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

THE STORM BREAKS

Ten of the Brincliffe boys passed a very bad night. The nightmare, at which Jack had jokingly hinted, was unpleasantly real; there was no dispelling it. Everybody knew that everybody around him was wide awake, but nobody felt inclined to speak.

By and by the daylight came, and brought a little more courage with it.

“After all, I don’t care two straws!” exclaimed Cadbury abruptly.

“Who do you suppose does?” said Trevelyan.

Vickers raised himself on his elbow.

“I suggest, Cadbury, that you give us no more information than you have done (which is practically nothing) regarding the source of the supper.”

“It should have been bread-sauce,” put in Cadbury.

“This isn’t the time for puns,” said Vickers severely. “I was going to add that in our ignorance lies our only chance of safety. There is certain to be trouble over this affair, and there are three or four points about it which seem to aggravate our case. You see, first” bringing his fingers into action “it was Pepper who caught us, and he’s a Tartar at all times. Would that it had been Andy! Second, West may take it as a reflection on his table. Third

“Would you mind going on talking for an hour or two, Vick?” interrupted Cadbury in a drowsy voice. “I find it very helpful and soothing. Of course, if you could sing the words it would be a still more perfect lullaby.”

Vickers, mistaking the voice for Jack’s, flung a sponge at the wrong head, and relapsed into silence. Jack, roused at this injustice, dipped the sponge into his water-jug, and returned it with force. Vickers ducked, and it exploded against the wall above his head. Cadbury watched and chuckled. The shadow cast by coming events had not quite overwhelmed the boys’ spirits.

When they were called, the boot-boy laid a book on Cadburys bed as he passed. The inside of the cover was found to contain the following words in Greys handwriting:

Dear C., For pity’s sake, dress quick, and meet me 5’ before the
bell in the housemaid’s cupboard. There’s standing-room. E. G.

Now, though they had been thrown together in the chicken incident, Cadbury and Grey were not bosom friends, and Cadbury did not feel particularly eager for this interview. But he good-naturedly did as he was asked, and sneaked out of his room five minutes before the bell had rung which formally permitted the boys to leave.

He found Grey already awaiting him in the chosen rendezvous among brooms, dusters, and pails. It is true there was standing-room, but it was dangerous to move. As the cupboard door opened to admit him, it let in enough light to reveal Grey’s white, frightened face, and as he pulled Cadbury inside the latter noticed the clammy “frogginess” of his hands. He drew the door to very carefully.

“Good-morning!” said Cadbury. “This is a pleasant spot to meet in. So romantic!”

“Cadbury, how can you joke, when it’s all up with us?” Grey’s voice was quite hoarse.

“What’s the good of looking forward? Seize the flying moment, and suck honey while you may. That’s my motto.”

“But you think with me; it is all up with us?”

“I’m afraid that’s about the long and the short of it. Pepper was very hot and red last night, regular Cayenne, in fact; and I have noticed that Cayenne at night spells Cane in the morning.”

“Cadbury, please stop making fun! I can’t bear it. You don’t care, but I do. I haven’t slept a wink all night.”

“Pick up your spirit, then, and pocket your fears. I’ll stand by you, and take my full share. We’ll brace ourselves together and face the music.”

“Oh no, I can’t! I can’t! I’m younger than you. I never asked the woman for the chicken, and I begged you to let me off fetching it. You can call me a coward if you like; I don’t care! I am afraid!”

There was silence for a moment, and then Cadbury spoke, but in an altered voice.

“Do you mean to say that you want me to leave your name out entirely?”

“Y yes. If I get in a row it’ll be mentioned in my report, and I shall catch it at home. I don’t believe you feel things like I do. And it was all your doing, wasn’t it?”

“Mostly. Very well, I sha’n’t mention you, Grey.”

And with that Cadbury marched out of the housemaid’s cupboard with his hands in his pockets.

Prayers were followed by early prep., and early prep., by breakfast, without a word on the subject uppermost in the minds of so many. The day-boys arrived, and saw at once that something was up, though what they could not make out. But at ten minutes to nine Mr. Peace entered the room with an excited air, and announced that all the boys were to stand together as at drill. Mr. West wished to speak to them.

The head appeared almost immediately, and ordered the occupants of the two rooms, headed by Hallett and Trevelyan, to stand in front.

He began with a short, studied preface about “an unpleasant duty” and “flagrant breach of rules”; then gave a brief resume of what had taken place, and proceeded to personal enquiries.

“Where did the chicken come from? Who brought it into the house?”

Cadbury stood forward.

“So you are responsible for this, Cadbury? Anyone else?”

“No, sir.”

“How did you obtain possession of the chicken?”

“It got run over and killed in bicycling. I mean, I was bicycling.”

“Did you steal it, then, or buy it?”

“The woman it belonged to gave it to me, sir.”

“After you’d run over it?”

“After it was dead, sir.”

“And who cooked it?”

“She did, sir.”

“Cadbury, Cadbury! how dare you put forward such a story as this? I can’t believe a word of it.”

“It’s true, sir.”

“True! that after you had killed a chicken, the owner not only presented you with it, but undertook to cook it for you?”

“Yes, sir.”

Mr. West’s only comment on this affirmation was a deep sigh.

Further examination failed to make Cadbury contradict himself; but to certain enquiries he politely declined to furnish an answer.

“Was any boy with you at the time who can bear witness to your story?

“Will you give me this woman’s address, that I may send for her?

“How did you manage to get the chicken after it was cooked?”

Such questions as these drew forth nothing.

At length Mr. West, without expressing any opinion, passed on to the subject of the cracked window, but he could not persuade any of Hallett’s room to own to the accident. He threatened, he even entreated, in vain. The clock ticked on; it was a quarter past nine, and everyone was very tired of standing, when the enquiry was brought to an end, and sentence pronounced.

Green and another boy named Buckland were complimented on having “wisely and most properly” kept themselves and their respective rooms entirely outside the affair. Cadbury, on his own confession “an extraordinary, and, I am bound to say, improbable tale” was to suffer first and worst, and had the doubtful distinction of accompanying Mr. West there and then to his study. Next, the inmates of Hallett’s and Trevelyan’s rooms were doomed to forego supper for three days, Hallett’s room being sentenced in addition to pay for the mending of the cracked pane. Lastly, and this was the part of the sentence that roused the whole school, all boarders and day-boys alike were to forfeit the next half-holiday.

The day-boys looked so exceedingly blank at the news that Mr. West added that he included them because, “as long as I can obtain no full confession, I am compelled to regard you, with all your opportunities and freedom, as being as much under suspicion as the rest”. He wound up by observing that no doubt it was “the old, hard case of the many suffering for the few”, but this did not afford much consolation to his aggrieved pupils.

Of course there was nothing to be said at the time, but as soon as they were alone they fell into clusters, and gave vent to their opinions by storming at one another.

“Abominable!”

“Beastly unfair!”

“The meanest thing I ever heard!”

These were the kind of expressions that floated about the room.

But one small group, of which Hallett was the principal member, instead of reviling the head-master, was expending its wrath upon a fellow-boy.

“The cowardly young toad! Had to do with it, you say? I should think he had, indeed! A good deal more than we’ve any idea of.”

“Well, we know he did the window.”

“We do, and he shall have the pleasure of paying for that. He shall, if it empties his cash-box for a year following. Those members of the room who yearn to subscribe may do so.”

“He was on the outlook for the chicken, you remember. Of course he must have known all about it. Cadbury can confirm that.”

Can, but you don’t know Cadbury if you think he will. What I say is, ask the young sneak himself. Put it to him straight, and let’s see that we get the truth. Why, we should never have lost our half if he had owned up with Cadbury.”

“And it’s so jolly rough on Cadbury too! Why should one be licked and not the other?”

“Oh, we’ll see to the other if necessary. But let’s hear what he says for himself. By the way, where is he?”

Where indeed? A careful search revealed the hapless Grey huddled up in the book-room, terrified and miserable.

“Here he is! Hoping to be taken for the Treasury of Knowledge,” cried his discoverer, and straightway dragged him into the light. There was a rush to the book-room.

Grey was put to the question, failed to clear himself, found guilty and licked.

Jack Brady was the centre of another group, which seemed inclined to be angry with him.

“Brady’s no business to have his supper stopped,” said Trevelyan. “He never touched a morsel of that wretched fowl.”

“He ought to have told West so.”

“Such nonsense!” exclaimed Jack. “I could have eaten some if I’d wanted to. Now, Toppin’s case is different. He wasn’t allowed to have any. I vote we sign a petition in favour of him. It will really be hard cheese if he’s made to suffer.”

“Toppin, here!”

The boy was chanting over his spelling, but he hopped up promptly at his elder brother’s call.

“They say they are going to get up a petition to have you let off the sentence for our room, because you didn’t eat any chicken.”

“Oh, I’d hate to be let off!” exclaimed Toppin. “I know it’s because I’m little, and I want to be treated as if I was big like the rest. I’d heaps rather! ’Sides, I would have eaten some chicken if you’d have let me, so it’s same as if I had done, isn’t it?”

“You hear, Brady?” said Trevelyan with a laugh. “A nice pair of lawyers you’d make! Two exactly contrary arguments are used to persuade us of the very same fact.”

“Well, it comes to this, that we want all to share and share alike. Isn’t that it, Top?”

Jack tweaked the defiant tuft as he put the question, and Toppin laughed up at him and nodded.

The most unfortunate effect of the whole incident was the bitterness which it revived in the day-scholars. It had almost seemed as if time was breaking down the wall of enmity which was so strong at the beginning. But today’s work strengthened it still further. The day-boys had congregated together, and were speaking their minds in tones that were the more seriously angry because they were subdued.

“This is what they wanted, to bring us into trouble; and a lot they care that they’re in the same boat!” The theory was Bacon’s, and he announced it with confidence.

“It’s the spirit of the thing one kicks at the spite, the injustice! Not the loss of the half!” declaimed Mason with warmth.

“Let’s pay ’em out!” said Simmons.

“How, Lew?” Hughes put the question, but all waited eagerly for the answer.

Simmons might be small, but he was brimful of bright ideas.

“Fight,” he replied. “We’re much fewer, but it would be mostly a matter of siege and stratagem, and if we planned it out, I bet we could give them a wipe-down.”

“I mayn’t fight,” said Frere sadly. “They won’t allow me to.”

“And I’m awfully afraid I can’t,” added Hughes.

“What’s more, you sha’n’t, Ethel!” said Simmons, who was amusingly careful of his friend’s health. “There’ll be lots of quiet work for you and Frere scouting and so forth.”

“I’m nuts on fighting,” put in Armitage.

“As for me, I’m spoiling for the fray,” laughed Mason, exhibiting the muscle of his arm with great pride.

“Oh, well, it will teach them to respect us anyway. And that will be something gained,” said Simmons. “Mason, will you captain us?”

“Not much! No, I’ll do my duty as a lieutenant, but I am no commander. Nor are you. You’re too little.”

“Napoleon Nelson!” muttered Simmons. He would have liked the offer of the post, and his size was a sore point with him.

“Jack Brady must be captain,” said Bacon firmly, and all agreed with him.

“However could we have forgotten him?” exclaimed Hughes.

“He’s the right man, if he’ll consent,” remarked Mason. “But I wish I felt sure about that.”

“Well, I see at the present moment he’s hobnobbing with the enemy,” said Hughes doubtfully.

“Oh, but he’s really one of us, he has been all along,” cried Simmons. “Here, Brady, you’re wanted.”

“At your service,” said Jack merrily, and, breaking off his conversation with Trevelyan and Vickers, he joined the group of day-boys.

“Brady, have you heard that they’ve dragged us into this row? That our half’s stopped along with the boarders’? Though none of us ever saw or tasted so much as a drum-stick!”

“None of you? Ever?” put in Jack. “That’s a big order, Piggy-wig.”

“You know what I mean,” rejoined Bacon. “They might have had a swan or a peacock for all we knew about it.”

“But, my dear fellow, it’s West you must blame. No one mentioned you.”

“No, but not one of them had the honesty to stand out and clear us to assure him we’d nothing to do with it,” said Mason. “Instead of that they are careful to turn it into a mystery, on purpose that we may all be suspected.”

“Well, well, it’s only just a single half that’s lost. It’ll soon be over and forgotten.”

“Will it?” cried Simmons indignantly. “I fancy it will be remembered longer than you think by some. We mean to pay them in full for their mean spite. We’re going to unite and fight.”

“Oh, challenge them to a cricket match instead! I’ll play for you. Think how much more sportive that will be! Not to say, sensible.”

“Come, Brady, we’re not babies. We mean to make them sorry by force.”

“Take care you’re not made sorry by force, Lucy!”

“Oh, never fear! The masters won’t know anything at all about it if we can help it. We shall pick our opportunity. But look here, Brady, you’ve got to captain us!”

“Bothered if I do!” said Jack.

“Very well, don’t! Go over to the boarders instead, as you want to, and repeat everything we’ve told you.” Bacon spoke angrily.

“Piggy-wig, don’t be a fool! If you want me to quarrel either with your set or with the other chaps, I say I won’t, and that’s flat! You must take me as you find me, and if you’re all bent on fighting and making geese of yourselves, I shall just stay as I am once for all Jack of Both Sides.”