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The Triple Alliance by Harold Avery

Part 2 out of 5

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they meant to "come over and take another licking." At other times
these Horace House Cossacks swooped down on single members of the rival
establishment, harrying them in the very streets of Chatford, and on one
occasion had the audacity to lay violent hands on Jacobs, beat his
bowler hat down over his eyes, and push him through the folding doors of
a drapery establishment, where he upset an umbrella-stand and three
chairs, had his ears boxed by the shop-walker, and was threatened with
the police court if ever he did such a thing again! At length it became
positively perilous for the weaker party to go beyond the precincts of
their own citadel except in bodies of three or four together. All kinds
of plans for retaliation were suggested, but still the Philistines
continued to score heavily. At length, about the last week in October,
a thing happened which raised the wrath of the Birchites to

Cross having received five shillings from home on the morning of his
birthday, determined to celebrate the occasion by the purchase of a
pork-pie, of which he had previously invited all his companions to
partake. The latter were standing in the playground waiting for his
return from Chatford, when they became conscious of certain "alarms
without;" whoops and war-cries sounded somewhere down Locker's Lane,
and ceased as suddenly as they had begun. The boys stood for some
moments wondering what this could mean, and were just thinking of
starting a fresh game of "catch smugglers," when there came a banging at
the door. It was flung open, and Cross rushed into their midst,
flushed, dishevelled, and empty-handed!

What words of mine can tell that tale of woe or describe the burst of
indignation which followed its recital? Cross had unwisely decided to
shorten his return journey by risking the dangers of Locker's
Lane. He had been captured by a party of Philistines, who, under the
leadership of Hogson, had not only robbed him of his pie, but had held
him prisoner while they devoured it before his very eyes!

What this terrible outrage would have excited those who had suffered
this cruel wrong to do in return--whether they would have started off
there and then, burnt Horace House to the ground, and hung its
inhabitants on the surrounding trees--it would be hard to say; as it
was, at this very moment a counter-attraction was forced upon their
attention by Morris, who came shouldering his way into their midst,

"Look here, you fellows, some one's stolen my watch and chain!"

It seemed as if a perfect shower of thunderbolts had commenced to
descend from a clear sky upon the devoted heads of Mr. Welsby's pupils.
Every one stared at his neighbour in mute amazement, and only Fred Acton
remained in sufficient possession of his faculties to gasp out,--


"It's true," continued Morris excitedly. "I didn't change for football
yesterday afternoon, but before going into the field I hung my watch up
on a nail in the shed, and stupidly forgot all about it until I came
to wind it up last night. Then it was too late to fetch it, and now
it's gone!"

"Look here !" cried Acton, glaring round the group with an unusually
ferocious look, "who knows anything about this? speak up, can't you!
We've had enough of this prigging business, and I'm sick of it!"

No one attempted to reply.

"Well," continued the dux, "I'm going straight off to old Welsby to tell
him, and I won't keep the key of that place. Of course it makes me look
as if I were the thief, and I won't stand it any longer."

The speaker turned on his heel and strode off in the direction of the

"Oh, I say," muttered Jack Vance, "now there'll be a row!"

Jack's prophecy was soon fulfilled. The watch and chain could not be
found, and there was but little doubt that they had been stolen.
Mr. Welsby called the boys together, and though he spoke in a calm and
collected manner, with no trace of passion in his voice, yet his words
made them all tremble. Miss Eleanor sat silent at the tea-table, with a
shocked expression on her face; and Mr. Blake, when told of the
occurrence, said sharply, "Well, we'd better have locks put on
everything, and the sooner the better."

Acton produced his bunch of keys, and insisted that all his possessions
should be searched, and every one else followed his example. The whole
of the next afternoon was spent in a careful examination of desks and
boxes, but with no result beyond the discovery that Mugford owned a cord
waistcoat which he had 'never had the moral courage to wear.

There is one feature in the administration of justice by an English
court which is unhappily too often overlooked in the lynch law of
schoolboys, and that is the principle that a man shall be considered
innocent until he has been clearly proved guilty. Smarting under a
sense of shame which was entirely unmerited, every boy sought eagerly
for some object on which to vent his indignation; it became necessary,
to use the words of the comic opera, that "a victim should be found,"
and suspicion fell on Kennedy and Jacobs. The result of Diggory's trap
seemed to show that the various thefts had been committed at night.
It was agreed that the two occupants of the "Main-top" had special
opportunity for getting out of the house if so minded; every other room
had one or more fellows in it who had suffered the loss of some
property; and lastly, Kennedy was known to possess a pair of hob-nailed
fishing-boots, which he usually kept under his bed. The two boys
indignantly denied the accusation when it was first brought against
them, but the very vehemence with which they protested their innocence
was regarded as "put on," and accepted as an additional proof of their
guilt. The evidence, however, was not thought sufficient to warrant
bringing a charge against them before the head-master, and accordingly
it was decided to send them both to Coventry until some fresh light
should be brought to bear upon the case.

To do full justice to the memory of Diggory Trevanock, he alone stood
out against this decision, and incurred the wrath both of Acton and Jack
Vance in so doing. He continued to affirm that it must be the man he
had seen in the playground on the occasion of the first meeting of the
supper club; and that the footprint in the dust had been a man's, and
much larger than Kennedy's boot could have produced.

This outlawing of the "Main-top" and difference of opinion with Diggory
spoiled all chance of games and good fellowship. Even the association
of the Triple Alliance seemed likely to end in an open rupture, and
very possibly might have done so if it had not been for an event which
caused the members to reunite against the common enemy.

One half-holiday afternoon Mugford and Diggory had gone down to
Chatford. It was nearly dark when they started to come back, and the
latter proposed the short cut by Locker's Lane.

"I'm not afraid of the Philistines; besides, they won't see us now."

As they drew near to Horace House, a solitary figure was discovered
standing in the shadow of the brick wall.

"It's young Noaks," whispered Diggory. "It's too late to turn back, but
most likely he won't notice us in this light if we walk straight on."

They passed him successfully, and were just opposite the entrance, when
three more boys sauntered through the doorway. A gleam of light from
the house happened to fall on Diggory's cap and broad white collar, and
immediately the shout was raised, "_Birchites!_"

There was a rush of feet, a wild moment of grabbing and dodging, and
Mugford, who had managed somehow to shake himself free from the grasp of
his assailants, dashed off at full speed down the road. After running
for about two hundred yards, and finding he was not followed, he pulled
up, waited and listened, and then began cautiously to retrace his steps.
There was no sign either of his companion or the enemy; and though he
ventured back as far as the double doors, which were now closed, not a
soul was to be seen. He knew in a moment that his class-mate had been
captured, but all hope of attempting anything in the shape of a rescue
was out of the question. It was impossible for him single-handed to
storm the fortress, and so, after lingering about for some minutes in
the hope that his friend would reappear, he ran home as fast as he
could, and bursting into the schoolroom, where most of his schoolfellows
sat reading round the fire, threw them into a great state of
consternation and dismay by proclaiming in a loud voice the alarming
intelligence that Diggory had been taken prisoner, and was at that
moment in the hands of the Philistines!



The news caused a profound sensation, the like of which had probably
never been witnessed at The Birches before--no, not even on that
memorable occasion when the intelligence arrived that Scourer, one of
the past seniors, had ridden his bicycle through the plate-glass window
of Brown's big crockery-shop, and was being brought home on a shutter.

All the boys threw down their books, and started to their feet.
Acton and Vance banished from their minds all thought of the
disagreement which had lately estranged them from their unfortunate
school-fellow, and joined heartily in the general outburst of wrath and

The thought that Diggory, their well-beloved, was at that very moment
languishing, a prisoner of war, in the hands of the Philistines was
almost unbearable.

"What will they do with him?"--"Where have they put him?"--"How can we
rescue the fellow?" were questions which everybody was asking, but no
one could answer. It seemed altogether beyond their power to do
anything, and yet there was not a boy who would not have given his
dearest possession, were it a white rat or a stamp collection, if by
parting with it he could have rendered some assistance to his ill-fated

"There's only half an hour before tea," said Vance, looking up at the
clock; "if anything can be done, we must do it at once."

The precious moments sped away, but in vain did the assembly rack their
brains for some plan of action which might in any way be likely to serve
the purpose they had in view. The first wild suggestion, that they
should go in a body and carry Horace House by storm, was abandoned as
impracticable; in hopeless inactivity they stood watching the long
hand of the clock creep up from six till twelve.

The first tea-bell had just finished ringing, when there was a sound of
footsteps hurrying along the passage, the door burst open, and in rushed
no other person than Diggory himself!

"Hullo! how did you get away?"--"What have they been doing?"--"How did
you escape?"

"Oh, such a lark!" cried the boy. "They'll wish they'd never caught me!
I'll tell you all about it after tea."

As soon as the meal was over, Diggory was seized, hurried up into the
schoolroom, and there forced to relate his adventures.

"Well," he began, "they collared me, and dragged me through the gates
and along into their playground. Noaks looked at me and said, 'Hullo,
here's luck! This is the young beggar who tied that rope to the
scrapers; I vote we give him a jolly good licking.' I told them that my
father was a lawyer, and if any of them touched me he'd take a summons
out against them for assault. That frightened Noaks, for you can see
he's a regular coward, so he asked the others what they thought had
better be done with me.

"'I know,' said Hogson. 'There's an old cow-shed in the field next to
ours; let's shut him in and keep him there till after tea. He'll get a
jolly row for being late when he gets back, and he won't dare to say
where he's been; because I know it's against their rules to come
anywhere near us, and Locker's Lane is out of bounds. If he does tell,
we'll swear he was in the road chucking stones at the windows.'

"Some one said there was only a staple on the door of the shed, but
Noaks said he'd fetch the padlock off his play-box, and so he did.

"Well, they took me across their playing field, and over the hedge into
the next, and shut me up in this beastly old hovel. 'It's no use your
making a row,' said Hogson, 'because no one'll hear you; and if you
do, summons or no summons we'll come down and give you a licking.'
After that they left me, and went back to the house; and as soon as
they'd gone, I began to try to find some way of escape, but it was so
dark inside the shed I couldn't see anything. Presently I heard a
knocking on the boards. There was a wide crack between them in one
place, and looking through it I could just make out that there was some
boy standing there with what looked like a dirty apron over his
trousers. I said, 'Hullo!' and he said, 'Hullo! what's up? who are you?
and what have they been a-sticking of you in there for?'

"I told him, and asked him who he was, and it turned out his name was
Joe Crump, and he's the boy who cleans the knives at Philips's.
He happened to be knocking about when they took me prisoner, and he
couldn't see who it was in the dark, and thought it might be his younger
brother who comes on errands from the grocer's; the Philistines are
always playing tricks on him.

"I said, 'Look here, Joe Crump, you let me out, there's a good chap.'
But he wouldn't; he was afraid of what young Noaks would do to him.
At last I gave him a shilling through the crack of the boards, and vowed
I wouldn't say who'd done it, and then he undid the door. I fastened
the padlock again, and threw the key into the hedge, for Noaks had left
it in the keyhole; so now he won't be able to get his lock again unless
he either breaks it or the staple, and they're both pretty tough.
After that I got round through two other fields into the lane, and here
I am."

The conclusion of Diggory's story was hailed with shouts of triumph.
To imagine the disappointment of the Philistines when they discovered
that the bird had flown, and the chagrin of young Noaks when he found
that his play-box padlock was fastened to the door of the shed, was
simply delightful; and Acton was so carried away that he once more fell
on Diggory's neck, and pretended to shed tears of joy upon the latter's
broad turn-down collar.

"But that's not all," cried the youngster, shaking himself free from his
leader's embrace. "The best is this. I had a bit of a talk with Joe
Crump before I came away, and he says that young Noaks is going to leave
at the end of this term, and he's been telling the Philistines that
before he goes he means to do something that'll pay us out for his being
sent off the field in that football match. Crump doesn't know what he
means to do, but I made him promise, if he finds out, to come and tell
me, and I'll give him another shilling. Then we shall be prepared."

"I say, Diggy," exclaimed Jack Vance, "you are a _corker!_" and the bell
now commencing to ring for evening preparation, the meeting terminated.

It was an annual custom at The Birches for the boys to subscribe towards
getting a display of fireworks, which were let off in the playground
under the superintendence of Mr. Blake. The head-master himself gave a
donation towards the fund, and allowed the boys to prepare the next
day's work in the afternoon instead of in the evening.

This year, however, when Acton went, as usual, to the library to
formally ask permission that the celebration should take place, he met
with a terrible rebuff.

"No, Acton," answered Mr. Welsby; "as long as the school continues to be
disgraced by these repeated thefts--as, for example, this recent
instance of Morris's watch and chain--I do not feel inclined to allow
the same privileges as before. There will be no fireworks this term."

As may be imagined, when the dux reported the result of his visit to
head-quarters, the news created great excitement. The unfortunate
occupants of the "Main-top," who were still in the position of
scapegoats, were hunted round the place by an indignant mob, and fled,
vainly protesting their innocence, from one shelter to another, until
they finally escaped from the playing field into the open country, where
they hid behind hedges for the remainder of the afternoon.

"Look here," exclaimed Jack Vance, as the Triple Alliance were wending
their way from the playground to the house, "there's only one thing to
be done, and that is, we must set Miss Eleanor on old Welsby's track.
She'll make him alter his mind. Some one must go and ask her.--Acton,
you're the man; you must do it!"

"I'm shot if I do!" answered the dux, turning round to face the trio,
and walking backwards up the path; "why should I go more than any other

"Why, because you've got such a way with you," returned Diggory.
"She'd be sure to do it for you; why, the last time you spoke to her she
gave you a lump of cake."

Acton seized the speaker by the neck and shook him like a rat.
"You're the cheekiest little imp I ever came across," he said. "I've a
jolly good mind to give you a good licking, only I don't believe you'd
care tu'pence if I did!"

"Well, anyhow you've got to go," answered Diggory, calmly picking up his
cap, which had fallen to the ground; "and if you're afraid to go alone
for fear she should think it's another proposal, I'll come with you."

After some further discussion it was agreed that the thing should be
attempted. The two boys found Miss Eleanor making cake, and the
conference began by Diggory's having his ears boxed for picking plums
out of the dough. But no one ever appealed to Miss Eleanor without
being sure, at all events, of a patient hearing, and the following
morning Mr. Welsby informed the school that he had been led to
reconsider his decision regarding the fifth of November, and that they
might have their display as usual.

Accordingly, the fireworks were ordered, and arrived soon after
breakfast on the morning of the fourth. Miss Eleanor had a dread of
gunpowder, and Mr. Blake sent Jack Vance to tell Noaks to carry the
box as usual down into the shed.

"Humph!" growled the man, as the boy gave him the message. "It's a nice
thing that I should have to fetch and carry all your fooling playthings
for you; it's a pity you young gen'lemen can't do something for
yourselves, instead of bothering me."

"Well, it isn't my orders," answered Jack; "it's Mr. Blake's."

"Mr. Blake's, is it? All right, I'll do it when I can spare the time."

When the boys came out at interval, the box was still lying about in the
yard, although there were heavy clouds overhead threatening rain.
Mr. Blake sent for Noaks, and a rather sharp passage of arms took place
between them, which ended in the man's being told to leave what he was
doing and carry the fireworks down to the shed.

"I believe he left them on purpose, in the hope they'd get wet," said
Shaw. "He hates us all like poison, and I believe it's all because his
son's at the other school. D'you remember what a row he kicked up when
he heard Acton say that the Philistines were cads for shooting at us
with catapults?"

"Yes," answered Morris; "and if he hates us, he hates Blake a jolly
sight worse. He's been like it ever since that football match; and
he'll get sacked if he doesn't mind, for Blake won't stand his cheek
much longer."

The purchase of fireworks had this year been more extensive than on any
previous occasion, and every one was looking forward with great
anticipation to the business of the following evening.

"I say, Diggy," cried Acton at the close of afternoon school, "I wish
you'd run down into the playground and bring up that football flag
that's got to be mended; I left it in the corner by the shed.
I'd go myself, but I want to finish this letter before tea."

Diggory trotted off to fetch the flag, and Jack Vance, who was loitering
about one of the passages, accompanied him down into the playground.
It was very dark, the stars being hidden by heavy clouds.

"I say," exclaimed Diggory, "it'll be a splendid night for the fireworks
if it's like this to-morrow. We must get--Hark! what's that?"

"I didn't hear anything."

"Yes, there was a sort of a rapping sound. Hush! there it is again."

Jack heard it this time. "It's some one knocking very gently against
that door leading into Locker's Lane," he whispered.

They groped their way across the playground until they reached the wall.
There was no mistake about it--some one was gently tapping with his
knuckles on the other side of the door.

"Who's there?" asked Jack Vance.

"I want to speak to the young gen'leman who was locked up t'other day in
the cow-shed," was the answer, given in a low voice which Diggory
instantly recognized.

"I know him," he said; "it's Joe Crump. Here, give me a leg up, and
I'll talk to him over the wall.--All right, Joe; I'm the chap."

"Well, if you are," answered the voice, "you'll remember you offered me
a bob if I could find out and tell you when somebody was going to do

"Well, what's the news?"

"Give me the money first, and then I'll tell you."

Jack Vance fortunately had the required coin in his pocket, and Diggory
dropped it into Joe Crump's cap.

"Well, the news is this," said the latter, speaking in the same low
tone--"that there Noaks and Hogson are coming up here to-night just
afore nine o'clock, and they're a-going to drown your fireworks."

"Drown our fireworks! why, what ever d'you mean? How do they know we've
got any fireworks? and how can they get at them when they're all locked

"I can't say," returned Crump, "so it's no use asking me. I only knows
that Noaks is a-going to do it; 'drown 'em all in a bucket of water,'
was what he said. Remember you promised to tell nothink about me,
that's all. Good-night, mister!"

The stranger vanished in the darkness, and Diggory dropped down from the

"Here's a pretty go!" he remarked. "What are we to do? there's no time
to lose. Come on, Jack, let's go and tell Acton."

The latter was engaged on the closing sentence of his letter; but on
hearing the intelligence which Diggory had to impart, he threw the
unfinished epistle into his desk, and rose to his feet with an
exclamation of astonishment.

"D'you think it's really true? or is this fellow, Lump or Bump or
whatever you call him, trying to take a rise out of us, or telling lies
to earn the shilling?"

"I don't think so," answered Diggory, "and I'll tell you why. For some
reason or other, he's at daggers drawn with young Noaks and Hogson.
I think they've knocked him about, and he's doing it to pay them out."

"But how did they get to know about our fireworks? and how do they
reckon they're going to get them out of the shed? Look here, hadn't we
better tell Blake?"

"We can't do that," answered Jack Vance, "or it'll get Diggy in a row.
If he says anything about Joe Crump, it'll all come out about his having
been in Locker's Lane when the Philistines caught him, and of course
that's against rules."

"What time did he say they meant to come?"

"About a quarter to nine."

There was a silence which lasted for over a minute; then Diggory spoke.

"This is what I think we'd better do. If they come at all, they are
certain to be here soon after half-past eight, because I heard Fox
telling Blake on the day of the match that they go to bed at nine.
We won't tell any one, but as soon as 'prep' is over we'll cut down into
the playground, and when they come we'll kick up a row. They'll soon
make tracks if they find they're discovered, and it'll be better than
saying anything to Blake about it, and we shall have defeated them

"All right," answered Acton. "But it'll look queer if we all three stop
out from supper; two's enough. I'll go for one, and you and Vance toss

This suggestion was accepted with some reluctance, as both boys were
anxious to take part in the adventure. Acton's word, however, was law,
and eventually Diggory was chosen by fate to be his companion.

Directly after tea all the boys paid a visit to the shed; the door was
securely locked, as also was the one leading into Locker's Lane, and it
seemed impossible for the Philistines to carry out their evil designs
upon the fireworks.

"I believe it's all bunkum," said Acton, as they strolled back towards
the house. "However, we'll come down as we said, and just see if
anything happens."

Three boys, at all events, did very little work that evening, for it was
impossible to concentrate one's mind on Caesar or on French verbs with
such an adventure looming in the near future. How would the Philistines
get at the fireworks? Would they change their minds, and instead of
drowning them apply a slow match and blow up the shed? or would it,
after all, turn out to be only a false alarm, raised by the boy Crump
for the sake of the promised shilling?

These and other thoughts filled the minds of the trio as they sat
frowning at the books in front of them. The clock seemed to go slower
and slower, until they really began to wonder whether it had stopped.
At length the long hand reached the half-past. Mr. Blake yawned, put
down his paper, and said, "Put away your work, and pass on to supper."

Acton and Diggory, both tingling with excitement, lingered behind until
the rest had left the room; then, when the coast was clear, they slipped
out into the garden, and hurried down the sloping path. It was
considerably lighter than it had been before tea; the clouds had cleared
away, and there were plenty of stars.

"Locked," muttered Acton, examining the shed. "Locked," he repeated,
trying the door leading into Locker's Lane. "I don't believe there's
anything in it. They might get over the wall if one gave the other a
leg up, but then how's the last man to get back again?"

"Well, if there's nothing in it," answered Diggory, "how should Joe
Crump have got to know we had any fireworks in the place? There must--
Hush! what's that?"

There was a sound of footsteps coming down the path from the house.
"_Cave!_" cried Acton. "It's Blake; let's hide!"

Several shrubs growing in the garden and overhanging the boarded
partition threw one corner of the playground into deep shadow. The boys
rushed into the angle, and, crouching down in the inky darkness, were at
once hidden from the view of any one who might advance even to within a
few feet of their hiding-place.

They had hardly time to conceal themselves, when a man, the outline of
whose figure they could just make out in the gloom, came through the
garden door, and, advancing a few yards, stood still, turning his head
from side to side as though looking to make sure that the quadrangle was

"He heard us talking," whispered Acton.

The new-comer having apparently come to the conclusion that he was
alone, walked slowly across to the shed, halted in front of the door,
and the next moment there was the sound of a key being fitted into the
lock. At that instant Diggory, who had been craning his neck forward to
get a better view of the intruder, suddenly gripped Acton's arm, and,
putting his mouth close to the latter's ear, whispered,--

"_It isn't Blake; it's old Noaks!_ Now keep quiet," he added, as his
companion made a movement as though he meant to rush out of their
hiding-place; "let's see what he does."

"He's the thief who stole all those things!" answered Acton excitedly.
"He must have another key, and he's going to bag something now."

Noaks (for certainly it was he) disappeared inside the shed; but in a
few seconds he was out again, and once more stood waiting as though
undecided what to do next.

Before the boys could have counted ten, there was a low whistle in the

"They've come," whispered Diggory. "He's got the key of the door, and
is going to let them in."

His words were speedily verified, and the next moment two more figures
entered the playground, the object of their visit being at once made
evident by the fact that one of them was carrying a bucket. It was too
dark to distinguish their faces, but the short conversation which took
place on their entry soon made them known to the two watchers.

"Now, then," said old Noaks, "if you're going to do it, just look

"Awful joke, isn't it, dad?" answered one of the new-comers. "Lend us a
hand, and we'll dip 'em all in this bucket and put 'em back again."

"No, I shan't," returned the man. "I don't know nothink about it.
It's your game, and all I promised was I'd open the door."

"Well, show us where the box is.--Come on, Hogson; don't make more row
than you can help."

After a moment's hesitation and some muttered remarks about "that there
Blake" and "them uppish young dogs," Noaks senior led the way across the
gravel, and followed by the two Philistines entered the shed. Hardly
had they crossed the threshold when Diggory started up, kicked off his
slippers, crept swiftly and noiselessly as a shadow across the ground,
and before his companion had time to realize what was happening, the
door of the shed was slammed to and locked on the outside.

To describe exactly what followed would be well-nigh impossible, as even
the principal actors themselves seemed to have but a confused
recollection of the part they played. Those concerned, however, will
probably never forget Diggory's bursting into the room as they sat
finishing supper, and striking every one dumb with amazement by saying
to Mr. Blake, "Please, sir, some fellows are stealing our fireworks, and
I've locked them up in the shed." And there will still remain in their
minds memories of a wild rush to the playground; of old Noaks being
peremptorily ordered to "clear out," and on attempting to bandy words
with Mr. Blake, being taken by the scruff of the neck and "chucked out;"
of the two Philistines being conducted, under a strong escort, to
Mr. Welsby's study; of a polite note being dispatched by the latter to
Mr. Philips; and of the unmitigated delight of the Birchites when Hogson
and Noaks junior were delivered over into the hands of Mr. Fox,
and marched off by that gentleman to take their trial at Horace House.
Every one was in high spirits. Acton and Diggory were made to tell
their story over twenty times. Kennedy and Jacobs were at once declared
innocent, and instead of being looked upon as outcasts, came to be
regarded as martyrs who had suffered in a good cause. Old Noaks was
clearly the culprit. He volunteered no explanation as regarded his
possession of a duplicate key to the shed door, and though no attempt
was made to bring the charge home against him, there was little doubt as
to his guilt, and he was dismissed the next morning.

The firework display came off the following evening, and was a great
success. Every rocket or Roman candle that shot into the air seemed to
attest the final triumph of the Birchites over the Philistines, and
was cheered accordingly. I say final triumph, for the removal of young
Noaks and Hogson from the rival school caused a great change for the
better among the ranks of Horace House. The old feud died out, giving
place to a far bettor spirit, which was manifested each term in the
friendly manner in which the teams met for matches at cricket and

This sounds very much like the end of a story; but it is not, and for a
connecting-link to join this chapter to those that follow, we will go
forward for one moment into the future.

Nearly a year later Diggory and Jack Vance were sauntering arm in arm
across one of the fives-courts at Ronleigh College.

"D'you remember," remarked the former, "how, that night we caught the
Philistines bagging our fireworks, you said, 'Well, I should think now
we've just about finished with young Noaks'?"

"Did I?" answered Jack, shrugging his shoulders. "My eye, I ought to
have said we'd just begun!"



The first two or three weeks of a new boy's life at a big school are, as
a rule, a dull and uneventful period, which does not furnish many
incidents that are of sufficient interest to be worth recording.

The Triple Alliance passed through the principal entrance to Ronleigh
College one afternoon towards the end of January, with no flourish of
trumpets or beat of drums to announce the fact of their arrival to their
one hundred and eighty odd schoolfellows. They were simply "new kids."
But though, after the fame they had won at The Birches, it was rather
humiliating at first to find themselves regarded as three nobodies, yet
there was some compensation in the thought that, just as the smallest
drummer-boy can point to a flag covered with "honours," and say
"My regiment," so, in looking round at the many things of which
Ronleians past and present had just reason to be proud, they could claim
it as "our school," and feel that they themselves formed a part, however
small and insignificant, of the institution.

The crowd of boys, and the maze of passages, rooms, and staircases, were
very confusing after the quiet, old-fashioned house at Chatford; but
though in this world there is no lack either of lame dogs or of stiles,
there is also a good supply of kindly-disposed persons who are ever
ready to help the former over the latter, and our three friends were
fortunate enough to fall in with one of these philanthropic individuals
soon after their arrival.

The stranger, who was a youngster of about their own age, with a
pleasant, good-natured-looking face, patted Diggory on the back in a
fatherly manner, and addressing the group said,--

"Well, my boys, we're a large family at Ronleigh, but fresh additions
are always welcome. How did you leave them all at home? Quite well,
I hope? Um, ah! Just so. That's what Dr. Denson always says,"
continued the speaker, without waiting for any reply to his numerous
questions. "You'll have to go and see him after tea. My name's Carton;
what's yours?"

The three comrades introduced themselves.

"What bedroom are you in?"

"Number 16."

"Then you're in the same one as I and young Hart. Come for a stroll,
and I'll show you round the place."

With Carton acting as conductor, the party set out on a tour of
inspection. It was some time before the new-comers could find their way
about alone without turning down wrong passages, or encroaching on
forbidden ground, and getting shouted at by irate seniors, and ordered
to "Come out of that!" But by the time they had finished their round,
and the clanging of a big bell summoned them to assemble in the
dining-hall for tea, they had been able to form a general idea as to the
geography of Ronleigh College, and a brief account of their discoveries
will be of interest to the reader.

Passing through the central archway in the block of buildings which
faced the road, the boys found themselves in a large gravelled
quadrangle surrounded on all sides by high walls, broken by what
appeared at first sight to be an almost countless number of windows,
while the red brick was relieved in many places by a thick growth of

"That's the gymnasium on the left," said Carton, "and above it are
studies; and that row of big windows on the right, with the coloured
glass in the top, is the big schoolroom."

Crossing the gravel they passed through another archway, in which were
two folding-doors, and emerged upon an open space covered with asphalt,
upon which stood a giant-stride and two double fives-courts.

This formed but a small corner of a large level field, in which a number
of boys were to be seen wandering about arm in arm, or standing chatting
together in small groups, pausing every now and then in their
conversation to give chase to a football which was being kicked about in
an aimless fashion by a number of their more energetic companions.

"The goal-posts aren't up yet," said Carton, "and this is only what's
called the junior field; the one beyond is where the big fellows play.
The pavilion is over the hedge there, with the flagstaff by the side
of it. That's the match ground, and there's room for another game

"Where do all the fellows go when they aren't out of doors?" asked

"Well, the Sixth all have studies; then comes Remove, and those chaps
have a room to themselves; all the rest have desks in the big school,
and you hang about there, though of course, if you like, there's the
gymnasium, or the box-room--that's where a lot of fellows spend most of
their time."

"What sort of a place is that?"

"Oh, it's where the play-boxes are kept. Come along; we'll go there

They passed once more through the double doors, and were crossing the
quadrangle, when a certain incident attracted their notice, unimportant
in itself, but indicating a strong contrast in the manner of life at
Ronleigh to what they had always been accustomed to at The Birches.
A youngster was tearing up a piece of paper and scattering the fragments
about on the gravel.

"Hi, you there!" cried a voice; "pick that up. What d'you mean by
making that mess here?"

The small boy grabbed up the bits of paper, stuffed them in his pocket,
and hurried away towards the schoolroom.

"Is that one of the masters?" asked Mugford.

"No," answered Carton, "that's Oaks; he's one of the prefects.
Don't you see he's got a blue tassel to his mortar-board?"

"But what's a prefect?"

"Whew!" laughed the other, "you'll soon find out if you play the fool,
and don't mind what you're about. Why, there are fourteen of them, all
fellows in the Sixth, and they keep order and give you lines, and all
that sort of thing."

"Why, I thought it was only masters did that," said Jack Vance.

"Well, you'll find the prefects do it here," answered Carton; "and when
they tell you to do a thing, I'd advise you to look alive and do it, for
they don't reckon to speak twice."

The evening passed quickly enough. After tea came an interview with the
head-master in his study, and then what was perhaps a still more trying
ordeal--a long spell of sitting in the big schoolroom answering an
incessant fire of questions such as, "What's your name?"--"Where d'you
come from?" etc., etc.

At length the signal was given for passing on to bed, and the Triple
Alliance were not sorry to gain the shelter of No. 16 dormitory.

The room contained seven other beds besides their own, two of which were
as yet still vacant, waiting the arrival of boys who had not turned up
on the first day. The remainder were occupied by a couple of other
new-comers, and three oldsters, Carton, Hart, and Bayley.

It was very different from the cosy little bedrooms at The Birches; but
the three friends were glad to be allowed to undress in peace and quiet,
and had scrambled safely into bed some time before the prefect put in an
appearance to turn out the light.

"I tell you what," said Hart, a few moments later: "you new kids may
think yourselves lucky that you're in a quiet room for a start. I know
when I came first there used to be christenings and all kinds of

"What was that?" asked Diggory.

"Why, fellows used always to christen you with a nickname: they stuck
your head in a basin and poured water over you, and if you struggled you
got it all down your back."

"Yes," continued Carton, "and they hid your clothes, and had bull-fights
and all sorts of foolery. That was in _Nineteen_: old 'Thirsty' was the
prefect for that passage, and he doesn't care tu'pence what fellows do.
But Allingford's put a stop to almost all that kind of thing: he's
captain of the school, and he's always awfully down on anything of that

By the time breakfast was over on the following morning, Diggory and his
two companions were beginning to recover a little from their first state
of bewilderment amid their strange surroundings. They donned the school
cap of black flannel, with the crest worked in silk upon the front, and
went out to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine in the playground.

It was a bright, frosty day, and the whole place seemed full of life and
activity. There was plenty to engage their attention, and much that was
new and singular after their comparatively quiet playground at The
Birches. But whatever there was to awaken their interest out of doors,
a thing was destined to happen during their first morning school which
would be a still greater surprise than anything they had yet encountered
during their short residence at Ronleigh.

At nine o'clock the clanging of the big bell summoned them to the
general assembly in the big schoolroom. They took their places at a
back desk pointed out to them by the master on duty, and sat watching
the stream of boys that poured in through the open doors, wondering how
long it would take them to become acquainted with the names of such a

The forms passed on in their usual order, and the new boys were
conducted to a vacant classroom, where they received a set of
examination papers which were intended to test the amount of their
knowledge, and determine the position in which they were to start work
on the following day.

Jack Vance, Diggory, and Mugford sat together at the first desk, just in
front of the master's table, and were soon busy in proving their
previous acquaintance with the Latin grammar. Presently the door
opened, and a voice, which they at once recognized as Dr. Denson's,
said, "Mr. Ellesby, may I trouble you to step here for a moment?"
None of the trio raised their eyes from their work. There was a
muttered conversation in the passage, and then the door was once more

The master returned to his desk, dipped his pen in the ink, and
addressing some one at the back of the room, inquired,--

"What did Dr. Denson say your name was?"

"Noaks, sir."

The Triple Alliance gave a simultaneous start as though they had
received an electric shock, and their heads turned round like three

There, sure enough, at the back desk of all, sat the late leader of the
Philistines, with a rather sheepish expression on his face, somewhat
similar to the one it had worn when the marauders from Horace House had
been ushered into Mr. Welsby's study.

Jack Vance looked at Mugford, and Mugford looked at Diggory. "Well, I'm
jiggered!" whispered the latter, and once more returned to his
examination paper.

At eleven o'clock there was a quarter of an hour's interval. Being
still, as it were, strangers in a strange land, the three friends kept
pretty close together. They were walking arm in arm about the
quadrangle, giving expression to their astonishment at this latest
arrival at Ronleigh, when Diggory suddenly exclaimed, "Look out! here
he comes!"

After so many encounters of a decidedly hostile nature, it was difficult
to meet their old enemy on neutral ground without some feeling of
embarrassment. Young Noaks, however, walked up cool as a cucumber, and
holding out his hand said,--

"Hullo, you fellows, who'd have thought of seeing you here! How are

The three boys returned the salutation in a manner which, to say the
least, was not very cordial, and made some attempt to pass on their way;
but the new-comer refused to see that he was not wanted, and insisted on
taking Mugford's arm and accompanying them on their stroll.

"I say," he continued, addressing Jack Vance, "were you at Todderton
these holidays? I don't think I saw you once."

"The last time I saw you," returned Jack, in rather a bitter tone, "was
when you came to spoil our fireworks, and we collared you in the shed."

Noaks clinched his fist, and for a moment his brow darkened; the next
instant, however, he laughed as though the recollection of the incident
afforded him an immense amount of amusement.

"Ha, ha! Yes, awful joke that, wasn't it? almost as good as the time
when that fool of a master of yours, Lake, or Blake, or whatever you
call him, had me sent off the field so that you could win the match."

"It was no such thing," answered Jack. "You know very well why it was
Blake interfered; and he's not a fool, but a jolly good sort."

"Oh, don't get angry," returned the other. "I'm sure I shouldn't fly
into a wax if you called Fox or old Phillips a fool. I got sick of that
beastly little school, as I expect you did of yours, and so I made my
uncle send me here.--Hullo! I suppose that's the bell for going back to
work; see you again later on."

"I say," whispered Diggory, as soon as they had regained their seat in
the examination-room, "I vote we give that chap the cold shoulder."

The following morning the three friends heard their names read out as
forming part of the Third Form, to which their friend Carton already
belonged. Young Noaks was placed in the Upper Fourth, and they were
not destined therefore to have him as a class-mate.

The Third Form at Ronleigh had, for some reason or other, received the
title of "The Happy Family." They certainly were an amusing lot of
little animals, and Diggory and his companions coming into the classroom
rather late, and before the entrance of the master, saw them for the
first time to full advantage. Out of the two-and-twenty juveniles
present, only about six seemed to be in their proper places.

One young gentleman sitting close to the blackboard cried, "Powder,
sir!" and straightway scrubbed his neighbour's face with a very chalky
duster. The latter, by way of retaliation, smote the former's pile
of books from the desk on to the ground--a little attention which was
immediately returned by boy number one; while as they bent down to pick
up their scattered possessions, a third party, sitting on the form
behind, made playful attempts to tread upon their fingers. Two rival
factions in the rear of the room were waging war with paper darts; while
a small, sandy-haired boy, whose tangled hair and disordered attire gave
him the appearance, as the saying goes, of having been dragged through a
furze-bush backwards, rapped vigorously with his knuckles upon the
master's table, and inquired loudly how many more times he was to say

The entrance of the three new-comers caused a false alarm, and in a
moment every one was in his proper seat.

"Bother it!" cried the small, sandy-haired boy, who had bumped his knee
rushing from the table to his place; "why didn't you make more noise
when you came in?"

"But I thought you were asking for silence, answered Diggory.

"Shut up, and don't answer back when you are spoken to by a prefect,"
retorted the small boy. "Look here, you haven't written your name on
Watford's slate.--They must, mustn't they, Maxton?" he added, turning to
a boy who sat at the end of one of the back seats.

"Of course they must," answered Maxton, who, with both elbows on the
desk, was blowing subdued railway whistles through his hands; "every new
fellow has to write his name on that little slate on Mr. Watford's
table, and he enters them from there into his mark-book. I'm head boy,
and I've got to see you do it. Look sharp, or he'll be here in a
minute, and there'll be a row."

Diggory, Vance, and Mugford hastily signed their names, one under the
other, upon the slate. There was a good deal of tittering while they
did so; but as a new boy is laughed at for nearly everything he does,
they took no notice of it, and had hardly got back to their places when
the master entered the room, and the work began in earnest.

About a quarter of an hour later the boys were busy with a Latin
exercise, when silence was broken by a shuffle and an exclamation from
the back desk. "You again, Maxton," said the master, looking up
with a frown. "I suppose you are determined to idle away your time and
remain bottom of the class this term as you were last. I shall put your
name down for some extra work. Let's see," he continued, taking up the
slate: "I appear to have three boys' names down already--'Vance,'
'Mugford,' and 'Trevanock.' What's the meaning of this? This is not
my writing. How came these names here?"

"Please, sir," faltered Mugford, "we put them there ourselves."

"Put them there yourselves! What d'you want to put your names down on
my punishment slate for? I suppose some one told you to, didn't they?"

"Please, sir," answered Diggory warily, "we thought we had to, so that
you might have our names to enter in your mark-book."

There was a burst of laughter, but that answer went a long way towards
setting the Alliance on a good footing with their class-mates.

"That young Trevanock's the right sort," said Maxton, "and so are the
others. I thought they'd sneak about that slate, but they didn't."

Mr. Noaks, junior, on the other hand, was destined to find that he was
not going to carry everything before him at Ronleigh as he had done
among the small fry at Horace House, The Upper Fourth voted him a
"bounder," and nicknamed him "Moke." After morning school he repeated
his attempt to ally himself with his former foes, but the result was
decidedly unsatisfactory.

Down in the box-room, a good-sized apartment boarded off from the
gymnasium, Jack Vance was serving out a ration of plum-cake to a select
party, consisting of his two chums and Carton, when the ex-Philistine
strolled up and joined himself to the group.

"Hullo!" he said, "are you chaps having a feed? D'you remember that
pork-pie we bagged from one of your kids at Chatford? Ha, ha! it was a

"I don't see it's much of a lark to bag what doesn't belong to you,"
muttered Diggory.

"What's that you say?"

"Nothing for you to hear," returned the other. "I don't know if you're
waiting about here to get some cake, but I'm sure I never invited you to

"Look here, don't be cheeky," answered Noaks. "If you think I want to
make friends with a lot of impudent young monkeys like you, all I can
say is you're jolly well mistaken," and so saying he turned on his heel
and walked away.

"I say, Trevanock," said Carton, two days later, "that fellow Noaks has
found a friend at last: he's picked up with Mouler. They'll make a nice
pair, I should say. Mouler was nearly expelled last term for telling
lies to Ellesby about some cribs."

Noaks certainly seemed to have discovered a chum in the black sheep of
the Upper Fourth, and the Triple Alliance began to congratulate
themselves that he would trouble them no further. In a big school
like Ronleigh College there was plenty of room for everybody to go his
own way without fear of running his head into people whom he wished to
avoid. Our three friends, however, seemed fated to find in the person
of Noaks junior a perpetual stumbling-block and cause of disquietude and
annoyance. They had no sooner succeeded in setting him at a distance
when an incident occurred which brought them once more into violent
collision with the enemy.

The pavilion, which has already been mentioned as standing on the match
ground, was a handsome wooden structure, surrounded by some low palings,
in front of which was a small oblong patch of gravel. On the second
Saturday morning of the term Noaks and Mouler were lounging across this
open space, when Oaks, the prefect, emerged from the pavilion, carrying
in his hand a pot of paint he had been mixing for the goal-posts, which
were just being put up. On reaching the paling he suddenly ejaculated,
"Bother! I've forgotten the brush;" and resting the can on the top of
the little gate-post, hurried back up the short flight of steps, and
disappeared through the open door.

"I say, there's a good cock-shy," said Noaks, nodding his head in the
direction of the paint.

"Umph! shouldn't like to try," answered Mouler.

"Why not?"

"Because Oaks would jolly well punch both our heads."

"Well, here's a new kid coming; let's set him on to do it. You speak to
him; he knows me. His name's Mugford."

The two cronies both picked up a handful of stones, and began throwing
at the can, taking good care that their shots should fly wide of the

Mugford, who, as we have already seen, was not blessed with the sharpest
of wits, paused for a moment to watch the contest. The paint had been
mixed in an old fruit-tin, and at first sight it certainly seemed to
have been put on the post for the sole purpose of being knocked off

"Hullo, you new kid!" exclaimed Mouler. "Look here, we want a chap for
the third eleven next season--a fellow who can throw straight. Come
along, and let's see if you can hit that old can."

It certainly looked easy enough, and Mugford, pleased at being taken
some notice of by a boy in the Upper Fourth, picked up some pebbles, and
joined in the bombardment. The second shot brought the tin down with a
great clatter, and a flood of white paint spread all over the trim
little pathway. At the same instant Oaks dashed down the steps boiling
with rage.

"Confound you!" he cried; "who did that ?"

"I did," answered Mugford, half crying; "I thought it was empty."

"Thought it was empty! why didn't you look, you young blockhead?" cried
the prefect, catching the small boy by the arm, while Noaks and Mouler
burst into a roar of laughter.

Things would probably have gone hard with the unfortunate Mugford if at
that moment a fifth party had not arrived on the scene. The new-comer,
who, from the show of whisker at the side of his face and the tone of
authority in which he spoke, seemed to be one of the masters, was tall
and muscular, with the bronze of a season's cricketing still upon his
cheeks and neck.

"Stop a minute, Oaks," he said. "I happened to see this little game;
let's hear what the kid's got to say for himself."

In faltering tones Mugford told his story. Without a word the stranger
stepped up to Mouler and dealt him a sounding box on the ear.

"There!" he said, "take that for your trouble; and now cut off down town
and buy a fresh pot of paint out of your own pocket, and do it jolly
quick, too.--As for you," he added, turning to Noaks, "get a spade out
of that place under the pavilion and clean up this path. If you weren't
a new fellow I'd serve you the same. Look out in future."

"And you look out too," muttered Noaks, glancing at Mugford with a
fierce expression on his face as the two seniors moved off, "you beastly
young sneak. The first chance I get I'll give you the best licking
you ever had in your life."

"Old Mug is rather a fool," remarked Jack Vance to Diggory a few hours
later; "he ought to have seen through that. But we must stand by him
because of the Triple Alliance. Noaks is sure to try to set on him the
first chance he gets."

"Yes," answered Diggory; "look out for squalls."



At the end of the first fortnight our three friends had begun to find
their feet at Ronleigh, and the sense of being "outsiders" in everything
was gradually wearing off as they grew more intimate with their

Jack Vance and Diggory soon became popular members of "The Happy
Family," and their loyalty to Mugford caused the latter's path to be
much smoother than it probably would have been had he been compelled to
tread it alone.

Carton turned out a capital fellow; Rathson, the small, sandy-haired boy
mentioned in the previous chapter, and who generally went by the name of
"Rats," took a great fancy to Jack; while Maxton repeated his assertion
that young Trevanock was "the right sort," and as a further mark of his
favour presented the new-comer with a moleskin of his own curing, which
looked very nice, but, as "Rats" put it, "smelt rather fruity."

But it was not in the Third Form only that Diggory began to find
friends; for by a lucky chance he was fortunate enough to make a good
impression on the minds of the great men, who, as a rule, took no
further notice of the small fry than to exact from them a certain amount
of obedience, or in default a certain number of lines or other "impots."

One morning, soon after breakfast, a little group was gathered round
Carton's desk in the big school-room, discussing the value of some
foreign stamps, when a small boy came up to them, saying,--

"Is Trevanock here? Well, Acton wants you now at once in his study."

"Hullo," said Carton, looking up from the sheet of specimens in front of
him--"hullo, Diggy! What have you been up to?"

"I haven't been doing anything," answered the other. "What do you think
he wants me for?"

"I don't know, but it sounds rather like getting a licking. At all
events, you'd better hurry up; prefects don't thank you for keeping them
waiting. His is the third door on the right as you go down the

Diggory hastened to obey the summons, wondering what it could mean.
He found the door, and in answer to the loud "Come in!" which greeted
his knock turned the handle, and found himself for the first time inside
one of the Sixth Form studies.

It was a small, square room, and looked very cosy and comfortable with
its red window-curtains, well-filled bookshelf, and many little
knick-knacks that adorned the walls and mantelpiece. An array of silver
cups, several photographs of cricket and football teams, and a
miscellaneous pile of bats, fencing-sticks, Indian clubs, etc., standing
in one corner, all spoke of the athlete; while carelessly thrown down
on the top of a cupboard was an article for the possession of which many
a, boy would have bartered the whole of his worldly wealth--a bit of
worn blue velvet and the tarnished remnant of what had once been a gold
tassel--the "footer cap" of Ronleigh College.

But it was not so much the furniture as the occupants of the study that
attracted Diggory's attention. John Acton, a tall, wiry fellow, who
looked as though his whole body was as hard and tough as whip-cord, was
standing leaning on the end of the mantelpiece talking to another of the
seniors, who sat sprawling in a folding-chair on the other side of the
fire; while seated at the table, turning over the leaves of what
appeared to be a big manuscript book, was no less a personage than
Allingford, the school captain.

"I don't understand a bit what's coming to 'Thirsty,'" the football
leader was saying. "I was rather chummy with him when we were in the
Fifth, and he was all right then, but now he seems to be running to seed
as fast as he can; and I believe it's a great deal that fellow
Fletcher.--Hullo, youngster! what d'you want?"

"I was told you wanted to see me," said Diggory nervously.

"Oh yes. You were at The Birches, that school near Chatford, weren't
you? Well, I want to hear about that love affair my young brother had
with the old chap's daughter.--It was an awful joke," added the speaker,
addressing his companions. "He was about fourteen, and she's a grown-up
woman; and he was awfully gone, I can tell you.--How did he pop the

"He wrote," answered Diggory. "We tossed up whether he should do that
or speak."

There was a burst of laughter.

"Did you see the letter?"


"What did he say?"

"I can't tell you."

"Why not? don't you remember?"

"Yes; but he only showed me the letter on condition I wouldn't ever tell
any one what was in it."

"Oh, that's all rot! you can tell me; I'm his brother. Come, out with

It was an awful thing to beard the lion in his den--for a new boy to
face so great a personage as the football captain, and refuse
point-blank to do as he was told. Diggory shifted uneasily from one
foot to another, and then glancing up he became aware of the fact that
Allingford was gazing at him across the table with a curious expression,
which somehow gave him fresh encouragement to persist in his refusal to
disclose the contents of his former friend's love-letter.

"I can't tell you," he repeated; "it was a promise, you know."

The Ronleigh captain laughed. "Well done," he said. "I wish some other
fellows were a bit more careful to keep their promises.--Acton, you
beggar, you swore you'd keep up this register for me, and there's
nothing entered for last term."

"Oh, bother you, Ally!" exclaimed the other; "what a nigger-driver you
are!--Hullo, there's the bell!--Here, kid, stick those two oranges in
your pocket; go 'long!"

Diggory left the room, having gained something else besides the two
oranges; for as he closed the door Allingford laughed again, and rising
from his chair said, "He's a stanch little beggar; I think I'll keep
an eye on him."

The subject of this remark hurried away, and had just joined the crowd
of boys who were thronging into the big school for assembly, when some
one took hold of his arm, and glancing round he was startled to see Jack
Vance, looking very excited and dishevelled, and mopping his mouth with
a blood-stained handkerchief.

"I say," exclaimed the latter, "have you seen Mugford?"

"No. What's the matter? what have you done to your mouth?"

"Why, I've had a beastly row with Noaks. I'll 'tell you after school."

"No, tell me now," cried Diggory, pulling his companion aside into a
corner by the door. "Quick--what was it?"

"Why, he pounced down on Mugford, out there by the fives-court, and
began twisting his arm and saying he'd pay him out for that paint-pot
business. I went to the rescue, and the beast hit me with the
back of his hand here on the mouth. I told him he was a cad, and said
something about his father being only a man-servant, and having stolen
our things. I'm sorry now, for it was rather a low thing to do, but I
was in such a wax I didn't think what I was saying. Mouler was standing
by, and he heard it, and laughed; and Noaks looked as if he'd have
killed me. I believe he would have knocked me down, only Rowlands, the
prefect, came up and stopped the row."

There was no time for any further details, and the two boys had to rush
away to their seats in order to escape being marked as late.

One thing was certain--that the Triple Alliance were once more embroiled
in a quarrel with their ancient foe the former leader of the
Philistines, and they knew enough of their adversary's character to
feel sure that he would not pass over an event of this kind without some
attempt at revenge.

It is probable that, if this had happened at Horace House, Jack Vance
would have received a good licking as soon as the classes were
dismissed; but a few very plain and forcible words spoken by Rowlands
on the subject of knocking small boys about caused Noaks to postpone his

"Look here," he said, meeting Jack Vance in the quadrangle during the
interval: "just you keep your mouth shut about me and my father.
I've got two or three accounts to settle with you chaps already; just
mind what you're up to." He clinched his fist as though about to
strike, then, with an ugly scowl, turned on his heel and walked away.

It must have been about three days after this encounter with Noaks that
our three friends were called upon to attend a mass meeting of the Third
Form, to consider the advisability of starting a periodical in
opposition to the school magazine. Important events connected with a
later period of their life at Ronleigh render it necessary that we
should not linger too long over the account of their first term; but
some mention, however brief, should certainly be made of the memorable
gathering to which we have referred. A notice pinned on to the
black-board, and pulled down as soon as Mr. Watford entered the
classroom, announced the project in the following words:--

"A meeting will be held in the 'old lab' directly
after dinner to-day, to make plans for starting a
magazine in opposition to _The Ronleian_.
All members of the Third Form are specially requested
to attend."

"J. A. BIBBS."

"You must come," said "Rats" to Diggory; "it'll be an awful lark."

"But what's it all about?"

"Oh, you'll hear when you get there. It's Fletcher's idea; he wants to
start a new magazine. Eastfield, who edits _The Ronleian_, is Maxton's
cousin; so Maxton's going to interrupt and get some other fellows to do
the same. I'm going to be part of the opposition," added the youthful
"Rats," beaming with delight, "and I have got a whole heap of paper bags
I'm going to burst while Fletcher's speaking."

The "old lab," as it was called, was a small brick building which stood
on one side of the asphalt playground. A new laboratory having recently
been fitted up elsewhere, the former one was, for the time being,
unused. It was not more than about fifteen feet long by seven or eight
feet wide; and as "The Happy Family" mustered in force, the place was
crowded to overflowing. The door having been closed, Fletcher Two
mounted a low stone sink which ran along the end wall, and from this
ready-made platform commenced to address the assembly :--

"Gentlemen,--We've met here, as you know, to talk over starting a fresh
magazine. _The Ronleian_ is a beastly swindle, and it's high time we
had something different." (A voice, "No, 'tisn't," and the bursting of
a paper bag.) "You shut up there! I say it is a swindle: they didn't
give any account of that fourth eleven match against Robertson's second,
and they made fun of us in the 'Quad Gossip,' and said that in
'The Happy Family' there was a preponderance of monkey." ("So there is,
and you're it!" Laughter and another explosion.)

"What I propose is that we start a manuscript magazine for the Third
Form, and that every fellow promise to take that, and never to buy a
copy of the other. We might pass it round, and charge a penny each to
look at it. Will you all subscribe?"

No one spoke, the silence only being broken by the sound of "Rats"
blowing up another bag, which caused a fresh burst of laughter.

"Will you all subscribe?" once more demanded the speaker.

There were mingled cries of "Yes!" and "No!" and a stentorian yell of
"No, you cuckoo! of course we won't," from Maxton, and another

"Look here, young 'Rats,' if you burst any more of those bags I'll come
down and burst your head.--I forgot to say, gentlemen, that Mr. Bibbs
has promised to assist in editing the paper; and I will now call upon
him to give you an account of what it will contain."

Bibbs, the Third Form genius, was regarded by every one as a huge joke,
and the very mention of his name caused a fresh burst of merriment.
He was a sad-faced, untidy-looking boy, quick and clever enough in some
things, and equally dull and stupid in others. The announcement that he
would address the meeting had no sooner been made than half a dozen
willing pairs of hands seized and hoisted him on to the platform; though
no sooner had he attained this exalted position than two or three voices
ordered him in a peremptory manner to "Come down!"

The greater part of the audience not caring the toss of a button whether
Fletcher started his magazine or not, but thinking that it was rather
good fun to interrupt the proceedings, now joined the opposition, and
the unfortunate Bibbs was subjected to a brisk fire of chaff.
One facetious class-mate, standing close to the sink, offered to sell
him by auction; and hammering on the stones with the fragment of a bat
handle, knocked him down for threepence to another joker, who said he'd
do for a pen-wiper.

"Sing a song, Bibbs!" cried one voice; "Where's your neck-tie?" asked
another; "What are you grinning at?" demanded a third; while the object
of these pleasantries stood, with a vacant smile upon his face,
nervously fumbling with his watch-chain.

"Go on!" cried Fletcher, who had descended from the platform to make
room for his colleague; "say something, you fool!"

"The magazine is to be written on exercise-book paper," began Bibbs, and
had only got thus far when he was interrupted by a perfect salvo of
paper bags which little "Rats" discharged in quick succession.

With an exclamation of wrath Fletcher made a dive in the direction of
the offender, and in a moment the whole gathering was in a state of
confusion. The majority of those present siding with "Rats," began to
hustle Fletcher, while two gentlemen having dragged Bibbs from his
perch, jumped up in his stead, and began to execute a clog-dance.

In the midst of this commotion Maxton elbowed his way through the crush,
and having pushed the two boys off the sink, mounted it himself,

"Look here, I'm going to speak; just you listen a minute. The reason
why Bibbs wants to start a new magazine is because he wrote a novel
once, and sent it to _The Ronleian_ to come out so much each month,
and they wouldn't have it."

"Shut up, Maxton!" cried Fletcher, rushing to the spot; "you've only
come here on purpose to interrupt. Let's turn him out!"

"Yes, turn him out!" echoed the audience, who by this time were just in
the spirit for "ragging," and would have ejected friend or foe alike for
the sport of the thing--"turn him out!"

The two clog-dancers being quite ready to avenge the interruption of
their performance, formed themselves into a storming-party, and carried
the platform by assault. Maxton, struggling all the way, was dragged to
the door, and cast out into the playground. Most of the restless
spirits in the audience requiring a short breathing-space to recover
their wind after the tussle, there followed a few moments' quiet, which
Fletcher immediately took advantage of to mount the sink and resume the
business of the meeting.

"The magazine," he began, "is going to be written on exercise-book
paper. Any one who likes can contribute, and it's going to be more
especially a paper for the Third Form."

The speaker went on to show that the periodical was destined to supply a
long-felt want. _The Ronleian_ ignored the doings of boys in the lower
half of the school, and returned their contributions with insulting
suggestions, pencilled on the margins, that the authors should devote
some of their spare time and energy to the study of their English
grammars and spelling-books. _The Third Form Chronicle_, as it was to
be called, would recognize the fact that junior boys had as much right
to be heard as seniors, and would afford them the opportunity of airing
their views on any subject they chose to bring forward.

Fletcher had barely time to proceed thus far with his speech when an
alarming interruption occurred, which put an immediate stop to his
further utterance. Nearly at the top of the end wall there had formerly
been a ventilator; this, for one reason or another, had been removed,
and in the brickwork an open space about a foot square had been left.
A hissing noise was suddenly heard outside, and the next moment a stream
of water shot through the aperture, and descended in a perfect deluge on
the heads of the company.

The fact was that Maxton, ever a reckless young villain, had discovered
a hose fixed to one of the mains close to the building, and had
immediately seized upon it as an instrument wherewith to wreak vengeance
on his companions for having turned him out of the meeting.

Words cannot describe the uproar and confusion which followed. As one
man the whole assembly made for the door, but only to find it fastened
on the outside. The water flew all over the small building, drenching
every one in turn. Some howled, some laughed, and only Bibbs had
sufficient presence of mind to creep under the sink, which afforded a
certain amount of shelter from the falling flood.

The deluge ceased as suddenly as it had begun, and an instant later the
door was flung open, and the figure of a Sixth Form boy was seen barring
the exit.

"Now, then," he demanded, "what are you youngsters making this awful
row for? I've a jolly good mind to take all your names."

There was a moment's silence. Then Fletcher's voice was heard

"Oh! it's only old 'Thirsty;' he's all right."

"Here, not so fast," answered the prefect, blocking up the doorway as
some boys tried to escape; "what are you chaps doing in here? I thought
you'd been told to keep out."

The originator of the meeting pushed his way through the crowd, and
taking hold of the big fellow's arm in a familiar manner, said,--

"Oh, it's all right, 'Thirsty,' old chap. We just came inside, and some
one squirted water all over us, and that's why we shouted. But we won't
do it again."

"Oh, but it isn't all right," returned the other. "If I find any of you
in here again, I'll help you out with the toe of my boot. Go on! I'll
let you off this once."

The crowd rushed forth and quickly dispersed.

"That Thurston seems an awful decent chap," said Diggory; "I didn't
think he'd let us off so easily."

"He's all right as long as you don't cross him," answered Carton.
"He used to be pretty strict, but he doesn't seem to care now what
fellows do. He's very thick with Fletcher's brother--that's one reason
why he didn't do anything just now; but I can tell you he's a nasty chap
to deal with when he's in a wax."

The prefect locked the empty building, and turning on his heel caught
sight of our three friends, who were standing close by waiting for

"Hullo, you new kids! what are you called?"

The usual answer was given, and Thurston passed on, little thinking what
good cause he would have before the end of the year for remembering the
names of the trio, and altogether unaware of the prominent part which
the Triple Alliance was destined to play in his own private affairs as
well as in the fortunes of Ronleigh College.



The weeks slipped away, and the Triple Alliance soon got over their
new-boy trials, and began to enjoy all the rights and privileges of
Ronleigh College boys. They wrote letters to Miss Eleanor and to their
former schoolfellows, and received in reply the latest news from The

"The Philistines are quite friendly now," wrote Acton. "We had a match
against them last week on their ground, and they gave us tea after.
It's awfully slow; I almost wish that chap Noaks was back."

"So do I," added Diggory, as he finished the sentence; "we could very
well spare him."

"Oh, he's all right," answered Jack Vance; "that row's blown over now.
As long as we leave him alone he won't interfere with us."

"Won't he!" returned the other; "you take my word for it, he hasn't
forgotten what you said about his father, and he's only waiting for a
chance to pay us out. Whenever I go near him he looks as black as ink."

It was customary at Ronleigh to have what was called a half-term
holiday. This was usually given on a Monday, to enable those boys who
lived within a short distance of the school to spend the week end
at home; while, in the winter or spring terms, the boarders who remained
at the school usually devoted the greater portion of the day to a

"I shall go home," said Jack Vance to his two chums; "Todderton's only
about half an hour's ride from here on the railway. And, I say, I've
got a grand idea: I'm going to write and get my mater to invite you
fellows to come too! It would be jolly to have a meeting there of the
Triple Alliance, and I'm sure old Denson would let you go if we came
back on Monday night."

Both Mugford and Diggory were charmed with the idea. "But d'you really
think your mater would have us?" they asked.

"Of course she will, if I ask her," answered Jack, and straightway sat
down to write the letter.

By Wednesday evening everything, including the formal invitation and the
doctors permission to accept the same, had been obtained, and for the
two following days the Triple Alliance could talk or think of little
else besides their projected excursion. At length Saturday came, and as
soon as morning school was over they rushed upstairs to change into
their best clothes; and having crammed their night-shirts, brushes and
combs, etc., into a hand-bag, hurried off to the railway station, in
order that they might, as Jack put it, "be home in time for dinner."

Just as they were getting into the train, who should come out of the
booking-office but young Noaks.

"Hullo!" said Jack. "He must be going home too; I hope he won't come in

The new-comer, however, had no intention of making another attempt to
force his society on the Triple Alliance; he passed them with a surly
nod, and entered a compartment at the other end of the train.

Jack Vance lived in the suburbs of Todderton, about twenty minutes' walk
from the railway; but for all that he managed to carry out his intention
of being home in time for dinner; and the three boys, after receiving a
hearty welcome, were soon seated down to a repast which came very
acceptable after seven weeks of school fare.

"Jack," said Mr. Vance, "you know that house that was to let just on the
other side of The Hermitage? Who d'you think's taken it?"

"I don't know, father."

"Why, that man Simpson, the uncle of your friend what's-his-name."

"He isn't my friend," answered Jack. "You mean Noaks. Fancy his coming
to live so near to us as that! We saw him in the train just now.
He's here for the holiday."

"I ought to tell you," continued Mr. Vance, turning to Diggory, "that
our next-door neighbour is called 'The Hermit.' He's a queer old
fellow, who lives by himself, and never makes friends or speaks to any
one. He's supposed to be very clever, and I've heard it said that he's
got a very valuable collection of coins, and is quite an authority on
the subject; it's one of his hobbies."

"I suppose," said Mugford thoughtfully, "that as he's a hermit that's
why his place is called The Hermitage."

"Well done, Mug!" said Jack, speaking with his mouth pretty full;
"you're getting quite sharp."

"Yes, that's it," continued Mr. Vance, laughing. "The old man's away
from home just now; he was suffering from rheumatism very badly, and the
doctor ordered him to a course of treatment at some baths."

The conversation turned on other topics, and when at length they rose
from the table, Jack proposed a stroll round the garden.

There were many things to see--some pet rabbits, a swing, and an old
summer-house, which Jack, being, we should say, of a decidedly nautical
turn of mind, had turned into a sort of miniature shipbuilding yard
for the construction of model vessels; though at present the chief use
to which the place seemed to have been put was the production of a great
amount of chips and shavings.

"I say," exclaimed the owner, after he and his friends had amused
themselves for some time boring holes in the door with a brace, "I know
what we'll do: let's go over and explore The Hermitage!"

Anything with a spice of excitement in it was meat and drink to Diggory.
He immediately seconded the proposition, and Mugford, after a moment's
hesitation, agreed to join his companions in the enterprise.

They strolled off down the path, and soon reached a long stretch of
brick wall, the top of which was thickly covered with fragments of
broken bottles.

"There's a place down at the other end where we can get over," said
Jack. "I smashed the glass with a hammer, because I lost a ball and had
to climb over and get it, one day last holidays."

The Hermitage was surrounded on all sides by a thick mass of shrubs and
trees, through which a moment later the Triple Alliance were cautiously
threading their way. Emerging from the bushes, they found themselves
standing on a gravel path, green with moss and weeds, which ran round
the house--a queer, dilapidated-looking building, which seemed sadly in
want of repair: the plaster was cracked and discoloured, while the doors
and windows had long stood in need of a fresh coating of paint.

"I say," whispered Mugford, "hadn't we better go back? what if the old
chap's at home!"

"Oh, it's all right; there's nobody about," answered Jack. "Let's go on
and see what the place is really like."

They tip-toed round the building. It was evidently unoccupied, though
the delightful sense of uncertainty that at any moment some one might
pounce out upon them or walk down the drive made the questionable
adventure very charming.

"Have you ever been inside?" asked Diggory.

"No, rather not; I don't think any one has except the doctor, and an old
woman who comes in to do the house-work."

"Well, then, I'm going in," answered Diggory, with a twinkle in his eye.

"Go on! Why, you might be had up for house-breaking!"

"Rubbish! I'm not going to steal anything.--Here, Mug, lend me your
knife a minute."

"I don't believe this one's fastened," he continued, walking up to one
of the windows. "No, it isn't. Bother! I'm awfully sorry, Mugford."

Using the big blade of the clasp-knife as a lever, Diggory had just
succeeded in raising the sash the fraction of an inch, when the steel
suddenly snapped off short at the handle.

"Oh, never mind," said the owner; "let's go back now. What if we're

"Oh, there's no fear of that," answered Jack, who was always infected
with the adventurous spirit of his chum.--"Go on, Diggy; I'll come

By inserting their fingers in the aperture, the boys soon raised the
sash, and a few seconds later Diggory mounted the ledge and scrambled
through the window "Come on," he said; "the coast's all clear."

Jack Vance joined him immediately, and Mugford, not wishing to be left
alone outside, was not long in making up his mind to follow his

The room in which the three boys found themselves was evidently a
library or study. Book-shelves, and cupboards with glass doors,
containing geological and other specimens, occupied much of the wall
space; while in the centre of the floor stood a large writing-table,
covered with a miscellaneous collection of pens, ink-pots, bundles of
papers, and a polished mahogany box which could easily be recognized as
a microscope-case.

The intruders stood for a few moments gazing round in silence.
The place did not look very interesting, and smelt rather damp and

"I say," exclaimed Jack Vance, "look there: he don't seem very careful
how he leaves his things when he goes away."

As he spoke he pointed across to the opposite side of the room, where,
between two bookcases, an iron safe had been let into the wall.
The heavy door was standing half open, while the floor beneath was
strewn with a quantity of shallow wooden trays lined with green baize.

"Old bachelors are always untidy," remarked Diggory. "Let's see where
this door leads to." He turned the handle as he spoke, and walked out
into a gloomy little hall paved with cold, bare flagstones, which caused
their footsteps to waken mournful echoes in the empty house.

"I say, you fellows, don't let's go any further," murmured Mugford;"
we've seen enough now. Suppose the old chap came back and--"

He never reached the end of the sentence, for Diggory suddenly raised
his hand, exclaiming in a whisper, "Hark! what was that?"

The loud ticking of Mugford's old turnip of a watch was distinctly
audible in the silence which followed.

"What is it, Diggy? what--"

"Hark! there it is again; listen."

The suspense became awful. At length Diggory dropped his hand.
"Didn't you hear footsteps?" he asked. "I'm certain there's some one
walking about on the gravel path."

"We shall be caught," whimpered Mugford; "I knew we should. What can we

"Bolt!" answered Diggory, and began tip-toeing back towards the library
door. "Stay here half a 'jiffy,'" he added; "I'll go and reconnoitre."

Ages seemed to pass while Jack Vance and Mugford stood in the dark
passage awaiting their companion's return. At length the door was
pushed softly open.

"It's all right; there's no one there. I must have been mistaken.
Come along."

In a very short time the Triple Alliance were once more outside The
Hermitage. Diggory lingered for a moment to close the window, and then
followed his companions through the shrubs and over the wall.

"You are a great ass, Diggy, to go giving us a start like that," said
Jack, as they paused for a moment to take breath before returning to the

"Well, I could have sworn I heard the gravel crunch as if some one was
walking on it," returned the other. "I should think the place must be

A good tea, with all kinds of nice things on the table, soon revived the
boys from the trifling shock which their nerves had sustained, and by
the end of the evening their adventure was wellnigh forgotten.
They were destined, however, to remember it for many a long day to come,
and before many hours had passed they were heartily wishing that they
had never set foot inside The Hermitage, but kept on their own side of
the wall.

The party were seated at supper on Sunday evening, when a servant
entered the room, and addressing her master said, "If you please, sir,
there's a policeman called to see you."

Jack's father rose from his chair, remarking, in a jocular manner,
"I expect it's one of you young gentlemen he's come after."

The meal was nearly over when Mr. Vance returned and reseated himself at
the table.

"Did either of you hear the dog bark last night?" he asked.

"No; why?"

"Why, because old Fossberry's house has been broken into, and they think
the thieves must have come through our garden; there were some footmarks
in the shrubbery just on the other side of the wall."

The hearts of the Triple Alliance seemed to jump into their throats, and
their mouths grew dry and parched. Jack stared at Mugford, and Mugford
stared at Diggory, but none of them spoke.

"It seems," continued Mr. Vance, not noticing the effect which his first
announcement had produced on at least three of his hearers, "that the
old woman who looks after the house went there this morning, and found
that the iron safe in which the old chap keeps his coins had been opened
and the whole collection removed. The only trace of the thieves that
the police have been able to discover is the broken blade of a
clasp-knife, which was on a flower-bed near the window."

"What will they get if they are caught?" asked Jack faintly.

"Oh, penal servitude, I suppose; it's a serious business housebreaking."

"How quiet you boys are!" said Mrs. Vance a short time later.
"I think you must be tired. Wouldn't you like to go to bed?"

The three friends were only too glad to avail themselves of this excuse
for getting away into some place where they could indulge in a little
private conversation. Diggory and Mugford slept together in the same
room; Jack followed them in and closed the door.

"Well," he exclaimed, "we're in a nice mess."

"But we didn't steal the coins," said Mugford.

"Of course we didn't--the safe had been robbed before we went there--but
it looks as if we'd done it; and if they find out we got into the house,
I don't see how we're going to prove that we're innocent."

There was a short silence; then Diggory spoke.

"Look here, Jack: I was the one who proposed going inside the place;
shall I tell your guv'nor?"

"Well, I was thinking of doing that myself, only I don't see what good
it can do. If we tell him, he'll be bound to tell the police, to
explain about those footmarks; and when it comes out that we got into
the house, I should think we are pretty certain to be charged with
having stolen the coins. I think the best thing will be to keep it
dark: we didn't crib the things, and the thieves are sure to be caught
in time."

Even after Jack had retired to his own room, Diggory and Mugford lay
awake for hours discussing the situation; and when at length they did
fall asleep, it was only to dream of being chased by "The Hermit"
and a swarm of long-legged policemen, who forced their way into the
Third Form classroom at Ronleigh, and handcuffed the unfortunate trio in
the very bosom of "The Happy Family."

The following morning was spent in visiting such parts of the town of
Todderton as were worth seeing.

"Upon my word," said Jack, "I feel funky to show my nose outside our
gate, just as if I really had prigged those wretched coins. I shan't be
at all sorry this evening to get back to Ronleigh. It's all in the
paper this morning; it mentions the footmarks and the knife-blade, and
says that as yet the police have not been able to discover any further
traces of the robbers."

The conditions on which the half-term holiday was granted required every
boy to return to school on the Monday evening, and accordingly, about
seven o'clock, the Triple Alliance found themselves once more on their
way to the railway station. They took their seats, and had hardly done
so when young Noaks entered the compartment.

"Hullo, you fellows!" he exclaimed; "didn't you hear me whistle?
I was standing over there by the book-stall."

Regarding this as an overture of friendship after their recent
encounter, Jack Vance replied in an equally amicable manner, and after a
few common-place remarks the party relapsed into silence. At Chatton,
the station before Ronleigh, a man who had so far travelled with them
got out, and the four boys were left alone. Hardly had the train
started again when Noaks put down his paper, and turning to his
companions said,--

"That's a rum business about that old chap's house being robbed, isn't

Something in the speaker's look and in the tone of his voice caused the
three listeners to experience an unpleasant quickening of their pulses.

"Yes," answered Diggory, with a well-assumed air of indifference.
"I suppose they'll catch the thieves in time."

"I suppose so," returned the other, "especially if they find the chap
who owns that knife with the broken blade."

The malignant look with which these words was accompanied showed at once
that the speaker meant mischief. The three friends looked at one
another in horrified amazement. Could it be possible that their visit
to The Hermitage had already been discovered?

Noaks watched their faces for a moment, evidently well pleased with the
effect which his remark had produced; then he burst out laughing.

"Look here," he continued, producing from his pocket a buck-handled
clasp-knife: "I wonder if that's anything like it; I see the big blade's

The Triple Alliance recognized it in a moment as one of the articles
that had been rescued from Mugford's sale at The Birches; in fact, the
owner's name appeared plainly engraved on the small brass plate.

Diggory was the first to find his tongue.

"What d'you mean? We didn't steal the coins!"

"My dear fellow, I never said you did. I only know that on Saturday I
was looking over our wall, through an opening there happens to be in the
shrubs, and saw you fellows climbing out of the old chap's window; and
after you'd gone I noticed something lying in the path, and I hopped
over, and picked up this knife."

"Give it here; it's mine," said Mugford, holding out his hand.

"No fear," answered the other, calmly returning the piece of lost
property to his own pocket. "In this case finding's keeping; besides,
I'm not sure if I couldn't get a reward for this if I sent it to the
right place."

The train began to slacken speed as it approached Ronleigh station.

"Look here, Noaks," cried Jack Vance, in a fit of desperation, "what are
you going to do? You know very well we are not thieves."

"I don't know anything of the sort," returned the tormentor, standing up
to take his bag off the rack; "all I know is just what I've told you.
See here, Mr. Vance," he continued, rounding on Jack with a sudden
snarl, "you were good enough some little time ago to make some very
caddish remarks about my father; in the future you'd better keep your
mouth shut. I owe all three of you a dressing down for things that
happened at Chatford, and now you'd better mind your P's and Q's if you
don't want to be hauled up for housebreaking."

With this parting threat the ex-Philistine left the carriage. Mugford,
Jack, and Diggory gazed at one another for a moment with anything but a
happy look on their faces. One after another they slowly gathered up
their things and stepped out on to the platform. Hardly had they done
so when they heard their names called, and turning round beheld the
small figure of "Rats" rushing forward to meet them.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed. "Old Ally sent me down to get a paper, and I
thought you'd come by this train. I say, there's a fine row on up at
the school--such a lark; I'll tell you about it as we go along."



For the time being the three friends forgot their own troubles in their
eagerness to hear "Rat's" description of certain events which had
happened during their absence from Ronleigh.

"Look sharp; out with it!" they exclaimed. "What's happened?"

"Well," began Rathson, "it all came out through young Bayley acting the
fool and spraining his ankle. You know we had the paper-chase this
morning, and the hares ran out to Arrow Hill, and back again round by
the canal and Birksam Church. Just after we'd rounded the hill, young
Bayley jumped off the top of a high hedge, and twisted his foot so badly
that he couldn't stand up. As it happened, there was a check just then,
and Carton ran forward and told Allingford what had happened. He and
Oaks came back, and said the only thing would be to get him
to Chatton station, and so home by train. It was awfully decent of
those chaps. They carried Bayley all the way, and then Oaks went home
with him, and Allingford walked back, and so, of course, they missed
half the run. Awfully brickish of them I call it, considering that it
was only a kid like Bayley."

The Triple Alliance gave a murmur of assent.

"Was that what the row's about?" asked Diggory. "Oh, bless you, no;
I haven't come to that yet. After he'd seen Oaks and Bayley into the
train, old Ally started to walk home. There's a little 'pub' about half
a mile out of Chatton called the Black Swan, and he thought he'd call
and ask if they'd seen the fellows pass. You know Thurston the
prefect, that chap who came to the door when we were having that meeting
in the 'old lab.' Well, now, if he and Mouler, and two or three more of
that sort, weren't sitting in the taproom, smoking, and drinking beer,
and having a regular high old time. They'd lagged behind on purpose.
Of course Allingford kicked them all out, and he and 'Thirsty' had a
frightful row. They say the big chaps want to hush the matter up as far
as they can, and not report it to old Denson, for fear he'd make it an
excuse to put a stop to paper-chasing. Ally slanged Thurston right
and left, and told him that if he chose to drink beer in a low 'pub'
with the biggest blackguards in the school, he needn't expect that the
fellows in the Sixth would have anything to do with him, and that he
ought to send in his resignation as a prefect."

On entering the school buildings, our three friends were convinced of
the truth of their comrade's story, and on their way to the schoolroom
the question was repeated at least half a dozen times--"Have you heard
about old 'Thirsty' being cobbed in the Black Swan?" Diggory thought of
the conversation he had overheard in Acton's study, and mentioned it to

"Yes," answered the latter. "Big Fletcher's a beast. I know Thurston's
very chummy with him, but I don't see that's got much to do with it.
My brother, who left last term, said that 'Thirsty' used to be rather a
jolly chap, only he's got a fearful temper when he's crossed. Most of
the chaps like him as a prefect, because as long as you don't interfere
with him he doesn't seem to care much what any one does. The real thing
is he's going to the dogs, and, as Allingford says, he ought to resign."

Away in one of the Sixth Form studies the subject of their conversation
was sitting with his hands in his pockets, frowning at the fire. He was
roused from his reverie by some one putting his head round the corner of
the door and exclaiming,--

"Hullo, 'Thirsty!'"

"Hullo, Fletcher! where on earth have you been all the evening?"

The new-comer was tall and lanky; he had a sharp, foxy-looking face,
with thin, straight lips, and two deep lines which looked almost like
scars between the eyebrows. He shut the door, and dragging forward a
chair, sat down with his feet on the fender, and commenced warming his
hands at the fire.

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