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   Chapter 13 THE ELECTIONS.

The Triple Alliance By Harold Avery Characters: 20242

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


Thurston's resignation, as might have been expected, gave rise to a considerable amount of excitement and conflicting opinion. Nearly every boy in the school saw clearly that he was both unworthy and unfitted to fulfil the duties of a prefect, but the peculiar circumstances under which he had, as "Rats" put it, been given "notice to quit," caused a large number of his schoolfellows to side with him, and condemn the action of the captain. Only a few of the general public knew exactly what the row had been. The Sixth Form authorities, refusing to be catechized, would answer no questions; while the other side took good care to spread abroad a very one-sided account of the affair.

The Wraxby match was fresh in everybody's mind. "Awfully hard lines I call it," said the cricketers. "He won that game for us; why didn't they let him go on a few days more till the end of the term?" While those young gentlemen, of whom a few are to be found in every school, who cherish a strong dislike to anything in the shape of law and order, were, of course, loud in their expressions of dissatisfaction at the removal of one who always winked at their transgressions.

At the commencement of the winter session it soon became evident that seven weeks of summer holiday had not dispelled the cloud which had overshadowed the close of the previous term. No sooner had the first excitement of meeting and settling down subsided a little than the question of Thurston's deposal cropped up again, and caused an unusual amount of interest to be felt by all Ronleigh in the forthcoming elections.

Every school has its own methods of choosing those who are to fill the posts and offices in connection with its various institutions, and it will be well to describe, in a few words, how this was done at Ronleigh, in order that the reader may follow with greater interest the working out of an important event in the history of the college.

The elections took place twice a year-at the commencement of the summer and winter terms-their chief object being to appoint what was known as the Sports Committee (who had the management of athletics and of the forthcoming cricket or football season), two librarians, and a keeper of the reading-room. In addition to this, when any of the prefects left, fresh ones were chosen in their places. Only members of the Sixth Form were eligible for this office, which was not conferred before the choice of the boys had been confirmed by the sanction of the head-master, and was understood to last for the remainder of the recipient's school life.

On the second or third morning of the term a paper was posted up on the notice-board in the big schoolroom, announcing the fact that the elections would take place two days later, and mentioning exactly what each voter was required to do. Every boy who had been two terms at the school received a voting paper, which he filled up at his leisure and handed over to the returning officers at a special assembly called for the purpose.

At the commencement of this particular winter term the school reassembled on a Tuesday, and on Thursday notice was given that the elections would take place on the following Saturday afternoon.

According to the usual custom, when fresh prefects were to be chosen, the names of all the Sixth Form boys who were not already holding that office were mentioned on the notice, to show who were eligible for the position. Thurston's name did not appear on the list; some one added it in pencil, another hand crossed it out, and an hour or two later it was added again, this time in red ink.

This simple action seemed the signal for a general agitation on Thurston's behalf. His friends throughout the school openly proclaimed their intention of voting for him, and exhorted others to do the same. Almost to a man the Sixth and Remove sided with the captain, but Hawley and Gull in the Fifth, Noaks and Mouler in the Upper Fourth, and other fellows in the lower forms made up their minds to secure Thurston's return, and set to work to carry out their project with a zeal worthy of a better cause.

Two fresh prefects were required, and the friends of law and order were unanimous in naming Fielding and Parkes as the most suitable candidates to fill the vacancies. Rival posters appeared on the double doors leading to the playground:-

REMEMBER THE WRAXBY MATCH,

AND

VOTE FOR THURSTON.

PLUMP FOR PARKES,

AND HAVE A

PROPER PREFECT.

But this method of carrying on the campaign was soon brought into disrepute, owing to the fact that certain juveniles, seeing in this new idea of bill-posting a fresh field for practical joking, began to adorn the walls of the "grub-room," and other spaces which did not often come under the eye of a master, with placards exhibiting inscriptions which had no bearing on the elections-such irrelevant remarks as, "nooks Two wants kicking !" or, "Lost-my wits. (Signed) B. BIBBS," being calculated to occasion a considerable amount of strife and bad blood without serving any useful purpose.

The Lower School was in a fever heat of excitement, and it is quite possible that the little pleasantries which have just been alluded to were occasioned by difference of opinion on the one absorbing topic of the day. The close of the previous holidays had witnessed a general parliamentary election, and with the details of contests which had taken place in their native towns vividly impressed upon their minds, the younger boys, from the Lower Fourth downwards, threw themselves into the present conflict with an amount of energy and spirit which was not to be found in the more sober and deliberate action of their seniors.

The greater number of the old "Happy Family" had now been removed into the Lower Fourth, and this form in particular was rent with opposing views, and shaken with continued outbursts of hostility between the rival factions. The Triple Alliance were loyal to the old regime, and were supported by "Rats," Carton, and several of their old friends.

"Acton saved us from getting into a row after that 'coffee-mill' business," remarked Diggory.

"Rowland gave Noaks a dressing down when he hit me in the mouth," said

Jack Vance.

"And old Ally boxed Mouler's ears when they made me upset that paint," added Mugford.

"Rats" declared that he meant to conduct what he called a "house-to-house visitation," and accordingly, beginning at the bottom of the form, the first person he called upon was Grundy, a great lout of sixteen, who had been at the tail end of the Lower Fourth for the last twelve months. As it happened, Grundy was a strong partisan of the opposite side, and not only refused to vote for Parkes, but, seizing hold of the unfortunate canvasser, proceeded to twist his arms and pinch his ears for daring to oppose the election of Thurston.

Fletcher Two, whose sympathies, as might have been expected, were with his brother's chum, organized open-air meetings in one corner of the field where the big cricket-roller could be used as a platform. But here, again, the love of larking which is so characteristic of the lawless small boy came into evidence, and with that touch of nature which makes the whole world kin, friend and foe alike joined in the spree of interrupting the proceedings. Just when the orator had reached the most important point in his harangue, and was pouring forth a torrent of impassioned eloquence, the platform would begin to move, or the audience would insist on turning the gathering into an imaginary "scrum," and almost crushing the life out of those who happened to be in the middle of the crowd.

Poor Bibbs especially became a target for the humour of the electors. According to Fletcher's instructions, he had written out a speech and learned it by heart; but though he was being continually called upon to deliver it, he never got beyond the opening "Ahem! Gentlemen," before a sudden movement of the platform precipitated him into the arms of his irreverent hearers, or a shout of "Play up at the cocoa-nuts!" followed by a shower of acorns, bits of stick, and pieces of turf, caused him to jump down and hastily seek shelter behind the roller.

For two days, especially in the Lower School, the excitement continued steadily to increase, and small boys being seized in out-of-the-way corners were made to assert at one time that they would vote for Thurston, and at another that they would vote for Parkes or Fielding, and so, in order to escape with a whole skin, were forced to commit perjury at least a dozen times between the hours of breakfast and tea.

One incident, which as far as the Lower Fourth was concerned tended considerably to embitter the contest, is worthy of record as a notable feature of this memorable campaign.

The occupants of dormitory No. 13 were rabid Thurstonians; dormitory No. 14, on the other hand, in which slept the Triple Alliance, Maxton, "Rats," and Carton, were to a man supporters of Parkes and Fielding. On Friday evening the two doors, which were exactly opposite to each other, being left open, the process of undressing was enlivened by a continual fire of abuse and insulting remarks, which might have led to a regular scrimmage between the two parties if the presence of the prefect, patrolling the passage, had not prevented either side from advancing beyond the threshold of their own doorway.

"I wouldn't vote for a chap like Thurston, who goes boozing in a common 'pub' like the Black Swan," cried "Rats;" "but that's just the sort of man for you. You're a cheap lot, the whole crew of you!"

"Look here, young 'Rats,'" retorted Fletcher junior from the opposite room, wandering rather wide of the subject in hand. "Why don't you write home and ask your people to buy you a new pair of braces, instead of mending those old ones up with string? You look just like a young street arab, and that's about what you are!"

"Don't you fellows talk about broken braces, and looking like street arabs," cried Diggory, "when only yesterday old Greyling sent Stokes out of class and told him to go down to the la

vatory and wash his face. That's a sample of you Thurstonians!"

"Look here!" shouted the boy alluded to, springing out of bed, and appearing in his night-shirt at the opposite end of the dormitory. "You know very well that Grundy flipped a pen full of ink over me, and that was why I had to go out and wash my face."

"I know you looked altogether a different fellow when you came back," returned Jack Vance: "I hardly knew you!"

There was a momentary pause in the discussion, and Bibbs, thinking this a suitable opportunity for the delivery of his speech, stepped forward, and took up his stand in the doorway. Hardly, however, had he pronounced the opening "Ahem! Gentlemen," when a cake of soap, flung by Maxton, struck him a violent blow in the pit of the stomach, and he was still rolling and groaning on his bed in the throes of recovering his lost wind when the prefect arrived to turn out the light.

The occupants of the two dormitories lay down, but not to sleep.

"You mark my word," said Diggory, "as soon as the prefects have gone down to supper those chaps from over the way'll come across and pay us out for throwing that soap. We'd better put a chair against the door."

"Look here!" remarked Fletcher junior to his room-mates. "I shouldn't be at all surprised if Maxton and those other fellows in No. 14 come over and try to rag us; let's lie awake a bit and listen."

For half an hour all was quiet and still, and the watchers in No. 14 were turning over and preparing to go to sleep, when "Rats" started up, exclaiming in a whisper, "They're coming! I heard some one in the passage. There 'tis again! Jump up, you chaps, and let's make a sortie."

Now, strange to say, an exactly similar alarm had just been given by Fletcher junior in No. 13, and the reason was simply as follows:- Mr. Greyling, the master of the Lower Fourth, in walking towards his bedroom in slippered feet, was seized with a sneezing fit, and halting just outside the two dormitories, gave vent to his feelings with a loud "Et-chow!" After a moment's pause he sneezed again, and had hardly done so before both doors were suddenly flung open, and with a cry of "Ah, you sneaks!" and another of "Come on, you blackguards!" a crowd of white-robed figures rushed out, brandishing pillows and startling Mr. Greyling to such a degree that he exclaimed "Great Scott!" and dropped his candle.

What followed is too sad to be related in detail. Mr. Greyling scattered largess in the shape of lines among the crowd, and the next day the occupants of the two dormitories went about thirsting for each other's blood.

On Saturday, just before morning school, the voting papers were collected, and directly after dinner the boys assembled to hear the result of the poll. According to the usual custom, no masters were present. Allingford presided, and the excitement was intense.

A hush of expectation fell on the crowded room as the captain mounted the platform on which stood the head-master's desk. Up to the present time elections at Ronleigh had been little more than a matter of form, but on this occasion every one felt that something more was at stake than the mere distribution of the school offices.

"Gentlemen, the business of this meeting, as you are very well aware, is to announce the result of the elections.

"The following," continued Allingford, referring to the paper which he held in his hand, "have been chosen to act as the Sports Committee: Myself chairman, Oaks, Acton, Rowland, Parkes, Redfern, and Hoyle.

"The two former librarians, Clarkson and Lang, have been re-elected.

"Dale, who for some time past held the position of keeper of the reading-room, having left, the choice of a successor has fallen between Lucas and Ferris, who, singularly enough, both received the same number of votes. Each of these gentlemen being equally ready to withdraw in the other's favour, I exercised my prerogative as captain of the school, and gave the casting vote in favour of Lucas."

At this there was a slight murmur among the audience, though whether of dissent or approval it was impossible to tell. The interruption was only momentary, for every one was too much interested in the next announcement to care much what became of the post of keeper of the reading-room.

"As you all know, two vacancies have occurred among the prefects, to fill which the following gentlemen have been chosen, and their election duly sanctioned by the head-master: Parkes and Fielding."

The words had hardly passed the speaker's lips when the whole room was in an uproar. Cheers, howls, whistling, and the stamping of feet filled the air with an indescribable din; members of the Lower Fourth fought one another across the desks; and it was some minutes before Allingford could obtain sufficient silence to enable him to finish his speech.

"This," he said, in conclusion, "is the result of the present election. I believe there has been some little difference of opinion among you, especially in regard to the selection of the two fresh prefects; there are so many worthy fellows in the Sixth that one can hardly wonder at your finding some difficulty in making your choice. One thing is certain-namely, that the two gentlemen who have been elected to what is and always has been a very honourable position at Ronleigh are eminently fitted for the work. The duties of a prefect are often difficult, and the reverse of pleasant; but I think you will agree with me when I say that in any large school it is eminently satisfactory to find that a certain amount of the government and discipline can be entrusted to the boys themselves, and I feel sure that you will give Parkes and Fielding the same willing support as you have always accorded to myself and the other prefects."

As the captain finished speaking, Hawley, Gull, Noaks, and several other boys sprang to their feet, their appearance being the signal for a fresh outburst of cheers and groans. Young "Rats" commenced to hiss like a small steam-engine, while Grundy made frantic but futile attempts to reach over from the desk behind and smite him on the head with a French dictionary.

"If any one wishes to speak," said the chairman, "he is at liberty to do so; but, of course, we can't have more than one at a time."

With the exception of Hawley, those who had risen sat down again.

"I want to ask," said the former, "what were the numbers in the voting for the prefects?"

"Parkes received fifty-six votes, and Fielding forty-eight."

"Did Thurston receive any votes?"

"Yes."

"How many?"

"That," returned the captain, "is a question which, for certain reasons,

I think it would be best not to answer."

"I think," interrupted Gull, rising to his feet, amid a murmur of excitement, "that we have a perfect right to insist on the figures being made public; everything in connection with these elections ought to be fair and open."

"I don't think," answered Allingford quietly, "that any one has ever had reason to accuse me of being unfair in any of my dealings; it is exactly because I think it would be hardly fair to Thurston himself that I propose not to publish the number of votes awarded to unsuccessful candidates."

The subject of this remark sat in the front row but one, lolling back against the desk behind, with his hands in his pockets and a sneering smile on his lips.

"I don't care what you do," he exclaimed, with a short laugh. "I can guess pretty well what's coming."

"There!" cried Gull; "you hear what Thurston says. Now let's have the figures."

"Very well," answered the captain. "If you insist, you shall have them.

The number of votes for Thurston was sixty-one."

"Then, if he got more votes than either Parkes or Fielding, why isn't he elected?"

"Because the doctor would not sanction it. The names have to be submitted to him for approval, and he appointed Parkes and Fielding."

"Did you try to influence him to overlook Thurston?" demanded Gull angrily. But an immediate outburst of such cries as "Shame!" "Shut up!" and "Sit down!" showed the speaker he had gone too far, and rendered it unnecessary for Allingford to reply to the question.

"I think," said Fletcher senior, rising to his feet when this interruption had ceased, and looking round with a foxy smile on his face, "that, with all due respect to the gentlemen who have been elected as prefects, it is a great pity that the doctor should not have consented to confirm the choice of the school, and reappoint Thurston. I think if the matter were laid before him in a proper light he might be induced to reconsider his decision."

"Well, will you go and see him about it yourself?" asked Allingford, with a slight sneer.

"No; of course I shouldn't go alone," returned Fletcher. "I think it's a matter that should be taken up by the whole school."

There was a moment's lull in the proceedings, broken only by a confused murmur of voices; then Acton jumped to his feet. The football captain was popular with everybody, and the sight of his jovial face and sturdy figure was greeted with a burst of cheers.

"Look here, you fellows," he began. "I'm no speaker, but I can say enough to serve the purpose. I think we are very much indebted to our captain, not only for presiding over this meeting, but for what he has done and is always doing for the good of the school. I remember Ronleigh when it wasn't such a decent place as it is to-day. A lot of things went on here when I was a kid that wouldn't be put up with now, and I don't think the school ever played such good games of cricket and football as we see at the present time. A lot of this, you may take my word for it, is due to our captain, and I think we can't show our appreciation of his work in a better way than by giving him three cheers. Now, then, take the time from me. Three cheers for Allingford. HIP, HIP, HURRAH!"

The big assembly shouted till the roof rang and the windows rattled; then the meeting slowly dispersed, a feeble attempt to raise three cheers for Thurston being met with as many groans as plaudits.

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