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   Chapter 12 THE WRAXBY MATCH.

The Triple Alliance By Harold Avery Characters: 23273

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


Wednesday, the twenty-fourth of July, saw the whole of Ronleigh College in a state of bustle and excitement. The near approach of the holidays was sufficient in itself to put every one in high spirits, while, in addition to this, the afternoon was to witness the chief cricket contest of the season-the annual match against Wraxby Grammar School. During the hour before dinner the ground itself was a scene of brisk activity: the school colours flew at the summit of the flagstaff; the boundary flags fluttered in the breeze; a number of willing hands, under the direction of Allingford, put a finishing touch to the pitch with the big roller, while others assisted in rigging up the two screens of white canvas in line with the wickets.

"I do hope we lick them," said little "Rats" to Jack Vance as they stood by the pavilion, watching Oaks mixing some whiting for the creases; "we must somehow or other."

"Why?"

"Why? because they've beaten us now three times running; and the last time when our chaps went over to Wraxby and got licked at footer their captain asked Ally if in future we should like to play a master! Such rot!" continued the youthful "Rats," boiling with wrath; "as if we couldn't smash them without! Look here, I'd give-I'd give sixpence if we could win!" and with this burst of patriotic enthusiasm the speaker hurried away to join Maxton, who, with an old sprung racquet in one hand and the inside of an exploded cricket-ball in the other, was calling to him from the adjoining playing field to "Come and play tip and run, and bring something that'll do for a wicket."

The feelings expressed by "Rats" as regards the result of the match were shared by the whole school, and by none more so than the members of the Third Form.

"The Happy Family" turned up to a man, and encamped en masse upon the turf within twenty yards of the pavilion. Bibbs was the last to arrive on the scene of action, and did so with a bag of sweets in one hand, a book in the other, and a piece of paper, pinned by some joker to the tail of his coat, bearing the legend, "Please to kick me"-a request which was immediately responded to in a most hearty and generous fashion by all present.

Kicking the unfortunate Bibbs afforded every one such exquisite enjoyment that an effort was made to prolong the pastime by forcible attempts to fasten the placard on to other members of the company, and a general melee, would have followed if the attention of the combatants had not been attracted in another direction. Ronleigh having won the toss and elected to go in first, the Wraxby men strolled out of the pavilion to take the field.

They were a likely-looking lot of fellows-the faded flannel caps and careless way in which they sauntered towards the pitch proclaiming the fact that each one was a veteran player.

"That chap with the wicket-keeping gloves in his hand is Partridge, their captain," said Carton; "and that fellow who's putting out the single stump to bowl at is Austin. He does put them in to some tune; you can hardly see the ball, it's so swift."

There was a faint clang from the pitch.

"See that!" cried Fletcher junior: "that chap Austin's knocked that single stump out of the ground first ball. My eye, he'll make our fellows sit up, I'll bet."

"No, he won't," cried "Rats" excitedly. "Old Ally'll knock him into a cocked hat. He'll soon break his back," added the speaker complaisantly. "Hullo! men in-Parkes and Rowland."

There is something in the short space of time preceding the first clack of the bat at a cricket match which rivals in interest even that exciting moment at football when the centre forward stands hovering over the ball waiting for the whistle to give the signal for the contest to commence.

The noisy clatter of "The Happy Family" ceases as the crowd of boys, ranged all down the sides of the field, turn to watch the opening of the game.

It is an ideal day for cricket, with a fresh breeze blowing, just sufficient to temper the hot afternoon sunshine and cause a flutter of cricket-shirts and boundary flags. Rowland takes centre, twists the handle of his bat round and round in his hands, and is heard amid the general hush to say, "No, no trial." Austin glances round at the motionless figures of his comrades, signals to long-on to stand a little deeper, and then delivers the ball. With an easy and graceful forward stroke, the batsman returns it sharply in the direction of the opposite wicket, and an almost imperceptible movement, like the releasing of a spring, takes place among the fielders. So begins the battle.

"Twenty up!" had just been called from the pavilion when a sharp catch in the slips disposed of Parkes.

"Never mind!" cried "Rats." "Here comes old Ally; he'll make them trot round a bit!"

The captain commenced his innings with a heart-warming leg hit, which sent the ball to the boundary, a wave of legs and arms marking its track as the spectators, with a joyous yell, rolled over one another to escape being hit.

For some time cheer followed cheer, and "The Happy Family" clapped until their hands smarted; then suddenly there arose a prolonged "Oh, oh!" from all the field.

"Hullo! what's the matter?" asked Bibbs, looking up from the book he was reading.

"What's the matter?" shouted Maxton wrathfully, snatching away the volume and banging Bibbs on the head with it. "Why don't you watch the game? Old Ally's bowled off his pads!"

It was only too true: the captain's wicket was down, and "The Happy Family," after a simultaneous ejaculation of "Blow it!" tore up stalks of grass, and began to chew them with a stern expression on their faces.

This disaster seemed but the forerunner of others. Redfern, the next man, had hardly taken his place at the wicket when a sharp click, the glitter of bails twirling in the air, and a Wraxby shout of "Well bowled!" announced his fate; while ten minutes later Rowland, one of the mainstays of the home team, was caught in a most provoking manner at cover-point.

"Oh, bother it all!" sighed "Rats; this is nothing but a procession."

"Now, Oaks, old chap, do your best for us!" cried Allingford.

"All right," returned the other, laughing, as he paused for a moment outside the pavilion to fasten the strap of his batting-glove; "I'm going to make runs this journey, or die in the attempt."

Oaks was undoubtedly a regular Briton, just the sort of fellow to turn the fortunes of a losing game. He walked up to the wicket as coolly as though it were enclosed within a practice net, patted down the ground with the flat of his bat in a manner which seemed to imply that he had "come to stay," and then proceeded to hit three twos in his first "over."

This dashing commencement was but the prelude to a brilliant bit of rapid scoring: twos and threes followed each other in quick succession. Allingford shouted, the crowd roared, while "The Happy Family" gambolled about on one another's chests and stomachs, and squealed with delight. Like the poet's brook, Oaks might have exclaimed, "Men may come, and men may go, but I go on for ever." When Wraxby changed the bowling, he welcomed the new-comer by sending the first ball into the next field, and continued to cut and drive in such a gallant manner that even Bibbs, standing up to get the full use of his lungs, shouted, "Go 'long!" and "Well hit!" until his face was the colour of a poppy.

"I say!" exclaimed Carton, as the eighth wicket fell, "I wish one of these next two chaps would hang on a bit, and give Oaks a chance of getting a few more; it must be nearly eighty up."

"Thurston, you're in!" came from the scorer.

The boy named was sitting by himself, on the end of a form close to the telegraph, moodily scraping up the ground with the spikes of his cricket-shoes. He knew that most of his comrades in the eleven would give him the cold shoulder, and so did not mingle with them inside the pavilion. He rose, and prepared to obey the summons.

"Let's give him a cheer," said Rats; "he may do something.-Go it,

Thurston! Sit tight, and keep the pot boiling!"

The big fellow turned his head in the direction of "The Happy Family," and with something of the old good-humoured smile, which had seldom of late been seen upon his face, answered: "All right, my boy, you see if I don't."

"Jolly fellow old Thirsty," remarked "Rats," swelling with pride at this friendly recognition. "He can play when he likes, but he hasn't troubled to practise much of late. He used always-Phew! my eye, what an awful crack!"

A terrifically swift ball from Austin had risen suddenly from the hard ground. Thurston had no time to avoid it, but turning away his face, received the blow on the back of his head. He dropped his bat, staggered away from the wicket, and fell forward on his knees.

To suffer for the cause of the school in a cricket or football match was a thing which, like charity, "covered a multitude of sins." Allingford hurried out of the pavilion and ran towards the pitch, while Partridge and a few more of the "Wraxby men gathered round their wounded opponent and helped him to his feet.

"You'd better come out, Thurston," said the Ronleigh captain; "I'll send the next man in."

"No, I'll go on," replied the other, in rather a shaky voice; "I shall be all right in a minute."

It requires something more than ordinary pluck for a batsman to stand up to fast bowling and show good form after having been badly hit. For a time a great deal of determination, and the exercise of a considerable amount of will power, are necessary to conquer the natural inclination to shrink from a possible repetition of the injury; and those who watched the dogged manner in which Thurston continued to defend his wicket, being themselves practical cricketers, rewarded him with loud shouts of encouragement and praise.

Oaks piled on the score with unflagging energy, while the careful play of his companion defied all attempts of the Wraxby bowlers to dissolve the partnership.

"Bravo, 'Thirsty!'" shouted the spectators. "Go 'long'-and another!"

At length, just as the telegraph operator had received the welcome order, "A hundred up!" the ball shot, and crashed into Thurston's wicket. He came slowly back from the pitch, still holding his hand to the back of his head; and though his individual score had barely run into double figures, he was greeted on all sides with hearty cheers.

Payne, the last man, just succeeded in cracking his duck's-egg, and the innings closed for 104.

As the fielders came trooping in, a small boy ran past the Third Form encampment exclaiming, "I say, you chaps, old Punch is in the lower road, over by that tree!" Which announcement had no sooner been made than the greater part of "The Happy Family" sprang to their feet, and went scampering across the field in the direction of the opposite hedge.

The cause of this stampede, it must be explained, was the arrival of an itinerant vendor of ice-cream, whose real name, Samuel Jones, had been changed to Punch on account of the prominence of his nasal organ. His presence within the grounds of Ronleigh College was not approved of by the authorities, and his trade with the small boys, who were his particular patrons, was carried on through a gap in the hedge. Punch's establishment ran on four wheels, and was ornamented with a number of daubs representing Union Jacks and Royal Standards, which formed the framework of an alarming portrait of the Prince of Wales, from which adornment one might be led to suppose that on some previous occasion His Royal Highness had

patronized the stall. The ice-cream was shovelled out of a tin receptacle, and pasted in lumps on to the top of very shallow glasses, the standard price for which was one penny; and there being a scarcity of spoons, the customers usually devoured the delicacy in the same manner as a dog does a saucer of milk. Cynical members of the upper classes at Ronleigh, who had ceased to patronize the stall, charged Punch with not being over-particular in washing the glasses, and of making the "stuff," as they called it, with cornflour instead of cream. But the small boys were not fastidious; and as each one had two helpings, which they ate as slowly as possible to prolong the enjoyment, they were still refreshing themselves when the home team moved out to field.

"Look sharp!" cried "Rats," giving Bibbs's elbow a sudden jerk which caused that worthy to plaster the end of his nose with the remains of his third ice. "Come on! let's see the beginning."

The second half of the game proved, if anything, more exciting than the first. Two wickets fell before 10 appeared on the telegraph.

"Oh, we shall lick them easily!" cried "Rats" jubilantly; while Fletcher junior gave vent to his feelings by handing Bibbs's bag of sweets round to the company.

But there were still some hard nuts to be cracked in the Wraxby team, and one soon appeared in Partridge, the captain. Over after over went by, and the score rapidly increased: "Thirty up!"-"Forty up!"-"Fifty up!" Two more wickets were taken; but Partridge seemed to have fairly got his eye in, and gave the home team as much leather-hunting as Oaks had provided for the visitors. To make matters worse, Austin, arriving on the scene sixth man in, appeared to be also possessed with a determination to carry his bat; and though he was eventually run out by a sharp throw-in from square-leg, it was not until eighty runs had been registered for the Grammar School.

The closing scene of the game caused an amount of excitement unparalleled in the history of Ronleigh cricket.

As the last man of the Wraxby team went in to bat, the telegraph was changed from 90 to 100. "Over" had just been called, and the invincible Partridge stepped forward to play, evidently making up his mind for another boundary hit. Thurston had been put on to bowl at the top end, and stood ready to recommence the attack.

"Four to equal, five to beat," sighed "Rats." "Bother it all, they're sure to win."

A cricket match needs to be very narrowly watched, or the spectator whose eye has strayed for a moment from the game misses some fine piece of play. The incident which finished the contest between Ronleigh College and Wraxby Grammar School occupied barely three seconds of time; yet it was remembered and spoken about many years after those concerned in it had passed on to swell the ranks of the "old boys."

Partridge commenced the over with a hard, straight drive, and at the same instant Thurston gave a little jump into the air with his right arm stretched above his head. The ball had passed like lightning between the wickets, and the spectators looked for a moment to see where it had gone; then a wild shriek of joy from "The Happy Family" rent the air,-

"Caught!"

It was true enough. With a splendid one-handed catch Thurston had brought the well-fought contest to a close, and secured a victory for Ronleigh College.

This brilliant feat, coupled with the gallant manner in which he had continued his innings when hurt, and so enabled Oaks to run up the score, caused the black sheep of the Sixth Form to be regarded as the hero of the day. Allingford shook him by the hand, and a noisy crowd hoisted him shoulder high and carried him three times round the quadrangle.

Thurston certainly had good reason to feel proud of the part he had played in the chief match of the season, and might in years to come have always looked back with pleasure on this twenty-fourth of July. Unfortunately another event of a sadly different character was destined to make it a red-letter day in his career at Ronleigh. The feeling of respect and good-will which his prowess in the field had awakened in the minds of his former friends afforded him a splendid opportunity for reassociating himself with all that was worthy and honourable in school life. The chance no sooner presented itself, however, than it was flung away, and was lost for ever.

Evening preparation was over, and supper, an informal meal, attendance at which was not compulsory, was in progress. The door of Thurston's study was once more locked on the inside, as it had been when Diggory went to return the match-box to its rightful owner.

Fletcher senior, Hawley, and Gull sat on three sides of the small table, while Thurston himself occupied the fourth.

"Hang it all!" exclaimed the latter, throwing down a handful of playing cards upon the table, and pushing back his chair. "I shan't play any more to-night; I've got no more tin."

"Oh, go on; I'll lend you some," answered Fletcher. "I don't care whether I win or lose; it's only the game I play for."

As a matter of fact, Fletcher nearly always did win, and was mightily displeased on the rare occasions when he lost.

"No; I've borrowed enough already," returned the other. "I shan't be able to square up as it is till next term. It's all very well for fellows like you three, who have rich people, and can write home any time for a fiver; but I'm not so flush of cash.-Look here, Gull, have you got that banjo? Sing us a song."

"All right," answered Gull, reaching down and picking a small five-stringed instrument off the floor; "what'll you have?"

"Oh, something with a good swing to it. I feel like kicking up a row."

Gull tuned up, struck a few chords, and then launched out into a rattling nigger song with an amount of "go" and clatter sufficient to inspire the hearer with an almost irresistible desire to get up and dance. The three listeners shouted the chorus at the top of their voices, pounding the table with their fists by way of a sort of drum accompaniment. Gull was just preparing to commence the fourth verse when there was a knock at the study door.

"Wait a jiff," said Thurston.-"Who's there? What d'you want?"

"Why," came the answer, uttered in rather a drawling tone, "I wish you fellows wouldn't make so much row. I can't possibly work. Do be quiet."

"Oh, go to Bath!" shouted Thurston.-"It's only that old stew-pot Browse," he added. "The beggar's got the next study, and he's cramming up for some 'exam.'-Go on, Gull."

The entertainment continued, and waxed more noisy than ever, the performers hammering the table with a ruler and two walking-sticks to add zest to the choruses.

Soon there came another interruption, very different in tone from the mild expostulation of the studious Browse. The door was violently shaken, and from without came the sharp, peremptory order of the school captain,-

"Look here, Thurston, just shut up; we've had enough of this horrible row for one night. Stop it, d'you hear?"

"All right," growled the owner of the study; "keep your hair on, old fellow!"

"Sh! steady on, Thirsty," said Fletcher, in a low tone. "Don't go too far, or he'll put a stop to our next merry meeting. I know Allingford, and he's rather a hard wall to run your head against."

"That confounded old Browse has gone and sneaked!" cried the other, with a flush of passion on his face. "Let's wait till Ally's gone, and then make a raid on the old stew-pot."

Hawley and Gull sprang to their feet with a murmur of assent; Fletcher shrugged his shoulders and remained silent.

"What we'll do is this," continued Thurston. "He sits with his back to the door. I'll pop in first and throw this tablecloth over his head; then, while I hold him down, you chaps upset the things and put out the light. Then we'll rush out all together, and he won't know for certain who did it."

Five minutes later the conspirators crept out into the passage, and tip-toed towards the door of the adjoining study. Fletcher lingered behind, and, instead of following the expedition, stole softly away in the opposite direction. Another moment, and the unfortunate Browse was struggling to rise from his chair, with his head enveloped in the tablecloth. Hawley and Gull, following immediately in rear of their leader, sent the table, with its load of books and writing materials, over with a crash, threw the chairs into different corners of the room, and were about to scatter the contents of the bookcase over the floor, when Allingford suddenly burst into the room, and stood glaring round like an angry lion.

With one swing of his right arm he sent Thurston staggering against the wall, and then, stepping forward without an instant's hesitation, he dealt each of the other marauders a swinging box on the ear.

The two Fifth Form boys were big, strong fellows, and for a moment it seemed as though a stand-up fight would ensue. The captain, however, followed up his attack with amazing promptness, and before his antagonists had time to think of resistance he had taken them both by the shoulders and sent them flying into the passage.

"There!" he exclaimed. "I'll teach you gentlemen to come playing pranks on Sixth Form studies. What business have you got here, I should like to know?-As for you," continued the speaker, casting a scornful glance at the originator of the outrage, "I should have thought a fellow who's a prefect ought to know better than to go rioting with every scamp in the school."

Thurston's conduct on the cricket field had clearly proved him to be no coward. He stood his ground, and returned Allingford's angry glances with a look of fierce defiance. He attempted to make some reply, but somehow the words failed him, and turning on his heel he walked away to his own study.

"Confound that fellow Fletcher!" he muttered between his teeth. "He always takes precious good care to sneak away when there's any row on. If it wasn't for that money I owe him, I'd punch his head."

Half an hour later there was a sharp rap at the door, and Allingford,

Oaks, and Acton entered the room.

"Well," said Thurston, looking up with a frown from the book he was reading, "what d'you want now? I don't remember asking you fellows to come and see me. A chap can't call his study his own nowadays."

"No," answered Acton grimly. "If a chap wants to work, a lot of blackguards come and wreck his furniture."

"Look here, Thurston," said the captain coldly, "we've no wish to stay here longer than we can help. We've come simply to tell you this-that after what's happened to-night the prefects are determined that to-morrow morning you send in your resignation to the doctor."

"And supposing I don't choose to send in my resignation?" returned the other.

"Then," answered the captain calmly, "we shall send it in for you."

There was a moment's silence; then Thurston rose from his chair, and closing his book flung it down with a bang upon the table.

"All right," he said; "I'll do it. You fellows have been set against me from the first. I know all about it, and before I leave this place I'll pay you out."

"I almost wish we'd left it till after the holidays," said Oaks, as the three prefects walked down the passage.

"No," said Allingford firmly; "if we hesitate, and the fellows see it, we're lost. It must be done at once."

"Well, perhaps so," answered Oaks; "but I'll tell you this-Thurston means mischief. I wish he was going to leave. He won't forget this in a hurry, and my belief is we shall hear more about it next term."

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