
the leaves, his hands trembling, and his eyes swimming, so that he could not
are you looking for?" said his friend, jumping up and looking over his
"That--about Arnold," said Tom.
"Oh, here," said the other, putting his
finger on the paragraph. Tom read
it over and over again. There could
be no mistake of identity, though the account was short enough.
"Thank you," said he at last, dropping
the paper. "I shall go for a
walk. Don't you and Herbert wait
supper for me." And away he
strode, up over the moor at the back of the house, to be alone, and master his
grief if possible.
His friend looked after him, sympathizing and
wondering, and, knocking the ashes out of his pipe, walked over to Herbert.
After a short parley they walked together up to the house.
"I'm afraid that confounded newspaper has
spoiled Brown's fun for this trip."
"How odd that he should be so fond of his old
master," said Herbert. Yet
they also were both public-school men.
The two, however, notwithstanding Tom's
prohibition, waited supper for him, and had everything ready when he came back
some half an hour afterwards. But
he could not join in their cheerful talk, and the party was soon silent,
notwithstanding the efforts of all three. One
thing only had Tom resolved, and that was, that he couldn't stay in Scotland any
longer: he felt an irresistible
longing to get to Rugby, and then home, and soon broke it to the others, who had
too much tact to oppose.
So by daylight the next morning he was marching
through Ross-shire, and in the evening hit the Caledonian Canal, took the next
steamer, and travelled as fast as boat and railway could carry him to the Rugby
As he walked up to the town, he felt shy and
afraid of being seen, and took the back streets--why, he didn't know, but he
followed his instinct. At the
School-gates he made a dead pause; there was not a soul in the quadrangle--all
was lonely, and silent, and sad. So
with another effort he strode through the quadrangle, and into the School-house
He found the little matron in her room in deep
mourning; shook her hand, tried to talk, and moved nervously about.
She was evidently thinking of the same subject as he, but he couldn't
"Where shall I find Thomas?" said he at
last, getting desperate.
"In the servants' hall, I think, sir.
But won't you take anything?" said the matron, looking rather
"No, thank you," said he, and strode off
again to find the old verger, who was sitting in his little den, as of old,
puzzling over hieroglyphics.
He looked up through his spectacles as Tom seized
his hand and wrung it.
"Ah! you've heard all about it, sir, I
see," said he. Tom nodded, and
then sat down on the shoe-board, while the old man told his tale, and wiped his
spectacles, and fairly flowed over, with quaint, homely, honest sorrow.
By the time he had done Tom felt much better.
"Where is he buried, Thomas?" said he at
"Under the altar in the chapel, sir,"
answered Thomas. "You'd like
to have the key, I dare say?"
"Thank you, Thomas--yes, I should, very
And the old man fumbled among his bunch, and then
got up, as though he would go with him; but after a few steps stopped short, and
said, "Perhaps you'd like to go by yourself, sir?"
Tom nodded, and the bunch of keys were handed to
him, with an injunction to be sure and lock the door after him, and bring them
back before eight o'clock.
He walked quickly through the quadrangle and out
into the close. The longing which had been upon him and driven him thus far,
like the gad-fly in the Greek legends, giving him no rest in mind or body,
seemed all of a sudden not to be satisfied, but to shrivel up and pall.
"Why should I go on? It's
no use," he thought, and threw himself at full length on the turf, and
looked vaguely and listlessly at all the well-known objects. There were a few of
the town boys playing cricket, their wicket pitched on the best piece in the
middle of the big-side ground-- a sin about equal to sacrilege in the eyes of a
captain of the eleven. He was very
nearly getting up to go and send them off. "Pshaw! they won't remember me.
They've more right there than I," he muttered.
And the thought that his sceptre had departed, and his mark was wearing
out, came home to him for the first time, and bitterly enough.
He was lying on the very spot where the fights came off--where he himself
had fought six years ago his first and last battle.
He conjured up the scene till he could almost hear the shouts of the
ring, and East's whisper in his ear; and looking across the close to the
Doctor's private door, half expected to see it open, and the tall figure in cap
and gown come striding under the elm-trees towards him.
No, no; that sight could never be seen again.
There was no flag flying on the round tower; the School-house windows
were all shuttered up; and when the flag went up again, and the shutters came
down, it would be to welcome a stranger. All
that was left on earth of him whom he had honoured was lying cold and still
under the chapel floor. He would go
in and see the place once more, and then leave it once for all.
New men and new methods might do for other people; let those who would,
worship the rising star; he, at least, would be faithful to the sun which had
set. And so he got up, and walked
to the chapel door, and unlocked it, fancying himself the only mourner in all
the broad land, and feeding on his own selfish sorrow.
He passed through the vestibule, and then paused
for a moment to glance over the empty benches.
His heart was still proud and high, and he walked up to the seat which he
had last occupied as a sixth-form boy, and sat himself down there to collect his
And, truth to tell, they needed collecting and
setting in order not a little. The
memories of eight years were all dancing through his brain, and carrying him
about whither they would; while, beneath them all, his heart was throbbing with
the dull sense of a loss that could never be made up to him.
The rays of the evening sun came solemnly through the painted windows
above his head, and fell in gorgeous colours on the opposite wall, and the
perfect stillness soothed his spirit by little and little. And he turned to the
pulpit, and looked at it, and then, leaning forward with his head on his hands,
groaned aloud. If he could only have seen the Doctor again for one five
minutes--have told him all that was in his heart, what he owed to him, how he
loved and reverenced him, and would, by God's help, follow his steps in life and
death--he could have borne it all without a murmur. But that he should have gone
away for ever without knowing it all, was too much to bear.
"But am I sure that he does not know it all?"
The thought made him start. "May
he not even now be near me, in this very chapel?
If he be, am I sorrowing as he would have me sorrow, as I should wish to
have sorrowed when I shall meet him again?"
He raised himself up and looked round, and after a
minute rose and walked humbly down to the lowest bench, and sat down on the very
seat which he had occupied on his first Sunday at Rugby. And then the old
memories rushed back again, but softened and subdued, and soothing him as he let
himself be carried away by them. And
he looked up at the great painted window above the altar, and remembered how,
when a little boy, he used to try not to look through it at the elm-trees and
the rooks, before the painted glass came; and the subscription for the painted
glass, and the letter he wrote home for money to give to it.
And there, down below, was the very name of the boy who sat on his right
hand on that first day, scratched rudely in the oak panelling.
And then came the thought of all his old
schoolfellows; and form after form of boys nobler, and braver, and purer than he
rose up and seemed to rebuke him. Could
he not think of them, and what they had felt and were feeling--they who had
honoured and loved from the first the man whom he had taken years to know and
love? Could he not think of those yet dearer to him who was gone, who bore his
name and shared his blood, and were now without a husband or a father?
Then the grief which he began to share with others became gentle and
holy, and he rose up once more, and walked up the steps to the altar, and while
the tears flowed freely down his cheeks, knelt down humbly and hopefully, to lay
down there his share of a burden which had proved itself too heavy for him to
bear in his own strength.
Here let us leave him. Where better could we leave him than at the altar before
which he had first caught a glimpse of the glory of his birthright, and felt the
drawing of the bond which links all living souls together in one brotherhood--at
the grave beneath the altar of him who had opened his eyes to see that glory,
and softened his heart till it could feel that bond?
And let us not be hard on him, if at that moment
his soul is fuller of the tomb and him who lies there than of the altar and Him
of whom it speaks. Such stages have
to be gone through, I believe, by all young and brave souls, who must win their
way through hero-worship to the worship of Him who is the King and Lord of
heroes. For it is only through our
mysterious human relationships--through the love and tenderness and purity of
mothers and sisters and wives, through the strength and courage and wisdom of
fathers and brothers and teachers--that we can come to the knowledge of Him in
whom alone the love, and the tenderness, and the purity, and the strength, and
the courage, and the wisdom of all these dwell for ever and ever in perfect