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PIG AND WHISTLE
assented. “ We takes up fine loads this day six weeks, and Monday and Tuesday arter. Hope we shall have the pleasure of carrying you back."
Tom said he hoped they would, but he thought within himself that his fate would probably be the Pig and Whistle.
" It pays uncommon, cert'nly," continues the guard. “ Werry free with their cash is the young genl'm'n. But, Lor bless you, we gets into such rows all ’long the road, what wi' their pea-shooters, and long whips, and hollering, and upsetting every one as comes by; I'd a sight sooner carry one or two on 'em, sir, as I may be a carryin' of you now, than a coach-load."
“ What do they do with the pea-shooters ?" inquires Tom.
“Do wi' 'em! why, peppers every one's faces as we comes near, 'cept the young gals, and breaks windows wi' them too, some on 'em shoots so hard. Now 'twas just here last June, as we was a-driving up the first-day boys, they was mendin' a quartermile of road, and there was a lot of Irish chaps, regʻlar roughs, a breaking stones. As we came up, * Now, boys,' says young gent on the box, (smart young fellow and despret reckless,) here's fun! let the Pats have it about the ears.' • God's sake, sir!! says Bob, (that's my mate the coachman,) don't go for to shoot at 'em, they'll knock us off the coach.' • Damme, Coachee,' says young my lord, ' you ain't afraid ; hoora, boys! let 'em have it.' Hoora!' sings out the others, and fills their mouths chock full of peas to last the whole line. Bob seeing as
BATTLE WITH THE PATS.
'twas to come, knocks his hat over his eyes,
hollers to his 'osses, and shakes 'em up, and away we goes up to the line on 'em, twenty miles an hour. The Pats begins to hoora too, thinking it was a runaway, and first lot on 'em stands grinnin' and wavin' their old hats as we comes abreast on 'em ; and then you'd ha' laughed to see how took aback and choking savage they looked, when they gets the peas a stinging all over 'em. But bless you, the laugh weren't all of our side, sir, by a long way. We was going so fast, and they was so took aback, that they didn't take what was up till we was halfway up the line. Then 'twas look out all surely. They howls all down the line fit to frighten you, some on 'em runs arter us and tries to clamber up behind, only we hits 'em over the fingers and pulls their hands off; one as had had it very sharp actly runs right at the leaders, as though he'd ketch 'em by the heads, ony luck’ly for him he misses his tip, and comes over a heap o stones first. The rest picks up stones, and gives it us right away till we gets out of shot, the young gents holding out werry manful with the pea-shooters and such stones as lodged on us, and a pretty many there was too. Then Bob picks hisself up again, and looks at young gent on box werry solemn. Bob'd had a rum un in the ribs, which'd like to ha' knocked him off the box, or made him drop the reins. Young gent on box picks hisself up, and so does we all, and looks round to count damage. Box's head cut open and his hat gone; another young gent's hat gone; mine knocked in at the side, and not one on
us as wasn't black and blue someweres or another, most on 'em all over. Two-pound-ten to pay for damage to paint, which they subscribed for there and then, and give Bob and me a extra halfsovereign each; but I wouldn't go down that line again not for twenty half-sovereigns.” And the guard shook his head slowly, and got up and blew a clear brisk toot, toot.
“ What fun!" said Tom, who could scarcely contain his pride at this exploit of his future schoolfellows. He longed already for the end of the half that he might join them.
“'Taint such good fun though, sir, for the folk as meets the coach, nor for we who has to go back with it next day. Them Irishers last summer had all got stones ready for us, and was all but letting drive, and we'd got two reverend gents aboard too. We pulled up at the beginning of the line, and pacified them, and we're never going to carry no more pea-shooters, unless they promises not to fire where there's a line of Irish chaps a stone breaking.” The guard stopped and pulled away at his cheroot, regarding Tom benignantly the while.
" Oh, don't stop! tell us something more about the pea-shooting.”
“ Well, there'd like to have been a pretty piece of work over at Bicester, a while back. We was six mile from the town, when we meets an old square- . headed, gray-haired yeoman chap, a jogging along quite quiet. He looks up at the coach, and just then a pea hits him on the nose, and some catches his cob behind and makes him dance up on his hind legs.
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
I see'd the old boy's face flush and look plaguy awkward, and I thought we was in for somethin' nasty. He turns his cob's head, and rides quietly after us just out of shot. How that ere cob did step! we never shook him off not a dozen yards in the six miles. At first the young gents was werry lively on hiin; but afore we got in, seeing how steady the old chap come on, they was quite quiet, and laid their heads together what they should do. Some was for fighting, some for axing his pardon. He rides into the town close after us, comes up when we stops, and says,
the two that shot at him must come before a magistrate; and a great crowd comes round, and we couldn't get the osses to. But the young uns they all stands by one another, and says all or none must go, and as how they'd fight it out, and have to be carried. Just as 'twas gettin' serious, and the old boy and the mob was going to pull 'em off the coach, one little fellow jumps up and says, “Here, — I'll stay — I'm only going three miles further. My father's name's Davis, he's known about here, and I'll go before the magistrate with this gentleman.' " What! be thee Parson Davis' son ?' says the old boy. Yes,' says the young un. Well, I be mortal sorry to meet thee in such company, but for thy father's sake and thine, (for thee bi'st a brave young chap,) I'll say no more about it. Didn't the boys cheer him, and the mob cheered the young chap and then one of the biggest gets down, and begs his pardon werry gentlemanly for all the rest, saying as they all had been plaguy vexed from the first, but didn't like to ax his pardon till then, 'cause they felt
BLOW-HARD AND HIS YARNS.
they hadn't ought to shirk the consequences of their joke. And then they all got down, and shook hands with the old boy, and asked him to all parts of the country, to their homes, and we drives off twenty minutes behind time, with cheering and hollering as if we was county members. But, 'Lor bless you, sir,” says the guard, smacking his hand down on his knee and looking full into Tom's face," ten minutes after they was all as bad as ever."
Tom showed such undisguised and open-mouthed interest in his narrations, that the old guard rubbed up his memory, and launched out into a graphic history of all the performances of the boys on the road for the last twenty years.
Off the road he couldn't go, the exploit must have been connected with horses or vehicles to hang in the old fellow's head. Tom tried him off his own ground once or twice, but found he knew nothing beyond, and so let him have his head, and the rest of the road bowled easily away; for old Blow-hard (as the boys called him) was a dry old file, with much kindness and humour, and a capital spinner of a yarn when he had broken the neck of his day's work, and got plenty of ale under his belt.
What struck Tom's youthful imagination most, was the desperate and lawless character of most of the stories. Was the guard hoaxing him ? He couldn't help hoping that they were true. It's very odd how almost all English boys love danger; you can get ten to join a game, or climb a tree, or swim a stream, when there's a chance of breaking their limbs or getting drowned, for one who'll stay on