Tom Brown's Schooldays
Thomas Hughes

Part 1 out of 6

This etext was prepared from the 1905 Thomas Nelson and Sons edition
by Gil Jaysmith



"I'm the Poet of White Horse Vale, sir,
With liberal notions under my cap." - Ballad

The Browns have become illustrious by the pen of Thackeray and
the pencil of Doyle, within the memory of the young gentlemen
who are now matriculating at the universities. Notwithstanding
the well-merited but late fame which has now fallen upon them,
any one at all acquainted with the family must feel that much
has yet to be written and said before the British nation will be
properly sensible of how much of its greatness it owes to the
Browns. For centuries, in their quiet, dogged, homespun way,
they have been subduing the earth in most English counties, and
leaving their mark in American forests and Australian uplands.
Wherever the fleets and armies of England have won renown, there
stalwart sons of the Browns have done yeomen's work. With the
yew bow and cloth-yard shaft at Cressy and Agincourt--with the
brown bill and pike under the brave Lord Willoughby--with
culverin and demi-culverin against Spaniards and Dutchmen--with
hand-grenade and sabre, and musket and bayonet, under Rodney and
St. Vincent, Wolfe and Moore, Nelson and Wellington, they have
carried their lives in their hands, getting hard knocks and hard
work in plenty--which was on the whole what they looked for,
and the best thing for them--and little praise or pudding,
which indeed they, and most of us, are better without. Talbots
and Stanleys, St. Maurs, and such-like folk, have led armies and
made laws time out of mind; but those noble families would be
somewhat astounded--if the accounts ever came to be fairly
taken--to find how small their work for England has been by the
side of that of the Browns.

These latter, indeed, have, until the present generation,
rarely been sung by poet, or chronicled by sage. They have
wanted their sacer vates, having been too solid to rise to the
top by themselves, and not having been largely gifted with the
talent of catching hold of, and holding on tight to, whatever
good things happened to be going--the foundation of the
fortunes of so many noble families. But the world goes on its
way, and the wheel turns, and the wrongs of the Browns, like
other wrongs, seem in a fair way to get righted. And this
present writer, having for many years of his life been a devout
Brown-worshipper, and, moreover, having the honour of being
nearly connected with an eminently respectable branch of the
great Brown family, is anxious, so far as in him lies, to help
the wheel over, and throw his stone on to the pile.

However, gentle reader, or simple reader, whichever you may be,
lest you should be led to waste your precious time upon these
pages, I make so bold as at once to tell you the sort of folk
you'll have to meet and put up with, if you and I are to jog on
comfortably together. You shall hear at once what sort of folk
the Browns are--at least my branch of them; and then, if you
don't like the sort, why, cut the concern at once, and let you
and I cry quits before either of us can grumble at the other.

In the first place, the Browns are a fighting family. One may
question their wisdom, or wit, or beauty, but about their fight
there can be no question. Wherever hard knocks of any kind,
visible or invisible, are going; there the Brown who is nearest
must shove in his carcass. And these carcasses, for the most
part, answer very well to the characteristic propensity: they
are a squareheaded and snake-necked generation, broad in the
shoulder, deep in the chest, and thin in the flank, carrying no
lumber. Then for clanship, they are as bad as Highlanders; it
is amazing the belief they have in one another. With them there
is nothing like the Browns, to the third and fourth generation.
"Blood is thicker than water," is one of their pet sayings.
They can't be happy unless they are always meeting one another.
Never were such people for family gatherings; which, were you a
stranger, or sensitive, you might think had better not have been
gathered together. For during the whole time of their being
together they luxuriate in telling one another their minds on
whatever subject turns up; and their minds are wonderfully
antagonistic, and all their opinions are downright beliefs.
Till you've been among them some time and understand them, you
can't think but that they are quarrelling. Not a bit of it.
They love and respect one another ten times the more after a
good set family arguing bout, and go back, one to his curacy,
another to his chambers, and another to his regiment, freshened
for work, and more than ever convinced that the Browns are the
height of company.

This family training, too, combined with their turn for
combativeness, makes them eminently quixotic. They can't let
anything alone which they think going wrong. They must speak
their mind about it, annoying all easy-going folk, and spend
their time and money in having a tinker at it, however hopeless
the job. It is an impossibility to a Brown to leave the most
disreputable lame dog on the other side of a stile. Most other
folk get tired of such work. The old Browns, with red faces,
white whiskers, and bald heads, go on believing and fighting to
a green old age. They have always a crotchet going, till the
old man with the scythe reaps and garners them away for
troublesome old boys as they are.

And the most provoking thing is, that no failures knock them up,
or make them hold their hands, or think you, or me, or other
sane people in the right. Failures slide off them like July
rain off a duck's back feathers. Jem and his whole family turn
out bad, and cheat them one week, and the next they are doing
the same thing for Jack; and when he goes to the treadmill, and
his wife and children to the workhouse, they will be on the
lookout for Bill to take his place.

However, it is time for us to get from the general to the
particular; so, leaving the great army of Browns, who are
scattered over the whole empire on which the sun never sets, and
whose general diffusion I take to be the chief cause of that
empire's stability; let us at once fix our attention upon the
small nest of Browns in which our hero was hatched, and which
dwelt in that portion of the royal county of Berks which is
called the Vale of White Horse.

Most of you have probably travelled down the Great Western
Railway as far as Swindon. Those of you who did so with their
eyes open have been aware, soon after leaving the Didcot
station, of a fine range of chalk hills running parallel with
the railway on the left-hand side as you go down, and distant
some two or three miles, more or less, from the line. The
highest point in the range is the White Horse Hill, which you
come in front of just before you stop at the Shrivenham station.
If you love English scenery, and have a few hours to spare, you
can't do better, the next time you pass, than stop at the
Farringdon Road or Shrivenham station, and make your way to that
highest point. And those who care for the vague old stories
that haunt country-sides all about England, will not, if they
are wise, be content with only a few hours' stay; for, glorious
as the view is, the neighbourhood is yet more interesting for
its relics of bygone times. I only know two English
neighbourhoods thoroughly, and in each, within a circle of five
miles, there is enough of interest and beauty to last any
reasonable man his life. I believe this to be the case almost
throughout the country, but each has a special attraction, and
none can be richer than the one I am speaking of and going to
introduce you to very particularly, for on this subject I must
be prosy; so those that don't care for England in detail may
skip the chapter.

O young England! young England! you who are born into these
racing railroad times, when there's a Great Exhibition, or some
monster sight, every year, and you can get over a couple of
thousand miles of ground for three pound ten in a five-weeks'
holiday, why don't you know more of your own birthplaces?
You're all in the ends of the earth, it seems to me, as soon as
you get your necks out of the educational collar, for midsummer
holidays, long vacations, or what not--going round Ireland,
with a return ticket, in a fortnight; dropping your copies of
Tennyson on the tops of Swiss mountains; or pulling down the
Danube in Oxford racing boats. And when you get home for a
quiet fortnight, you turn the steam off, and lie on your backs
in the paternal garden, surrounded by the last batch of books
from Mudie's library, and half bored to death. Well, well! I
know it has its good side. You all patter French more or less,
and perhaps German; you have seen men and cities, no doubt, and
have your opinions, such as they are, about schools of painting,
high art, and all that; have seen the pictures of Dresden and
the Louvre, and know the taste of sour krout. All I say is, you
don't know your own lanes and woods and fields. Though you may
be choke-full of science, not one in twenty of you knows where
to find the wood-sorrel, or bee-orchis, which grow in the next
wood, or on the down three miles off, or what the bog-bean and
wood-sage are good for. And as for the country legends, the
stories of the old gable-ended farmhouses, the place where the
last skirmish was fought in the civil wars, where the parish
butts stood, where the last highwayman turned to bay, where the
last ghost was laid by the parson, they're gone out of date

Now, in my time, when we got home by the old coach, which put us
down at the cross-roads with our boxes, the first day of the
holidays, and had been driven off by the family coachman,
singing "Dulce Domum" at the top of our voices, there we were,
fixtures, till black Monday came round. We had to cut out our
own amusements within a walk or a ride of home. And so we got
to know all the country folk and their ways and songs and
stories by heart, and went over the fields and woods and hills,
again and again, till we made friends of them all. We were
Berkshire, or Gloucestershire, or Yorkshire boys; and you're
young cosmopolites, belonging to all countries and no countries.
No doubt it's all right; I dare say it is. This is the day of
large views, and glorious humanity, and all that; but I wish
back-sword play hadn't gone out in the Vale of White Horse, and
that that confounded Great Western hadn't carried away Alfred's
Hill to make an embankment.

But to return to the said Vale of White Horse, the country in
which the first scenes of this true and interesting story are
laid. As I said, the Great Western now runs right through it,
and it is a land of large, rich pastures bounded by ox-fences,
and covered with fine hedgerow timber, with here and there a
nice little gorse or spinney, where abideth poor Charley, having
no other cover to which to betake himself for miles and miles,
when pushed out some fine November morning by the old Berkshire.
Those who have been there, and well mounted, only know how he
and the stanch little pack who dash after him--heads high and
sterns low, with a breast-high scent--can consume the ground at
such times. There being little ploughland, and few woods, the
Vale is only an average sporting country, except for hunting.
The villages are straggling, queer, old-fashioned places, the
houses being dropped down without the least regularity, in nooks
and out-of-the-way corners, by the sides of shadowy lanes and
footpaths, each with its patch of garden. They are built
chiefly of good gray stone, and thatched; though I see that
within the last year or two the red-brick cottages are
multiplying, for the Vale is beginning to manufacture largely
both bricks and tiles. There are lots of waste ground by the
side of the roads in every village, amounting often to village
greens, where feed the pigs and ganders of the people; and these
roads are old-fashioned, homely roads, very dirty and badly
made, and hardly endurable in winter, but still pleasant jog-
trot roads running through the great pasture-lands, dotted here
and there with little clumps of thorns, where the sleek kine are
feeding, with no fence on either side of them, and a gate at the
end of each field, which makes you get out of your gig (if you
keep one), and gives you a chance of looking about you every
quarter of a mile.

One of the moralists whom we sat under in our youth--was it the
great Richard Swiveller, or Mr. Stiggins--says, "We are born in
a vale, and must take the consequences of being found in such a
situation." These consequences I, for one, am ready to
encounter. I pity people who weren't born in a vale. I don't
mean a flat country; but a vale--that is, a flat country
bounded by hills. The having your hill always in view if you
choose to turn towards him--that's the essence of a vale.
There he is for ever in the distance, your friend and companion.
You never lose him as you do in hilly districts.

And then what a hill is the White Horse Hill! There it stands
right up above all the rest, nine hundred feet above the sea,
and the boldest, bravest shape for a chalk hill that you ever
saw. Let us go up to the top of him, and see what is to be
found there. Ay, you may well wonder and think it odd you never
heard of this before; but wonder or not, as you please, there
are hundreds of such things lying about England, which wiser
folk than you know nothing of, and care nothing for. Yes, it's
a magnificent Roman camp, and no mistake, with gates and ditch
and mounds, all as complete as it was twenty years after the
strong old rogues left it. Here, right up on the highest point,
from which they say you can see eleven counties, they trenched
round all the table-land, some twelve or fourteen acres, as was
their custom, for they couldn't bear anybody to overlook them,
and made their eyrie. The ground falls away rapidly on all
sides. Was there ever such turf in the whole world? You sink
up to your ankles at every step, and yet the spring of it is
delicious. There is always a breeze in the "camp," as it is
called; and here it lies, just as the Romans left it, except
that cairn on the east side, left by her Majesty's corps of
sappers and miners the other day, when they and the engineer
officer had finished their sojourn there, and their surveys for
the ordnance map of Berkshire. It is altogether a place that
you won't forget, a place to open a man's soul, and make him
prophesy, as he looks down on that great Vale spread out as the
garden of the Lord before him, and wave on wave of the
mysterious downs behind, and to the right and left the chalk
hills running away into the distance, along which he can trace
for miles the old Roman road, "the Ridgeway" ("the Rudge," as
the country folk call it), keeping straight along the highest
back of the hills--such a place as Balak brought Balaam to, and
told him to prophesy against the people in the valley beneath.
And he could not, neither shall you, for they are a people of
the Lord who abide there.

And now we leave the camp, and descend towards the west, and are
on the Ashdown. We are treading on heroes. It is sacred ground
for Englishmen--more sacred than all but one or two fields
where their bones lie whitening. For this is the actual place
where our Alfred won his great battle, the battle of Ashdown
("Aescendum" in the chroniclers), which broke the Danish power,
and made England a Christian land. The Danes held the camp and
the slope where we are standing--the whole crown of the hill,
in fact. "The heathen had beforehand seized the higher ground,"
as old Asser says, having wasted everything behind them from
London, and being just ready to burst down on the fair Vale,
Alfred's own birthplace and heritage. And up the heights came
the Saxons, as they did at the Alma. "The Christians led up
their line from the lower ground. There stood also on that same
spot a single thorn-tree, marvellous stumpy (which we ourselves
with our very own eyes have seen)." Bless the old chronicler!
Does he think nobody ever saw the "single thorn-tree" but
himself? Why, there it stands to this very day, just on the
edge of the slope, and I saw it not three weeks since--an old
single thorn-tree, "marvellous stumpy." At least, if it isn't
the same tree it ought to have been, for it's just in the place
where the battle must have been won or lost--"around which, as
I was saying, the two lines of foemen came together in battle
with a huge shout. And in this place one of the two kings of
the heathen and five of his earls fell down and died, and many
thousands of the heathen side in the same place." * After which
crowning mercy, the pious king, that there might never be
wanting a sign and a memorial to the country-side, carved out on
the northern side of the chalk hill, under the camp, where it is
almost precipitous, the great Saxon White Horse, which he who
will may see from the railway, and which gives its name to the
Vale, over which it has looked these thousand years and more.

* "Pagani editiorem Iocum praeoccupaverant. Christiani ab
inferiori loco aciem dirigebant. Erat quoque in eodem loco
unica spinosa arbor, brevis admodum (quam nos ipsi nostris
propriis oculis vidimus). Circa quam ergo hostiles inter se
acies cum ingenti clamore hostiliter conveniunt. Quo in loco
alter de duobus Paganorum regibus et quinque comites occisi
occubuerunt, et multa millia Paganae partis in eodem loco.
Cecidit illic ergo Boegsceg Rex, et Sidroc ille senex comes, et
Sidroc Junior comes, et Obsbern comes," etc. --Annales Rerum
Gestarum AElfredi Magni, Auctore Asserio. Recensuit Franciscus
Wise. Oxford, 1722, p.23.

Right down below the White Horse is a curious deep and broad
gully called "the Manger," into one side of which the hills fall
with a series of the most lovely sweeping curves, known as "the
Giant's Stairs." They are not a bit like stairs, but I never
saw anything like them anywhere else, with their short green
turf, and tender bluebells, and gossamer and thistle-down
gleaming in the sun and the sheep-paths running along their
sides like ruled lines.

The other side of the Manger is formed by the Dragon's Hill, a
curious little round self-confident fellow, thrown forward from
the range, utterly unlike everything round him. On this hill
some deliverer of mankind--St. George, the country folk used to
tell me--killed a dragon. Whether it were St. George, I cannot
say; but surely a dragon was killed there, for you may see the
marks yet where his blood ran down, and more by token the place
where it ran down is the easiest way up the hillside.

Passing along the Ridgeway to the west for about a mile, we come
to a little clump of young beech and firs, with a growth of
thorn and privet underwood. Here you may find nests of the
strong down partridge and peewit, but take care that the keeper
isn't down upon you; and in the middle of it is an old cromlech,
a huge flat stone raised on seven or eight others, and led up to
by a path, with large single stones set up on each side. This
is Wayland Smith's cave, a place of classic fame now; but as Sir
Walter has touched it, I may as well let it alone, and refer you
to "Kenilworth" for the legend.

The thick, deep wood which you see in the hollow, about a mile
off, surrounds Ashdown Park, built by Inigo Jones. Four broad
alleys are cut through the wood from circumference to centre,
and each leads to one face of the house. The mystery of the
downs hangs about house and wood, as they stand there alone, so
unlike all around, with the green slopes studded with great
stones just about this part, stretching away on all sides. It
was a wise Lord Craven, I think, who pitched his tent there.

Passing along the Ridgeway to the east, we soon come to
cultivated land. The downs, strictly so called, are no more.
Lincolnshire farmers have been imported, and the long, fresh
slopes are sheep-walks no more, but grow famous turnips and
barley. One of these improvers lives over there at the "Seven
Barrows" farm, another mystery of the great downs. There are
the barrows still, solemn and silent, like ships in the calm
sea, the sepulchres of some sons of men. But of whom? It is
three miles from the White Horse--too far for the slain of
Ashdown to be buried there. Who shall say what heroes are
waiting there? But we must get down into the Vale again, and so
away by the Great Western Railway to town, for time and the
printer's devil press, and it is a terrible long and slippery
descent, and a shocking bad road. At the bottom, however, there
is a pleasant public; whereat we must really take a modest
quencher, for the down air is provocative of thirst. So we pull
up under an old oak which stands before the door.

"What is the name of your hill, landlord?"

"Blawing STWUN Hill, sir, to be sure."

[READER. "Stuym?"

AUTHOR: "Stone, stupid--the Blowing Stone."]

"And of your house? I can't make out the sign."

"Blawing Stwun, sir," says the landlord, pouring out his old ale
from a Toby Philpot jug, with a melodious crash, into the long-
necked glass.

"What queer names!" say we, sighing at the end of our draught,
and holding out the glass to be replenished.

"Bean't queer at all, as I can see, sir," says mine host,
handing back our glass, "seeing as this here is the Blawing
Stwun, his self," putting his hand on a square lump of stone,
some three feet and a half high, perforated with two or three
queer holes, like petrified antediluvian rat-holes, which lies
there close under the oak, under our very nose. We are more
than ever puzzled, and drink our second glass of ale, wondering
what will come next. "Like to hear un, sir?" says mine host,
setting down Toby Philpot on the tray, and resting both hands on
the "Stwun." We are ready for anything; and he, without waiting
for a reply, applies his mouth to one of the ratholes.
Something must come of it, if he doesn't burst. Good heavens!
I hope he has no apoplectic tendencies. Yes, here it comes,
sure enough, a gruesome sound between a moan and a roar, and
spreads itself away over the valley, and up the hillside, and
into the woods at the back of the house, a ghost-like, awful
voice. "Um do say, sir," says mine host, rising purple-faced,
while the moan is still coming out of the Stwun, "as they used
in old times to warn the country-side by blawing the Stwun when
the enemy was a-comin', and as how folks could make un heered
then for seven mile round; leastways, so I've heered Lawyer
Smith say, and he knows a smart sight about them old times." We
can hardly swallow Lawyer Smith's seven miles; but could the
blowing of the stone have been a summons, a sort of sending the
fiery cross round the neighbourhood in the old times? What old
times? Who knows? We pay for our beer, and are thankful.

"And what's the name of the village just below, landlord?"

"Kingstone Lisle, sir."

"Fine plantations you've got here?"

"Yes, sir; the Squire's 'mazing fond of trees and such like."

"No wonder. He's got some real beauties to be fond of. Good-
day, landlord."

"Good-day, sir, and a pleasant ride to 'ee."

And now, my boys, you whom I want to get for readers, have you
had enough? Will you give in at once, and say you're convinced,
and let me begin my story, or will you have more of it?
Remember, I've only been over a little bit of the hillside yet--
what you could ride round easily on your ponies in an hour. I'm
only just come down into the Vale, by Blowing Stone Hill; and if
I once begin about the Vale, what's to stop me? You'll have to
hear all about Wantage, the birthplace of Alfred, and
Farringdon, which held out so long for Charles the First (the
Vale was near Oxford, and dreadfully malignant--full of
Throgmortons, Puseys, and Pyes, and such like; and their brawny
retainers). Did you ever read Thomas Ingoldsby's "Legend of
Hamilton Tighe"? If you haven't, you ought to have. Well,
Farringdon is where he lived, before he went to sea; his real
name was Hamden Pye, and the Pyes were the great folk at
Farringdon. Then there's Pusey. You've heard of the Pusey
horn, which King Canute gave to the Puseys of that day, and
which the gallant old squire, lately gone to his rest (whom
Berkshire freeholders turned out of last Parliament, to their
eternal disgrace, for voting according to his conscience), used
to bring out on high days, holidays, and bonfire nights. And
the splendid old cross church at Uffington, the Uffingas town.
How the whole countryside teems with Saxon names and memories!
And the old moated grange at Compton, nestled close under the
hillside, where twenty Marianas may have lived, with its bright
water-lilies in the moat, and its yew walk, "the cloister walk,"
and its peerless terraced gardens. There they all are, and
twenty things beside, for those who care about them, and have
eyes. And these are the sort of things you may find, I believe,
every one of you, in any common English country neighbourhood.

Will you look for them under your own noses, or will you not?
Well, well, I've done what I can to make you; and if you will go
gadding over half Europe now, every holidays, I can't help it.
I was born and bred a west-country man, thank God! a Wessex man,
a citizen of the noblest Saxon kingdom of Wessex, a regular
"Angular Saxon," the very soul of me adscriptus glebae. There's
nothing like the old country-side for me, and no music like the
twang of the real old Saxon tongue, as one gets it fresh from
the veritable chaw in the White Horse Vale; and I say with
"Gaarge Ridler," the old west-country yeoman, -

"Throo aall the waarld owld Gaarge would bwoast,
Commend me to merry owld England mwoast;
While vools gwoes prating vur and nigh,
We stwops at whum, my dog and I."

Here, at any rate, lived and stopped at home Squire Brown, J.P.
for the county of Berks, in a village near the foot of the White
Horse range. And here he dealt out justice and mercy in a rough
way, and begat sons and daughters, and hunted the fox, and
grumbled at the badness of the roads and the times. And his
wife dealt out stockings, and calico shirts, and smock frocks,
and comforting drinks to the old folks with the "rheumatiz," and
good counsel to all; and kept the coal and clothes' clubs going,
for yule-tide, when the bands of mummers came round, dressed out
in ribbons and coloured paper caps, and stamped round the
Squire's kitchen, repeating in true sing-song vernacular the
legend of St. George and his fight, and the ten-pound doctor,
who plays his part at healing the Saint--a relic, I believe, of
the old Middle-age mysteries. It was the first dramatic
representation which greeted the eyes of little Tom, who was
brought down into the kitchen by his nurse to witness it, at the
mature age of three years. Tom was the eldest child of his
parents, and from his earliest babyhood exhibited the family
characteristics in great strength. He was a hearty, strong boy
from the first, given to fighting with and escaping from his
nurse, and fraternizing with all the village boys, with whom he
made expeditions all round the neighbourhood. And here, in the
quiet old-fashioned country village, under the shadow of the
everlasting hills, Tom Brown was reared, and never left it till
he went first to school, when nearly eight years of age, for in
those days change of air twice a year was not thought absolutely
necessary for the health of all her Majesty's lieges.

I have been credibly informed, and am inclined to believe, that
the various boards of directors of railway companies, those
gigantic jobbers and bribers, while quarrelling about everything
else, agreed together some ten years back to buy up the learned
profession of medicine, body and soul. To this end they set
apart several millions of money, which they continually
distribute judiciously among the doctors, stipulating only this
one thing, that they shall prescribe change of air to every
patient who can pay, or borrow money to pay, a railway fare, and
see their prescription carried out. If it be not for this, why
is it that none of us can be well at home for a year together?
It wasn't so twenty years ago, not a bit of it. The Browns
didn't go out of the country once in five years. A visit to
Reading or Abingdon twice a year, at assizes or quarter
sessions, which the Squire made on his horse with a pair of
saddle-bags containing his wardrobe, a stay of a day or two at
some country neighbour's, or an expedition to a county ball or
the yeomanry review, made up the sum of the Brown locomotion in
most years. A stray Brown from some distant county dropped in
every now and then; or from Oxford, on grave nag, an old don,
contemporary of the Squire; and were looked upon by the Brown
household and the villagers with the same sort of feeling with
which we now regard a man who has crossed the Rocky Mountains,
or launched a boat on the Great Lake in Central Africa. The
White Horse Vale, remember, was traversed by no great road--
nothing but country parish roads, and these very bad. Only one
coach ran there, and this one only from Wantage to London, so
that the western part of the Vale was without regular means of
moving on, and certainly didn't seem to want them. There was
the canal, by the way, which supplied the country-side with
coal, and up and down which continually went the long barges,
with the big black men lounging by the side of the horses along
the towing-path, and the women in bright-coloured handkerchiefs
standing in the sterns steering. Standing I say, but you could
never see whether they were standing or sitting, all but their
heads and shoulders being out of sight in the cozy little cabins
which occupied some eight feet of the stern, and which Tom Brown
pictured to himself as the most desirable of residences. His
nurse told him that those good-natured-looking women were in the
constant habit of enticing children into the barges, and taking
them up to London and selling them, which Tom wouldn't believe,
and which made him resolve as soon as possible to accept the
oft-proffered invitation of these sirens to "young master" to
come in and have a ride. But as yet the nurse was too much for

Yet why should I, after all, abuse the gadabout propensities of
my countrymen? We are a vagabond nation now, that's certain,
for better for worse. I am a vagabond; I have been away from
home no less than five distinct times in the last year. The
Queen sets us the example: we are moving on from top to bottom.
Little dirty Jack, who abides in Clement's Inn gateway, and
blacks my boots for a penny, takes his month's hop-picking every
year as a matter of course. Why shouldn't he? I'm delighted at
it. I love vagabonds, only I prefer poor to rich ones.
Couriers and ladies'-maids, imperials and travelling carriages,
are an abomination unto me; I cannot away with them. But for
dirty Jack, and every good fellow who, in the words of the
capital French song, moves about,

"Comme le limacon,
Portant tout son bagage,
Ses meubles, sa maison,"

on his own back, why, good luck to them, and many a merry
roadside adventure, and steaming supper in the chimney corners
of roadside inns, Swiss chalets, Hottentot kraals, or wherever
else they like to go. So, having succeeded in contradicting
myself in my first chapter (which gives me great hopes that you
will all go on, and think me a good fellow notwithstanding my
crotchets), I shall here shut up for the present, and consider
my ways; having resolved to "sar' it out," as we say in the
Vale, "holus bolus" just as it comes, and then you'll probably
get the truth out of me.


"And the King commandeth and forbiddeth, that from henceforth
neither fairs nor markets be kept in Churchyards, for the honour
of the Church." - STATUTES : 13 Edw. I. Stat. II. cap. vi.

As that venerable and learned poet (whose voluminous works we
all think it the correct thing to admire and talk about, but
don't read often) most truly says, "The child is father to the
man;" a fortiori, therefore, he must be father to the boy. So
as we are going at any rate to see Tom Brown through his
boyhood, supposing we never get any farther (which, if you show
a proper sense of the value of this history, there is no knowing
but what we may), let us have a look at the life and
environments of the child in the quiet country village to which
we were introduced in the last chapter.

Tom, as has been already said, was a robust and combative
urchin, and at the age of four began to struggle against the
yoke and authority of his nurse. That functionary was a good-
hearted, tearful, scatter-brained girl, lately taken by Tom's
mother, Madam Brown, as she was called, from the village school
to be trained as nurserymaid. Madam Brown was a rare trainer of
servants, and spent herself freely in the profession; for
profession it was, and gave her more trouble by half than many
people take to earn a good income. Her servants were known and
sought after for miles round. Almost all the girls who attained
a certain place in the village school were taken by her, one or
two at a time, as housemaids, laundrymaids, nurserymaids, or
kitchenmaids, and after a year or two's training were started in
life amongst the neighbouring families, with good principles and
wardrobes. One of the results of this system was the perpetual
despair of Mrs. Brown's cook and own maid, who no sooner had a
notable girl made to their hands than missus was sure to find a
good place for her and send her off, taking in fresh
importations from the school. Another was, that the house was
always full of young girls, with clean, shining faces, who broke
plates and scorched linen, but made an atmosphere of cheerful,
homely life about the place, good for every one who came within
its influence. Mrs. Brown loved young people, and in fact human
creatures in general, above plates and linen. They were more
like a lot of elder children than servants, and felt to her more
as a mother or aunt than as a mistress.

Tom's nurse was one who took in her instruction very slowly--
she seemed to have two left hands and no head; and so Mrs. Brown
kept her on longer than usual, that she might expend her
awkwardness and forgetfulness upon those who would not judge and
punish her too strictly for them.

Charity Lamb was her name. It had been the immemorial habit of
the village to christen children either by Bible names, or by
those of the cardinal and other virtues; so that one was for
ever hearing in the village street or on the green, shrill
sounds of "Prudence! Prudence! thee cum' out o' the gutter;" or,
"Mercy! drat the girl, what bist thee a-doin' wi' little Faith?"
and there were Ruths, Rachels, Keziahs, in every corner. The
same with the boys: they were Benjamins, Jacobs, Noahs, Enochs.
I suppose the custom has come down from Puritan times. There it
is, at any rate, very strong still in the Vale.

Well, from early morning till dewy eve, when she had it out of
him in the cold tub before putting him to bed, Charity and Tom
were pitted against one another. Physical power was as yet on
the side of Charity, but she hadn't a chance with him wherever
headwork was wanted. This war of independence began every
morning before breakfast, when Charity escorted her charge to a
neighbouring farmhouse, which supplied the Browns, and where, by
his mother's wish, Master Tom went to drink whey before
breakfast. Tom had no sort of objection to whey, but he had a
decided liking for curds, which were forbidden as unwholesome;
and there was seldom a morning that he did not manage to secure
a handful of hard curds, in defiance of Charity and of the
farmer's wife. The latter good soul was a gaunt, angular woman,
who, with an old black bonnet on the top of her head, the
strings dangling about her shoulders, and her gown tucked
through her pocket-holes, went clattering about the dairy,
cheese-room, and yard, in high pattens. Charity was some sort
of niece of the old lady's, and was consequently free of the
farmhouse and garden, into which she could not resist going for
the purposes of gossip and flirtation with the heir-apparent,
who was a dawdling fellow, never out at work as he ought to have
been. The moment Charity had found her cousin, or any other
occupation, Tom would slip away; and in a minute shrill cries
would be heard from the dairy, "Charity, Charity, thee lazy
huzzy, where bist?" and Tom would break cover, hands and mouth
full of curds, and take refuge on the shaky surface of the great
muck reservoir in the middle of the yard, disturbing the repose
of the great pigs. Here he was in safety, as no grown person
could follow without getting over their knees; and the luckless
Charity, while her aunt scolded her from the dairy door, for
being "allus hankering about arter our Willum, instead of
minding Master Tom," would descend from threats to coaxing, to
lure Tom out of the muck, which was rising over his shoes, and
would soon tell a tale on his stockings, for which she would be
sure to catch it from missus's maid.

Tom had two abettors, in the shape of a couple of old boys, Noah
and Benjamin by name, who defended him from Charity, and
expended much time upon his education. They were both of them
retired servants of former generations of the Browns. Noah
Crooke was a keen, dry old man of almost ninety, but still able
to totter about. He talked to Tom quite as if he were one of
his own family, and indeed had long completely identified the
Browns with himself. In some remote age he had been the
attendant of a Miss Brown, and had conveyed her about the
country on a pillion. He had a little round picture of the
identical gray horse, caparisoned with the identical pillion,
before which he used to do a sort of fetish worship, and abuse
turnpike-roads and carriages. He wore an old full-bottomed wig,
the gift of some dandy old Brown whom he had valeted in the
middle of last century, which habiliment Master Tom looked upon
with considerable respect, not to say fear; and indeed his whole
feeling towards Noah was strongly tainted with awe. And when
the old gentleman was gathered to his fathers, Tom's lamentation
over him was not unaccompanied by a certain joy at having seen
the last of the wig. "Poor old Noah, dead and gone," said he;
"Tom Brown so sorry. Put him in the coffin, wig and all."

But old Benjy was young master's real delight and refuge. He
was a youth by the side of Noah, scarce seventy years old--a
cheery, humorous, kind-hearted old man, full of sixty years of
Vale gossip, and of all sorts of helpful ways for young and old,
but above all for children. It was he who bent the first pin
with which Tom extracted his first stickleback out of "Pebbly
Brook," the little stream which ran through the village. The
first stickleback was a splendid fellow, with fabulous red and
blue gills. Tom kept him in a small basin till the day of his
death, and became a fisherman from that day. Within a month
from the taking of the first stickleback, Benjy had carried off
our hero to the canal, in defiance of Charity; and between them,
after a whole afternoon's popjoying, they had caught three or
four small, coarse fish and a perch, averaging perhaps two and a
half ounces each, which Tom bore home in rapture to his mother
as a precious gift, and which she received like a true mother
with equal rapture, instructing the cook nevertheless, in a
private interview, not to prepare the same for the Squire's
dinner. Charity had appealed against old Benjy in the meantime,
representing the dangers of the canal banks; but Mrs. Brown,
seeing the boy's inaptitude for female guidance, had decided in
Benjy's favour, and from thenceforth the old man was Tom's dry
nurse. And as they sat by the canal watching their little
green-and-white float, Benjy would instruct him in the doings of
deceased Browns. How his grandfather, in the early days of the
great war, when there was much distress and crime in the Vale,
and the magistrates had been threatened by the mob, had ridden
in with a big stick in his hand, and held the petty sessions by
himself. How his great-uncle, the rector, had encountered and
laid the last ghost, who had frightened the old women, male and
female, of the parish out of their senses, and who turned out to
be the blacksmith's apprentice disguised in drink and a white
sheet. It was Benjy, too, who saddled Tom's first pony, and
instructed him in the mysteries of horsemanship, teaching him to
throw his weight back and keep his hand low, and who stood
chuckling outside the door of the girls' school when Tom rode
his little Shetland into the cottage and round the table, where
the old dame and her pupils were seated at their work.

Benjy himself was come of a family distinguished in the Vale for
their prowess in all athletic games. Some half-dozen of his
brothers and kinsmen had gone to the wars, of whom only one had
survived to come home, with a small pension, and three bullets
in different parts of his body; he had shared Benjy's cottage
till his death, and had left him his old dragoon's sword and
pistol, which hung over the mantelpiece, flanked by a pair of
heavy single-sticks with which Benjy himself had won renown long
ago as an old gamester, against the picked men of Wiltshire and
Somersetshire, in many a good bout at the revels and pastimes of
the country-side. For he had been a famous back-swordman in his
young days, and a good wrestler at elbow and collar.

Back-swording and wrestling were the most serious holiday
pursuits of the Vale--those by which men attained fame--and
each village had its champion. I suppose that, on the whole,
people were less worked then than they are now; at any rate,
they seemed to have more time and energy for the old pastimes.
The great times for back-swording came round once a year in each
village; at the feast. The Vale "veasts" were not the common
statute feasts, but much more ancient business. They are
literally, so far as one can ascertain, feasts of the dedication
- that is, they were first established in the churchyard on the
day on which the village church was opened for public worship,
which was on the wake or festival of the patron saint, and have
been held on the same day in every year since that time.

There was no longer any remembrance of why the "veast" had been
instituted, but nevertheless it had a pleasant and almost sacred
character of its own; for it was then that all the children of
the village, wherever they were scattered, tried to get home for
a holiday to visit their fathers and mothers and friends,
bringing with them their wages or some little gift from up the
country for the old folk. Perhaps for a day or two before, but
at any rate on "veast day" and the day after, in our village,
you might see strapping, healthy young men and women from all
parts of the country going round from house to house in their
best clothes, and finishing up with a call on Madam Brown, whom
they would consult as to putting out their earnings to the best
advantage, or how best to expend the same for the benefit of the
old folk. Every household, however poor, managed to raise a
"feast-cake" and a bottle of ginger or raisin wine, which stood
on the cottage table ready for all comers, and not unlikely to
make them remember feast-time, for feast-cake is very solid, and
full of huge raisins. Moreover, feast-time was the day of
reconciliation for the parish. If Job Higgins and Noah Freeman
hadn't spoken for the last six months, their "old women" would
be sure to get it patched up by that day. And though there was
a good deal of drinking and low vice in the booths of an
evening, it was pretty well confined to those who would have
been doing the like, "veast or no veast;" and on the whole, the
effect was humanising and Christian. In fact, the only reason
why this is not the case still is that gentlefolk and farmers
have taken to other amusements, and have, as usual, forgotten
the poor. They don't attend the feasts themselves, and call
them disreputable; whereupon the steadiest of the poor leave
them also, and they become what they are called. Class
amusements, be they for dukes or ploughboys, always become
nuisances and curses to a country. The true charm of cricket
and hunting is that they are still more or less sociable and
universal; there's a place for every man who will come and take
his part.

No one in the village enjoyed the approach of "veast day" more
than Tom, in the year in which he was taken under old Benjy's
tutelage. The feast was held in a large green field at the
lower end of the village. The road to Farringdon ran along one
side of it, and the brook by the side of the road; and above the
brook was another large, gentle, sloping pasture-land, with a
footpath running down it from the churchyard; and the old
church, the originator of all the mirth, towered up with its
gray walls and lancet windows, overlooking and sanctioning the
whole, though its own share therein had been forgotten. At the
point where the footpath crossed the brook and road, and entered
on the field where the feast was held, was a long, low roadside
inn; and on the opposite side of the field was a large white
thatched farmhouse, where dwelt an old sporting farmer, a great
promoter of the revels.

Past the old church, and down the footpath, pottered the old man
and the child hand-in-hand early on the afternoon of the day
before the feast, and wandered all round the ground, which was
already being occupied by the "cheap Jacks," with their green-
covered carts and marvellous assortment of wares; and the booths
of more legitimate small traders, with their tempting arrays of
fairings and eatables; and penny peep-shows and other shows,
containing pink-eyed ladies, and dwarfs, and boa-constrictors,
and wild Indians. But the object of most interest to Benjy, and
of course to his pupil also, was the stage of rough planks some
four feet high, which was being put up by the village carpenter
for the back-swording and wrestling. And after surveying the
whole tenderly, old Benjy led his charge away to the roadside
inn, where he ordered a glass of ale and a long pipe for
himself, and discussed these unwonted luxuries on the bench
outside in the soft autumn evening with mine host, another old
servant of the Browns, and speculated with him on the likelihood
of a good show of old gamesters to contend for the morrow's
prizes, and told tales of the gallant bouts of forty years back,
to which Tom listened with all his ears and eyes.

But who shall tell the joy of the next morning, when the church
bells were ringing a merry peal, and old Benjy appeared in the
servants' hall, resplendent in a long blue coat and brass
buttons, and a pair of old yellow buckskins and top-boots which
he had cleaned for and inherited from Tom's grandfather, a stout
thorn stick in his hand, and a nosegay of pinks and lavender in
his buttonhole, and led away Tom in his best clothes, and two
new shillings in his breeches-pockets? Those two, at any rate,
look like enjoying the day's revel.

They quicken their pace when they get into the churchyard, for
already they see the field thronged with country folk; the men
in clean, white smocks or velveteen or fustian coats, with rough
plush waistcoats of many colours, and the women in the
beautiful, long scarlet cloak--the usual out-door dress of
west-country women in those days, and which often descended in
families from mother to daughter--or in new-fashioned stuff
shawls, which, if they would but believe it, don't become them
half so well. The air resounds with the pipe and tabor, and the
drums and trumpets of the showmen shouting at the doors of their
caravans, over which tremendous pictures of the wonders to be
seen within hang temptingly; while through all rises the shrill
"root-too-too-too" of Mr. Punch, and the unceasing pan-pipe of
his satellite.

"Lawk a' massey, Mr. Benjamin," cries a stout, motherly woman in
a red cloak, as they enter the field, "be that you? Well, I
never! You do look purely. And how's the Squire, and madam,
and the family?"

Benjy graciously shakes hands with the speaker, who has left our
village for some years, but has come over for "veast" day on a
visit to an old gossip, and gently indicates the heir-apparent
of the Browns.

"Bless his little heart! I must gi' un a kiss. --Here,
Susannah, Susannah!" cries she, raising herself from the
embrace, "come and see Mr. Benjamin and young Master Tom. --You
minds our Sukey, Mr. Benjamin; she be growed a rare slip of a
wench since you seen her, though her'll be sixteen come
Martinmas. I do aim to take her to see madam to get her a

And Sukey comes bouncing away from a knot of old school-fellows,
and drops a curtsey to Mr. Benjamin. And elders come up from
all parts to salute Benjy, and girls who have been madam's
pupils to kiss Master Tom. And they carry him off to load him
with fairings; and he returns to Benjy, his hat and coat covered
with ribbons, and his pockets crammed with wonderful boxes which
open upon ever new boxes, and popguns, and trumpets, and apples,
and gilt gingerbread from the stall of Angel Heavens, sole
vender thereof, whose booth groans with kings and queens, and
elephants and prancing steeds, all gleaming with gold. There
was more gold on Angel's cakes than there is ginger in those of
this degenerate age. Skilled diggers might yet make a fortune
in the churchyards of the Vale, by carefully washing the dust of
the consumers of Angel's gingerbread. Alas! he is with his
namesakes, and his receipts have, I fear, died with him.

And then they inspect the penny peep-show--at least Tom does--
while old Benjy stands outside and gossips and walks up the
steps, and enters the mysterious doors of the pink-eyed lady and
the Irish giant, who do not by any means come up to their
pictures; and the boa will not swallow his rabbit, but there the
rabbit is waiting to be swallowed; and what can you expect for
tuppence? We are easily pleased in the Vale. Now there is a
rush of the crowd, and a tinkling bell is heard, and shouts of
laughter; and Master Tom mounts on Benjy's shoulders, and
beholds a jingling match in all its glory. The games are begun,
and this is the opening of them. It is a quaint game, immensely
amusing to look at; and as I don't know whether it is used in
your counties, I had better describe it. A large roped ring is
made, into which are introduced a dozen or so of big boys and
young men who mean to play; these are carefully blinded and
turned loose into the ring, and then a man is introduced not
blindfolded; with a bell hung round his neck, and his two hands
tied behind him. Of course every time he moves the bell must
ring, as he has no hand to hold it; and so the dozen blindfolded
men have to catch him. This they cannot always manage if he is
a lively fellow, but half of them always rush into the arms of
the other half, or drive their heads together, or tumble over;
and then the crowd laughs vehemently, and invents nicknames for
them on the spur of the moment; and they, if they be choleric,
tear off the handkerchiefs which blind them, and not
unfrequently pitch into one another, each thinking that the
other must have run against him on purpose. It is great fun to
look at a jingling match certainly, and Tom shouts and jumps on
old Benjy's shoulders at the sight, until the old man feels
weary, and shifts him to the strong young shoulders of the
groom, who has just got down to the fun.

And now, while they are climbing the pole in another part of the
field, and muzzling in a flour-tub in another, the old farmer
whose house, as has been said, overlooks the field, and who is
master of the revels, gets up the steps on to the stage, and
announces to all whom it may concern that a half-sovereign in
money will be forthcoming to the old gamester who breaks most
heads; to which the Squire and he have added a new hat.

The amount of the prize is sufficient to stimulate the men of
the immediate neighbourhood, but not enough to bring any very
high talent from a distance; so, after a glance or two round, a
tall fellow, who is a down shepherd, chucks his hat on to the
stage and climbs up the steps, looking rather sheepish. The
crowd, of course, first cheer, and then chaff as usual, as he
picks up his hat and begins handling the sticks to see which
will suit him.

"Wooy, Willum Smith, thee canst plaay wi' he arra daay," says
his companion to the blacksmith's apprentice, a stout young
fellow of nineteen or twenty. Willum's sweetheart is in the
"veast" somewhere, and has strictly enjoined him not to get his
head broke at back-swording, on pain of her highest displeasure;
but as she is not to be seen (the women pretend not to like to
see the backsword play, and keep away from the stage), and as
his hat is decidedly getting old, he chucks it on to the stage,
and follows himself, hoping that he will only have to break
other people's heads, or that, after all, Rachel won't really

Then follows the greasy cap lined with fur of a half-gipsy,
poaching, loafing fellow, who travels the Vale not for much
good, I fancy:

"For twenty times was Peter feared
For once that Peter was respected,"

in fact. And then three or four other hats, including the
glossy castor of Joe Willis, the self-elected and would-be
champion of the neighbourhood, a well-to-do young butcher of
twenty-eight or thereabouts, and a great strapping fellow, with
his full allowance of bluster. This is a capital show of
gamesters, considering the amount of the prize; so, while they
are picking their sticks and drawing their lots, I think I must
tell you, as shortly as I can, how the noble old game of back-
sword is played; for it is sadly gone out of late, even in the
Vale, and maybe you have never seen it.

The weapon is a good stout ash stick with a large basket handle,
heavier and somewhat shorter than a common single-stick. The
players are called "old gamesters"--why, I can't tell you--and
their object is simply to break one another's heads; for the
moment that blood runs an inch anywhere above the eyebrow, the
old gamester to whom it belongs is beaten, and has to stop. A
very slight blow with the sticks will fetch blood, so that it is
by no means a punishing pastime, if the men don't play on
purpose and savagely at the body and arms of their adversaries.
The old gamester going into action only takes off his hat and
coat, and arms himself with a stick; he then loops the fingers
of his left hand in a handkerchief or strap, which he fastens
round his left leg, measuring the length, so that when he draws
it tight with his left elbow in the air, that elbow shall just
reach as high as his crown. Thus you see, so long as he chooses
to keep his left elbow up, regardless of cuts, he has a perfect
guard for the left side of his head. Then he advances his right
hand above and in front of his head, holding his stick across,
so that its point projects an inch or two over his left elbow;
and thus his whole head is completely guarded, and he faces his
man armed in like manner; and they stand some three feet apart,
often nearer, and feint, and strike, and return at one another's
heads, until one cries "hold," or blood flows. In the first
case they are allowed a minute's time; and go on again; in the
latter another pair of gamesters are called on. If good men are
playing, the quickness of the returns is marvellous: you hear
the rattle like that a boy makes drawing his stick along
palings, only heavier; and the closeness of the men in action to
one another gives it a strange interest, and makes a spell at
back-swording a very noble sight.

They are all suited now with sticks, and Joe Willis and the
gipsy man have drawn the first lot. So the rest lean against
the rails of the stage, and Joe and the dark man meet in the
middle, the boards having been strewed with sawdust, Joe's white
shirt and spotless drab breeches and boots contrasting with the
gipsy's coarse blue shirt and dirty green velveteen breeches and
leather gaiters. Joe is evidently turning up his nose at the
other, and half insulted at having to break his head.

The gipsy is a tough, active fellow, but not very skilful with
his weapon, so that Joe's weight and strength tell in a minute;
he is too heavy metal for him. Whack, whack, whack, come his
blows, breaking down the gipsy's guard, and threatening to reach
his head every moment. There it is at last. "Blood, blood!"
shout the spectators, as a thin stream oozes out slowly from the
roots of his hair, and the umpire calls to them to stop. The
gipsy scowls at Joe under his brows in no pleasant manner, while
Master Joe swaggers about, and makes attitudes, and thinks
himself, and shows that he thinks himself, the greatest man in
the field.

Then follow several stout sets-to between the other candidates
for the new hat, and at last come the shepherd and Willum Smith.
This is the crack set-to of the day. They are both in famous
wind, and there is no crying "hold." The shepherd is an old
hand, and up to all the dodges. He tries them one after
another, and very nearly gets at Willum's head by coming in
near, and playing over his guard at the half-stick; but somehow
Willum blunders through, catching the stick on his shoulders,
neck, sides, every now and then, anywhere but on his head, and
his returns are heavy and straight, and he is the youngest
gamester and a favourite in the parish, and his gallant stand
brings down shouts and cheers, and the knowing ones think he'll
win if he keeps steady; and Tom, on the groom's shoulder, holds
his hands together, and can hardly breathe for excitement.

Alas for Willum! His sweetheart, getting tired of female
companionship, has been hunting the booths to see where he can
have got to, and now catches sight of him on the stage in full
combat. She flushes and turns pale; her old aunt catches hold
of her, saying, "Bless 'ee, child, doan't 'ee go a'nigst it;"
but she breaks away and runs towards the stage calling his name.
Willum keeps up his guard stoutly, but glances for a moment
towards the voice. No guard will do it, Willum, without the
eye. The shepherd steps round and strikes, and the point of his
stick just grazes Willum's forehead, fetching off the skin, and
the blood flows, and the umpire cries, "Hold!" and poor Willum's
chance is up for the day. But he takes it very well, and puts
on his old hat and coat, and goes down to be scolded by his
sweetheart, and led away out of mischief. Tom hears him say
coaxingly, as he walks off, -

"Now doan't 'ee, Rachel! I wouldn't ha' done it, only I wanted
summut to buy 'ee a fairing wi', and I be as vlush o' money as a
twod o' feathers."

"Thee mind what I tells 'ee," rejoins Rachel saucily, "and
doan't 'ee kep blethering about fairings."

Tom resolves in his heart to give Willum the remainder of his
two shillings after the back-swording.

Joe Willis has all the luck to-day. His next bout ends in an
easy victory, while the shepherd has a tough job to break his
second head; and when Joe and the shepherd meet, and the whole
circle expect and hope to see him get a broken crown, the
shepherd slips in the first round and falls against the rails,
hurting himself so that the old farmer will not let him go on,
much as he wishes to try; and that impostor Joe (for he is
certainly not the best man) struts and swaggers about the stage
the conquering gamester, though he hasn't had five minutes'
really trying play.

Joe takes the new hat in his hand, and puts the money into it,
and then, as if a thought strikes him, and he doesn't think his
victory quite acknowledged down below, walks to each face of the
stage, and looks down, shaking the money, and chaffing, as how
he'll stake hat and money and another half-sovereign "agin any
gamester as hasn't played already." Cunning Joe! he thus gets
rid of Willum and the shepherd, who is quite fresh again.

No one seems to like the offer, and the umpire is just coming
down, when a queer old hat, something like a doctor of
divinity's shovel, is chucked on to the stage and an elderly,
quiet man steps out, who has been watching the play, saying he
should like to cross a stick wi' the prodigalish young chap.

The crowd cheer, and begin to chaff Joe, who turns up his nose
and swaggers across to the sticks. "Imp'dent old wosbird!" says
he; "I'll break the bald head on un to the truth."

The old boy is very bald, certainly, and the blood will show
fast enough if you can touch him, Joe.

He takes off his long-flapped coat, and stands up in a long-
flapped waistcoat, which Sir Roger de Coverley might have worn
when it was new, picks out a stick, and is ready for Master Joe,
who loses no time, but begins his old game, whack, whack, whack,
trying to break down the old man's guard by sheer strength. But
it won't do; he catches every blow close by the basket, and
though he is rather stiff in his returns, after a minute walks
Joe about the stage, and is clearly a stanch old gamester. Joe
now comes in, and making the most of his height, tries to get
over the old man's guard at half-stick, by which he takes a
smart blow in the ribs and another on the elbow, and nothing
more. And now he loses wind and begins to puff, and the crowd
laugh. "Cry 'hold,' Joe; thee'st met thy match!" Instead of
taking good advice and getting his wind, Joe loses his temper,
and strikes at the old man's body.

"Blood, blood!" shout the crowd; "Joe's head's broke!"

Who'd have thought it? How did it come? That body-blow left
Joe's head unguarded for a moment; and with one turn of the
wrist the old gentleman has picked a neat little bit of skin off
the middle of his forehead; and though he won't believe it, and
hammers on for three more blows despite of the shouts, is then
convinced by the blood trickling into his eye. Poor Joe is
sadly crestfallen, and fumbles in his pocket for the other half-
sovereign, but the old gamester won't have it. "Keep thy money,
man, and gi's thy hand," says he; and they shake hands. But the
old gamester gives the new hat to the shepherd, and, soon after,
the half-sovereign to Willum, who thereout decorates his
sweetheart with ribbons to his heart's content.

"Who can a be?" "Wur do a cum from?" ask the crowd. And it
soon flies about that the old west-country champion, who played
a tie with Shaw the Lifeguardsman at "Vizes" twenty years
before, has broken Joe Willis's crown for him.

How my country fair is spinning out! I see I must skip the
wrestling; and the boys jumping in sacks, and rolling
wheelbarrows blindfolded; and the donkey-race, and the fight
which arose thereout, marring the otherwise peaceful "veast;"
and the frightened scurrying away of the female feast-goers, and
descent of Squire Brown, summoned by the wife of one of the
combatants to stop it; which he wouldn't start to do till he had
got on his top-boots. Tom is carried away by old Benjy, dog-
tired and surfeited with pleasure, as the evening comes on and
the dancing begins in the booths; and though Willum, and Rachel
in her new ribbons, and many another good lad and lass don't
come away just yet, but have a good step out, and enjoy it, and
get no harm thereby, yet we, being sober folk, will just stroll
away up through the churchyard, and by the old yew-tree, and get
a quiet dish of tea and a parley with our gossips, as the steady
ones of our village do, and so to bed.

That's the fair, true sketch, as far as it goes, of one of the
larger village feasts in the Vale of Berks, when I was a little
boy. They are much altered for the worse, I am told. I haven't
been at one these twenty years, but I have been at the statute
fairs in some west-country towns, where servants are hired, and
greater abominations cannot be found. What village feasts have
come to, I fear, in many cases, may be read in the pages of
"Yeast" (though I never saw one so bad--thank God!).

Do you want to know why? It is because, as I said before,
gentlefolk and farmers have left off joining or taking an
interest in them. They don't either subscribe to the prizes, or
go down and enjoy the fun.

Is this a good or a bad sign? I hardly know. Bad, sure enough,
if it only arises from the further separation of classes
consequent on twenty years of buying cheap and selling dear, and
its accompanying overwork; or because our sons and daughters
have their hearts in London club-life, or so-called "society,"
instead of in the old English home-duties; because farmers' sons
are apeing fine gentlemen, and farmers' daughters caring more to
make bad foreign music than good English cheeses. Good,
perhaps, if it be that the time for the old "veast" has gone by;
that it is no longer the healthy, sound expression of English
country holiday-making; that, in fact, we, as a nation, have got
beyond it, and are in a transition state, feeling for and soon
likely to find some better substitute.

Only I have just got this to say before I quit the text. Don't
let reformers of any sort think that they are going really to
lay hold of the working boys and young men of England by any
educational grapnel whatever, which isn't some bona fide
equivalent for the games of the old country "veast" in it;
something to put in the place of the back-swording and wrestling
and racing; something to try the muscles of men's bodies, and
the endurance of their hearts, and to make them rejoice in their
strength. In all the new-fangled comprehensive plans which I
see, this is all left out; and the consequence is, that your
great mechanics' institutes end in intellectual priggism, and
your Christian young men's societies in religious Pharisaism.

Well, well, we must bide our time. Life isn't all beer and
skittles; but beer and skittles, or something better of the same
sort, must form a good part of every Englishman's education. If
I could only drive this into the heads of you rising
parliamentary lords, and young swells who "have your ways made
for you," as the saying is, you, who frequent palaver houses and
West-end clubs, waiting always ready to strap yourselves on to
the back of poor dear old John, as soon as the present used-up
lot (your fathers and uncles), who sit there on the great
parliamentary-majorities' pack-saddle, and make believe they're
guiding him with their red-tape bridle, tumble, or have to be
lifted off!

I don't think much of you yet--I wish I could--though you do
go talking and lecturing up and down the country to crowded
audiences, and are busy with all sorts of philanthropic
intellectualism, and circulating libraries and museums, and
Heaven only knows what besides, and try to make us think,
through newspaper reports, that you are, even as we, of the
working classes. But bless your hearts, we "ain't so green,"
though lots of us of all sorts toady you enough certainly, and
try to make you think so.

I'll tell you what to do now: instead of all this trumpeting and
fuss, which is only the old parliamentary-majority dodge over
again, just you go, each of you (you've plenty of time for it,
if you'll only give up t'other line), and quietly make three or
four friends--real friends--among us. You'll find a little
trouble in getting at the right sort, because such birds don't
come lightly to your lure; but found they may be. Take, say,
two out of the professions, lawyer, parson, doctor--which you
will; one out of trade; and three or four out of the working
classes--tailors, engineers, carpenters, engravers. There's
plenty of choice. Let them be men of your own ages, mind, and
ask them to your homes; introduce them to your wives and
sisters, and get introduced to theirs; give them good dinners,
and talk to them about what is really at the bottom of your
hearts; and box, and run, and row with them, when you have a
chance. Do all this honestly as man to man, and by the time you
come to ride old John, you'll be able to do something more than
sit on his back, and may feel his mouth with some stronger
bridle than a red-tape one.

Ah, if you only would! But you have got too far out of the
right rut, I fear. Too much over-civilization, and the
deceitfulness of riches. It is easier for a camel to go through
the eye of a needle. More's the pity. I never came across but
two of you who could value a man wholly and solely for what was
in him--who thought themselves verily and indeed of the same
flesh and blood as John Jones the attorney's clerk, and Bill
Smith the costermonger, and could act as if they thought so.


Poor old Benjy! The "rheumatiz" has much to answer for all
through English country-sides, but it never played a scurvier
trick than in laying thee by the heels, when thou wast yet in a
green old age. The enemy, which had long been carrying on a
sort of border warfare, and trying his strength against Benjy's
on the battlefield of his hands and legs, now, mustering all his
forces, began laying siege to the citadel, and overrunning the
whole country. Benjy was seized in the back and loins; and
though he made strong and brave fight, it was soon clear enough
that all which could be beaten of poor old Benjy would have to
give in before long.

It was as much as he could do now, with the help of his big
stick and frequent stops, to hobble down to the canal with
Master Tom, and bait his hook for him, and sit and watch his
angling, telling him quaint old country stories; and when Tom
had no sport, and detecting a rat some hundred yards or so off
along the bank, would rush off with Toby the turnspit terrier,
his other faithful companion, in bootless pursuit, he might have
tumbled in and been drowned twenty times over before Benjy could
have got near him.

Cheery and unmindful of himself, as Benjy was, this loss of
locomotive power bothered him greatly. He had got a new object
in his old age, and was just beginning to think himself useful
again in the world. He feared much, too, lest Master Tom should
fall back again into the hands of Charity and the women. So he
tried everything he could think of to get set up. He even went
an expedition to the dwelling of one of those queer mortals, who
- say what we will, and reason how we will--do cure simple
people of diseases of one kind or another without the aid of
physic, and so get to themselves the reputation of using charms,
and inspire for themselves and their dwellings great respect,
not to say fear, amongst a simple folk such as the dwellers in
the Vale of White Horse. Where this power, or whatever else it
may be, descends upon the shoulders of a man whose ways are not
straight, he becomes a nuisance to the neighbourhood--a
receiver of stolen goods, giver of love-potions, and deceiver of
silly women--the avowed enemy of law and order, of justices of
the peace, head-boroughs, and gamekeepers,--such a man, in
fact, as was recently caught tripping, and deservedly dealt with
by the Leeds justices, for seducing a girl who had come to him
to get back a faithless lover, and has been convicted of bigamy
since then. Sometimes, however, they are of quite a different
stamp--men who pretend to nothing, and are with difficulty
persuaded to exercise their occult arts in the simplest cases.

Of this latter sort was old Farmer Ives, as he was called, the
"wise man" to whom Benjy resorted (taking Tom with him as
usual), in the early spring of the year next after the feast
described in the last chapter. Why he was called "farmer" I
cannot say, unless it be that he was the owner of a cow, a pig
or two, and some poultry, which he maintained on about an acre
of land inclosed from the middle of a wild common, on which
probably his father had squatted before lords of manors looked
as keenly after their rights as they do now. Here he had lived
no one knew how long, a solitary man. It was often rumoured
that he was to be turned out and his cottage pulled down, but
somehow it never came to pass; and his pigs and cow went grazing
on the common, and his geese hissed at the passing children and
at the heels of the horse of my lord's steward, who often rode
by with a covetous eye on the inclosure still unmolested. His
dwelling was some miles from our village; so Benjy, who was half
ashamed of his errand, and wholly unable to walk there, had to
exercise much ingenuity to get the means of transporting himself
and Tom thither without exciting suspicion. However, one fine
May morning he managed to borrow the old blind pony of our
friend the publican, and Tom persuaded Madam Brown to give him a
holiday to spend with old Benjy, and to lend them the Squire's
light cart, stored with bread and cold meat and a bottle of ale.
And so the two in high glee started behind old Dobbin, and
jogged along the deep-rutted plashy roads, which had not been
mended after their winter's wear, towards the dwelling of the
wizard. About noon they passed the gate which opened on to the
large common, and old Dobbin toiled slowly up the hill, while
Benjy pointed out a little deep dingle on the left, out of which
welled a tiny stream. As they crept up the hill the tops of a
few birch-trees came in sight, and blue smoke curling up through
their delicate light boughs; and then the little white thatched
home and inclosed ground of Farmer Ives, lying cradled in the
dingle, with the gay gorse common rising behind and on both
sides; while in front, after traversing a gentle slope, the eye
might travel for miles and miles over the rich vale. They now
left the main road and struck into a green track over the common
marked lightly with wheel and horse-shoe, which led down into
the dingle and stopped at the rough gate of Farmer Ives. Here
they found the farmer, an iron-gray old man, with a bushy
eyebrow and strong aquiline nose, busied in one of his
vocations. He was a horse and cow doctor, and was tending a
sick beast which had been sent up to be cured. Benjy hailed him
as an old friend, and he returned the greeting cordially enough,
looking however hard for a moment both at Benjy and Tom, to see
whether there was more in their visit than appeared at first
sight. It was a work of some difficulty and danger for Benjy to
reach the ground, which, however, he managed to do without
mishap; and then he devoted himself to unharnessing Dobbin and
turning him out for a graze ("a run" one could not say of that
virtuous steed) on the common. This done, he extricated the
cold provisions from the cart, and they entered the farmer's
wicket; and he, shutting up the knife with which he was taking
maggots out of the cow's back and sides, accompanied them
towards the cottage. A big old lurcher got up slowly from the
door-stone, stretching first one hind leg and then the other,
and taking Tom's caresses and the presence of Toby, who kept,
however, at a respectful distance, with equal indifference.

"Us be cum to pay 'ee a visit. I've a been long minded to do't
for old sake's sake, only I vinds I dwon't get about now as I'd
used to't. I be so plaguy bad wi' th' rheumatiz in my back."
Benjy paused, in hopes of drawing the farmer at once on the
subject of his ailments without further direct application.

"Ah, I see as you bean't quite so lissom as you was," replied
the farmer, with a grim smile, as he lifted the latch of his
door; "we bean't so young as we was, nother on us, wuss luck."

The farmer's cottage was very like those of the better class of
peasantry in general. A snug chimney corner with two seats, and
a small carpet on the hearth, an old flint gun and a pair of
spurs over the fireplace, a dresser with shelves on which some
bright pewter plates and crockeryware were arranged, an old
walnut table, a few chairs and settles, some framed samplers,
and an old print or two, and a bookcase with some dozen volumes
on the walls, a rack with flitches of bacon, and other stores
fastened to the ceiling, and you have the best part of the
furniture. No sign of occult art is to be seen, unless the
bundles of dried herbs hanging to the rack and in the ingle and
the row of labelled phials on one of the shelves betoken it.

Tom played about with some kittens who occupied the hearth, and
with a goat who walked demurely in at the open door--while
their host and Benjy spread the table for dinner--and was soon
engaged in conflict with the cold meat, to which he did much
honour. The two old men's talk was of old comrades and their
deeds, mute inglorious Miltons of the Vale, and of the doings
thirty years back, which didn't interest him much, except when
they spoke of the making of the canal; and then indeed he began
to listen with all his ears, and learned, to his no small
wonder, that his dear and wonderful canal had not been there
always--was not, in fact, so old as Benjy or Farmer Ives, which
caused a strange commotion in his small brain.

After dinner Benjy called attention to a wart which Tom had on
the knuckles of his hand, and which the family doctor had been
trying his skill on without success, and begged the farmer to
charm it away. Farmer Ives looked at it, muttered something or
another over it, and cut some notches in a short stick, which he
handed to Benjy, giving him instructions for cutting it down on
certain days, and cautioning Tom not to meddle with the wart for
a fortnight. And then they strolled out and sat on a bench in
the sun with their pipes, and the pigs came up and grunted
sociably and let Tom scratch them; and the farmer, seeing how he
liked animals, stood up and held his arms in the air, and gave a
call, which brought a flock of pigeons wheeling and dashing
through the birch-trees. They settled down in clusters on the
farmer's arms and shoulders, making love to him and scrambling
over one another's backs to get to his face; and then he threw
them all off, and they fluttered about close by, and lighted on
him again and again when he held up his arms. All the creatures
about the place were clean and fearless, quite unlike their
relations elsewhere; and Tom begged to be taught how to make all
the pigs and cows and poultry in our village tame, at which the
farmer only gave one of his grim chuckles.

It wasn't till they were just ready to go, and old Dobbin was
harnessed, that Benjy broached the subject of his rheumatism
again, detailing his symptoms one by one. Poor old boy! He
hoped the farmer could charm it away as easily as he could Tom's
wart, and was ready with equal faith to put another notched
stick into his other pocket, for the cure of his own ailments.
The physician shook his head, but nevertheless produced a
bottle, and handed it to Benjy, with instructions for use. "Not
as 't'll do 'ee much good--leastways I be afeard not," shading
his eyes with his hand, and looking up at them in the cart.
"There's only one thing as I knows on as'll cure old folks like
you and I o' th' rheumatiz."

"Wot be that then, farmer?" inquired Benjy.

"Churchyard mould," said the old iron-gray man, with another
chuckle. And so they said their good-byes and went their ways
home. Tom's wart was gone in a fortnight, but not so Benjy's
rheumatism, which laid him by the heels more and more. And
though Tom still spent many an hour with him, as he sat on a
bench in the sunshine, or by the chimney corner when it was
cold, he soon had to seek elsewhere for his regular companions.

Tom had been accustomed often to accompany his mother in her
visits to the cottages, and had thereby made acquaintance with
many of the village boys of his own age. There was Job Rudkin,
son of widow Rudkin, the most bustling woman in the parish. How
she could ever have had such a stolid boy as Job for a child
must always remain a mystery. The first time Tom went to their
cottage with his mother, Job was not indoors; but he entered
soon after, and stood with both hands in his pockets, staring at
Tom. Widow Rudkin, who would have had to cross madam to get at
young Hopeful--a breach of good manners of which she was wholly
incapable--began a series of pantomime signs, which only
puzzled him; and at last, unable to contain herself longer,
burst out with, "Job! Job! where's thy cap?"

"What! bean't 'ee on ma head, mother?" replied Job, slowly
extricating one hand from a pocket, and feeling for the article
in question; which he found on his head sure enough, and left
there, to his mother's horror and Tom's great delight.

Then there was poor Jacob Dodson, the half-witted boy, who
ambled about cheerfully, undertaking messages and little helpful
odds and ends for every one, which, however, poor Jacob managed
always hopelessly to imbrangle. Everything came to pieces in
his hands, and nothing would stop in his head. They nicknamed
him Jacob Doodle-calf.

But above all there was Harry Winburn, the quickest and best boy
in the parish. He might be a year older than Tom, but was very
little bigger, and he was the Crichton of our village boys. He
could wrestle and climb and run better than all the rest, and
learned all that the schoolmaster could teach him faster than
that worthy at all liked. He was a boy to be proud of, with his
curly brown hair, keen gray eye, straight active figure, and
little ears and hands and feet, "as fine as a lord's," as
Charity remarked to Tom one day, talking, as usual, great
nonsense. Lords' hands and ears and feet are just as ugly as
other folk's when they are children, as any one may convince
himself if he likes to look. Tight boots and gloves, and doing
nothing with them, I allow make a difference by the time they
are twenty.

Now that Benjy was laid on the shelf, and his young brothers
were still under petticoat government, Tom, in search of
companions, began to cultivate the village boys generally more
and more. Squire Brown, be it said, was a true-blue Tory to the
backbone, and believed honestly that the powers which be were
ordained of God, and that loyalty and steadfast obedience were
men's first duties. Whether it were in consequence or in spite
of his political creed, I do not mean to give an opinion, though
I have one; but certain it is that he held therewith divers
social principles not generally supposed to be true blue in
colour. Foremost of these, and the one which the Squire loved
to propound above all others, was the belief that a man is to be
valued wholly and solely for that which he is in 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. As a
necessary corollary to this belief, Squire Brown held 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 bird-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 playground, 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 he soon 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 wheelwright, 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 his gate. So Tom, to
retaliate, commenced a war upon the swallows who dwelt under the
wheelwright's eaves, whom he 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 the 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 schoolporch. 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 for ever 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 now--not even his mother's maid--dared offer to help him
in dressing or washing. Between ourselves, he had often at
first to run to Benjy in an unfinished state of toilet. Charity
and the rest of them seemed to take a delight in putting
impossible buttons and ties in the middle of his back; but he
would have gone without nether integuments altogether, sooner
than have had recourse to female valeting. He had a room to
himself, and his father gave him sixpence a week pocket-money.
All this he had achieved by Benjy's advice and assistance. But
now he had conquered 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 own.

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 schoolmaster.
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, rounders, high-cock-a-lorum, cricket, football
- he 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 and hand, and had the advantage of light shoes and
well-fitting dress, so that in a short time he could run and
jump and climb with any of them.

They generally finished their regular games half an hour or so
before tea-time, and then began trials of skill and strength in
many ways. Some of them would catch the Shetland pony who was
turned out in the field, and get two or three together on his
back, and the little rogue, enjoying the fun, would gallop off
for fifty yards, and then turn round, or stop short and shoot
them on to the turf, and then graze quietly on till he felt
another load; others played at peg-top or marbles, while a few
of the bigger ones stood up for a bout at wrestling. Tom at
first only looked on at this pastime, but it had peculiar
attractions for him, and he could not long keep out of it.
Elbow and collar wrestling, as practised in the western
counties, was, next to back-swording, the way to fame for the
youth of the Vale; and all the boys knew the rules of it, and
were more or less expert. But Job Rudkin and Harry Winburn were
the stars--the former stiff and sturdy, with legs like small
towers; the latter pliant as indiarubber and quick as lightning.
Day after day they stood foot to foot, and offered first one
hand and then the other, and grappled and closed, and swayed and
strained, till a well-aimed crook of the heel or thrust of the
loin took effect, and a fair back-fall ended the matter. And
Tom watched with all his eyes, and first challenged one of the
less scientific, and threw him; and so one by one wrestled his
way up to the leaders.

Then indeed for months he had a poor time of it; it was not long
indeed before he could manage to keep his legs against Job, for
that hero was slow of offence, and gained his victories chiefly
by allowing others to throw themselves against his immovable
legs and loins. But Harry Winburn was undeniably his master;
from the first clutch of hands when they stood up, down to the
last trip which sent him on to his back on the turf, he felt
that Harry knew more and could do more than he. Luckily Harry's
bright unconsciousness and Tom's natural good temper kept them
from quarrelling; and so Tom worked on and on, and trod more and
more nearly on Harry's heels, and at last mastered all the
dodges and falls except one. This one was Harry's own
particular invention and pet; he scarcely ever used it except
when hard pressed, but then out it came, and as sure as it did,
over went poor Tom. He thought about that fall at his meals, in
his walks, when he lay awake in bed, in his dreams, but all to
no purpose, until Harry one day in his open way suggested to him
how he thought it should be met; and in a week from that time
the boys were equal, save only the slight difference of strength
in Harry's favour, which some extra ten months of age gave. Tom
had often afterwards reason to be thankful for that early
drilling, and above all, for having mastered Harry Winburn's

Besides their home games, on Saturdays the boys would wander all
over the neighbourhood; sometimes to the downs, or up to the
camp, where they cut their initials out in the springy turf, and
watched the hawks soaring, and the "peert" bird, as Harry
Winburn called the gray plover, gorgeous in his wedding
feathers; and so home, racing down the Manger with many a roll
among the thistles, or through Uffington Wood to watch the fox
cubs playing in the green rides; sometimes to Rosy Brook, to cut
long whispering reeds which grew there, to make pan-pipes of;
sometimes to Moor Mills, where was a piece of old forest land,
with short browsed turf and tufted brambly thickets stretching
under the oaks, amongst which rumour declared that a raven, last
of his race, still lingered; or to the sand-hills, in vain quest
of rabbits; and bird-nesting in the season, anywhere and

The few neighbours of the Squire's own rank every now and then
would shrug their shoulders as they drove or rode by a party of
boys with Tom in the middle, carrying along bulrushes or
whispering reeds, or great bundles of cowslip and meadow-sweet,
or young starlings or magpies, or other spoil of wood, brook, or
meadow; and Lawyer Red-tape might mutter to Squire Straight-back
at the Board that no good would come of the young Browns, if
they were let run wild with all the dirty village boys, whom the
best farmers' sons even would not play with. And the squire
might reply with a shake of his head that his sons only mixed
with their equals, and never went into the village without the
governess or a footman. But, luckily, Squire Brown was full as
stiffbacked as his neighbours, and so went on his own way; and
Tom and his younger brothers, as they grew up, went on playing
with the village boys, without the idea of equality or
inequality (except in wrestling, running, and climbing) ever
entering their heads; as it doesn't till it's put there by Jack
Nastys or fine ladies' maids.

I don't mean to say it would be the case in all villages, but it
certainly was so in this one: the village boys were full as
manly and honest, and certainly purer, than those in a higher
rank; and Tam got more harm from his equals in his first
fortnight at a private school, where he went when he was nine
years old, than he had from his village friends from the day he
left Charity's apron-strings.

Great was the grief amongst the village school-boys when Tom
drove off with the Squire, one August morning, to meet the coach
on his way to school. Each of them had given him some little
present of the best that he had, and his small private box was
full of peg-taps, white marbles (called "alley-taws" in the
Vale), screws, birds' eggs, whip-cord, jews-harps, and other
miscellaneous boys' wealth. Poor Jacob Doodle-calf, in floods
of tears, had pressed upon him with spluttering earnestness his
lame pet hedgehog (he had always some poor broken-down beast or
bird by him); but this Tom had been obliged to refuse, by the
Squire's order. He had given them all a great tea under the big
elm in their playground, for which Madam Brown had supplied the
biggest cake ever seen in our village; and Tom was really as
sorry to leave them as they to lose him, but his sorrow was not
unmixed with the pride and excitement of making a new step in

And this feeling carried him through his first parting with his
mother better than could have been expected. Their love was as
fair and whole as human love can be--perfect self-sacrifice on
the one side meeting a young and true heart on the other. It is
not within the scope of my book, however, to speak of family
relations, or I should have much to say on the subject of
English mothers--ay, and of English fathers, and sisters, and
brothers too. Neither have I room to speak of our private
schools. What I have to say is about public schools--those
much-abused and much-belauded institutions peculiar to England.
So we must hurry through Master Tom's year at a private school
as fast as we can.

It was a fair average specimen, kept by a gentleman, with
another gentleman as second master; but it was little enough of
the real work they did--merely coming into school when lessons
were prepared and all ready to be heard. The whole discipline
of the school out of lesson hours was in the hands of the two
ushers, one of whom was always with the boys in their
playground, in the school, at meals--in fact, at all times and
every where, till they were fairly in bed at night.

Now the theory of private schools is (or was) constant
supervision out of school--therein differing fundamentally from
that of public schools.

It may be right or wrong; but if right, this supervision surely
ought to be the especial work of the head-master, the
responsible person. The object of all schools is not to ram
Latin and Greek into boys, but to make them good English boys,
good future citizens; and by far the most important part of that
work must be done, or not done, out of school hours. To leave
it, therefore, in the hands of inferior men, is just giving up
the highest and hardest part of the work of education. Were I a
private school-master, I should say, Let who will hear the boys
their lessons, but let me live with them when they are at play
and rest.

The two ushers at Tom's first school were not gentlemen, and
very poorly educated, and were only driving their poor trade of
usher to get such living as they could out of it. They were not
bad men, but had little heart for their work, and of course were
bent on making it as easy as possible. One of the methods by
which they endeavoured to accomplish this was by encouraging
tale-bearing, which had become a frightfully common vice in the
school in consequence, and had sapped all the foundations of
school morality. Another was, by favouring grossly the biggest
boys, who alone could have given them much trouble; whereby
those young gentlemen became most abominable tyrants, oppressing
the little boys in all the small mean ways which prevail in
private schools.

Poor little Tom was made dreadfully unhappy in his first week by
a catastrophe which happened to his first letter home. With
huge labour he had, on the very evening of his arrival, managed
to fill two sides of a sheet of letter-paper with assurances of
his love for dear mamma, his happiness at school, and his
resolves to do all she would wish. This missive, with the help
of the boy who sat at the desk next him, also a new arrival, he
managed to fold successfully; but this done, they were sadly put
to it for means of sealing. Envelopes were then unknown; they
had no wax, and dared not disturb the stillness of the evening
school-room by getting up and going to ask the usher for some.
At length Tom's friend, being of an ingenious turn of mind,
suggested sealing with ink; and the letter was accordingly stuck
down with a blob of ink, and duly handed by Tom, on his way to
bed, to the housekeeper to be posted. It was not till four days
afterwards that the good dame sent for him, and produced the
precious letter and some wax, saying, "O Master Brown, I forgot
to tell you before, but your letter isn't sealed." Poor Tom
took the wax in silence and sealed his letter, with a huge lump
rising in his throat during the process, and then ran away to a
quiet corner of the playground, and burst into an agony of
tears. The idea of his mother waiting day after day for the
letter he had promised her at once, and perhaps thinking him
forgetful of her, when he had done all in his power to make good
his promise, was as bitter a grief as any which he had to
undergo for many a long year. His wrath, then, was
proportionately violent when he was aware of two boys, who
stopped close by him, and one of whom, a fat gaby of a fellow,
pointed at him and called him "Young mammy-sick!" Whereupon Tom
arose, and giving vent thus to his grief and shame and rage,
smote his derider on the nose; and made it bleed; which sent
that young worthy howling to the usher, who reported Tom for
violent and unprovoked assault and battery. Hitting in the face
was a felony punishable with flogging, other hitting only a
misdemeanour--a distinction not altogether clear in principle.
Tom, however, escaped the penalty by pleading primum tempus; and
having written a second letter to his mother, inclosing some
forget-me-nots, which he picked on their first half-holiday
walk, felt quite happy again, and began to enjoy vastly a good
deal of his new life.

These half-holiday walks were the great events of the week. The
whole fifty boys started after dinner with one of the ushers for
Hazeldown, which was distant some mile or so from the school.
Hazeldown measured some three miles round, and in the
neighbourhood were several woods full of all manner of birds and
butterflies. The usher walked slowly round the down with such
boys as liked to accompany him; the rest scattered in all
directions, being only bound to appear again when the usher had
completed his round, and accompany him home. They were
forbidden, however, to go anywhere except on the down and into
the woods; the village had been especially prohibited, where
huge bull's-eyes and unctuous toffy might be procured in
exchange for coin of the realm.

Various were the amusements to which the boys then betook
themselves. At the entrance of the down there was a steep
hillock, like the barrows of Tom's own downs. This mound was
the weekly scene of terrific combats, at a game called by the
queer name of "mud-patties." The boys who played divided into
sides under different leaders, and one side occupied the mound.
Then, all parties having provided themselves with many sods of
turf, cut with their bread-and-cheese knives, the side which
remained at the bottom proceeded to assault the mound, advancing
up on all sides under cover of a heavy fire of turfs, and then
struggling for victory with the occupants, which was theirs as
soon as they could, even for a moment, clear the summit, when
they in turn became the besieged. It was a good, rough, dirty
game, and of great use in counteracting the sneaking tendencies
of the school. Then others of the boys spread over the downs,
looking for the holes of humble-bees and mice, which they dug up
without mercy, often (I regret to say) killing and skinning the
unlucky mice, and (I do not regret to say) getting well stung by
the bumble-bees. Others went after butterflies and birds' eggs
in their seasons; and Tom found on Hazeldown, for the first
time, the beautiful little blue butterfly with golden spots on
his wings, which he had never seen on his own downs, and dug out
his first sand-martin's nest. This latter achievement resulted
in a flogging, for the sand-martins built in a high bank close
to the village, consequently out of bounds; but one of the
bolder spirits of the school, who never could be happy unless he
was doing something to which risk was attached, easily persuaded
Tom to break bounds and visit the martins' bank. From whence it
being only a step to the toffy shop, what could be more simple
than to go on there and fill their pockets; or what more certain
than that on their return, a distribution of treasure having
been made, the usher should shortly detect the forbidden smell
of bull's-eyes, and, a search ensuing, discover the state of the
breeches-pockets of Tom and his ally?

This ally of Tom's was indeed a desperate hero in the sight of
the boys, and feared as one who dealt in magic, or something
approaching thereto. Which reputation came to him in this wise.
The boys went to bed at eight, and, of course, consequently lay
awake in the dark for an hour or two, telling ghost-stories by
turns. One night when it came to his turn, and he had dried up
their souls by his story, he suddenly declared that he would
make a fiery hand appear on the door; and to the astonishment
and terror of the boys in his room, a hand, or something like
it, in pale light, did then and there appear. The fame of this
exploit having spread to the other rooms, and being discredited
there, the young necromancer declared that the same wonder would
appear in all the rooms in turn, which it accordingly did; and
the whole circumstances having been privately reported to one of
the ushers as usual, that functionary, after listening about at
the doors of the rooms, by a sudden descent caught the performer
in his night-shirt, with a box of phosphorus in his guilty hand.
Lucifer-matches and all the present facilities for getting
acquainted with fire were then unknown--the very name of
phosphorus had something diabolic in it to the boy-mind; so
Tom's ally, at the cost of a sound flogging, earned what many
older folk covet much--the very decided fear of most of his

He was a remarkable boy, and by no means a bad one. Tom stuck
to him till he left, and got into many scrapes by so doing. But
he was the great opponent of the tale-bearing habits of the
school, and the open enemy of the ushers; and so worthy of all

Tom imbibed a fair amount of Latin and Greek at the school, but
somehow, on the whole, it didn't suit him, or he it, and in the
holidays he was constantly working the Squire to send him at
once to a public school. Great was his joy then, when in the
middle of his third half-year, in October 183-, a fever broke
out in the village, and the master having himself slightly
sickened of it, the whole of the boys were sent off at a day's
notice to their respective homes.

The Squire was not quite so pleased as Master Tom to see that
young gentleman's brown, merry face appear at home, some two
months before the proper time, for the Christmas holidays; and
so, after putting on his thinking cap, he retired to his study
and wrote several letters, the result of which was that, one
morning at the breakfast-table, about a fortnight after Tom's
return, he addressed his wife with--"My dear, I have arranged
that Tom shall go to Rugby at once, for the last six weeks of
this half-year, instead of wasting them in riding and loitering
about home. It is very kind of the doctor to allow it. Will
you see that his things are all ready by Friday, when I shall
take him up to town, and send him down the next day by himself."

Mrs. Brown was prepared for the announcement, and merely
suggested a doubt whether Tom were yet old enough to travel by
himself. However, finding both father and son against her on
this point, she gave in, like a wise woman, and proceeded to
prepare Tom's kit for his launch into a public school.


"Let the steam-pot hiss till it's hot;
Give me the speed of the Tantivy trot."
Coaching Song, by R.E.E. Warburton, Esq.

"Now, sir, time to get up, if you please. Tally-ho coach for
Leicester'll be round in half an hour, and don't wait for
nobody." So spake the boots of the Peacock Inn Islington, at
half-past two o'clock on the morning of a day in the early part
of November 183-, giving Tom at the same time a shake by the
shoulder, and then putting down a candle; and carrying off his
shoes to clean.

Tom and his father arrived in town from Berkshire the day
before, and finding, on inquiry, that the Birmingham coaches
which ran from the city did not pass through Rugby, but
deposited their passengers at Dunchurch, a village three miles
distant on the main road, where said passengers had to wait for
the Oxford and Leicester coach in the evening, or to take a
post-chaise, had resolved that Tom should travel down by the
Tally-ho, which diverged from the main road and passed through
Rugby itself. And as the Tally-ho was an early coach, they had
driven out to the Peacock to be on the road.

Tom had never been in London, and would have liked to have
stopped at the Belle Savage, where they had been put down by the
Star, just at dusk, that he might have gone roving about those
endless, mysterious, gas-lit streets, which, with their glare
and hum and moving crowds, excited him so that he couldn't talk
even. But as soon as he found that the Peacock arrangement
would get him to Rugby by twelve o'clock in the day, whereas
otherwise he wouldn't be there till the evening, all other plans
melted away, his one absorbing aim being to become a public
school-boy as fast as possible, and six hours sooner or later


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