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


Of course Jack’s task was only half accomplished. And the second half was somewhat harder than he had anticipated. When in the morning he met the day-scholars, they were not as eager for a reconciliation as he would have liked to find them.

Mason had come armed with a handful of wild barley-grass, or “crawly”, as it was better known among the boys.

Dictee this morning,” he said with a sly wink.

In Monsieur Blonde’s class, dictation offered great possibilities to a quick writer, with a supply of crawly. When heads are bent, what a chance down the collar for a deft hand! And the Monsieur was very short-sighted.

“I sit between Vickers and Green,” Mason added.

“But look here, you must chuck that stuff away,” cried Jack. He knew that as a good-humoured joke an inch of crawly can be tolerated, but when used in malice, nothing is more irritating. “Chuck it away! We’ve all agreed to call Pax now, Pax for good and all.”

“Oh, I dare say!” retorted Mason. “When our lives have been made a burden for the last week! Who are the ‘all’ who’ve agreed, pray?”

“The whole lot of the boarders. They’re ready to chum up right away. Mason, you must agree! We’ve got to join forces over Saturday’s job.”

But Mason didn’t see it. Nor did Armitage. Nor did Bacon. And the rest were doubtful, except little Frere, who declared at once that he was longing to be friends with everybody and to feel safe.

“But don’t mind us, Brady,” pursued Mason. “We aren’t so sweet on shoving wheel-barrows as all that. You and your dear Green and the rest can have the whole glory and honour of the pots and the barrows to yourselves. We won’t fight for them, will we? After all, there are more amusing ways of spending a half than in wheeling flower-pots round the town.”

Jack’s hopes sank. He did not feel equal to making a second speech, but he caught Mason by the arm, and spoke with vehement emphasis:

“It’s an awful responsible thing, Mason, to refuse to patch a quarrel. The chance of making-up doesn’t come every day.”

“We must have a chance of getting even with them first, and then we’ll talk about stopping.”

“Nonsense! You know that tit-for-tat’s a game without an end!”

“My dear Brady, if you knew the toil and time it has cost me to gather this bunch of crawly, you wouldn’t ask me so lightly to waste it.”

“If that’s all,” said Jack, “you can stick the whole lot down my neck. I give you free leave. Go on!”

There is no stronger influence than earnestness, and Jack was intensely in earnest. It had its effect on his listeners, who were almost won over already, while he thought his efforts were thrown away. While he spoke, Simmons had secretly released three earwigs with which he had meant mischief, and Hughes was opening his mouth to utter a word or two for Jack, when Cadbury glided up to the group with outspread arms, and a square box balanced on his head.

“Pax tea-cup! pax O biscuit!” began the flippant boy. “Dear brethren, I entreat you to join with me in smoking the calumet of peace in the shape of this humble weed.”

As he bowed, the box fell from his head into his hands, and, removing the lid, he offered it round. It appeared to contain a double layer of cigars; but the Brincliffe scholars knew these cigars well, and where they came from. They were composed of almond paste, and coated with a brown sugary paper, which was always consumed with the rest.

Jack almost held his breath. Would the boys refuse or accept them?

Hughes dipped his hand in at once with a smile and a nod. “Thanks very much, Cadbury!” Simmons followed suit with a wicked little chuckle. Bacon hesitated, and then helped himself awkwardly. Frere took one with an “Oo!” of appreciation. Now it was Mason’s turn. If Jack had been a recruiting sergeant, and the sugar cigar the Queen’s shilling, he could scarcely have felt more anxious.

Mason put forward his thumb and finger, then hesitated and looked at Jack with a twinkle in his eye.

“Now, shall I, Brady?”

Jack nodded. He really dared not speak, for fear Mason should take it into his head to go exactly contrary to him.

Hurrah! The cigar was taken!

From that moment Cadbury and Jack turned themselves into a couple of the maddest, silliest clowns imaginable. But there was method in their madness. Though they did not even own it to each other, they were making themselves ridiculous and foolish to prevent the rest from feeling so. Boys loathe sentiment, and many a quarrel drifts on and on, simply because each party dreads “being made to feel a fool”.

At Brincliffe on this particular day the two sides felt distinctly shy of each other, and it was a real boon to have a pair of “giddy lunatics” to scream at.

But when Cadbury had boxed Frere’s ears for giving the dates of the royal Georges correctly, and when Simmons had sharpened his pencil with Vickers’s knife without asking leave, the relations between boarders and day-pupils grew easier.

There were few idle wheel-barrows in Elmridge on Saturday afternoon.

If you had passed along the dusty Brickland Road between four and five o’clock, you would have encountered a droll procession. One passer-by stopped to enquire if there was going to be a Battle of Flowers.

Six barrows, laden with flowering plants, each pulled by two boys, and pushed by one, were slowly but steadily travelling towards the town, and at the rear of all was a bath-chair in charge of Hallett and Armitage, wherein sat a thin, delicate-looking man, whose bright eyes and flushed cheeks spoke eloquently of gratitude and pleasure. That bath-chair was Hallett’s own idea, and he was very proud of it.

It was a warm and weary company of boy-labourers who gathered at eight o’clock that evening round a very tempting supper-table, spread in the Brincliffe dining-room, to which, by special invitation, the day-pupils sat down with the boarders. But every face was bright, and the meal was the merriest ever known.

By Mr. West’s direction, the boys were left to enjoy it “un-mastered”.

The clatter of knives and spoons had almost ceased when Vickers rose slowly to his feet, a glass of ginger-beer in his hand. He was impelled to do so by the nudges of his neighbours, Green and Mason. His rising was received with loud applause, which he acknowledged with a grave bow.

“I have been very much pressed elbow-pressed,” he began, “to get up and say something. I scarcely see why I should be pitched on, unless it is because I have more brass than the rest of you. (Hear, hear.) Anyhow, here I am, and I’ll ask three questions and then sit down. First” and up came one finger “Isn’t this the jolliest supper we’ve ever had? (Cries of “Yes!”) Very well, I’ll tell you why. Reason Number One: West’s in a jolly good temper, vide the groaning table and the absence of masters. Reason Number Two: We’re all in a jolly good temper, and have done a jolly good day’s work. Now, secondly (Shouts of “Thirdly, you mean, old man!”) I mean what I say Secondly! We had two divisions under the first head. You may have got confused, but I haven’t. Secondly, then, we’re all pretty thoroughly fagged: is anyone sorry he’s fagged? (No!) Well, the job wasn’t my idea, or West’s idea. But it was somebody’s, and I think we all know whose. The same somebody who has annoyed us all horribly in the past by refusing to so much as do one ill-natured thing. The same somebody who has steadily prevented us from quarrelling comfortably and consistently, as we wanted to, and has finally dragged us into this unhappy state of good-fellowship. Now for my thirdly: Will you drink with me to that somebody’s health?”

The question was received with shouting and banging, while the words, “Bravo, Vickers! Here’s to good old Brady!” “I drink to Jack of Both Sides!” “Here’s to you, Jack!” “Speech, Brady speech!” and similar cries filled the air.

Poor Jack felt extremely ill at ease, and not at all grateful to Vickers. He studied his plate with the closest attention, his face growing redder and redder each moment. Then Cadbury thumped him on the back, and Hallett and Bacon fairly forced him to his feet. But a speech was quite beyond Jack at that minute.

“I say, sha’n’t we beg the release of the March Hare?” was all he said, and the first person he looked at was Armitage.

Armitage, too, was the first to cry back, “Yes!”

The petition, which was written and signed before they separated, was received favourably, and the following Monday saw the return of the March Hare to his place in the school, scared, penitent, and profoundly grateful to all his school-fellows, including Armitage. And he insisted on pressing Jack’s hand to his lips, which made our hero feel excessively uncomfortable. But for the remainder of the term, the use of a knife, even at dinner, was denied the little Italian.

“Brady, have you missed anything?” asked Cadbury a few days later.

“No, I don’t think so,” replied Jack, feeling doubtfully in his pockets.

“Because you have certainly lost something,” continued Cadbury.

“Well, give it me quick, then,” said Jack, laughing. “Whatever is it?”

“I can’t give it you. It’s gone for ever,” was the rejoinder. “You’ll never have it again.”

“Well, what was it, then? Nothing valuable, I hope?”

“When two things are made into one thing, you can’t speak of them any longer as ‘both’; can you?”

“Fetch us a grammar, Toppin,” said Jack. “We’re getting out of our depths. Have I lost two things, please, Cadbury, or only one?”

“Don’t frivol, Jack! listen to me. We are all one-sided now, so you have lost your title. You can never again be called Jack of Both Sides.”