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

JACK’S MAIDEN SPEECH

“You really wish me to understand, Brady, that not you alone, but all the elder boys day-pupils and boarders alike desire of your own free-will to devote your next Saturday’s half-holiday to conveying this poor man’s plants from his house at Brickland to the Rookwood sale?”

“Yes, sir, that’s what we want to do.”

“H’m! Well, the proposal does you credit, and you certainly might employ your time much worse than in carrying it out. I don’t think it would be right for me to refuse your request. Mr. Anderson, I feel sure, will be ready to help and advise you, if necessary, but as the idea is your own I should like you, as far as possible, to carry it out by yourselves.”

“Thank you, sir!” said Jack, and withdrew.

It was evening when this dialogue took place. The day-boys had departed in an irritable frame of mind, on account of various annoyances of which they had been the victims during the past two days. Bacon had been tripped up twice by a piece of string, Hughes had found his coat-sleeves tightly sewn up with packing-thread, and Simmons’s pockets had been crammed with moist, wriggling earthworms.

Knowing this, it may be wondered that they were prevailed on to agree to Jack’s scheme for the coming Saturday. But our hero was wily, and he worded his suggestion so carefully that they did not for a moment imagine that their enemies the boarders were at all connected with the plan, which seemed to offer scope for fun and adventure of a new description. Was not Saturday Jack’s regular day of release? Of course this was to be an “out-of-school” affair altogether. So they imagined.

“Now then, you fellows!” cried Jack, bursting into the school-room like a frolicsome whirlwind, “who said I wouldn’t get leave? West and I have settled it all most comfortably, patted each other on the head, and so forth. Let you go? Why, he’d like nothing better than to let you go for good and all!”

“So you’ve let the whole lot of us in for it, young man?” said Trevelyan, looking amused.

“Why, nobody asked to be left out,” returned Jack.

This was quite true, and there was no more to be said. Hallett had taken kindly to the idea to begin with, and set the fashion by doing so. One or two lazy lads would not have been sorry in their hearts if Mr. West had vetoed the scheme, but they had not the courage to refuse to join in it.

“Now to business!” Jack continued. “We must send Mr. Thompson himself word of our intentions; let’s write a proper, tradesman-like letter! Vickers, you’re the fluent, flowery one. Bottle up your metaphors and give us a page of business-like fluency! Here’s some paper.”

After a good deal of discussion the following letter was composed:

To Mr J. Thompson Nurseryman.

Dr Sir/

Having heard of yr intention to dispose of yr stock-in-hand (Plants) we have pleasure in proposing to undertake transport of same (carriage free) on Saty next ensuing between 2 and 4 p.m. from yr house to Rookwood Elmridge Middleshire for sale advd to be held there at 6 p.m. Safety of goods guarantd. Unless we hear to contry we shall presume this meets yr views and take action accordly.

Yrs etc.

(Signed) T. Vickers
N. Hallett
J. Brady &c.
pro) Students of Brincliffe Elmridge.

“If that isn’t business-like, I don’t know what is!” exclaimed Cadbury, when it was read through. “If ink was a shilling a drop, you couldn’t have been more chary of it. There’s not an ‘a’, ‘an’, or ‘the’ throughout, nor a comma, nor an adjective, and the contractions are masterly. We’re all born commercial clerks, that’s what we are!”

“Ethel and Lucy have undertaken the necessary barrow-borrowing,” remarked Jack, casually. “We sha’n’t want more than six or eight wheel-barrows, and that pair can get anything if it goes together. Lucy represents the dauntless cheek, and Ethel the irresistible charm. What more is required?”

“What do you mean, Brady? We won’t have the day-boys sticking their fingers into this pie!” cried Escombe Trevelyan.

“We couldn’t do the job alone,” said Jack quietly. “It would take us twice as long.”

A loud murmur of disapprobation ran through the room.

Jack turned rather pale, and pinched the edge of the table nervously. His eyes wandered from face to face. All were vexed, all displeased. Then, with a sudden impulse he sprang to his feet, and spoke his mind rapidly, earnestly.

“Look here, I can’t understand it! What makes you all so beastly to the day-boys to my pals? You began it, not they! They came to Brincliffe without the least idea of any unfriendly feeling, and you hated them before you’d seen them or heard their names. Is that fair straight English? If it were, I’d wish to be French or German. Where’s the fun in this constant worrying of each other? As boarders, it’s your place to put out a hand first, and I think I can promise that the day-boys will shake it. Bah! I know I can never talk you round; it’s no good attempting to. I’m not in a comic mood, and can’t make you laugh, like Cadbury, and I haven’t Vickers’s gift of the gab. But wasn’t last Friday’s lesson enough? Wasn’t the sight of that knife

“Hush!” came from many mouths.

“Oh, we want to forget it! Yes, we don’t want to talk about it, I know. But I’ve got to this once. If there had been an accident to Armitage it wouldn’t have been wholly the March Hare’s fault. It was those who first started the quarrel between boarders and day-boys, those who put the notion of ill-feeling into his silly little head. I see you’re thinking of the swimming-baths, and Toppin’s dive. Now I happen to know, and Toppin can bear me out, that the kid asked to be pushed, and that Armitage would have saved him next moment if the March Hare hadn’t jumped in and hindered things. And everyone of you who have listened and nodded to the March Hare’s tale have added coal to the fire you might have quenched in a moment. And and and and ” poor Jack was shaking and stammering with excitement, “what what if it had ended in

But there he sat down, leaving his sentence unfinished.

Cadbury was the first to reply, and that was not at once. Slowly he ruled a long, thick, black line in his exercise-book, then, pushing his chair away from the table, tilted it back, and spoke:

“Well, I don’t know what anyone else thinks, but I’ll tell you what I do. Brady’s last sentence was certainly not fluent, and I shouldn’t care to have to analyse it. As for the jokes in it, they were about as plentiful as wasps in January. All that’s true enough. Still, nevertheless, speaking for my humble self, he thrust home. You did, Jack, you beggar! You’d no business to, but you actually had the impudence to make me feel ashamed of myself. And, of course, I don’t know what you others will say, but I vote we bury the hatchet in old Thompson’s biggest flower-pot. Who’s with me?”

“I am!”

“I am!”

“And I!”

“Of course it’s quite right to forgive,” drawled Green, with a curl of the lip. “I’m more than willing.”

Jack ground his teeth, but Hallett saved him the trouble of replying.

“No, no; if we do the thing at all, we’ll do it properly. Don’t let’s have any half-measures kindly-forgivings, and all the rest of it! If anyone starts forgiving me, I’ll lick him! We won’t forgive anyone, not even ourselves. We’ll go straight ahead on a new tack, and forget everything that’s happened. If our friends the enemy look askance at us at first (and we needn’t be surprised if they do), that mustn’t affect us. Remember this: Scores are Settled. That’s our motto; there is to be no more paying off. Chaff them if you like I fancy they’d think there was something fishy if we didn’t but no tricks, if you please.”

“What if they start them on us, Hallett?” enquired Grey, in the tone of one who merely seeks information. Hallett frowned slightly.

“Hadn’t thought of that. Of course if they insist on picking a quarrel in that way

“But I’m nearly sure they won’t,” cried Jack.

“I caught Lucy pasting the leaves of my Delectus together,” murmured Grey, looking at the ceiling.

“And how many things have you done to them?” retorted Jack desperately, sighing as he felt the weakness of that argument.

“Vick, will you hand Grey your india-rubber?” put in Cadbury. “There’s a bit of his memory he hasn’t rubbed out yet. I did as Hallett told us, and forgot everything at once. I’ve even forgotten my translation for to-morrow it’s gone entirely. Never mind: to obey is our first duty; to labour for Peace comes only second.”

“Labouring for peace why, Brady, that’s been your little task!” exclaimed Vickers. “And a noble one” here he put on the “West voice”. “Have you thought of it in that light, my boy? To labour for peace! We might all do worse. Conceive, for instance, of working for love!”

Jack laughed noisily, and called Vickers “a silly old loony”. But he blushed at the same time. And he went to sleep that night feeling uncommonly hopeful.

When, in short jerky phrases, he broke to Hannah the plan he had devised, the maid was so grateful and “took aback”, as she said, as to become for the moment half-hysterical; but soon rallying her common sense, she sat down and penned a note to her father, to accompany the young gentlemen’s communication. Hannah’s spelling, handwriting, and grammar were all very shaky, but it is a fact that Mr. J. Thompson, Nurseryman, found her letter a help in throwing light upon the “formal, business” document.