The Stage Coach

“Let the steam-pot hiss till it’s hot,
  Give me the speed of the Tantivy trot.”

Coaching Song, by R. E. E. Warburton, Esq.

The Boots waking Tom

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 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 liked to have stopped at the Belle Savage, where they had been put down by the Star, just at dusk, that he might have gone roving about those endless, mysterious, gas-lit streets, which, with their glare and hum and moving crowds, excited him so that he couldn’t talk even. But as soon as he found that the Peacock arrangement would get him to Rugby by twelve o’clock in the day, whereas otherwise he wouldn’t be there till the evening, all other plans melted away; his one absorbing aim being to become a public school-boy as fast as possible, and six hours sooner or later seeming to him of the most alarming importance.

Tom and his father had alighted at the Peacock at about seven in the evening; and having heard with unfeigned joy the paternal order, at the bar, of steaks and oyster sauce for supper in half an hour, and seen his father seated cosily by the bright fire in the coffee-room with the paper in his hand—Tom had run out to see about him, had wondered at all the vehicles passing and repassing, and had fraternized with the Boots and ostler, from whom he ascertained that the Tally-ho was a tip-top goer, ten miles an hour including stoppages, and so punctual that all the road set their clocks by her.

Then being 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 and brown stout (tasted then for the first time—a day to be marked for ever by Tom with a white stone); had at first attended to the excellent advice which his father was bestowing on him from over his glass of steaming brandy-and-water, and then begun nodding, from the united effects of the stout, 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.”

Squire Brown’s Parting Words

The allusion to his mother made Tom feel rather chokey, and he would have liked to have hugged 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.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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