Read CHAPTER VII of Jack of Both Sides The Story of a School War , free online book, by Florence Coombe, on


There was an end of open strife among the Brincliffe boys. The sight of that little glittering blade had brought them up short with an unpleasant shock. They stood astounded for a minute, making no attempt to remove the traces of the conflict, even when they heard the sound of the masters’ approach. They stood convicted, all together; their disordered dress, collars unfastened and rumpled hair, the untasted luncheon, the confusion of the furniture, all told most graphically the tale of a quarrel.

Silent and ashamed they slunk back into their places when the head-master at last returned to the school-room. But, to the universal surprise, he only addressed a few short, grave sentences to them on the subject, and announced that henceforth a master would have charge of the room during the luncheon interval.

“Hitherto, boys, I have allowed you considerable liberty, regarding you, though young, as civilized and Christian gentlemen. You have shown me I was mistaken. Therefore I must treat you differently until I see you become what I hoped you already were. You might do worse than strive to attain to this. To your classes, if you please!”

“Does anyone know where Trevelyan minor is?” enquired Mr. Anderson presently, looking into the mathematical class-room.

Jack sprang from his seat.

“Yes, I know! Please, sir,” turning to his master, “will you excuse me?”

“No need for you to come, Brady,” interposed Mr. Anderson; “tell me where he is, that’s all.”

Jack hesitated; then, putting his hand in his pocket, drew out a key.

“He’s in the book-room, sir. And it’s locked.”

Now, as the book-room opened out of the school-room, in which Mr. West was teaching, it was impossible that the door could be unlocked, and Toppin released, without the fact becoming known to him. He looked up at sound of the key, and the sight of the small, red-haired urchin, seated disconsolately on a globe within, and swinging his short legs, evoked a question.

“What has that lad been doing, Mr. Anderson? Did you lock him up?”

“No, sir; it was Brady.”

“Indeed? And what business had he to take the law into his hands? What were you locked up for, Trevelyan?”

Poor Toppin was feeling very sorry for himself, and distinctly bitter against Jack. He had heard the sound of many interesting things happening, and had a strong suspicion that he had been forgotten. Aware that he had not merited such hard treatment, he now replied plaintively:

“Nuffing at all, sir!”

“Well, in any case, I have not yet given his training over to Brady,” observed Mr. West dryly, and without further question Jack was sentenced to twenty minutes’ detention at twelve o’clock, “to see how he liked his own treatment”.

“Rough on you, Jack of Both Sides!” said Simmons, as he passed him on his way into the open air. “Your policy’s fine in theory, but I’m afraid it won’t pay. Jack of Both Sides, friend of neither, eh?”

Jack’s reply was quite cheerful:

“Not so bad as that, thanks, Lucy. We’re going to be friends all together, the whole boiling of us, before we’ve done!”

“Think so?” said Hughes, and shrugged his shoulders. “Not much chance of that yet, I’m afraid. I spoke to Hallett just now, and he wouldn’t even answer me.”

Jack seemed out of luck’s way this week, for the next morning he had an accident with the ink, was fined sixpence for breaking one of the pots, and ordered upstairs to change his bespattered garments.

Just outside his bedroom, in the passage, he came upon one of the housemaids, in front of whom, on the ground, lay a pillow and a heavy overcoat.

“Hullo, Hannah! Having a pillow-fight with an overcoat, for fault of a live enemy, eh? I’ve caught you in the act! Now, I want you to do something for me. I’ve been taking an ink shower-bath, you see, and I go home to-day, and I must wear this jacket. Could you

But there Jack stopped short, for Hannah had broken into his sentence with a jerky little sniff which he felt pretty sure was a stifled sob.

“Why, my good Hannah, what’s up? I’m most awfully sorry if there is anything wrong. Do tell us what it is!”

“Oh, well, Master Brady, I’m sure it isn’t your doing, but it’s one of the young gentlemen, and I don’t mind which, but I do think it’s very ill-mannered and unkind, and I’ve always tried to do my duty by you all, and more than that sometimes; and it’s turned my thumb-nail back and broken it, and the big buttons banged in my face, and dragged my hair down; and it’s no pleasure to do it, but I shall ’ave to carry the tale to the master

“A booby-trap, I suppose,” interposed Jack, looking thoughtful.

“Well, sir, a trap that’s certain, for I walked in through the door as innocent as a child; but I don’t see on that account that I’m to be set down for a booby.”

“No, no; it’s only the name for the trick,” Jack hastened to explain, for Hannah was looking more hurt than ever. “You balance the pillow on the door, you know and it needs some care, because it might fall the wrong way, don’t you see, and never hit you at all; and adding the overcoat must have made it more difficult.”

There was an unconscious tinge of admiration in Jack’s voice, and Hannah did not seem entirely consoled. As he handed her his stained jacket, however, he added: “You know, it wasn’t meant for you, Hannah. You got it by mistake. It was put up for Frere; I’m sure of that. On these mornings he always comes to this room first thing to practise his violin. Whoever set the trap never thought about you, that’s certain.”

“That don’t matter, sir, it hurt me just as much,” persisted the maid. “And they’ve no business, ’aven’t the young gentlemen, to play pranks like this. You never know what you’ll be let in for next. I shall be in a heverlasting flutter now. It’s worse than living in a monkey-house.”

“Have you ever tried that, Hannah? I shouldn’t have thought this was actually worse; but of course when one’s tried both

“Master Brady, you’re teasing me, and you know my meaning quite well.” Hannah’s voice was positively tearful, and Jack grew alarmed.

“Nonsense! I wouldn’t tease you for the world. But look here, I want you to think better of what you said about carrying the tale to Mr. West. There’s an awful lot done by passing things over; you don’t know! Let’s return these articles see, it’s Cadbury’s pillow and Trevelyan’s coat, so neither of them set the trap and let’s agree to forgive and forget for once. Won’t you?”

Jack could be very gentle and persuasive, and Hannah’s heart was not proof against his pleading.

“Well, sir, just this once, since you put it like that, and hask so particular.”

“There’s an angel! I knew you would. You come to me, Hannah, when you’re in any fix, and see if I don’t repay you for this. Hullo! here’s Frere and his fiddle. I’d better scuttle.”

“Yes, Brady, I think you had better,” observed Frere. “I heard Mr. West asking for you.”

“Ugh! I never like being asked for,” remarked Jack, and straightway vanished.

“So peace isn’t signed yet,” he said to himself. “The campaign has only changed its character, for secret and irregular warfare. I don’t seem to have accomplished much so far.”

Jack went home that Saturday feeling rather discouraged. He little knew what his accidental interview with Hannah, the housemaid, would result in.

He was flinging his own and Trevelyan’s muddy boots into the big basket which stood in the scullery, on Monday evening, when a low voice close at hand startled him.

“Please, Master Brady, if you have a minute to spare, I should like to speak to you.”

Jack turned round in surprise, to face his friend of Saturday, the housemaid.

“Why, certainly. Fire away! I’m all attention.”

“I hope you won’t think me foolish, sir, but you you do seem sympithetic like, though you can’t help me, I know; and yet you told me to come to you, and it’s a relief to out with one’s trouble; and Emma, she don’t understand, because she’s going to be married, and she don’t think of nothin’ else; and Cook, she says she’s never ‘ad nothin’ to do with plants, not excep’ the eatin’ sorts, like cabbages and turnips

“But, Hannah, you haven’t given me a chance yet. Plants?” said Jack.

“Yes, sir; I’ll tell you all about it if I may. You see, my ’ome’s at Brickland that’s a matter of four miles from Elmridge, and my father, he’s steadily wastin’, and doctor says there’s no chance for him, not unless he gets to one of the hopen-air ’ospitals, and he’s not to doddle about the green-’ouse any more.”

“That’s a bad business,” said Jack, looking grave. “Then your father has been a gardener?”

“Yes, and a salesman in a small way, sir. But now he’s to give up, and sell all the plants. Doctor says he’ll never again be fit for that work. It’s goin’ in and out of the cold and the heat and the damp that’s so tryin’. He’s been holdin’ on as long as he could, but now he’s ready enough to part with ’em, and if only he could get a good price it’d maybe take ’im to the hopen-air, and help to keep the ’ome together till he’s well.”

“That sounds the wisest plan,” observed Jack thoughtfully.

“Yes, sir, but the point is the sellin’ of ’em. They ought to go into a good big sale, where there’ll be plenty of biddin’; they aren’t enough in themselves to draw buyers. And Mother says in her letter this mornin’ they’ve heard of one that’s bein’ held in Elmridge on Saturday, a big one, in the Rookwood grounds. They call it a ‘Nurserymen’s Combine’; there’s a many of them joining, and they’re willin’ to take in Father’s little lot.”

“Surely the very thing!” said Jack.

“It seems so, doesn’t it, sir? Father he sent round at once to make arrangements. But what do you think? he can’t get the carting of ’em done under three-and-six a load; and, as he says, he hasn’t got half a guinea to lay out that way. Why, it’d pay his train to the hopen-air! So ’e’ll have to let it slide, and not get such a chance again in a hurry.”

“I’m sure I’m awfully sorry about it,” responded Jack feelingly. “But but but keep up your spirits, and who knows what may turn up?”

And with this consoling advice, he turned on his heel.