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   Chapter 10 A SCREW LOOSE IN THE SIXTH.

The Triple Alliance By Harold Avery Characters: 10276

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


For the time being the three friends forgot their own troubles in their eagerness to hear "Rat's" description of certain events which had happened during their absence from Ronleigh.

"Look sharp; out with it!" they exclaimed. "What's happened?"

"Well," began Rathson, "it all came out through young Bayley acting the fool and spraining his ankle. You know we had the paper-chase this morning, and the hares ran out to Arrow Hill, and back again round by the canal and Birksam Church. Just after we'd rounded the hill, young Bayley jumped off the top of a high hedge, and twisted his foot so badly that he couldn't stand up. As it happened, there was a check just then, and Carton ran forward and told Allingford what had happened. He and Oaks came back, and said the only thing would be to get him to Chatton station, and so home by train. It was awfully decent of those chaps. They carried Bayley all the way, and then Oaks went home with him, and Allingford walked back, and so, of course, they missed half the run. Awfully brickish of them I call it, considering that it was only a kid like Bayley."

The Triple Alliance gave a murmur of assent.

"Was that what the row's about?" asked Diggory.

"Oh, bless you, no; I haven't come to that yet. After he'd seen Oaks and Bayley into the train, old Ally started to walk home. There's a little 'pub' about half a mile out of Chatton called the Black Swan, and he thought he'd call and ask if they'd seen the fellows pass. You know Thurston the prefect, that chap who came to the door when we were having that meeting in the 'old lab.' Well, now, if he and Mouler, and two or three more of that sort, weren't sitting in the taproom, smoking, and drinking beer, and having a regular high old time. They'd lagged behind on purpose. Of course Allingford kicked them all out, and he and 'Thirsty' had a frightful row. They say the big chaps want to hush the matter up as far as they can, and not report it to old Denson, for fear he'd make it an excuse to put a stop to paper-chasing. Ally slanged Thurston right and left, and told him that if he chose to drink beer in a low 'pub' with the biggest blackguards in the school, he needn't expect that the fellows in the Sixth would have anything to do with him, and that he ought to send in his resignation as a prefect."

On entering the school buildings, our three friends were convinced of the truth of their comrade's story, and on their way to the schoolroom the question was repeated at least half a dozen times-"Have you heard about old 'Thirsty' being cobbed in the Black Swan?" Diggory thought of the conversation he had overheard in Acton's study, and mentioned it to Carton.

"Yes," answered the latter. "Big Fletcher's a beast. I know Thurston's very chummy with him, but I don't see that's got much to do with it. My brother, who left last term, said that 'Thirsty' used to be rather a jolly chap, only he's got a fearful temper when he's crossed. Most of the chaps like him as a prefect, because as long as you don't interfere with him he doesn't seem to care much what any one does. The real thing is he's going to the dogs, and, as Allingford says, he ought to resign."

Away in one of the Sixth Form studies the subject of their conversation was sitting with his hands in his pockets, frowning at the fire. He was roused from his reverie by some one putting his head round the corner of the door and exclaiming,-

"Hullo, 'Thirsty!'"

"Hullo, Fletcher! where on earth have you been all the evening?"

The new-comer was tall and lanky; he had a sharp, foxy-looking face, with thin, straight lips, and two deep lines which looked almost like scars between the eyebrows. He shut the door, and dragging forward a chair, sat down with his feet on the fender, and commenced warming his hands at the fire.

"Oh, I've been nowhere in particular," he answered, laughing. "But I say, young man, you seem to have raised a pretty good hornets' nest about your ears along this corridor."

"Yes, I know; they've had the cheek to send me that!"

He leaned back as he spoke, and taking a piece of paper from the table, tossed it across to his friend. It was a letter signed by most of the prefects, suggesting that he should send in his resignation.

"Humph!" said Fletcher; "that's a nice sort of a round robin, don't you call it? Well, what are you going to do?"

"Oh, I shall resign and have done with it. I'm sick of having to masquerade about as a good boy. I mean to do what I like."

"Pooh!" returned the other. "Now that you are a prefect, I wouldn't give up all the privileges and the right to go out and come in when you like just because a strait-laced chap like Allingford chooses to take offence at something you do. They can't force you to resign unless they go to the doctor, and they won't do that. I know what I'd do: I'd tell them pretty straight to go and be hanged, and keep their sermonizing to themselves."

Thurston turned on the speaker with a sudden burst of anger.

"Oh yes!" he exclaimed; "you're always saying you'd do this and do that, but when the time comes you turn tail an

d sneak away. Look here: you were the one who proposed going into the Black Swan this morning, and when young Mouler said Allingford was coming, you slipped out of the back door and left us to face the shindy."

"Well," returned the other, laughing, "I thought you chaps were going to bolt too. I hopped over the wall at the back into the field, and waited there for about a quarter of an hour, and then, as no one came, I made tracks home."

"That's all very fine. You took precious good care to save your own bacon; you always do."

"Oh, go on!" answered Fletcher, rising from his chair; "you're in a wax to-night. Well, ta, ta! Don't you resign."

This little passage of arms was not the first of the kind that had taken place between Fletcher and Thurston, and it did not prevent a renewal of their friendship on the morrow.

The latter, following either his own inclination or the advice of his chum, decided not to resign his position as a prefect, and in a few days' time the majority of the school had wellnigh forgotten the fracas at the Black Swan.

Among those in high places, however, the affair was not so easily overlooked. The big fellows kept their own counsel, but it soon became evident that Thurston was being "cut" and cold-shouldered by the other members of the Sixth; while he, for his part, as though by way of retaliation, began to hob-nob more freely than ever with boys lower down in the school and of decidedly questionable character.

"It's awfully bad form of a chap who's a prefect chumming up with a fellow like Mouler in the Upper Fourth," said Carton one afternoon. "I wonder old 'Thirsty' isn't ashamed to do it. And now he's hand and glove with those chaps Hawley and Gull in the Fifth; they've both got heaps of money, but they're frightful cads."

From the morning following their return to Ronleigh the Triple Alliance had been kept in a continual state of uneasiness and suspense, wondering what action Noaks would take regarding his discovery of their visit to The Hermitage.

The days passed by, and still he made no further reference to the matter, and took no notice of any of the three friends when he happened to pass them in the passages. The fact was that for the time being his attention was turned in another direction. Like most fellows of his kind, Noaks was a regular toady, ready to do anything in return for the privilege of being able to rub shoulders occasionally with some one in a higher position than himself, and he eagerly seized the opportunity which his friendship with Mouler afforded him of becoming intimate with Thurston. It was rather a fine thing for a boy in the Upper Fourth to be accosted in a familiar manner by a prefect, and asked sometimes to visit the latter in his study; and when such things were possible, it was hardly worth while to spend time and attention in carrying on a feud with youngsters in the Third Form. But Noaks had never forgotten the double humiliation he had suffered at Chatford-first in being sent off the football field, and again in the disastrous ending to the attempted raid on the Birchites' fireworks; nor had he forgiven the Triple Alliance for the part which they had played, especially on the latter occasion, in bringing shame and confusion on the heads of the Philistines.

One morning, nearly a month after the half-term holiday, the three friends were strolling arm in arm through the archway leading from the quadrangle to the paved playground, when they came face to face with their old enemy. He was about to push past them without speaking; then, seeming suddenly to change his mind, he pulled up, took something from his pocket, and handing it to Jack Vance, said shortly,-

"There! I thought you'd like to see that; it seems a good chance to earn some pocket-money."

The packet turned out to be a copy of the Todderton weekly paper.

"I've marked the place," added Noaks, turning on his heel with a sneering laugh; "you needn't give it me back."

A cross of blue chalk had been placed against a short paragraph appearing under the heading "Local Notes." Jack read it out loud for the edification of his two companions.

"We notice that Mr. Fossberry has offered a reward of 50 pounds for any information which shall lead to the arrest of the thieves who entered his house some few weeks ago, and stole a valuable collection of coins. As yet the police have been unable to discover any further traces of the missing property, but it is to be hoped that before long the offenders will be discovered and brought to justice."

There was a moment's silence.

"I wish I'd told my guv'nor," muttered Jack Vance.

"Well, tell him now," said Diggory.

"Oh no, I can't now; he'd wonder why I hadn't done it sooner. Besides, I believe Noaks is only doing this to frighten us; he can't prove that we stole the coins, because we didn't. All the same, it would be very awkward if he sent the police that jack-knife, and told them he'd seen us climbing out of the old chap's window."

"Yes," answered Diggory; "I suppose it would look rather fishy.

Bother him! why can't he leave us alone?"

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