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.

“Because I choose. You’ve no business here; go to your study.”

“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, but tough boys of their age, and in perfect training; while he, though strong and big, was in poor condition from his monstrous habit 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 to him. It was long odds, though, 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.”

“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: he 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 threw his whole weight forward. The three tottered for a moment, and then over they went on to the floor, Flashman striking his head against a form in the hall.

The two youngsters sprang to their legs, but he lay there still. They began to be frightened. Tom stooped down, and then cried out, scared out of his wits, “He’s bleeding awfully; come here, East! Diggs,—he’s dying!”

“Not he,” said Diggs, getting leisurely off the table; “it’s all sham—he’s only afraid to fight it out.”

East was as frightened as Tom. Diggs lifted Flashman’s head, and he groaned.

“What’s the matter?” shouted Diggs.

Flashman’s Defeat by Tom and East

“My skull’s fractured,” sobbed Flashman.

“Oh, let me run for the housekeeper,” cried Tom. “What shall we do?”

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