TOM BROWN'S SCHOOLDAYS
VIII - THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE.
THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE.
are slaves who will not choose
The lower-fourth form, in which Tom found himself
at the beginning of the next half-year, was the largest form in the lower
school, and numbered upwards of forty boys.
Young gentlemen of all ages from nine to fifteen were to be found there,
who expended such part of their energies as was devoted to Latin and Greek upon
a book of Livy, the "Bucolics" of Virgil, and the "Hecuba"
of Euripides, which were ground out in small daily portions.
The driving of this unlucky lower-fourth must have been grievous work to
the unfortunate master, for it was the most unhappily constituted of any in the
school. Here stuck the great stupid
boys, who, for the life of them, could never master the accidence--the objects
alternately of mirth and terror to the youngsters, who were daily taking them up
and laughing at them in lesson, and getting kicked by them for so doing in
play-hours. There were no less than three unhappy fellows in tail coats,
with incipient down on their chins, whom the Doctor and the master of the form
were always endeavouring to hoist into the upper school, but whose parsing and
construing resisted the most well-meant shoves. Then came the mass of the form, boys of eleven and twelve,
the most mischievous and reckless age of British youth, of whom East and Tom
Brown were fair specimens. As full
of tricks as monkeys, and of excuses as Irishwomen, making fun of their master,
one another, and their lessons, Argus himself would have been puzzled to keep an
eye on them; and as for making them steady or serious for half an hour together,
it was simply hopeless. The
remainder of the form consisted of young prodigies of nine and ten, who were
going up the school at the rate of a form a half-year, all boys' hands and wits
being against them in their progress. It
would have been one man's work to see that the precocious youngsters had fair
play; and as the master had a good deal besides to do, they hadn't, and were for
ever being shoved down three or four places, their verses stolen, their books
inked, their jackets whitened, and their lives otherwise made a burden to them.
The lower-fourth, and all the forms below it, were
heard in the great school, and were not trusted to prepare their lessons before
coming in, but were whipped into school three-quarters of an hour before the
lesson began by their respective masters, and there, scattered about on the
benches, with dictionary and grammar, hammered out their twenty lines of Virgil
and Euripides in the midst of babel. The
masters of the lower school walked up and down the great school together during
this three-quarters of an hour, or sat in their desks reading or looking over
copies, and keeping such order as was possible.
But the lower- fourth was just now an overgrown form, too large for any
one man to attend to properly, and consequently the elysium or ideal form of the
young scapegraces who formed the staple of it.
Tom, as has been said, had come up from the third
with a good character, but the temptations of the lower-fourth soon proved too
strong for him, and he rapidly fell away, and became as unmanageable as the
rest. For some weeks, indeed, he
succeeded in maintaining the appearance of steadiness, and was looked upon
favourably by his new master, whose eyes were first opened by the following
Besides the desk which the master himself
occupied, there was another large unoccupied desk in the corner of the great
school, which was untenanted. To rush and seize upon this desk, which was
ascended by three steps and held four boys, was the great object of ambition of
the lower-fourthers; and the contentions for the occupation of it bred such
disorder that at last the master forbade its use altogether.
This, of course, was a challenge to the more adventurous spirits to
occupy it; and as it was capacious enough for two boys to lie hid there
completely, it was seldom that it remained empty, notwithstanding the veto.
Small holes were cut in the front, through which the occupants watched
the masters as they walked up and down; and as lesson time approached, one boy
at a time stole out and down the steps, as the masters' backs were turned, and
mingled with the general crowd on the forms below.
Tom and East had successfully occupied the desk some half-dozen times,
and were grown so reckless that they were in the habit of playing small games
with fives balls inside when the masters were at the other end of the big
school. One day, as ill-luck would
have it, the game became more exciting than usual, and the ball slipped through
East's fingers, and rolled slowly down the steps and out into the middle of the
school, just as the masters turned in their walk and faced round upon the desk.
The young delinquents watched their master, through the lookout holes,
march slowly down the school straight upon their retreat, while all the boys in
the neighbourhood, of course, stopped their work to look on; and not only were
they ignominiously drawn out, and caned over the hand then and there, but their
characters for steadiness were gone from that time.
However, as they only shared the fate of some three-fourths of the rest
of the form, this did not weigh heavily upon them.
In fact, the only occasions on which they cared
about the matter were the monthly examinations, when the Doctor came round to
examine their form, for one long, awful hour, in the work which they had done in
the preceding month. The second
monthly examination came round soon after Tom's fall, and it was with anything
but lively anticipations that he and the other lower- fourth boys came in to
prayers on the morning of the examination day.
Prayers and calling-over seemed twice as short as
usual, and before they could get construes of a tithe of the hard passages
marked in the margin of their books, they were all seated round, and the Doctor
was standing in the middle, talking in whispers to the master.
Tom couldn't hear a word which passed, and never lifted his eyes from his
book; but he knew by a sort of magnetic instinct that the Doctor's under-lip was
coming out, and his eye beginning to burn, and his gown getting gathered up more
and more tightly in his left hand. The
suspense was agonizing, and Tom knew that he was sure on such occasions to make
an example of the School-house boys. "If
he would only begin," thought Tom, "I shouldn't mind."
At last the whispering ceased, and the name which
was called out was not Brown. He
looked up for a moment, but the Doctor's face was too awful; Tom wouldn't have
met his eye for all he was worth, and buried himself in his book again.
The boy who was called up first was a clever,
merry School-house boy, one of their set; he was some connection of the
Doctor's, and a great favourite, and ran in and out of his house as he liked,
and so was selected for the first victim.
"Triste lupus stabulis,"
began the luckless youngster, and stammered through some eight or ten lines.
"There, that will do," said the Doctor;
On common occasions the boy could have construed
the passage well enough probably, but now his head was gone.
"Triste lupus, the sorrowful
wolf," he began.
A shudder ran through the whole form, and the
Doctor's wrath fairly boiled over. He
made three steps up to the construer, and gave him a good box on the ear.
The blow was not a hard one, but the boy was so taken by surprise that he
started back; the form caught the back of his knees, and over he went on to the
floor behind. There was a dead silence over the whole school.
Never before and never again while Tom was at school did the Doctor
strike a boy in lesson. The provocation must have been great. However, the victim had saved his form for that occasion, for
the Doctor turned to the top bench, and put on the best boys for the rest of the
hour and though, at the end of the lesson, he gave them all such a rating as
they did not forget, this terrible field-day passed over without any severe
visitations in the shape of punishments or floggings. Forty young scapegraces expressed their thanks to the
"sorrowful wolf" in their different ways before second lesson.
But a character for steadiness once gone is not
easily recovered, as Tom found; and for years afterwards he went up the school
without it, and the masters' hands were against him, and his against them.
And he regarded them, as a matter of course, as his natural enemies.
Matters were not so comfortable, either, in the
house as they had been; for old Brooke left at Christmas, and one or two others
of the sixth-form boys at the following Easter. Their rule had been rough, but strong and just in the main,
and a higher standard was beginning to be set up; in fact, there had been a
short foretaste of the good time which followed some years later.
Just now, however, all threatened to return into darkness and chaos
again. For the new prepostors were
either small young boys, whose cleverness had carried them up to the top of the
school, while in strength of body and character they were not yet fit for a
share in the government; or else big fellows of the wrong sort--boys whose
friendships and tastes had a downward tendency, who had not caught the meaning
of their position and work, and felt none of its responsibilities.
So under this no-government the School-house began to see bad times.
The big fifth-form boys, who were a sporting and drinking set, soon began
to usurp power, and to fag the little boys as if they were prepostors, and to
bully and oppress any who showed signs of resistance.
The bigger sort of sixth-form boys just described soon made common cause
with the fifth, while the smaller sort, hampered by their colleagues' desertion
to the enemy, could not make head against them.
So the fags were without their lawful masters and protectors, and ridden
over rough-shod by a set of boys whom they were not bound to obey, and whose
only right over them stood in their bodily powers; and, as old Brooke had
prophesied, the house by degrees broke up into small sets and parties, and lost
the strong feeling of fellowship which he set so much store by, and with it much
of the prowess in games and the lead in all school matters which he had done so
much to keep up.
In no place in the world has individual character
more weight than at a public school. Remember
this, I beseech you, all you boys who are getting into the upper forms.
Now is the time in all your lives, probably, when you may have more wide
influence for good or evil on the society you live in than you ever can have
again. Quit yourselves like men, then; speak up, and strike out if
necessary, for whatsoever is true, and manly, and lovely, and of good report;
never try to be popular, but only to do your duty and help others to do theirs,
and you may leave the tone of feeling in the school higher than you found it,
and so be doing good which no living soul can measure to generations of your
countrymen yet unborn. For boys
follow one another in herds like sheep, for good or evil; they hate thinking,
and have rarely any settled principles. Every
school, indeed, has its own traditionary standard of right and wrong, which
cannot be transgressed with impunity, marking certain things as low and
blackguard, and certain others as lawful and right. This standard is ever varying, though it changes only slowly
and little by little; and, subject only to such standard, it is the leading boys
for the time being who give the tone to all the rest, and make the School either
a noble institution for the training of Christian Englishmen, or a place where a
young boy will get more evil than he would if he were turned out to make his way
in London streets, or anything between these two extremes.
The change for the worse in the School-house,
however, didn't press very heavily on our youngsters for some time.
They were in a good bedroom, where slept the only prepostor left who was
able to keep thorough order, and their study was in his passage. So, though they
were fagged more or less, and occasionally kicked or cuffed by the bullies, they
were, on the whole, well off; and the fresh, brave school-life, so full of
games, adventures, and good-fellowship, so ready at forgetting, so capacious at
enjoying, so bright at forecasting, outweighed a thousand-fold their troubles
with the master of their form, and the occasional ill-usage of the big boys in
the house. It wasn't till some year
or so after the events recorded above that the prepostor of their room and
passage left. None of the other
sixth-form boys would move into their passage, and, to the disgust and
indignation of Tom and East, one morning after breakfast they were seized upon
by Flashman, and made to carry down his books and furniture into the unoccupied
study, which he had taken. From
this time they began to feel the weight of the tyranny of Flashman and his
friends, and, now that trouble had come home to their own doors, began to look
out for sympathizers and partners amongst the rest of the fags; and meetings of
the oppressed began to be held, and murmurs to arise, and plots to be laid as to
how they should free themselves and be avenged on their enemies.
While matters were in this state, East and Tom
were one evening sitting in their study. They
had done their work for first lesson, and Tom was in a brown study, brooding,
like a young William Tell, upon the wrongs of fags in general, and his own in
"I say, Scud," said he at last, rousing
himself to snuff the candle, "what right have the fifth-form boys to fag us
as they do?"
"No more right than you have to fag
them," answered East, without looking up from an early number of
"Pickwick," which was just coming out, and which he was luxuriously
devouring, stretched on his back on the sofa.
Tom relapsed into his brown study, and East went on
reading and chuckling. The contrast
of the boys' faces would have given infinite amusement to a looker-on--the one
so solemn and big
"Do you know, old fellow, I've been thinking
it over a good deal," began Tom again.
"Oh yes, I know--fagging you are thinking of.
Hang it all! But listen
here, Tom--here's fun. Mr. Winkle's
"And I've made up my mind," broke in
Tom, "that I won't fag except for the sixth."
"Quite right too, my boy," cried East,
putting his finger on the place and looking up; "but a pretty peck of
troubles you'll get into, if you're going to play that game.
However, I'm all for a strike myself, if we can get others to join.
It's getting too bad."
"Can't we get some sixth-form fellow to take
it up?" asked Tom.
"Well, perhaps we might.
Morgan would interfere, I think. Only,"
added East, after a moment's pause, "you see, we should have to tell him
about it, and that's against School principles.
Don't you remember what old Brooke said about learning to take our own
"Ah, I wish old Brooke were back again.
It was all right in his time."
"Why, yes, you see, then the strongest and
best fellows were in the sixth, and the fifth-form fellows were afraid of them,
and they kept good order; but now our sixth-form fellows are too small, and the
fifth don't care for them, and do what they like in the house.
"And so we get a double set of masters,"
cried Tom indignantly--"the lawful ones, who are responsible to the Doctor
at any rate, and the unlawful, the tyrants, who are responsible to nobody."
"Down with the tyrants!" cried East;
"I'm all for law and order, and hurrah for a revolution."
"I shouldn't mind if it were only for young
Brooke now," said Tom; "he's such a good-hearted, gentlemanly fellow,
and ought to be in the sixth. I'd
do anything for him. But that
blackguard Flashman, who never speaks to one without a kick or an oath--"
"The cowardly brute," broke in
East--"how I hate him! And he
knows it too; he knows that you and I think him a coward.
What a bore that he's got a study in this passage!
Don't you hear them now at supper in his den?
Brandy-punch going, I'll bet. I
wish the Doctor would come out and catch him.
We must change our study as soon as we can."
"Change or no change, I'll never fag for him
again," said Tom, thumping the table.
"Fa-a-a-ag!" sounded along the passage
from Flashman's study. The two boys
looked at one another in silence. It
had struck nine, so the regular night-fags had left duty, and they were the
nearest to the supper-party. East
sat up, and began to look comical, as he always did under difficulties.
"Here, Brown! East! you cursed young
skulks," roared out Flashman, coming to his open door; "I know you're
in; no shirking."
Tom stole to their door, and drew the bolts as
noiselessly as he could; East blew out the candle.
"Barricade the first," whispered he.
"Now, Tom, mind, no surrender."
"Trust me for that," said Tom between
In another minute they heard the supper-party turn
out and come down the passage to their door.
They held their breaths, and heard whispering, of which they only made
out Flashman's words, "I know the young brutes are in."
Then came summonses to open, which being
unanswered, the assault commenced. Luckily
the door was a good strong oak one, and resisted the united weight of Flashman's
party. A pause followed, and they
heard a besieger remark, "They're in safe enough. Don't you see how the door holds at top and bottom?
So the bolts must be drawn. We
should have forced the lock long ago."
East gave Tom a nudge, to call attention to this scientific remark.
Then came attacks on particular panels, one of
which at last gave way to the repeated kicks; but it broke inwards, and the
broken pieces got jammed across (the door being lined with green baize), and
couldn't easily be removed from outside: and
the besieged, scorning further concealment, strengthened their defences by
pressing the end of their sofa against the door. So, after one or two more
ineffectual efforts, Flashman and Company retired, vowing vengeance in no mild
The first danger over, it only remained for the
besieged to effect a safe retreat, as it was now near bed-time.
They listened intently, and heard the supper-party resettle themselves,
and then gently drew back first one bolt and then the other.
Presently the convivial noises began again steadily. "Now then,
stand by for a run," said East, throwing the door wide open and rushing
into the passage, closely followed by Tom. They were too quick to be caught; but
Flashman was on the lookout, and sent an empty pickle-jar whizzing after them,
which narrowly missed Tom's head, and broke into twenty pieces at the end of the
passage. "He wouldn't mind
killing one, if he wasn't caught," said East, as they turned the corner.
There was no pursuit, so the two turned into the
hall, where they found a knot of small boys round the fire.
Their story was told. The
war of independence had broken out. Who
would join the revolutionary forces? Several
others present bound themselves not to fag for the fifth form at once. One or two only edged off, and left the rebels.
What else could they do? "I've a good mind to go to the Doctor
straight," said Tom.
"That'll never do. Don't you remember the levy of the school last half?"
put in another.
In fact, the solemn assembly, a levy of the
School, had been held, at which the captain of the School had got up, and after
premising that several instances had occurred of matters having been reported to
the masters; that this was against public morality and School tradition; that a
levy of the sixth had been held on the subject, and they had resolved that the
practice must be stopped at once; and given out that any boy, in whatever form,
who should thenceforth appeal to a master, without having first gone to some
prepostor and laid the case before him, should be thrashed publicly, and sent to
"Well, then, let's try the sixth.
Try Morgan," suggested another.
"No use"--"Blabbing won't do," was the general
"I'll give you fellows a piece of
advice," said a voice from the end of the hall.
They all turned round with a start, and the speaker got up from a bench
on which he had been lying unobserved, and gave himself a shake.
He was a big, loose-made fellow, with huge limbs which had grown too far
through his jacket and trousers. "Don't
you go to anybody at all--you just stand out; say you won't fag.
They'll soon get tired of licking you.
I've tried it on years ago with their forerunners."
you? Tell us how it was?"
cried a chorus of voices, as they clustered round him.
"Well, just as it is with you.
The fifth form would fag us, and I and some more struck, and we beat 'em.
The good fellows left off directly, and the bullies who kept on soon got
"Was Flashman here then?"
"Yes; and a dirty, little, snivelling,
sneaking fellow he was too. He
never dared join us, and used to toady the bullies by offering to fag for them,
and peaching against the rest of us."
"Why wasn't he cut, then?" said East.
"Oh, toadies never get cut; they're too
useful. Besides, he has no end of
great hampers from home, with wine and game in them; so he toadied and fed
himself into favour."
The quarter-to-ten bell now rang, and the small
boys went off upstairs, still consulting together, and praising their new
counsellor, who stretched himself out on the bench before the hall fire again.
There he lay, a very queer specimen of boyhood, by name Diggs, and
familiarly called "the Mucker." He
was young for his size, and a very clever fellow, nearly at the top of the
fifth. His friends at home, having
regard, I suppose, to his age, and not to his size and place in the school,
hadn't put him into tails; and even his jackets were always too small; and he
had a talent for destroying clothes and making himself look shabby.
He wasn't on terms with Flashman's set, who sneered at his dress and ways
behind his back; which he knew, and revenged himself by asking Flashman the most
disagreeable questions, and treating him familiarly whenever a crowd of boys
were round him. Neither was he
intimate with any of the other bigger boys, who were warned off by his oddnesses,
for he was a very queer fellow; besides, amongst other failings, he had that of
impecuniosity in a remarkable degree. He
brought as much money as other boys to school, but got rid of it in no time, no
one knew how; and then, being also reckless, borrowed from any one; and when his
debts accumulated and creditors pressed, would have an auction in the hall of
everything he possessed in the world, selling even his school-books,
candlestick, and study table. For
weeks after one of these auctions, having rendered his study uninhabitable, he
would live about in the fifth-form room and hall, doing his verses on old
letter-backs and odd scraps of paper, and learning his lessons no one knew how.
He never meddled with any little boy, and was popular with them, though
they all looked on him with a sort of compassion, and called him "Poor
Diggs," not being able to resist appearances, or to disregard wholly even
the sneers of their enemy Flashman. However,
he seemed equally indifferent to the sneers of big boys and the pity of small
ones, and lived his own queer life with much apparent enjoyment to himself.
It is necessary to introduce Diggs thus particularly, as he not only did
Tom and East good service in their present warfare, as is about to be told, but
soon afterwards, when he got into the sixth, chose them for his fags, and
excused them from study- fagging, thereby earning unto himself eternal gratitude
from them and all who are interested in their history.
And seldom had small boys more need of a friend,
for the morning after the siege the storm burst upon the rebels in all its
violence. Flashman laid wait, and
caught Tom before second lesson, and receiving a point-blank "No" when
told to fetch his hat, seized him and twisted his arm, and went through the
other methods of torture in use. "He
couldn't make me cry, though," as Tom said triumphantly to the rest of the
rebels; "and I kicked his shins well, I know."
And soon it crept out that a lot of the fags were in league, and Flashman
excited his associates to join him in bringing the young vagabonds to their
senses; and the house was filled with constant chasings, and sieges, and
lickings of all sorts; and in return, the bullies' beds were pulled to pieces
and drenched with water, and their names written up on the walls with every
insulting epithet which the fag invention could furnish.
The war, in short, raged fiercely; but soon, as Diggs had told them, all
the better fellows in the fifth gave up trying to fag them, and public feeling
began to set against Flashman and his two or three intimates, and they were
obliged to keep their doings more secret, but being thorough bad fellows, missed
no opportunity of torturing in private. Flashman
was an adept in all ways, but above all in the power of saying cutting and cruel
things, and could often bring tears to the eyes of boys in this way, which all
the thrashings in the world wouldn't have wrung from them.
And as his operations were being cut short in
other directions, he now devoted himself chiefly to Tom and East, who lived at
his own door, and would force himself into their study whenever he found a
chance, and sit there, sometimes alone, and sometimes with a companion,
interrupting all their work, and exulting in the evident pain which every now
and then he could see he was inflicting on one or the other.
The storm had cleared the air for the rest of the
house, and a better state of things now began than there had been since old
Brooke had left; but an angry, dark spot of thunder-cloud still hung over the
end of the passage where Flashman's study and that of East and Tom lay.
He felt that they had been the first rebels, and
that the rebellion had been to a great extent successful; but what above all
stirred the hatred and bitterness of his heart against them was that in the
frequent collisions which there had been of late they had openly called him
coward and sneak. The taunts were
too true to be forgiven. While he
was in the act of thrashing them, they would roar out instances of his funking
at football, or shirking some encounter with a lout of half his own size. These
things were all well enough known in the house, but to have his own disgrace
shouted out by small boys, to feel that they despised him, to be unable to
silence them by any amount of torture, and to see the open laugh and sneer of
his own associates (who were looking on, and took no trouble to hide their scorn
from him, though they neither interfered with his bullying nor lived a bit the
less intimately with him), made him beside himself.
Come what might, he would make those boys' lives miserable.
So the strife settled down into a personal affair between Flashman and
our youngsters--a war to the knife, to be fought out in the little cockpit at
the end of the bottom passage.
Flashman, be it said, was about seventeen years
old, and big and strong of his age. He
played well at all games where pluck wasn't much wanted, and managed generally
to keep up appearances where it was; and having a bluff, off-hand manner, which
passed for heartiness, and considerable powers of being pleasant when he liked,
went down with the school in general for a good fellow enough.
Even in the School-house, by dint of his command of money, the constant
supply of good things which he kept up, and his adroit toadyism, he had managed
to make himself not only tolerated, but rather popular amongst his own
contemporaries; although young Brooke scarcely spoke to him, and one or two
others of the right sort showed their opinions of him whenever a chance offered.
But the wrong sort happened to be in the ascendant just now, and so
Flashman was a formidable enemy for small boys.
This soon became plain enough. Flashman left no slander unspoken, and no
deed undone, which could in any way hurt his victims, or isolate them from the
rest of the house. One by one most of the other rebels fell away from them,
while Flashman's cause prospered, and several other fifth-form boys began to
look black at them and ill-treat them as they passed about the house.
By keeping out of bounds, or at all events out of the house and
quadrangle, all day, and carefully barring themselves in at night, East and Tom
managed to hold on without feeling very miserable; but it was as much as they
could do. Greatly were they drawn then towards old Diggs, who, in an uncouth
way, began to take a good deal of notice of them, and once or twice came to
their study when Flashman was there, who immediately decamped in consequence.
The boys thought that Diggs must have been watching.
When therefore, about this time, an auction was
one night announced to take place in the hall, at which, amongst the
superfluities of other boys, all Diggs's penates for the time being were going
to the hammer, East and Tom laid their heads together, and resolved to devote
their ready cash (some four shillings sterling) to redeem such articles as that
sum would cover. Accordingly, they
duly attended to bid, and Tom became the owner of two lots of Diggs's things:
--Lot 1, price one-and- threepence, consisting (as the auctioneer remarked) of a
"valuable assortment of old metals," in the shape of a mouse- trap, a
cheese-toaster without a handle, and a saucepan: Lot 2, of a villainous dirty table-cloth and green-baize
curtain; while East, for one-and-sixpence, purchased a leather paper-case, with
a lock but no key, once handsome, but now much the worse for wear.
But they had still the point to settle of how to get Diggs to take the
things without hurting his feelings. This
they solved by leaving them in his study, which was never locked when he was
out. Diggs, who had attended the
auction, remembered who had bought the lots, and came to their study soon after,
and sat silent for some time, cracking his great red finger-joints.
Then he laid hold of their verses, and began looking over and altering
them, and at last got up, and turning his back to them, said, "You're
uncommon good-hearted little beggars, you two.
I value that paper-case; my sister gave it to me last holidays. I won't forget." And
so he tumbled out into the passage, leaving them somewhat embarrassed, but not
sorry that he knew what they had done.
The next morning was Saturday, the day on which
the allowances of one shilling a week were paid--an important event to
spendthrift youngsters; and great was the disgust amongst the small fry to hear
that all the allowances had been impounded for the Derby lottery.
That great event in the English year, the Derby, was celebrated at Rugby
in those days by many lotteries. It was not an improving custom, I own, gentle
reader, and led to making books, and betting, and other objectionable results;
but when our great Houses of Palaver think it right to stop the nation's
business on that day and many of the members bet heavily themselves, can you
blame us boys for following the example of our betters?
At any rate we did follow it. First
there was the great school lottery, where the first prize was six or seven
pounds; then each house had one or more separate lotteries.
These were all nominally voluntary, no boy being compelled to put in his
shilling who didn't choose to do so. But besides Flashman, there were three or
four other fast, sporting young gentlemen in the Schoolhouse, who considered
subscription a matter of duty and necessity; and so, to make their duty come
easy to the small boys, quietly secured the allowances in a lump when given out
for distribution, and kept them. It
was no use grumbling--so many fewer tartlets and apples were eaten and fives
balls bought on that Saturday; and after locking-up, when the money would
otherwise have been spent, consolation was carried to many a small boy by the
sound of the night-fags shouting along the passages, "Gentlemen sportsmen
of the School-house; the lottery's going to be drawn in the hall."
It was pleasant to be called a gentleman sportsman, also to have a chance
of drawing a favourite horse.
The hall was full of boys, and at the head of one
of the long tables stood the sporting interest, with a hat before them, in which
were the tickets folded up. One of
them then began calling out the list of the house.
Each boy as his name was called drew a ticket from the hat, and opened
it; and most of the bigger boys, after drawing, left the hall directly to go
back to their studies or the fifth-form room.
The sporting interest had all drawn blanks, and they were sulky
accordingly; neither of the favourites had yet been drawn, and it had come down
to the upper-fourth. So now, as
each small boy came up and drew his ticket, it was seized and opened by
Flashman, or some other of the standers-by.
But no great favourite is drawn until it comes to the Tadpole's turn, and
he shuffles up and draws, and tries to make off, but is caught, and his ticket
is opened like the rest.
"Here you are!
Wanderer--the third favourite!" shouts the opener.
"I say, just give me my ticket, please,"
"Hullo! don't be in a hurry," breaks in
Flashman; "what'll you sell Wanderer for now?"
"I don't want to sell," rejoins Tadpole.
"Oh, don't you! Now listen, you young fool:
you don't know anything about it; the horse is no use to you.
He won't win, but I want him as a hedge.
Now, I'll give you half a crown for him."
Tadpole holds out, but between threats and cajoleries at length sells
half for one shilling and sixpence--about a fifth of its fair market value;
however, he is glad to realize anything, and, as he wisely remarks,
"Wanderer mayn't win, and the tizzy is safe anyhow."
East presently comes up and draws a blank.
Soon after comes Tom's turn. His
ticket, like the others, is seized and opened.
"Here you are then," shouts the opener, holding it up-- "Harkaway!--By
Jove, Flashey, your young friend's in luck."
"Give me the ticket," says Flashman,
with an oath, leaning across the table with open hand and his face black with
"Wouldn't you like it?" replies the
opener, not a bad fellow at the bottom, and no admirer of Flashman.
"Here, Brown, catch hold."
And he hands the ticket to Tom, who pockets it. Whereupon Flashman makes
for the door at once, that Tom and the ticket may not escape, and there keeps
watch until the drawing is over and all the boys are gone, except the sporting
set of five or six, who stay to compare books, make bets, and so on; Tom, who
doesn't choose to move while Flashman is at the door; and East, who stays by his
friend, anticipating trouble. The
sporting set now gathered round Tom. Public
opinion wouldn't allow them actually to rob him of his ticket, but any humbug or
intimidation by which he could be driven to sell the whole or part at an
undervalue was lawful.
"Now, young Brown, come, what'll you sell me
Harkaway for? I hear he isn't going
to start. I'll give you five
shillings for him," begins the boy who had opened the ticket. Tom, remembering his good deed, and moreover in his forlorn
state wishing to make a friend, is about to accept the offer, when another cries
out, "I'll give you seven shillings."
Tom hesitated and looked from one to the other.
"No, no!" said Flashman, pushing in,
"leave me to deal with him; we'll draw lots for it afterwards.
Now sir, you know me: you'll
sell Harkaway to us for five shillings, or you'll repent it."
"I won't sell a bit of him," answered
"You hear that now!" said Flashman,
turning to the others. "He's
the coxiest young blackguard in the house.
I always told you so. We're
to have all the trouble and risk of getting up the lotteries for the benefit of
such fellows as he."
Flashman forgets to explain what risk they ran,
but he speaks to willing ears. Gambling
makes boys selfish and cruel as well as men.
"That's true. We always draw blanks,"
cried one. --"Now, sir, you shall sell half, at any rate."
"I won't," said Tom, flushing up to his
hair, and lumping them all in his mind with his sworn enemy.
"Very well then; let's roast him," cried
Flashman, and catches hold of Tom by the collar. One or two boys hesitate, but the rest join in.
East seizes Tom's arm, and tries to pull him away, but is knocked back by
one of the boys, and Tom is dragged along struggling.
His shoulders are pushed against the mantelpiece, and he is held by main
force before the fire, Flashman drawing his trousers tight by way of extra
torture. Poor East, in more pain even than Tom, suddenly thinks of Diggs, and
darts off to find him. "Will
you sell now for ten shillings?" says one boy who is relenting.
Tom only answers by groans and struggles.
"I say, Flashey, he has had enough,"
says the same boy, dropping the arm he holds.
"No, no; another turn'll do it," answers
Flashman. But poor Tom is done
already, turns deadly pale, and his head falls forward on his breast, just as
Diggs, in frantic excitement, rushes into the hall with East at his heels.
"You cowardly brutes!" is all he can
say, as he catches Tom from them and supports him to the hall table.
"Good God! he's dying. Here,
get some cold water--run for the housekeeper."
Flashman and one or two others slink away; the
rest, ashamed and sorry, bend over Tom or run for water, while East darts off
for the housekeeper. Water comes,
and they throw it on his hands and face, and he begins to come to.
"Mother!"--the words came feebly and slowly--"it's very
cold to-night." Poor old Diggs is blubbering like a child.
"Where am I?" goes on Tom, opening his eyes, "Ah!
I remember now." And he
shut his eyes again and groaned.
"I say," is whispered, "we can't do
any good, and the housekeeper will be here in a minute."
And all but one steal away. He stays with Diggs, silent and sorrowful,
and fans Tom's face.
The housekeeper comes in with strong salts, and
Tom soon recovers enough to sit up. There
is a smell of burning. She examines
his clothes, and looks up inquiringly. The
boys are silent.
"How did he come so?"
No answer. "There's
been some bad work here," she adds, looking very serious, "and I shall
speak to the Doctor about it." Still
"Hadn't we better carry him to the
sick-room?" suggests Diggs
"Oh, I can walk now," says Tom; and,
supported by East and the housekeeper, goes to the sick-room.
The boy who held his ground is soon amongst the rest, who are all in fear
of their lives. "Did he
peach?" "Does she know
"Not a word; he's a stanch little
fellow." And pausing a moment,
he adds, "I'm sick of this work; what brutes we've been!"
Meantime Tom is stretched on the sofa in the
housekeeper's room, with East by his side, while she gets wine and water and
"Are you much hurt, dear old boy?"
"Only the back of my legs," answers Tom.
They are indeed badly scorched, and part of his trousers burnt through.
But soon he is in bed with cold bandages. At first he feels broken, and thinks of writing home and
getting taken away; and the verse of a hymn he had learned years ago sings
through his head, and he goes to sleep, murmuring, -
"Where the wicked cease from troubling,
But after a sound night's rest, the old boy-spirit
comes back again. East comes in,
reporting that the whole house is with him; and he forgets everything, except
their old resolve never to be beaten by that bully Flashman.
Not a word could the housekeeper extract from
either of them, and though the Doctor knew all that she knew that morning, he
never knew any more
I trust and believe that such scenes are not
possible now at school, and that lotteries and betting-books have gone out; but
I am writing of schools as they were in our time, and must give the evil with