« ForrigeFortsæt »
was greeted with a burst of immoderate laughter, which was redoubled when the Doctor decorously observed, 'I don't see any cause for mirth. I have no doubt they were very ill.'
The unpromising character of some mental soils can scarcely be conceived by the inexperienced. 'Well, Blanque,' I inquired one day, as I saw one of my dolce far niente friends emerging from an examination, with his face full of care, how have you done, old fellah? Polished them off?'
'No,' he replied, in a mournful tone; I'm afraid not. I've made several mulls.'
'Big ones?' I ventured.
'I'm afraid so. However,' he added, brightly, 'I've answered one question right.'
'Well, that's something,' I replied, to encourage him. 'How many were there?'
'You've one right, at all events,' I continued. What was it?'
"The distance of the earth from the sun.'
'Well, what did you say?'
'Not ninety millions?'
'No, ninety miles. I know that's all right, because I heard a fellah in front of me say so.'
Such delicious innocence as this was not met with every day, but good stories were constantly in circulation about the wide shots of some of these gifted sons of luxury.
There was one boy in our division who for some time puzzled me sorely. He was about twice as big as any of the rest, and held no communication with us, whom, indeed, he seemed to look down upon with the most ineffable contempt. At first I conceived that he was some private friend of the master, with whom he seemed to be constantly in conversation; but I afterward discovered that he was a boy who had been turned down for misconduct from a higher class in the school. At the end of the half' he was reinstated, and we lost the doubtful advantage of his company. I may here observe, in passing, that 'half' was the word commonly used for the school time,
much to my tutor's annoyance, who considered the term incorrect. 'What do you mean?' he inquired one day of a little boy who thus expressed himself. How many halves are there in the year?'
LITTLE BOY. 'Three, sir.' TUTOR (smiling). Three? Then you shouldn't say this "half." What should you say?'
LITTLE BOY. This quarter, sir.'
On my return after my first holidays, I was warmly greeted both by friends and foes. However uncivil and pugnacious some of the Eton boys may be, none of them are ever neglectful of the rules of etiquette; and any one who has any pretensions to popularity needs a strong hand at the commencement of the half. Those who are in the least degree acquainted invariably wish each other 'Good night,' as they separate to their respective houses; and should a boy accidentally touch your jacket in going to his place in school or church, he is certain to beg your pardon politely, even although he just punched your head while waiting in the yard outside.
'Chaff' seems indigenous to the soil of Eton. 'Mirth and youthful jollity' trip hand in hand; and, although sport may sometimes be indulged in at one another's expense, there are few who do not look back upon their Eton days as among the happiest in their existence. How many sweet summer evenings have we spent wandering along the banks of the silver Thames, and collecting cockchafers to put into Waxy's bed! How often have I been called to a window, to answer a question, and received as my reward the contents of a wash-jug, which drenched me from head to foot! Yet with all this we enjoyed
The thoughtless day, the easy night,
and might truly have been said to have felt
'No chill, except long morning.' Practical joking, however, was only common in the lower part of the school. The upper boys discouraged it, and confined themselves to more amiable sport and chaff, in
which some of ther showed considerable talent and ingenuity.
But beside the untrained luxuriance of humour grew a fairer and more grateful plant. The atmosphere of Eton was redolent with the sweet scents of Poetry. Not only were its little inhabitants, as I have before observed, employed in soliciting the Muses-not only was the great Spanky a poet-but there was a real official priest of Calliope, -a man of haggard and moonstruck aspect, who dressed himself in manycoloured robes on state occasions, and distributed his effusions to the admiring throng. His flights were not, I am sorry to say, so high as might have been expected, although he sang the boys' ' ravages'
'Among the unoffending cabbages;' and his costume bore an unhappy resemblance to that of a pantaloon; but the surrounding scenery, the
'Distant spires and antique towers,' were sufficient to inspire the dullest soul, even without their historical associations. In one place, beneath overarching foliage by the water's side, was a shady avenue known pre-eminently as 'Poet's Walk.' A more happy name could not have been devised; and yet, for certain reasons to be hereafter mentioned, the lower boys did not consider it in the least attractive.
Not only did humour and poetry flourish and abound at Eton, but also taste. Neatness in attire is not common among boys, but there they affected even a certain amount of elegance. There was a stringent rule that a certain decorous uniformity should be observed in dress -no lounging or shooting coats, no straw hats or caps were permitted. No; the bigger boys wore black dress coats and spotless white ties, and looked like juvenile candidates for clerical preferment. Many, however, indulged in a variety of charms, studs, and other jewellery, and decorated their coats with the flowers of the day, in the arrangement of which great taste was displayed. 'Eton bucks,' says the old proverb, and certainly in my time they deserved the compliment; and none knew better how to
lay the rose or geranium blossom on its leaf. But the crown of all was the hat, and the Eton boy took an incredible amount of pride in that finish of his attire. Though
worn and faded, he still cherished and protected it, but when new and radiant his devotion was unbounded. The Oxford swell might exclaim Take my life, but spare my collars!' the Eton boy would have substituted, 'but spare my tile;' and it was always considered a mark of the lowest degradation when any one could stand tamely by while his hat was being ill-used. I have already intimated that my second schooltime was the 'summer half,' extending through that sunny period which is everywhere pleasant, and at Eton most enjoyable. At this season came the momentous question whether I was to enrol myself among the 'wet bobs' or 'dry bobs,'-to become a cricketer or an 'oar.' Each recreation had its advocates and attractions, the dry bobs' laughed at the wet bobs' cutting 'crabs' on the river, and were in turn laughed at by them for their butter fingers' in the playing-field. But on the whole, aquatic pursuits were the most popular: not more than a third of the school played cricket, and great credit is due to this minority for the able manner in which they have rivalled, and often beaten both Harrow and Winchester at Lord's. But with regard to my decision, I found that before bccoming a 'wet bob' it was necessary to learn to swim, and 'pass' before one of the masters, and I therefore commenced with being a'dry bob, and subscribed to the despised lower boy cricket-ground, called 'Sixpenny.'
This school time I changed masters, and became fag to one of the Eleven. I thought this fortunate, as my late master generally came home tired with rowing, and his fags had to put him to bed; but the other lower boy wished me joy, and told me that I should have to go 'Poet's Walk.' This seemed to me a pleasant prospect, and I could not understand the manner in which they spoke of it. I soon dis
covered, however, that the Eleven and their friends in the Upper Club took their tea in the summer time in that romantic locality, and that a portion of their fags' play-hours was occupied in taking their teathings and orders' down there, and attending on them until they had finished their repast. My new master was considerate towards me, as he looked on me as a future cricketer, and was fond of talking to me about the game, although he had not so high an opinion of my play as I had, and sometimes laughed at the idea of my being able to make any runs. Now at this time I sometimes received hampers from home containing strawberries, and seidlitz powders to take after them; the former of which I materially assisted in diminishing, but gave the latter away to those who liked them better. One day a larger present than usual arrived, and on the case being opened, it was found to contain, among other good things, a fine roast leg of mutton. My master happened accidentally to see this substantial joint, and I suppose thought it would form an agreeable object on his breakfast-table, for next day, when talking about cricket, he asked me how I played, and whether I thought I could get twenty runs off his bowling in twenty wickets. I replied that perhaps I could; though, to say the truth, I had no idea at the time of entering the lists with one in the Eleven, who were considered to possess incredible dexterity. He immediately proposed a match, and said the stake should be a leg of mutton. I had no conception that he was in earnest, but thought he was indulging in one of his humorous sallies. It may be easily imagined, therefore, that I was in considerable trepidation when two days afterwards he called upon me to fix an hour, and told me that he was ready to play. My fellow-fags laughed loudly at my temerity, but I had drifted into the engagement and it was too late to retract. I felt certain that he would not press the match unless he was sure of success; while at the same time
Thompson and I had eaten the leg of mutton, and had not money enough between us to buy another. Here was a miserable dilemma, but there was no retracting; so I resolved to do my best, and face boldly what it was impossible to avoid.
The match was to be played 'after four,' that is, after four o'clock school, and I was accompanied to the ground by many in the house, who thought it rare fun. The wicket was pitched, all fielding was forbidden, and I stood up to meet my fate. My antagonist felt so confident that he commenced with very easy bowling, which to his astonishment I put away without much difficulty; and whenever I sent the ball about twice as far as the bowling crease, I made a point of running, trusting to his not being able to hit the wicket. I was punished, however, more than once for this temerity, for he proved an excellent shot, and I was obliged to adopt a safer system. By degrees, as I worked him about the ground, he grew more and more irritated, and sent in the balls at me so fiercely that I could scarcely make anything. But by this time I had acquired fall confidence, and although I lost many wickets, I still kept the result doubtful, till, on his sending a badly-pitched ball, I made a hit which gave me the victory. I was hailed winner by general acclamation; and although my master was evidently chagrined, he was generous enough to say that I had played well, and stood up to my wicket like a man. We had a grand breakfast next morning in honour of the contest, in which we all partook of the savoury forfeit; and he often to this day laughs with his sons about the match he played with his fag at Eton for a leg of mutton.
But the river was, as I have said, the great attraction to the majority. The annual Westminster match, for which that with Radley has now been substituted, tended to foster aquatic enthusiasm. Besides, there were two grand regattas in the summer, and one of these on the fourth of June, instituted in memory of George III., a great patron of
Eton, was now approaching. On this occasion all those who belonged to the boats'-that is, to the six eights and the 'ten oar -were regailed with a supper at Burley Hall, and it became an object with every lower boy to ingratiate himself with one of that august body. When the day arrived, Eton seemed for the time completely metamorphosed; no work, no play was going forward; the boys were lounging about the school wall in holiday attire, gazing at the visitors, conversing with their relations, and perhaps speculating on possible tips.' (Schoolboys seldom refuse a little pecuniary remembrance from an old friend of the family, though I heard of one, who, on being offered five shillings by a miserly uncle, replied superciliously, 'We don't take silver here, sir!' Then,' returned the old monster, of course you don't take gold,' and forthwith slipped the affront into his pocket.) The day wore the dissipated aspect of a fête day, but there were no speeches, and all thoughts were concentrated on the evening. At length it arrived, and a vast concourse collected on Windsor Bridge and the immediate vicinity to see the boats start. Every eight had its own uniform; and the little steerers with their swords, cocked hats, and large bouquets, presented a pretty and fantastical appearance. As a contrast to the gay costume of the crew, there sat in every boat a demure gentleman in black, who seemed to be singularly out of place, and who was known as the sitter. In cautious, old-fashioned times, this term was applied to a well-balanced individual who sat in the centre of the boat to keep it steady; now it referred to a person who sat in the stern, and who, to judge from a hamper of champagne in front of him, was more likely to make it unsteady. The bands play up 'See the conquering hero comes,' and land and water move off together in the direction of Old Surley.' There supper was laid al fresco for the crews of the boats, while the sixth form and a few other magnates were honoured with a tent. About seventy boys were thus provided
for; and the rest had either the privilege of standing quietly by to see the others eat, or of endeavouring to obtain a share by favour and importunity. The latter was the course generally pursued, and the crowd of little mendicants clustered like bees round the chairs of their more fortunate friends, who sat like princes distributing their bounty. The characters of the boys contrasted strangely on this occasion. Some were selfish and reserved, and would scarcely distribute anything; others were absurdly generous, and gave away everything; and equally, among the applicants, some had many friends, and were invariably seen with a glass of wine in one hand and a chicken-bone in the other; while others seemed to have no interest whatever, and were endeavouring by longing looks to move the compassion of boys to whom they were entirely strangers. The loyal and local toasts were at length drunk, and the crews rising, resought their boats and returned to Eton, where they kept rowing up and down by the bridge, while a splendid display of fireworks took place on the opposite eyot. Here, after rockets and jets innumerable, the last and most magnificent piece was lighted, and the time-honoured motto, Floreat Etona,' shone forth, kindling a general response, while amid universal enthusiasm the band struck up' God save the Queen,' and the fourth of June was over, and the boys hastened back to be in time for 'lock up.'
There is a similar festival on the last Saturday of the summer school time, but time-honoured Montem, which still casts its parting glories over Eton, has been abolished for a quarter of a century. It was condemned because of its popularity, for as the crowds who assembled to witness the pageant became more numerous, they also became naturally less select. The collecting 'salt' for the captain of the school was also considered objectionable, and did not answer the purpose originally intended, as he was expected to spend in entertainments more than the money thus obtained.
The disbursements for the fourth of June were made by the Captain of the Oppidans, who generally had in the end to supply some deficiencies out of his private re
The Queen, in the happy days of her youth, when she was accompanied by Prince Albert, frequently graced our annual festivals; and the College, which had risen under the shelter of the Castle, was always noted for its loyalty. Whenever her Majesty passed through Eton she was loudly cheered by its little inhabitants, in return for which she would check the speed of her carriages out of consideration for those who ran beside her to the
Park gate. Occasionally, when there was any exhibition at the Castle which she thought would amuse boys, she would send down to the Doctor to ask leave for the school. Sometimes she would testify her goodwill towards us by asking the head master to tea;
sometimes by inviting our young noblemen to play with the princes at the Castle. The latter favour was not, I regret to say, as much valued as it should have been, for the boys did not appreciate the motherly care which provided them rather with wholesomes than delicacies; and they found, sometimes to their cost, that the royal children were as fond of a little fun as less distinguished individuals. On one occasion, the Prince of Wales so far forgot himself as to kick one of his playmate's new 'tiles' along the terrace; whereon the owner, losing all command over his feelings, pursued his Royal Highness and treated him to an Eton black eye. The Queen intervened at the moment, and on hearing both sides of the case impartially, justified the exercise of school law; but I am bound to add that I feel certain that no other indignity would have led the little visitor into such a flagrant breach of propriety.
BRINGING HOME THE MAY.
RINGING home the May, bringing home the May!
We met together in the lane, at golden set of day;
And I was blate and bashful, and Nell was coy and shy,
And I spoke with a blushing cheek, and Nell with downcast eye.
What was there in the twilight soft, what was there in the air,
Bringing home the May, bringing home the May!
The western sky was tinged with gold, the scent was on the hay;
And our young hands together came, half pleased and half in pain,
And what we said together there, why none may ever know,
A. H. B.