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   Chapter 8 THIRD FORM ORATORY.

The Triple Alliance By Harold Avery Characters: 18693

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


At the end of the first fortnight our three friends had begun to find their feet at Ronleigh, and the sense of being "outsiders" in everything was gradually wearing off as they grew more intimate with their schoolfellows.

Jack Vance and Diggory soon became popular members of "The Happy Family," and their loyalty to Mugford caused the latter's path to be much smoother than it probably would have been had he been compelled to tread it alone.

Carton turned out a capital fellow; Rathson, the small, sandy-haired boy mentioned in the previous chapter, and who generally went by the name of "Rats," took a great fancy to Jack; while Maxton repeated his assertion that young Trevanock was "the right sort," and as a further mark of his favour presented the new-comer with a moleskin of his own curing, which looked very nice, but, as "Rats" put it, "smelt rather fruity."

But it was not in the Third Form only that Diggory began to find friends; for by a lucky chance he was fortunate enough to make a good impression on the minds of the great men, who, as a rule, took no further notice of the small fry than to exact from them a certain amount of obedience, or in default a certain number of lines or other "impots."

One morning, soon after breakfast, a little group was gathered round Carton's desk in the big school-room, discussing the value of some foreign stamps, when a small boy came up to them, saying,-

"Is Trevanock here? Well, Acton wants you now at once in his study."

"Hullo," said Carton, looking up from the sheet of specimens in front of him-"hullo, Diggy! What have you been up to?"

"I haven't been doing anything," answered the other. "What do you think he wants me for?"

"I don't know, but it sounds rather like getting a licking. At all events, you'd better hurry up; prefects don't thank you for keeping them waiting. His is the third door on the right as you go down the passage."

Diggory hastened to obey the summons, wondering what it could mean. He found the door, and in answer to the loud "Come in!" which greeted his knock turned the handle, and found himself for the first time inside one of the Sixth Form studies.

It was a small, square room, and looked very cosy and comfortable with its red window-curtains, well-filled bookshelf, and many little knick-knacks that adorned the walls and mantelpiece. An array of silver cups, several photographs of cricket and football teams, and a miscellaneous pile of bats, fencing-sticks, Indian clubs, etc., standing in one corner, all spoke of the athlete; while carelessly thrown down on the top of a cupboard was an article for the possession of which many a, boy would have bartered the whole of his worldly wealth-a bit of worn blue velvet and the tarnished remnant of what had once been a gold tassel-the "footer cap" of Ronleigh College.

But it was not so much the furniture as the occupants of the study that attracted Diggory's attention. John Acton, a tall, wiry fellow, who looked as though his whole body was as hard and tough as whip-cord, was standing leaning on the end of the mantelpiece talking to another of the seniors, who sat sprawling in a folding-chair on the other side of the fire; while seated at the table, turning over the leaves of what appeared to be a big manuscript book, was no less a personage than Allingford, the school captain.

"I don't understand a bit what's coming to 'Thirsty,'" the football leader was saying. "I was rather chummy with him when we were in the Fifth, and he was all right then, but now he seems to be running to seed as fast as he can; and I believe it's a great deal that fellow Fletcher.-Hullo, youngster! what d'you want?"

"I was told you wanted to see me," said Diggory nervously.

"Oh yes. You were at The Birches, that school near Chatford, weren't you? Well, I want to hear about that love affair my young brother had with the old chap's daughter.-It was an awful joke," added the speaker, addressing his companions. "He was about fourteen, and she's a grown-up woman; and he was awfully gone, I can tell you.-How did he pop the question?"

"He wrote," answered Diggory. "We tossed up whether he should do that or speak."

There was a burst of laughter.

"Did you see the letter?"

"Yes."

"What did he say?"

"I can't tell you."

"Why not? don't you remember?"

"Yes; but he only showed me the letter on condition I wouldn't ever tell any one what was in it."

"Oh, that's all rot! you can tell me; I'm his brother. Come, out with it."

It was an awful thing to beard the lion in his den-for a new boy to face so great a personage as the football captain, and refuse point-blank to do as he was told. Diggory shifted uneasily from one foot to another, and then glancing up he became aware of the fact that Allingford was gazing at him across the table with a curious expression, which somehow gave him fresh encouragement to persist in his refusal to disclose the contents of his former friend's love-letter.

"I can't tell you," he repeated; "it was a promise, you know."

The Ronleigh captain laughed. "Well done," he said. "I wish some other fellows were a bit more careful to keep their promises.-Acton, you beggar, you swore you'd keep up this register for me, and there's nothing entered for last term."

"Oh, bother you, Ally!" exclaimed the other; "what a nigger-driver you are!-Hullo, there's the bell!-Here, kid, stick those two oranges in your pocket; go 'long!"

Diggory left the room, having gained something else besides the two oranges; for as he closed the door Allingford laughed again, and rising from his chair said, "He's a stanch little beggar; I think I'll keep an eye on him."

The subject of this remark hurried away, and had just joined the crowd of boys who were thronging into the big school for assembly, when some one took hold of his arm, and glancing round he was startled to see Jack Vance, looking very excited and dishevelled, and mopping his mouth with a blood-stained handkerchief.

"I say," exclaimed the latter, "have you seen Mugford?"

"No. What's the matter? what have you done to your mouth?"

"Why, I've had a beastly row with Noaks. I'll 'tell you after school."

"No, tell me now," cried Diggory, pulling his companion aside into a corner by the door. "Quick-what was it?"

"Why, he pounced down on Mugford, out there by the fives-court, and began twisting his arm and saying he'd pay him out for that paint-pot business. I went to the rescue, and the beast hit me with the back of his hand here on the mouth. I told him he was a cad, and said something about his father being only a man-servant, and having stolen our things. I'm sorry now, for it was rather a low thing to do, but I was in such a wax I didn't think what I was saying. Mouler was standing by, and he heard it, and laughed; and Noaks looked as if he'd have killed me. I believe he would have knocked me down, only Rowlands, the prefect, came up and stopped the row."

There was no time for any further details, and the two boys had to rush away to their seats in order to escape being marked as late.

One thing was certain-that the Triple Alliance were once more embroiled in a quarrel with their ancient foe the former leader of the Philistines, and they knew enough of their adversary's character to feel sure that he would not pass over an event of this kind without some attempt at revenge.

It is probable that, if this had happened at Horace House, Jack Vance would have received a good licking as soon as the classes were dismissed; but a few very plain and forcible words spoken by Rowlands on the subject of knocking small boys about caused Noaks to postpone his retaliation.

"Look here," he said, meeting Jack Vance in the quadrangle during the interval: "just you keep your mouth shut about me and my father. I've got two or three accounts to settle with you chaps already; just mind what you're up to." He clinched his fist as though about to strike, then, with an ugly scowl, turned on his heel and walked away.

It must have been about three days after this encounter with Noaks that our three friends were called upon to attend a mass meeting of the Third Form, to consider the advisability of starting a periodical in opposition to the school magazine. Important events connected with a later period of their life at Ronleigh render it necessary that we should not linger too long over the account of their first term; but some mention, however brief, should certainly be made of the memorable gathering to which we have referred. A notice pinned on to the black-board, and pulled down as soon as Mr. Watford entered the classroom, announced the project in the following words:-

"NOTICE."

"A meeting will be held in the 'old lab' directly

after dinner to-day, to make plans for starting a

magazine in opposition to The Ronleian.

All members of the Third Form are specially requested

to attend."

"FLETCHER II." "J. A. BIBBS."

"You must come," said "Rats" to Diggory; "it'll be an awful lark."

"But what's it all about?"

"Oh, you'll hear when you get there. It's Fletcher's idea; he wants to start a new magazine. Eastfield, who edits The Ronleian, is Maxton's cousin; so Maxton's going to interrupt and get some other fellows to do the same. I'm going to be p

art of the opposition," added the youthful "Rats," beaming with delight, "and I have got a whole heap of paper bags I'm going to burst while Fletcher's speaking."

The "old lab," as it was called, was a small brick building which stood on one side of the asphalt playground. A new laboratory having recently been fitted up elsewhere, the former one was, for the time being, unused. It was not more than about fifteen feet long by seven or eight feet wide; and as "The Happy Family" mustered in force, the place was crowded to overflowing. The door having been closed, Fletcher Two mounted a low stone sink which ran along the end wall, and from this ready-made platform commenced to address the assembly :-

"Gentlemen,-We've met here, as you know, to talk over starting a fresh magazine. The Ronleian is a beastly swindle, and it's high time we had something different." (A voice, "No, 'tisn't," and the bursting of a paper bag.) "You shut up there! I say it is a swindle: they didn't give any account of that fourth eleven match against Robertson's second, and they made fun of us in the 'Quad Gossip,' and said that in 'The Happy Family' there was a preponderance of monkey." ("So there is, and you're it!" Laughter and another explosion.)

"What I propose is that we start a manuscript magazine for the Third Form, and that every fellow promise to take that, and never to buy a copy of the other. We might pass it round, and charge a penny each to look at it. Will you all subscribe?"

No one spoke, the silence only being broken by the sound of "Rats" blowing up another bag, which caused a fresh burst of laughter.

"Will you all subscribe?" once more demanded the speaker.

There were mingled cries of "Yes!" and "No!" and a stentorian yell of "No, you cuckoo! of course we won't," from Maxton, and another explosion.

"Look here, young 'Rats,' if you burst any more of those bags I'll come down and burst your head.-I forgot to say, gentlemen, that Mr. Bibbs has promised to assist in editing the paper; and I will now call upon him to give you an account of what it will contain."

Bibbs, the Third Form genius, was regarded by every one as a huge joke, and the very mention of his name caused a fresh burst of merriment. He was a sad-faced, untidy-looking boy, quick and clever enough in some things, and equally dull and stupid in others. The announcement that he would address the meeting had no sooner been made than half a dozen willing pairs of hands seized and hoisted him on to the platform; though no sooner had he attained this exalted position than two or three voices ordered him in a peremptory manner to "Come down!"

The greater part of the audience not caring the toss of a button whether Fletcher started his magazine or not, but thinking that it was rather good fun to interrupt the proceedings, now joined the opposition, and the unfortunate Bibbs was subjected to a brisk fire of chaff. One facetious class-mate, standing close to the sink, offered to sell him by auction; and hammering on the stones with the fragment of a bat handle, knocked him down for threepence to another joker, who said he'd do for a pen-wiper.

"Sing a song, Bibbs!" cried one voice; "Where's your neck-tie?" asked another; "What are you grinning at?" demanded a third; while the object of these pleasantries stood, with a vacant smile upon his face, nervously fumbling with his watch-chain.

"Go on!" cried Fletcher, who had descended from the platform to make room for his colleague; "say something, you fool!"

"The magazine is to be written on exercise-book paper," began Bibbs, and had only got thus far when he was interrupted by a perfect salvo of paper bags which little "Rats" discharged in quick succession.

With an exclamation of wrath Fletcher made a dive in the direction of the offender, and in a moment the whole gathering was in a state of confusion. The majority of those present siding with "Rats," began to hustle Fletcher, while two gentlemen having dragged Bibbs from his perch, jumped up in his stead, and began to execute a clog-dance.

In the midst of this commotion Maxton elbowed his way through the crush, and having pushed the two boys off the sink, mounted it himself, crying,-

"Look here, I'm going to speak; just you listen a minute. The reason why Bibbs wants to start a new magazine is because he wrote a novel once, and sent it to The Ronleian to come out so much each month, and they wouldn't have it."

"Shut up, Maxton!" cried Fletcher, rushing to the spot; "you've only come here on purpose to interrupt. Let's turn him out!"

"Yes, turn him out!" echoed the audience, who by this time were just in the spirit for "ragging," and would have ejected friend or foe alike for the sport of the thing-"turn him out!"

The two clog-dancers being quite ready to avenge the interruption of their performance, formed themselves into a storming-party, and carried the platform by assault. Maxton, struggling all the way, was dragged to the door, and cast out into the playground. Most of the restless spirits in the audience requiring a short breathing-space to recover their wind after the tussle, there followed a few moments' quiet, which Fletcher immediately took advantage of to mount the sink and resume the business of the meeting.

"The magazine," he began, "is going to be written on exercise-book paper. Any one who likes can contribute, and it's going to be more especially a paper for the Third Form."

The speaker went on to show that the periodical was destined to supply a long-felt want. The Ronleian ignored the doings of boys in the lower half of the school, and returned their contributions with insulting suggestions, pencilled on the margins, that the authors should devote some of their spare time and energy to the study of their English grammars and spelling-books. The Third Form Chronicle, as it was to be called, would recognize the fact that junior boys had as much right to be heard as seniors, and would afford them the opportunity of airing their views on any subject they chose to bring forward.

Fletcher had barely time to proceed thus far with his speech when an alarming interruption occurred, which put an immediate stop to his further utterance. Nearly at the top of the end wall there had formerly been a ventilator; this, for one reason or another, had been removed, and in the brickwork an open space about a foot square had been left. A hissing noise was suddenly heard outside, and the next moment a stream of water shot through the aperture, and descended in a perfect deluge on the heads of the company.

The fact was that Maxton, ever a reckless young villain, had discovered a hose fixed to one of the mains close to the building, and had immediately seized upon it as an instrument wherewith to wreak vengeance on his companions for having turned him out of the meeting.

Words cannot describe the uproar and confusion which followed. As one man the whole assembly made for the door, but only to find it fastened on the outside. The water flew all over the small building, drenching every one in turn. Some howled, some laughed, and only Bibbs had sufficient presence of mind to creep under the sink, which afforded a certain amount of shelter from the falling flood.

The deluge ceased as suddenly as it had begun, and an instant later the door was flung open, and the figure of a Sixth Form boy was seen barring the exit.

"Now, then," he demanded, "what are you youngsters making this awful row for? I've a jolly good mind to take all your names."

There was a moment's silence. Then Fletcher's voice was heard exclaiming,-

"Oh! it's only old 'Thirsty;' he's all right."

"Here, not so fast," answered the prefect, blocking up the doorway as some boys tried to escape; "what are you chaps doing in here? I thought you'd been told to keep out."

The originator of the meeting pushed his way through the crowd, and taking hold of the big fellow's arm in a familiar manner, said,-

"Oh, it's all right, 'Thirsty,' old chap. We just came inside, and some one squirted water all over us, and that's why we shouted. But we won't do it again."

"Oh, but it isn't all right," returned the other. "If I find any of you in here again, I'll help you out with the toe of my boot. Go on! I'll let you off this once."

The crowd rushed forth and quickly dispersed.

"That Thurston seems an awful decent chap," said Diggory; "I didn't think he'd let us off so easily."

"He's all right as long as you don't cross him," answered Carton. "He used to be pretty strict, but he doesn't seem to care now what fellows do. He's very thick with Fletcher's brother-that's one reason why he didn't do anything just now; but I can tell you he's a nasty chap to deal with when he's in a wax."

The prefect locked the empty building, and turning on his heel caught sight of our three friends, who were standing close by waiting for "Rats."

"Hullo, you new kids! what are you called?"

The usual answer was given, and Thurston passed on, little thinking what good cause he would have before the end of the year for remembering the names of the trio, and altogether unaware of the prominent part which the Triple Alliance was destined to play in his own private affairs as well as in the fortunes of Ronleigh College.

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