Part 5 out of 5
one seemed to become acquainted with the news at the same moment.
Mr. Grice had been screwed up in his bedroom! Oaks and Allingford had
done it! The doctor had summoned them to meet him in his study!
It was from a member of the Third Form that the Triple Alliance heard
the particulars of what had happened. "'Little Grice,'" said this young
gentleman, whose own height was about four feet two inches--"'little
Grice' never turned up until just before the bell rang for prayers, and
then he was simply bursting with rage, and told us all about it. They'd
put a note under his door telling him to be in time by the school clock;
and besides that, when one of the men went to get him out, he found a
screw-driver with Oaks's name on, so it's as clear as day who did it."
This conversation took place in the quadrangle. Travers, the Third Form
boy, rushed off to impart his information to other hearers, and the
three chums passed on through the archway, and came to a stand-still in
a quiet corner of the paved playground.
"Well," asked Diggory, "who did it?"
"Who d'you think it was?" retorted Jack Vance.
"Why, some of Thurston's lot, I believe."
"So do I."
Mugford, who was always rather slow at grasping a new idea, opened his
eyes in astonishment. "But," he exclaimed, "how about the paper and the
"Pooh!" answered Diggory, "how about that cipher note that said,
"Of course," added Jack Vance, "they'd evidently arranged it beforehand,
and that paper was to say when they were to do the trick."
It seems possible sometimes to come by wrong roads to a right
conclusion; and though the boys were mistaken in changing from their
first opinion as to the meaning of the note, yet in this instance their
error caused them to hit the right nail on the head.
"It was one of Thurston's lot who did it," repeated Diggory decisively;
"neither Oaks nor Allingford would ever dream of doing such a mad
"I don't see exactly how you can prove it," said Jack Vance
thoughtfully; "that one word 'To-night' might mean anything."
"Of course it's no proof in itself," answered the other; "but what I
mean to say is, that if the doctor, or any other sensible chap, knew all
we do about the cipher, and what they said at their last meeting, he
wouldn't doubt for a moment but that it was one of them who screwed up
Grice's door. Travers says the doctor has sent for Oaks and old Ally;
it'll be an awful shame if they get into a row."
"I don't see how they are going to get out of it," sighed Mugford.
"Then I do," answered Diggory stoutly, with a sudden flash in his bright
eyes: "the Triple Alliance can get them out!"
"Why, we must tell all we know, and show Dr. Denson the note."
"Won't it be sneaking?"
"I should consider we were beastly sneaks if we didn't."
"So we should be!" exclaimed Jack Vance. "They've always been jolly
decent to us, and it was on our account they had this row with Grice."
"If Noaks finds we've split, he'll send that knife to the police," said
"I don't care a straw what Noaks does," answered Diggory boldly.
"You fellows needn't have anything to do with it; I'll go and tell Dr.
"No; I'll come too," said Jack.
"So'll I," added Mugford; and off they started. It was always a great
ordeal to enter the doctor's study, even in what might be termed times
of peace; and now, as Diggory turned the handle of the door, in answer
to the muffled "Come in" which had followed his knock, the three friends
experienced a sudden shortness of breath, and an unpleasant sinking
sensation at the pit of the stomach.
The two prefects were standing at the front of the writing-table.
Allingford's face was very white, and Oaks's very red, "for all the
world like the Wars of the Roses," as Jack Vance afterwards remarked,
though it would be difficult to clearly understand the simile.
The head-master glanced round for a moment to see who had entered the
room, and, without taking any further notice of the three juveniles,
continued the speech he was in the act of making when they entered the
"I am not going to defend the action of Mr. Grice," he was saying.
"We are all apt to make mistakes, and I will tell you candidly that on
this occasion I think Mr. Grice was unwise; but it is absolutely
necessary that I should uphold the authority of my masters. If boys
consider they are not justly dealt with, they have me to appeal to; but
the idea that disputes between the two should be settled by practical
joking is simply outrageous. This is the first instance of the kind
that I ever remember to have happened at Ronleigh, and I tell you
plainly that I am determined to make an example of the offenders."
"I assure you, sir," said Oaks, in a low, agitated voice, "that we have
had no hand in this matter."
"I am sorry even to seem to doubt your word, Oaks," answered the doctor,
"but I think you must own that appearances are very much against you.
A screw-driver bearing your name was found in the passage, and this
piece of paper, which was pushed under the bedroom door, and which now
lies before me, bears a direct reference to the dispute about the
school time. As far as I can see at present, the only conclusion which
can be arrived at is that this is an act of retaliation which has sprung
from your contention with Mr. Grice."
The captain was about to speak, but Dr. Denson held up his hand.
"As I said before," he continued, "I am sorry, Allingford, even to
appear to doubt your word; I have always had reason to rely with
confidence upon the integrity and honour of my prefects, and believe
me, this interview is to me an exceedingly painful one. The matter,
however, is too serious to be passed over lightly, and you must hear me
to the end. The conduct of the school during the present term has
been far from satisfactory: two acts of gross misconduct have already
been committed, and I cannot but blame those whom I hold mainly
responsible for the order of the school that in both instances the
offenders should have gone unpunished. It seems hardly possible to me
that such things should happen without its coming to the ears of the
prefects who were the perpetrators of the deeds in question. Here we
have a third example of the same thing. If neither of you took any
actual part in screwing up this door, I am still inclined to think that
you must have been cognizant of the act, and I demand to know the names
of the offenders. Take time to think before you answer. I warn you
once more that I am determined to sift the matter to the bottom."
Once more the two prefects protested that they had not the remotest idea
who had played the trick on Mr. Grice.
Dr. Denson frowned, and sat for some moments without speaking, rapping
the blotting-pad in front of him with the butt end of a seal; then
remembering the presence of the small boys, he turned towards them with
an inquiring look.
Diggory's face wore something of the same expression which Jack and
Mugford had seen upon it when long ago their friend first distinguished
himself at The Birches by going down the slide on skates. He gave a
nervous little cough, and advancing towards the head-master's table,
laid thereon the cipher note, at the same time remarking, "If you
please, sir, we know who screwed up little--hem! Mr. Grice's door, or,
at all events, we think we do."
So sudden and unexpected was this announcement that it caused the doctor
to half rise from his chair, while Oaks and Allingford turned and gazed
at the speaker in open-mouthed astonishment. They none of them expected
for a moment that the three youngsters had come for any more important
purpose than to solicit orders for new caps or "journey-money," and this
confession came like a thunderbolt from a clear sky.
"What!" exclaimed the head-master, taking the scrap of paper, and
glancing alternately from the mystic word to the boy's face--"what on
earth is this? Explain yourself."
It would be unnecessary to attempt a verbatim report of Diggory's
evidence; in doing so we should but be repeating facts with which the
reader is already acquainted. Let it suffice to say that, with many
haltings and stumbles, he gave a full account of his finding the first
cipher, translating the same, attending the secret meeting, and, lastly,
discovering on the previous day the brief note which he had just
The telling of the tale occupied some considerable time, for the doctor
had many questions to ask; and when it came to the account of the
conversation which had taken place under the pavilion, his face visibly
"My eye," remarked Diggory, an hour later, "I wouldn't go through that
again for something! I swear that by the time I'd finished the
perspiration was running down my back in a regular stream."
"Well," said the doctor, turning to Jack Vance and Mugford, when their
companion had finished speaking, "and what have you two got to say?"
"Only the same as Trevanock, sir; we--we found it out together."
"Then, in the first place, why didn't you tell me all this before?"
"We were afraid to, sir," faltered Jack Vance; "and we thought it would
"Dear, dear," exclaimed the head-master impatiently, "when will you boys
see things in a proper light? You think it wrong to tell tales, and yet
quite right that innocent people should suffer for things done by these
"No, sir," answered Diggory: "we've come now to try to get Oaks out of a
scrape; though we--were afraid--"
"Afraid of what?"
"Afraid of telling more tales, I suppose. Well, well; the question now
is whether the same boys are guilty of having screwed up Mr. Grice's
door. Why they should have done such a thing I don't understand, nor do
I see how it is to be brought home to them simply by means of this
exceedingly brief note."
There was a silence. Diggory glanced up, and received a look from the
two prefects that amply repaid him for the trying ordeal through which
he had just passed. Jack Vance leaned over to whisper something in his
ear, when their attention was attracted by an exclamation of surprise
from Dr. Denson.
"Aha! what does this mean?--Look here, Allingford."
Every member of the company edged forward, and looking down at what lay
on the writing-table, saw in a moment that the mystery was solved.
The communication which had been slipped under the bedroom door was
written on a half-sheet of small-sized note-paper; a similar piece of
stationery had been used for the cipher note. The head-master had
accidentally brought them together on his blotting-pad and the rough,
torn edge of the one fitted exactly into the corresponding side of the
other. They had both unmistakably come from the same source!
Even the dread atmosphere of the doctor's study could not restrain some
show of excitement on the part of those interested in this disclosure,
but it was quickly suppressed.
"Oaks," said the doctor, "go and give my compliments to Mr. Cowland, and
ask him to open school for me; and at the same time inform the following
boys that I wish to see them at once, here in my study: Fletcher One,
Thurston, Gull, Hawley, and Noaks."
To the Triple Alliance hours seemed to pass before a shuffling of feet
in the passage announced the arrival of the Thurstonians. One by one
they filed into the room, the door was shut, and there was a moment of
awful silence. Even Diggory trembled, and Allingford, noticing it, laid
his big hand reassuringly on the small boy's shoulder.
"I wish to know," began the doctor, "which of you boys were concerned in
what took place last night? I refer, of course, to the screwing up of
Mr. Grice's bedroom door."
No one spoke, but Fletcher turned pale to the lips.
"Had you anything to do with it, Fletcher?"
"Then will you tell me the meaning of this?" continued the head-master,
holding up the cipher note.
"I--I don't know what it means," began the prefect.
"Don't lie to me, sir," interrupted the doctor sternly. "You know very
well what it means; it's of your own invention."
Thurston saw clearly that the game was up, and with the recklessness of
despair decided at once to accept the inevitable.
"I screwed up Mr. Grice's door," he said sullenly.
"And who assisted you?"
To this inquiry Thurston would give no reply, but maintained a dogged
silence. Gull and Hawley, however, anxious at all costs to save their
own skins, practically answered the question by saying, "We didn't," and
casting significant glances at Noaks and Fletcher.
What followed it is hardly necessary to describe in detail. The five
culprits were subjected to a merciless cross-examination, during which a
confession, not only of their various transgressions, but also of the
motives which had prompted them to adopt such a line of conduct, was
dragged from their unwilling lips. The cloak was torn off, and the
cowardice and meanness of their actions appeared plainly revealed, and
were forced home even to their own hearts.
"Thurston and Fletcher," said the doctor, when at length, long after the
bell had rung for "interval," the inquiry concluded, "go to your
studies, and remain there till you hear from me--Noaks, go in like
manner to the housekeeper's room.--Gull and Hawley, as you seem to have
taken no active part in this last misdemeanour, you may go. As regards
your previous misconduct, I shall speak to you on that subject when I
have decided what is to be done with your companions."
For the Triple Alliance the remainder of the day passed in a whirl of
conflicting emotions. In a very short time the whole school knew
exactly what had taken place in the doctor's study, and every boy was
incensed at the underhanded meanness of this attempted attack on Oaks
and Allingford. It was a good thing for Thurston and Fletcher that they
had their studies, and Noaks the housekeeper's room, in which to find
shelter, or they would have been compelled to run the gauntlet. Hawley
and Gull, though not found guilty on this particular count, were hustled
and abused for their former misdeeds, which it was perfectly evident
would be remembered against them during the remainder of their life at
As for Diggory and his two chums, never were three small boys made so
much of before. "What was the cipher?"--"How did they find it out?"--
these and a hundred other questions were continually being dinned in
their ears, coupled with slaps on the back, ejaculations of "Well
done!"--"You're a precious sharp lot!" and many other expressions of
At the close of this eventful day two things alone remained vividly
impressed upon their minds.
The first was an interview with Allingford and Oaks in the former's
"Well," said the captain, "you kids have done us a good turn. We were
in a precious awkward box, and I don't know how we should have got out
of it if it hadn't been for you."
"Yes," added Oaks: "I was never more surprised at anything in my life
than when Trevanock said he knew who'd done the business. It made old
Denson open his eyes."
"So it did," continued Allingford; "and if it hadn't come out, the whole
school would have got into another precious row, and there'd have been a
stop put to the Wraxby match. I tell you what. You youngsters thought
it sneaking to let out what you knew; in my opinion you'd have been
jolly sneaks if you'd shielded those blackguards, and allowed everyone
else to suffer. Well, as I said before, you've done is a good turn, and
as long as we're at Ronleigh together we shan't forget you."
The second thing which lodged in the recollection of the three friends
was a look which Noaks had bestowed upon them as he passed out of the
"Did you see his face?" said Diggory. "He looked as if he could have
killed us. He's never forgiven us since that time he was turned off the
football field for striking you at The Birches."
"No," added Jack Vance; "and then we were the means of old Noaks getting
the sack over those fireworks; and that reminds me he's always had a
grudge against me for letting out that time that his father was a
servant man; and now there's this last row. Oh yes! he'll do his best
now to get us into a bother over that knife of Mugford's."
"Of course he will," answered Diggory; "that's what he meant by glaring
at us as he did."
"I don't care!" exclaimed Jack Vance, with forced bravado; "he can't
prove we stole the coins."
"Of course he can't," sighed Mugford; "but if there's a row it'll rather
spoil our Christmas."
WHEN SHALL WE THREE MEET AGAIN?
The Wraxby match was played and won. Allingford and his men journeyed
to the neighbouring town, so gaming the additional credit of a victory
on their opponents' ground; and thus, for the first time for many years,
Ronleigh lowered the flag of their ancient rivals both at cricket and at
"Hurrah!" cried "Rats," who was in a great state of excitement when the
news arrived; "they won't ask us again if we'd like to play a master,
the cheeky beggars!"
The same afternoon on which Ronleigh so distinguished herself saw also
the melancholy ending of the school life of two of her number. Thurston
and Fletcher One went home to return no more; practically expelled,
though the doctor, in this instance, did not make a public example of
Another thing happened on this memorable day which caused quite a
sensation, especially among the members of the upper and lower divisions
of the Fourth Form.
"I say, have you heard the latest?" cried Maxton, bursting into the
reading-room just before preparation, regardless alike of the presence
of Lucas and the rule relating to silence.
"What about?" asked several voices.
"Why, about Noaks!"
"Well, then, he's run away!"
Magazines and papers fell from the hands which held them, and the usual
quiet of the room was broken by a buzz of astonishment.
"Run away! Go on; you don't mean it!"
"I do, though: he's skedaddled right enough, and they can't find him
The report was only too true. Afraid to face his schoolfellows, and
having already received several intimations, from fellows passing the
housekeeper's parlour, that a jolly good licking awaited him when he
left his present place of refuge, Noaks had watched his opportunity, and
when the boys were at tea had slipped out, and, as Maxton put it,
No one mourned his loss; even Mouler would not own to having been his
friend; and everybody who expressed any opinion on the subject spoke
of his departure as being decidedly a good riddance.
The Triple Alliance, however, had cause to feel uneasy when they heard
of this latest escapade of their ancient enemy.
"He's got my knife with him," said Mugford; "he may go any day and try
for that reward."
For the time being, however, no communication was received from the
police-station at Todderton, and none of the three friends was caused,
like Eugene Aram, to leave the school with gyves upon his wrists.
Whatever evil intentions Noaks might have cherished towards them were
destined to be checkmated by a fortunate circumstance, the possibility
of which neither side had yet foreseen.
The last day of the term arrived in due course, bringing with it that
jolly time when everybody is excited, happy, and good-tempered; when the
morning's work is a mere matter of form, and the boys slap their books
together at the sound of the bell, with the joyful conviction that the
whole length of the Christmas holidays lies between them and "next
Directly after dinner every one commenced "packing up;" which term might
have been supposed to include every form of skylarking which the heart
of the small boy could devise, from racing round the quadrangle, arrayed
in one of Bibbs's night-shirts, to playing football in the gymnasium,
North _versus_ South, with the remains of an old mortar-board.
It was at this period of the day that the Triple Alliance proceeded to
carry out a project which had for some little time occupied the minds of
at least two of their number. The idea was that the little fraternity
should celebrate their approaching separation, and the consequent
breaking up of their association, with a sort of funeral feast, the cost
of which Jack and Diggory insisted should be borne by the two surviving
members. Only one outsider was invited to attend--namely, "Rats," whose
cheery presence it was thought would tend to enliven the proceedings,
and chase away the gloomy clouds of regret which would naturally hang
over the near prospect of parting.
The box-room (where such functions usually took place) being at this
time in a state of indescribable uproar, it was decided that the banquet
should be served in one of the remote classrooms.
"None of the fellows'll come near it," said Jack Vance; "and if old
Watford should be knocking round and catch us there, he won't do
anything to-day; we shall have to clear out, that's all."
Accordingly, about a quarter to four, the three friends, with their
solitary guest, assembled at the trysting-place. Jack Vance carried two
big paper bags, Diggory a biscuit-box and a small tin kettle, while the
other two were provided with four clean jam-pots, it having been
announced that there was "going to be some cocoa."
For the preparation of this luxury Diggory mounted a form and lit one of
the gas-jets, over which he and Jack Vance took it in turns to hold the
kettle until the water boiled. Sugar, cocoa, and condensed milk were
produced from the biscuit-tin, and the jam-pots having been filled with
the steaming beverage, the company seated themselves round the stove, in
which there still smouldered some remains of the morning's fire, and
prepared to enjoy themselves.
From the first, however, the proceeding's fell as flat as ditch-water.
Even the gallant efforts of "Rats" to enliven the party were of no
avail; and for some time everybody munched away in silence, Jack Vance
occasionally pausing to remark, "Here, pass over that nose-bag, and help
The classroom itself, which belonged to the Third Form, was suggestive
of that glad season known as "breaking-up." The ink-pots had all been
collected, and stood together in a tray on the master's table; fragments
of examination papers filled the paper-basket, and were littered here
and there about the floor, while some promising Latin scholar had
scrawled across the blackboard the well-known words, _Dulce Domum_.
These inspiriting signs of a "good time coming" were, however, lost on
the Triple Alliance. Their present surroundings served only to remind
them of the old days of "The Happy Family," when they had first come to
Ronleigh, never expecting but to have completed the period of their
school lives in one another's company.
"Well," said Jack Vance, suddenly broaching the subject which was
uppermost in each of their minds, "we've had jolly times together.--
D'you remember when we made the Alliance, the day you first came
to The Birches, Diggory?"
"Yes," answered Diggory; "it was just after we'd been frightened by the
ghost. D'you remember the 'Main-top' and the 'House of Lords' and the
Philistines? I wonder what's become of them all?"
One reminiscence suggested another, and after exhausting their
recollections of The Birches, they recalled their varied experiences at
Ronleigh. Only one adventure was by mutual consent not alluded
to: their clandestine visit to The Hermitage, coupled with Noaks's
threat, hung like the sword suspended by a single hair above the head of
Damocles at the feast.
At length, when the paper bags had been wellnigh emptied, Jack Vance
intimated his intention of making a speech--which announcement was
received with considerable applause.
"Don't finish up your cocoa," he began, "because, before we dissolve the
Alliance, I'm going to propose a toast. We've been friends a long time,
and both here and at The Birches, as Diggory says, the Triple Alliance
has done wonders and covered itself with glory." (Cheers.) "We said
when we started that we'd always stand by each other whatever happened;
and so we have, and so we would again if we were going to be together
any longer." ("Hear, hear!") "I wish 'Rats' could have joined us, but
then I suppose it wouldn't have been the Triple Alliance. However, now
it's finished with; but before we break it up, I'm going to call upon
you to drink the health of Mr. Mugford. May he have long life and
happiness, and a jolly fine house, with a model railway, and a lake for
boating in the grounds, and ask us all to come and stay with him
whenever we feel inclined."
This sentiment was received with shouts of applause, and in honouring it
the jam-pots were drained to their muddy dregs.
No one expected that Mugford would reply, for he was decidedly a man of
few words; but on this occasion he rose above his usual self, and
sitting with his hands in his trouser pockets, his feet on the fender of
the stove, and his chin sunk forward on his breast, delivered himself as
follows. The room was already growing dark with the early winter
twilight, which perhaps rendered it more easy for him to undertake the
task of responding to the toast.
"You've always been very kind to me," he began, speaking rather quickly.
"No, we haven't," interrupted Jack Vance.
"Yes, you have. Just shut up; I'm going to say what I like. You made
friends with me because I happened to be in the same room at The
Birches; but you always stuck to me, and helped me along a lot when we
came here first. I know I'm stupid, and sometimes I feel I'm a coward;
but I enjoyed being with you, and shall always remember the times we've
had together--yes, I swear I shall--always. And now I've got a drop of
cocoa left, so I'm going to propose a toast. You must take 'Rats' in my
place. I hope you'll have heaps of larks; and you must write me a
letter sometimes and tell me what you're doing. Here goes--The new
It was customary to laugh at whatever Mugford said, but on this occasion
not even a smile greeted the conclusion of his remarks.
Only Diggory spoke. "No, we shan't have another Triple Alliance; now
it's going to end."
He turned, and taking something out of the biscuit-tin, said solemnly,
"I, Diggory Trevanock, do hereby declare that the association known as
the Triple Alliance is now dissolved; in token of which I break this bit
of a flat ruler, used by us as a sugar-spoon, into three parts, one of
which I present to each of the members as a keepsake, to remind them of
all our great deeds and many adventures."
Each boy pocketed his fragment of wood in silence. Jack Vance tried to
crack a joke, but it was a miserable failure.
"There was something I wanted to say," began "Rats" thoughtfully.
"I shall remember it in a minute. Oh, _bother!_"
"Why, I know what it was; Mugford's talking about writing to him
reminded me of it. I'm awfully sorry, but there were some letters came
for you chaps this morning. I took them off the table, meaning to give
them to you; but I quite forgot, and left them in my desk."
"Well, you're a nice one!" cried Diggory. "Suppose you go and fetch 'em
"Rats" scrambled to his feet and hurried out of the room.
Jack Vance pulled out his watch, and held it down so that the glimmer of
the red light from between the bars of the stove fell upon its face.
"My word," he exclaimed, "it's time we thought about packing!"
"Wait a jiff for those letters," answered Diggory.
A moment later "Rats" came scampering down the passage. "Here they
are," he cried; "I'm very sorry I forgot 'em. A letter for Mugford, and
a paper for Vance."
Diggory relighted the gas-jet which he had turned out after boiling the
kettle, and proceeded, with the assistance of "Rats," to gather up the
remains of the feast. They had hardly, however, got further than
emptying the tin kettle down the ventilator before their attention was
attracted by a joyful exclamation from Jack Vance.
"What d'you think's happened?" he cried, brandishing the open newspaper.
"Why, they've caught the thieves who stole old Fossberry's coins!"
"They have, though. It was the old woman who looks after the house, and
her husband; they're to be tried at the next assizes. They did it right
enough; some of the coins were found in their possession, and--Hullo!
what's the matter with you?"
The latter remark was addressed to Mugford, who suddenly jumped on a
form, began to dance, fell off into the coal-box, scrambled to his feet,
and capered wildly round the room.
"He's gone mad!" cried Diggory; "catch him, and sit on his head!"
"No, I haven't!" exclaimed Mugford, coming to a standstill; "but what do
you think's happened? Guess!"
"Not that you're going to stay on here!"
"Yes! My uncle says he'll pay for me, and I'm to come back again after
"Well, I'm sure!" gasped Jack Vance; "and we've just dissolved the
Alliance! We must make it again."
"No, you shan't!" shouted "Rats;" "Diggory said you wouldn't.
I'm coming in, as Mugford suggested, so it'll have to be a quadruple one
"Well, so it shall be," cried Jack Vance, embracing Mugford with the
hugging power of a juvenile bear: "next term we'll start afresh."
Diggory and "Rats" promptly fell into each other's arms, and all four,
coming into violent collision, tumbled down amidst the _debris_ of the
overturned coal-box; and after rolling over one another like a lot of
young dogs, scrambled to their feet, turned out the gas, and rushed away
to complete their packing.
So, as the door slams behind them, they vanish from our sight; for
though the renewal of their friendship tempts us to follow them further
in their school life, we are reminded that our story has been told.
Here ended the existence of the Triple Alliance, and here, therefore,
should the history of its trials and triumphs be likewise brought to a