Read CHAPTER III of Jack of Both Sides The Story of a School War , free online book, by Florence Coombe, on ReadCentral.com.

THE CHICKEN AND THE BICYCLE

Mr. West, the master of Brincliffe, was a man of independent mind, and though the boys liked him well enough, there was a difference of opinion regarding his regulations. For example, the same term in which the door was opened to day-pupils, it was shut to hampers, even birthday ones. Cadbury suggested reporting this high-handed act to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, but decided to let him off when a permission was announced which almost atoned for the loss of cakes and preserves. Bicycles were allowed!

Every boy who had one might bring it to school, although, of course, there were strict limits to its uses, and he who misused the privilege laid himself open to the heavy penalty of leaving it at home the next term. The plan worked well, and gave huge pleasure to the pupils.

With the exception of such small fry as the March Hare and Toppin, nearly every boy managed to possess himself of a machine of some kind. Many were old, one was originally a lady’s, and another had a solid tyre, but so long as the wheels would go round nothing mattered. And the wheel must be in a sorry condition indeed which a boy can’t work.

The season was still early when the Bicycle Paper-chase was proposed and arranged. It was Jack Brady’s suggestion, and every boy to whom it was named jumped at the idea. Mr. West granted permission, provided that a master accompanied them, and Norman Hallett drifted into the post of captain.

It was agreed, after much consultation, that Hallett and Jack should be the hares, that three minutes’ start should be allowed, and that everyone who liked to should be a hound. Simmons was to carry the horn and “blow the true trail” whenever it was lighted upon. Half a dozen more were selected to test the side tracks, as there were certain to be plenty of false scents started.

The Saturday fixed for the chase proved a fine one, and the whole pack was assembled outside the school gates at the hour appointed. Mr. Anderson was once more in charge of the party. Little duties like these fell naturally to his lot as the junior master.

One or two youngsters, who had not got machines of their own yet, had begged leave to hire for the afternoon, so it happened that the March Hare and Toppin were the only boarders left behind. Mournfully they swung upon the gate, and watched the pack ride gaily away at the word “Time!” from Mr. Anderson.

“I wish that they should have tooken us, eh, Top-peen?” said the March Hare.

“You ought to say ‘took’, not ’tooken’,” corrected Toppin. He felt rather cross, and disinclined to dwell on the subject of his wrongs.

“Ah, I am what is your one word? non-grammar-eesh?”

“No, stupid,” said Toppin.

"Uhei!" This sorrowfully. Then, drawing nearer, “But no mind! I love you oh, yes, I love you a great well, Top-peen! Shall we shall we keess?”

Toppin shook his head decidedly, and jumped off the gate in a hurry.

“That’s the second time since Sunday you’ve wanted to kiss, and I’ve told you over and over again I hate it, I don’t like it! I never want to kiss! Now, do you understand?”

The March Hare was sadly afraid he did.

“If you were an English boy you’d never think of asking such a thing,” Toppin went on, tramping up and down as he talked. He really did not want to be unkind to the Hare, but requests like this vexed him sorely. “Don’t you see, Harey, there are some people who will kiss me, and I can’t stop them like Miss Turner, f’r instance.” Miss Turner was the matron. “And then there are some I’ve got to kiss, like aunts and people. But one doesn’t put in any extra, if one can help it. When I’m grown-up I sha’n’t have to kiss anybody, and that’ll be jolly. I shall never, never kiss at all, only shake hands or bow, like Escombe does.”

“Top-peen, you did keess me once time, last week!” The Hare was timidly reproachful now.

Toppin stood still and coloured.

“Yes, I did. Because you bovvered me to, and and you’d jumped in after me!”

“And shallent you not ever keess me once time more?”

“Oh well look here! Perhaps when it’s your birthday, if we get somewhere quite secret, where nobody can possibly see us, I I’ll let you have one a quick one!”

“T-thanks you!” said the grateful Hare.

“It’s ‘thanks’, or else ’thank you’,” corrected Toppin.

The Hare took no notice. He only tucked his arm affectionately into Toppin’s, knowing that he was keeping within his rights in doing so. Toppin could say nothing. Arm-in-arm is quite correct and English!

“I have som-ting to say. Zat Armitage he did not ought to be gone chasing paper. He is bad! I hate him, don’ like him!”

“Why?” enquired Toppin, with wide-open eyes.

“Be-cause he try to drown you. I am what is it? to re-venge it!”

“What awful rot you talk!” said Toppin. “He only did what I told him, same as you would have done.”

“Oh no, he had ver’ wickedness. Ever’body say he had. I am telling many one after one, by secret! And he is a debboy. Zey are more angry for zat. So much better!”

“Rubbish!” cried Toppin impatiently. “You’ve no business to tell anyone anything. And you’re looking fierce and ugly, Hare. Do put Armitage out of your head, and come and have a see-saw!”

The chase, meanwhile, had opened well. The track was unmistakable to begin with, and it led right away from the town into the free country. The pack of hounds spun gaily along at full tilt, and many a machine was travelling at a pace it had not known for years. Every now and then there was a small collision, ending generally in a tumble; but if anyone was hurt, he kept it to himself, for all remounted and rode on, and nobody waited behind to make enquiries.

Of course there were any amount of false alarms, shouts and shrieks, wavings and ringings, and Simmons’s toot-toot sometimes went unheard in the hubbub. Mr. Anderson grew quite boyishly excited, and kept bawling, “Come on, you fellows, come on! Buck up! We’ll run them down yet!” And it is probable that Mr. West might have had a word to say had he seen the pace at which the willing hounds obeyed.

After one of the collisions above-mentioned, Grey, who was not a good rider, and happened to be the last of the pack, came upon Cadbury, dismounted, by the roadside.

“What’s up?” he cried, as he swayed laboriously past.

“Oh, that you, Grey? Get down, there’s a good fellow, and hold my bike a jiffey. I’ll tow you up the next hill, if you will. Thanks so much! I had a spill just now, and my handlebar’s got slewed round, and I can’t keep it straight and right it at the same time.”

The spanner had to be hunted out, the screw loosened, and the bar straightened; and thus a little time was occupied.

“Bother it! They’re out of sight!” cried Cadbury when both were once more ready to mount. “I suppose we shall see Andy tooling back soon, to whip in the lazy pups! Never mind, I’ll keep you company. Don’t you burst your wind! We’ll take it quietly.”

“How they do yell! They’ve lost the trail,” remarked Grey. “Hi! I say, there’s paper down this lane; look and it has a bit of Green’s writing on it. You bet this is the true trail, and that the hares only scooted along the main road a bit farther, on purpose to mislead.”

“You may be right. Anyhow, let’s try our luck. It’s downhill, so we can put on steam. What sport if they all have to turn round, and find we’re in front instead of behind! Mind, old chappie, I’m passing on your right ... wait for you ... below!”

The last words came faintly back; Cadbury had passed Grey like a streak of lightning, his feet up, and his hands in his pockets.

There was a turn in the lane farther down, so that Grey for a minute lost sight of his comrade. He looked carefully ahead as he rounded it, to see if the end of the descent were near. The hill only grew steeper, but the end was a good deal nearer than he thought.

A half-grown chicken, startled by his silent approach, sprang out of the hedge and fluttered in front of his wheel, clucking madly. Grey pealed his bell, but it had no effect on the distracted chicken, which seemed bent on destruction. He clutched his brake; it would not work. There came a stifled squawk, and a slight bump!

In affright and agitation, Grey turned his machine into the hedge, and tumbled off, somehow, anyhow, into the road.

Five minutes later, Cadbury was toiling back up the hill in quest of his school-fellow, when he came upon a very unexpected sight. A prostrate bicycle beside a live, but bruised and dusty boy, who was sadly gazing upon the body of a chicken.

“My good Grey! Good gracious! What has happened? How did you manage it?”

“Oh, Cadbury, I’m so glad to see you! Isn’t it awful? I wouldn’t have run over it for worlds if I could have helped it, but it simply insisted on it!”

“Suicide while temporarily insane,” put in Cadbury, covering his mouth with his hand.

“Well, it did look just as if it wanted to die! But what shall I have to fork out, do you suppose? Five bob? I’ve got no more on me. Say, they aren’t likely to prosecute, are they?”

Grey was really frightened. Cadbury looked at the picture again, tried to take it seriously, failed, and burst into a fit of laughter.

“Awfully sorry, Grey, but ha, ha, ha! what am I to do? You ha, ha, ha! you do look a treat! I ha, ha, ha! I’ll stop in a minute. Oh, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!”

Poor Grey felt anything but amused. He gathered himself to his feet, and remarked stiffly, “Well, Cadbury, when you’ve done

Cadbury steadied himself with an effort.

“It’s all over now, Grey. I’m as grave as a judge. And to show you how penitent I am, I’ll see this job through for you. But you must obey me to the letter. No, don’t brush yourself! Just lie down again as you were, and, however much you’re tempted to, don’t apologize! Be dignified and injured.”

Grey objected, but was persuaded to submit.

“Now to find the owner of this giddy young fowl! We’ll see if they lay claim to it here.”

Cadbury pushed open a little gate, and knocked at the door of the nearest cottage. It proved to be the residence of the chicken’s mistress, an untidy, heavy-looking woman, who apparently lived alone. Cadbury greeted her with the air of a constable, lawyer, and magistrate rolled into one, and the woman listened with deep respect.

“If the fowl of which I am speaking does belong to you,” he pursued, in stern and solemn tones, “I am sorry to tell you it has been the cause of a most unfortunate accident that might have proved fatal. I suppose you are well aware that cattle, poultry, and other domestic animals are required to be kept under proper control. If you will kindly step outside with me, I will show you what mischief has been done.”

The woman, looking much concerned and a little frightened, followed Cadbury meekly to the scene of disaster. When she saw the lifeless chicken, she raised her hands in horror.

“Dear, dear, dear, sir! Why, it’s dead!”

“And it’s a very good thing, madam, for you and for all of us, that my friend here is not dead,” said Cadbury reprovingly. “The chicken did not die until it had done its best to kill him. And also to wreck his machine! A bicycle is a very costly thing. Grey, my dear fellow, are you feeling a little better? You are sure no bones are broken?”

Cadbury’s voice was full of tender anxiety.

“I think not, thanks,” responded Grey without moving.

“Dear, dear, dear, sir!” exclaimed the woman again. “Is there anything I can do for you? I’m sure I’m very sorry; I am that!”

“I’m sure you are,” said Cadbury, softening towards her. “And we should be most unwilling to take proceedings, or anything like that, if we can only arrange things comfortably.”

At mention of the word “proceedings”, the woman grew visibly more uncomfortable. She pressed them to enter her cottage, and plied them with plum loaf and unripe gooseberries!

“You see, sir, I’m not so well up as I might be in law matters. Maybe you’re right, I won’t say. It’s hard to keep the chickens from straying, but I’ll mind ’em better in future, for their sake and my own too. There’s nobody regrets the haccident more’n I do; but I’m a poor woman, and a fine would fall cruel ’eavy on me!”

“I assure you, we wouldn’t be hard on you for anything,” exclaimed Cadbury, still more kindly.

“You’re very good, sir. I don’t really ’ardly know what to suggest, but would the chicken be of any service to you now?”

“The chicken! Well, I’m sure we can’t refuse that. What say you, Grey?”

“What on earth should we do with it?” muttered Grey.

“Ah, there is one little difficulty, but only a slight one. Would you add the small favour of roasting it for us, ma’am? We have no convenience for cooking it. We should then call the matter settled, and say no more about it.”

“Thank you kindly, sir. I’ll roast it, and gladly. And where might I bring it to, sir?”

“Oh, my goodness!” ejaculated Grey under his breath. Cadbury considered a moment.

“I think it will be better to leave it to be called for,” he said presently. “We shall probably send someone over next Wednesday.”

The woman looked mildly surprised at the suggested interval, but only replied, “Very good, sir. Just when you please. It shall be ready. And this is to go no further?”

“Certainly not. I’m sure you have made all the amends in your power, and we are much obliged to you. Good afternoon! Come, Grey, do you feel as if you could make a start? Lean on my arm, and I will help you.”

As the woman, grateful and relieved, closed her door, Grey gazed admiringly at his school-fellow.

“Cadbury, what a clever chap you are! I can’t think how you worked it. But I say, what about fetching the thing? Who’s going to risk that?”

“You are.”

“Me! What do you mean?”

“What I say. Aren’t you expecting to visit your godmother next Wednesday?”

“Yes; and what’s more, I must! She’d write and ask West why I didn’t turn up.”

“Oh, you’ll turn up right enough! But you’ll run over here first.”

“She lives bang in the opposite direction.”

“Never mind. You’ll be an hour or so late for once. You must explain that you were well, detained! She can make what she likes of that.”

“Um! I don’t feel over sweet on the job.”

“Possibly not; we can’t always do what we like. It’s your little part in the game. I’ve done mine for the present. You must hide the chicken away somehow and bring it home, and then I’ll have a second innings, and undertake all the risk.”

By this time the top of the hill was gained once more. Of course any idea of rejoining the paper-chase had to be given up, but a little brushing and beating made Grey respectable, and he and Cadbury rode home together, to confess to having lost the track, and to await the return of the pack, who, after a capital run, had eventually captured the hares at a most convenient spot the door of a lemonade shop!