MoboReader > Young Adult > The Triple Alliance

   Chapter 2 THE PHILISTINES.

The Triple Alliance By Harold Avery Characters: 19537

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


The Triple Alliance, the formation of which has just been described, was destined to be no mere form of speech or empty display of friendship. The members had solemnly sworn to stand by one another whatever happened, and the manner in which they carried out their resolve, and the important consequences which resulted from their concerted actions, will be made known to the reader as our story progresses.

Poor Mugford certainly seemed likely to be a heavy drag on the association; he was constantly tumbling into trouble, and needing to be pulled out again by those who had promised to be his friends.

An instance of this occurred on the day following Diggory's arrival at The Birches. He and Vance had gone down after morning school into what was called the playroom, to partake of two more of the latter's mince-pies, and on their return to the schoolroom found a crowd assembled round Acton, who, seated on the top of a small cupboard which always served as a judicial bench, was hearing a case in which Mugford was the defendant, while Jacobs and another boy named Cross appeared as plaintiffs.

The charge was that the former was indebted to the latter for the sum of half a crown, which he had borrowed towards the end of the previous term, in separate amounts of one shilling and eighteen pence, promising to repay them, with interest, immediately after the holidays. The money had been expended in the purchase of a disreputable old canary bird, for which Noaks, the manservant, had agreed to find board and lodging during the Christmas vacation. Now, when the creditors reminded Mugford of his obligations, they found him totally unable to meet their demands for payment.

"Now, look here," said Acton, addressing the defendant with great severity, "no humbug-how much money did you bring back with you?"

"Well, I had to pay my brother before I came away for my share in a telescope we bought last summer, and then-"

"Bother your brother and the telescope! Why can't you answer my question? How much money did you bring back with you?"

"Only five bob."

"Then why in the name of Fortune don't you pay up?"

"Because I had to pay all that to Noaks for bird-seed."

"D'you mean to say that that bird ate five shillings' worth of seed in four weeks?"

"Well, so Noaks says; he told me he'd kept scores of birds in his time, but he'd 'never seen one so hearty at its grub before.' Those were the very words he used, and he said it was eating nearly all the day, and that's one reason why it looks such a dowdy colour, and never sings."

"Well, all I can say is, if you believe all Noaks tells you, you're a fool. But that's no reason why these two chaps should be done out of their money; so now, how are you going to pay them?"

"If they only wait till pocket-money's given out-" began Mugford.

"Oh no, we shan't!" interrupted Cross. "He only gets sixpence a week, and he's always breaking windows and other things, and having it stopped."

There seemed only one way out of the difficulty, and that was to put as it were an execution into Mugford's desk, and realize a certain amount of his private property.

"Look here," said Acton, "he must sell something.-Now, then," he added, turning to the defendant, "just shell out something and bring it here at once, and we'll have an auction."

The boy walked off to his desk, and after rummaging about in it for some little time, returned with a miscellaneous collection of small articles in his arms, which he proceeded to hand up one by one for the judge's inspection.

"What's this?"

"Oh, its a book that was given me on my birthday, called 'Lofty Thoughts for Little Thinkers.'"

"Lofty grandmother!" said Acton impatiently.

"What else have you got ?"

"Well, here's a wire puzzle, only I think a bit of it's lost, and the clasp of a cricket belt, and old Dick Rodman's chessboard and some of the men, and some stuff for chilblains, and-"

"Oh, dry up!" interrupted Acton; "what bosh! Who d'you expect would buy any of that rubbish? Look here, we'll give you till after dinner, and unless you find something sensible by then, we shall come and hunt for ourselves."

"That's just like Mug," said Jack Vance to Diggory, as the group of boys slowly dispersed; "he's always doing something stupid. But I suppose as we made that alliance, we ought to try to help the beggar somehow."

They followed their unfortunate comrade to his desk, which when opened displayed a perfect chaos of ragged books, loose sheets of paper, broken pen-holders, pieces of string, battered cardboard boxes, and other rubbish.

"Look here, Mug, what have you got to sell? you'll have to fork out something."

"I don't know," returned the other mournfully, stirring up the contents of the desk as though he were making a Christmas pudding. "I've got nothing, except-well, there's this book of Poe's, 'Tales of Adventure, Mystery, and Imagination,' and my clasp-knife; and perhaps some one would buy these fret-saw patterns or this dog-chain."

He turned out two or three more small articles and laid them on the form.

"Are there any of these things you particularly wish to keep?" asked Diggory; "because, if so, Vance and I'll bid for them, and then you can buy them back from us again when you've got some more money."

"That's awfully kind of you," answered Mugford, brightening up. "I'll tell you what I should like to keep, and that's my clasp-knife and the book; they're such jolly stories. 'The Pit and the Pendulum' always gives me bad dreams, and 'The Premature Burial' makes you feel certain you'll be buried alive."

"All right; and did you bring a cake back with you?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, sell that first, and you can share our grub."

The auction was held directly after dinner. The cake fetched a shilling, and Diggory and Vance bid ninepence each for the book and pocket-knife; so Mugford came out of his difficulty without suffering any further loss than what was afterwards made good again by the generosity of his two comrades. They, for their part, made no fuss over this little act of kindness, but handed the book and clasp-knife over to Mugford without waiting for the money, and little thinking what an important part these trifling possessions would play in the subsequent history of the Triple Alliance.

The sale had not long been concluded, and the little community were preparing to obey Acton's order to "Come outside," when the latter rushed into the room finning with rage.

"I say," he exclaimed, "what do you think that beast of a Noaks has done? Why, he's gone and put ashes all over our slide!"

In their heart of hearts every one felt decidedly relieved at this announcement; still it was necessary, at all events, to simulate some of their leader's wrath, and accordingly there was a general outcry against the offender.

"Oh, the cad!"-"What an awful shame!"-"Let's tell Blake!" etc., etc.

"Who is Noaks?" asked Diggory. "Is he that sour-looking man who brings the boots in every morning?"

"Yes, that's so," answered Vance. "He hates us all-partly, I believe, because his son's a Philistine. I wonder old Welsby doesn't get another man."

"His son's a what?" asked Diggory; but at that moment Acton came marching round the room ordering every one out into the playground, and Jack Vance hurried off to get his cap and muffler without replying to the question.

Sliding was out of the question, and the "House of Lords" having amused themselves for a time by capturing small boys and throwing them into the snow-drift, some one remarked that it would be good fun to build a snow man; which proposition was received with acclamation, and all hands were soon hard at work rolling the big balls which were to form the base of the statue. As the work progressed the interest in it increased, the more so when Diggory suggested that the figure should be supposed to represent the obnoxious Noaks, and that the company could then relieve their feelings by pelting his effigy as soon as it was completed. Every one was pleased with the project, and even Acton, who as a rule would never follow up any plan which was not of his own making, took special pains to cause the snow man to bear some likeness to the original. He had just, by way of a finishing touch, expended nearly half a penny bottle of red ink in a somewhat exaggerated reproduction of the fiery hue of Noaks's nose, when the bell rang for afternoon school, and the bombardment had to be postponed until the following day.

It was no small trial of patience being thus obliged to wait nearly twenty-four hours before wreaking their vengeance on the effigy; still there was no help for it. The boys bottled down their feelings, and when at last the classes were dismissed, and the dux cried, "Come on, you fellows!" every one obeyed the summons willingly enough. There had been a slight thaw in the night, and the statue stood in need of some trifling repairs. Acton suggested, therefore, that the half-hour before dinner should be devoted to putting things to rights, and to making some small additions in the shape of pebbles for waistcoat buttons, and other trifling adornments.

Mr. Welsby kept the boys at the table for nearly a quarter of an hour after the meal was finished, talking over his plans for the coming term, and when at last he finished there was a regular stampede for the playground. Acton was leading the rush; he dashed through the garden doorway, and then stopped dead with an exclamation of dismay. All those who followed, as they arrived on the spot, did the same. Every vestige of the snow man, which had been left barely an hour ago standing such a work of art, had disappeared. Certainly a portion of the pedestal st

ill remained, looking like the stump of an old, decayed tooth; but the figure itself had been thrown down, trodden flat, and literally stamped out of existence!

The little crowd stood for a moment speechless, gazing with woebegone expressions on their faces at the wreck of their hopes and handiwork; then the silence was broken by a subdued chuckle coming from the other side of the wall on their left, and every one, with a start and a sudden clinching of fists, cried simultaneously: "The Philistines!"

The words had hardly been uttered when above the brickwork appeared the head and shoulders of a boy a size or so bigger than Acton; a dirty-looking brown bowler hat was stuck on the very back of his head, and rammed down until the brim rested on the top of his ears; and it will be quite sufficient to remark that his face was in exact keeping with the manner in which he wore his hat. Once more everybody gave vent to their feelings by another involuntary ejaculation-"Young Noaks!"

The stranger laughed, pulled a face which, as far as ugliness went, was hardly an improvement on the one Nature had already bestowed upon him, and then pointed mockingly at the remains of the masterpiece.

His triumph, however, was short-lived. Jack Vance, as he left the house, had caught up a double handful of snow, which he had been pressing into a hard ball as he ran down the path, determining in his own, mind to be the first to open fire on the snow man. Without a moment's hesitation he flung the missile at the intruder's head, and, to the intense delight of his companions, it struck the latter fairly on the mouth, causing him to lose his precarious foothold on the wall and fall back into the road.

It needed no further warning to inform the Birchites that the Philistines were upon them, and every one set to work to lay in a stock of snowballs as fast as hands could make them. "Look out!" cried Kennedy. Young Noaks's face rose once more above the top of the wall, and the next moment a big stone, the size of hen's egg, whizzed past Diggory's head, and struck the garden door with a sounding bang.

"Oh, the cad!" cried Acton; "let's go for him."

The whole garrison combined in making a vigorous sortie into the road; but it was only to find the enemy in full retreat, and a few dropping shots at long range ended the skirmish.

"I say, Vance," exclaimed Diggory, "who are they? Who are these fellows?"

Now, as the aforesaid Philistines play rather an Important part in the opening chapters of our story, I propose to answer the question myself, in such a way that the reader may be enabled to take a more intelligent interest in the chain of events which commenced with the destruction of the snow man; and in order that this may be done in a satisfactory manner, I will in a few words map out the ground on which this memorable campaign was afterwards conducted.

Take the well-known drawing of two right angles In Euclid's definition, and imagine the horizontal line to be the main road to Chatford, while the perpendicular one standing on it is a by-way called Locker's lane. In the right angle stood The Birches; the house itself faced the Chatford road, while behind it, in regular succession, came first the sloping garden, then the walled-in playground, and then the small field in which were attempted such games of cricket and football as the limited number of pupils would permit. There were three doors in the playground-one the entrance from the garden, another opening into the lane, and a third into the field, the two latter being usually kept locked.

Locker's Lane was a short cut to Chatford, yet Rule 21 in The Birches Statute-Book ordained that no boy should either go or return by this route when visiting the town; the whole road was practically put out of bounds, and the reason for this regulation was as follows:

At the corner of the playing field the lane took a sharp turn, and about a quarter of a mile beyond this stood a large red-brick house, shut in on three sides by a high wall, whereon, close to the heavy double doors which formed the entrance, appeared a board bearing in big letters the legend-

HORACE HOUSE,

Middle-Class School for Boys.

A. PHILLIPS, B.A., Head-master.

The pupils of Mr. Phillips had been formerly called by Mr. Welsby's boys the Phillipians, which title had in time given place to the present nickname of the Philistines.

I have no doubt that the average boy turned out by Horace House was as good a fellow, taking him all round, as the average boy produced by The Birches; and that, if they had been thrown together in one school, they would, for the most part, have made very good friends and comrades. However, in fairness both to them and to their rivals, it must be said that at the period of our story Mr. Phillips seemed for some time past to have been unusually unfortunate in his elder boys: they were undoubtedly "cads," and the character of the whole establishment, as far as the scholars were concerned, naturally yielded to the influence of its leaders.

It had been customary every term for the Birchites to play a match against them either at cricket or football; but their conduct during a visit paid to the ground of the latter, back in the previous summer, had been so very ungentlemanly and unsportsmanlike that, when the next challenge arrived for an encounter at football, Mr. Welsby wrote back a polite note expressing regret that he did not see his way clear to permit a continuation of the matches. This was the signal for an outbreak of open hostilities between the two schools: the Philistines charged the Birchites in the open street with being afraid to meet them in the field. These base insinuations led to frequent exchanges of taunts and uncomplimentary remarks; and, last of all, matters were brought to a climax by a stand-up fight between Tom Mason, Acton's predecessor as dux, and young Noaks. The encounter took place just outside the stronghold of the enemy, the Birchite so far getting the best of it that at the end of a five minutes' engagement he proclaimed his victory by dragging his adversary along by the collar and bumping his head a number of times against the very gates of Horace House. Unfortunately a rumour of what had happened got to the ears of Mr. Welsby. Mason was severely reprimanded, and his companions were forbidden, under pain of heavy punishment, to walk in Locker's Lane further than the corner of their own playing field.

"But who is young Noaks?" asked Diggory, as Jack Vance finished a hasty account of this warfare with the Philistines.

"Why, that's just the funny part of it," returned the other. "This Sam Noaks is the son of our Noaks, but he's got an uncle, called Simpson, who lives at Todderton, where I come from. This man Simpson made a lot of money out in Australia, and when he came back to England he adopted young Noaks, and sends him here to Phillips's school."

By this time the home forces had all struggled back into the playground. In one corner stood a wooden shed containing a carpenter's bench, a chest for bats and stumps, and various other things belonging to different boys. Acton, as head of the school, kept the key, and having unfastened the door, summoned his followers inside to hold an impromptu council of war and discuss the situation. There was a grave expression on each face, for every one felt that things were beginning to look serious. Mason, the only one of their number who had been physically equal to the leaders of their opponents, was no longer among them, and the enemy, evidently aware of their helpless condition, had dared for the first time to actually come and beard them in their own den.

"What I want to know first is this," began Acton. "You can see by the footmarks that they came in through that door; of course it's always kept locked, and here's the key hanging up inside the shed. Now who opened it for them, and how was it done?"

"Perhaps it wasn't fastened," suggested Morris.

"Yes, it was," answered Kennedy excitedly. "I noticed that this morning, when we were picking up stones for the snow man's buttons."

"Then I tell you what it is," continued Acton solemnly: "some one here's playing us false, and my belief is it's old Noaks. D'you remember last term when Mason and Jack Vance and I made a plot for going down and throwing crackers into their yard? Well, they must have heard of it from some one; for they were all lying in wait for us behind the wall, and as soon as we got near to it they threw cans of water over us and pelted us with stones."

There was a murmur of suppressed wrath at the memory of the fate of this gallant expedition.

"Yes," added Shaw, "and I believe some one told them about this snow man."

"Well, one thing's certain," said Acton-"we must serve 'em out somehow for knocking it down. They evidently think now Mason's gone they can do what they like, and that we shall be afraid of them. Now what can we do?"

There was a silence; every one felt that a serious crisis had arrived in the history of the Birchites, and that unless some immediate steps were taken to avenge this insult they would no longer be free men, but live in constant terror of the Philistines;-every one, I say, felt that some bold action must be taken, yet nobody had a suggestion to make.

"Well, look here," said Acton, "something's got to be done. We must all think it over, and we'll have another meeting in a week's time; then if any one's made a plan, we'll talk it over and decide what's to be done."

"Jack," said Diggory two evenings later, "you know what Acton said about the Philistines; well, I've got part of a plan in my head, but I shan't tell you what it is till Wednesday."

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares