Tom Brown's School Days (6th ed)/Chapter 11
THE NEW BOY
"And Heaven's rich instincts in him grew,
As effortless as woodland nooks
Send violets up and paint them blue." —Lowell.
DO not mean to recount all the little troubles and annoyances which thronged upon Tom at the beginning of this half-year, in his new character of bear-leader to a gentle little boy straight from home. He seemed to himself to have become a new boy again, without any of the long suffering and meekness indispensable for supporting that character with moderate success. From morning till night he had the feeling of responsibility on his mind; and even if he left Arthur in their study or in the close for an hour, was never at ease till he had him in sight again. He waited for him at the doors of the school after every lesson and every calling-over; watched that no tricks were played him, and none but the regulation questions asked; kept his eye on his plate at dinner and breakfast, to see that no unfair depredations were made upon his viands; in short, as East remarked, cackled after him like a hen with one chick.
Arthur took a long time thawing, too, which made it all the harder work; was sadly timid; scarcely ever spoke unless Tom spoke to him first; and, worst of all, would agree with him in everything, the hardest thing in the world for a Brown to bear. He got quite angry sometimes, as they sat together of a night in their study, at this provoking habit of agreement, and was on the point of breaking out a dozen times with a lecture upon the propriety of a fellow having a will of his own and speaking out; but managed to restrain himself by the thought that it might only frighten Arthur, and the remembrance of the lesson he had learned from him on his first night at Number 4. Then he would resolve to sit still, and not say a word till Arthur began; but he was always beat at that game, and had presently to begin talking in despair, fearing lest Arthur might think he was vexed at something if he didn't, and dog-tired of sitting tongue-tied.
It was hard work! But Tom had taken it up, and meant to stick to it, and go through with it, so as to satisfy himself; in which resolution he was much assisted by the chaffing of East and his other old friends, who began to call him "dry-nurse," and otherwise to break their small wit on him. But when they took other ground, as they did every now and then, Tom was sorely puzzled.
"Tell you what. Tommy," East would say, "you'll spoil young Hopeful with too much coddling. Why can't you let him go about by himself and find his own level? He'll never be worth a button, if you go on keeping him under your skirts."
"Well, but he ain't fit to fight his own way yet; I'm trying to get him to it every day—but he's very odd. Poor little beggar! I can't make him out a bit. He ain't a bit like anything I've ever seen or heard of—he seems all over nerves; anything you say seems to hurt him like a cut or a blow."
"That sort of boy's no use here," said East, "he'll only spoil. Now, I'll tell you what to do, Tommy. Go and get a nice large band-box made, and put him in with plenty of cotton wool, and a pap-bottle, labelled 'With care—this side up,' and send him back to mamma."
"I think I shall make a hand of him, though," said Tom, smiling, "say what you will. There's something about him, every now and then, which shows me he's got pluck somewhere in him. That's the only thing after all that 'll wash, ain't it, old Scud? But how to get at it and bring it out?"
Tom took one hand out of his breeches-pocket and stuck it in his back hair for a scratch, giving his hat a tilt over his nose, his one method of invoking wisdom. He stared at the ground with a ludicrously puzzled look, and presently looked up and met East's eyes. That young gentleman slapped him on the back, and then put his arm round his shoulder, as they strolled through the quadrangle together. "Tom," said he, "blest if you ain't the best old fellow ever was—I do like to see you go into a thing. Hang it, I wish I could take things as you do—but I never can get higher than a joke. Everything's a joke. If I was going to be flogged next minute, I should be in a blue funk, but I couldn't help laughing at it for the life of me."
"Brown and East, you go and fag for Jones on the great fives'-court."
"Hullo, though, that's past a joke," broke out East, springing at the young gentleman who addressed them, and catching him by the collar. "Here, Tommy, catch hold of him t'other side before he can holla."
"BLEST IF YOU AIN'T THE BEST OLD FELLOW EVER WAS"
The youth was seized, and dragged struggling out of the quadrangle into the School-house hall. He was one of the miserable little, pretty, white-handed, curly-headed boys, petted and pampered by some of the big fellows, who wrote their verses for them, taught them to drink and use bad language, and did all they could to spoil them for everything in this world and the next. One of the avocations in which these young gentlemen took particular delight was in going about and getting fags for their protectors, when those heroes were playing any game. They carried about pencil and paper with them, putting down the names of all the boys they sent, always sending five times as many as were wanted, and getting all those thrashed who didn't go. The present youth belonged to a house which was very jealous of the School-house, and always picked out School-house fags when he could find them. However, this time he'd got the wrong sow by the ear. His captors slammed the great door of the hall, and East put his back against it, while Tom gave the prisoner a shake-up, took away his list, and stood him up on the floor, while he proceeded leisurely to examine that document.
"Let me out, let me go!" screamed the boy, in a furious passion. "I'll go and tell Jones this minute, and he'll give you both the —— thrashing you ever had."
"Pretty little dear," said East, patting the top of his hat; "hark how he swears, Tom. Nicely brought-up young man, ain't he? I don't think."
"Let me alone, —— you," roared he boy, foaming with rage, and kicking at East, who quietly tripped him up, and deposited him on the floor in a place of safety.
"Gently, young fellow," said he; "'taint improving for little whippersnappers like you to be indulging in blasphemy; so you stop that, or you'll get something you won't like."
"I'll have you both licked when I get out, that I will, rejoined the boy, beginning to snivel.
"Two can play at that game, mind you," said Tom, who had finished his examination of the list. "Now you just listen here. We've just come across the fives'-court, and Jones has four fags there already, two more than he wants. If he'd wanted us to change, he'd have stopped us himself. And here, you little blackguard, you've got seven names down on your list besides ours, and five of them School-house." Tom walked up to him and jerked him onto his legs; he was by this time whining like a whipped puppy.
"Now just listen to me. We ain't going to fag for Jones. If you tell him you've sent us, we'll each of us give you such a thrashing as you'll remember." And Tom tore up the list and threw the pieces into the fire.
"And mind you, too," said East, "don't let me catch you again sneaking about the School-house, and picking up our fags. You haven't got the sort of hide to take a sound licking kindly"; and he opened the door and sent the young gentleman flying into the quadrangle, with a parting kick.
"Nice boy, Tommy," said East, shoving his hands in his pockets and strolling to the fire.
"Worst sort we breed," responded Tom, following his example. "Thank goodness, no big fellow ever took to petting me."
"You'd never have been like that," said East. "I should like to have put him in a museum; Christian young gentleman, nineteenth century, highly educated. Stir him up with a long pole. Jack, and hear him swear like a drunken sailor! He'd make a respectable public open its eyes, I think."
"Think he'll tell Jones?" said Tom.
"No," said East. "Don't care if he does."
"Nor I," said Tom. And they went back to talk about Arthur.
The young gentleman had brains enough not to tell Jones, reasoning that East and Brown, who were noted as two of the toughest fags in the school, wouldn't care three straws for any licking Jones might give them, and would be likely to keep their words as to passing it on with interest.
After the above conversation, East came a good deal to their study, and took notice of Arthur; and soon allowed to Tom that he was a thorough little gentleman, and would get over his shyness all in good time; which much comforted our hero. He felt every day, too, the value of having an object in his life, something that drew him out of himself; and, it being the dull time of the year, and no games going about which he much cared, was happier than he had ever yet been at school, which was saying a great deal.
The time which Tom allowed himself away from his charge, was from locking-up till supper-time. During this hour or hour and a half he used to take his fling, going round to the studies of all his acquaintance, sparring or gossiping in the hall, now jumping the old iron-bound tables, or carving a bit of his name on them, then joining in some chorus of merry voices; in fact, blowing off his steam, as we should now call it.
This process was so congenial to his temper, and Arthur showed himself so pleased at the arrangement, that it was several weeks before Tom was ever in their study before supper. One evening, however, he rushed in to look for an old chisel, or some corks, or other articles essential to his pursuit for the time being, and while rummaging about in the cupboards, looked up for a moment, and was caught at once by the figure of poor little Arthur. The boy was sitting with his elbows on the table, and his head leaning on his hands, and before him an open book, on which his tears were falling fast. Tom shut the door at once, and sat down on the sofa by Arthur, putting his arm round his neck.
"Why, young un! what's the matter?" said he, kindly; "you ain't unhappy, are you?"
"Oh no, Brown," said the little boy, looking up with the great tears in his eyes, "you are so kind to me, I'm very happy."
"Why don't you call me Tom? Lots of boys do that I don't like half so much as you. What are you reading, then? Hang it, you must come about with me, and not mope yourself," and Tom cast down his eyes on the book, and saw it was the Bible. He was silent for a minute, and thought to himself, "Lesson Number 2, Tom Brown"—and then said, gently:
"I'm very glad to see this, Arthur, and ashamed that I don't read the Bible more myself. Do you read it every night before supper while I'm out?"
"Well, I wish you'd wait till afterward, and then we'd read together. But, Arthur, why does it make you cry?"
"Oh, it isn't that I'm unhappy. But at home, while my father was alive, we always read the lessons after tea; and I love to read them over now, and try to remember what he said about them. I can't remember all, and I think I scarcely understand a great deal of what I do remember. But it all comes back to me so fresh, that I can't help crying sometimes to think I shall never read them again with him."
Arthur had never spoken of his home before, and Tom hadn't encouraged him to do so, as his blundering school-boy reasoning made him think that Arthur would be softened and less manly for thinking of home. But now he was fairly interested, and forgot all about chisels and bottled beer; while with very little encouragement Arthur launched into his home history, and the prayer-bell put them both out sadly when it rang to call them to the hall.
From this time Arthur constantly spoke of his home, and above all, of his father, who had been dead about a year, and whose memory Tom soon got to love and reverence almost as much as his own son did.
Arthur's father had been the clergyman of a parish in the Midland Counties, which had risen into a large town during the war, and upon which the hard years which followed had fallen with a fearful weight. The trade had been half ruined; and then came the old sad story of masters reducing their establishments, men turned off and wandering about, hungry and wan in body and fierce in soul, from the thought of wives and children starving at home, and the last sticks of furniture going to the pawn-shop. Children taken from school, and lounging about the dirty streets and courts, too listless almost to play, and squalid in rags and misery. And then the fearful struggle between the employers and men; lowerings of wages, strikes, and the long course of oft-repeated crime, ending every now and then with a riot, a fire, and the county yeomanry. There is no need here to dwell upon such tales; the Englishman into whose soul they have not sunk deep is not worthy the name; you English boys for whom this book is meant (God bless your bright faces and kind hearts!) will learn it all soon enough.
Into such a parish and state of society Arthur's father had been thrown at the age of twenty-five, a young married parson, full of faith, hope, and love. He had battled with it like a man, and had lots of fine Utopian ideas about the perfectibility of mankind, glorious humanity and such-like, knocked out of his head; and a real wholesome Christian love for the poor struggling, sinning men, of whom he felt himself one, and with and for whom he spent fortune, and strength, and life, driven into his heart. He had battled like a man, and gotten a man's reward. No silver teapots or salvers, with flowery inscriptions, setting forth his virtues and the appreciation of a genteel parish; no fat living or stall, for which he never looked, and didn't care; no sighs and praises of comfortable dowagers and well-got-up young women, who worked him slippers, sugared his tea, and adored him as "a devoted man"; but a manly respect, wrung from the unwilling souls of men who fancied his order their natural enemies; the fear and hatred of every one who was false or unjust in the district, were he master or man; and the blessed sight of women and children daily becoming more human and more homely, a comfort to themselves and to their husbands and fathers.
These things of course took time, and had to be fought for with toil and sweat of brain and heart, and with the life-blood poured out. All that, Arthur had laid his account to give, and took as a matter of course; neither pitying himself, nor looking on himself as a martyr, when he felt the wear and tear making him feel old before his time, and the stifling air of fever dens telling on his health. His wife seconded him in everything. She had been rather fond of society, and much admired and run after before her marriage; and the London world, to which she had belonged, pitied poor Fanny Evelyn when she married the young clergyman and went to settle in that smoky hole Turley, a very nest of Chartism and Atheism, in a part of the county which all the decent families had had to leave for years. However, somehow or other she didn't seem to care. If her husband's living had been among green fields and near pleasant neighbors, she would have liked it better, that she never pretended to deny. But there they were; the air wasn't bad after all; the people were very good sort of people, civil to you if you were civil to them, after the first brush; and they didn't expect to work miracles, and convert them all off-hand into model Christians. So he and she went quietly among the folk, talking to and treating them just as they would have done people of their own rank. They didn't feel that they were doing anything out of the common way, and so were perfectly natural, and had none of that condescension or consciousness of manner which so outrages the independent poor. And thus they gradually won respect and confidence; and after sixteen years he was looked up to by the whole neighborhood as the just man, the man to whom masters and men could go in their strikes, and all in their quarrels and difficulties, and by whom the right and true word would be said without fear or favor. And the women had come round to take her advice, and go to her as a friend in all their troubles; while the children all worshipped the very ground she trod on.
They had three children, two daughters and a son, little Arthur, who came between his sisters. He had been a very delicate boy from his childhood; they thought he had a tendency to consumption, and so he had been kept at home and taught by his father, who had made a companion of him, and from whom he had gained good scholarship, and a knowledge of and interest in many subjects which boys in general never come across till they are many years older.
Just as he reached his thirteenth year, and his father had settled that he was strong enough to go to school, and, after much debating with himself, had resolved to send him there, a desperate typhus fever broke out in the town; most of the other clergy, and almost all the doctors, ran away; the work fell with tenfold weight on those who stood to their work. Arthur and his wife both caught the fever, of which he died in a few days, and she recovered, having been able to nurse him to the end, and store up his last words. He was sensible to the last, and calm and happy, leaving his wife and children with fearless trust for a few years in the hands of the Lord and Friend who had lived and died for him, and for whom he, to the best of his power, had lived and died. His widow's mourning was deep and gentle; she was more affected by the request of the committee of a Freethinking Club, established in the town by some of the factory hands (which he had striven against with might and main, and nearly suppressed), that some of their number might be allowed to help bear the coffin, than by anything else. Two of them were chosen, who with six other laboring men, his own fellow-workmen and friends, bore him to his grave—a man who had fought the Lord's fight even unto the death. The shops were closed and the factories shut that day in the parish, yet no master stopped the day's wages; but for many a year afterward the townsfolk felt the want of that brave, hopeful, loving parson, and his wife, who had lived to teach them mutual forbearance and helpfulness, and had almost at last given them a glimpse of what this old world would be if people would live for God and each other, instead of for themselves.
What has all this to do with our story? Well, my dear boys, let a fellow go on his own way, or you won't get anything out of him worth having. I must show you what sort of a man it was who had begotten and trained little Arthur, or else you won't believe in him, which I am resolved you shall do; and you won't see how he, the timid, weak boy, had points in him from which the bravest and strongest recoiled, and made his presence and example felt from the first on all sides, unconsciously to himself, and without the least attempt at proselytizing. The spirit of his father was in him, and the Friend to whom his father had left him did not neglect the trust.
After supper that night, and almost nightly for years afterward, Tom and Arthur, and by degrees East occasionally, and sometimes one, sometimes another, of their friends, read a chapter of the Bible together, and talked it over afterward. Tom was at first utterly astonished, and almost shocked, at the sort of way in which Arthur read the book, and talked about the men and women whose lives were there told. The first night they happened to fall on the chapters about the famine in Egypt, and Arthur began talking about Joseph as if he were a living statesman; just as he might have talked about Lord Grey and the Reform Bill; only that they were much more living realities to him. The book was to him, Tom saw, the most vivid and delightful history of real people, who might do right or wrong, just like any one who was walking about in Rugby—the Doctor, or the masters, or the sixth-form boys. But the astonishment soon passed off, the scales seemed to drop from his eyes, and the book became at once and forever to him the great human and divine book, and the men and women, whom he had looked upon as something quite different from himself, became his friends and counsellors.
For our purposes, however, the history of one night's reading will be sufficient, which must be told here, now we are on the subject, though it didn't happen till a year afterward, and long after the events recorded in the next chapter of our story.
Arthur, Tom, and East were together one night, and read the story of Naaman coming to Elisha to be cured of his leprosy. When the chapter was finished, Tom shut his Bible with a slap.
TOM SHUT HIS BIBLE WITH A SLAP
"I can't stand that fellow Naaman," said he, "after what he'd seen and felt, going back and bowing himself down in the house of Rimmon, because his effeminate scoundrel of a master did it. I wonder Elisha took the trouble to heal him. How he must have despised him!"
"Yes, there you go off as usual, with a shell on your head," struck in East, who always took the opposite side to Tom; half from love of argument, half from conviction. "How do you know he didn't think better of it? how do you know his master was a scoundrel? His letter don't look like it, and the book don't say so."
"I don't care," rejoined Tom; "why did Naaman talk about bowing down, then, if he didn't mean to do it? He wasn't likely to get more in earnest when he got back to court, and away from the prophet."
"Well, but, Tom," said Arthur, "look what Elisha says to him: 'Go in peace.' He wouldn't have said that if Naaman had been in the wrong."
"I don't see that that means more than saying, 'You're not the man I took you for.'"
"No, no, that won't do at all," said East; "read the words fairly, and take men as you find them. I like Naaman, and think he was a very fine fellow."
"I don't," said Tom, positively.
"Well, I think East is right," said Arthur; "I can't see but what it's right to do the best you can, though it mayn't be the best absolutely. Every man isn't born to be a martyr."
"Of course, of course," said East; "but he's on one of his pet hobbies. How often have I told you, Tom, that you must drive a nail where it will go?"
"And how often have I told you," rejoined Tom, "that it 'll always go where you want, if you only stick to it and hit hard enough? I hate half measures and compromises."
"Yes, he's a whole-hog man, is Tom. Must have the whole animal, hair and teeth, claws and tail," laughed East. "Sooner have no bread any day than half the loaf."
"I don't know," said Arthur, "it's rather puzzling; but ain't most right things got by proper compromises, I mean where the principle isn't given up?"
"That's just the point," said Tom; "I don't object to a compromise where you don't give up your principle."
"Not you," said East, laughingly. "I know him of old, Arthur, and you'll find him out some day. There isn't such a reasonable fellow in the world, to hear him talk. He never wants anything but what's right and fair; only when you come to settle what's right and fair, it's everything that he wants, and nothing that you want. And that's his idea of a compromise. Give me the Brown compromise when I'm on his side."
"Now, Harry," said Tom, "no more chaff—I'm serious. Look here—this is what makes my blood tingle"; and he turned over the pages of his Bible and read: "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, 'O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.'" He read the last verse twice, emphasizing the nots, and dwelling on them as if they gave him actual pleasure, and were hard to part with.
They were silent a minute, and then Arthur said, "Yes, that's a glorious story, but it don't prove your point, Tom, I think. There are times when there is only one way, and that the highest, and then the men are found to stand in the breach."
"There's always a highest way, and it's always the right one," said Tom. "How many times has the Doctor told us that in his sermons in the last year, I should like to know?"
"Well, you ain't going to convince us, is he, Arthur? No Brown compromise to-night," said East, looking at his watch. "But it's past eight, and we must go to first lesson. What a bore!"
So they took down their books and fell to work; but Arthur didn't forget, and thought long and often over the conversation.
- A kind and wise critic, an old Rugbæan, notes here in the margin: "The small friend system was not so utterly bad from 1841–1847." Before that, too, there were many noble friendships between big and little boys, but I can't strike out the passage; many boys will know why it is left in.