Tom Brown's Schooldays
By Thomas Hughes [1]
(1822-1896)


First published by Alexander Macmillan, April 24,1857
Extracts on the subject of Big-Side Hare and Hounds are from the
Macmillan & Co. Illustrated Edition published in 1869



Story of a boy's life at Rugby School [2] during the 1830s

Big-Side Hare and Hounds

Page 124

"But, come now, any of you, name a custom that he (this new Doctor) [3] has put down.”

"The Hounds,” calls out a fifth-form boy, clad in a green cutaway [4] with brass buttons and cord trousers, the leader of the sporting interest, and reputed a great rider and keen hand generally.

“Well, we had six or seven mangey harriers and beagles belonging to the house, I'll allow, and had them for years, and that the Doctor put them down. But what good ever came of them? Only rows with all the keepers for ten miles round; and big-side Hare and Hounds is better fun ten times over.”

Page 146

The only incident worth recording here, however, was his first run at Hare-and-hounds. On the last Tuesday but one of the half-year, he was passing through the hall after dinner, when he was hailed with shouts from Tadpole and several other fags seated at one of the long tables, the chorus of which was, "Come and help us tear up scent."

Tom approached the table in obedience to the mysterious summons, always ready to help, and found the party engaged in tearing up old newspapers, copybooks, and magazines into small pieces, with which they were filling four large canvas bags.

"It's the turn of our house to find scent for Big-side Hare-and-hounds," explained Tadpole; "tear away, there's no time to lose before calling-over."

"I think it's a great shame," said another small boy, "to have such a hard run for the last day."

"Which run is it?" said Tadpole.

"Oh, the Barby run [5] I hear," answered the other, "nine miles at least, and hard ground; no chance of getting in at the finish, unless you're a first-rate scud."

"Well, I'm going to have a try," said Tadpole; "it's the last run of the half, and if a fellow gets in at the end, Big-side stands ale and bread and cheese, and a bowl of punch; and the Cock's such a famous place for ale."

"I should like to try too," said Tom.

"Well then, leave your waistcoat behind, and listen at the door after calling-over, and you'll hear where the meet is."

After calling-over, sure enough, there were two boys at the door, calling out "Big-side Hare-and-hounds meet at White Hall;" and Tom having girded himself with leather strap, and left all superfluous clothing behind, set off for White Hall, and old gable-ended house some quarter of a mile from the town, with East, whom he had persuaded to join, notwithstanding his prophecy that they would never get in, as it was the hardest run of the year.

At the meet they found some forty or fifty boys, and Tom felt sure, from having seen many of them run at foot-ball, that he and East were more likely to get in than they.

After a few minutes' waiting, two well-known runners, chosen for the hares, buckled on the four bags filled with scent, compared their watches with those of young Brooke and Thorne, and started off at a long slinging trot across the fields in the direction of Barby.

Then the hounds clustered around Thorne, who explained shortly, "They're to have six minutes' law. We run into the Cock, and everyone who comes within a quarter of an hour of the hares'll be counted, if he has been round Barby church." Then came a minute's pause or so, and then the watches are pocketed, and the pack is led through the gateway into the field which the hares had first crossed. Here they break into a trot, scattering over the field to find the first traces of the scent which the hares throw out as they go along. The old hounds make straight for the likely points, and in a minute a cry of "Forward" comes from one of them, and the whole pack quickening their pace makes for the spot, while the boy who hit the scent first, and the two or three nearest to him, are over the first fence, and making play along the hedgerow in the long grass-field beyond. The rest of the pack rush at the gap already made and scramble through, jostling one another. "Forward" again, before they are half through; the pace quickens into a sharp run, the tail hounds all straining to get up with the lucky leaders. They are gallant hares, and the scent lies thick right across another meadow and into a ploughed field, where the pace begins to tell; then over a good wattle with a ditch on the other side, and down a large pasture studded with old thorns, which slopes down to the first brook; the great Leicestshire sheep charge away across the field as the pack comes racing down the slope. The brook is a small one, and the scent lies right ahead up the opposite slope, and as thick as ever; not a turn or a check to favour the tail hounds, who strain on, now trailing in a long line, many a youngster beginning to drag his legs and feel his heart beat like a hammer, and the bad plucked ones thinking that after all it isn't worth while to keep it up.

Tom, East, and the Tadpole had a good start, and are well up for such young hands, and after rising the slope and crossing the next field, find themselves up with the leading hounds who have over-run the scent and are trying back; they have come a mile and a half in about eleven minutes, a pace which shows that it is the last day. About twenty-five of the original starters only show here, the rest having already given in; the leaders are busy making casts into the fields on the left and right, and the others get their second winds.

Then comes the cry of "Forward" again, from young Brooke, from the extreme left, and the pack settles down to work steadily and doggedly, the whole keeping pretty well together. The scent though still good is not so thick; there is no need of that, for in this part of the run every one knows the line which must be taken, and so there are no casts to be made, but good downright running and fencing to be done. All who are now up mean coming in, and they come to the foot of Barby Hill without losing more than two or three more of the pack. This last straight two miles and a half is always a vantage ground for the hounds, and the hares know it well; they are generally viewed on the side of Barby Hill, and all eyes are on the look-out for them to-day. But not a sign of them appears, so now will be the hard work for the hounds, and there is nothing for it but to cast about for the scent, for it is now the hares' turn, and they may baffle the pack dreadfully in the next two miles.

Ill fares it now with our youngsters that they are Schoolhouse boys, and so follow young Brooke, for he takes the wide casts round to the left, conscious of his own powers, and loving the hard work. For if you would consider for a moment, you small boys, you would remember that the Cock, where the run ends, and the good ale will be going, lies far out to the right on the Dunchurch road, so that every cast you take to the left is so much extra work. And at this stage of the run, when the evening is closing in already, no one remarks whether you run a little cunning or not, so you should stick to those crafty hounds who keep edging away to the right, and not follow a prodigal like young Brooke, whose legs are twice as long as yours and of cast-iron, wholly indifferent to two or three miles more or less. However they struggle after him, sobbing and plunging along, Tom and East pretty close, and Tadpole, whose big head begins to pull him down, some thirty yards behind.

Now comes a brook, with stiff clay banks, from which they can hardly drag their legs, and they hear faint cries for help from the wretched Tadpole, who has fairly stuck fast. But they have too little run left in themselves to pull up for their own brothers. Three fields more, and another check, and then "Forward" called away to the extreme right.

The two boys' souls die within them, they can never do it. Young Brooke thinks so too, and says kindly, "You'll cross a lane after the next field, keep down it, and you'll hit the Dunchurch road below the Cock," and then steams away for the run in, in which he's sure to be first, as if he were just starting. They struggle on across the next field, the "Forwards" getting fainter and fainter, and then ceasing. The whole hunt is out of earshot, and all hope of coming in is over.

"Hang it all," broke out East, as soon as he had got wind enough, pulling off his hat and mopping at his face, all splattered with dirt and lined with sweat, from which went up a thick stream into the cold air. "I told you how it would be. What a thick I was to come. Here we are, dead beat, and yet I know we're close to the run in, if we knew the country."

"Well," said Tom, mopping away, and gulping down his disappointment, "it can't be helped. We did our best anyhow. Hadn't we better find this lane, and go down it as young Brooke told us?"

"I suppose so -- nothing else for it," grunted East. "If ever I go out last day again," growl -- growl -- growl.

So they tried back slowly and sorrowfully, and found the lane, and went limping down it, plashing in the cold puddly ruts, and beginning to feel how the run had taken it out of them. The evening closed in fast, and clouded over, dark, cold, and dreary.

"I say, it must be locking-up, I should think," remarked East, breaking the silence, "it's so dark."

"What if we're late?" said Tom.

"No tea, and sent up to the Doctor," answered East.

The thought didn't add to their cheerfulness. Presently a faint halloo was heard from an adjoining field. They answered it and stopped, hoping for some competent rustic to guide them, when over a gate some twenty yards ahead, crawled the wretched Tadpole, in a state of collapse; he had lost a shoe in the brook, and been groping after it up to his elbows in the stiff wet clay, and a more miserable creature in the shape of a boy seldom has been seen.

The sight of him, notwithstanding, cheered them, for he was some degrees more wretched than they. They also cheered him, as he was no longer under the dread of passing his night alone in the fields. And so in the better heart the three plashed painfully down the never-ending lane. At last it widened, just as utter darkness set in, and they came out on to a turnpike-road, and there paused bewildered, for they had lost all bearings and knew not whether to turn to the right or left.

Luckily for them they had not to decide, for lumbering along the road, with one lamp lighted, and two spavined horses in the shafts, came a heavy coach, which after a moment's suspense they recognized as the Oxford coach, the redoubtable Pig and Whistle.

It lumbered slowly up, and the boys mustering their last run, caught it as it passed, and began scrambling up behind, in which exploit East missed his footing and fell flat on his nose along the road. Then the others hailed the old scarecrow of a coachman, who pulled up and agreed to take them in for a shilling; so there they sat on the back seat, drubbing with their heels, and their teeth chattering with the cold, and jogged into Rugby some forty minutes after locking-up.

Five minutes afterwards, three small limping shivering figures steal along through the Doctor's garden, and into the house by the servants' entrance (all the other gates have been closed long since), where the first thing they light upon in the passage is old Thomas, ambling along, candle in one hand and keys in the other.

He stops and examines their condition with a grim smile. "Ah! East, Hall, and Brown, late for locking-up. Must go to the Doctor's study at once."

"Well but, Thomas, mayn't we go and wash first? You can put down the time, you know."

"Doctor's study directly you come in -- that's the orders," replied old Thomas, motioning towards the stairs at the end of the passage which led up into the Doctor's house; and the boys turned ruefully down it, not cheered by the old verger's muttered remark, "What a pickle they boys be in." Thomas referred to their faces and habiliments, but they construed it as indicating the Doctor's state of mind. Upon the short flight of stairs they pause to hold counsel.

"Who'll go in first?" inquires Tadpole.

"You -- you're the senior," answered East.

"Catch me -- look at the state I'm in," rejoined Hall, showing the arms of his jacket. "I must get behind you two."

"Well, but look at me," said East, indicating the mass of clay behind which he was standing; "I'm worse than you, two to one; you might grow cabbages

on my trousers."

"That's all down below, and you can keep your legs behind the sofa," said Hall.

"Here, Brown, you're the show-figure -- you must lead."

"But my face is all muddy," argued Tom.

"Oh, we're all in one boat for that matter; but come on, we're only making it worse by dawdling here."

"Well, just give us a brush then," said Tom; and they began trying to rub off the superfluous dirt from each other's jackets, but it was not dry enough, and the rubbing made it worse; so in despair they pushed through the swing door at the head of the stairs, and found themselves in the Doctor's hall.

"That's the library door," said East in a whisper, pushing Tom forward. The sound of merry voices and laughing came from within, and his first hesitating knock was unanswered. But at the second, the Doctor's voice said "Come in," and Tom turned the handle, and he, with the others behind him, sidled into the room.

The Doctor looked up from his task; he was working away with a great chisel at the bottom of a boy's sailing boat, the lines of which he was no doubt fashioning on the model of one of Nicias' galleys. Round him stood three or four children; the candles burned brightly on a large table at the further end covered with books and papers, and a great fire threw a ruddy glow over the rest of the room. All looked so kindly, and homely, and comfortable, that the boys took heart in a moment, and Tom advanced from behind the shelter of the great sofa. The Doctor nodded to the children, who went out, casting curious and amused glances at the three young scarecrows.

Well, my little fellows," began the Doctor, drawing himself up with his back to the fire, the chisel in one hand and his coat-tails in the other, and his eyes twinkling as he looked them over; "what makes you so late?"

“Please, sir, we've been out Big-side Hare-and-hounds and lost our way."

“Hah! you couldn't keep up, I suppose?"

“Well, sir," said East, stepping out, and not liking that the Doctor should think lightly of his running powers, "we got round Barby all right, but then --"

"Why, what a state you're in, my boy!" interrupted the Doctor, as the pitiful condition of East's garments was fully revealed to him.

"That's the fall I got, sir, in the road," said East, looking down at himself; "the Old Pig came by --"

"The what?" said the Doctor.

"The Oxford coach, sir," explained Hall.

"Hah! yes, the Regulator," said the Doctor.

"And I tumbled on my face trying to get up behind," went on East.

"You're not hurt, I hope?" said the Doctor.

"Oh, no, sir."

"Well now, run up-stairs, all three of you, and get clean things on, and then tell the housekeeper to give you some tea. You're too young to try such long runs. Let Warner know I've seen you. Good-night."

“Good-night, sir." And away scuttled the three boys in high glee.

“What a brick, not to give us even twenty lines to learn!" said the Tadpole, as they reached their bedroom; and in half-an-hour afterward they were sitting by the fire in the housekeeper's room at a sumptuous tea, with cold meat, "twice as good grub as we should have got in the hall," as the Tadpole remarked with a grin, his mouth full of buttered toast. All their grievances forgotten, and they were resolving to go out the first big-side next half, and thinking hare-and-hounds the most delightful of games.

Notes:
[1]
author: Thomas Hughes attended Rugby School 1834-1841.
[2}
Rugby School:
world famous public school located in Rugby, Warwickshire, UK.
[2]
this new Doctor: Thomas Arnold became Headmaster of Rugby School in August 1828.
[3]
a green cutaway: a coat with a skirt cut back from the waist in a curve.
[4]
the Barby run: the run north-eastwards to Barby in Northamptonshire was about 8 1/2 miles.

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