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

A KNOCK AT THE WINDOW

By mutual agreement the story of the chicken was kept secret for the present, and the next three days passed uneventfully, except to Jack, whose Sunday at home was no small event, though a weekly one. Lessons were just ended on the following Wednesday morning, and Cadbury was doing monitor’s work in the school-room when Grey sidled up to him.

“Hullo, Dapple-grey, you’re the culprit I was wanting. These are your things, aren’t they?”

“Yes; but I was just going to put them away. You mustn’t mark me!”

“You’ve not forgotten the little call you have to pay this afternoon?”

“I wanted to speak to you about that, Cadbury. It’s very difficult for me to do it, you know. What do you say supposing we leave that chicken alone? I don’t want to go after it. And it’s my chicken, you know.”

“Half of it,” replied Cadbury. “You can leave your half behind if you like, but I want mine. I earned it by getting you out of your scrape. Look here, Grey! Here are five six articles belonging to you. I put six marks against your name, and that’s half-way to an imp., unless you do your duty towards that chicken.”

“Oh, dash it! Well, what have I to do?”

“You can’t carve, can you?”

“Don’t know. ’Spect so.”

“No, I’m sure you can’t. It’s an art. I can. So that settles it. I must have the fowl first this evening; cut it up, and send on your portion to your bedroom. Let the March Hare fetch it. He’s a noiseless customer.”

“That won’t do,” said Grey. “Hallett wouldn’t allow it. Since that last pillow-fight, when his bolster knocked a can over and got soaked, he’s been awfully down on larks. He’s sworn to lick the first boy who opens the door after the gas is out and he can do it, you know.”

“Very well, I’ll send it via the window,” said Cadbury coolly. “All the same, I don’t think you’ll find Hallett’s above eating it. When you hear the chicken knock, open the window and let it in that’s all.”

“Oh, yes, it sounds easy enough to you! But supposing I get the chicken, how am I to bring it into the house without being seen? Suppose I meet West in the hall, or Miss Turner on the stairs, or the housemaid in your bedroom? I defy you to hide a roast fowl about you, and I don’t care for getting into rows, if you do.”

“My dear Grey, we know you don’t,” said Cadbury. “You’re an adept at escaping them. But you needn’t fear for this; I have a way out of the hole. I’ll drop a line from our window. You come round beneath it on your return, before you enter the house, and tie the chicken firmly to the end of it. Then, when the right time comes, I can haul it up. And look here, don’t let’s explain to the other chaps how we came by the chicken. Let’s make a complete mystery of it for a day or two, and have a lark over it.”

That seemed good fun. Grey gradually allowed himself to be persuaded to perform his part of the task. Cadbury, in his turn, made what small preparations seemed necessary. He upset a salt-cellar at dinner, and managed to collect at least half the contents in his handkerchief. He also made a collection of string, chiefly from the smaller boys, who give without asking questions or, at least, without demanding answers.

Evening came at length, and with it Grey’s return. A wink and a nod was all the communication that passed between him and Cadbury, but it satisfied the latter that the chicken was in the garden, and for once he longed for bed-time. In such a hurry was he when the happy hour arrived, that he forgot to wait for Mr. West’s departure, and was half-way upstairs when he was called back with a rebuke for his breach of manners.

In the room over which Escombe Trevelyan was head slept also Cadbury, Vickers, Jack Brady, and Toppin, the last-named being despatched to bed an hour before the rest.

“What’s up, Cadburius?” enquired Trevelyan with an amused smile. “Got to catch a train?”

“No, a chicken!” was the reply.

“Poor fellow, his mind’s giving way!” said Jack.

“Talking about chickens,” broke in Vickers, “I saw the old cat sneaking along just now with what looked for all the world like the leg of a fowl in her mouth. You bet the masters are having a tuck-in to-night.”

“Not a bit of it!” exclaimed Cadbury. “Depend upon it, she’s been at our chicken. The shameless, thieving beast!”

“At yours, Cad?” This was uttered in chorus.

“At mine ours! It’s a treat for us all. I was going to wait till lights were out, but I daren’t now. The cat’ll have the rest if we aren’t quick; perhaps she’s eaten it already. Keep cave by the door, Jack, while I haul in the line.”

Few things really astonish a boy. Cadbury was regarded as capable of anything, and when the sash was cautiously raised, and the string pulled up, the fact that a real roast chicken, half-wrapped in newspaper, dangled at the end, caused more amusement than amazement.

“Well, I’m blowed! Where did this grow?”

“I shall drop a line to-morrow two lines and see what comes up.”

“It’ll be the old cat, likely.”

“Hush! I must stow this away till Pepper’s been round,” said Cadbury, hastily stuffing the bird into his own bed.

There was not long to wait; Mr. Peace appeared almost before they were ready for him. Mr. Peace was the senior resident master, whose short temper had won for him the above nickname. His back was scarcely turned, the boys were still responding cordially to his rather gruff “Good-night”, when Cadbury drew the chicken forth and waved it triumphantly in his hand. Trevelyan, who was next the window, pulled the blind up silently. It was a brilliant moonlight night, so that gas was unneeded.

“The cat has had her full share,” Cadbury remarked sadly. “But never mind. Half the chicken belongs to Gr , to the next room, I mean, and as I’ve got the trouble of carving, I shall give them the Pussy-half. It’ll be all right, they won’t know; they’ll only think I cut it rather roughly.”

“And our reluctance to share supper with the cat is purely a matter of sentiment,” added Vickers. “’Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.’”

“There goes Chickabiddy!” exclaimed Jack, as the fowl suddenly sprang from Cadbury’s bed into the middle of the floor. He hopped out and recaptured it.

“Thanks! Well, it’s no easy job, I do assure you, to divide a fowl on a bed, with no plate, no fork, and only a penknife. I can carve well enough under civilized conditions, but

“Tell us how you came by it, old man,” said Jack, who was trying to decide in his own mind whether he should consent or refuse to join the feast. He liked chicken very much indeed, and what would they think if he declined it! Besides, there was no rule against eating chicken in the bedrooms. True, there was something about “No eatables to be taken upstairs”. But then the chicken had not been taken upstairs; it had come by a lift. Still, Jack could not quite quiet the little voice within.

“No, I won’t shock you with details,” replied Cadbury mischievously. “Perhaps you wouldn’t eat it if I did.”

“I’m not going to anyhow, thanks very much,” returned Jack with sudden determination. “There’ll be all the more for the rest of you, won’t there?”

“Don’t talk nonsense!” exclaimed Trevelyan. “Of course you’ll have some! If I think fit to eat it, you may. Don’t play the blameless prig, for goodness’ sake!”

“Brady thinks I’ve filched it,” said Cadbury.

“Brady doesn’t want a nightmare,” rejoined Jack, laughing, “though he thinks it awfully kind of Trevelyan to answer for his conscience.”

“You won’t refuse the merry-thought just for luck, Jack!”

“I have too many of my own generally, specially at Pepper’s classes.”

“Oh, pinch Brady, somebody! He’s punning!” cried Cadbury. “There! it’s come in two at last!” and he surveyed his handiwork with great pride. “Now to send along the next room’s share!”

Wrapping it in the torn newspaper, he tied it to the string once more, opened the window very gently, and after several unsuccessful efforts whirled it thump against the adjoining window, and waited till a pull at the line showed that it was received.

After a few minutes there came a faint whip at their own window-pane, and Trevelyan took in a scrap of paper weighted with a bull’s-eye. Seeing there was some writing on it, he struck a match, and read:

You’ve bagged the biggest half.

Send us some salt.

Please return bull’s-eye.

Where’s our leg?

In answer Cadbury screwed up a pinch of salt, and scribbled on the paper:

Ask the cat.

Mind you don’t leave your bones about.

Needless to say, the bull’s-eye was not returned.

The packet was tossed on to the neighbouring sill, and then they settled down to enjoy their meal in peace. It was well that there was not overmuch light, for they could not consume it elegantly. As a matter of fact, they gnawed it in an ogreish fashion, and in such haste that they could scarcely stop to plunge their bones into the salt for a flavouring.

“I suppose you’re quite sure this is chicken, Cadbury?” said Vickers presently.

“Quite. Why do you ask?” mumbled Cadbury.

“It struck me as being rather well, a trifle gamy, nothing more.”

“Pretend it’s pheasant, then,” said Cadbury.

“Mayn’t I have a little bit?”

The sleepy voice came from Toppin’s bed.

“Certainly not,” replied his elder brother promptly. “Chicken at night is bad for little boys high chicken especially. Tuck your head in, and don’t let me hear you speak again, or I’ll come to you with a slipper.”

Toppin was kept in very strict order by his brother, and the boys, who were used to his methods, made no remark.

Suddenly, in the midst of the cracking and munching, Jack exclaimed in a whisper, “Cave! I hear feet!”

In an instant all the chicken-bones, salt, paper, and penknives were swooped off the counterpanes, and every boy lay flat and shut his eyes.

That same moment, to their untold vexation, a merry peal of laughter rang out from the next room. And the approaching tread of a man’s feet, quick and regular, was heard by all.

“The daft maniacs!” growled Trevelyan between his teeth.

Their door was first opened, and Mr. Peace walked in. Of course, he was received with dead silence.

“Now, boys, you needn’t feign sleep, because we know you’re wide awake. You’ve been talking, too. Trevelyan!”

“Yes, sir.”

“You are head of this room; what’s the blind up for?”

“We we like to see the stars,” suggested Trevelyan.

“H’mph! Was it you who laughed just now?”

“Oh no, sir. My brother woke up a few minutes ago, and I advised him to go to sleep.”

Nothing could have sounded more innocent, and perhaps Mr. Peace would have moved on without saying any more, but that, even as he turned to go, there came a little crash at the window-pane.

The boys held their breath in suspense. Trevelyan bit his lip till the blood oozed, and Cadbury covered his face with his hands. Even Jack trembled. Only Vickers lay apparently unconcerned.

“I suppose that was a poor bird dashed itself against the window,” he murmured.

“Do you, Vickers? I don’t,” replied Mr. Peace, striding forward. “Ah, your poor bird has cracked the glass, my boy! I will invite Mr. West to come to your window to-morrow to see a star of another kind.”

So saying, the master threw up the sash and laid his hand on a small parcel roughly wrapped and tied with string. It did not escape his notice that the string had an unusually long end, which seemed to be attached to something until he wrested it away. The boys felt more uncomfortable every moment.

Keeping the parcel in his hand, Mr. Peace shut the window very deliberately, drew down the blind, and lit the gas. Then he turned the packet over. Scrawled upon it in large printed letters were these words:

BURY OUR BONES WITH YOURS.

Mr. Peace read them out slowly, with a pause between each. Having done so, he looked round at the inmates of the room, surveying them one by one. Then he stooped to inspect Trevelyan’s counterpane. At last he opened the parcel, and found what the boys knew only too surely he would find a handful of well-picked chicken bones. It was a trying moment.

“And where are your bones?” he asked presently. There was an awkward hesitation; then Cadbury, seeing there was no escape, replied meekly, “Under our pillows, sir.”

“How horrible!” ejaculated the master with a shudder. He walked to a washhand-stand and selected a large sponge-dish. Depositing in it the greasy parcel he was carrying, he handed it gravely to Trevelyan.

“Put all your bones your chicken bones in this, please!” he said.

Trevelyan obeyed, and passed it to Vickers, and so the collection went the round of the room, only passing over Toppin, who was asleep, with his arm tossed above his head. Mr. Peace handed the dish to Jack, but he shook his head:

“Haven’t got any, sir.”

“Who cooked it?” enquired the master.

“I don’t know, sir,” answered Trevelyan.

“Brady?”

“Nor do I, sir.”

“Vickers?”

“Honestly, I haven’t the dimmest notion, sir, though it sounds funny to say so.”

“I’m glad you can see the fun. I’m sorry to say it sounds to me too much like lying.”

“Sir!” Escombe Trevelyan sat up in bed with flashing eyes to emphasize his indignation.

Mr. Peace turned to him, and stamped his foot angrily.

“Lie down, Trevelyan, at once! You dare to speak to me like that! Cadbury, you’re the only one I haven’t asked. Who cooked this fowl?”

“A woman, sir. I don’t know her name.”

“All right! We’ll reserve further enquiries till the morning. If you take my advice, you’ll all make up your minds to speak the truth then.”

Having delivered this cutting speech, Mr. Peace left the bedroom with the bones.