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TOM LEARNS HIS LESSON.
fact, that Tom could probably have thrashed any boy in the room except the præpostor; at any rate, everybody knew that he would try upon very slight provocation, and didn't choose to run the risk of a hard fight because Tom Brown had taken a fancy to say his prayers.
Some of the small boys of Number 4 communicated the new state of things to their chums, and in several other rooms the poor little fellows tried it on; in one instance or so, where the præpostor heard of it and interfered very decidedly, with partial success; but in the rest, after a short struggle, the confessors were bullied or laughed down, and the old state of things went on for some time longer. Before either Tom Brown or Arthur left the school-house, there was no room in which it had not become the regular custom. I trust it is so still, and that the old heathen state of things has gone out for ever.
THE NEW BOY.
« And Heaven's rich instincts in him grew
I 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,
East remarked, cackled after him like a hen with one chick.
Arthur took a long time thawing too, which mado 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 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 learnt 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 had 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."
6 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 you 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 Aogged 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.”
The youth was seized, and dragged struggling out of the quadrangle into the school-house hall. He was one of the miserable little pretty whitehanded, 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
* A kind and wise critic, and old Rugboan, notes here in the margin: The “small friend system was not so utterly bad from 18411847.” 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.