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   Chapter 7 RONLEIGH COLLEGE.

The Triple Alliance By Harold Avery Characters: 22669

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


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

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

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

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

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

The three comrades introduced themselves.

"What bedroom are you in?"

"Number 16."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diggory.

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

"What sort of a place is that?"

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

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

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

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

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

"No," answered Carton, "that's Oaks; he's one of the prefects.

Don't you see he's got a blue tassel to his mortar-board?"

"But what's a prefect?"

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

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

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

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

At length the signal was given for passing on to bed, and the Triple

Alliance were not sorry to gain the shelter of No. 16 dormitory.

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

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

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

"What was that?" asked Diggory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Noaks, sir."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ng them on their stroll.

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

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

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

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

"It was no such thing," answered Jack. "You know very well why it was

Blake interfered; and he's not a fool, but a jolly good sort."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What's that you say?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why not?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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