As a

himself, for that which stands up in the four fleshly walls of him, apart from clothes, rank, fortune, and all externals whatsoever. Which belief I take to be a wholesome corrective of all political opinions, and, if held sincerely, to make all opinions equally harmless, whether they be blue, red, or green. necessary corollary to this belief, Squire Brown beld further, that it didn't matter a straw whether his son associated with lords' sons or ploughmen's sons, provided they were brave and honest. He himself had played football and gone birds’-nesting with the farmers whom he met at vestry and the labourers who tilled their fields, and so had his father and grandfather with their progenitors. So he encouraged Tom in his intimacy with the boys of the village, and forwarded it by all means in his power, and gave them the run of a close for a play-ground, and provided bats and balls and a football for their sports.

Our village was blessed, amongst other things, with a well-endowed school. The building stood by itself, apart from the master's house, on an angle of ground where three roads met; an old gray stone building with a steep roof and mullioned windows. On one of the opposite angles stood Squire Brown's stables and kennel with their backs to the road, over which towered a great elm tree; on the third stood the village carpenter and wheelwright's large open shop, and his house and the schoolmaster's, with long low eaves under which the swallows built by scores.

The moment Tom's lessons were over he would



now get him down to this corner by the stables, and watch till the boys came out of school. He prevailed on the groom to cut notches for him in the bark of the elm, so that he could climb into the lower branches, and there he would sit watching the school door, and speculating on the possibility of turning the elm into a dwelling-place for himself and friends, after the manner of the Swiss family Robinson. But the school hours were long, and Tom's patience short, so that soon he began to descend into the street, and go and peep in at the school door and the wheelwright's shop, and look out for something to while away the time. Now the wheelwright was a choleric man, and one fine afternoon, returning from a short absence, found Tom occupied with one of his pet adzes, the edge of which was fast vanishing under our hero's care. A speedy flight saved Tom from all but one sound cuff on the ears, but he resented this unjustifiable interruption of his first essays at carpentering, and still more the further proceedings of the wheel. wright, who cut a switch and hung it over the door of his workshop, threatening to use it upon Tom if he came within twenty yards of bis gate. So Tom, to retaliate, commenced a war upon the swallows who dwelt under the wheelwright's eaves, whom ho harassed with sticks and stones, and being fleeter of foot than his enemy, escaped all punishment, and kept him in perpetual anger. Moreover, his presence about the school door began to incense the master, as the boys in that neighbourhood neglected their lessons in consequence; and more than once



he issued into the porch, rod in hand, just as Tom beat a hasty retreat. And he and the wheelwright laying their heads together, resolved to acquaint the Squire with Tom's afternoon occupations; but in order to do it with effect, determined to take him captive and lead him away to judgment fresh from his evil doings. This they would have found some difficulty in doing had Tom continued the war single-handed, or rather single-footed, for he would have taken to the deepest part of Pebbly Brook to escape them; but like other active powers, he was ruined by his alliances. Poor Jacob Doodle-calf could not go to school with the other boys, and one fine afternoon, about three o'clock (the school broke up at four), Tom found him ambling about the street, and pressed him into a visit to the school porch. Jacob, always ready to do what he was asked, consented, and the two stole down to the school together. Tom first reconnoitred the wheelwright's shop, and seeing no signs of activity, thought all safe in that quarter, and ordered at once an advance of all his troops upon the school porch. The door of the school was ajar, and the boys seated on the nearest bench at once recognized and opened a correspondence with the invaders. Tom, waxing bold, kept putting his head into the school and making faces at the master when his back was turned. Poor Jacob, not in the least comprehending the situation, and in high glee at finding himself so near the school, which he had never been allowed to enter, suddenly, in a fit of enthusiasm, pushed by Tom, and ambling three



steps into the school, stood there looking round him and nodding with a self-approving smile. The master, who was stooping over a boy's slate with his back to the door, became aware of something unusual, and turned quickly round. Tom rushed at Jacob, and began dragging him back by his smock-frock, and the master made at them, scattering forms and boys in his career. Even now they might have escaped, but that in the porch, barring retreat, appeared the crafty wheelwright, who had been watching all their proceedings. So they were seized, the school dismissed, and Tom and Jacob led away to Squire Brown as lawful prize, the boys following to the gate in groups, and speculating on the result.

The Squire was very angry at first, but the interview, by Tom's pleading, ended in a compromise. Tom was not to go near the school till three o'clock, and only then if he had done his own lessons well, in which case he was to be the bearer of a note to the master from Squire Brown, and the master agreed in such case to release ten or twelve of the best boys an hour before the time of breaking up, to go off and play in the close. The wheelwright's adzes and swallows were to be forever respected, and that hero and the master withdrew to the servants' hall to drink the Squire's health, well satisfied with their day's work.

The second act of Tom's life may now be said to have begun. The war of independence had been over for some time: none of the women

[blocks in formation]

in now, not even his mother's maid, dared offer to The help him in dressing or washing. Between ourvitt selves, he had often at first to run to Benjy in an ning unfinished state of toilet; Charity and the rest of

them seemed to take delight in putting impossibible buttons and ties in the middle of his back; tter

but he would have gone without nether integuther ments altogether, sooner than have had recourse

to female valeting. He had a room to himself, TING hat and his father gave him sixpence a-week pockether money. All this he had achieved by Benjy's ad

vice and assistance. But now he had conquered bor another step in life, the step which all real boys

so long to make; he had got amongst his equals in age and strength, and could measure himself with other boys; he lived with those whose pursuits and wishes and ways were the same in kind as his


thre own.



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

1 llow

The little governess who had lately been installed in the house found her work grow wondrously easy, for Tom slaved at his lessons in

order to make sure of his note to the schoolmas#ter. So there were very few days in the week in

which Tom and the village boys were not playing

in their close by three o'clock. Prisoner's-base, a rounders, high-cock-a-lorum, cricket, football, he drie was soon initiated into the delights of them all;

and though most of the boys were older than himself, he managed to hold his own very well. He

was naturally active and strong, and quick of eye hi

and hand, and had the advantage of light shoes and well-fitting dress, so that in a short time



« VorigeDoorgaan »