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THE STAGE COACH
“Now, sir, time to get up, if you please. Tally-ho 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 alighted at the Peacock at about seven in the evening; and having . . . been summoned to supper, he had regaled himself in one of the bright little boxes of the Peacock coffee-room on the beef-steak and unlimited oyster-sauce. . . . Afterward he had attended to the excellent advice which his father bestowed on him, ... and then begun nodding from the united effects of ... the fire and the lecture, till the Squire, observing Tom's state and remembering that it was nearly nine o'clock and that the Tally-ho left at three, sent the little fellow off to the chambermaid, with a shake of the hand (Tom having stipulated in the morning before starting that kissing should now cease between them) and a few parting words.
“And now, Tom, my boy,” said the Squire, “remember you are going, at your own earnest request, to be chucked into this great school, like a young bear, with all your troubles before you—earlier than we should have sent you perhaps. If schools are what they were in my time, you'll see a great many cruel blackguard things done, and hear a deal of foul, bad talk. But never fear. You tell the truth, keep a brave and kind heart, and never listen to or say anything you wouldn't have your mother and sister hear, and you'll never feel ashamed to come home, or we to see you."
The allusion to his mother made Tom feel rather choky, and he would have liked to hug his father well, if it hadn't been for the recent stipulation.
As it was, he only squeezed his father's hand, and looked bravely up and said, “I'll try, father."
“I know you will, my boy. Is your money all safe?” “Yes," said Tom, diving into one pocket to make sure. “And your keys?” said the Squire. “All right," said Tom, diving into the other pocket.
"Well, then, good-night. God bless you! I'll tell Boots to call you, and be up to see you off.”
Tom was carried off by the chambermaid in a brown study, from which he was roused in a clean little attic, by that buxom person calling him a little darling and kissing him as she left the room, which indignity he was too much surprised to resent. And still thinking of his father's last words, and the look with which they were spoken, he knelt down and prayed that, come what might,
he might never bring shame or sorrow on the dear folk at home.
Indeed, the Squire's last words deserved to have their effect, for they had been the result of much anxious thought. . . . To condense the Squire's meditation, it was somewhat as follows: "I won't tell him to read his Bible, and love and serve God; if he doesn't do that for his mother's sake and teaching, he won't for mine. Shall I go into the sort of temptations he'll meet with? No, I can't do that. Never do for an old fellow to go into such things with a boy. He won't understand me. Do him more harm than good, ten to one. Shall I tell him to mind his work, and say he's sent to school to make himself a good scholar? Well, but he isn't sent to school for that—at any rate, not for that mainly. I don't care a straw for Greek particles, or the digamma; no more does his mother. What is he sent to school for? Well, partly because he wanted so to go. If he'll only turn out a brave, helpful, truth-telling Englishman, and a gentleman, and a Christian, that's all I want,” thought the Squire; and upon this view he framed his last words of advice to Tom, which were well suited to his purpose.
For they were Tom's first thoughts as he tumbled out of bed at the summons of Boots, and proceeded rapidly to wash and dress himself. At ten minutes to three he was down in the coffee-room in his stockings, carrying his hat-box, coat, and comforter in his hand; and there he found his father nursing a bright fire, and a cup of hot coffee and a hard biscuit on the table.
“Now, then, Tom, give us your things here, and drink this. There's nothing like starting warm, old fellow."
Tom addressed himself to the coffee, and prattled away while he worked himself into his shoes and his greatcoat, well warmed through—a Petersham coat with velvet collar, made tight after the abominable fashion of those days. And just as he is swallowing his last mouthful, winding his comforter round his throat, and tucking the ends into the breast of his coat, the horn sounds; Boots looks in and says, “Tally-ho, sir;" and they hear the ring and rattle of the four fast trotters and the townmade drag, as it dashes up to the Peacock.
Anything for us, Bob?” says the burly guard, dropping down from behind, and slapping himself across the chest.
“Young gen'lm'n, Rugby; three parcels, Leicester; hamper o game, Rugby," answers hostler.
“Tell young gent to look alive," says guard, opening the hind-boot and shooting in the parcels after examining them by the lamps. “Here, shove the portmanteau up a-top. I'll fasten him presently.–Now, then, sir, jump
' “Good-bye, father-my love at home." A last shake of the hand. Up goes Tom, the guard catching his hatbox and holding on with one hand, while with the other he clasps the horn to his mouth. Toot, toot, toot! The hostlers let go their heads, the four bays plunge at the collar, and away goes the tally-ho into the darkness, forty-five seconds from the time they pulled up. Hostler, Boots, and the Squire stand looking after them under the Peacock lamp.
Sharp work!” says the Squire, and goes in again to his bed, the coach being well out of sight and hearing.
Tom stands up on the coach and looks back at his father's figure as long as he can see it; and then the guard, having disposed of his luggage, comes to an anchor, and finishes his buttonings and other preparations for facing the three hours before dawn-no joke for those who minded cold, on a fast coach in November, in the reign of his late Majesty.
I sometimes think that you boys of this generation are a deal tenderer fellows than we used to be. At any rat you're much more comfortable travelers, for I see every one of you with his rug or plaid and other dodges for preserving the caloric, and most of you going in those fuzzy, dusty, padded first-class carriages. It was another affair altogether, a dark ride on the top of the tally-ho, I can tell you, in a tight Petersham coat, and your feet dangling six inches from the floor. Then you knew what cold was, and what it was to be without legs, for not a bit of feeling had you in them after the first half-hour. But it had its pleasures, the old dark ride. First there was the consciousness of silent endurance, so dear to every Englishman-of standing out against something, and not giving in. Then there was the music of the rattling harness, and the ring of the horses' feet on the hard road, and the glare of the two bright lamps through the steaming hoar frost, over the leaders' ears,