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under the dread of passing his night alone in the fields. And so in 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 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 up to the Doctor's study at once."
66 Well but, Thomas, mayn't we go and wash first? You can put down the time you know."
“ Doctor's study d'rectly 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.
6. 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 dawdling here.”
WHO SHALL BELL THE CAT.
“ 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 forwards. The sound of merry voices and laughter 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 burnt 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 eye twinkling as he looked them over; “ what makes you so late?”
6 Please, sir, we've been out Big-side Hare-andhounds, and lost our way.”
“ Hah! you couldn't keep up, I suppose ?”
6 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—"
6 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.
6 And I tumbled on my face, trying to get up behind," went on East.
6 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 afterwards they were sitting by the fire in the housekeeper's room at a sumptuous. tea, with cold meat, “ twice as good a
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 were forgotten, and they were resolving to go out the big-side next half, and thinking Hare-and-hounds the most delightful of games.
A day or two afterwards the great passage outside the bedrooms was cleared of the boxes and portmanteaus, which went down to be packed by the matron, and great games of chariot-racing, and cock-fighting, and bolstering went on in the vacant space, the sure sign of a closing half-year.
Then came the making up of parties for the journey home, and Tom joined a party who were to hire a coach, and post with four horses to Oxford.
Then the last Saturday, on which the Doctor came round to each form to give out the prizes, and hear the masters' last reports of how they and their charges had been conducting themselves; and Tom, to his huge delight, was praised, and got his remove into the lower-fourth, in which all his school-house friends were.
On the next Tuesday morning, at four o'clock, hot coffee was going on in the housekeeper's and matron's rooms; boys wrapped in great-coats and mufflers were swallowing hasty mouthfuls, rushing about, tumbling over luggage, and asking questions all at once of the matron; outside the school-gates were drawn up several chaises and the four-horse coach which Tom's party had chartered, the postboys in their best jackets and breeches, and a corno