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The Triple Alliance By Harold Avery Characters: 15360

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04

On Wednesday afternoon, as soon as dinner was over, Acton summoned his followers to attend the council of war which was to decide what reprisals should be taken on the Philistines for the destruction of the snow man. Every one felt the importance of a counter-attack, for unless something of the kind were attempted, as Acton remarked in his opening speech, "they'll think we're funky of them, and they'll simply come down here as often as they like, and worry us to death."

"Couldn't we tell Mr. Welsby?" suggested Butler, a timid small boy belonging to the "Dogs' Home."

"Tell Mr. Welsby!" cried half a dozen voices in withering tones; "of course not!"

It was well known by both parties that whenever the real state of affairs became known to their respective head-masters, the war would come to an abrupt termination; and the great reason why each side forbore to make any open complaint against the other was undoubtedly because every one secretly enjoyed the excitement of the campaign, and felt that a peace would make life rather dull and uninteresting.

"The thing that licks us," said Acton, "is what I was speaking about last week: somehow or other, they always seem to know just what we're up to, and it's no use our doing anything, because they're always prepared. Some one's acting the spy. I can't think it's any of you fellows, but I believe it's old Noaks. You see his son's there, and for some reason or other he seems to hate every one here like poison. Now, what are we to do?"

There was a silence, broken at length by Diggory Trevanock.

"I don't know what you think," he began, "but it seems to me it's no use making any plans until we find out who tells 'em to the Philistines. I should say that Noaks is the fellow who does it, but we ought to make certain."

"Yes, but how are we to do it?" asked Acton, laughing; "that's just what

I want to know."

"Well, I've got a bit of a plan," returned the other, "only I should like to tell it you in private."

"All right," answered the dux; "come on outside. Now, then, what is it?"

"Why," said Diggory, "it's this (I didn't want the other chaps to hear, because then it'll prove who's the spy). You say the last time you went down to throw some crackers over the wall they were all lying in wait for you. Well, let you and me go into the boot-room when Noaks is at work there, and pretend to make a plan as though we were going to do it again to-morrow night; then two of us might go down and see if they're prepared. If so, it must have been Noaks who told them, because no one else knows about it. I'll go for one, and Jack Vance'll go for another. I'll tell him to keep it dark, and you can let us in and out of the door."

"Oh-ah!" said Acton, "that isn't a bad idea; at all events we'll try it."

The project was put into immediate execution. That same afternoon, just before tea, Acton and Diggory discussed the bogus plan in Noaks's hearing, while Jack Vance, having been admitted into their confidence and sworn to secrecy, willingly agreed to go out with Diggory and form the reconnoitering party which was to report on the movements of the enemy.

"I knew you'd come," said the latter; "and we'll show them what sort of stuff the Triple Alliance is made of."

On the following evening, as soon as tea was over, the two friends slipped off down into the playground, where they were joined a minute later by Acton, who, unlocking the shed, took down from the peg on which it hung the key of the door in the outer wall.

"You'll have plenty of time," he said, glancing at his watch, "and with this moonlight you'll soon be able to see if they're about. I'll keep the door, and let you in when you come back."

The next moment the two members of the Alliance were trotting down Locker's Lane. It was a bright, frosty night, and the hard ground rang beneath their feet like stone. They turned off on to the grass, lest the noise should give the enemy warning of their approach; and when within about a hundred yards of Horace House, pulled up to consider for a moment what their plan of action should be, before proceeding any further.

"I don't see any one," said Jack Vance.

"Perhaps they are hiding," answered Diggory. "Look here! let's get into this field and run down on the other side of the hedge until we get opposite the gate."

The stronghold of the Philistines was silent as the grave. The two chums crouched behind a thick bush, and peering through its leafless branches could see nothing but the closed double doors, and a stretch of blank wall on either side.

"There's no one about," whispered Vance; "I don't believe old Noaks has told them."

"Wait a minute," answered Diggory. "I'll see if I can stir any of them;" and so saying, he knelt up, and cried in an audible voice, "Now, then, are you all ready?"

Diggory and Jack Vance dropped flat on their stomachs, for the words had hardly been uttered when the doors were flung open, and at least ten of the Philistines rushed out into the road with a yell of defiance. Many of them were bigger than Acton, and what would have been the fate of the two Birchites had they kept to the road instead of acting on Diggory's suggestion of advancing under cover of the hedge, one hardly dares to imagine.

"Hullo!" cried young Noaks, who had headed the sortie. "There's nobody here, and yet I'll swear I heard them somewhere."

"So did I," answered another voice; "they must have cut and run."

"There's no place for them to run to," returned Noaks; "they must be behind that hedge.-Come out of it, you skunks!"

A big stone came crashing through the twigs within a yard of Diggory's head. The two boys crouched close to the low earth bank and held their breath.

"They must be about somewhere," cried Noaks. "I knew they were coming, and I'm sure I heard some one say, 'Are you ready?' They're behind that hedge. We can't get through, it's too thick; but you fellows stop here, and I and Hogson and Bernard'll run down to the gate and cut off their retreat."

"What shall we do?" whispered Jack; "this field's so large they'll run us down before we get to the other hedge. Shall we make a bolt and chance it?"

Diggory was just about to reply in the affirmative, when help came from an unexpected quarter.

"What are you boys doing out here at this time?" cried a loud, stern voice.-"Noaks, what are you about down the road there?-Come in this moment, every one of you!"

"Saved!" whispered Jack Vance, in an ecstasy of delight as the Philistines trooped back through the double doors. "That was old Phillips. I hope he gives Noaks a jolly good 'impot.' That chap is a cad," continued the speaker, as they hurried back towards The Birches: "when he can't do anything else, he chucks stones like he did to-night. The wonder is he hasn't killed some one before now. I don't see how it's possible for the Philistines to show up well when they've got a chap like him bossing the show."

The bell for evening preparation was ringing as they reached The Birches, and only a very few hasty replies could be given to Acton's eager inquiries as they rushed together up the garden path. In the little interval before supper, however, the subject was resumed in a quiet corner of the passage.

"So it must have been old Noaks who told them," said Acton; "that's proved without a doubt. I vote we go and have a jolly row with him to-morrow morning."

"No, I shouldn't do that," answered Diggory; "don't let him know that we've found him out."

"Well, look here," answered Acton, thumping the wall with his fist and frowning heavily, "what are we going to do to get even with the P

hilistines? We can't go out and fight them in Locker's Lane; we're too small, and they know it. Young Noaks would never have dared to act as he did after they'd knocked our snow man down if Mason had been here. They think now they're going to ride rough-shod over us; but they aren't, and we must show them we aren't going to be trampled on."

"So we will," cried Jack Vance excitedly, "and that jolly quick!"

"But how?"

There was a moment's pause. "I'm sure I don't know," answered Jack sadly, and so the meeting terminated.

The fact of the insult, which had been put upon them by the destruction of their snow man, remaining unavenged, caused a sense of gloom to rest upon the Birchites, as though they already felt themselves suffering beneath the yoke of the conquering Philistines. Even the bedroom feuds were forgotten: night after night the "House of Lords" left the "Dogs' Home" in undisturbed tranquillity, and the occupants of the "Main-top" retired to rest without even putting a washstand against their door. One thought occupied the minds of all, and even Mugford, when asked on one occasion by Mr. Blake who were the conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot, answered absent-mindedly, "The Philistines!"

"Look here, you two," said Diggory one evening, as he scrambled into bed, "we three must think of some way of paying those fellows out for knocking down our snow man. It would be splendid if we could say that the Triple Alliance had done it, and without telling any one beforehand."

"So we will," answered Jack Vance; "that is if you'll think of the plan.

I'm not able to make one, and I'm jolly sure Mugford can't."

The speaker turned over and went to sleep; but after what seemed half the night had passed, he was suddenly aroused by several violent tugs at his bed-clothes. Thinking it nothing less than a midnight raid, Jack sprang up and grasped his pillow.

"No, no, it's not that," said Diggory, "but I wanted to help you;

I've got an idea."

"W-what about?" asked the other, in a sleepy voice.

"Why, how we can pay out the Philistines!"

"Oh, bother the Philistines!" grumbled Jack, and promptly returned to the land of dreams.

"I wonder where those fellows Vance and Trevanock are?" said Acton the following afternoon, as the boys were picking up for a game at prisoner's base. "And there's that dummy of a Mugford-where's he sneaked off to? he never will play games if he can possibly help it."

They set to work, and at the end of about twenty minutes were engaged in a most exciting rally. Acton had started out to rescue one of the prisoners, while Shaw had rushed forth to capture Acton. Morris left the base with similar designs on Shaw, and every one, with the exception of the den-keepers, seemed suddenly seized with an irresistible desire to do something. The playground was full of boys rushing and dodging all over the place, when suddenly everybody stood still and listened. Some one was pounding with his clinched fist at the door opening into Locker's Lane, and at the same time Jack Vance was heard shouting, "Let us in quick, or the Philistines'll have us!"

Acton ran to fetch the key, and the next moment the three members of the Triple Alliance dashed through the open door, which was hastily secured behind them, while a shout of baffled rage some little distance down the road showed that they had only narrowly escaped falling into the hands of the enemy. The pursuit, however, was evidently abandoned, and Morris, climbing on the roof of the shed, saw young Noaks and Hogson slowly retreating round the corner of the road.

The three friends certainly presented a striking appearance. Mugford's nose was bleeding, Jack Vance's collar seemed to have been nearly torn off his neck, while Diggory's cap was in his hand, and his hair in a state of wild disorder. Their faces, flushed with running, were radiant with a look of triumph, while all three, the unfortunate Mugford included, leaned up against the wall, and laughed until the tears ran down their cheeks.

"What have you fellows been up to?" cried Acton; "why don't you tell us?"

"Oh my!" gasped Diggory, "we've taken a fine rise out of the Philistines; they can't say we're not quits with them now!" and he went off into a fresh fit of merriment.

Shaw and Morris seized hold of Jack Vance, and at length succeeded in shaking him into a sufficient state of sobriety to be able to answer their questions.

"Oh dear," he said faintly, "I never laughed so much in my life before! Diggory ought to tell you, because he planned it all. We went very quietly down to Horace House, and found the double doors were shut. You know just what they're like, how the wall curves in a bit, and there's a scraper close to the gate-post, on either side, about a foot from the ground. We'd got an old play-box cord with us, and we tied it to each of the scrapers. The doors have a sort of iron ring for a handle, and through this we stuck a broken cricket-stump, and Mug and I held the two ends so that you couldn't possibly lift the latch on the inside. Then-but you go on, Diggy."

"Well, then," continued the other, "I scrambled on to these two chaps' shoulders, and looked over the top of the door. We could hear some of the Philistines knocking about on the gravel, and I saw there were about half a dozen of them playing footer with a tennis-ball. I shouted out, 'Hullo! Good-afternoon!' They all stood still in a moment, and young Noaks cried, 'Why, it's a Birchite!-What do you want here, you young dog?' I couldn't think of anything else to say, so I said, 'I want to know if this is the bear-pit or the monkey-house.' My eye, you should have seen them! I dropped down in a trice, and they all rushed to the doors; but they couldn't lift the latch, because Mug and Jack were holding fast to the stump. We waited a moment, and then let go and ran for it. You may judge what happened next. It's a regular sea of mud outside those gates. They all came rushing out together, and I saw Noaks and Hogson go head first over the rope, and two or three others fall flat on the top of them. It was a sight, I can tell you!"

"Yes, but that wasn't all," interrupted Jack Vance. "Bernard, one of their big chaps, hopped over the rest and came after us. We ran for all we were worth, but he collared me. Mugford went for him, and hung on to his coat like a young bull-terrier, and got a smack on the nose; and just then Diggory turned, and came prancing back, and ran his head into the beggar's stomach, and that doubled him up, and so we all got away. But," concluded the speaker, turning towards his wounded comrade, "I never thought old Mug had so much grit in him before; he stuck to it like a Briton!"

A demonstration of the most genuine enthusiasm followed this warlike speech. Acton folded Diggory to his breast in a loving embrace, Shaw and Morris stuffed the door-key down Mugford's back, while the remainder of the company executed a war-dance round Jack Vance.

"My eye," cried the dux, "won't the Philistines be wild!

Fancy upsetting them in the mud, and knocking Bernard's wind out!

They won't be in a hurry to meddle with us again. Well done, Diggy!"

"It wasn't I alone," said the author of the enterprise; "we did it between us-the Triple Alliance."

"Then three cheers for the Triple Alliance!" cried Acton.

The company shouted themselves hoarse, for every one felt that the honour of The Birches had been retrieved, and that the day was still far distant when they would be crushed beneath the iron heel of young Noaks, or be exposed as an unresisting prey to the ravages of the wild hordes of Horace House.

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