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The Triple Alliance By Harold Avery Characters: 16604

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04

The Easter holidays came and went as rapidly as Easter holidays always do, and before the Alliance had recovered from the excitement connected with their first experience of breaking up at Ronleigh, they were back again, greeting their friends, asking new boys their names, and, in short, commencing their second term as regular old stagers. Up to the present they had been content to "lie low," and had remained satisfied with making the acquaintance of their class-mates in "The Happy Family;" but now they began to take more interest in school matters in general, and to notice what was going on in other circles besides their own.

In answer to the eager inquiries of his two companions, Jack Vance said that he had seen nothing of Noaks during the holidays, except having passed him on one or two occasions in the street. The notice of the fifty pounds reward still appeared in the windows of the police station; but the robbery itself was beginning to be looked upon as a thing of the past, and was already wellnigh forgotten.

"I wonder if Noaks has still got my knife?" said Mugford.

"Oh, I don't know," answered Jack. "He's too much taken up with Mouler and Gull and all that lot to think about us. I shouldn't bother my head about it any further; he only showed us that paper out of spite, to put us in a funk."

It was pretty evident, to the most casual observer, that the quarrel which the Black Swan incident had occasioned between Thurston and his brother prefects had not yet been dismissed from the minds of either party. The former became more lax than ever in the discharge of his duties, and avoiding the society of his school equals, sought the companionship of such boys as Hawley, Gull, and Mouler, who at length came to be known throughout the College as "Thirsty's Lot." With the exception of Fletcher, the prefects left him severely alone. Allingford occasionally came down on him for allowing all kinds of misconduct to pass unchecked, but it was hardly to be expected that a fellow who was hand and glove with some of the principal offenders should have much influence or power in maintaining law and order; and these interviews with the captain usually ended in an exchange of black looks and angry words.

The consequences which resulted from this lack of harmony among those in authority may be easily imagined. "Old Thirsty never makes a row when he sees a chap doing so-and-so," was the cry. "Why should Oaks and Rowlands and those other fellows kick up bothers, and give lines for the same thing?" To all these murmurers the prefects turned a deaf ear. "I don't care what Thurston does," would be their answer; "you know the rule, and that's sufficient." Any further remonstrance on the part of the offender was met with a summary "Shut up, or you'll get your head punched," and so for a time the matter ended.

It was hardly to be expected that the light-hearted juveniles of the Third Form should trouble their heads to take much notice of this disagreement among the seniors. For one thing, they knew nothing of what was said and done in the Sixth Form studies, and even the prefects themselves never thought for a moment that this little bit of friction in the machinery of Ronleigh College would, figuratively speaking, lead to "hot bearings" and a narrow shave of a general breakdown.

So the members of "The Happy Family" pursued the even tenor of their way, getting into scrapes and scrambling out of them, feasting on pastry and ginger-beer, turning up in force on Saturday afternoon to witness the cricket matches, and coming to the conclusion that though Oaks and Rowlands might be a trifle strict, and rather freehanded with lines and "impots," yet all this could be overlooked and forgiven for the sake of the punishment which they inflicted on the enemy's bowling.

As it has been all along the intention of this story to follow the fortunes of the Triple Alliance, the record of their second term at Ronleigh would not be complete without some mention of their memorable adventure with the "coffee-mill."

Wednesday, the fourteenth of June, was Jack Vance's birthday, and just before morning school he expressed his intention of keeping it up in a novel manner.

"Look here!" he remarked to his two companions. "You know that little bootmaker's shop just down the road, before you come to the church. There's a notice in the window, 'Double Tricycle on Hire.' Well, the mater's sent me some money this year instead of a hamper, so I thought I'd hire the machine; and we'll go out for a ride, and take it in turns for one to walk or trot behind."

"Oh, I'd advise you not to!" cried "Rats," who was standing by and overheard the project.

"Why not?"

"Why, it's a rotten old sociable, one of the first, I should think, that was ever made. It's like working a tread-mill, and it rattles and bangs about until you think every minute it must all be coming to pieces. It's got a sort of box-seat instead of a saddle. Maxton hired it out one day the term before last, and he and I and Collis rode to Chatton. It isn't meant to carry three; but the seat's very wide, and they squeezed me in between them. There's something wrong with the steering-gear, and it makes a beastly grinding noise as it goes along, so Maxton christened it the 'coffee-mill.' Fellows are always chaffing old Jobling about it, when they go into his shop to buy bits of leather, and asking him how much he'll take for his coffee-mill, and the old chap gets into an awful wax."

"Oh, I don't care!" answered Jack. "It'll be a lark, and we needn't go far.-What d'you say, Diggy?"

Diggory and Mugford both expressed their willingness to join in the expedition, and arrangements were accordingly made for it to take place that afternoon.

"You'd better not let old Jobling see three of you get on at once," said "Rats." "I should send Mugford on in front and pick him up when you get round the corner."

Rathson's description of the "coffee-mill" was certainly not exaggerated. It was a rusty, rattle-bag concern-a relic of the dark ages of cycling-and .looked as if it had not been used for a twelvemonth. Jobling squirted some oil into the bearings, knocked the dust off the cushioned seat, and remarked that a shilling an hour was the proper charge; but that, as he always favoured the Ronleigh gentlemen, he would say two shillings, and they might keep it the whole afternoon.

Jack, as we have said before, was of rather a nautical turn of mind, and occasionally, when the fit was on him, loved to interlard his conversation with seafaring expressions.

"She isn't much of a craft to look at," he remarked, as they drew up and dismounted at the spot where Mugford stood waiting for them; "but we'll imagine this is my steam-yacht, and that we're going for a cruise. Now then, Diggy, you're the mate, and you shall sit on the starboard side and steer. Mugford's the passenger, so he'll go in the middle. I'm captain, and I'll work the port treadles. Now, then, all aboard!"

The boys scrambled on to the seat, and with some little amount of crushing and squeezing got settled in their places, and at the captain's word, "Half-speed ahead!" the voyage commenced. They went lumbering and clattering through the outskirts of the town, and at length, after having roused the dormant wit of one shop-boy, who shouted "Knives to grind!" after them, they gained the highroad. For half a mile the voyage was prosperous enough; then the adventures began.

They were going at a good pace down a gentle slope, and on turning a corner saw immediately in front of them a narrow piece of road with a duck-pond on one side and a high bank on the other. Some one had carelessly left a wheelbarrow standing very nearly in the centre of the highway, and there was only just room to pass it on the water side.

"Starboard a little!"

The steering gear worked rather stiffly. Diggory gave the handle a hard twist, and it went round further than he intended.

"Port!" cried the captain, "hard a-port!" But it was too late, and the next moment the "coffee-mill" ran down the sloping bank and plunged into the duck-pond. It gave a violent lurch, but fortunately its breadth of beam kept it from overturning, and the water, being not more than a few inches deep

, only wet the boots of the mariners.

"You great ass, Diggy! why didn't you port?" demanded the captain.

The mate, who as a matter of fact could not have told the difference between the nautical "port" and home-made ginger-beer, answered promptly, "So I did;" and the two officers commenced to punch each other with their disengaged hands. This combat, which was conducted with the utmost good feeling on both sides, had been continued for nearly a minute, when the passenger, on whose unoffending back a large proportion of the blows were falling, remarked,-

"Well, if we aren't going to stop here all day, when you've quite done we'd better think about getting out."

They were at least four yards from the shore, and it was impossible to reach it dry-shod.

"Some one must take off his boots and socks and haul her out," said


"Well, I can't," answered Jack; "the captain never ought to leave the ship."

"Oh, I'll go," answered Mugford, laughing; and accordingly, after performing some complicated gymnastic feats in getting off his boots, he slid from the seat into the water, and so hauled the "coffee-mill" back to terra firma.

It would be impossible to describe in detail all the alarming incidents which happened during the outward passage.

They had not gone a quarter of a mile further when something went wrong with the brake. They flew down a long hill, holding on for dear life, nothing but the grand way in which the mate managed this time to steer a straight course down the middle of the road saving them from destruction. Nevertheless, mounting the last slope was such hard labour that Mugford had to turn to and "work his passage," by every now and again taking a spell at the treadles.

"Look here!" said Diggory at length: "don't you think we've gone far enough? we shan't be back in time for tea."

"Oh, I forgot," answered the captain. "We'll see. Stand by your anchor! Let go-o-o!"

The "coffee-mill" stopped, and Jack Vance pulled out his watch.

"By me it's half-past twelve, and I'm four hours slow: twelve to one, one to two, two to three, three to four-half-past four. Yes, it's time we turned round. Now, then, 'bout ship!"

The tricycle clanked and rattled away merrily enough on the return journey until it came to the long hill, which this time had to be climbed instead of descended.

"Don't let's get off," said Jack; "we ought to rush her up this if we set our minds to it."

With a great deal of panting and struggling they succeeded in getting about half-way; then suddenly there was a crack, and the machine, instead of going forward, began to run back. Faster and faster it went, the pedals remaining motionless under their feet.

"The chain's gone," gasped the captain. "There's a cart behind! Quick, run her aground!"

Of course the mate turned the handle the wrong way. On one side of the road was an ordinary hedge, while on the other lay a deep ditch, and into this a moment later the "coffee-mill" disappeared with every soul on board!

There was an awful moment, when earth, sky, arms, legs, wheels, and bushes seemed all mixed together, and then Jack Vance found himself resting on his hands and knees in a puddle of dirty water. Diggory and Mugford had been driven with considerable violence into the thickest part of a thorn hedge, and proceeded to extricate themselves therefrom with many groans and lamentations.

"Well," said the mate, as they proceeded to drag the machine out of the ditch, "I should think, Jack, you've celebrated your birthday about enough; now you'd better give over, or we shall all be sent home in a sack."

"Me!" cried the captain, with great indignation. "It was your fault, you dummy! you put the helm over wrong again, you-"

"Hullo, you kids!" interrupted a voice behind them, and turning round the three friends saw the burly form of John Acton pushing a bicycle up the hill. "Hullo!" he continued; "it's young Trevanock. What's up? Have you had a spill?"

"Yes; the chain broke, and we ran into the ditch."

"Umph! bad business. Now you'll have to foot it, I suppose."

"Yes," answered Jack ruefully; "and we're bound to be back late pushing this old thing all the way. I wish old Jobling would try a ride on it himself."

"Oh! is that the 'coffee-mill'?" exclaimed the prefect, laughing. "Well, look here! If you're late, I'll see whoever's on duty, and tell him about the breakdown, and see if I can get you off."

"Oh, thanks awfully!" chorused the small boys.

"I've half a mind to say I wouldn't," continued Acton, looking round as he put his foot on the step of his machine, and nodding his head at Diggory. "I owe you a grudge for not telling me what I wanted to know about my young brother's love-letter."

The football captain was as good as his word: he got the Triple Alliance excused the "impot" which would otherwise have been awarded them for arriving at the school half an hour late, and the only misfortune which resulted from their eventful excursion was that Jack Vance had to expend a further portion of his postal order in paying Jobling for repairing the broken chain. The day, however, did not close without another incident happening to one of the voyagers, which, though trifling in itself, proved, as it were, the shadow of coming events which were destined to seriously affect the well-being and happiness of all the Ronleigh boys.

Crossing the quadrangle soon after tea, Diggory saw something bright lying on the gravel; it proved to be a silver match-box with the letters C. T. engraved on the front. He took it with him into the school-room, and holding it up as the boys were assembling at their desks for preparation, asked if any one knew who was the owner.

"Yes, I do," answered young Fletcher: "it's Thirsty's; I've seen it often."

Preparation of the next day's work having ended, Diggory's attention was occupied for a time in discussing with Carton the merits of some foreign stamps. Just before supper, however, he remembered the match-box, and hurried away to restore it to its rightful owner.

Thurston was evidently at home, for a prolonged shout of laughter and the clamour of several voices reached Diggory's ears as he approached the study. As he knocked at the door the noise suddenly ceased, there was a moment's silence, and then a murmur in a low tone, followed by a scuffling of feet and the overturning of a chair.

"Who's there? you can't come in!" shouted the owner of the den.

"I don't want to," answered Diggory, through the keyhole. "I've brought your match-box that I picked up in the 'quad.'"

"Oh, it's only a kid," said the voice of Fletcher senior; and the next instant the door was unlocked by Thurston, who opened it about six inches, and immediately thrust his body into the aperture, as though to prevent the possibility of the visitor getting any sight of the interior of the room.

"Oh, thanks; you're a brick," he said, taking the box, and immediately closed the door and turned the key.

Diggory was retracing his steps along the passage, wondering what could be the object of all this secrecy, when he nearly ran into the school captain.

"Hullo, young man!" said the latter, "where have you been?"

"To Thurston's study."

"What have you been there for?" demanded Allingford sharply, with a sudden change in his tone and manner.

"Only to give him his match-box that I picked up in the 'quad.'"

The captain eyed the speaker narrowly, as though half inclined to doubt the truth of this explanation; then, apparently satisfied with the honest expression of the small boy's face, told him to get down to supper.

The latter wandered off, wondering more than ever what could have been the object of the private gathering in Thurston's study which he had just interrupted.

"It's what I told you before," remarked Carton, when Diggory chanced to mention what had happened. "Thirsty's going to the dogs, and I believe big Fletcher's got a lot to do with it. Allingford can't interfere with them as long as they keep to themselves. I don't know what they do, but I shouldn't be surprised if there is a rare old kick-up one of these fine days."

Mischief certainly was brewing, and the "kick-up" came sooner than even

Carton himself expected.

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