“Oh, Master Brown,” went on the little matron, when the rest had gone, “you’re to have Gray’s study, Mrs. Arnold says. And she wants you to take in this young gentleman. He’s a new boy, and thirteen years old, though he don’t look it. He’s very delicate, and has never been from home before. And I told Mrs. Arnold I thought you’d be kind to him, and see that they don’t bully him at first. He’s put into your form, and I’ve given him the bed next to yours in Number 4; so East can’t sleep there this half.”

Tom was rather put about by this speech. He had got the double study which he coveted, but here were conditions attached which greatly moderated his joy. He looked across the room, and in the far corner of the sofa was aware of a slight pale boy, with large blue eyes and light fair hair, who seemed ready to shrink through the floor. He saw at a glance that the little stranger was just the boy whose first half-year at a public school would be misery to himself if he were left alone, or constant anxiety to any one who meant to see him through his troubles. Tom was too honest to take in the youngster and then let him shift for himself; and if he took him as his chum instead of East, where were all his pet plans of having a bottled-beer cellar under his window, and making night-lines and slings, and plotting expeditions to Brownsover Mills and Caldecott’s Spinney? East and he had made up their minds to get this study, and then every night from locking-up till ten they would be together to talk about fishing, drink bottled- beer, read Marryat’s novels, and sort birds’ eggs. And this new boy would most likely never go out of the close, and would be afraid of wet feet, and always getting laughed at, and called Molly, or Jenny, or some derogatory feminine nickname.

The matron watched him for a moment, and saw what was passing in his mind, and so, like a wise negotiator, threw in an appeal to his warm heart. “Poor little fellow,” said she in almost a whisper, “his father’s dead, and he’s got no brothers. And his mamma, such a kind sweet lady, almost broke her heart at leaving him this morning; and she said one of his sisters was like to die of decline, and so——”

“Well, well,” burst in Tom, with something like a sigh at the effort, “I suppose I must give up East. Come along, young ’un. What’s your name? We’ll go and have some supper, and then I’ll show you our study.”

“His name’s George Arthur,” said the matron, walking up to him with Tom, who grasped his little delicate hand as the proper preliminary to making a chum of him, and felt as if he could have blown him away. “I’ve had his books and things put into the study, which his mamma has had new papered, and the sofa covered, and new green-baize curtains over the door” (the diplomatic matron threw this in, to show that the new boy was contributing largely to the partnership comforts). “And Mrs. Arnold told me to say,” she added, “that she should like you both to come up to tea with her. You know the way, Master Brown, and the things are just gone up I know.”

Here was an announcement for Master Tom! He was to go up to tea the first night, just as if he were a sixth or fifth-form boy, and of importance in the school world, instead of the most reckless young scapegrace amongst the fags. He felt himself lifted on to a higher social and moral platform at once. Nevertheless he couldn’t give up without a sigh the idea of the jolly supper in the housekeeper’s room with East and the rest, and a rush round to all the studies of his friends afterwards, to pour out the deeds and wonders of the holidays, to plot fifty plans for the coming half-year, and to gather news of who had left and what new boys had come, who had got who’s study, and where the new præpostors slept. However, Tom consoled himself with thinking that he couldn’t have done all this with the new boy at his heels, and so marched off along the passages to the Doctor’s private house with his young charge in tow, in monstrous good humour with himself and all the world.

It is needless, and would be impertinent, to tell how the two young boys were received in that drawing- room. The lady who presided there is still living, and has carried with her to her peaceful home in the North the respect and love of all those who ever felt and shared that gentle and high-bred hospitality. Ay, many is the brave heart, now doing its work and bearing its load in country curacies, London chambers, under the Indian sun, and in Australian towns and clearings, which looks back with fond and grateful memory to that School-house drawing-room, and dates much of its highest and best training to the lessons learnt there.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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