big school. One day, as ill-luck would have it, the game became more exciting than usual, and the ball slipped through East’s fingers, and rolled slowly down the steps and out into the middle of the school, just as the masters turned in their walk and faced round upon the desk. The young delinquents watched their master, through the look-out holes, march slowly down the school straight upon their retreat, while all the boys in the neighbourhood of course stopped their work to look on: and not only were they ignominiously drawn out, and caned over the hand then and there, but their characters for steadiness were gone from that time. However, as they only shared the fate of some three-fourths of the rest of the form, this did not weigh heavily upon them.

In fact the only occasions on which they cared about the matter were the monthly examinations, when the Doctor came round to examine their form, for one long awful hour, in the work which they had done in the preceding month. The second monthly examination came round soon after Tom’s fall, and it was with anything but lively anticipations that he and the other lower-fourth boys came in to prayers on the morning of the examination day.

Prayers and calling-over seemed twice as short as usual, and before they could get construes of a tithe of the hard passages marked in the margin of their books, they were all seated round, and the Doctor was standing in the middle, talking in whispers to the master. Tom couldn’t hear a word which passed, and never lifted his eyes from his book; but he knew by a sort of magnetic instinct that the Doctor’s under- lip was coming out, and his eye beginning to burn, and his gown getting gathered up more and more tightly in his left hand. The suspense was agonizing, and Tom knew that he was sure on such occasions to make an example of the School-house boys. “If he would only begin,” thought Tom, “I shouldn’t mind.”

At last the whispering ceased, and the name which was called out was not Brown. He looked up for a moment, but the Doctor’s face was too awful; Tom wouldn’t have met his eye for all he was worth, and buried himself in his book again.

The boy who was called up first was a clever, merry School-house boy, one of their set: he was some connection of the Doctor’s, and a great favourite, and ran in and out of his house as he liked, and so was selected for the first victim.

“Triste lupus stabulis,” began the luckless youngster, and stammered through some eight or ten lines.

“There, that will do,” said the Doctor; “now construe.”

On common occasions, the boy could have construed the passage well enough probably, but now his head was gone.

“Triste lupus, the sorrowful wolf,” he began.

A shudder ran through the whole form, and the Doctor’s wrath fairly boiled over; he made three steps up to the construer and gave him a good box on the ear. The blow was not a hard one, but the boy was so taken by surprise that he started back; the form caught the back of his knees, and over he went on to the floor behind. There was a dead silence over the whole school; never before and never again while Tom was at school did the Doctor strike a boy in lesson. The provocation must have been great. However, the victim had saved his form for that occasion, for the Doctor turned to the top bench, and put on the best boys for the rest of the hour; and though, at the end of the lesson, he gave them all such a rating as they did not forget, this terrible field-day passed over without any severe visitations in the shape of punishments or floggings. Forty young scapegraces expressed their thanks to the “sorrowful wolf” in their different ways before second lesson.

But a character for steadiness once gone is not easily recovered, as Tom found, and for years afterwards he went up the school without it, and the masters’ hands were against him, and his against them. And he regarded them, as a matter of course, as his natural enemies.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.