AT RUGBY SCHOOL
By Thomas Hughes
The little schoolboys went quietly to their own beds, and began
undressing and talking to one another in whispers: while the
elder, amongst whom was Tom, sat chatting about on one another's
beds, with their jackets and waistcoats off.
Poor little Arthur was overwhelmed with the novelty of his
position. The idea of sleeping in the room with strange boys had
clearly never crossed his mind before, and was as painful as it
was strange to him. He could hardly bear to take his jacket
off; however, presently, with an effort, off it came, and then he
paused and looked at Tom, who was sitting at the bottom of his
bed, talking and laughing.
"Please, Brown," he whispered, "may I wash my face and hands?"
"Of course, if you like," said Tom, staring: "that's your
wash-hand stand under the window, second from your bed. You'll
have to go down for more water in the morning if you use it all."
And on he went with his talk, while Arthur stole timidly from
between the beds out to his wash-hand stand, and began his
ablutions, thereby drawing for a moment on himself the attention
of the room.
On went the talk and laughter. Arthur finished his washing and
undressing, and put on his nightgown. He then looked round more
nervously than ever. Two or three of the little boys were already
in bed, sitting up with their chins on their knees. The light
burned clear, the noise went on.
It was a trying moment for the poor, little, lonely boy; however,
this time he did not ask Tom what he might or might not do, but
dropped on his knees by his bedside, as he had done every day
from his childhood, to open his heart to Him who heareth the
cry and beareth the sorrows of the tender child, and the strong
man in agony.
Tom was sitting at the bottom of his bed unlacing his boots, so
that his back was toward Arthur, and he did not see what had
happened, and looked up in wonder at the sudden silence. Then two
or three boys laughed and sneered, and a big, brutal fellow,
who was standing in the middle of the room, picked up a slipper
and shied it at the kneeling boy, calling him a sniveling young shaver.
Then Tom saw the whole, and the next moment the boot he had just
pulled off flew straight at the head of the bully, who had just
time to throw up his arm and catch it on his elbow. "Brown, you
rascal! What do you mean by that?" roared he, stamping with pain."
"Never mind what I mean," said Tom, stepping on to the floor,
every drop of blood in his body tingling: "if any fellow wants
the other boot, he knows how to get it."
What would have been the result is doubtful, for at this moment
the sixth-form boy came in, and not another word could be said.
Tom and the rest rushed into bed and finished their unrobing
there, and the old janitor had put out the candle in another
minute, and toddled on to the next room, shutting the door with
his usual, "Good night, gen'l'm'n."
There were many boys in the room by whom that little scene was
taken to heart before they slept. But sleep seemed to have
deserted the pillow of poor Tom. For some time his excitement and
the flood of memories which chased one another through his
brain, kept him from thinking or resolving. His head throbbed,
his heart leapt, and he could hardly keep himself from springing
out of bed and rushing about the room.
Then the thought of his own mother came across him, and the
promise he had made at her knee, years ago, never to forget to
kneel by his bedside and give himself up to his Father before he
laid his head on the pillow, from which it might never rise;
and he lay down gently, and cried as if his heart would break. He
was only fourteen years old.
It was no light act of courage in those days for a little fellow
to say his prayers publicly, even at Rugby. A few years later,
when Arnold's manly piety had begun to leaven the school, the
tables turned; before he died, in the Schoolhouse at least, and I
believe in the other houses, the rule was the other way.
But poor Tom had come to school in other times. The first few
nights after he came he did not kneel down because of the noise,
but sat up in bed till the candle was out, and then stole out and
said his prayers, in fear lest some one should find him out. So
did many another poor little fellow.
Then he began to think that he might just as well say his prayers
in bed, and then that is did not matter whether he was kneeling,
or sitting, or lying down. And so it had come to pass with Tom,
as with all who will not confess their Lord before men; and for
the last year he had probably not said his prayers in earnest a
Poor Tom! the first and bitterest feeling, which was like to
break his heart, was the sense of his own cowardice. The vice of
all others which he loathed was brought in and burned in on his
own soul. He had lied to his mother, to his conscience, to his
God. How could he bear it? And then the poor, little, weak boy,
whom he had pitied and almost scorned for his weakness, had done
that which he, braggart as he was, dared not do.
The first dawn of comfort came to him in vowing to himself that
he would stand by that boy through thick and thin, and cheer him,
and help him, and bear his burdens, for the good deed done that
night. Then he resolved to write home next day and tell his
mother all, and what a coward her son had been. And then peace
came to him as he resolved, lastly, to bear his testimony next morning.
The morning would be harder than the night to begin with, but he
felt that he could not afford to let one chance slip. Several
times he faltered, for the Devil showed him, first, all his old
friends calling him "Saint," and "Squaretoes," and a
names, and whispered to him that his motives would be
misunderstood, and he would be left alone with the new boy;
whereas, it was his duty to keep all means of influence, that he
might do good to the largest number.
And then came the more subtle temptation, "shall I not be showing
myself braver than others by doing this? Have I any right to
begin it now? Ought I not rather to pray in my own study, letting
other boys know that I do so, and trying to lead them to it,
while in public, at least, I should go on as I have done?"
However, his good angel was too strong that night, and he turned
on his side and slept, tired of trying to reason, but resolved to
follow the impulse which had been so strong, and in which he had
Next morning he was up and washed and dressed, all but his jacket
and waistcoat, just as the ten minutes' bell began to ring, and
then in the face of the whole room he knelt down to pray. Not
five words could he say,--the bell mocked him; he was listening
for every whisper in the room,--what were they all thinking of him?
He was ashamed to go on kneeling, ashamed to rise from his knees.
At last, as it were from his inmost heart, a still, small voice
seemed to breathe forth the words of the publican, "God be
merciful to me a sinner!" He repeated them over and over,
and rose from his knees comforted and humbled, and ready to face
the whole world.
It was not needed: two other boys besides Arthur had already
followed his example, and he went down to the great school with a
glimmering of another lesson in his heart,--the lesson that he
who has conquered his own coward spirit has conquered the whole
outward world; and also that however we may fancy ourselves alone
on the side of good, the King and Lord of men is nowhere without
He found, too, how greatly he had exaggerated the effect to be
produced by his act. For a few nights there was a sneer or a
laugh when he knelt down, but this passed off soon, and one by
one all the other boys but three or four followed the lead.
--Adapted from "School Days at Rugby."
Waistcoat, a vest.
Overwhelmed, overcome, cast down.
Ablution, the act of washing.
Sneered, showed contempt.
Bully, a noisy, blustering fellow, more
insolent than courageous.
Tingling, having a thrilling feeling.
Leaven, to make a general change, to imbue.
Loathed, hated, detested.
Braggart, a boaster.
Vowing, making a solemn promise to God.
Testimony, open declaration.
Motive, that which causes action, cause,
Subtle, artful, cunning.
"Rugby" the scene of this story, is a celebrated grammar school which
was established at the town of Rugby, England, in 1667.
Sixth-form boy. The school was graded into six classes
or "forms," and the boys of the highest, or sixth, form were
expected to keep the smaller boys under them in order.
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