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The Triple Alliance By Harold Avery Characters: 13431

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04

The Wraxby match was played and won. Allingford and his men journeyed to the neighbouring town, so gaming the additional credit of a victory on their opponents' ground; and thus, for the first time for many years, Ronleigh lowered the flag of their ancient rivals both at cricket and at football.

"Hurrah!" cried "Rats," who was in a great state of excitement when the news arrived; "they won't ask us again if we'd like to play a master, the cheeky beggars!"

The same afternoon on which Ronleigh so distinguished herself saw also the melancholy ending of the school life of two of her number. Thurston and Fletcher One went home to return no more; practically expelled, though the doctor, in this instance, did not make a public example of their departure.

Another thing happened on this memorable day which caused quite a sensation, especially among the members of the upper and lower divisions of the Fourth Form.

"I say, have you heard the latest?" cried Maxton, bursting into the reading-room just before preparation, regardless alike of the presence of Lucas and the rule relating to silence.

"What about?" asked several voices.

"Why, about Noaks!"


"Well, then, he's run away!"

Magazines and papers fell from the hands which held them, and the usual quiet of the room was broken by a buzz of astonishment.

"Run away! Go on; you don't mean it!"

"I do, though: he's skedaddled right enough, and they can't find him anywhere."

The report was only too true. Afraid to face his schoolfellows, and having already received several intimations, from fellows passing the housekeeper's parlour, that a jolly good licking awaited him when he left his present place of refuge, Noaks had watched his opportunity, and when the boys were at tea had slipped out, and, as Maxton put it, "run away."

No one mourned his loss; even Mouler would not own to having been his friend; and everybody who expressed any opinion on the subject spoke of his departure as being decidedly a good riddance.

The Triple Alliance, however, had cause to feel uneasy when they heard of this latest escapade of their ancient enemy.

"He's got my knife with him," said Mugford; "he may go any day and try for that reward."

For the time being, however, no communication was received from the police-station at Todderton, and none of the three friends was caused, like Eugene Aram, to leave the school with gyves upon his wrists. Whatever evil intentions Noaks might have cherished towards them were destined to be checkmated by a fortunate circumstance, the possibility of which neither side had yet foreseen.

The last day of the term arrived in due course, bringing with it that jolly time when everybody is excited, happy, and good-tempered; when the morning's work is a mere matter of form, and the boys slap their books together at the sound of the bell, with the joyful conviction that the whole length of the Christmas holidays lies between them and "next lesson."

Directly after dinner every one commenced "packing up;" which term might have been supposed to include every form of skylarking which the heart of the small boy could devise, from racing round the quadrangle, arrayed in one of Bibbs's night-shirts, to playing football in the gymnasium, North versus South, with the remains of an old mortar-board.

It was at this period of the day that the Triple Alliance proceeded to carry out a project which had for some little time occupied the minds of at least two of their number. The idea was that the little fraternity should celebrate their approaching separation, and the consequent breaking up of their association, with a sort of funeral feast, the cost of which Jack and Diggory insisted should be borne by the two surviving members. Only one outsider was invited to attend-namely, "Rats," whose cheery presence it was thought would tend to enliven the proceedings, and chase away the gloomy clouds of regret which would naturally hang over the near prospect of parting.

The box-room (where such functions usually took place) being at this time in a state of indescribable uproar, it was decided that the banquet should be served in one of the remote classrooms.

"None of the fellows'll come near it," said Jack Vance; "and if old Watford should be knocking round and catch us there, he won't do anything to-day; we shall have to clear out, that's all."

Accordingly, about a quarter to four, the three friends, with their solitary guest, assembled at the trysting-place. Jack Vance carried two big paper bags, Diggory a biscuit-box and a small tin kettle, while the other two were provided with four clean jam-pots, it having been announced that there was "going to be some cocoa."

For the preparation of this luxury Diggory mounted a form and lit one of the gas-jets, over which he and Jack Vance took it in turns to hold the kettle until the water boiled. Sugar, cocoa, and condensed milk were produced from the biscuit-tin, and the jam-pots having been filled with the steaming beverage, the company seated themselves round the stove, in which there still smouldered some remains of the morning's fire, and prepared to enjoy themselves.

From the first, however, the proceeding's fell as flat as ditch-water. Even the gallant efforts of "Rats" to enliven the party were of no avail; and for some time everybody munched away in silence, Jack Vance occasionally pausing to remark, "Here, pass over that nose-bag, and help yourselves."

The classroom itself, which belonged to the Third Form, was suggestive of that glad season known as "breaking-up." The ink-pots had all been collected, and stood together in a tray on the master's table; fragments of examination papers filled the paper-basket, and were littered here and there about the floor, while some promising Latin scholar had scrawled across the blackboard the well-known words, Dulce Domum. These inspiriting signs of a "good time coming" were, however, lost on the Triple Alliance. Their present surroundings served only to remind them of the old days of "The Happy Family," when they had first come to Ronleigh, never expecting but to have completed the period of their school lives in one another's company.

"Well," said Jack Vance, suddenly broaching the subject which was uppermost in each of their minds, "we've had jolly times together.- D'you remember when we made the Alliance, the day you first came to The Birches, Diggory?"

"Yes," answered Diggory; "it was just after we'd been frightened by the ghost. D'you remember the 'Main-top' and the 'House of Lords' and the Philistines? I wonder what's become of them all?"

One reminiscence suggested another, and after exhaustin

g their recollections of The Birches, they recalled their varied experiences at Ronleigh. Only one adventure was by mutual consent not alluded to: their clandestine visit to The Hermitage, coupled with Noaks's threat, hung like the sword suspended by a single hair above the head of Damocles at the feast.

At length, when the paper bags had been wellnigh emptied, Jack Vance intimated his intention of making a speech-which announcement was received with considerable applause.

"Don't finish up your cocoa," he began, "because, before we dissolve the Alliance, I'm going to propose a toast. We've been friends a long time, and both here and at The Birches, as Diggory says, the Triple Alliance has done wonders and covered itself with glory." (Cheers.) "We said when we started that we'd always stand by each other whatever happened; and so we have, and so we would again if we were going to be together any longer." ("Hear, hear!") "I wish 'Rats' could have joined us, but then I suppose it wouldn't have been the Triple Alliance. However, now it's finished with; but before we break it up, I'm going to call upon you to drink the health of Mr. Mugford. May he have long life and happiness, and a jolly fine house, with a model railway, and a lake for boating in the grounds, and ask us all to come and stay with him whenever we feel inclined."

This sentiment was received with shouts of applause, and in honouring it the jam-pots were drained to their muddy dregs.

No one expected that Mugford would reply, for he was decidedly a man of few words; but on this occasion he rose above his usual self, and sitting with his hands in his trouser pockets, his feet on the fender of the stove, and his chin sunk forward on his breast, delivered himself as follows. The room was already growing dark with the early winter twilight, which perhaps rendered it more easy for him to undertake the task of responding to the toast.

"You've always been very kind to me," he began, speaking rather quickly.

"No, we haven't," interrupted Jack Vance.

"Yes, you have. Just shut up; I'm going to say what I like. You made friends with me because I happened to be in the same room at The Birches; but you always stuck to me, and helped me along a lot when we came here first. I know I'm stupid, and sometimes I feel I'm a coward; but I enjoyed being with you, and shall always remember the times we've had together-yes, I swear I shall-always. And now I've got a drop of cocoa left, so I'm going to propose a toast. You must take 'Rats' in my place. I hope you'll have heaps of larks; and you must write me a letter sometimes and tell me what you're doing. Here goes-The new Triple Alliance!"

It was customary to laugh at whatever Mugford said, but on this occasion not even a smile greeted the conclusion of his remarks.

Only Diggory spoke. "No, we shan't have another Triple Alliance; now it's going to end."

He turned, and taking something out of the biscuit-tin, said solemnly, "I, Diggory Trevanock, do hereby declare that the association known as the Triple Alliance is now dissolved; in token of which I break this bit of a flat ruler, used by us as a sugar-spoon, into three parts, one of which I present to each of the members as a keepsake, to remind them of all our great deeds and many adventures."

Each boy pocketed his fragment of wood in silence. Jack Vance tried to crack a joke, but it was a miserable failure.

"There was something I wanted to say," began "Rats" thoughtfully.

"I shall remember it in a minute. Oh, bother!"

"What's up?"

"Why, I know what it was; Mugford's talking about writing to him reminded me of it. I'm awfully sorry, but there were some letters came for you chaps this morning. I took them off the table, meaning to give them to you; but I quite forgot, and left them in my desk."

"Well, you're a nice one!" cried Diggory. "Suppose you go and fetch 'em now!"

"Rats" scrambled to his feet and hurried out of the room.

Jack Vance pulled out his watch, and held it down so that the glimmer of the red light from between the bars of the stove fell upon its face.

"My word," he exclaimed, "it's time we thought about packing!"

"Wait a jiff for those letters," answered Diggory.

A moment later "Rats" came scampering down the passage. "Here they are," he cried; "I'm very sorry I forgot 'em. A letter for Mugford, and a paper for Vance."

Diggory relighted the gas-jet which he had turned out after boiling the kettle, and proceeded, with the assistance of "Rats," to gather up the remains of the feast. They had hardly, however, got further than emptying the tin kettle down the ventilator before their attention was attracted by a joyful exclamation from Jack Vance.

"What d'you think's happened?" he cried, brandishing the open newspaper.

"Why, they've caught the thieves who stole old Fossberry's coins!"

"Not really!"

"They have, though. It was the old woman who looks after the house, and her husband; they're to be tried at the next assizes. They did it right enough; some of the coins were found in their possession, and-Hullo! what's the matter with you?"

The latter remark was addressed to Mugford, who suddenly jumped on a form, began to dance, fell off into the coal-box, scrambled to his feet, and capered wildly round the room.

"He's gone mad!" cried Diggory; "catch him, and sit on his head!"

"No, I haven't!" exclaimed Mugford, coming to a standstill; "but what do you think's happened? Guess!"

"Not that you're going to stay on here!"

"Yes! My uncle says he'll pay for me, and I'm to come back again after


"Well, I'm sure!" gasped Jack Vance; "and we've just dissolved the

Alliance! We must make it again."

"No, you shan't!" shouted "Rats;" "Diggory said you wouldn't. I'm coming in, as Mugford suggested, so it'll have to be a quadruple one next time."

"Well, so it shall be," cried Jack Vance, embracing Mugford with the hugging power of a juvenile bear: "next term we'll start afresh."

Diggory and "Rats" promptly fell into each other's arms, and all four, coming into violent collision, tumbled down amidst the debris of the overturned coal-box; and after rolling over one another like a lot of young dogs, scrambled to their feet, turned out the gas, and rushed away to complete their packing.

So, as the door slams behind them, they vanish from our sight; for though the renewal of their friendship tempts us to follow them further in their school life, we are reminded that our story has been told. Here ended the existence of the Triple Alliance, and here, therefore, should the history of its trials and triumphs be likewise brought to a conclusion.

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