« VorigeDoorgaan »
the great school together during this three-quarters of an hour, or sat in their desks reading or looking over copies, and keeping such order as was possible. But the lower-fourth was just now an overgrown form, too large for any one man to attend to properly, and consequently the elysium or ideal form of the young scapegraces who formed the staple of it.
Tom, as has been said, had come up from the third with a good character, but the temptations of the lower-fourth soon proved too strong for him, and he rapidly fell away, and became as unmanageable as the rest. For some weeks, indeed, he succeeded in maintaining the appearance of steadiness, and was looked upon favourably by his new master, whose eyes were first opened by the following little incident.
Besides the desk which the master himself occupied, there was another large unoccupied desk in the corner of the great school, which was untenanted. To rush and seize upon this desk, which was ascended by three steps, and held four boys, was the great object of ambition of the lower-fourthers; and the contentions for the occupation of it bred such disorder, that at last the master forbade its use altogether. This of course was a challenge to the more adventurous spirits to occupy it, and as it was capacious enough for two boys to lie hid there completely, it was seldom that it remained empty notwithstanding the veto. Small holes were cut in the front, through which the occupants watched the masters as they walked up and down, and as les. son time approached, one boy at a time stole out
and down the steps, as the masters' backs were turned, and mingled with the general crowd on the forms below. Tom and East had successfully oc
apied the desk some half dozen times, and were grown so reckless that they were in the habit of playing small games with fives'-balls inside, when the masters were at the other end of the big school. One day, as ill luck would have it, the game became more exciting than usual, and the ball slipped through East's fingers, and rolled slowly down the steps and out into the middle of the school, just as the masters turned their walk and faced round upon the desk. The young delinquents watched their master through the look-out holes march slowly down the school straight upon their retreat, while all the boys in the neighbourhood of course stopped their work to look on; and not only were they ignominiously drawn out, and caned over the hand then and there, but their characters for steadiness were gone from that time. However, as they only shared the fate of some three-fourths of the rest of the form, this did not weigh heavily upon them.
In fact, the only occasions on which they cared about the matter, were the monthly examinations, when the Doctor came round to examine their form, for one long, awful hour, in the work which they had done in the preceding month. The second monthly examination came round soon after Tom's fall, and it was with any thing but lively anticipations that he and the other lower-fourth boys came into prayers on the morning of the examinationday.
Prayers and calling-over seemed twice as short as usual, and before they could get construes of a tithe of the hard passages marked in the margin of their books, they were all seated round, and the Doctor was standing in the middle, talking in whispers to the master. Tom couldn't hear a word which passed, and never lifted his eyes from his book; but he knew by a sort of magnetic instinct, that the Doctor's under lip was coming out, and his eye beginning to burn, and his gown getting gathered up more and more tightly in his left hand. The suspense was agonizing, and Tom knew that he was sure on such occasions to make an example of the school-house boys. “ If he would only begin,” thought Tom, “ I shouldn't mind."
At last the whispering ceased, and the name which was called out was not Brown. He looked up for a moment, but the Doctor's face was too awful; Tom wouldn't have met his eye for all he was worth, and buried himself in his book again.
The boy who was called up first was a clever merry school-house boy, one of their set; he was some connection of the Doctor's and a great favourite, and ran in and out of his house as he liked, and so was selected for the first victim.
“ Triste lupus stabulis,” began the luckless young. ster, and stammered through some eight or ten ; lines.
“There, that will do," said the Doctor, “now construe.”
On common occasions the boy could have con. strued the passage well enough probably, but now his head was gone.
“ Triste lupus, the sorrowful wolf,” he began.
A shudder ran through the whole form, and the Doctor's wrath fairly boiled over ; he made three steps up to the construer, and gave him a good box on the ear. The blow was not a hard one, but the boy was so taken by surprise that he started back; the form caught the back of his knees, and over he went on to the floor behind. There was a dead silence over the whole school ; never before, and never again while Tom was at school, did the Doctor strike a boy in lesson. The provocation must have been great. However, the victim had saved his form for that occasion, for the Doctor turned to the top bench, and put on the best boys for the rest of the hour; and though at the end of the lesson he gave them all such a rating as they did not forget, this terrible field-day passed over without any severe visitations in the shape of punishments or floggings. Forty young scapegraces expressed their thanks to the “ sorrowful wolf” in their different ways before second lesson.
But a character for steadiness once gone, is not easily recovered, as Tom found, and for years afterwards he went up the school without it, and the masters' hands were against him, and his against them. And he regarded them, as a matter of course, as his natural enemies.
Matters were not so comfortable either in the house as they had been, for old Brooke left at Christmas, and one or two others of the sixth-form boys at the following Easter. Their rule had been rough, but strong and just in the main, and a
MISRULE AND ITS CAUSES.
higher standard was beginning to be set up; in fact there had been a short foretaste of the good time which followed some years later. Just now, however, all threatened to return into darkness and chaos again. For the new præpostors were either small young boys, whose cleverness had carried them up to the top of the school, while in strength of body and character, they were not yet fit for a share in the government; or else big fellows of the wrong sort, boys whose friendships and tastes had a downward tendency, who had not caught the meaning of their position and work, and felt none of its responsibilities. So under this no-government the school-house began to see bad times. The big fifth-form boys, who were a sporting and drinking set, soon began to usurp power, and to fag the little boys as if they were præpostors, and to bully and oppress any who showed signs of resistance. The bigger sort of sixth-form boys just described, soon made common cause with the fifth, while the smaller sort, hampered by their colleagues' desertion to the enemy, could not make head against them. So the fags were without their lawful masters and protectors, and ridden over rough-shod by a set of boys whom they were not bound to obey, and whose only right over them stood in teir bodily powers; and, as old Brooke had prophesied, the house by degrees broke up into small sets and parties, and lost the strong feeling of fellowship which he set so much store by, and with it much of the prowess in games, and the lead in all school matters, which he had done so much to keep up.