TOM BROWN'S SCHOOLDAYS
THE STAGE COACH.
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.
"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
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 cozily 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 hostler,
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 began 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."
The allusion to his mother made Tom feel rather
choky, 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."
"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
"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.
All the way up to London he had pondered what he should say to Tom by way
of parting advice--something that the boy could keep in his head ready for use.
By way of assisting meditation, he had even gone the length of taking out
his flint and steel and tinder, and hammering away for a quarter of an hour till
he had manufactured a light for a long Trichinopoli cheroot, which he silently
puffed, to the no small wonder of coachee, who was an old friend, and an
institution on the Bath road, and who always expected a talk on the prospects
and doings, agricultural and social, of the whole country, when he carried the
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 don'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 of the case he framed his last words of advice to
Tom, which were well enough 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 the rattle of
the four fast trotters and the town-made 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 up behind."
"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 claps 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 rate you're much more comfortable travellers, 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, into the darkness, and the cheery
toot of the guard's horn, to warn some drowsy pikeman or the hostler at the next
change; and the looking forward to daylight; and last, but not least, the
delight of returning sensation in your toes.
Then the break of dawn and the sunrise, where can
they be ever seen in perfection but from a coach roof?
You want motion and change and music to see them in their glory--not the
music of singing men and singing women, but good, silent music, which sets
itself in your own head, the accompaniment of work and getting over the ground.
The Tally-ho is past St. Albans, and Tom is
enjoying the ride, though half-frozen. The
guard, who is alone with him on the back of the coach, is silent, but has
muffled Tom's feet up in straw, and put the end of an oat-sack over his knees.
The darkness has driven him inwards, and he has gone over his little past
life, and thought of all his doings and promises, and of his mother and sister,
and his father's last words; and has made fifty good resolutions, and means to
bear himself like a brave Brown as he is, though a young one.
Then he has been forward into the mysterious boy-future, speculating as
to what sort of place Rugby is, and what they do there, and calling up all the
stories of public schools which he has heard from big boys in the holidays.
He is choke-full of hope and life, notwithstanding the cold, and kicks
his heels against the back- board, and would like to sing, only he doesn't know
how his friend the silent guard might take it.
And now the dawn breaks at the end of the fourth
stage, and the coach pulls up at a little roadside inn with huge stables behind.
There is a bright fire gleaming through the red curtains of the bar
window, and the door is open. The
coachman catches his whip into a double thong, and throws it to the hostler; the
steam of the horses rises straight up into the air. He has put them along over
the last two miles, and is two minutes before his time.
He rolls down from the box and into the inn.
The guard rolls off behind. "Now,
sir," says he to Tom, "you just jump down, and I'll give you a drop of
something to keep the cold out."
Tom finds a difficulty in jumping, or indeed in
finding the top of the wheel with his feet, which may be in the next world for
all he feels; so the guard picks him off the coach top, and sets him on his
legs, and they stump off into the bar, and join the coachman and the other
Here a fresh-looking barmaid serves them each with
a glass of early purl as they stand before the fire, coachman and guard
exchanging business remarks. The
purl warms the cockles of Tom's heart, and makes him cough.
"Rare tackle that, sir, of a cold
morning," says the coachman, smiling.
"Time's up." They
are out again and up; coachee the last, gathering the reins into his hands and
talking to Jem the hostler about the mare's shoulder, and then swinging himself
up on to the box--the horses dashing off in a canter before he falls into his
seat. Toot-toot-tootle-too goes the
horn, and away they are again, five-and-thirty miles on their road (nearly
half-way to Rugby, thinks Tom), and the prospect of breakfast at the end of the
And now they begin to see, and the early life of
the country- side comes out--a market cart or two; men in smock-frocks going to
their work, pipe in mouth, a whiff of which is no bad smell this bright morning.
The sun gets up, and the mist shines like silver gauze.
They pass the hounds jogging along to a distant meet, at the heels of the
huntsman's back, whose face is about the colour of the tails of his old pink, as
he exchanges greetings with coachman and guard.
Now they pull up at a lodge, and take on board a well-muffled-up
sportsman, with his gun-case and carpet-bag,
An early up-coach meets them, and the coachmen gather up their horses,
and pass one another with the accustomed lift of the elbow, each team doing
eleven miles an hour, with a mile to spare behind if necessary. And here comes breakfast.
"Twenty minutes here, gentlemen," says
the coachman, as they pull up at half-past seven at the inn-door.
Have we not endured nobly this morning? and is not
this a worthy reward for much endurance? There
is the low, dark wainscoted room hung with sporting prints; the hat-stand (with
a whip or two standing up in it belonging to bagmen who are still snug in bed)
by the door; the blazing fire, with the quaint old glass over the mantelpiece,
in which is stuck a large card with the list of the meets for the week of the
county hounds; the table covered with the whitest of cloths and of china, and
bearing a pigeon-pie, ham, round of cold boiled beef cut from a mammoth ox, and
the great loaf of household bread on a wooden trencher. And here comes in the
stout head waiter, puffing under a tray of hot viands--kidneys and a steak,
transparent rashers and poached eggs, buttered toast and muffins, coffee and
tea, all smoking hot. The table can never hold it all.
The cold meats are removed to the sideboard--they were only put on for
show and to give us an appetite. And
now fall on, gentlemen all. It is a
well-known sporting-house, and the breakfasts are famous. Two or three men in
pink, on their way to the meet, drop in, and are very jovial and sharp-set, as
indeed we all are.
"Tea or coffee, sir?" says head waiter,
coming round to Tom.
"Coffee, please," says Tom, with his
mouth full of muffin and kidney. Coffee
is a treat to him, tea is not.
Our coachman, I perceive, who breakfasts with us,
is a cold beef man. He also eschews
hot potations, and addicts himself to a tankard of ale, which is brought him by
the barmaid. Sportsman looks on
approvingly, and orders a ditto for himself.
Tom has eaten kidney and pigeon-pie, and imbibed
coffee, till his little skin is as tight as a drum; and then has the further
pleasure of paying head waiter out of his own purse, in a dignified manner, and
walks out before the inn-door to see the horses put to.
This is done leisurely and in a highly-finished manner by the hostlers,
as if they enjoyed the not being hurried. Coachman
comes out with his waybill, and puffing a fat cigar which the sportsman has
given him. Guard emerges from the
tap, where he prefers breakfasting, licking round a tough- looking doubtful
cheroot, which you might tie round your finger, and three whiffs of which would
knock any one else out of time.
The pinks stand about the inn-door lighting cigars
and waiting to see us start, while their hacks are led up and down the
market-place, on which the inn looks. They
all know our sportsman, and we feel a reflected credit when we see him chatting
and laughing with them.
"Now, sir, please," says the coachman.
All the rest of the passengers are up; the guard is locking up the
"A good run to you!" says the sportsman
to the pinks, and is by the coachman's side in no time.
"Let 'em go, Dick!"
The hostlers fly back, drawing off the cloths from their glossy loins,
and away we go through the market-place and down the High Street, looking in at
the first- floor windows, and seeing several worthy burgesses shaving thereat;
while all the shopboys who are cleaning the windows, and housemaids who are
doing the steps, stop and look pleased as we rattle past, as if we were a part
of their legitimate morning's amusement. We
clear the town, and are well out between the hedgerows again as the town clock
The sun shines almost warmly, and breakfast has
oiled all springs and loosened all tongues.
Tom is encouraged by a remark or two of the guard's between the puffs of
his oily cheroot, and besides is getting tired of not talking.
He is too full of his destination to talk about anything else, and so
asks the guard if he knows Rugby.
"Goes through it every day of my life.
Twenty minutes afore twelve down--ten o'clock up."
"What sort of place is it, please?" says
Guard looks at him with a comical expression.
"Werry out-o'- the-way place, sir; no paving to streets, nor no
lighting. 'Mazin' big horse and cattle fair in autumn--lasts a week-- just over
now. Takes town a week to get clean
after it. Fairish hunting country. But
slow place, sir, slow place-off the main road, you see--only three coaches a
day, and one on 'em a two-oss wan, more like a hearse nor a coach--Regulator--
comes from Oxford. Young genl'm'n
at school calls her Pig and Whistle, and goes up to college by her (six miles an
hour) when they goes to enter. Belong
to school, sir?"
"Yes," says Tom, not unwilling for a
moment that the guard should think him an old boy. But then, having some qualms as to the truth of the
assertion, and seeing that if he were to assume the character of an old boy he
couldn't go on asking the questions he wanted, added--"That is to say, I'm
on my way there. I'm a new
The guard looked as if he knew this quite as well
"You're werry late, sir," says the
guard; "only six weeks to-day to the end of the half."
Tom assented. "We takes up fine loads this day six weeks, and Monday
and Tuesday arter. Hopes 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?"
"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 quarter-mile of road, and there was a lot of Irish
chaps, reg'lar roughs, a- breaking stones.
As we comes up, 'Now, boys,' says young gent on the box (smart young
fellow and desper't 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 fill their mouths choke-full of peas
to last the whole line. Bob, seeing
as '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 begin 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 half-way 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 act'ly runs right at the leaders,
as though he'd ketch 'em by the heads, only 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; 'nother young gent's hat gone; mine knocked in at the
side, and not one on us as wasn't black and blue somewheres 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 half-sovereign 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 school-fellows.
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-stonebreaking."
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 it 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.
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 him; 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 as 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 stand 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 farther.
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's 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 bist 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 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 arter 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 roads 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 level ground, or in his depth, or play quoits or bowls.
The guard had just finished an account of a
desperate fight which had happened at one of the fairs between the drovers and
the farmers with their whips, and the boys with cricket-bats and wickets, which
arose out of a playful but objectionable practice of the boys going round to the
public-houses and taking the linch-pins out of the wheels of the gigs, and was
moralizing upon the way in which the Doctor, "a terrible stern man he'd
heard tell," had come down upon several of the performers, "sending
three on 'em off next morning in a poshay with a parish constable," when
they turned a corner and neared the milestone, the third from Rugby.
By the stone two boys stood, their jackets buttoned tight, waiting for
"Look here, sir," says the guard, after
giving a sharp toot- toot; "there's two on 'em; out-and-out runners they
be. They comes out about twice or three times a week, and spirts a mile
alongside of us."
And as they came up, sure enough, away went two
boys along the footpath, keeping up with the horses--the first a light, clean-
made fellow going on springs; the other stout and round- shouldered, labouring
in his pace, but going as dogged as a bull-terrier.
Old Blow-hard looked on admiringly.
"See how beautiful that there un holds hisself together, and goes
from his hips, sir," said he; "he's a 'mazin' fine runner.
Now many coachmen as drives a first-rate team'd put it on, and try and
pass 'em. But Bob, sir, bless you,
he's tender-hearted; he'd sooner pull in a bit if he see'd 'em a-gettin' beat.
I do b'lieve, too, as that there un'd sooner break his heart than let us
go by him afore next milestone."
At the second milestone the boys pulled up short,
and waved their hats to the guard, who had his watch out and shouted
"4.56," thereby indicating that the mile had been done in four seconds
under the five minutes. They passed
several more parties of boys, all of them objects of the deepest interest to
Tom, and came in sight of the town at ten minutes before twelve. Tom fetched a
long breath, and thought he had never spent a pleasanter day.
Before he went to bed he had quite settled that it must be the greatest
day he should ever spend, and didn't alter his opinion for many a long year--if
he has yet.