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   Chapter 14 A PASSAGE OF ARMS.

The Triple Alliance By Harold Avery Characters: 18446

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


The Triple Alliance, in common with the rest of their schoolfellows, little thought, on returning from their summer holidays, what a memorable epoch the coming term would prove in the history of Ronleigh College; still less did any one imagine what important results would arise from the action of the three friends, and how much would depend on the loyalty of these youngsters for their Alma Mater.

They settled down to enjoy a peaceful thirteen weeks of work and play. Jack Vance reported that the robbery of "the Hermit's" coins was regarded at Todderton as quite a piece of ancient history; and as Noaks appeared to have forgotten the existence of the clasp-knife, and, growing every day more intimate with Thurston and Co., seemed more than ever inclined to go his way and leave his former foes alone, the latter made up their minds to banish dull care, and consider their unfortunate misadventure as a storm which they had safely weathered.

The wave of excitement caused by the elections soon passed over. The new prefects entered upon their duties, and in the performance of the same apparently met with no ill-will or opposition; yet to every keen observer it was evident that the recent contest had left behind it a distinct under-current of dissatisfaction, and for the first time in the memory of all concerned Ronleigh was a house divided against itself-no longer united in a common cause, but split into two factions, one pulling against the other, thinking more of party interests than of the honour and welfare of the whole community.

The first occasion on which this spirit clearly manifested itself was some ten days after the elections, when the college played their first football match of the season against Ronleigh town. Thurston's name had, as usual, been included in the list of the eleven which was posted up on Wednesday morning, but before school was over it was noised abroad that he had refused to play.

"I say, you fellows, have you heard about 'Thirsty'?" said Fletcher junior, as the Lower Fourth straggled into their classroom after interval. "I wonder if it's true."

"Oh, it's true enough," answered Grundy from the back desk; "and I'm jolly glad he's done it. I heard him say this morning that if Allingford and those other fellows wouldn't put up with him as a prefect, they shouldn't have him in the team."

"Well, I call that rot," cried Jack Vance: "the team doesn't belong to

Allingford or to anybody else-"

"Oh, shut your mouth, you young prig!" interrupted Grundy, and the entrance of Mr. Greyling put a stop to any further conversation.

I am inclined to think that a much nobler spirit would pervade such field-sports as cricket and football if the fact could be more firmly impressed upon the minds of both players and spectators that, providing the conduct of each side is fair and generous, and that every one does his "big best," it is equally creditable to lose as to win. Certainly both sides should strive their hardest to gain the day; but let boys especially remember, in an uphill game, when scoring goes against them, that it is to the honour of the slaughtered Spartans and not of the victorious Persians that the pass of Thermopylae has become a household word.

In addition to the loss of Thurston, who, to do him justice, was a very good forward, the school team was weakened still further by an unfortunate accident which befell Rowlands, who twisted his ankle, and was forced to leave the ground at the very commencement of the game. The Town were unusually strong, and the bulk of the back work fell on Allingford. The captain played a magnificent game, and covered himself with glory; but in spite of all that he and his men could do, after a gallant fight the visitors claimed the victory with a score of four goals to two.

On the morning after the match, just before school, the members of the Triple Alliance were strolling across the entrance-hall, when they noticed a crowd of boys surrounding the notice-board. The gathering seemed to consist mainly of members of the lower classes, and the manner in which they were elbowing each other aside, laughing, talking, and gesticulating, showed that some announcement of rather uncommon interest and importance must be exposed to view.

Our three friends hurried forward to join the group. Pinned to the board with an old pen-nib was a half-sheet of scribbling-paper, and inscribed thereon, in what was evidently a disguised handwriting, were some verses, which were seen at once to refer to the previous afternoon's defeat. They were as follows:-

COLLEGE V. TOWN.

Air, "Bonnie Dundee."

To the boys of the college 'twas Allingford spoke:

"When we play the Town team there are heads to be broke;

So let ten veteran players come now follow me,

And fight for the honour of ancient Ronleigh."

Chorus.

"Then put up your goal-posts, and mark your touch-line;

We'll grind them to powder, and put them in brine.

Let boarders and day boys all come out to see

Us fight for the honour of ancient Ronleigh."

The ten merry men mustered quick at his call-

There were forwards, and half-backs, and goal-keeper tall;

But one who was wont in the forefront to be

No longer was seen in the ranks of Ronleigh.

Chorus: "Then put up your goal-posts, and mark," etc.

Too soon their rejoicings and empty their boast,

For the Town fellows very soon had them on toast;

And the bystanders sighed as they saw frequently

The ball pass the "back" of our ancient Ronleigh.

Chorus: "Then put up your goal-posts, and mark," etc.

From this draw a moral, you fellows who rule:

Sink personal spite when you act for the school;

And whatever your notions of prefects may be,

Let's have the right men in the team at Ronleigh.

Chorus: "Then put up your goal-posts, and mark," etc.

Something in these doggerel lines excited Jack Vance's wrath above measure, the last verse especially raising his anger to boiling-point, so that it fairly bubbled over. Jack was a loyal-hearted youngster; he was nothing to Allingford, but Allingford was something to him, as head and leader of the community of which he himself was a member. The sight of the captain toiling manfully through the long, unequal contest of the previous afternoon, doing practically double work to make up for the loss of his fellow-back, and to prevent a losing game degenerating into a rout, rose up once more before the small boy's mind, and, as has been said before, his wrath boiled over.

"Well, I call that a beastly shame. The chap who wrote it ought to be kicked round the field."

"My eye," cried Grundy, "listen to what's talking! Kicked round the field, indeed! Why, I think it's jolly good: it serves Allingford and those other fellows just right for turning Thurston out of the team."

"What a lie!" retorted Jack. "You know very well they didn't turn him out; he went out of his own accord."

"Here, don't give me any of your cheek," said Grundy, sidling up to his antagonist in a threatening manner; "you mean to say I'm a liar, eh?"

The advent of three Fifth Form boys-one of whom took Grundy by the shoulders and pushed him away, with the command to "Get out and lie on the mat"-put an end, for the time being, to the altercation. The crowd increased: boys of all ages stopped to read the verses; some few laughed, and pronounced them jolly good; but to do them justice, the greater number of Ronleians were too jealous of the honour of their school to see much fun in this attempt to lampoon their football representatives. Just as the bell was ringing for assembly, the paper was torn down by Trail, the head of the Remove, who ripped it up into fifty pieces, and in answer to Gull's inquiry what he did that for, replied, "I'll jolly soon show you!" in such a menacing tone that the questioner saw fit to turn on his heel and walk away with an alacrity of movement not altogether due to any particular eagerness to commence work.

The Lower Fourth were straggling down the passage on the way to their classroom, when they heard a scuffle and the clatter of falling books. Grundy had seized Jack Vance by the collar from behind, and was screwing his knuckle into his victim's neck.

"Yes; you called me a liar, didn't you?"

"So you are! Let go my coat!"

"Oh, so you stick to it, do you? I'll-"

The sentence was interrupted by Jack giving a sudden twist and striking his antagonist a heavy blow in the chest, which sent him staggering against the opposite wall. Grundy was nearly a head taller than Vance; but the latter's blood was up, and in another moment the dogs of war would have assuredly broken loose had not the flutter of a gown at the end of the passage announced the advent of Mr. Greyling.

The class had finished translating from their Latin author, and had just commenced writing an exercise, when a note was passed over to Jack Vance from the desk behind; it was short and to the point:-

"Will you fight me after twelve at the back of the pavilion?-

H. GRUNDY."

Jack read the challenge, turned round and nodded, and then went calmly on with his work as though nothing had happened.

This cool way of tre

ating the matter did not altogether please Grundy, who had rather expected that his adversary would elect to "take a licking." He had, however, every reason to count upon an easy victory, and so promptly despatched another note, which contained the words: "Very well. I'll smash you."

Later on a third epistle was handed over: "Don't tell any one, or there'll be too much of a crowd."

It was not until the interval that the two other members of the Triple

Alliance were informed of the coming conflict.

"You don't really mean you're going to fight him?" said Mugford.

"Of course I am."

"You'll get licked!" added Diggory, with a sigh.

"I don't care if I am. If I land him one or two, he won't be in a hurry to lick me again. Don't you remember what you said ages ago at The Birches, Diggy, when you went down that slide on skates? Well, it's the same thing with me now. I'm going to show him, once and for all, that he's not going to ride rough-shod over me for nothing."

During the last hour of school, which happened to be devoted to algebra, the only member of the Triple Alliance who seemed able to work was Jack Vance. Diggory made a hash of nearly every sum, while Mugford simply collapsed, and could not even remember that like signs made plus, and unlike minus.

"I say, Diggy," whispered the latter, "don't you think Grundy'll lick him?"

"I don't know," returned the other, with a desperate attempt to be cheerful; "you never know what may happen. He may-"

"Trevanock, stop talking," interrupted Mr. Greyling. "If I have to speak to you again for inattention, you'll stay in and work out these examples after twelve."

At length the faint jangle of the bell announced the fact that the eventful hour had arrived: the Lower Fourth passed on into the big schoolroom, and were dismissed with the other classes.

Jack betrayed not the least sign of excitement, and insisted on going down into the grub-room to feed two white mice before setting out for the "front." His two friends, however, weighed down with anxiety, and with dismal forebodings as to the result of the coming conflict, were obliged to seek support by informing "Rats" of what was about to take place, and begging him to give them the benefit of his cheering company.

Young "Rats," who was always ready to take part in anything from a garden party to a game of marbles, immediately accepted the invitation.

"Jolly glad you told me," he cried; "wouldn't have missed seeing it for anything. Jack Vance and Grundy-whew-w-w!"

The long whistle with which he concluded the sentence had certainly an ominous sound, but the appearance of their principal was the signal for the seconds to hide their fears under an assumed air of jovial confidence.

"You'll be certain to lick him, Jack," said Diggory, with a face as long as a fiddle;-"won't he, 'Rats'?"

"Lick him!" answered "Rats;" "I should think so! Lick him into fits;

I could do it myself."

"He's a beastly bully," added Mugford solemnly; "and bullies always get licked-in books."

"I don't care," answered Jack jauntily, "if I lick him or not, but I know he'll find me a pretty hard nut to crack."

Ronleigh had no recognized duelling-ground, but when a premeditated encounter did take place, the combatants usually resorted to a little patch of grass situated between the back of the pavilion and the edge of the adjoining field. Here it was possible to conduct an affair of honour without much fear of interruption.

Grundy was already at the trysting-place, accompanied by Andson, a chum from the Upper Fourth, and Fletcher junior. It was quite an informal little gathering, and the business was conducted in a free-and-easy manner, and with an entire absence of the cut-and-dried ceremony which characterized similar undertakings in the palmy days of the prize ring.

"Look here, young Vance," said Grundy, "if you like to apologize for calling me a liar, I'll let you off; if not, I'm going to punch your head."

"Punch away!" answered Jack stolidly, and all further attempt at pacification was abandoned.

The principals took off their coats and collars, while their companions drew aside to give them room, and the signal was given to commence the action.

Grundy made no attempt at any display of science; he simply relied on his superior strength and size, and charged down upon his adversary with the intention of thumping and pounding him till he gave in. Jack Vance knew very little about the "noble art," except that it was the proper thing to hit straight from the shoulder; and following out this fundamental principle, he succeeded in landing his opponent a good hard drive between the eyes, which made him see more stars than are to be witnessed at the explosion of a sixpenny rocket. Grundy drew back, and after blinking and rubbing his nose for a moment, came on again, this time with greater caution. Jack, on the other hand, emboldened by his previous success, made an unwise attempt to rush the fighting, and was rewarded with a sounding smack on the cheek-bone which broke the skin and sent him staggering back into the arms of Diggory.

Once more the combatants approached each other, this time with a little more feinting and dodging, which showed a certain amount of respect for the weight of each other's fists. At length, urged on to further feats of arms by impatient ejaculations of "Now, then, go into it!" and "Keep the game alive!" from Fletcher and Andson, they closed again, and after a sharp interchange of rather random pounding, Jack smote his opponent on the nose, and received in return a heavy blow on the chest which very nearly sent him to the ground.

After this there was another short breathing-space; a thin stream of blood was trickling from Grundy's nasal organ, while Diggory and Mugford noticed with aching hearts that their comrade was beginning to look rather limp, and was getting short of breath.

What would have been the ultimate result of the contest had it been resumed I am sure I cannot say, but I fear that, taking Grundy's superior weight and height into consideration, the story of the fight would have been recorded among the trials and not the triumphs of the Triple Alliance. As it was, a sudden interruption brought the encounter to a premature close.

"Hullo, you young beggars! what are you up to?"

The voice was that of Allingford, who, attracted by cries of "Go it!"- "Give him another!"-"Bravo, Vance!" and other warlike shouts, had hurried round to the rear of the pavilion to find out what was happening.

"Hullo!" he continued, stepping forward and grasping Grundy by the shoulder; "what's up? what's the joke?"

"It's only a bit of a fight," said Andson; "they had a row this morning."

"What, d'you mean to say you're fighting that youngster? Why don't you choose some one a bit smaller?" demanded the captain, rather bitterly.

"Well, it's his own doing," growled Grundy. "I offered to let him off, but he wanted to have it out."

"Pshaw!" returned the other. "Look here, I've half a mind to give you two a jolly good 'impot' to keep you out of mischief. Now stop it, d'you hear, or I'll send both your names in to Denson."

Fletcher and Andson had already beaten a retreat, and Grundy was preparing to follow, when Allingford called him back.

"Come," he said, in a kinder tone. "I don't know what your quarrel's about, but finish it up like men, and shake hands."

The boys did as they were told, and though the salutation was not a very hearty one, it helped to extinguish the smouldering sparks of anger which might at some future meeting have been once more fanned into a flame.

Grundy disappeared round the corner of the building; but Allingford remained for a moment or two, watching Jack Vance as he fastened on his collar and resumed his coat.

"Well, what was the row about?"

"Oh, nothing."

"Nonsense; fellows don't fight for nothing. What was it? Any great secret?"

"Oh no," answered Jack, laughing: "it began about that lot of verses that was pinned upon the notice-board this morning. Grundy said Thurston was turned out of the team, and I said he wasn't."

The captain smiled thoughtfully, and going down on one knee examined the wounded cheek. "Put some cold water to it," he said, and then walked away.

That look was worth fifty bruises, and for it Jack would have continued the fight with Grundy to the bitter end. Diggory and Mugford fell upon his neck, and were loud in their declarations that in another round their champion would have "knocked the stuffing out" of his opponent. That this would really have been the case is, as I remarked before, rather doubtful; but one fact is certain-that the conflict caused the three friends to be more firmly established than ever in their loyalty to the side of law and order.

For a couple of days fellows continued to talk about the skit on the eleven, and to hazard guesses as to who was the writer. As the majority, however, pronounced it "a dirty shame," and spoke of the author as "some mean skunk," the poet wisely concluded to conceal his identity, and by the end of the week the matter was, for the time being, practically forgotten.

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