Part 1 - Chapter 8 - The War Of Independence
"They are slaves who will not choose
The lower-fourth form, in which Tom found himself at the beginning of the next half-year, was the largest form in the lower school, and numbered upwards of forty boys. Young gentlemen of all ages from nine to fifteen were to be found there, who expended such part of their energies as was devoted to Latin and Greek upon a book of Livy, the "Bucolics" of Virgil, and the "Hecuba" of Euripides, which were ground out in small daily portions. The driving of this unlucky lower-fourth must have been grievous work to the unfortunate master, for it was the most unhappily constituted of any in the school. Here stuck the great stupid boys, who, for the life of them, could never master the accidence - the objects alternately of mirth and terror to the youngsters, who were daily taking them up and laughing at them in lesson, and getting kicked by them for so doing in play-hours. There were no less than three unhappy fellows in tail coats, with incipient down on their chins, whom the Doctor and the master of the form were always endeavouring to hoist into the upper school, but whose parsing and construing resisted the most well-meant shoves. Then came the mass of the form, boys of eleven and twelve, the most mischievous and reckless age of British youth, of whom East and Tom Brown were fair specimens. As full of tricks as monkeys, and of excuses as Irishwomen, making fun of their master, one another, and their lessons, Argus himself would have been puzzled to keep an eye on them; and as for making them steady or serious for half an hour together, it was simply hopeless. The remainder of the form consisted of young prodigies of nine and ten, who were going up the school at the rate of a form a half-year, all boys' hands and wits being against them in their progress. It would have been one man's work to see that the precocious youngsters had fair play; and as the master had a good deal besides to do, they hadn't, and were for ever being shoved down three or four places, their verses stolen, their books inked, their jackets whitened, and their lives otherwise made a burden to them.
The lower-fourth, and all the forms below it, were heard in the great school, and were not trusted to prepare their lessons before coming in, but were whipped into school three-quarters of an hour before the lesson began by their respective masters, and there, scattered about on the benches, with dictionary and grammar, hammered out their twenty lines of Virgil and Euripides in the midst of babel. The masters of the lower school walked up and down 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 lesson 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 occupied 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 in their walk and faced round upon the desk. The young delinquents watched their master, through the lookout 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 anything but lively anticipations that he and the other lower- fourth boys came in to prayers on the morning of the examination day.
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 youngster, and stammered through some eight or ten lines.
"There, that will do," said the Doctor; "now construe."
On common occasions the boy could have construed 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 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 prepostors 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 prepostors, 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 their 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.
In no place in the world has individual character more weight than at a public school. Remember this, I beseech you, all you boys who are getting into the upper forms. Now is the time in all your lives, probably, when you may have more wide influence for good or evil on the society you live in than you ever can have again. Quit yourselves like men, then; speak up, and strike out if necessary, for whatsoever is true, and manly, and lovely, and of good report; never try to be popular, but only to do your duty and help others to do theirs, and you may leave the tone of feeling in the school higher than you found it, and so be doing good which no living soul can measure to generations of your countrymen yet unborn. For boys follow one another in herds like sheep, for good or evil; they hate thinking, and have rarely any settled principles. Every school, indeed, has its own traditionary standard of right and wrong, which cannot be transgressed with impunity, marking certain things as low and blackguard, and certain others as lawful and right. This standard is ever varying, though it changes only slowly and little by little; and, subject only to such standard, it is the leading boys for the time being who give the tone to all the rest, and make the School either a noble institution for the training of Christian Englishmen, or a place where a young boy will get more evil than he would if he were turned out to make his way in London streets, or anything between these two extremes.
The change for the worse in the School-house, however, didn't press very heavily on our youngsters for some time. They were in a good bedroom, where slept the only prepostor left who was able to keep thorough order, and their study was in his passage. So, though they were fagged more or less, and occasionally kicked or cuffed by the bullies, they were, on the whole, well off; and the fresh, brave school-life, so full of games, adventures, and good-fellowship, so ready at forgetting, so capacious at enjoying, so bright at forecasting, outweighed a thousand-fold their troubles with the master of their form, and the occasional ill-usage of the big boys in the house. It wasn't till some year or so after the events recorded above that the prepostor of their room and passage left. None of the other sixth-form boys would move into their passage, and, to the disgust and indignation of Tom and East, one morning after breakfast they were seized upon by Flashman, and made to carry down his books and furniture into the unoccupied study, which he had taken. From this time they began to feel the weight of the tyranny of Flashman and his friends, and, now that trouble had come home to their own doors, began to look out for sympathizers and partners amongst the rest of the fags; and meetings of the oppressed began to be held, and murmurs to arise, and plots to be laid as to how they should free themselves and be avenged on their enemies.
While matters were in this state, East and Tom were one evening sitting in their study. They had done their work for first lesson, and Tom was in a brown study, brooding, like a young William Tell, upon the wrongs of fags in general, and his own in particular.
"I say, Scud," said he at last, rousing himself to snuff the candle, "what right have the fifth-form boys to fag us as they do?"
"No more right than you have to fag them," answered East, without looking up from an early number of "Pickwick," which was just coming out, and which he was luxuriously devouring, stretched on his back on the sofa.
Tom relapsed into his brown study, and East went on reading and chuckling. The contrast of the boys' faces would have given infinite amusement to a looker-on - the one so solemn and big with mighty purpose, the other radiant and bubbling over with fun.
"Do you know, old fellow, I've been thinking it over a good deal," began Tom again.
"Oh yes, I know - fagging you are thinking of. Hang it all! But listen here, Tom - here's fun. Mr. Winkle's horse - "
"And I've made up my mind," broke in Tom, "that I won't fag except for the sixth."
"Quite right too, my boy," cried East, putting his finger on the place and looking up; "but a pretty peck of troubles you'll get into, if you're going to play that game. However, I'm all for a strike myself, if we can get others to join. It's getting too bad."
"Can't we get some sixth-form fellow to take it up?" asked Tom.
"Well, perhaps we might. Morgan would interfere, I think. Only," added East, after a moment's pause, "you see, we should have to tell him about it, and that's against School principles. Don't you remember what old Brooke said about learning to take our own parts?"
"Ah, I wish old Brooke were back again. It was all right in his time."
"Why, yes, you see, then the strongest and best fellows were in the sixth, and the fifth-form fellows were afraid of them, and they kept good order; but now our sixth-form fellows are too small, and the fifth don't care for them, and do what they like in the house."
"And so we get a double set of masters," cried Tom indignantly - "the lawful ones, who are responsible to the Doctor at any rate, and the unlawful, the tyrants, who are responsible to nobody."
"Down with the tyrants!" cried East; "I'm all for law and order, and hurrah for a revolution."
"I shouldn't mind if it were only for young Brooke now," said Tom; "he's such a good-hearted, gentlemanly fellow, and ought to be in the sixth. I'd do anything for him. But that blackguard Flashman, who never speaks to one without a kick or an oath - "
"The cowardly brute," broke in East - "how I hate him! And he knows it too; he knows that you and I think him a coward. What a bore that he's got a study in this passage! Don't you hear them now at supper in his den? Brandy-punch going, I'll bet. I wish the Doctor would come out and catch him. We must change our study as soon as we can."
"Change or no change, I'll never fag for him again," said Tom, thumping the table.
"Fa-a-a-ag!" sounded along the passage from Flashman's study. The two boys looked at one another in silence. It had struck nine, so the regular night-fags had left duty, and they were the nearest to the supper-party. East sat up, and began to look comical, as he always did under difficulties.
"Fa-a-a-ag!" again. No answer.
"Here, Brown! East! you cursed young skulks," roared out Flashman, coming to his open door; "I know you're in; no shirking."
Tom stole to their door, and drew the bolts as noiselessly as he could; East blew out the candle.
"Barricade the first," whispered he. "Now, Tom, mind, no surrender."
"Trust me for that," said Tom between his teeth.
In another minute they heard the supper-party turn out and come down the passage to their door. They held their breaths, and heard whispering, of which they only made out Flashman's words, "I know the young brutes are in."
Then came summonses to open, which being unanswered, the assault commenced. Luckily the door was a good strong oak one, and resisted the united weight of Flashman's party. A pause followed, and they heard a besieger remark, "They're in safe enough. Don't you see how the door holds at top and bottom? So the bolts must be drawn. We should have forced the lock long ago." East gave Tom a nudge, to call attention to this scientific remark.
Then came attacks on particular panels, one of which at last gave way to the repeated kicks; but it broke inwards, and the broken pieces got jammed across (the door being lined with green baize), and couldn't easily be removed from outside: and the besieged, scorning further concealment, strengthened their defences by pressing the end of their sofa against the door. So, after one or two more ineffectual efforts, Flashman and Company retired, vowing vengeance in no mild terms.
The first danger over, it only remained for the besieged to effect a safe retreat, as it was now near bed-time. They listened intently, and heard the supper-party resettle themselves, and then gently drew back first one bolt and then the other. Presently the convivial noises began again steadily. "Now then, stand by for a run," said East, throwing the door wide open and rushing into the passage, closely followed by Tom. They were too quick to be caught; but Flashman was on the lookout, and sent an empty pickle-jar whizzing after them, which narrowly missed Tom's head, and broke into twenty pieces at the end of the passage. "He wouldn't mind killing one, if he wasn't caught," said East, as they turned the corner.
There was no pursuit, so the two turned into the hall, where they found a knot of small boys round the fire. Their story was told. The war of independence had broken out. Who would join the revolutionary forces? Several others present bound themselves not to fag for the fifth form at once. One or two only edged off, and left the rebels. What else could they do? "I've a good mind to go to the Doctor straight," said Tom.
"That'll never do. Don't you remember the levy of the school last half?" put in another.
In fact, the solemn assembly, a levy of the School, had been held, at which the captain of the School had got up, and after premising that several instances had occurred of matters having been reported to the masters; that this was against public morality and School tradition; that a levy of the sixth had been held on the subject, and they had resolved that the practice must be stopped at once; and given out that any boy, in whatever form, who should thenceforth appeal to a master, without having first gone to some prepostor and laid the case before him, should be thrashed publicly, and sent to Coventry.
"Well, then, let's try the sixth. Try Morgan," suggested another. "No use" - "Blabbing won't do," was the general feeling.
"I'll give you fellows a piece of advice," said a voice from the end of the hall. They all turned round with a start, and the speaker got up from a bench on which he had been lying unobserved, and gave himself a shake. He was a big, loose-made fellow, with huge limbs which had grown too far through his jacket and trousers. "Don't you go to anybody at all - you just stand out; say you won't fag. They'll soon get tired of licking you. I've tried it on years ago with their forerunners."
"No! Did you? Tell us how it was?" cried a chorus of voices, as they clustered round him.
"Well, just as it is with you. The fifth form would fag us, and I and some more struck, and we beat 'em. The good fellows left off directly, and the bullies who kept on soon got afraid."
"Was Flashman here then?"
"Yes; and a dirty, little, snivelling, sneaking fellow he was too. He never dared join us, and used to toady the bullies by offering to fag for them, and peaching against the rest of us."
"Why wasn't he cut, then?" said East.
"Oh, toadies never get cut; they're too useful. Besides, he has no end of great hampers from home, with wine and game in them; so he toadied and fed himself into favour."
The quarter-to-ten bell now rang, and the small boys went off upstairs, still consulting together, and praising their new counsellor, who stretched himself out on the bench before the hall fire again. There he lay, a very queer specimen of boyhood, by name Diggs, and familiarly called "the Mucker." He was young for his size, and a very clever fellow, nearly at the top of the fifth. His friends at home, having regard, I suppose, to his age, and not to his size and place in the school, hadn't put him into tails; and even his jackets were always too small; and he had a talent for destroying clothes and making himself look shabby. He wasn't on terms with Flashman's set, who sneered at his dress and ways behind his back; which he knew, and revenged himself by asking Flashman the most disagreeable questions, and treating him familiarly whenever a crowd of boys were round him. Neither was he intimate with any of the other bigger boys, who were warned off by his oddnesses, for he was a very queer fellow; besides, amongst other failings, he had that of impecuniosity in a remarkable degree. He brought as much money as other boys to school, but got rid of it in no time, no one knew how; and then, being also reckless, borrowed from any one; and when his debts accumulated and creditors pressed, would have an auction in the hall of everything he possessed in the world, selling even his school-books, candlestick, and study table. For weeks after one of these auctions, having rendered his study uninhabitable, he would live about in the fifth-form room and hall, doing his verses on old letter-backs and odd scraps of paper, and learning his lessons no one knew how. He never meddled with any little boy, and was popular with them, though they all looked on him with a sort of compassion, and called him "Poor Diggs," not being able to resist appearances, or to disregard wholly even the sneers of their enemy Flashman. However, he seemed equally indifferent to the sneers of big boys and the pity of small ones, and lived his own queer life with much apparent enjoyment to himself. It is necessary to introduce Diggs thus particularly, as he not only did Tom and East good service in their present warfare, as is about to be told, but soon afterwards, when he got into the sixth, chose them for his fags, and excused them from study- fagging, thereby earning unto himself eternal gratitude from them and all who are interested in their history.
And seldom had small boys more need of a friend, for the morning after the siege the storm burst upon the rebels in all its violence. Flashman laid wait, and caught Tom before second lesson, and receiving a point-blank "No" when told to fetch his hat, seized him and twisted his arm, and went through the other methods of torture in use. "He couldn't make me cry, though," as Tom said triumphantly to the rest of the rebels; "and I kicked his shins well, I know." And soon it crept out that a lot of the fags were in league, and Flashman excited his associates to join him in bringing the young vagabonds to their senses; and the house was filled with constant chasings, and sieges, and lickings of all sorts; and in return, the bullies' beds were pulled to pieces and drenched with water, and their names written up on the walls with every insulting epithet which the fag invention could furnish. The war, in short, raged fiercely; but soon, as Diggs had told them, all the better fellows in the fifth gave up trying to fag them, and public feeling began to set against Flashman and his two or three intimates, and they were obliged to keep their doings more secret, but being thorough bad fellows, missed no opportunity of torturing in private. Flashman was an adept in all ways, but above all in the power of saying cutting and cruel things, and could often bring tears to the eyes of boys in this way, which all the thrashings in the world wouldn't have wrung from them.
And as his operations were being cut short in other directions, he now devoted himself chiefly to Tom and East, who lived at his own door, and would force himself into their study whenever he found a chance, and sit there, sometimes alone, and sometimes with a companion, interrupting all their work, and exulting in the evident pain which every now and then he could see he was inflicting on one or the other.
The storm had cleared the air for the rest of the house, and a better state of things now began than there had been since old Brooke had left; but an angry, dark spot of thunder-cloud still hung over the end of the passage where Flashman's study and that of East and Tom lay.
He felt that they had been the first rebels, and that the rebellion had been to a great extent successful; but what above all stirred the hatred and bitterness of his heart against them was that in the frequent collisions which there had been of late they had openly called him coward and sneak. The taunts were too true to be forgiven. While he was in the act of thrashing them, they would roar out instances of his funking at football, or shirking some encounter with a lout of half his own size. These things were all well enough known in the house, but to have his own disgrace shouted out by small boys, to feel that they despised him, to be unable to silence them by any amount of torture, and to see the open laugh and sneer of his own associates (who were looking on, and took no trouble to hide their scorn from him, though they neither interfered with his bullying nor lived a bit the less intimately with him), made him beside himself. Come what might, he would make those boys' lives miserable. So the strife settled down into a personal affair between Flashman and our youngsters - a war to the knife, to be fought out in the little cockpit at the end of the bottom passage.
Flashman, be it said, was about seventeen years old, and big and strong of his age. He played well at all games where pluck wasn't much wanted, and managed generally to keep up appearances where it was; and having a bluff, off-hand manner, which passed for heartiness, and considerable powers of being pleasant when he liked, went down with the school in general for a good fellow enough. Even in the School-house, by dint of his command of money, the constant supply of good things which he kept up, and his adroit toadyism, he had managed to make himself not only tolerated, but rather popular amongst his own contemporaries; although young Brooke scarcely spoke to him, and one or two others of the right sort showed their opinions of him whenever a chance offered. But the wrong sort happened to be in the ascendant just now, and so Flashman was a formidable enemy for small boys. This soon became plain enough. Flashman left no slander unspoken, and no deed undone, which could in any way hurt his victims, or isolate them from the rest of the house. One by one most of the other rebels fell away from them, while Flashman's cause prospered, and several other fifth-form boys began to look black at them and ill-treat them as they passed about the house. By keeping out of bounds, or at all events out of the house and quadrangle, all day, and carefully barring themselves in at night, East and Tom managed to hold on without feeling very miserable; but it was as much as they could do. Greatly were they drawn then towards old Diggs, who, in an uncouth way, began to take a good deal of notice of them, and once or twice came to their study when Flashman was there, who immediately decamped in consequence. The boys thought that Diggs must have been watching.
When therefore, about this time, an auction was one night announced to take place in the hall, at which, amongst the superfluities of other boys, all Diggs's penates for the time being were going to the hammer, East and Tom laid their heads together, and resolved to devote their ready cash (some four shillings sterling) to redeem such articles as that sum would cover. Accordingly, they duly attended to bid, and Tom became the owner of two lots of Diggs's things: - Lot 1, price one-and- threepence, consisting (as the auctioneer remarked) of a "valuable assortment of old metals," in the shape of a mouse- trap, a cheese-toaster without a handle, and a saucepan: Lot 2, of a villainous dirty table-cloth and green-baize curtain; while East, for one-and-sixpence, purchased a leather paper-case, with a lock but no key, once handsome, but now much the worse for wear. But they had still the point to settle of how to get Diggs to take the things without hurting his feelings. This they solved by leaving them in his study, which was never locked when he was out. Diggs, who had attended the auction, remembered who had bought the lots, and came to their study soon after, and sat silent for some time, cracking his great red finger-joints. Then he laid hold of their verses, and began looking over and altering them, and at last got up, and turning his back to them, said, "You're uncommon good-hearted little beggars, you two. I value that paper-case; my sister gave it to me last holidays. I won't forget." And so he tumbled out into the passage, leaving them somewhat embarrassed, but not sorry that he knew what they had done.
The next morning was Saturday, the day on which the allowances of one shilling a week were paid - an important event to spendthrift youngsters; and great was the disgust amongst the small fry to hear that all the allowances had been impounded for the Derby lottery. That great event in the English year, the Derby, was celebrated at Rugby in those days by many lotteries. It was not an improving custom, I own, gentle reader, and led to making books, and betting, and other objectionable results; but when our great Houses of Palaver think it right to stop the nation's business on that day and many of the members bet heavily themselves, can you blame us boys for following the example of our betters? At any rate we did follow it. First there was the great school lottery, where the first prize was six or seven pounds; then each house had one or more separate lotteries. These were all nominally voluntary, no boy being compelled to put in his shilling who didn't choose to do so. But besides Flashman, there were three or four other fast, sporting young gentlemen in the Schoolhouse, who considered subscription a matter of duty and necessity; and so, to make their duty come easy to the small boys, quietly secured the allowances in a lump when given out for distribution, and kept them. It was no use grumbling - so many fewer tartlets and apples were eaten and fives balls bought on that Saturday; and after locking-up, when the money would otherwise have been spent, consolation was carried to many a small boy by the sound of the night-fags shouting along the passages, "Gentlemen sportsmen of the School-house; the lottery's going to be drawn in the hall." It was pleasant to be called a gentleman sportsman, also to have a chance of drawing a favourite horse.
The hall was full of boys, and at the head of one of the long tables stood the sporting interest, with a hat before them, in which were the tickets folded up. One of them then began calling out the list of the house. Each boy as his name was called drew a ticket from the hat, and opened it; and most of the bigger boys, after drawing, left the hall directly to go back to their studies or the fifth-form room. The sporting interest had all drawn blanks, and they were sulky accordingly; neither of the favourites had yet been drawn, and it had come down to the upper-fourth. So now, as each small boy came up and drew his ticket, it was seized and opened by Flashman, or some other of the standers-by. But no great favourite is drawn until it comes to the Tadpole's turn, and he shuffles up and draws, and tries to make off, but is caught, and his ticket is opened like the rest.
"Here you are! Wanderer - the third favourite!" shouts the opener.
"I say, just give me my ticket, please," remonstrates Tadpole.
"Hullo! don't be in a hurry," breaks in Flashman; "what'll you sell Wanderer for now?"
"I don't want to sell," rejoins Tadpole.
"Oh, don't you! Now listen, you young fool: you don't know anything about it; the horse is no use to you. He won't win, but I want him as a hedge. Now, I'll give you half a crown for him." Tadpole holds out, but between threats and cajoleries at length sells half for one shilling and sixpence - about a fifth of its fair market value; however, he is glad to realize anything, and, as he wisely remarks, "Wanderer mayn't win, and the tizzy is safe anyhow."
East presently comes up and draws a blank. Soon after comes Tom's turn. His ticket, like the others, is seized and opened. "Here you are then," shouts the opener, holding it up - "Harkaway! - By Jove, Flashey, your young friend's in luck."
"Give me the ticket," says Flashman, with an oath, leaning across the table with open hand and his face black with rage.
"Wouldn't you like it?" replies the opener, not a bad fellow at the bottom, and no admirer of Flashman. "Here, Brown, catch hold." And he hands the ticket to Tom, who pockets it. Whereupon Flashman makes for the door at once, that Tom and the ticket may not escape, and there keeps watch until the drawing is over and all the boys are gone, except the sporting set of five or six, who stay to compare books, make bets, and so on; Tom, who doesn't choose to move while Flashman is at the door; and East, who stays by his friend, anticipating trouble. The sporting set now gathered round Tom. Public opinion wouldn't allow them actually to rob him of his ticket, but any humbug or intimidation by which he could be driven to sell the whole or part at an undervalue was lawful.
"Now, young Brown, come, what'll you sell me Harkaway for? I hear he isn't going to start. I'll give you five shillings for him," begins the boy who had opened the ticket. Tom, remembering his good deed, and moreover in his forlorn state wishing to make a friend, is about to accept the offer, when another cries out, "I'll give you seven shillings." Tom hesitated and looked from one to the other.
"No, no!" said Flashman, pushing in, "leave me to deal with him; we'll draw lots for it afterwards. Now sir, you know me: you'll sell Harkaway to us for five shillings, or you'll repent it."
"I won't sell a bit of him," answered Tom shortly.
"You hear that now!" said Flashman, turning to the others. "He's the coxiest young blackguard in the house. I always told you so. We're to have all the trouble and risk of getting up the lotteries for the benefit of such fellows as he."
Flashman forgets to explain what risk they ran, but he speaks to willing ears. Gambling makes boys selfish and cruel as well as men.
"That's true. We always draw blanks," cried one. - "Now, sir, you shall sell half, at any rate."
"I won't," said Tom, flushing up to his hair, and lumping them all in his mind with his sworn enemy.
"Very well then; let's roast him," cried Flashman, and catches hold of Tom by the collar. One or two boys hesitate, but the rest join in. East seizes Tom's arm, and tries to pull him away, but is knocked back by one of the boys, and Tom is dragged along struggling. His shoulders are pushed against the mantelpiece, and he is held by main force before the fire, Flashman drawing his trousers tight by way of extra torture. Poor East, in more pain even than Tom, suddenly thinks of Diggs, and darts off to find him. "Will you sell now for ten shillings?" says one boy who is relenting.
Tom only answers by groans and struggles.
"I say, Flashey, he has had enough," says the same boy, dropping the arm he holds.
"No, no; another turn'll do it," answers Flashman. But poor Tom is done already, turns deadly pale, and his head falls forward on his breast, just as Diggs, in frantic excitement, rushes into the hall with East at his heels.
"You cowardly brutes!" is all he can say, as he catches Tom from them and supports him to the hall table. "Good God! he's dying. Here, get some cold water - run for the housekeeper."
Flashman and one or two others slink away; the rest, ashamed and sorry, bend over Tom or run for water, while East darts off for the housekeeper. Water comes, and they throw it on his hands and face, and he begins to come to. "Mother!" - the words came feebly and slowly - "it's very cold to-night." Poor old Diggs is blubbering like a child. "Where am I?" goes on Tom, opening his eyes, "Ah! I remember now." And he shut his eyes again and groaned.
"I say," is whispered, "we can't do any good, and the housekeeper will be here in a minute." And all but one steal away. He stays with Diggs, silent and sorrowful, and fans Tom's face.
The housekeeper comes in with strong salts, and Tom soon recovers enough to sit up. There is a smell of burning. She examines his clothes, and looks up inquiringly. The boys are silent.
"How did he come so?" No answer. "There's been some bad work here," she adds, looking very serious, "and I shall speak to the Doctor about it." Still no answer.
"Hadn't we better carry him to the sick-room?" suggests Diggs.
"Oh, I can walk now," says Tom; and, supported by East and the housekeeper, goes to the sick-room. The boy who held his ground is soon amongst the rest, who are all in fear of their lives. "Did he peach?" "Does she know about it?"
"Not a word; he's a stanch little fellow." And pausing a moment, he adds, "I'm sick of this work; what brutes we've been!"
Meantime Tom is stretched on the sofa in the housekeeper's room, with East by his side, while she gets wine and water and other restoratives.
"Are you much hurt, dear old boy?" whispers East.
"Only the back of my legs," answers Tom. They are indeed badly scorched, and part of his trousers burnt through. But soon he is in bed with cold bandages. At first he feels broken, and thinks of writing home and getting taken away; and the verse of a hymn he had learned years ago sings through his head, and he goes to sleep, murmuring,—
"Where the wicked cease from troubling, And the weary are at rest."
But after a sound night's rest, the old boy-spirit comes back again. East comes in, reporting that the whole house is with him; and he forgets everything, except their old resolve never to be beaten by that bully Flashman.
Not a word could the housekeeper extract from either of them, and though the Doctor knew all that she knew that morning, he never knew any more.
I trust and believe that such scenes are not possible now at school, and that lotteries and betting-books have gone out; but I am writing of schools as they were in our time, and must give the evil with the good.