Harry Wharton, the captain of the Remove at Greyfriars, uttered the exclamation sharply.
Wharton had just entered his study, No. 1 in the Remove passage. He had not expected to find anyone there, as he had left his study-mate, Frank Nugent, downstairs. But as he came in a boy who was standing at Nugent’s in the corner swung round, and faced him, with a startled flush on his face.
It was Nugent minor—Dicky Nugent of the Second Form.
Wharton looked at him sharply.
Nugent’s desk was open, and the contents disturbed, and it certainly looked as if Dicky Nugent had been going through his major’s belongings. And the guilty flush deepened in the fag’s face as Wharton scrutinised him.
“What are you doing here, Dicky?”
The fag seemed at a loss for words for a moment. He had evidently not expected to be discovered by the captain of the Remove. He closed the desk, his face crimson.
“I—I’m waiting for Frank!”
“And going through his desk while you wait!” rapped out Wharton.
Nugent minor looked sullen.
“Why shouldn’t I go to my brother’s desk if I want to?” he exclaimed. “I suppose you don’t think I’m stealing anything ?”
“Of course I don’t, Dicky. Don’t be an ass! But you shouldn’t do such things, all the same.”
That reply to the captain of the Remove, from a fag of the Second Form would have earned a cuff. But Frank Nugent’s minor was a privileged person. Wharton frowned, and pointed to the door.
“Travel!” he said briefly.
Nugent minor did not move.
“I want to see my major.” he said doggedly.
“I want to see him here. I’ll wait till he comes in.”
“Wharton regarded the fag curiously. The flush had died out of his face now, leaving it unusually pale. There was a line in the smooth, boyish brow, a troubled look in the handsome blue eyes. Nugent minor was an extremely good looking lad, and Wharton knew that he had been petted and spoiled at home, and he had given his major a great deal of trouble when he first came to Greyfriars. Since then, however, most of the nonsense had been “knocked out” of Dicky by rough contact with the fags of the Second. he was no longer the spoiled darling he had been, but the cheekiest fag in the Second Form. But just now ho looked very like his old self. His expression was sullen and dogged, and there were signs of trouble in his face that Wharton could not quite understand.
“Anything the matter, Dicky?” Harry asked good-naturedly. “If there is——”
“Yes, there is!” muttered Nugent minor.
“What is it?”
“Nothing to do with you!” said the fag sullenly. “I want to speak to Frank.”
Wharton coloured a little. He was greatly inclined to take the sullen fag by the scruff of the neck and pitch him out of the study. But he remembered in time that he was the brother of his best pal. Wharton kept his temper. There came an interruption at that moment.
It was Frank Nugent’s voice from the stairs.
“Yes, I’m coming.”
Wharton picked up his bat, for which he had come to the study, and walked out, without another word or look to the fag. He was frowning as he joined his chum.
“Jolly long time getting that bat.” said Nugent. “Hallo! What are you scowling about?”
Wharton laughed awkwardly.
“I wasn’t aware that I was scowling.” he said, his brow clearing.
“Frowning, then, if you like that better.” grinned Nugent. “ What’s the row?”
“Your minor’s in the study and he wants to speak to you.
“Let him wait, then! We’re going down to the cricket.”
“Better go, Franky. He looks as if he’s in some trouble
Frank Nugent gave a comical groan.
“Thank your lucky stars you haven’t a minor.” he said.
“I’d swap mine for your white rabbit, any day. Why can’t he come down?”
“Better go, anyway.”
“Oh, all right! I’ll follow you!”
Wharton nodded, and joined Bob Cherry and Johnny Bull and Hurree Jamset Ram Singh, who were waiting for him in the doorway of the School house. Frank Nugent ascended the stairs to the Remove passage and went into his study.
“Well, Dicky! Wharton says you want to speak to me.” he said. “What is it?” Then Nugent looked more closely at his minor’s face, and started a little. The fag seemed on the verge of tears. “Dash it all, kid, what’s the matter? Loder been bullying you again?”
Dicky shook his head.
“Is it Bolsover major? If so—”
“It’s not that!”
“Then what is it?” asked Nugent. “You look as if you’d been hunting for trouble, and finding it.”
“Shut the door.” said Nugent minor nervously.
“I—I want to speak to you.”
“Can’t you speak with the door open?” demanded Nugent, in wonder. He threw the door shut and it slammed. “Now, what is it?”
“I—I—I stammered Dicky . “ I—I’m in trouble, Frank.”
“Yes, you look like it.” groaned Nugent. “You generally are in trouble. Nobody been ragging you?”
“Is it your Form-master?”
“Then what the deuce is it? Over run your account at the tuckshop?”
“Worse than that!”
“Well, get it out.” said Nugent major resignedly. “They planted you on me to look after, and I suppose it’s up to me to do it. If you’re stony broke, I’ve got a bob you can have!”
“A bob’s no good!”
“Isn’t it?” said Nugent warmly. “It’s the last one I’ve got, anyway.”
“I—I’m in trouble. I want you to help me out, Frank.”
“Well, ain’t I here, ready to help you?” demanded Nugent. “What do you want? If it’s money, you can have my last bob. I can do no more than that.”
“It’s money.” said Dicky.
“You careless young ass! I suppose you’ve been buying something you can’t pay for, is that it? Well, it might be
worse. I can borrow some money of the chaps, I suppose, and make it up out of my next allowance. You’ll bring me to bankruptcy if you keep on like this. How much is it?”
“Do you mean five shillings?”
“I mean five pounds.”
“Oh, don’t be funny!” snapped Nugent. “You know jolly well I’ve not got five pounds. Why don’t you say five hundred?”
Dicky Nugent did not reply. He sank into a chair, and covered his face with his hands. Nugent’s expression softened again.
“For goodness’ sake don’t blub!” he exclaimed, in alarm. “ Chuck that, Dicky! Look here, what do you mean? What can you possibly want five pounds for? You can’t possibly owe anybody so much money as that—it’s rot!”
“You owe five pounds?” exclaimed Nugent, in angry astonishment. Then it can’t be the tuckshop. They wouldn’t let you run more than five bob. You haven’t had the cheek to buy a new bike, I suppose?”
“I haven’t been buying anything.”
“Well, if you haven’t bought anything, you can’t owe the money for it.” said Nugent. “ So just tell me what you want five quid for, young shaver. Not that there’s the slightest chance of your getting it.”
Dicky raised a pale and tear-stained face from his hands.
“I must have it, Frank.” he said hoarsely. “I tell you, I’ve got to have it. It—it’s a debt of honour.”
Frank Nugent looked steadily at his young brother. He seemed unable to speak for a moment. The statement that a fag in the Second Form owed a debt of “honour” to the tune of five pounds took his breath away, as well it might.
“You young rascal!” exclaimed Nugent, at last, his anger breaking out. “A debt of honour! Don’t talk such silly rot to me! The long and the short of it is, then, that you’ve been gambling.
“I got among some fellows.” faltered Nugent minor miserably. It— it was last half holiday. It was all right. They were decent chaps. But —but I lost, and--and I’ve got to square up, Frank. I can’t refuse to pay, can I? I lost the money, and they accepted my I O U. I can’t be such a cad as to refuse to pay. It would be swindling. You don’t want me to be a swindler?”
“You young fool!”
“It might happen to anybody.” said the fag defensively.
“Look here, it isn’t so very much, after all. I can raise the
money in time. Uncle George gives me five quid every
birthday. I can get some money from home. The mater
will send me some if I ask her, but—but of course I can t
tell her what it’s for. If you lend me the money I can
square up—in time.”
“I haven’t the money, and you know it. And if I had, I
wouldn’t hand you a single tanner to pay a gang of
Dicky flushed angrily.
“They’re not swindlers. They’re all decent chaps enough.
They pay when they lose. I’ve played with them before, if
you must know all about it. I—I won a quid once. I’ve
had their money, and spent it. How can I refuse to pay when I lose ? It wouldn’t be decent. It wouldn’t be honest. You don’t want to make a swindler of me, do you?”
Nugent breathed hard.
“Who were the fellows?” he asked.
“ I’m not going to tell you!” said Dicky sullenly. “You’d
only want to make a row with them.”
“Exactly!” said Nugent, between his teeth. “I want to find the rotters who’ve been making you play, Dicky, and give them a hiding all round. Are they Greyfriars fellows?”
“I will find out!” said Nugent, clenching his hands.
“As for you, you young rascal, you won’t get a penny out of me for anything of the kind. I suppose its no go telling you that it’s disgraceful to gamble—you know that as well as I do.”
“Loder does it.” said Dicky sullenly. “Everybody knows—excepting the masters—that Loder and Walker play cards for money.”
“Yes, and they’re a pair of cads. Don’t talk to me You know it’s wrong, and you know it’s dirty blackguardism!” said Nugent fiercely. “I wonder you’ve got the cheek to come here and tell me you’ve done it. Any other fellow would give you the licking of your life.”
“I’ve only told you because I want you to help me.” said Dicky, his lip quivering. “I’ve got to pay somehow. It’s a debt of honour.”
“Debt of rats!” snorted Nugent. “Now, look here—”
“You can lend me the money, Frank, if you like. I know you’ve got it. It isn’t as if I wouldn’t square. You shall have it all—”
“I tell you I haven’t it.”
“You have! I’ve seen it in your desk!”
Nugent started. “You cheeky young sweep! Have you been meddling with my desk?”
“You’ve got six pounds there—”
“That’s not my money! It’s the funds of the cricket club!” said Nugent. “I’m secretary and treasurer—you know that.”
“It’s all the same; I can let you have it back before it’s wanted.”
“So you want me to embezzle the funds of the cricket club for you to hand the money to a gang of sharpers!” shouted Nugent .
“They’re not sharpers—Ponsonby and—”
“Ponsonby! Then it’s the Highcliffe fellows you’ve been playing with!” exclaimed Nugent.
Dicky bit his lip. He had not meant to allow that piece of information to escape him. But it was out now. Frank Nugent’s face was pink with rage. He knew the manners and customs of Ponsonby & Co., the “blades” of Highcliffe school. That they should dare to draw the foolish and reckless fag into their rascality excited Nugent’s temper to boiling point.
“Never mind who they are.” said Dicky hastily. “I’ve got to pay, anyway, and if you won’t help me I’ve got to get the money somewhere else.”
Nugent strode across the study and grasped his shrinking minor by the shoulder and shook him savagely.
“Look here,” he said, his voice trembling with rage— “Look here, Dicky! I forbid you to pay those rascals a single penny! Do you hear? If I find out that you’ve paid them anything, I’ll thrash you—thrash you till you can’t crawl! Do you understand that? ”
Dicky Nugent’s face set sullenly, but he did not reply. Nugent looked as if he would carry out his threat there and then if the fag added another word.
“As for your precious friends, I’ll teach them to get you into gambling!” went on Nugent, gritting his teeth. “I’ll see Ponsonby—”
“You won’t! You sha’n’t——you sha’n’t make me look an
ass like that! Let my affairs alone and mind your own business!” cried the fag shrilly. “If you won’t help me, mind your own business!”
Nugent made no answer. He gave the fag another angry shake, and then released him, and strode to the door, his face white and set.
Dicky sprang after him.
“Frank, where are you going?”
“I’m going to Highcliffe!” said Nugent, without turning his head.
“You can’t ! You sha’n’t!” Dicky caught his brother’s arm. “Frank ! Stop, I tell you! You sha’n’t meddle in my business! I tell you—”
Nugent turned upon him savagely. With a ringing cuff, he sent the fag staggering back into the study. Then he hurried downstairs, with gleaming eyes.
THE SECOND CHAPTER.
Something Like a Licking!
“HALLO, hallo, hallo! What’s the matter with Franky?”
Harry Wharton & Co. were on the cricket ground.
Some of the Remove fellows were at practice, but the Co. were waiting for Frank. They stared at him in amazement as he came up. His face was white, his lips set, his eyes glittering. Never had the chums of the Remove seen Nugent look like that before.
“What on earth’s happened?” cxclaimd Johnny Bull, ín alarm.
“Dicky—” began Wharton.
“I want you fellows to come with me if you will.” said Nugent hoarsely. “I’m going over to Highcliffe to see Ponsonby.”
“But what has happened, my esteemed chum.” nurmured Hurree Jamset Ram Singh, “and what abcut the cricket?”
“Hang the cricket!”
“I’ve got an account to settle with Ponsonby.” said Nugent, his grasp tightening almost convulsively upon a riding-crop he held in his hand. The juniors glanced at it.
“Where did you get that?” asked Bob.
“It’s Coker’s. I’ve borrowed it.”
The chums of the Remove exchanged curious glances. They had never seen Nugent so disturbed before, and they knew that something very unusual must have happened to throw the good natured and genial junior into such a fury. It was probable enough that Ponsonby of the Fourth Form at
Highcliffe deserved a horse whipping——probably he deserved a good many. But the idea of going over to Highcliffe to horsewhip one of the fellows was, as Bob Cherry remarked, a little “thick.” There was no love lost between Ponsonby & Co. and the chums of the Remove at Greyfriars, and Harry Wharton & Co. had sometimes raided their old rivals, even in their own quarters. But—”
“Well, are you coming?” said Nugent impatiently. “If
you’re not, I’ll go alone. I thought you might come and see fair play.”
“Not likely to get much fair play among those fellows, Frank.” said Johnny Bull. “If you want to tackle Ponsonby, it would be better to get at him outside Highcliffe.”
“Can’t wait for that.”
“And you know last time we raided them Mobbs, their Form-master, came over and complained to the Head, and there was a dickens of a row. They don’t play the game.”
“I don’t care!”
“Well, I do, a little bit.” said Johnny Bull rather tartly. “I suppose you tell us what the trouble is about, for a start?”
Frank Nugent did not reply. He turned and strode away towards the distant school gates. The Co. started after hin at once.
“Hold on a minute, Frank!” exclaimed Wharton. “Keep your wool on! Surely you can tell us what we’re to raid them for?”
“It’s not a raid, and it isn’t ‘them’ —it’s Ponsonby. And I’m going to horsewhip him.” said Nugent, “ and I’m not going to tell you anything. If you can’t take my word for it that I’ve a good reason, you needn’t come.”
He spoke without slackening his pace. But his chums were hurrying along with him now. They did not intend to let him go alone.
They were frowning a little now. Nugent’s reply was not exactly polite, and the point of view he took was decidedly unreasonable. A raid on Highcliffe might lead to severe punishment, and the juniors naturally wanted to know what they were to raid Ponsonby for. But Frank Nugent had a natural disinclination to explain the disgraceful scrape into which his minor had fallen. The Famous Five had always been down on such things, and they had long been extremely rough on Vernon-Smith of the Remove for doing precisely what Nugent minor had done. Nugent did not wish to get Dicky’s rascally conduct spoken of at large, and he objected to even his chums knowing about it. But the Co., who didn’t know all that, of course, were surprised and somewhat exasperated.
“Look here!” exclaimed Wharton, as they passed out of the School gate. “I think you ought to tell us what the trouble is, Franky.”
“There’s no need.”
“Has Ponsonby done anythng to you?”
“What has he done?”
“Acted like a rotten cad!”
“But in what way!”
“I’m not going to tell you!” said Nugent bluntly. “if you don’t want to back me up, you needn’t come with me, that’s all. I’ll go alone.”
“You jolly well won’t go alone; but I don’t see any reason to keep secrets from your own pals.” said Wharton crossly.
Nugent made no reply to that. He strode away down the lane at a rapid pace with a fixed brow. The juniors walked with him in silence. They were annoyed and disturbed, and they anticipated trouble; but they could not let their chum walk into a hornet’s nest by himself. Ponsonby & Co., of Highcliffe, had no idea of fair play. They would certainly pile on Nugent if he went alone—indeed, if the five went together, they ware pretty certain to find trouble. In grim and irritated silence the juniors made their way to Highcliffe, Nugent speaking no word, and the other fellows not feeling inclined to ask him any more questions.
Outside the gates of Highcliffe School, the thin and ungraceful figure of Mr. Mobbs, the master of the Fourth, could he seen. He was chatting with a junior, and in the junior they recognised Ponsonby, the fellow of whom they had come in search. They were glad to see him. Ponsonby was easier to deal with in the open than sought for in his own quarters within the school.
Mr. Mobbs’ manner towards Ponsonby was civil in the ext remc. Cecil Ponsonby trpated him with barely-disguised patronage. The dignity of a Form-master was an unknown quantity to Mr. Mobbs. He was a born tuft-hunter, and Ponsonby and most of his friends were rich and well connected, and Mr. Mobbs looked for future advantages by making himself agreeable to them. Old Dr. Voysey, the head of Highcliffe, was careless and remiss in his management, leaving most things in the hands of the under masters, and that, to a large extent, accounted for the “dry rot” from which the school was suffering. Ponsonby & Co. were accustomed to playing bridge and smoking in their studies, and haunting the billiard rooms in the vicinity; and if their conduct came to the knowledge of Mr. Mobbs, the Form-master discreetly closed his eyes to it
Nugent’s eyes glittered at the sight of Ponsonby, and he took a tighter grip upon the riding-whip.
“There he is!” he muttered.
“But Mobby is with him!” said Bob Cherry uneasily. “Dash it all, Frank, you can’t go for a chap under the nose of his Form-master.’’
“Can’t I?” said Nugent grinly. “I’ll show you whether I can or not.”
“ Look here, Frank—”
Nugent quickened his pace. Ponsonby glanced at him as he came up, and Mr. Mobbs looked at him with an eye of disapproval. Mr. Mobbs did not like the Greyfriars fellows— partly because Ponsonby did not like them, and partly on their own account. Ponsonby calmly screwed an eye-glass into his eye, and surveyed Nugent with a supercilious smile.
He did not appear to guess that Nugent was coming for him. After a supercilious glance, he ostentatiously turned his back on the Greyfriars junior, and went on talking to Mr. Mobbs.
“Certainly, Mobby.” he said. “I’ll ask my pater to have you down next vac. You can tell him what nice boys we are at school—what?”
Mr. Mobbs smiled and rubbed his hands.
“I should be delighted and honoured by an invitation from your respected father, Ponsonby. I—why——what—”
Nugent had come up.
His left hand was laid heavily upon Ponsonby’s shoulder, and the supercilious Highcliffe junior was swung violently round. Ponsonbv found himself staring into an angry face and two blazing eyes.
“You cad! Let go!” he shouted.
“I’ve just been speaking to my minor.” muttered Nugent, “You understand?”
“Let go my shoulder!”
“And I’ve come to thrash you.”
“You —you—!” Ponsonby clenched his fist and struck out, and Nugent received the blow full in the face. “Now let go!”
The blow was a heavy one, but Nugent did not seem to feel it. His grasp on Ponsonby’s shoulder did not slacken. He whirled up the whip, and struck Ponsonby across the face with it.
Ponsonby uttered a yell of pain. Across his face lay the red mark where the whip had fallen.
“That’s for a start!” said Nugent grimly. “ Now I’m going to thrash you!”
Ponsonby swung round in Nugent’s grip, and the horsewhip rose and fell across his shoulders. Nugent had shifted his grip to Ponsonby’s collar, and his grip seemed like iron. Ponsonby struggled and kicked and yelled, but the Greyfriars junior held him fast, and the blows rained across his back.
Slash, slash, slash!
Harry Wharton & Co., who had been left behind by Nugent in his haste, came up breathless. Mr. Mobbs was gazing at the scene in horror and consternation, scarcely able to believe his eyes. That the junior should dare to lay hands like that on Cecil Ponsonby, whom Mr. Mobbs had been toadying to for a whole term, to secure that invitation from Ponsonby senior, was incredible—amazing—unparalleled. It really seemed like sacrilege to Mr. Mobbs. He stood rooted to the ground till Ponsonby’s wild yells roused him. Then he clutched his walking-stick and rushed to the rescue.
Mr. Mobb’s stick would have done Nugent some damage, but Bob Cherry put his foot in the way, and the Form-master stumbled over it, and measured his length on the ground.
And still Nugent was lashing away with the whip. He had no eyes for Mr. Mobbs; he did not even seem to see him. All his energies were devoted to thrashing Ponsonby; and certainly Ponsonby was getting the thrashing of his life. His struggles were of no avail; he hit and kicked, but hitting and kicking had no effect on Nugent. His grip on the young rascal’s collar did not relax for a moment, and the whip rose and fell with terrific speed and force.
“Ow, ow, ow! Help!” shrieked Ponsonby.
Mr. Mobbs sat up dazedly, gasping.
“Help! Police!” he yelled.
“Out of the school gates came crowding a dozen Highcliffe fellows—Ponsonby’s friends, Gadsby and Vavasour and Monson in the lead. Wharton grasped Nugent by the arm.
“That’s enough, Franky! Whatever he’s done, that’s enough! Leave off.”
“It’s not enough!”
“Let him go, I tell you!”
Wharton grasped the riding-whip from Nugent’s hand. Frank turned upon him savagely for a moment. But the Highcliffians were rushing upon them. Ponsonby sank to the ground, gasping and yelling with pain, all the spirit taken out of him by that terrific thrashing.
“Line up!” shoutcd Bob Cherry.
The Famous Five lined up instantly, and met the rush of the Highcliffians. There were a dozen of the latter; but they were not made of the same stuff as the Famous Five. Harry Wharton & Co. were famous as fighting-men in the Remove at Greyfriars, which prided itself upon being a fighting Form. They hit out straight from the shoulder. Gadsby was knocked headlong over Mr. Mobbs, who was picking himself up, and Mr. Mobbs sprawled on the ground again, with Gadsby sprawling over him. Vavasour and Monson, and Merton were knocked over them.
Then the Highcliffe rush stopped, the rest backing away, apparently not at all anxious to comp to closer quarters.
“ Come on!” muttered Johnny Bull. “Time we were off. We shall have fifty bounders on our necks in a minute!”
And the Famous Five beat a retreat.
The Highcliffians did not pursue them. They were gathered round Ponsonby and Mr. Mobbs. Mr. Mobbs had been flattened by the juniors falling over him, and he was gasping in a state of helpless breathlessness. Ponsonby was moaning. The Famous Five tramped away, unpursued; Nugent, with a grim, set face, and a gleam of almost savage satisfaction in his eyes; the other fellows looking very serious. For, whatever Nugent’s provocation might have been, they knew that there was grave trouble to follow that visit to Highcliffe, and that it would not be long in coming.