Part 3 out of 5
"Oh, I've been nowhere in particular," he answered, laughing. "But I
say, young man, you seem to have raised a pretty good hornets' nest
about your ears along this corridor."
"Yes, I know; they've had the cheek to send me that!"
He leaned back as he spoke, and taking a piece of paper from the table,
tossed it across to his friend. It was a letter signed by most of the
prefects, suggesting that he should send in his resignation.
"Humph!" said Fletcher; "that's a nice sort of a round robin, don't you
call it? Well, what are you going to do?"
"Oh, I shall resign and have done with it. I'm sick of having to
masquerade about as a good boy. I mean to do what I like."
"Pooh!" returned the other. "Now that you are a prefect, I wouldn't
give up all the privileges and the right to go out and come in when you
like just because a strait-laced chap like Allingford chooses to take
offence at something you do. They can't force you to resign unless they
go to the doctor, and they won't do that. I know what I'd do: I'd tell
them pretty straight to go and be hanged, and keep their sermonizing to
Thurston turned on the speaker with a sudden burst of anger.
"Oh yes!" he exclaimed; "you're always saying you'd do this and do that,
but when the time comes you turn tail and sneak away. Look here: you
were the one who proposed going into the Black Swan this morning, and
when young Mouler said Allingford was coming, you slipped out of the
back door and left us to face the shindy."
"Well," returned the other, laughing, "I thought you chaps were going to
bolt too. I hopped over the wall at the back into the field, and waited
there for about a quarter of an hour, and then, as no one came, I made
"That's all very fine. You took precious good care to save your own
bacon; you always do."
"Oh, go on!" answered Fletcher, rising from his chair; "you're in a wax
to-night. Well, ta, ta! Don't you resign."
This little passage of arms was not the first of the kind that had taken
place between Fletcher and Thurston, and it did not prevent a renewal of
their friendship on the morrow.
The latter, following either his own inclination or the advice of his
chum, decided not to resign his position as a prefect, and in a few
days' time the majority of the school had wellnigh forgotten the
fracas at the Black Swan.
Among those in high places, however, the affair was not so easily
overlooked. The big fellows kept their own counsel, but it soon became
evident that Thurston was being "cut" and cold-shouldered by the other
members of the Sixth; while he, for his part, as though by way of
retaliation, began to hob-nob more freely than ever with boys lower down
in the school and of decidedly questionable character.
"It's awfully bad form of a chap who's a prefect chumming up with a
fellow like Mouler in the Upper Fourth," said Carton one afternoon.
"I wonder old 'Thirsty' isn't ashamed to do it. And now he's hand
and glove with those chaps Hawley and Gull in the Fifth; they've both
got heaps of money, but they're frightful cads."
From the morning following their return to Ronleigh the Triple Alliance
had been kept in a continual state of uneasiness and suspense, wondering
what action Noaks would take regarding his discovery of their visit to
The days passed by, and still he made no further reference to the
matter, and took no notice of any of the three friends when he happened
to pass them in the passages. The fact was that for the time being his
attention was turned in another direction. Like most fellows of his
kind, Noaks was a regular toady, ready to do anything in return for the
privilege of being able to rub shoulders occasionally with some one in a
higher position than himself, and he eagerly seized the opportunity
which his friendship with Mouler afforded him of becoming intimate with
Thurston. It was rather a fine thing for a boy in the Upper Fourth to
be accosted in a familiar manner by a prefect, and asked sometimes to
visit the latter in his study; and when such things were possible, it
was hardly worth while to spend time and attention in carrying on a feud
with youngsters in the Third Form. But Noaks had never forgotten the
double humiliation he had suffered at Chatford--first in being sent off
the football field, and again in the disastrous ending to the attempted
raid on the Birchites' fireworks; nor had he forgiven the Triple
Alliance for the part which they had played, especially on the latter
occasion, in bringing shame and confusion on the heads of the
One morning, nearly a month after the half-term holiday, the three
friends were strolling arm in arm through the archway leading from the
quadrangle to the paved playground, when they came face to face with
their old enemy. He was about to push past them without speaking; then,
seeming suddenly to change his mind, he pulled up, took something from
his pocket, and handing it to Jack Vance, said shortly,--
"There! I thought you'd like to see that; it seems a good chance to
earn some pocket-money."
The packet turned out to be a copy of the Todderton weekly paper.
"I've marked the place," added Noaks, turning on his heel with a
sneering laugh; "you needn't give it me back."
A cross of blue chalk had been placed against a short paragraph
appearing under the heading "Local Notes." Jack read it out loud for the
edification of his two companions.
"We notice that Mr. Fossberry has offered a reward of 50 pounds for any
information which shall lead to the arrest of the thieves who entered
his house some few weeks ago, and stole a valuable collection of coins.
As yet the police have been unable to discover any further traces of the
missing property, but it is to be hoped that before long the offenders
will be discovered and brought to justice."
There was a moment's silence.
"I wish I'd told my guv'nor," muttered Jack Vance.
"Well, tell him now," said Diggory.
"Oh no, I can't now; he'd wonder why I hadn't done it sooner. Besides,
I believe Noaks is only doing this to frighten us; he can't prove that
we stole the coins, because we didn't. All the same, it would be very
awkward if he sent the police that jack-knife, and told them he'd seen
us climbing out of the old chap's window."
"Yes," answered Diggory; "I suppose it would look rather fishy.
Bother him! why can't he leave us alone?"
SHADOWS OF COMING EVENTS.
The Easter holidays came and went as rapidly as Easter holidays always
do, and before the Alliance had recovered from the excitement connected
with their first experience of breaking up at Ronleigh, they were back
again, greeting their friends, asking new boys their names, and, in
short, commencing their second term as regular old stagers. Up to the
present they had been content to "lie low," and had remained satisfied
with making the acquaintance of their class-mates in "The Happy Family;"
but now they began to take more interest in school matters in general,
and to notice what was going on in other circles besides their own.
In answer to the eager inquiries of his two companions, Jack Vance said
that he had seen nothing of Noaks during the holidays, except having
passed him on one or two occasions in the street. The notice of the
fifty pounds reward still appeared in the windows of the police station;
but the robbery itself was beginning to be looked upon as a thing of the
past, and was already wellnigh forgotten.
"I wonder if Noaks has still got my knife?" said Mugford.
"Oh, I don't know," answered Jack. "He's too much taken up with Mouler
and Gull and all that lot to think about us. I shouldn't bother my head
about it any further; he only showed us that paper out of spite, to put
us in a funk."
It was pretty evident, to the most casual observer, that the quarrel
which the Black Swan incident had occasioned between Thurston and his
brother prefects had not yet been dismissed from the minds of either
party. The former became more lax than ever in the discharge of his
duties, and avoiding the society of his school equals, sought the
companionship of such boys as Hawley, Gull, and Mouler, who at
length came to be known throughout the College as "Thirsty's Lot."
With the exception of Fletcher, the prefects left him severely alone.
Allingford occasionally came down on him for allowing all kinds of
misconduct to pass unchecked, but it was hardly to be expected that a
fellow who was hand and glove with some of the principal offenders
should have much influence or power in maintaining law and order; and
these interviews with the captain usually ended in an exchange of black
looks and angry words.
The consequences which resulted from this lack of harmony among those in
authority may be easily imagined. "Old Thirsty never makes a row when
he sees a chap doing so-and-so," was the cry. "Why should Oaks and
Rowlands and those other fellows kick up bothers, and give lines for the
same thing?" To all these murmurers the prefects turned a deaf ear.
"I don't care what Thurston does," would be their answer; "you know the
rule, and that's sufficient." Any further remonstrance on the part of
the offender was met with a summary "Shut up, or you'll get your head
punched," and so for a time the matter ended.
It was hardly to be expected that the light-hearted juveniles of the
Third Form should trouble their heads to take much notice of this
disagreement among the seniors. For one thing, they knew nothing of
what was said and done in the Sixth Form studies, and even the prefects
themselves never thought for a moment that this little bit of friction
in the machinery of Ronleigh College would, figuratively speaking, lead
to "hot bearings" and a narrow shave of a general breakdown.
So the members of "The Happy Family" pursued the even tenor of their
way, getting into scrapes and scrambling out of them, feasting on pastry
and ginger-beer, turning up in force on Saturday afternoon to witness
the cricket matches, and coming to the conclusion that though Oaks and
Rowlands might be a trifle strict, and rather freehanded with lines and
"impots," yet all this could be overlooked and forgiven for the sake
of the punishment which they inflicted on the enemy's bowling.
As it has been all along the intention of this story to follow the
fortunes of the Triple Alliance, the record of their second term at
Ronleigh would not be complete without some mention of their memorable
adventure with the "coffee-mill."
Wednesday, the fourteenth of June, was Jack Vance's birthday, and just
before morning school he expressed his intention of keeping it up in a
"Look here!" he remarked to his two companions. "You know that little
bootmaker's shop just down the road, before you come to the church.
There's a notice in the window, 'Double Tricycle on Hire.' Well, the
mater's sent me some money this year instead of a hamper, so I thought
I'd hire the machine; and we'll go out for a ride, and take it in turns
for one to walk or trot behind."
"Oh, I'd advise you not to!" cried "Rats," who was standing by and
overheard the project.
"Why, it's a rotten old _sociable_, one of the first, I should think,
that was ever made. It's like working a tread-mill, and it rattles and
bangs about until you think every minute it must all be coming to
pieces. It's got a sort of box-seat instead of a saddle. Maxton hired
it out one day the term before last, and he and I and Collis rode to
Chatton. It isn't meant to carry three; but the seat's very wide, and
they squeezed me in between them. There's something wrong with the
steering-gear, and it makes a beastly grinding noise as it goes along,
so Maxton christened it the 'coffee-mill.' Fellows are always chaffing
old Jobling about it, when they go into his shop to buy bits of leather,
and asking him how much he'll take for his coffee-mill, and the old chap
gets into an awful wax."
"Oh, I don't care!" answered Jack. "It'll be a lark, and we needn't go
far.--What d'you say, Diggy?"
Diggory and Mugford both expressed their willingness to join in the
expedition, and arrangements were accordingly made for it to take place
"You'd better not let old Jobling see three of you get on at once," said
"Rats." "I should send Mugford on in front and pick him up when you get
round the corner."
Rathson's description of the "coffee-mill" was certainly not
exaggerated. It was a rusty, rattle-bag concern--a relic of the dark
ages of cycling--and .looked as if it had not been used for a
twelvemonth. Jobling squirted some oil into the bearings, knocked
the dust off the cushioned seat, and remarked that a shilling an hour
was the proper charge; but that, as he always favoured the Ronleigh
gentlemen, he would say two shillings, and they might keep it the whole
Jack, as we have said before, was of rather a nautical turn of mind, and
occasionally, when the fit was on him, loved to interlard his
conversation with seafaring expressions.
"She isn't much of a craft to look at," he remarked, as they drew up and
dismounted at the spot where Mugford stood waiting for them; "but we'll
imagine this is my steam-yacht, and that we're going for a cruise.
Now then, Diggy, you're the mate, and you shall sit on the starboard
side and steer. Mugford's the passenger, so he'll go in the middle.
I'm captain, and I'll work the port treadles. Now, then, all aboard!"
The boys scrambled on to the seat, and with some little amount of
crushing and squeezing got settled in their places, and at the captain's
word, "Half-speed ahead!" the voyage commenced. They went lumbering and
clattering through the outskirts of the town, and at length, after
having roused the dormant wit of one shop-boy, who shouted "Knives to
grind!" after them, they gained the highroad. For half a mile the
voyage was prosperous enough; then the adventures began.
They were going at a good pace down a gentle slope, and on turning a
corner saw immediately in front of them a narrow piece of road with a
duck-pond on one side and a high bank on the other. Some one had
carelessly left a wheelbarrow standing very nearly in the centre of the
highway, and there was only just room to pass it on the water side.
"Starboard a little!"
The steering gear worked rather stiffly. Diggory gave the handle a hard
twist, and it went round further than he intended.
"Port!" cried the captain, "hard a-port!" But it was too late, and the
next moment the "coffee-mill" ran down the sloping bank and plunged
into the duck-pond. It gave a violent lurch, but fortunately its
breadth of beam kept it from overturning, and the water, being not more
than a few inches deep, only wet the boots of the mariners.
"You great ass, Diggy! why didn't you _port?_" demanded the captain.
The mate, who as a matter of fact could not have told the difference
between the nautical "port" and home-made ginger-beer, answered
promptly, "So I did;" and the two officers commenced to punch each
other with their disengaged hands. This combat, which was conducted
with the utmost good feeling on both sides, had been continued for
nearly a minute, when the passenger, on whose unoffending back a large
proportion of the blows were falling, remarked,--
"Well, if we aren't going to stop here all day, when you've quite done
we'd better think about getting out."
They were at least four yards from the shore, and it was impossible to
reach it dry-shod.
"Some one must take off his boots and socks and haul her out," said
"Well, I can't," answered Jack; "the captain never ought to leave the
"Oh, I'll go," answered Mugford, laughing; and accordingly, after
performing some complicated gymnastic feats in getting off his boots, he
slid from the seat into the water, and so hauled the "coffee-mill"
back to _terra firma_.
It would be impossible to describe in detail all the alarming incidents
which happened during the outward passage.
They had not gone a quarter of a mile further when something went wrong
with the brake. They flew down a long hill, holding on for dear life,
nothing but the grand way in which the mate managed this time to steer a
straight course down the middle of the road saving them from
destruction. Nevertheless, mounting the last slope was such hard labour
that Mugford had to turn to and "work his passage," by every now and
again taking a spell at the treadles.
"Look here!" said Diggory at length: "don't you think we've gone far
enough? we shan't be back in time for tea."
"Oh, I forgot," answered the captain. "We'll see. Stand by your
anchor! Let go-o-o!"
The "coffee-mill" stopped, and Jack Vance pulled out his watch.
"By me it's half-past twelve, and I'm four hours slow: twelve to one,
one to two, two to three, three to four--half-past four. Yes, it's time
we turned round. Now, then, 'bout ship!"
The tricycle clanked and rattled away merrily enough on the return
journey until it came to the long hill, which this time had to be
climbed instead of descended.
"Don't let's get off," said Jack; "we ought to rush her up this if we
set our minds to it."
With a great deal of panting and struggling they succeeded in getting
about half-way; then suddenly there was a crack, and the machine,
instead of going forward, began to run back. Faster and faster it
went, the pedals remaining motionless under their feet.
"The chain's gone," gasped the captain. "There's a cart behind! Quick,
run her aground!"
Of course the mate turned the handle the wrong way. On one side of the
road was an ordinary hedge, while on the other lay a deep ditch, and
into this a moment later the "coffee-mill" disappeared with every soul
There was an awful moment, when earth, sky, arms, legs, wheels, and
bushes seemed all mixed together, and then Jack Vance found himself
resting on his hands and knees in a puddle of dirty water. Diggory and
Mugford had been driven with considerable violence into the thickest
part of a thorn hedge, and proceeded to extricate themselves
therefrom with many groans and lamentations.
"Well," said the mate, as they proceeded to drag the machine out of the
ditch, "I should think, Jack, you've celebrated your birthday about
enough; now you'd better give over, or we shall all be sent home in a
"Me!" cried the captain, with great indignation. "It was _your_ fault,
you dummy! you put the helm over wrong again, you--"
"Hullo, you kids!" interrupted a voice behind them, and turning round
the three friends saw the burly form of John Acton pushing a bicycle up
the hill. "Hullo!" he continued; "it's young Trevanock. What's up?
Have you had a spill?"
"Yes; the chain broke, and we ran into the ditch."
"Umph! bad business. Now you'll have to foot it, I suppose."
"Yes," answered Jack ruefully; "and we're bound to be back late pushing
this old thing all the way. I wish old Jobling would try a ride on it
"Oh! is that the 'coffee-mill'?" exclaimed the prefect, laughing.
"Well, look here! If you're late, I'll see whoever's on duty, and tell
him about the breakdown, and see if I can get you off."
"Oh, thanks awfully!" chorused the small boys.
"I've half a mind to say I wouldn't," continued Acton, looking round as
he put his foot on the step of his machine, and nodding his head at
Diggory. "I owe you a grudge for not telling me what I wanted to know
about my young brother's love-letter."
The football captain was as good as his word: he got the Triple Alliance
excused the "impot" which would otherwise have been awarded them for
arriving at the school half an hour late, and the only misfortune which
resulted from their eventful excursion was that Jack Vance had to expend
a further portion of his postal order in paying Jobling for repairing
the broken chain. The day, however, did not close without another
incident happening to one of the voyagers, which, though trifling in
itself, proved, as it were, the shadow of coming events which were
destined to seriously affect the well-being and happiness of all the
Crossing the quadrangle soon after tea, Diggory saw something bright
lying on the gravel; it proved to be a silver match-box with the letters
C. T. engraved on the front. He took it with him into the school-room,
and holding it up as the boys were assembling at their desks for
preparation, asked if any one knew who was the owner.
"Yes, I do," answered young Fletcher: "it's Thirsty's; I've seen it
Preparation of the next day's work having ended, Diggory's attention was
occupied for a time in discussing with Carton the merits of some foreign
stamps. Just before supper, however, he remembered the match-box, and
hurried away to restore it to its rightful owner.
Thurston was evidently at home, for a prolonged shout of laughter and
the clamour of several voices reached Diggory's ears as he approached
the study. As he knocked at the door the noise suddenly ceased, there
was a moment's silence, and then a murmur in a low tone, followed by a
scuffling of feet and the overturning of a chair.
"Who's there? you can't come in!" shouted the owner of the den.
"I don't want to," answered Diggory, through the keyhole. "I've brought
your match-box that I picked up in the 'quad.'"
"Oh, it's only a kid," said the voice of Fletcher senior; and the next
instant the door was unlocked by Thurston, who opened it about six
inches, and immediately thrust his body into the aperture, as though to
prevent the possibility of the visitor getting any sight of the interior
of the room.
"Oh, thanks; you're a brick," he said, taking the box, and immediately
closed the door and turned the key.
Diggory was retracing his steps along the passage, wondering what could
be the object of all this secrecy, when he nearly ran into the school
"Hullo, young man!" said the latter, "where have you been?"
"To Thurston's study."
"What have you been there for?" demanded Allingford sharply, with a
sudden change in his tone and manner.
"Only to give him his match-box that I picked up in the 'quad.'"
The captain eyed the speaker narrowly, as though half inclined to doubt
the truth of this explanation; then, apparently satisfied with the
honest expression of the small boy's face, told him to get down to
The latter wandered off, wondering more than ever what could have been
the object of the private gathering in Thurston's study which he had
"It's what I told you before," remarked Carton, when Diggory chanced to
mention what had happened. "Thirsty's going to the dogs, and I believe
big Fletcher's got a lot to do with it. Allingford can't interfere with
them as long as they keep to themselves. I don't know what they do, but
I shouldn't be surprised if there is a rare old kick-up one of these
Mischief certainly was brewing, and the "kick-up" came sooner than even
Carton himself expected.
THE WRAXBY MATCH.
Wednesday, the twenty-fourth of July, saw the whole of Ronleigh College
in a state of bustle and excitement. The near approach of the holidays
was sufficient in itself to put every one in high spirits, while, in
addition to this, the afternoon was to witness the chief cricket contest
of the season--the annual match against Wraxby Grammar School. During
the hour before dinner the ground itself was a scene of brisk activity:
the school colours flew at the summit of the flagstaff; the boundary
flags fluttered in the breeze; a number of willing hands, under the
direction of Allingford, put a finishing touch to the pitch with the big
roller, while others assisted in rigging up the two screens of white
canvas in line with the wickets.
"I do hope we lick them," said little "Rats" to Jack Vance as they stood
by the pavilion, watching Oaks mixing some whiting for the creases;
"we _must_ somehow or other."
"Why? because they've beaten us now three times running; and the last
time when our chaps went over to Wraxby and got licked at footer their
captain asked Ally if in future we should like to play a master!
Such rot!" continued the youthful "Rats," boiling with wrath; "as if we
couldn't smash them without! Look here, I'd give--I'd give sixpence if
we could win!" and with this burst of patriotic enthusiasm the speaker
hurried away to join Maxton, who, with an old sprung racquet in one hand
and the inside of an exploded cricket-ball in the other, was calling to
him from the adjoining playing field to "Come and play tip and run, and
bring something that'll do for a wicket."
The feelings expressed by "Rats" as regards the result of the match were
shared by the whole school, and by none more so than the members of the
"The Happy Family" turned up to a man, and encamped _en masse_ upon the
turf within twenty yards of the pavilion. Bibbs was the last to arrive
on the scene of action, and did so with a bag of sweets in one hand, a
book in the other, and a piece of paper, pinned by some joker to the
tail of his coat, bearing the legend, "Please to kick me"--a request
which was immediately responded to in a most hearty and generous fashion
by all present.
Kicking the unfortunate Bibbs afforded every one such exquisite
enjoyment that an effort was made to prolong the pastime by forcible
attempts to fasten the placard on to other members of the company, and
a general _melee_, would have followed if the attention of the
combatants had not been attracted in another direction. Ronleigh having
won the toss and elected to go in first, the Wraxby men strolled out of
the pavilion to take the field.
They were a likely-looking lot of fellows--the faded flannel caps and
careless way in which they sauntered towards the pitch proclaiming the
fact that each one was a veteran player.
"That chap with the wicket-keeping gloves in his hand is Partridge,
their captain," said Carton; "and that fellow who's putting out the
single stump to bowl at is Austin. He does put them in to some
tune; you can hardly see the ball, it's so swift."
There was a faint _clang_ from the pitch.
"See that!" cried Fletcher junior: "that chap Austin's knocked that
single stump out of the ground first ball. My eye, he'll make our
fellows sit up, I'll bet."
"No, he won't," cried "Rats" excitedly. "Old Ally'll knock him into a
cocked hat. He'll soon break his back," added the speaker
complaisantly. "Hullo! men in--Parkes and Rowland."
There is something in the short space of time preceding the first
_clack_ of the bat at a cricket match which rivals in interest even that
exciting moment at football when the centre forward stands hovering over
the ball waiting for the whistle to give the signal for the contest to
The noisy clatter of "The Happy Family" ceases as the crowd of boys,
ranged all down the sides of the field, turn to watch the opening of the
It is an ideal day for cricket, with a fresh breeze blowing, just
sufficient to temper the hot afternoon sunshine and cause a flutter of
cricket-shirts and boundary flags. Rowland takes centre, twists the
handle of his bat round and round in his hands, and is heard amid the
general hush to say, "No, no trial." Austin glances round at the
motionless figures of his comrades, signals to _long-on_ to stand a
little deeper, and then delivers the ball. With an easy and graceful
forward stroke, the batsman returns it sharply in the direction of the
opposite wicket, and an almost imperceptible movement, like the
releasing of a spring, takes place among the fielders. So begins
"Twenty up!" had just been called from the pavilion when a sharp catch
in the slips disposed of Parkes.
"Never mind!" cried "Rats." "Here comes old Ally; he'll make them trot
round a bit!"
The captain commenced his innings with a heart-warming leg hit, which
sent the ball to the boundary, a wave of legs and arms marking its track
as the spectators, with a joyous yell, rolled over one another to escape
For some time cheer followed cheer, and "The Happy Family" clapped until
their hands smarted; then suddenly there arose a prolonged "_Oh, oh!_"
from all the field.
"Hullo! what's the matter?" asked Bibbs, looking up from the book he was
"What's the matter?" shouted Maxton wrathfully, snatching away the
volume and banging Bibbs on the head with it. "Why don't you watch the
game? Old Ally's bowled off his pads!"
It was only too true: the captain's wicket was down, and "The Happy
Family," after a simultaneous ejaculation of "_Blow it!_" tore up stalks
of grass, and began to chew them with a stern expression on their faces.
This disaster seemed but the forerunner of others. Redfern, the next
man, had hardly taken his place at the wicket when a sharp _click_, the
glitter of bails twirling in the air, and a Wraxby shout of "Well
bowled!" announced his fate; while ten minutes later Rowland, one of the
mainstays of the home team, was caught in a most provoking manner at
"Oh, bother it all!" sighed "Rats;" "this is nothing but a procession."
"Now, Oaks, old chap, do your best for us!" cried Allingford.
"All right," returned the other, laughing, as he paused for a moment
outside the pavilion to fasten the strap of his batting-glove; "I'm
going to make runs this journey, or die in the attempt."
Oaks was undoubtedly a regular Briton, just the sort of fellow to turn
the fortunes of a losing game. He walked up to the wicket as coolly as
though it were enclosed within a practice net, patted down the ground
with the flat of his bat in a manner which seemed to imply that he had
"come to stay," and then proceeded to hit three twos in his first
This dashing commencement was but the prelude to a brilliant bit of
rapid scoring: twos and threes followed each other in quick succession.
Allingford shouted, the crowd roared, while "The Happy Family"
gambolled about on one another's chests and stomachs, and squealed with
delight. Like the poet's brook, Oaks might have exclaimed, "Men may
come, and men may go, but I go on for ever." When Wraxby changed the
bowling, he welcomed the new-comer by sending the first ball into the
next field, and continued to cut and drive in such a gallant manner that
even Bibbs, standing up to get the full use of his lungs, shouted, "Go
'long!" and "Well hit!" until his face was the colour of a poppy.
"I say!" exclaimed Carton, as the eighth wicket fell, "I wish one of
these next two chaps would hang on a bit, and give Oaks a chance of
getting a few more; it must be nearly eighty up."
"Thurston, you're in!" came from the scorer.
The boy named was sitting by himself, on the end of a form close to the
telegraph, moodily scraping up the ground with the spikes of his
cricket-shoes. He knew that most of his comrades in the eleven would
give him the cold shoulder, and so did not mingle with them inside the
pavilion. He rose, and prepared to obey the summons.
"Let's give him a cheer," said "Rats;" "he may do something.--Go it,
Thurston! Sit tight, and keep the pot boiling!"
The big fellow turned his head in the direction of "The Happy Family,"
and with something of the old good-humoured smile, which had seldom of
late been seen upon his face, answered: "All right, my boy, you see if I
"Jolly fellow old Thirsty," remarked "Rats," swelling with pride at this
friendly recognition. "He can play when he likes, but he hasn't
troubled to practise much of late. He used always--Phew! my eye, what
an awful crack!"
A terrifically swift ball from Austin had risen suddenly from the hard
ground. Thurston had no time to avoid it, but turning away his face,
received the blow on the back of his head. He dropped his bat,
staggered away from the wicket, and fell forward on his knees.
To suffer for the cause of the school in a cricket or football match was
a thing which, like charity, "covered a multitude of sins." Allingford
hurried out of the pavilion and ran towards the pitch, while Partridge
and a few more of the "Wraxby men gathered round their wounded opponent
and helped him to his feet.
"You'd better come out, Thurston," said the Ronleigh captain; "I'll send
the next man in."
"No, I'll go on," replied the other, in rather a shaky voice; "I shall
be all right in a minute."
It requires something more than ordinary pluck for a batsman to stand up
to fast bowling and show good form after having been badly hit. For a
time a great deal of determination, and the exercise of a considerable
amount of will power, are necessary to conquer the natural inclination
to shrink from a possible repetition of the injury; and those who
watched the dogged manner in which Thurston continued to defend his
wicket, being themselves practical cricketers, rewarded him with loud
shouts of encouragement and praise.
Oaks piled on the score with unflagging energy, while the careful play
of his companion defied all attempts of the Wraxby bowlers to dissolve
"Bravo, 'Thirsty!'" shouted the spectators. "Go 'long'--and another!"
At length, just as the telegraph operator had received the welcome
order, "A hundred up!" the ball shot, and crashed into Thurston's
wicket. He came slowly back from the pitch, still holding his hand to
the back of his head; and though his individual score had barely run
into double figures, he was greeted on all sides with hearty cheers.
Payne, the last man, just succeeded in cracking his _duck's-egg_, and
the innings closed for 104.
As the fielders came trooping in, a small boy ran past the Third Form
encampment exclaiming, "I say, you chaps, old Punch is in the lower
road, over by that tree!" Which announcement had no sooner been made
than the greater part of "The Happy Family" sprang to their feet, and
went scampering across the field in the direction of the opposite hedge.
The cause of this stampede, it must be explained, was the arrival of an
itinerant vendor of ice-cream, whose real name, Samuel Jones, had been
changed to Punch on account of the prominence of his nasal organ.
His presence within the grounds of Ronleigh College was not approved of
by the authorities, and his trade with the small boys, who were his
particular patrons, was carried on through a gap in the hedge.
Punch's establishment ran on four wheels, and was ornamented with a
number of daubs representing Union Jacks and Royal Standards, which
formed the framework of an alarming portrait of the Prince of Wales,
from which adornment one might be led to suppose that on some previous
occasion His Royal Highness had patronized the stall. The ice-cream
was shovelled out of a tin receptacle, and pasted in lumps on to the top
of very shallow glasses, the standard price for which was one penny; and
there being a scarcity of spoons, the customers usually devoured the
delicacy in the same manner as a dog does a saucer of milk. Cynical
members of the upper classes at Ronleigh, who had ceased to patronize
the stall, charged Punch with not being over-particular in washing the
glasses, and of making the "stuff," as they called it, with cornflour
instead of cream. But the small boys were not fastidious; and as each
one had two helpings, which they ate as slowly as possible to prolong
the enjoyment, they were still refreshing themselves when the home team
moved out to field.
"Look sharp!" cried "Rats," giving Bibbs's elbow a sudden jerk which
caused that worthy to plaster the end of his nose with the remains of
his third ice. "Come on! let's see the beginning."
The second half of the game proved, if anything, more exciting than the
first. Two wickets fell before 10 appeared on the telegraph.
"Oh, we shall lick them easily!" cried "Rats" jubilantly; while Fletcher
junior gave vent to his feelings by handing Bibbs's bag of sweets round
to the company.
But there were still some hard nuts to be cracked in the Wraxby team,
and one soon appeared in Partridge, the captain. Over after over went
by, and the score rapidly increased: "Thirty up!"--"Forty up!"--"Fifty
up!" Two more wickets were taken; but Partridge seemed to have fairly
got his eye in, and gave the home team as much leather-hunting as Oaks
had provided for the visitors. To make matters worse, Austin, arriving
on the scene sixth man in, appeared to be also possessed with a
determination to carry his bat; and though he was eventually run out
by a sharp throw-in from square-leg, it was not until eighty runs had
been registered for the Grammar School.
The closing scene of the game caused an amount of excitement
unparalleled in the history of Ronleigh cricket.
As the last man of the Wraxby team went in to bat, the telegraph was
changed from 90 to 100. "Over" had just been called, and the invincible
Partridge stepped forward to play, evidently making up his mind for
another boundary hit. Thurston had been put on to bowl at the top end,
and stood ready to recommence the attack.
"Four to equal, five to beat," sighed "Rats." "Bother it all, they're
sure to win."
A cricket match needs to be very narrowly watched, or the spectator
whose eye has strayed for a moment from the game misses some fine piece
of play. The incident which finished the contest between Ronleigh
College and Wraxby Grammar School occupied barely three seconds of time;
yet it was remembered and spoken about many years after those concerned
in it had passed on to swell the ranks of the "old boys."
Partridge commenced the over with a hard, straight drive, and at the
same instant Thurston gave a little jump into the air with his right arm
stretched above his head. The ball had passed like lightning between
the wickets, and the spectators looked for a moment to see where it had
gone; then a wild shriek of joy from "The Happy Family" rent the air,--
It was true enough. With a splendid one-handed catch Thurston had
brought the well-fought contest to a close, and secured a victory for
This brilliant feat, coupled with the gallant manner in which he had
continued his innings when hurt, and so enabled Oaks to run up the
score, caused the black sheep of the Sixth Form to be regarded as the
hero of the day. Allingford shook him by the hand, and a noisy crowd
hoisted him shoulder high and carried him three times round the
Thurston certainly had good reason to feel proud of the part he had
played in the chief match of the season, and might in years to come have
always looked back with pleasure on this twenty-fourth of July.
Unfortunately another event of a sadly different character was destined
to make it a red-letter day in his career at Ronleigh. The feeling of
respect and good-will which his prowess in the field had awakened in the
minds of his former friends afforded him a splendid opportunity for
reassociating himself with all that was worthy and honourable in school
life. The chance no sooner presented itself, however, than it was flung
away, and was lost for ever.
Evening preparation was over, and supper, an informal meal, attendance
at which was not compulsory, was in progress. The door of Thurston's
study was once more locked on the inside, as it had been when Diggory
went to return the match-box to its rightful owner.
Fletcher senior, Hawley, and Gull sat on three sides of the small table,
while Thurston himself occupied the fourth.
"Hang it all!" exclaimed the latter, throwing down a handful of playing
cards upon the table, and pushing back his chair. "I shan't play any
more to-night; I've got no more tin."
"Oh, go on; I'll lend you some," answered Fletcher. "I don't care
whether I win or lose; it's only the game I play for."
As a matter of fact, Fletcher nearly always _did_ win, and was mightily
displeased on the rare occasions when he lost.
"No; I've borrowed enough already," returned the other. "I shan't be
able to square up as it is till next term. It's all very well for
fellows like you three, who have rich people, and can write home any
time for a fiver; but I'm not so flush of cash.--Look here, Gull, have
you got that banjo? Sing us a song."
"All right," answered Gull, reaching down and picking a small
five-stringed instrument off the floor; "what'll you have?"
"Oh, something with a good swing to it. I feel like kicking up a row."
Gull tuned up, struck a few chords, and then launched out into a
rattling nigger song with an amount of "go" and clatter sufficient to
inspire the hearer with an almost irresistible desire to get up and
dance. The three listeners shouted the chorus at the top of their
voices, pounding the table with their fists by way of a sort of drum
accompaniment. Gull was just preparing to commence the fourth verse
when there was a knock at the study door.
"Wait a jiff," said Thurston.--"Who's there? What d'you want?"
"Why," came the answer, uttered in rather a drawling tone, "I wish you
fellows wouldn't make so much row. I can't possibly work. Do be
"Oh, go to Bath!" shouted Thurston.--"It's only that old stew-pot
Browse," he added. "The beggar's got the next study, and he's cramming
up for some 'exam.'--Go on, Gull."
The entertainment continued, and waxed more noisy than ever, the
performers hammering the table with a ruler and two walking-sticks to
add zest to the choruses.
Soon there came another interruption, very different in tone from the
mild expostulation of the studious Browse. The door was violently
shaken, and from without came the sharp, peremptory order of the
"Look here, Thurston, just shut up; we've had enough of this horrible
row for one night. Stop it, d'you hear?"
"All right," growled the owner of the study; "keep your hair on, old
"Sh! steady on, Thirsty," said Fletcher, in a low tone. "Don't go too
far, or he'll put a stop to our next merry meeting. I know Allingford,
and he's rather a hard wall to run your head against."
"That confounded old Browse has gone and sneaked!" cried the other, with
a flush of passion on his face. "Let's wait till Ally's gone, and then
make a raid on the old stew-pot."
Hawley and Gull sprang to their feet with a murmur of assent; Fletcher
shrugged his shoulders and remained silent.
"What we'll do is this," continued Thurston. "He sits with his back to
the door. I'll pop in first and throw this tablecloth over his head;
then, while I hold him down, you chaps upset the things and put out the
light. Then we'll rush out all together, and he won't know for certain
who did it."
Five minutes later the conspirators crept out into the passage, and
tip-toed towards the door of the adjoining study. Fletcher lingered
behind, and, instead of following the expedition, stole softly away
in the opposite direction. Another moment, and the unfortunate Browse
was struggling to rise from his chair, with his head enveloped in the
tablecloth. Hawley and Gull, following immediately in rear of their
leader, sent the table, with its load of books and writing materials,
over with a crash, threw the chairs into different corners of the room,
and were about to scatter the contents of the bookcase over the floor,
when Allingford suddenly burst into the room, and stood glaring round
like an angry lion.
With one swing of his right arm he sent Thurston staggering against the
wall, and then, stepping forward without an instant's hesitation, he
dealt each of the other marauders a swinging box on the ear.
The two Fifth Form boys were big, strong fellows, and for a moment it
seemed as though a stand-up fight would ensue. The captain, however,
followed up his attack with amazing promptness, and before his
antagonists had time to think of resistance he had taken them both by
the shoulders and sent them flying into the passage.
"There!" he exclaimed. "I'll teach you gentlemen to come playing pranks
on Sixth Form studies. What business have you got here, I should like
to know?--As for you," continued the speaker, casting a scornful glance
at the originator of the outrage, "I should have thought a fellow who's
a prefect ought to know better than to go rioting with every scamp in
Thurston's conduct on the cricket field had clearly proved him to be no
coward. He stood his ground, and returned Allingford's angry glances
with a look of fierce defiance. He attempted to make some reply, but
somehow the words failed him, and turning on his heel he walked away to
his own study.
"Confound that fellow Fletcher!" he muttered between his teeth.
"He always takes precious good care to sneak away when there's any row
on. If it wasn't for that money I owe him, I'd punch his head."
Half an hour later there was a sharp rap at the door, and Allingford,
Oaks, and Acton entered the room.
"Well," said Thurston, looking up with a frown from the book he was
reading, "what d'you want now? I don't remember asking you fellows to
come and see me. A chap can't call his study his own nowadays."
"No," answered Acton grimly. "If a chap wants to work, a lot of
blackguards come and wreck his furniture."
"Look here, Thurston," said the captain coldly, "we've no wish to stay
here longer than we can help. We've come simply to tell you this--that
after what's happened to-night the prefects are determined that
to-morrow morning you send in your resignation to the doctor."
"And supposing I don't choose to send in my resignation?" returned the
"Then," answered the captain calmly, "we shall send it in for you."
There was a moment's silence; then Thurston rose from his chair, and
closing his book flung it down with a bang upon the table.
"All right," he said; "I'll do it. You fellows have been set against me
from the first. I know all about it, and before I leave this place I'll
pay you out."
"I almost wish we'd left it till after the holidays," said Oaks, as the
three prefects walked down the passage.
"No," said Allingford firmly; "if we hesitate, and the fellows see it,
we're lost. It must be done at once."
"Well, perhaps so," answered Oaks; "but I'll tell you this--Thurston
means mischief. I wish he was going to leave. He won't forget this in
a hurry, and my belief is we shall hear more about it next term."
Thurston's resignation, as might have been expected, gave rise to a
considerable amount of excitement and conflicting opinion. Nearly every
boy in the school saw clearly that he was both unworthy and unfitted to
fulfil the duties of a prefect, but the peculiar circumstances under
which he had, as "Rats" put it, been given "notice to quit," caused a
large number of his schoolfellows to side with him, and condemn the
action of the captain. Only a few of the general public knew exactly
what the row had been. The Sixth Form authorities, refusing to be
catechized, would answer no questions; while the other side took good
care to spread abroad a very one-sided account of the affair.
The Wraxby match was fresh in everybody's mind. "Awfully hard lines I
call it," said the cricketers. "He won that game for us; why didn't
they let him go on a few days more till the end of the term?"
While those young gentlemen, of whom a few are to be found in every
school, who cherish a strong dislike to anything in the shape of law and
order, were, of course, loud in their expressions of dissatisfaction at
the removal of one who always winked at their transgressions.
At the commencement of the winter session it soon became evident that
seven weeks of summer holiday had not dispelled the cloud which had
overshadowed the close of the previous term. No sooner had the first
excitement of meeting and settling down subsided a little than the
question of Thurston's deposal cropped up again, and caused an unusual
amount of interest to be felt by all Ronleigh in the forthcoming
Every school has its own methods of choosing those who are to fill the
posts and offices in connection with its various institutions, and it
will be well to describe, in a few words, how this was done at Ronleigh,
in order that the reader may follow with greater interest the working
out of an important event in the history of the college.
The elections took place twice a year--at the commencement of the summer
and winter terms--their chief object being to appoint what was known as
the Sports Committee (who had the management of athletics and of the
forthcoming cricket or football season), two librarians, and a keeper of
the reading-room. In addition to this, when any of the prefects left,
fresh ones were chosen in their places. Only members of the Sixth Form
were eligible for this office, which was not conferred before the choice
of the boys had been confirmed by the sanction of the head-master, and
was understood to last for the remainder of the recipient's school life.
On the second or third morning of the term a paper was posted up on the
notice-board in the big schoolroom, announcing the fact that the
elections would take place two days later, and mentioning exactly what
each voter was required to do. Every boy who had been two terms at the
school received a voting paper, which he filled up at his leisure and
handed over to the returning officers at a special assembly called for
At the commencement of this particular winter term the school
reassembled on a Tuesday, and on Thursday notice was given that the
elections would take place on the following Saturday afternoon.
According to the usual custom, when fresh prefects were to be chosen,
the names of all the Sixth Form boys who were not already holding that
office were mentioned on the notice, to show who were eligible for the
position. Thurston's name did not appear on the list; some one added it
in pencil, another hand crossed it out, and an hour or two later it was
added again, this time in red ink.
This simple action seemed the signal for a general agitation on
Thurston's behalf. His friends throughout the school openly proclaimed
their intention of voting for him, and exhorted others to do the same.
Almost to a man the Sixth and Remove sided with the captain, but Hawley
and Gull in the Fifth, Noaks and Mouler in the Upper Fourth, and other
fellows in the lower forms made up their minds to secure Thurston's
return, and set to work to carry out their project with a zeal worthy of
a better cause.
Two fresh prefects were required, and the friends of law and order were
unanimous in naming Fielding and Parkes as the most suitable candidates
to fill the vacancies. Rival posters appeared on the double doors
leading to the playground:--
REMEMBER THE WRAXBY MATCH,
VOTE FOR THURSTON.
PLUMP FOR PARKES,
AND HAVE A
But this method of carrying on the campaign was soon brought into
disrepute, owing to the fact that certain juveniles, seeing in this new
idea of bill-posting a fresh field for practical joking, began to adorn
the walls of the "grub-room," and other spaces which did not often come
under the eye of a master, with placards exhibiting inscriptions which
had no bearing on the elections--such irrelevant remarks as,
"nooks Two wants kicking !" or, "_Lost_-my wits. (Signed) B. BIBBS," being
calculated to occasion a considerable amount of strife and bad blood
without serving any useful purpose.
The Lower School was in a fever heat of excitement, and it is quite
possible that the little pleasantries which have just been alluded to
were occasioned by difference of opinion on the one absorbing topic of
the day. The close of the previous holidays had witnessed a general
parliamentary election, and with the details of contests which had taken
place in their native towns vividly impressed upon their minds, the
younger boys, from the Lower Fourth downwards, threw themselves into the
present conflict with an amount of energy and spirit which was not to be
found in the more sober and deliberate action of their seniors.
The greater number of the old "Happy Family" had now been removed into
the Lower Fourth, and this form in particular was rent with opposing
views, and shaken with continued outbursts of hostility between the
rival factions. The Triple Alliance were loyal to the old _regime_, and
were supported by "Rats," Carton, and several of their old friends.
"Acton saved us from getting into a row after that 'coffee-mill'
business," remarked Diggory.
"Rowland gave Noaks a dressing down when he hit me in the mouth," said
"And old Ally boxed Mouler's ears when they made me upset that paint,"
"Rats" declared that he meant to conduct what he called a
"house-to-house visitation," and accordingly, beginning at the bottom of
the form, the first person he called upon was Grundy, a great lout of
sixteen, who had been at the tail end of the Lower Fourth for the last
twelve months. As it happened, Grundy was a strong partisan of the
opposite side, and not only refused to vote for Parkes, but, seizing
hold of the unfortunate canvasser, proceeded to twist his arms and pinch
his ears for daring to oppose the election of Thurston.
Fletcher Two, whose sympathies, as might have been expected, were with
his brother's chum, organized open-air meetings in one corner of the
field where the big cricket-roller could be used as a platform.
But here, again, the love of larking which is so characteristic
of the lawless small boy came into evidence, and with that touch of
nature which makes the whole world kin, friend and foe alike joined in
the spree of interrupting the proceedings. Just when the orator
had reached the most important point in his harangue, and was pouring
forth a torrent of impassioned eloquence, the platform would begin to
move, or the audience would insist on turning the gathering into an
imaginary "scrum," and almost crushing the life out of those who
happened to be in the middle of the crowd.
Poor Bibbs especially became a target for the humour of the electors.
According to Fletcher's instructions, he had written out a speech and
learned it by heart; but though he was being continually called upon to
deliver it, he never got beyond the opening "Ahem! Gentlemen," before a
sudden movement of the platform precipitated him into the arms of his
irreverent hearers, or a shout of "Play up at the cocoa-nuts!" followed
by a shower of acorns, bits of stick, and pieces of turf, caused him to
jump down and hastily seek shelter behind the roller.
For two days, especially in the Lower School, the excitement continued
steadily to increase, and small boys being seized in out-of-the-way
corners were made to assert at one time that they would vote for
Thurston, and at another that they would vote for Parkes or Fielding,
and so, in order to escape with a whole skin, were forced to commit
perjury at least a dozen times between the hours of breakfast and tea.
One incident, which as far as the Lower Fourth was concerned tended
considerably to embitter the contest, is worthy of record as a notable
feature of this memorable campaign.
The occupants of dormitory No. 13 were rabid Thurstonians; dormitory No.
14, on the other hand, in which slept the Triple Alliance, Maxton,
"Rats," and Carton, were to a man supporters of Parkes and Fielding.
On Friday evening the two doors, which were exactly opposite to each
other, being left open, the process of undressing was enlivened by a
continual fire of abuse and insulting remarks, which might have led to a
regular scrimmage between the two parties if the presence of the
prefect, patrolling the passage, had not prevented either side from
advancing beyond the threshold of their own doorway.
"I wouldn't vote for a chap like Thurston, who goes boozing in a common
'pub' like the Black Swan," cried "Rats;" "but that's just the sort of
man for you. You're a cheap lot, the whole crew of you!"
"Look here, young 'Rats,'" retorted Fletcher junior from the opposite
room, wandering rather wide of the subject in hand. "Why don't you
write home and ask your people to buy you a new pair of braces,
instead of mending those old ones up with string? You look just like a
young street arab, and that's about what you are!"
"Don't you fellows talk about broken braces, and looking like street
arabs," cried Diggory, "when only yesterday old Greyling sent Stokes out
of class and told him to go down to the lavatory and wash his face.
That's a sample of you Thurstonians!"
"Look here!" shouted the boy alluded to, springing out of bed, and
appearing in his night-shirt at the opposite end of the dormitory.
"You know very well that Grundy flipped a pen full of ink over me,
and that was why I had to go out and wash my face."
"I know you looked altogether a different fellow
when you came back," returned Jack Vance: "I hardly knew you!"
There was a momentary pause in the discussion, and Bibbs, thinking this
a suitable opportunity for the delivery of his speech, stepped forward,
and took up his stand in the doorway. Hardly, however, had he
pronounced the opening "Ahem! Gentlemen," when a cake of soap, flung by
Maxton, struck him a violent blow in the pit of the stomach, and he was
still rolling and groaning on his bed in the throes of recovering his
lost wind when the prefect arrived to turn out the light.
The occupants of the two dormitories lay down, but not to sleep.
"You mark my word," said Diggory, "as soon as the prefects have gone
down to supper those chaps from over the way'll come across and pay us
out for throwing that soap. We'd better put a chair against the door."
"Look here!" remarked Fletcher junior to his room-mates. "I shouldn't
be at all surprised if Maxton and those other fellows in No. 14 come
over and try to rag us; let's lie awake a bit and listen."
For half an hour all was quiet and still, and the watchers in No. 14
were turning over and preparing to go to sleep, when "Rats" started up,
exclaiming in a whisper, "They're coming! I heard some one in the
passage. There 'tis again! Jump up, you chaps, and let's make a
Now, strange to say, an exactly similar alarm had just been given by
Fletcher junior in No. 13, and the reason was simply as follows:--
Mr. Greyling, the master of the Lower Fourth, in walking towards his
bedroom in slippered feet, was seized with a sneezing fit, and halting
just outside the two dormitories, gave vent to his feelings with a loud
"Et-chow!" After a moment's pause he sneezed again, and had hardly
done so before both doors were suddenly flung open, and with a cry of
"Ah, you sneaks!" and another of "Come on, you blackguards!" a crowd of
white-robed figures rushed out, brandishing pillows and startling
Mr. Greyling to such a degree that he exclaimed "Great Scott!" and
dropped his candle.
What followed is too sad to be related in detail. Mr. Greyling
scattered largess in the shape of lines among the crowd, and the next
day the occupants of the two dormitories went about thirsting for each
On Saturday, just before morning school, the voting papers were
collected, and directly after dinner the boys assembled to hear the
result of the poll. According to the usual custom, no masters were
present. Allingford presided, and the excitement was intense.
A hush of expectation fell on the crowded room as the captain mounted
the platform on which stood the head-master's desk. Up to the present
time elections at Ronleigh had been little more than a matter of
form, but on this occasion every one felt that something more was at
stake than the mere distribution of the school offices.
"Gentlemen, the business of this meeting, as you are very well aware, is
to announce the result of the elections.
"The following," continued Allingford, referring to the paper which he
held in his hand, "have been chosen to act as the Sports Committee:
Myself chairman, Oaks, Acton, Rowland, Parkes, Redfern, and Hoyle.
"The two former librarians, Clarkson and Lang, have been re-elected.
"Dale, who for some time past held the position of keeper of the
reading-room, having left, the choice of a successor has fallen between
Lucas and Ferris, who, singularly enough, both received the same number
of votes. Each of these gentlemen being equally ready to withdraw in
the other's favour, I exercised my prerogative as captain of the school,
and gave the casting vote in favour of Lucas."
At this there was a slight murmur among the audience, though whether of
dissent or approval it was impossible to tell. The interruption was
only momentary, for every one was too much interested in the next
announcement to care much what became of the post of keeper of the
"As you all know, two vacancies have occurred among the prefects, to
fill which the following gentlemen have been chosen, and their election
duly sanctioned by the head-master: Parkes and Fielding."
The words had hardly passed the speaker's lips when the whole room was
in an uproar. Cheers, howls, whistling, and the stamping of feet filled
the air with an indescribable din; members of the Lower Fourth fought
one another across the desks; and it was some minutes before Allingford
could obtain sufficient silence to enable him to finish his speech.
"This," he said, in conclusion, "is the result of the present election.
I believe there has been some little difference of opinion among you,
especially in regard to the selection of the two fresh prefects; there
are so many worthy fellows in the Sixth that one can hardly wonder at
your finding some difficulty in making your choice. One thing is
certain--namely, that the two gentlemen who have been elected to
what is and always has been a very honourable position at Ronleigh are
eminently fitted for the work. The duties of a prefect are often
difficult, and the reverse of pleasant; but I think you will agree
with me when I say that in any large school it is eminently satisfactory
to find that a certain amount of the government and discipline can be
entrusted to the boys themselves, and I feel sure that you will give
Parkes and Fielding the same willing support as you have always accorded
to myself and the other prefects."
As the captain finished speaking, Hawley, Gull, Noaks, and several other
boys sprang to their feet, their appearance being the signal for a fresh
outburst of cheers and groans. Young "Rats" commenced to hiss like a
small steam-engine, while Grundy made frantic but futile attempts to
reach over from the desk behind and smite him on the head with a French
"If any one wishes to speak," said the chairman, "he is at liberty to do
so; but, of course, we can't have more than one at a time."
With the exception of Hawley, those who had risen sat down again.
"I want to ask," said the former, "what were the numbers in the voting
for the prefects?"
"Parkes received fifty-six votes, and Fielding forty-eight."
"Did Thurston receive any votes?"
"That," returned the captain, "is a question which, for certain reasons,
I think it would be best not to answer."
"I think," interrupted Gull, rising to his feet, amid a murmur of
excitement, "that we have a perfect right to insist on the figures being
made public; everything in connection with these elections ought to
be fair and open."
"I don't think," answered Allingford quietly, "that any one has ever had
reason to accuse me of being unfair in any of my dealings; it is exactly
because I think it would be hardly fair to Thurston himself that I
propose not to publish the number of votes awarded to unsuccessful
The subject of this remark sat in the front row but one, lolling back
against the desk behind, with his hands in his pockets and a sneering
smile on his lips.
"I don't care what you do," he exclaimed, with a short laugh. "I can
guess pretty well what's coming."
"There!" cried Gull; "you hear what Thurston says. Now let's have the
"Very well," answered the captain. "If you insist, you shall have them.
The number of votes for Thurston was sixty-one."
"Then, if he got more votes than either Parkes or Fielding, why isn't he
"Because the doctor would not sanction it. The names have to be
submitted to him for approval, and he appointed Parkes and Fielding."
"Did you try to influence him to overlook Thurston?" demanded Gull
angrily. But an immediate outburst of such cries as "Shame!" "Shut up!"
and "Sit down!" showed the speaker he had gone too far, and rendered it
unnecessary for Allingford to reply to the question.
"I think," said Fletcher senior, rising to his feet when this
interruption had ceased, and looking round with a foxy smile on his
face, "that, with all due respect to the gentlemen who have been elected
as prefects, it is a great pity that the doctor should not have
consented to confirm the choice of the school, and reappoint Thurston.
I think if the matter were laid before him in a proper light he might be
induced to reconsider his decision."
"Well, will you go and see him about it yourself?" asked Allingford,
with a slight sneer.
"No; of course I shouldn't go alone," returned Fletcher. "I think it's
a matter that should be taken up by the whole school."
There was a moment's lull in the proceedings, broken only by a confused
murmur of voices; then Acton jumped to his feet. The football captain
was popular with everybody, and the sight of his jovial face and sturdy
figure was greeted with a burst of cheers.
"Look here, you fellows," he began. "I'm no speaker, but I can say
enough to serve the purpose. I think we are very much indebted to our
captain, not only for presiding over this meeting, but for what he has
done and is always doing for the good of the school. I remember
Ronleigh when it wasn't such a decent place as it is to-day. A lot of
things went on here when I was a kid that wouldn't be put up with now,
and I don't think the school ever played such good games of cricket and
football as we see at the present time. A lot of this, you may take my
word for it, is due to our captain, and I think we can't show our
appreciation of his work in a better way than by giving him three
cheers. Now, then, take the time from me. Three cheers for Allingford.
HIP, HIP, HURRAH!"
The big assembly shouted till the roof rang and the windows rattled;
then the meeting slowly dispersed, a feeble attempt to raise three
cheers for Thurston being met with as many groans as plaudits.
A PASSAGE OF ARMS.
The Triple Alliance, in common with the rest of their schoolfellows,
little thought, on returning from their summer holidays, what a
memorable epoch the coming term would prove in the history of
Ronleigh College; still less did any one imagine what important results
would arise from the action of the three friends, and how much would
depend on the loyalty of these youngsters for their _Alma Mater_.
They settled down to enjoy a peaceful thirteen weeks of work and play.
Jack Vance reported that the robbery of "the Hermit's" coins was
regarded at Todderton as quite a piece of ancient history; and as
Noaks appeared to have forgotten the existence of the clasp-knife, and,
growing every day more intimate with Thurston and Co., seemed more than
ever inclined to go his way and leave his former foes alone, the latter
made up their minds to banish dull care, and consider their unfortunate
misadventure as a storm which they had safely weathered.
The wave of excitement caused by the elections soon passed over.
The new prefects entered upon their duties, and in the performance of
the same apparently met with no ill-will or opposition; yet to every
keen observer it was evident that the recent contest had left behind it
a distinct under-current of dissatisfaction, and for the first time in
the memory of all concerned Ronleigh was a house divided against
itself--no longer united in a common cause, but split into two factions,
one pulling against the other, thinking more of party interests than of
the honour and welfare of the whole community.
The first occasion on which this spirit clearly manifested itself was
some ten days after the elections, when the college played their first
football match of the season against Ronleigh town. Thurston's name
had, as usual, been included in the list of the eleven which was posted
up on Wednesday morning, but before school was over it was noised abroad
that he had refused to play.
"I say, you fellows, have you heard about 'Thirsty'?" said Fletcher
junior, as the Lower Fourth straggled into their classroom after
interval. "I wonder if it's true."
"Oh, it's true enough," answered Grundy from the back desk; "and I'm
jolly glad he's done it. I heard him say this morning that if
Allingford and those other fellows wouldn't put up with him as a
prefect, they shouldn't have him in the team."
"Well, I call that rot," cried Jack Vance: "the team doesn't belong to
Allingford or to anybody else--"
"Oh, shut your mouth, you young prig!" interrupted Grundy, and the
entrance of Mr. Greyling put a stop to any further conversation.
I am inclined to think that a much nobler spirit would pervade such
field-sports as cricket and football if the fact could be more firmly
impressed upon the minds of both players and spectators that, providing
the conduct of each side is fair and generous, and that every one does
his "big best," it is equally creditable to lose as to win. Certainly
both sides should strive their hardest to gain the day; but let boys
especially remember, in an uphill game, when scoring goes against them,
that it is to the honour of the slaughtered Spartans and not of the
victorious Persians that the pass of Thermopylae has become a household
In addition to the loss of Thurston, who, to do him justice, was a very
good forward, the school team was weakened still further by an
unfortunate accident which befell Rowlands, who twisted his ankle, and
was forced to leave the ground at the very commencement of the game.
The Town were unusually strong, and the bulk of the back work fell on
Allingford. The captain played a magnificent game, and covered himself
with glory; but in spite of all that he and his men could do, after a
gallant fight the visitors claimed the victory with a score of four
goals to two.
On the morning after the match, just before school, the members of the
Triple Alliance were strolling across the entrance-hall, when they
noticed a crowd of boys surrounding the notice-board. The gathering
seemed to consist mainly of members of the lower classes, and the manner
in which they were elbowing each other aside, laughing, talking, and
gesticulating, showed that some announcement of rather uncommon interest
and importance must be exposed to view.
Our three friends hurried forward to join the group. Pinned to the
board with an old pen-nib was a half-sheet of scribbling-paper, and
inscribed thereon, in what was evidently a disguised handwriting, were
some verses, which were seen at once to refer to the previous
afternoon's defeat. They were as follows:--
COLLEGE V. TOWN.
_Air_, "Bonnie Dundee."
To the boys of the college 'twas Allingford spoke:
"When we play the Town team there are heads to be broke;
So let ten veteran players come now follow me,
And fight for the honour of ancient Ronleigh."
"Then put up your goal-posts, and mark your touch-line;
We'll grind them to powder, and put them in brine.
Let boarders and day boys all come out to see
Us fight for the honour of ancient Ronleigh."
The ten merry men mustered quick at his call--
There were forwards, and half-backs, and goal-keeper tall;
But one who was wont in the forefront to be
No longer was seen in the ranks of Ronleigh.
_Chorus_: "Then put up your goal-posts, and mark," etc.
Too soon their rejoicings and empty their boast,
For the Town fellows very soon had them on toast;
And the bystanders sighed as they saw frequently
The ball pass the "back" of our ancient Ronleigh.
_Chorus_: "Then put up your goal-posts, and mark," etc.
From this draw a moral, you fellows who rule:
Sink personal spite when you act for the school;
And whatever your notions of prefects may be,
Let's have the right men in the team at Ronleigh.
_Chorus_: "Then put up your goal-posts, and mark," etc.
Something in these doggerel lines excited Jack Vance's wrath above
measure, the last verse especially raising his anger to boiling-point,
so that it fairly bubbled over. Jack was a loyal-hearted youngster;
he was nothing to Allingford, but Allingford was something to him, as
head and leader of the community of which he himself was a member.
The sight of the captain toiling manfully through the long, unequal
contest of the previous afternoon, doing practically double work to make
up for the loss of his fellow-back, and to prevent a losing game
degenerating into a rout, rose up once more before the small boy's mind,
and, as has been said before, his wrath boiled over.
"Well, I call that a beastly shame. The chap who wrote it ought to be
kicked round the field."
"My eye," cried Grundy, "listen to what's talking! Kicked round the
field, indeed! Why, I think it's jolly good: it serves Allingford and
those other fellows just right for turning Thurston out of the
"What a lie!" retorted Jack. "You know very well they didn't turn him
out; he went out of his own accord."
"Here, don't give me any of your cheek," said Grundy, sidling up to his
antagonist in a threatening manner; "you mean to say I'm a liar, eh?"
The advent of three Fifth Form boys--one of whom took Grundy by the
shoulders and pushed him away, with the command to "Get out and lie on
the mat"--put an end, for the time being, to the altercation. The crowd
increased: boys of all ages stopped to read the verses; some few
laughed, and pronounced them jolly good; but to do them justice, the
greater number of Ronleians were too jealous of the honour of their
school to see much fun in this attempt to lampoon their football
representatives. Just as the bell was ringing for assembly, the paper
was torn down by Trail, the head of the Remove, who ripped it up into
fifty pieces, and in answer to Gull's inquiry what he did that for,
replied, "I'll jolly soon show you!" in such a menacing tone that the
questioner saw fit to turn on his heel and walk away with an alacrity of
movement not altogether due to any particular eagerness to commence
The Lower Fourth were straggling down the passage on the way to their
classroom, when they heard a scuffle and the clatter of falling books.
Grundy had seized Jack Vance by the collar from behind, and was screwing
his knuckle into his victim's neck.
"Yes; you called me a liar, didn't you?"
"So you are! Let go my coat!"
"Oh, so you stick to it, do you? I'll--"
The sentence was interrupted by Jack giving a sudden twist and striking
his antagonist a heavy blow in the chest, which sent him staggering
against the opposite wall. Grundy was nearly a head taller than Vance;
but the latter's blood was up, and in another moment the dogs of war
would have assuredly broken loose had not the flutter of a gown at the
end of the passage announced the advent of Mr. Greyling.
The class had finished translating from their Latin author, and had just
commenced writing an exercise, when a note was passed over to Jack Vance
from the desk behind; it was short and to the point:--
"Will you fight me after twelve at the back of the pavilion?--
Jack read the challenge, turned round and nodded, and then went calmly
on with his work as though nothing had happened.
This cool way of treating the matter did not altogether please Grundy,
who had rather expected that his adversary would elect to "take a
licking." He had, however, every reason to count upon an easy
victory, and so promptly despatched another note, which contained the
words: "Very well. I'll smash you."
Later on a third epistle was handed over: "Don't tell any one, or
there'll be too much of a crowd."
It was not until the interval that the two other members of the Triple
Alliance were informed of the coming conflict.
"You don't really mean you're going to fight him?" said Mugford.
"Of course I am."
"You'll get licked!" added Diggory, with a sigh.
"I don't care if I am. If I land him one or two, he won't be in a hurry
to lick me again. Don't you remember what you said ages ago at The
Birches, Diggy, when you went down that slide on skates? Well, it's the
same thing with me now. I'm going to show him, once and for all, that
he's not going to ride rough-shod over me for nothing."
During the last hour of school, which happened to be devoted to algebra,
the only member of the Triple Alliance who seemed able to work was Jack
Vance. Diggory made a hash of nearly every sum, while Mugford simply
collapsed, and could not even remember that like signs made _plus_, and
"I say, Diggy," whispered the latter, "don't you think Grundy'll lick
"I don't know," returned the other, with a desperate attempt to be
cheerful; "you never know what may happen. He may--"
"Trevanock, stop talking," interrupted Mr. Greyling. "If I have to
speak to you again for inattention, you'll stay in and work out these
examples after twelve."
At length the faint jangle of the bell announced the fact that the
eventful hour had arrived: the Lower Fourth passed on into the big
schoolroom, and were dismissed with the other classes.
Jack betrayed not the least sign of excitement, and insisted on going
down into the grub-room to feed two white mice before setting out for
the "front." His two friends, however, weighed down with anxiety, and
with dismal forebodings as to the result of the coming conflict, were
obliged to seek support by informing "Rats" of what was about to take
place, and begging him to give them the benefit of his cheering company.
Young "Rats," who was always ready to take part in anything from a
garden party to a game of marbles, immediately accepted the invitation.
"Jolly glad you told me," he cried; "wouldn't have missed seeing it for
anything. Jack Vance and Grundy--whew-w-w!"
The long whistle with which he concluded the sentence had certainly an
ominous sound, but the appearance of their principal was the signal for
the seconds to hide their fears under an assumed air of jovial
"You'll be certain to lick him, Jack," said Diggory, with a face as long
as a fiddle;--"won't he, 'Rats'?"
"Lick him!" answered "Rats;" "I should think so! Lick him into fits;
I could do it myself."
"He's a beastly bully," added Mugford solemnly; "and bullies always get
"I don't care," answered Jack jauntily, "if I lick him or not, but I
know he'll find me a pretty hard nut to crack."
Ronleigh had no recognized duelling-ground, but when a premeditated
encounter did take place, the combatants usually resorted to a little
patch of grass situated between the back of the pavilion and the edge
of the adjoining field. Here it was possible to conduct an affair of
honour without much fear of interruption.
Grundy was already at the trysting-place, accompanied by Andson, a chum
from the Upper Fourth, and Fletcher junior. It was quite an informal
little gathering, and the business was conducted in a free-and-easy
manner, and with an entire absence of the cut-and-dried ceremony which
characterized similar undertakings in the palmy days of the prize ring.
"Look here, young Vance," said Grundy, "if you like to apologize for
calling me a liar, I'll let you off; if not, I'm going to punch your
"Punch away!" answered Jack stolidly, and all further attempt at
pacification was abandoned.
The principals took off their coats and collars, while their companions
drew aside to give them room, and the signal was given to commence the
Grundy made no attempt at any display of science; he simply relied on
his superior strength and size, and charged down upon his adversary with
the intention of thumping and pounding him till he gave in. Jack Vance
knew very little about the "noble art," except that it was the proper
thing to hit straight from the shoulder; and following out this
fundamental principle, he succeeded in landing his opponent a good hard
drive between the eyes, which made him see more stars than are to be
witnessed at the explosion of a sixpenny rocket. Grundy drew back, and
after blinking and rubbing his nose for a moment, came on again, this
time with greater caution. Jack, on the other hand, emboldened by his
previous success, made an unwise attempt to rush the fighting, and was
rewarded with a sounding smack on the cheek-bone which broke the skin
and sent him staggering back into the arms of Diggory.
Once more the combatants approached each other, this time with a little
more feinting and dodging, which showed a certain amount of respect for
the weight of each other's fists. At length, urged on to further feats
of arms by impatient ejaculations of "Now, then, go into it!" and "Keep
the game alive!" from Fletcher and Andson, they closed again, and after
a sharp interchange of rather random pounding, Jack smote his opponent
on the nose, and received in return a heavy blow on the chest which very
nearly sent him to the ground.
After this there was another short breathing-space; a thin stream of
blood was trickling from Grundy's nasal organ, while Diggory and Mugford
noticed with aching hearts that their comrade was beginning to look
rather limp, and was getting short of breath.
What would have been the ultimate result of the contest had it been
resumed I am sure I cannot say, but I fear that, taking Grundy's
superior weight and height into consideration, the story of the fight
would have been recorded among the trials and not the triumphs of the
Triple Alliance. As it was, a sudden interruption brought the encounter
to a premature close.
"Hullo, you young beggars! what are you up to?"
The voice was that of Allingford, who, attracted by cries of "Go it!"--
"Give him another!"--"Bravo, Vance!" and other warlike shouts, had
hurried round to the rear of the pavilion to find out what was
"Hullo!" he continued, stepping forward and grasping Grundy by the
shoulder; "what's up? what's the joke?"
"It's only a bit of a fight," said Andson; "they had a row this
"What, d'you mean to say you're fighting that youngster? Why don't you
choose some one a bit smaller?" demanded the captain, rather bitterly.
"Well, it's his own doing," growled Grundy. "I offered to let him off,
but he wanted to have it out."
"Pshaw!" returned the other. "Look here, I've half a mind to give you
two a jolly good 'impot' to keep you out of mischief. Now stop it,
d'you hear, or I'll send both your names in to Denson."
Fletcher and Andson had already beaten a retreat, and Grundy was
preparing to follow, when Allingford called him back.
"Come," he said, in a kinder tone. "I don't know what your quarrel's
about, but finish it up like men, and shake hands."
The boys did as they were told, and though the salutation was not a very
hearty one, it helped to extinguish the smouldering sparks of anger
which might at some future meeting have been once more fanned into a
Grundy disappeared round the corner of the building; but Allingford
remained for a moment or two, watching Jack Vance as he fastened on his
collar and resumed his coat.
"Well, what was the row about?"
"Nonsense; fellows don't fight for nothing. What was it? Any great
"Oh no," answered Jack, laughing: "it began about that lot of verses
that was pinned upon the notice-board this morning. Grundy said
Thurston was turned out of the team, and I said he wasn't."
The captain smiled thoughtfully, and going down on one knee examined the
wounded cheek. "Put some cold water to it," he said, and then walked
That look was worth fifty bruises, and for it Jack would have continued
the fight with Grundy to the bitter end. Diggory and Mugford fell upon
his neck, and were loud in their declarations that in another round
their champion would have "knocked the stuffing out" of his opponent.
That this would really have been the case is, as I remarked before,
rather doubtful; but one fact is certain--that the conflict caused the
three friends to be more firmly established than ever in their loyalty
to the side of law and order.
For a couple of days fellows continued to talk about the skit on the
eleven, and to hazard guesses as to who was the writer. As the
majority, however, pronounced it "a dirty shame," and spoke of the
author as "some mean skunk," the poet wisely concluded to conceal his
identity, and by the end of the week the matter was, for the time being,
THE READING-ROOM RIOT.
Thurston followed up his withdrawal from the football team by a number
of other actions which clearly showed a determination to spend what was
known to be his last term at Ronleigh in living at open enmity with
those who had once been his friends and associates. He never played
unless it was in one of the rough-and-ready practice games, composed
chiefly of stragglers, who, from being kept in and various other causes,
were too late for the regular pick-ups, and came drifting on to the
field later in the afternoon. He severed his connection with the
debating society, and shunning the society of his comrades in the Sixth,
was seen more frequently than ever hobnobbing with Gull and Hawley, or
lounging about in conversation with Noaks and Mouler.
Fletcher senior, a mean, double-faced fellow, continued, as the saying
goes, "to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds."
"It's an awful pity about old 'Thirsty,'" he would say to his brother
prefects. "I try to keep him a bit straight; but upon my word, if he
will go on being so friendly with such cads as Gull and Noaks, I shall
chuck him altogether."
The speaker's methods of endeavouring to keep his chum straight were, to
say the least of it, not very effective, and, if anything, rather more
calculated to encourage him still further in his descent along the
"Look here!" said Fletcher, as they sat one evening talking in
Thurston's study: "don't you think you'd better make peace with
Allingford and the rest, and be a nice white sheep again, instead of a
giddy old black one? I can tell you at present they don't look upon you
as being a particular credit to the Sixth."
"I don't care what they think; they're a beastly set of prigs, and I'll
have nothing more to do with them--with Allingford especially."
"Well, of course," answered Fletcher, with an air of resignation, "the
quarrel's yours and not mine. I must own that I think Allingford made a
great deal of unnecessary fuss over that Black Swan business, and acted
very shabbily in making you send in your resignation just before the
holidays. There's something, too, that I can't understand about the
doctor's not confirming your re-election; and I think there ought to
have been some further attempt made to get you to remain in the team--
you did a lot of good service last season. However, my advice is, Put
your pride in your pocket, and return to the fold."
Young Carton had shown that he possessed a certain amount of insight
into character when he told Diggory that Thurston was a dangerous fellow
to cross. The ex-prefect's brow darkened as Fletcher enumerated this
list of real or imaginary grievances, and at the conclusion of the
latter's speech there was a short silence.
"Yes," said Thurston, suddenly making the fender jump and rattle with a
vicious kick. "Allingford's got his knife in me; he's bent on spoiling
my life here. But that's a game two can play at. I've got a plan or
two in my head, and I'll take the change out of him and those other
prigs before the term's finished."
Grundy still continued to brag and swagger in the Lower Fourth, but his
attitude towards Jack Vance suddenly underwent a change. Towards the
latter he assumed quite a friendly bearing, and though still remaining a
stanch Thurstonian, refrained from making himself aggressively obnoxious
to the Triple Alliance. The hatchet had been buried for nearly a
fortnight when an event happened which caused Ronleigh College to be
once more convulsed with excitement and party feeling--a certain air of
mystery which pervaded the whole affair tending to considerably increase
the interest which the occurrence itself awakened.
Allingford had not, perhaps, been altogether wise in his choice of Lucas
as keeper of the reading-room. The latter was a studious, hard-working
boy in the Fifth, whose parents were known to be in comparatively poor
circumstances, and the captain had named him in preference to Ferris,
thinking that the guinea which was given as remuneration to the holder
of this post, as well as to the two librarians, would be specially
acceptable to one who seldom had the means to purchase the books which
he longed to possess.
The duties of the keeper of the reading-room were to receive and take
charge of the papers and magazines, to keep the accounts, and to be
nominally responsible for the order of the room. I say nominally, as
the law relating to absolute silence was never actually enforced; and as
long as the members amused themselves in a reasonably quiet manner, and
without turning the place into a bear-garden, they were allowed to
converse over their games of chess or draughts, and exchange their
opinions on the news of the day.
Lucas was, if one may say it, a little too conscientious in the
execution of his duties, and rather apt to be fussy and a trifle
overbearing in his manner. He posted copies of the rules on each of the
four walls of the room, and insisted on decorous behaviour and perfect
silence. The consequence was that he soon became the butt of
innumerable jokes: fellows said they weren't in school, and meant to
"Rats" hit on the idea of carrying in an old newspaper under his coat.
This he surreptitiously produced, and pretended to read as though it
belonged to the room. At a favourable moment, with an exclamation of,
"Well, this is a rotten paper!" he suddenly crunched the sheet up in his
hands and tore it into fifty pieces. Lucas, naturally imagining that
the property of the room was being destroyed, rushed up exploding with
wrath. An explanation followed, and the whole assembly went off into
fits of merriment, at the latter's expense.
By the time this trick was worn out, other waggish gentlemen had
introduced the practice of dropping wax matches on the floor and
treading on them, and of hunting an imaginary moth--an irresistibly
humorous proceeding, in which the participators rushed about brandishing
books and magazines, ever and anon crying, "There he is!" and smiting on
the head some quiet, unoffending reader. Some evil-minded young
miscreant went so far as to put bits of india-rubber on the top of the
stove, the consequence being that in a short time a mysterious smell
arose of such a fearful and distressing nature that every one was
obliged to bolt out into the passage.
Those boys who at the time of the elections had formed the rank and file
of the Thurstonian party, saw here an opportunity for showing their
resentment of what they still chose to consider unfair conduct on
Allingford's part. As a result, so they said, of the captain's
favouritism, Lucas had been forced into a position for which he was
entirely un-fitted; and with the expressed determination "not to stand
him at any price," they proved themselves ever ready to assist in
keeping up a constant repetition of the disturbances which have just
These games, it need hardly be said, were not carried on when any of the
prefects or members of the Sixth happened to be present; but during the
half-hour between the end of tea and the commencement of preparation,
when it rarely happened that any of the seniors put in an appearance,
the conduct of the place went steadily from bad to worse. Lucas lost
his head and lost his temper, and in doing so lost all control of his
charge; and at last things were brought to a climax in the manner we are
about to describe.
At the back of the room was one of those short desks which can be
changed at will into a seat, the top part falling over and making a
back-rest, while the form remains stationary. In connection with
this article of furniture Gull one evening introduced a new pastime,
which he called putting fellows in the stocks, and which consisted in
decoying innocent small boys into taking a seat, then suddenly pushing
them backwards on to the floor, and imprisoning their feet between the
form and the reversible desk--a position from which they only extricated
themselves with considerable difficulty.
Lucas made a couple of attempts to interfere and stop the proceedings,
and when at length, for the third time, a thud and a shout of laughter
announced that still another victim had fallen into the trap, he rose in
wrath, and ordered Gull to leave the room.
"I shan't," returned the other. "Keep to yourself, and mind your own
"That's just what I'm doing; you know the rules as well as I do. It's
my business to keep order in this room."
"Rubbish! Who do you think cares for your rules, you jack-in-office?"
"Will you leave the room?"
"No, of course I won't. If you want to act 'chucker-out,' you'd better
try it on."
In desperation Lucas resolved to play his last card. "Look here, Gull,"
he said, rising from his seat. "You know I'm not your match in size or
strength, or you wouldn't challenge me to fight; but this I will do:
unless you leave the room, I shall go at once and report you to Dr.
The offender, seeing perhaps that this was no empty threat, evidently
considered it the wiser plan not to risk an interview with the
"Oh, keep your wig on!" he answered, with a scornful laugh. "I
shouldn't like to make you prove yourself a sneak as well as a coward.
I'm going in a minute."
The assembly, who for the most part considered the stocks joke very good
fun, and were possessed with all the traditional schoolboy hatred for
anything in the shape of telling tales, showed their disapproval with a
good deal of booing and hissing as Gull sauntered out of the room, and
Lucas bent over his accounts with the despairing sense of having lost
instead of gained by the encounter.
It soon became evident that the matter was not to be allowed to drop
without some show of feeling, for on the following morning the
unfortunate official was greeted with jeers and uncomplimentary remarks
wherever he went.
Just before tea Diggory and Jack Vance were crossing the quadrangle on
their way from the gymnasium to the schoolroom, when they were accosted
by Fletcher junior.
"I say," remarked the latter, in rather a knowing manner, "if you want
to see a lark, come to the reading-room before 'prep.'"
"Why, what's up?"
"Oh, never mind; don't tell any one I told you," and the speaker passed
"Shall we go?" said Diggory.
"We might as well," answered his companion, laughing. "I wonder what
the joke is! Another moth-hunt, or some more of that 'stocks' business,
When the two friends entered the reading-room, it presented an unusually
quiet and orderly appearance. About twenty boys were seated at the
various desks and tables, all occupied with games of chess or draughts,
or in the perusal of magazines and papers. Even Grundy, who never read
anything but an occasional novel, was poring over the advertisement
columns of _The Daily News_, with apparently great interest, while young
Fletcher was equally engrossed in the broad pages of _The Times_.
An attempt to put "Rats" in the stocks utterly failed, from the fact
that those who were usually foremost in acts of disorder refused to
render any assistance, and even went so far as to nip the disturbance in
the bud with angry ejaculations of "Here, dry up!"--"Stop it, can't
"I say," murmured Diggory, after sitting for a quarter of an hour
listlessly turning over the pages of a magazine, "Fletcher's sold us
about that lark; I don't see the use of staying here any longer."
Hardly had the words been uttered when some one in the passage outside
crowed like a cock. There was a rustling of newspapers, and the next
instant all four gas-jets were turned out simultaneously, and the room
was plunged in total darkness. What followed it would be difficult to
describe. The door was flung open, there was an inrush of boys from the
passage, and the place became a perfect pandemonium. Tables were
overturned, books and magazines went whizzing about in the darkness, a
grand "scrum" seemed in progress round Lucas's desk, while amid the
chorus of whoops, whistles, and cat-calls the latter's voice was
distinctly audible, crying in angry tones,--
"Leave me alone, you blackguards; let go, I say!"
Jack and Diggory listened in amazement to the uproar with which they
suddenly found themselves surrounded, and not wishing to risk the chance
of having a form or a table upset on their toes, remained seated in
their corner, wondering how the affair would end.
At length, piercing the general uproar, came the distant _clang, clang_