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by Thomas Hughes
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes
Title page from the USA edition of 1890
The loosely-autobiographical Tom Brown pretty much invented the genre of British school novels, and so led to St. Trinian's, Billy Bunter's 'Greyfriars', Mr Chips' 'Brookfield' and to 'Hogwarts', as well as whole series of books based on the Flashman character.
Squire Brown, J.P. for the county of Berks, dealt out justice and mercy, in a thorough way, and begat sons and daughters, and hunted the fox, and grumbled at the badness of the roads and the times. And his wife dealt out stockings and shirts and smock frocks, and comforting drinks to the old folks with the "rheumatiz," and good counsel to all.
Tom was their eldest child, a hearty, strong boy, from the first given to fighting with and escaping from his nurse, and fraternising with all the village boys, with whom he made expeditions all round the neighbourhood.
Squire Brown was a Tory to the backbone; but, nevertheless, held divers social principles not generally supposed to be true blue in colour; the foremost of which was the belief that a man is to be valued wholly and solely for that which he is himself, apart from all externals whatever. Therefore, he held it didn't matter a straw whether his son associated with lords' sons or ploughmen's sons, provided they were brave and honest. So he encouraged Tom in his intimacy with the village boys, and gave them the run of a close for a playground. Great was the grief among them when Tom drove off with the squire one morning, to meet the coach, on his way to Rugby, to school.
It had been resolved that Tom should travel down by the Tally-ho, which passed through Rugby itself; and as it was an early coach, they drove out to the Peacock Inn, at Islington, to be on the road. Towards nine o'clock, the squire, observing that Tom was getting sleepy, sent the little fellow off to bed, with a few parting words, the result of much thought.
"And now, Tom, my boy," said the squire, "remember you are going, at your own earnest request, to be chucked into this great school, like a young bear, with all your troubles before you - earlier than we should have sent you, perhaps. You'll see a great many cruel blackguard things done, and hear a deal of foul, bad talk. But never fear. You tell the truth, and keep a brave, kind heart, and never listen to or say anything you wouldn't have your mother or sister hear, and you'll never feel ashamed to come home, or we to see you."
The mention of his mother made Tom feel rather choky, and he would have liked to hug his father well, if it hadn't been for his recent stipulation that kissing should now cease between them, so he only squeezed his father's hand, and looked up bravely, and said, "I'll try, father!"
At ten minutes to three Tom was in the coffee-room in his stockings, and there was his father nursing a bright fire; and a cup of coffee and a hard biscuit on the table.
Just as he was swallowing the last mouthful, Boots looks in, and says, "Tally-ho, sir!" And they hear the ring and rattle as it dashes up to the Peacock.
"Good-bye, father; my love at home!" A last shake of the hand. Up goes Tom, the guard holding on with one hand, while he claps the horn to his mouth. Toot, toot, toot! Away goes the Tally-ho into the darkness.
Tom stands up, and looks back at his father's figure as long as you can see it; and then comes to an anchor, and finishes his buttonings and other preparations for facing the cold three hours before dawn. The guard muffles Tom's feet up in straw, and puts an oat-sack over his knees, but it is not until after breakfast that his tongue is unloosed, and he rubs up his memory, and launches out into a graphic history of all the performances of the Rugby boys on the roads for the last twenty years.
"And so here's Rugby, sir, at last, and you'll be in plenty of time for dinner at the schoolhouse, as I tell'd you," says the old guard.
Tom's heart beat quick, and he began to feel proud of being a Rugby boy when he passed the school gates, and saw the boys standing there as if the town belonged to them.
One of the young heroes ran out from the rest, and scrambled up behind, where, having righted himself with, "How do, Jem?" to the guard, he turned round short to Tom, and began, "I say, you fellow, is your name Brown?"
"Yes," said Tom, in considerable astonishment.
"Ah, I thought so; my old aunt, Miss East, lives somewhere down your way in Berkshire; she wrote that you were coming to-day and asked me to give you a lift!"
Tom was somewhat inclined to resent the patronising air of his new friend, a boy of just about his own age and height, but gifted with the most transcendent coolness and assurance, which Tom felt to be aggravating and hard to bear, but couldn't help admiring and envying, especially when my young lord begins hectoring two or three long loafing fellows, and arranges with one of them to carry up Tom's luggage.
"You see," said East, as they strolled up to the school gates, "a good deal depends on how a fellow cuts up at first. You see I'm doing the handsome thing by you, because my father knows yours; besides, I want to please the old lady - she gave me half-a-sov. this half, and perhaps'll double it next if I keep in her good books."
Tom was duly placed in the Third Form, and found his work very easy; and as he had no intimate companion to make him idle (East being in the Lower Fourth), soon gained golden opinions from his master, and all went well with him in the school. As a new boy he was, of course, excused fagging, but, in his enthusiasm, this hardly pleased him; and East and others of his young friends kindly allowed him to indulge his fancy, and take their turns at night, fagging and cleaning studies. So he soon gained the character of a good-natured, willing fellow, ready to do a turn for anyone.
The Lower Fourth was an overgrown Form, too large for any one man to attend to properly, consequently the elysium of the young scamps who formed the staple of it. Tom had come up from the Third with a good character, but he rapidly fell away, and became as unmanageable as the rest. By the time the second monthly examination came round, his character for steadiness was gone, and for years after, he went up the school without it, and regarded the masters, as a matter of course, as his natural enemies. Matters were not so comfortable in the house, either. The new praeposters of the Sixth Form were not strong, and the big Fifth Form boys soon began to usurp power, and to fag and bully the little boys.
One evening Tom and East were sitting in their study, Tom brooding over the wrongs of fags in general and his own in particular.
"I say, Scud," said he at last, "what right have the Fifth Form boys to fag us as they do?"
"No more right than you have to fag them," said East, without looking up from an early number of "Pickwick" Tom relapsed into his brown study, and East went on reading and chuckling.
"Do you know, old fellow, I've been thinking it over, and I've made up my mind I won't fag except for the Sixth."
"Quite right, too, my boy," cried East. "I'm all for a strike myself; it's getting too bad."
"I shouldn't mind if it were only young Brooke now," said Tom; "I'd do anything for him. But that blackguard Flashman-"
"The cowardly brute!" broke in East.
"Fa-a-ag!" sounded along the passage from Flashman's study.
The two boys looked at one another.
"Fa-a-ag!" again. No answer.
"Here, Brown! East! You young skulks!" roared Flashman. "I know you're in! No shirking!"
Tom bolted the door, and East blew out the candle.
"Now, Tom, no surrender!"
Then the assault commenced. One panel of the door gave way to repeated kicks, and the besieged strengthened their defences with the sofa. Flashman & Co. at last retired, vowing vengeance, and when the convivial noises began again steadily, Tom and East rushed out. They were too quick to be caught, but a pickle-jar, sent whizzing after them by Flashman narrowly missed Tom's head. Their story was soon told to a knot of small boys round the fire in the hall, who nearly all bound themselves not to fag for the Fifth, encouraged and advised thereto by Diggs - a queer, very clever fellow, nearly at the top of the Fifth himself. He stood by them all through and seldom have small boys had more need of a friend.
Flashman and his associates united in "bringing the young vagabonds to their senses," and the whole house was filled with chasings, sieges, and lickings of all sorts.
One evening, in forbidden hours, Brown and East were in the hall, chatting by the light of the fire, when the door swung open, and in walked Flashman. He didn't see Diggs, busy in front of the other fire; and as the boys didn't move for him, struck one of them, and ordered them all off to their study.
"I say, you two," said Diggs, rousing up, "you'll never get rid of that fellow till you lick him. Go in at him, both of you! I'll see fair play."
They were about up to Flashman's shoulder, but tough and in perfect training; while he, seventeen years old, and big and strong of his age, was in poor condition from his monstrous habits of stuffing and want of exercise.
They rushed in on him, and he hit out wildly and savagely, and in another minute Tom went spinning backwards over a form; and Flashman turned to demolish East, with a savage grin. But Diggs jumped down from the table on which he had seated himself.
"Stop there!" shouted he. "The round's over! Half minute time allowed! I'm going to see fair. Are you ready, Brown? Time's up!"
The small boys rushed in again; Flashman was wilder and more flurried than ever. In a few moments over all three went on the floor, Flashman striking his head on a form. But his skull was not fractured, as the two youngsters feared it was, and he never laid a finger on them again. But whatever harm a spiteful tongue could do them, he took care should be done. Only throw dirt enough, and some will stick. And so Tom and East, and one or two more, became a sort of young Ishmaelites. They saw the praeposters cowed by or joining with the Fifth and shirking their own duties; and so they didn't respect them, and rendered no willing obedience, and got the character of sulky, unwilling fags. At the end of the term they are told the doctor wants to see them. He is not angry only very grave. He explains that rules are made for the good of the school and must and shall be obeyed! He should be sorry if they had to leave, and wishes them to think very seriously in the holidays over what he has said. Good-night!
The turning point of our hero's school career had now come, and the manner of it was as follows.
Tom and East and another Schoolhouse boy rushed into the matron's room in high spirits when they got back on the first day of the next half-year. She sent off the others, but kept Tom to tell him Mrs. Arnold wished him to take a new boy to share the study he had hoped to share with East. She had told Mrs. Arnold she thought Tom would be kind to him, and see that he wasn't bullied.
In the far corner of the room he saw a slight, pale boy, who looked ready to sink through the floor. The matron watched Tom for a minute, and saw what was passing in his mind.
"Poor little fellow," she said, almost in a whisper. "His father's dead, and his mamma - such a sweet, kind lady - almost broke her heart at leaving him. She said one of his sisters was like to die of a decline- "
"Well, well," burst in Tom, "I suppose I must give up East. Come along, young 'un! What's your name? We'll go and have supper, and then I'll show you our study."
"His name's George Arthur," said the matron. "I've had his books and things put into the study, which his mamma has had new papered, and the sofa covered, and new curtains. And Mrs. Arnold told me to say she'd like you both to come up to tea with her."
Here was an announcement for Master Tom! He was to go up to tea the first night, just as if he were of importance in the school world instead of the most reckless young scapegrace among the fags. He felt himself lifted on to a higher moral platform at once; and marched off with his young charge in tow in monstrous good humour with himself and all the world. His cup was full when Dr. Arnold, with a warm shake of the hand, seemingly oblivious of all the scrapes he had been getting into, said, "Ah, Brown, you here! I hope you left all well at home. And this is the little fellow who is to share your study? Well, he doesn't look as we should like to see him. You must take him some good long walks, and show him what little pretty country we have about here."
The tea went merrily off, and everybody felt that he, young as he was, was of some use in the school world, and had a work to do there. When Tom was recognised coming out of the private door which led from the doctor's house, there was a great shout of greeting, and Hall at once began to question Arthur.
"What a queer chum for Tom Brown," was the general comment. And it must be confessed that so thought Tom himself as he lighted the candle in their study, and surveyed the new curtains with much satisfaction.
"I say, Arthur, what a brick your mother is to make us so cosy! But look here now, you must answer straight up when the fellows speak to you. If you're afraid, you'll get bullied. And don't you ever talk about home or your mother or sisters."
Poor little Arthur looked ready to cry.
"But please, mayn't I talk about home to you?"
"Oh, yes, I like it. But not to boys you don't know. What a jolly desk!"
And soon Tom was deep in Arthur's goods and chattels, and hardly thought of his friends outside till the prayer-bell rang.
He thought of his own first night there when he was leading poor little Arthur up to No. 4, and showing him his bed. The idea of sleeping in a room with strange boys had clearly never crossed his mind before. He could hardly bare to take his jacket off. However, presently off it came, and he paused and looked at Tom, who was sitting on his bed, talking and laughing.
"Please, Brown," he whispered, "may I wash my face and hands?"
"Of course, if you like," said Tom, staring. "You'll have to go down for more water if you use it all." On went the talk and laughter. Arthur finished his undressing, and looked round more nervously than ever. The light burned clear, the noise went on. This time, however, he did not ask Tom what he might or might not do, but dropped on his knees by his bedside to open his heart to Him who heareth the cry of the tender child, or the strong man.
Tom was unlacing his boots with his back towards Arthur, and looked up in wonder at the sudden silence. Then two or three boys laughed, and one big, brutal fellow picked up a slipper and shied it at the kneeling boy. The next moment the boot Tom had just taken off flew straight at the head of the bully.
"If any other fellow wants the other boot," said Tom, stepping on to the floor, "he knows how to get it!"
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 unrobing there. Sleep seemed to have deserted the pillow of poor Tom. The thought of his promise to his mother came over him, never to forget to kneel at 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 old.
Next morning he was up and washed and dressed just as the ten-minutes bell began, and then in the face of the whole room knelt down to pray. Not five words could he say; he was listening for every whisper in the room. What were they all thinking of him? At last, as it were from his inmost heart, a still, small voice seemed to breathe: "God be merciful to me, a sinner." He repeated the words over and over again, and rose from his knees comforted and humbled, and ready to face the whole school. It was not needed; two other boys had already followed his example. Before either Tom or Arthur left the Schoolhouse there was no room in which it had not become the regular custom.
The curtain now rises on the last act of our little drama. Eight years have passed, and it is the end of the summer half-year at Rugby. The boys have scattered to the four winds, except the Eleven, and a few enthusiasts who are permitted to stay to see the result of the cricket matches. For this year the return matches are being played at Rugby, and to-day the great event of the year, the Marylebone match, is being played. I wish I had space to describe the whole match; but I haven't, so you must fancy it all, and let me beg to call your attention to a group of three eagerly watching the match. The first, evidently a clergyman, is carelessly dressed, and looks rather used up, but is bent on enjoying life as he spreads himself out in the evening sun. By his side, in white flannel shirt and trousers, and the captain's belt, sits a strapping figure near six feet high, with ruddy, tanned face and a laughing eye. He is leaning forward, dandling his favourite bat, with which he has made thirty or forty runs to-day. It is Tom Brown, spending his last day as a Rugby boy. And at their feet sits Arthur, with his bat across his knees. He is less of a boy, in fact, than Tom, if one may judge by the thoughtfulness of his face, which is somewhat paler than we could wish, but his figure is well-knit and active, and all his old timidity has disappeared, and is replaced by silent, quaint fun, as he listens to the broken talk, and joins in every now and then. Presently he goes off to the wicket, with a last exhortation from Tom to play steady and keep his bat straight.
"I'm surprised to see Arthur in the Eleven," says the master.
"Well, I'm not sure he ought to be for his play," said Tom; "but I couldn't help putting him in. It will do him so much good, and you can't think what I owe him!"
The master smiled. Later he returned to the subject
"Nothing has given me greater pleasure," he said, "than your friendship for him. It has been the making of you both."
"Of me, at any rate," answered Tom. "It was the luckiest chance in the world that sent him to Rugby and made him my chum."
"There was neither luck nor chance in that matter," said the master. "Do you remember when the Doctor lectured you and East when you had been getting into all sorts of scrapes?"
"Yes; well enough," said Tom. "It was the half-year before Arthur came."
"Exactly so," said the master. "He was in great distress about you both, and after some talk, we both agreed that you in particular wanted some object in the school beyond games and mischief. So the Doctor looked out the best of the new boys, and separated you and East in the hope that when you had somebody to lean on you, you'd be steadier yourself, and get manliness and thoughtfulness. He has watched the experiment ever since with great satisfaction."
Up to this time Tom had never fully given in to, or understood, the Doctor. He had learnt to regard him with love and respect, and to think him a very great and wise and good man. But as regarded his own position in the school, he had no idea of giving anyone credit but himself.
It was a new light to Tom to find that besides teaching the Sixth, and governing and guiding the whole school, editing classics, and writing histories, the great headmaster had found time to watch over the career even of him, Tom Brown, and his particular friends. However, the Doctor's victory was complete from that moment. It had taken eight long years to do it, but now it was done thoroughly.
The match was over.
Tom said good-bye to his tutor, and marched down to the Schoolhouse.
Next morning he was in the train and away for London, no longer a schoolboy.
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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