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CHAPTER IX.

A CHAPTER OF ACCIDENTS.

“Wherein I (speak] of most disastrous chances,

Of moving accidents by flood and field,
Of huir-breadth 'scapes.” — Shukspeare

WAEN Tom came back into school after a couple of days in the sick-room, he found matters much changed for the better, as East had led him to expect. Flashman's brutality had disgusted most even of his intimate friends, and his cowardice had been once more made plain to the house; for Diggs had encountered him on the morning after the lottery, and after high words on both sides had struck him, and the blow was not returned. However, Flashey was not unused to this sort of thing, and had lived through as awkward affairs before, and, as Diggs had said, fed and toadied himself back into favour again. Two or three of the boys who had helped to roast Tom came up and begged his pardon, and thanked him for not telling any thing. Morgan sent for him, and was inclined to take the matter up warmly, but Tom begged him not to do it; to which he agreed, on Tom's promising to come to him at once in future a promise which I regret to say he didn't keep. Tom kept Harkaway all to himself, and won the second prize in

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the lottery, some thirty shillings, which he and East contrived to spend in about three days, in the pur. chase of pictures for their study, two new bats and a cricket-ball, all of the best that could be got, and a supper of sausages, kidneys, and beef-steak pies to all the rebels. Light come, light go; they wouldn't have been comfortable with money in their pockets in the middle of the half.

The embers of Flashman's wrath, however, were still smouldering, and burst out every now and then in sly blows and taunts, and they both felt that they hadn't quite done with him yet. It wasn't long, however, before the last act of that drama came, and with it, the end of bullying for Tom and East at Rugby. They now often stole out into the hall at nights, incited thereto, partly by the hope of finding Diggs there and having a talk with him, partly by the excitement of doing something which was against rules; for, sad to say, both of our youngsters, since their loss of character for steadiness in their form, had got into the habit of doing things which were forbidden, as a matter of adventure ; just in the same way, I should fancy, as men fall into smuggling, and for the same sort of reasons. Thoughtlessness in the first place. It never occurred to them to consider why such and such rules were laid down, the reason was nothing to them, and they only looked upon rules as a sort of challenge from the rule-makers, which it would be rather bad pluck in them not to accept; and then again, in the lower parts of the school they hadn't enough to do. The work of the form they could manage to get

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through pretty easily, keeping a good enough place to get their regular yearly remove; and not having much ambition beyond this, their whole superfluous steam was available for games and scrapes. Now one rule of the house which it was a daily pleasure of all such boys to break, was that after supper all fags, except the three on duty in the passages, should remain in their own studies until nine o'clock; and if caught about the passages or hall, or in one another's studies, they were liable to punishments or caning. The rule was stricter than its observance, for most of the sixth spent their evenings in the fifth-form rooin, where the library was, and the lessons were learnt in common. Every now and then, however, a præpostor would be seized with a fit of district-visiting, and would make a tour of the passages and hall and the fags' studies. Then, if the owner were entertaining a friend or two, the first kick at the door and ominous “ open here,” had the effect of the shadow of a hawk over a chickenyard; every one cut to cover one small boy diving under the sofa, another under the table, while the owner would hastily pull down a book or two and open them, and cry out in a meek voice, “ Hullo, who's there?” casting an anxious eye round, to see that no protruding leg or elbow could betray the hidden boys.

Open, sir, directly, it's Snooks." Oh, I'm very sorry, I didn't know it was you, Snooks ;” and then, with well-feigned zeal, the door would be opened, young hopeful praying that that beast Snooks mightn't have heard the scuffle caused by his coming. If a study was empty, Snooks

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66

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THE BRUISED WORM WILL TURN.

proceeded to draw the passages and hall to find the truants.

Well, one evening, in forbidden hours, Tom and East were in the hall. They occupied the seats before the fire nearest the door, while Diggs sprawled as usual before the further fire. He was busy with a copy of verses, and East and Tom were chatting together in whispers by the light of the fire, and splicing a favourite old fives' bat which had sprung. Presently a step came down the bottom passage; they listened a moment, assured themselves that it wasn't a præpostor, and then went on with their work, and the door swung open, and in walked Flashman. He didn't see Diggs, and thought it a good chance to keep his hand in; and as the boys didn't move for him, struck one of them, to make them get out of his way.

“ What's that for ?" growled the assaulted one.

6. Because I choose. You've no business here go to your study."

66 You can't send us.

“ Can't I? Then I'll thrash you if you stay,” said Flashman, savagely.

“I say, you two," said Diggs from the end of the hall, rousing up and resting himself on his elbow, “ you'll never get rid of that fellow till you lick him. Go in at him, both of you — I'll see fair play."

Flashman was taken aback, and retreated two steps. East looked at Tom. “ Shall we try?” said he. “ Yes," said Tom, desperately. So the two advanced on Flashman with clenched fists and beating hearts. They were about up to his shoulder,

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ACCOUNTS SQUARED WITH FLASHMAN.

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but tough boys of their age and in perfect training, while he, though strong and big, was in poor condition from his monstrous habits of stuffing, and want of exercise. Coward as he was, however, Flashman couldn't swallow such an insult as this; besides, he was confident of having easy work, and so faced the boys, saying, “ You impudent young blackguards !” — Before he could finish his abuse they rushed in on him, and began pummelling at all of him which they could reach. He hit out wildly and savagely, but the full force of his blows didn't tell, they were too near him. It was long odds tho' in point of strength, and in another minute Tom went spinning backwards over a form, and Flashman turned to demolish East with a savage grin. But now Diggs jumped down from the table on which he had seated himself.

Stop there,” shouted he, “the round's over half-minute time allowed.”

66 What the is it to you ?” faltered Flashman, who began to lose heart.

“ I'm going to see fair, I tell you ?” said Diggs with a grin, and snapping his great red fingers ; “ 'taint fair for you to be fighting one of them at a time. ,

Are you ready, Brown? Time's up." The small boys rushed in again. Closing they saw was their best chance, and Flashman was wilder and more flurried than ever; be caught East by the throat and tried to force him back on the iron-bound table; Tom grasped his waist, and remembering the old throw he had learned in the Vale from Harry Winburn, crooked his leg inside Flashman's, and

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