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CHAPTER IV.

THE BIRD-FANCIERS.

“I have found out a gift for my fair,

I have found where the wood-pigeons breed;
But let me the plunder forbear,
She would say 'twas a barbarous deed."

ROWE.

“ And now, my lad, take them five shilling,

And on my advice in future think;
So Billy pouched them all so willing,
And got, that night, disguised in drink.”

MS. BALLAD,

The next morning at first lesson Tom was turned back in his lines, and so had to wait till the second round, while Martin and Arthur said theirs all right and got out of school at once. When Tom got out and ran down to breakfast at Harrowell's they were missing, and Stumps informed him that they had swallowed down their breakfasts and gone off together, where he couldn't say. Tom hurried over his own breakfast, and went first to Martin's study and then to his own, but no signs of the missing boys were to be found. He felt half angry and jealous of Martin—where could they be gone? He learnt second lesson with East and the rest in no very good temper, and then went out into the quadrangle. About ten minutes before school Mar

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tin and Arthur arrived in the quadrangle breathless; and, catching sight of him, Arthur rushed up all excitement, and with a bright glow on his face.

“ Oh Tom, look here,” cried he, holding out three moorhen's eggs; “ we've been down the Barby-road to the pool Martin told us of last night, and just see what we've got."

Tom wouldn't be pleased, and only looked out for something to find fault with.

6 Why, young'un,” said he, “what have you been after? You don't mean to say you've been wading?

The tone of reproach made poor little Arthur shrink up in a moment and look piteous, and Tom with a shrug of his shoulders turned his anger on Martin.

“ Well, I didn't think, Madman, that you'd have been such a muff as to let him be getting wet through at this time of day. You might have done the wading yourself.”

“ So I did, of course ; only he would come in too to see the nest. We left eleven eggs in ; they'll be hatched in a day or two.”

“ Hang the eggs!” said Tom; “ a fellow can't turn his back for a moment but all his work's undone. He'll be laid up for a week for this precious lark, I'll be bound.”

“ Indeed, Tom, now," pleaded Arthur, “my feet ain't wet, for Martin made me take off my shoes and stockings and trousers.”

- But they are wet, and dirty too_can't I see?

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answered Tom; “and you'll be called up and floored when the master sees what a state you're in. You haven't looked at second lesson you know.” Oh Tom, you old humbug! you to be upbraiding any one with not learning their lessons. If you hadn't been floored yourself now at first lesson, do you mean to say you wouldn't have been with them ? and you've taken away all poor little Arthur's joy and pride in his first birds' eggs, and he goes and puts them down in the study, and takes down his books with a sigh, thinking he has done something horribly wrong, whereas he has learnt on in advance much more than will be done at second lesson.

But the old madman hasn't, and gets called up and makes some frightful shots, losing about ten places, and all but getting floored. This somewhat appeases Tom's wrath, and by the end of the lesson he has regained his temper. And afterwards.in their study he begins to get right again, as he watches Arthur's intense joy at seeing Martin blowing the eggs and glueing them carefully on to bits of cardboard, and notes the anxious loving looks which the little fellow casts sidelong at him. And then he thinks, " What an ill-tempered beast I am! Here's just what I was wishing for last night come about, and I'm spoiling it all," and in another five minutes has swallowed the last mouthful of his bile, and is repaid by seeing his little sensitive plant expand again and sun itself in his smiles.

After dinner the madman is busy with the prepa

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rations for their expedition, fitting new straps on to his climbing-irons, filling large pill-boxes with cotton-wool, and sharpening East's small axe. They carry all their munitions into calling-over, and directly afterwards, having dodged such præpostors as are on the look-out for fags at cricket, the four set off at a smart trot down the Lawford footpath, straight for Caldecott's Spinney and the hawk's nest.

Martin leads the way in high feather; it is quite a new sensation to him, getting companions, and he finds it very pleasant, and means to show them all manner of proofs of his science and skill. Brown and East may be better at cricket and football and games, thinks he, but out in the fields and woods see if I can't teach them something. He has taken the leadership already, and strides away in front with his climbing-irons strapped under one arm, his pecking-bag under the other, and his pockets and hat full of pill-boxes, cotton-wool, and other etceteras. Each of the others carries a pecking-bag, and East his hatchet.

When they had crossed three or four fields without a check, Arthur began to lag, and Tom seeing this shouted to Martin to pull up a bit : “ We ain't out Hare-and-hounds—what's the good of grinding on at this rate?

“ There's the spinney,” said Martin, pulling up on the brow of a slope at the bottom of which lay Lawford brook, and pointing to the top of the opposite slope ; “ the nest is in one of those high fir

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trees at this end. And down by the brook there, I know of a sedge-bird's nest; we'll go and look at it coming back.”

Oh, come on, don't let us stop,” said Arthur, who was getting excited at the sight of the wood; so they broke into a trot again, and were soon across the brook, up the slope, and into the spinney. Here they advanced as noiselessly as possible, lest keepers or other enemies should be about, and stopped at the foot of a tall fir, at the top of which Martin pointed out with pride the kestrel's nest, the object of their quest.

“Oh where! which is it?” asks Arthur, gaping up in the air, and having the most vague idea of what it would be like.

66 There, don't you see,” said East, pointing to a lump of mistletoe in the next tree, which was a beech : he saw that Martin and Tom were busy with the climbing-irons, and couldn't resist the temptation of hoaxing. Arthur stared and wondered more than ever.

6 Well, how curious! it doesn't look a bit like what I expected,” said he.

“ Very odd birds, kestrels,” said East, looking waggishly at his victim, who was still star-gazing.

“But I thought it was in a fir tree?objected Arthur.

56 Ah, don't you know? that's a new sort of fir which old Caldecott brought from the Himalayas."

“ Really!” said Arthur; “ I'm glad I know that, how unlike our firs they are. They do very well too here, don't they? the spinney s full of them.”

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