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   Chapter 18 A SECRET SOCIETY.

The Triple Alliance By Harold Avery Characters: 11020

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


It was a clear, starlight night. Diggory was one of the first to leave the dining-hall, and, passing swiftly out of the quadrangle, was soon hurrying across the junior playing field. On reaching the pavilion, all was quiet and deserted, and he stood for a moment considering what should be his next step.

The thin hedge dividing the two playgrounds was by this time bare of leaves, and afforded no hiding-place; the only chance of concealment was to take shelter inside the den itself-a place which has already been described. This, however, seemed rather like venturing into the lion's mouth. What was going to happen? Would anything take place, or was it only a wild-goose chase after all?

"Here goes!" muttered Diggory to himself. He opened the door, pulling it to again after him as he crept inside; then taking a step forward in the pitchy darkness, promptly fell over a bucket with an appalling crash. Scrambling once more to his feet, he felt in his waistcoat pocket, and finding there a fusee which he remembered to have taken from a box owned by "Rats," he struck it, and by the aid of its feeble glare crept behind the heap of benches which lay piled up close to the opposite wall.

Hardly had he done so when there were a sound of footsteps and a murmur of conversation; the door was opened, and some one crept into the den. No sooner had the new-comer crossed the threshold than he stopped, sniffed audibly, and exclaimed,-

"Hullo! what a stink of fusees! Who's been here, I wonder?"

Diggory instantly recognized the voice as belonging to Noaks, and the sound of it brought a momentary recollection of the time when he and Jack Vance had lain concealed behind the hedge opposite to Horace House. His heart beat fast, and he vainly wished that he had had sufficient forethought to come provided with some ordinary matches. Several more boys entered, and one of them struck a light. Diggory, peering through an aperture in the pile of forms, saw at a glance who they were-Fletcher senior, Thurston, Noaks, and Hawley.

"There don't seem to be any one about," continued Noaks, peering into the corners; "yet it's rum there should be such a smell of fusees."

"I expect it was the man," said Thurston, producing a candle-end, and sticking it in an empty ginger-beer bottle which lay on the ground. "He was in here this afternoon after some of those old boxes, and I expect he lit his pipe. The smell is sure to hang about when the door's shut."

The four boys sat down on two upturned buckets and a couple of old hampers, with the candle in their midst, and Diggory gave vent to an inward sigh of relief.

"Well," began Thurston, "one reason we meet here to-night is because I wanted to explain to you fellows that we can't have any more of those pleasant little parties in my study-at all events, for the present. Until this row about Browse has blown over, every one'll be watching us like cats watching a mouse. We ought not to be seen speaking together, and that's where that cipher business that old Fletcher invented will come in jolly useful. We can say anything we want to without appearing to meet."

"By-the-bye," interrupted Noaks, "what became of that last note? Mouler told me about it, or I shouldn't have come. Some one had taken it away before I went to look."

"Perhaps it was Gull," answered Thurston. "Where is he?"

"He's got some turned work to do," answered Hawley.

"Mouler's outside keeping cave" added Noaks. "We thought it would be well for some one to keep a look-out in case anybody came."

"Well, what I was going to say," continued Thurston, "is, that for the present we'd better lie low, and not be seen going about together. It was a good thing Gull and I managed to turn the tables on Oaks at that inquiry; it would have been jolly awkward for the rest of you to have proved an alibi. Of course it was agreed that I should keep out of it, as it was a dead certainty they'd pounce down on me first; so I went and sat all the evening with old Smeaton. Ha, ha! the fool quite thought I meant it when I asked him to help me about my work. But I say, how did it come off? I haven't heard the particulars."

"Oh, simply enough," answered Hawley. "Noaks and Mouler and Gull and I did the trick; young Grundy's was the voice that told Browse to go down to the 'lab.' Grundy hung about at the top of the stairs, and as soon as he saw Browse come back and make for Allingford's study, he let us know the coast was clear, so we unlocked the door and skedaddled. Gull went straight away to the matron's room, and asked her to sew the two buttons on his waistcoat; he'd pulled them off on purpose. He is a cunning beggar, that Gull. Fancy his staying behind to light the reading-room gas, and telling Lucas he'd only just come! Why, he did more of the wrecking than any two of us put together."

"D'you think young Grundy's to be trusted?" asked Noaks.

"Oh yes," answered Hawley; "he's been on our side all along. He had a fight with young what's-his-name not long ago, about that skit on the Town match. Besides, I've told him that if it gets out that he had a hand in that Browse business, he'll be expelled. So he'll keep his mouth shut right enough."

"Oh, by-the-bye," cried Thurston, turning to his particular chum, "have you heard anything more about that poem of yours?"

Fletcher senior, who had been sitting all this time scowling in silence at the candle, answered shortly, "No."

"Hullo!" returned his friend, "what's the mat

ter? You seem precious glum to-night. What's up? Are you going to chuck this business and turn good?"

"You asked me whether I'd heard anything more about that rhyme I wrote," answered the other, rousing himself, and speaking with a thrill of anger in his voice. "I say no, but I've seen a jolly lot."

"How d'you mean?"

"Why, there's not a fellow in the Sixth but gives me the cold shoulder. Allingford sets the example, and there's hardly one of them will give me a civil word. They'd like to oust me from the prefects like they did you, but they shan't, and, what's more, I'll get even chalks with some of them before I leave."

"Hear, hear!" exclaimed Thurston; "that's just what I say. And now the question is, what shall we do?"

"Nothing at present," answered the other. "We must wait until this affair's blown over. There's no need to run the risk of getting expelled; and, besides, we want some time to think of a plan."

The faint clang, ter-ang of a bell sounded across the playing field.

Noaks and Hawley rose to their feet.

"'Prep!'" exclaimed the latter. "We must be off." A new cause for anxiety now presented itself to Diggory's mind in the thought that he would be late in taking his place in the big schoolroom. He knew that Noaks and Hawley would have to be in time for the assembly; but the two Sixth Form boys were not amenable to the same rule, and might linger behind.

Thurston, however, rose to his feet, blew out the candle, and the four conspirators groped their way in a body out through the low doorway.

Diggory waited until he thought they must have reached the school buildings, and then prepared to follow. The bell had stopped ringing some minutes, and without looking very carefully where he was going, he ran as fast as he could out of the match-ground, and across the junior field. Suddenly, right in front of him, and within fifty yards of the paved playground, a dark figure seemed all at once to rise out of the ground. It was Noaks! The latter had dropped a pencil-case, and had been left by his companions searching for it on his hands and knees.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed, catching the small boy by the arm. "Who are you? and where have you been?"

"What's that to you?" answered Diggory boldly; "let me go."

The remembrance of that mysterious smell of a fusee flashed across

Noaks's mind.

"Look here!" he cried sharply. "You tell me this moment where you've been."

"In the other field."

"What were you doing there?"

"Running."

There was a moment's silence. Noaks had a strong suspicion that the other knew something about the secret meeting; it was equally possible, however, that he did not. Young madcaps were often known to let off steam by careering wildly round the field after dark, and if this had really been the case in the present instance, it would be folly to say anything that should awaken suspicion. The big fellow hesitated; then a happy thought occurred to him: he dragged his captive across the paved playground, and stopping under the gas-lamp which lit up the archway leading into the quadrangle, began a hasty examination of the contents of the latter's pockets. There was no time to lose, and failing to find what he sought, Noaks gave the youngster a final shake, saying as he did so: "Look here, have you forgotten that coin robbery? Because, if you have, I haven't. I've got that knife still. Don't you fall foul of me, or you'll have reason to be sorry for it, d'you hear?"

The two boys ran quickly across to the big schoolroom, and entered just in time to take their seats before the master on duty called, "Silence!"

As might have been expected, none of the Triple Alliance put in an appearance at supper that evening; as a matter of fact, they were congregated in a quiet corner of the box-room, listening to a graphic account of Diggory's adventures. Noaks's threat about the pocket-knife revived all their former feelings of dread and uneasiness respecting their unfortunate expedition to The Hermitage, and there was a grave look upon their faces as the narrative concluded.

"You see," said Diggory, as he brought his story to a close, "the thing was this: he wasn't quite sure whether I knew anything or not, but he said that to frighten me in case I did."

"I don't see that we can do anything," began Mugford uneasily. "You say they aren't going to kick up any other row just yet, and it would be an awful thing if Noaks found it out, and sent my knife to the police."

"No, I don't see very well what I can do," answered Diggory. "Somehow it seems rather mean to hide away and then go and tell what you've overheard. I think it's best to leave it, and keep a sharp look-out and see what happens next."

"Fancy Fletcher inventing that cipher," said Jack Vance, "and being mixed up with that lot. He is a double-faced beast; it was just like him making that underhanded attack on the football team."

"Yes," added Mugford; "and fancy Gull being in both those rows, and making every one believe he wasn't! They must be a deep lot."

"So they are," answered Diggory complacently; "but they aren't a match for the Triple Alliance."

"I say, what made Noaks search your pockets?" asked Jack, as the three friends prepared to break up their "confab."

"Oh, for a long time I couldn't imagine, and then all of a sudden I thought why it was. Don't you see, he wanted to find if I had any more fusees. My stars, I was glad 'Rats' had only given me one instead of the box!"

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