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scene of terrific combats, at a game called by the queer name of “mud-patties.” The boys who played divided into sides under different leaders, and one side occupied the mound. Then, all parties having provided themselves with many sods of turf, cut with their bread-and-cheese knives, the side which remained at the bottom proceeded to assault the mound, advancing up on all sides under cover of a heavy fire of turfs, and then struggling for victory with the occupants, which was theirs as soon as they could, even for a moment, clear the summit, when they in turn became the besieged. It was a good rough dirty game, and of great use in counteracting the sneaking tendencies of the school. Then others of the boys spread over the i down, looking for the holes of humble-bees and mice, which they dug up without mercy, often (I regret to say) killing and skinning the unlucky mice, and (I do not regret to say) getting well stung by the humble-bees. Others went after butterflies and birds' eggs in their seasons; and Tom found on Hazeldown for the first time the beautiful little blue butterfly, with golden spots on his wings, which he had never seen on his own downs, and dug out his first sand-martin's nest. This latter achievement resulted in a flogging, for the sandmartins built in a high bank close to the village, consequently out of bounds; but one of the bolder spirits of the school, who never could be happy unless he was doing something to which risk attached, easily persuaded Tom to break bounds and visit the
martins' bank. From whence it being only a step to the toffy shop, what could be more simple than to go on there and fill their pockets; or what more certain than that on their return, a distribution of treasure having been made, the usher should shortly detect the forbidden smell of bulls-eyes, and, a search ensuing, discover the state of the breechespockets of Tom and his ally?
This ally of Tom's was indeed a desperate hero in the sight of the boys, and feared as one who dealt in magic or something approaching thereto. Which reputation came to him in this wise. The boys went to bed at eight, and of course consequently lay awake in the dark for an hour or two, telling ghost-stories by turns. One night, when it came to his turn, and he had dried up their souls by his story, he suddenly declared that he would make a fiery hand appear on the door; and to the astonishment and terror of the boys in his room, a hand, or something like it, in pale light, did then and there appear. The fame of this exploit having spread to the other rooms, and being discredited there, the young necromancer declared that the same wonder would appear in all the rooms in turn, which it accordingly did; and the whole circumstances having been privately reported to one of the ushers as usual, that functionary, after listening about at the doors of the rooms, by a sudden descent caught the performer in his night-shirt, with a box of phosphorus in his guilty hand. Lucifer-matches and all the present facilities for getting acquainted with fire
were then unknown; the very 'name of phosphorus had something diabolic in it to the boy-mind; so
Tom's ally, at the cost of a sound flogging, earned what many older folk covet much, the most decided fear of most of his companions. He was a remarkable boy, and by no means a bad one.
Tom stuck to him till he left, and got into many scrapes by so doing. But he was the great opponent of the tale-bearing habits of the school, and the open enemy of the ushers, and so worthy of all support. .
Tom imbibed a fair amount of Latin and Greek at the school, but somehow on the whole it didn't suit him, or he it, and in the holidays he was constantly working the Squire to send him at once to a public school. Great was his joy then, when, in the middle of his third half-year in October, 183–, a fever broke out in the village, and the master having himself slightly sickened of it, the whole of the boys were sent off at a day's notice to their respective homes.
The Squire was not quite so pleased as Master Tom to see that young gentleman's brown merry face appear at home, some two months before the proper time, for Christmas holidays; and so after putting on his thinking cap, he retired to his study and wrote several letters, the result of which was, that one morning at the breakfast-table, about a fortnight after Tom's return, he addressed his wife with—“ My dear, I have arranged that Tom shall go to Rugby at once, for the last six weeks of this
half-year, instead of wasting them, riding and loitering about home. It is very kind of the Doctor to allow it. Will you see that his things are all ready by Friday, when I shall take him up to town, and send him down the next day by himself.”
Mrs. Brown was prepared for the announcement, and merely suggested a doubt whether Tom were yet old enough to travel by himself. However, finding both father and son against her on this point, she gave in like a wise woman, and proceeded to prepare Tom's kit for his launch into a public · school.
“Let the steam-pot hiss till it's hot,
Vulgar Coaching Song, Author unknown.
“Now, sir, time to get up if you please. Tallyho coach for Leicester 'll be round in half-an-hour, and don't wait for nobody.” So spake the Boots of the Peacock Inn, Islington, at half-past two o'clock on the morning of a day in the early part of November, 183–, giving Tom at the same time a shake by the shoulder, and then putting down a candle and carrying off his shoes to clean.
Tom and his father had arrived in town from Berkshire the day before, and finding on inquiry that the Birmingham coaches which ran from the city did not pass through Rugby, but deposited their passengers at Dunchurch, a village three miles distant on the main road, where said passengers had to wait for the Oxford and Leicester coach in the evening, or to take a post-chaise, had resolved that Tom should travel down by the Tally-ho, which diverged from the main road and passed through Rugby itself. And as the Tally-ho was an early coach, they had driven out to the Peacock to be on the road.
Tom had never been in London, and would have