« VorigeDoorgaan »
“ Hold that noise, up in the corner," called out the præpostor, sitting up and looking round his curtains; and the Tadpole and young Green sank down into their disordered beds, and then looking at his watch, added, “ Hullo, past eight! whose turn for hot water?”
(Where the præpostor was particular in his ablutions, the fags in his room had to descend in turn to the kitchen, and beg or steal hot water for him; and often the custom extended further, and two boys went down every morning to get a supply for the whole room.)
“ East's and Tadpole's," answered the senior fag, who kept the rota.
“I can't go,” said East, “ I'm dead lame.”
“ Well, be quick, some of you, that's all,” said the great man, as he turned out of bed, and putting on his slippers went out into the great passage, which runs the whole length of the bedrooms, to get his Sunday habiliments out of his portmanteau.
“Let me go for you," said Tom to East, “ I should like it.”
“ Well, thank’ee, that's a good fellow. Just pull on your trousers, and take your jug and mine. Tadpole will show you the way.”
And so Tom and the Tadpole, in nightshirts and trousers, started off down stairs, and through “ Thos's hole,” as the little buttery where candles and beer, and bread and cheese were served out at night, was called; across the school-house court, down a long passage and into the kitchen; where, after some parley with the stalwart handsome cook, who declared
DESCENT ON THE KITCHEN.
that she had filled a dozen jugs already, they got their hot water, and returned with all speed and great caution. As it was, they narrowly escaped capture by some privateers from the fifth-form rooms, who were on the look-out for the hot-water convoys, and pursued them up to the very door of their room, making them spill half their load in the passage. “ Better than going down again though,” as Tadpole remarked, “as we should have had to do if those beggars had caught us.”
By the time that the calling-over bell rang, Tom and his new comrades were all down, dressed in their best clothes, and he had the satisfaction of answering “here,” to his name, for the first time, the præpostor of the week having put it in at the bottom of his list. And then came breakfast, and a saunter about the close and town with East, whose lameness only became severe when any fagging had to be done. And so they whiled away the time until morning chapel.
It was a fine November morning, and the close soon became alive with boys of all ages, who sauntered about on the grass or walked round the gravelwalk in parties of two or three. East still doing the cicerone, pointed out all the remarkable characters to Tom as they passed ; Osbert, who could throw a cricket-ball from the little-side ground over the rook trees to the Doctor's wall; Gray, who had got the Balliol scholarship, and, what East evidently thought of much more importance, a half holiday for the school by his success; Thorne, who had run ten miles in two minutes over the hour; Black, who
THE “ CLOSE ” BEFORE CHAPEL.
had held his own against the cock of the town in the last row with the louts; and many more heroes, who then and there walked about and were worshipped, all trace of whom has long since vanished from the scene of their fame; and the fourth-form boy, who reads their names rudely cut out on the old hall tables, or painted up on the Big-side cupboard (if hall tables and Big-side cupboard still exist), wonders what manạer of boys they were. It will be the same with you who wonder, my sons, whatever your prowess may be, in cricket, or scholarship, or football. Two or three years more or less, and then the steadily advancing, blessed wave will pass over your names as it has passed over ours. Nevertheless, play your games and do your work manfully – see only that that be done, and let the remembrance of it take care of itself. .
The chapel-bell began to ring at a quarter to eleven, and Tom got in early and took his place in the lowest row, and watched all the other boys come in and take their places, filling row after row; and tried to construe the Greek text which was inscribed over the door with the slightest possible success, and wondered which of the masters, who walked down the chapel and took their seats in the exalted boxes at the end, would be his lord. And then came the closing of the doors, and the Doctor in his robes, and the service, which, however, didn't impress him much, for his feeling of wonder and curiosity was too strong. And the boy on one side of him was scratching his name on the oak panelling in front, and he couldn't help watching to see what the
name was, and whether it was well scratched; and the boy on the other side went to sleep and kept falling against him; and on the whole, though many boys even in that part of the school were serious and attentive, the general atmosphere was by no means devotional; and when he got out into the close again, he didn't feel at all comfortable, or as if he had been to church.
But at afternoon chapel it was quite another thing. He had spent the time after dinner in writing home to his mother, and so was in a better frame of mind, and his first curiosity was over, and he could attend more to the service. As the hymn after the prayers was being sung, and the chapel was getting a little dark, he was beginning to feel that he had been really worshipping. And then came that great event in his, as in every Rugby boy's life of that day — the first sermon from the Doctor.
More worthy pens than mine have described that scene. The oak pulpit standing out by itself, above the school seats. The tall gallant form, the kindling eye, the voice, now soft as the low notes of a flute, now clear and stirring as the call of the light infantry "bugle, of him who stood there Sunday after Sunday, witnessing and pleading for his Lord, the King of righteousness and love and glory, with whose spirit he was filled, and in whose power he spoke. The long lines of young faces rising tier above tier down the whole length of the chapel, from the little boy's who had just left his mother to the young man's who was going out next week into the great
world rejoicing in his strength. It was a great and solemn sight, and never more so than at this time of year, when the only lights in the chapel were in the pulpit and at the seats of the præpostors of the week, and the soft twilight stole over the rest of the chapel, deepening into darkness in the high gallery behind the organ.
But what was it after all which seized and held these three hundred boys, dragging them out of themselves, willing or unwilling, for twenty minutes on Sunday afternoons ? True, there always were boys scattered up and down the school, who, in heart and head, were worthy to hear and able to carry away the deepest and wisest words then spoken. But these were a minority always, generally a very small one, often so small a one as to be countable on the fingers of your hand. What was it that moved and held us, the rest of the three hundred reckless childish boys, who feared the Doctor with all our hearts, and very little besides in heaven or earth; who thought more of our sets in the school than of the church of Christ, and put the traditions of Rugby and the public opinion of boys in our daily life above the laws of God? We couldn't enter into half that we heard ; we hadn't the knowledge of our own hearts or the knowledge of one another, and little enough of the faith, hope, and love needed to that end. But we listened, as all boys in their better moods will listen (aye, and man too for the matter of that), to a man who we felt to be with all his heart and soul and strength striving against whatever was mean and unmanly