HotFreeBooks.com
The Young Buglers
by G.A. Henty
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"What is the difference exactly, sir?" Tom asked.

"The company bugler ranks on the strength of the company, messes, marches, and goes into action with them; the other buglers merely form part of the band, are under the bandmaster, play at the head of the regiment on its march, and help in the hospitals during a battle."

"Macpherson," he said as he entered the bandmaster's quarters, where a number of men and a few lads were practicing, "I have brought you two lads who have entered as buglers."

The bandmaster was a Scotchman—a stiff-looking, elderly man.

"Weel, Captain Manley, I'm wanting boys, but they look vera young, and I misdoubt they had better have been at school than here. However, I'll do my best with them; they look smart lads, and we shall have plenty of time at the depot to get them into shape."

"Lots of time, Macpherson, lots of time. They say they know a few calls on the bugle, so perhaps they had better stick to the calls at present; you will have plenty of time to begin with them regularly with the notes when all the bustle is over."

"Eh, ye know the calls, boys? Hardy and Graves, give them your bugles, and let us hear them. Now for the advance."

Tom and Peter felt very nervous, but they had really practiced hard for an hour a day for the last four months, and could play all the calls they knew steadily and well. The bandmaster made no remark until they had sounded some half a dozen calls as he named them, and then he said, "The lads have a vera gude idea of it, Captain Manley. They are steadier and clearer than mony a one of the boys already. Will ye begin at once, lads, or will ye wait till ye get your uniform?"

"We had rather begin at once," the boys answered together.

"Vera gude. Hardy, take two bugles out of the chest, and then take these lads—What's your name, boys? Eh? Scudamore? A vera gude name—take them over to Corporal Skinner, he will be practicing with the others on the ramp."

With a word of grateful thanks to Captain Manley as he went out before them, the boys followed their new guide out to the ramparts. A guide was hardly necessary, for an incessant bugling betokened the place, where, in one of the bastions behind the barracks, seven or eight buglers were sounding the various calls under the direction of Corporal Skinner.

The corporal was a man of few words, for he merely nodded when the boy—who had not opened his lips on the way, indeed, he was too busy wondering who these young swells were, and what they had run away for, to say a word—gave the bandmaster's message to the effect that the new-comers knew some of the calls and were to be under his tuition for the present, pointed to them where to stand, and in another minute Tom and Peter were hard at work adding to the deafening din. After half an hour's practice they were pleased at seeing Captain Manley stroll up and call their instructor aside, and they felt sure that he was speaking to him of them. This was so, for the officer was carrying out the instructions he had received from Colonel Tritton.

"Corporal," he said, "I want to say a word to you about those boys who have just joined. They seem to have a fair idea of the calls."

"Yes, sir, they only know a few, but those they do know they can sound as well as any of them."

"That is right, corporal. Now look here, what I am going to say is not to go farther, you understand."

"Yes, sir, I will keep my mouth shut."

"Very well. You can see the lads are not like most of our band boys. They are a gentleman's sons who have got into some scrape or other and run away from school."

"I was thinking as much, sir."

"The colonel believes that he knows their family, Skinner; but of course, that will not make any difference in regard to them. Still he would be pleased, I know, if they could sound the calls well enough to go with the regiment. They are most anxious to learn. Now I shall be glad if you can get them up to the mark. It will, of course, entail a lot of extra trouble upon you, but if you can get them fit in time, I will pay you a couple of guineas for your extra time."

"Thank you, sir," the corporal saluted. "I think I can manage it—at any rate if I don't it won't be for want of trying."

"Who are those nice-looking lads I saw with you, Manley?" Major James asked as the captain came into the messroom to lunch.

"Those are two buglers in his Majesty's Norfolk Rangers."

There was a general laugh.

"No, but really, Manley, who are they? I was quite struck with them; good style of boys."

"It is a fact, major. Harding will tell you so," and he nodded to the adjutant.

"Yes, Manley is saying the thing that's right," the adjutant answered. "The doctor passed them, and I swore them in."

"I am sorry for it," the major said. "There were three or four of us standing on the mess-room steps and we all noticed them. They were gentlemen, if I ever saw one, and a hard life they will have of it with the band boys. However, they are not likely to stay there. They have run away from school, of course, and will be claimed. I wonder you enlisted them."

"The colonel's orders, major," the adjutant said. "Manley took them to him, I believe, and then brought them to me."

"I don't think you need feel anxious about them among the boys, major," Captain Manley said. "I fancy they can hold their own. I found them outside the gate where a row was going on among some of the recruiting sergeants, and one of those boys had just tripped up a sergeant of the 15th and nearly broken his head."

There was a general laugh.

"They are quite interesting, these prodigies of yours, Manley. How did the boy do it? I should not have thought him strong enough to have thrown a man off his balance."

"I asked Summers about it afterwards," Captain Manley said, "the fellow gave one of the boys a box on the ear, and in an instant the boy stooped, caught his foot and pulled it forward and up. The thing was done in a moment, and the sergeant was on his back before he knew what's what."

"By Jove," a young ensign said, "I have seen that trick done at Eton."

"That is just where the boy said he learnt it," Captain Manley said. "The colonel asked him suddenly, and it slipped out."

"If they're Etonians, I ought to know them," the ensign said. "I only left six months ago. What are their names?"

"Their name is Scudamore."

"By Jove, they were in the same house with me. Uncommonly sharp little fellows, and up to no end of mischief. It was always believed, though no one could prove it, that they were the boys who nearly suffocated the bargee."

There was a roar of laughter.

"Tell us all about, Carruthers."

"Well, there was not very much known about it. It seems the fellow purposely upset a boat with four or five of our fellows in it, and that night a dozen lighted crackers were thrown down into the little cabin where the fellow was asleep; the hatch was fastened and he was sent drifting down stream with the crackers exploding all about him. The smoke nearly suffocated the fellow, I believe There was a tremendous row about it, but they could not bring it home to any one. We always put it down to the Scudamores, though they never would own to it; but they were the only fellows in the boat who would have done it, and they were always up to mischief."

"But what makes them come here as buglers?" the major asked.

"Their father was a banker, I believe, down in the Eastern Counties somewhere. He died suddenly in the middle of the half before I left, and they went away to the funeral and never came back again."

"The fact is," Captain Manley said, "I fancy by what they say, though they did not mention their father was a banker, that he lost all his money suddenly and died of the shock. At any rate they are alone in the world, and the colonel has no doubt that they are some relation—nephews, I should imagine—of Peter Scudamore, who was our colonel when I joined. One of them is called Peter. They acknowledged that they had a particular reason for choosing this regiment; but they would neither acknowledge or deny that he was a relation. Now that we know their father was a banker, we shall find out without difficulty—indeed I have no doubt the colonel will know whether Peter Scudamore had a brother a banker."

"What's to be done, Manley?" Major James said. "I don't like the thought of poor old Peter's nephews turning buglers. All of us field officers, and the best part of you captains, served under him, and a better fellow never stepped. I think between us we might do something."

"I would do anything I could," Carruthers said, "and there are Watson and Talbot who were at Eton too. Dash it, I don't like to think of two Etonians in a band," "You are all very good," Captain Manley said, "but from what I see of the boys they will go their own way. They have plenty of pride, and they acknowledge that their reason for refusing to say whether they are any relation of the colonel was that they did not want to be taken notice of or treated differently from other boys, because it would cause jealousy, and make their position more difficult. All they asked was that they might accompany the regiment, and not remain behind at the depot; and as, fortunately, they have both been practising with the bugle, and can sound most of the calls as well as the others, the colonel was able to grant their request. Had they been older, of course, we could have arranged for them to go with us as volunteers, we who knew the colonel, paying their expenses between us: as it is, the only thing we can do for them—and that is what they would like best is to treat them just like the other boys, but to give them every chance of distinguishing themselves. If they don't get knocked over, they ought to win a commission before the campaign is over."

In the meantime Tom and Peter had been introducing themselves to the regiment. The exercise over, they had returned to dinner. It was a rough meal, but the boys enjoyed it, and after it was over a number of the men of the band, with whom they messed, crowded round to ask the usual questions of new-comers—their curiosity heightened in the present instance by the fact that the boys differed so widely from ordinary recruits.

"Look here," Tom said, laughing, "I can't answer you all at once, but if you put me on the table I will tell you all about us."

There was a general laugh, and many of the soldiers other than the band sauntered up to see what was going on.

"The first thing to tell you," Tom said, "is our names. We go by the names of Tom and Peter Scudamore, but I need scarcely tell you that these are not our real names. The fact is—but this is quite a secret—we are the eldest sons of Sir Arthur Wellesley—"

Here Tom was interrupted by a shout of laughter.

"Sir Arthur," Tom went on calmly, "wished to make us colonels of two of the Life Guard regiments, but as they were not going on foreign service we did not see it, and have accordingly entered the regiment which Sir Arthur, our father, in speaking to a friend, said was the finest in the service—namely, the Norfolk Rangers. We believe that it is the custom, upon entering a regiment, to pay our footing, and I have given a guinea to Corporal Skinner, and asked him to make it go as far as he could."

There was great laughter over Tom's speech, which was just suited to soldiers, and the boys from that moment were considered part of the regiment.

"There's good stuff in those boys," an old sergeant said to another, "plucky and cool. I shouldn't be surprised if what Tom Dillon said was about right; he was waiting at mess just now, and though he didn't hear all that was said, he picked up that there was an idea that these boys are related to the old colonel. He was a good fellow, he was, and, though I say nothing against Colonel Tritton, yet we missed Colonel Scudamore terribly. Strict, and yet kind, just the sort of fellow to serve under. If the boys take after him they will be a credit to the regiment, and mark my words, we shan't see them in the band many years."



CHAPTER IV.

A TOUGH CUSTOMER.

Like most boys who are fond of play, Tom and Peter Scudamore were capable of hard work at a pinch, and during the three weeks that they spent at Portsmouth they certainly worked with a will. They had nothing to do in the way of duty, except to practice the bugle, and this they did with a zeal and perseverance that quite won the heart of Corporal Skinner, and enabled him to look upon Captain Manley's two guineas as good as earned. But even with the best will and the strongest lungs possible, boys can only blow a bugle a certain number of hours a day. For an hour before breakfast, for two hours before dinner, and for an hour and a half in the evening they practiced, the evening work being extra, alone with their instructor. There remained the whole afternoon to themselves. Their employment of those hours had been undertaken at Peter's suggestion.

"Look here, Tom," he said, at the end of the first day's work, "from what the corporal says, we shall have from one till about five to ourselves. Now, we are going to Spain, and it seems to me that it would be of great use to us, and might do us a great deal of good, to know something of Spanish. We have got four pounds each left, and I don't think that we could lay it out better than in getting a Spanish master and some books, and in setting to in earnest at it. If we work with all our might for four hours a day with a master, we shall have made some progress, and shall pick up the pronunciation a little. I dare say we shall be another ten days or a fortnight on the voyage, and shall have lots of time on our hands. It will make it so much easier to pick it up when we get there if we know a little to start with."

"I think it is a capital idea, Peter; I should think we are pretty sure to find a master here."

There was no difficulty upon that score, for there were a large number of Spanish in England at the time; men who had left the country rather than remain under the French yoke, and among them were many who were glad to get their living by teaching their native language. There were two or three in this condition in Portsmouth, and to one of these the boys applied. He was rather surprised at the application from the two young buglers—for the uniforms were finished twenty-four hours after their arrival—but at once agreed to devote his whole afternoons to them. Having a strong motive for their work, and a determination to succeed in it, the boys made a progress that astonished both themselves and their teacher, and they now found the advantage of their grounding in Latin at Eton. Absorbed in their work, they saw little of the other boys, except at meals and when at practice.

One evening when at supper, one of the buglers, named Mitcham, a lad of nearly eighteen, made some sneering remark about boys who thought themselves above others, and gave themselves airs. Tom saw at once that this allusion was meant for them, and took the matter up.

"I suppose you mean us, Mitcham. You are quite mistaken; neither my brother nor myself think ourselves better than any one, nor have we any idea of giving ourselves airs. The fact is—and I am not surprised that you should think us unsociable—we are taking lessons in Spanish. If we go with the regiment it will be very useful, and I have heard it said that any one who lands in a foreign country, and who knows a little of the grammar and pronunciation, will learn it in half the time that he would were he altogether ignorant of both. I am sorry that I did not mention it before, because I can understand that it must seem as if we did not want to be sociable. I can assure you that we do; and that after this fortnight is over we shall be ready to be as jolly as any one. You see we are altogether behindhand with our work now, and have got to work hard to put ourselves on your level."

Tom spoke so good-temperedly that there was a general feeling in his favor, and several of them who had before thought with Mitcham, that the new-comers were not inclined to be sociable, felt that they had been mistaken. There was, however, a general feeling of surprise and amusement at the idea of two boys voluntarily taking lessons in Spanish. Mitcham, however, who was a surly-tempered young fellow, and who was jealous of the progress which the boys were making, and of the general liking with which they seemed to be regarded, said,—

"I believe that's only an excuse for getting away from us."

"Do you mean to say that you think that I am telling a lie?" Tom asked quietly.

"Yes, if you put it in that way, young 'un," Mitcham said.

"Hold your tongue, Mitcham, or I'll pull your ears for you," Corporal Skinner said: but his speech was cut short by Tom's putting one hand on the barrack table, vaulting across it, and striking Mitcham a heavy blow between the eyes.

There was a cry of "a fight!" among the boys, but the men interfered at once.

"You don't know what you are doing, young 'un," one said to Tom; "when you hit a fellow here, you must fight him. That's the rule, and you can't fight Mitcham; he's two years older, at least, and a head taller."

"Of course I will fight him," Tom said. "I would fight him if he were twice as big, if he called me a liar."

"Nonsense, young 'un!" another said, "it's not possible. He was wrong, and if you had not struck him I would have licked him myself; but as you have done so, you had better put up with a thrashing, and have done with it."

"I should think so, indeed!" Tom said disdainfully. "I may get a licking; I dare say I shall; but it won't be all on one side. Look here, Mitcham, we will have it out to-morrow, on the ramparts behind the barracks. But, if you will apologize to me for calling me a liar, I'll say I am sorry I hit you."

"Oh, blow your sorrow!" the lad said. "I'll give you the heartiest licking you ever had in your life, my young cock."

"Oh, all right," Tom said cheerfully. "We will see all about it when the time comes."

As it was evident now that there was no way out of it, no one interfered further in the matter. Quarrels in the army are always settled by a fair fight, as at school; but several of the older men questioned among themselves whether they ought to let this go on, considering that Tom Scudamore was only between fifteen and sixteen, while his opponent was two years older, and was so much heavier and stronger. However, as it was plain that Tom would not take a thrashing for the blow he had struck, and there did not seem any satisfactory way out of it, nothing was done, except that two or three of them went up to Mitcham, and strongly urged him to shake hands with Tom, and confess that he had done wrong in giving him the lie. This Mitcham would not hear of, and there was nothing further to be done.

"I am afraid, Tom, you have no chance with that fellow." Peter said, as they were undressing.

"No chance in the world, Peter; but I can box fairly, you know, and am pretty hard. I shall be able to punish him a bit, and you may be sure I shall never give in. It's no great odds getting a licking, and I suppose that they will stop it before I am killed. Don't bother about it. I had rather get knocked about in a fight than get flogged at Eton any day. I would rather you did not come to see it, Peter, if you don't mind. When you fought Evans it hurt me ten times as much as if I had been fighting, and, although you licked him, it made me feel like a girl. I can stand twice the punishment if I don't feel that any blow is hitting you as well as myself."

Tom's prediction about the fight turned out to be nearly correct. He was more active, and a vastly better boxer than his antagonist, and although he was constantly knocked down, he punished him very heavily about the face. In fact, the fight was exactly similar to that great battle, fifty years afterwards, between Sayers and Heenan. Time after time Tom was knocked down, and even his second begged him to give in, but he would not hear of it. Breathless and exhausted, but always cool and smiling, he faced his heavy antagonist, eluding his furious rushes, and managing to strike a few straight blows at his eyes before being knocked down. By the time that they had fought a quarter of an hour half the regiment was assembled, and loud were the cheers which greeted Tom each time he came up, very pale and bleeding, but confident, against his antagonist.

At last an old sergeant came forward. "Come," he said, "there has been enough of this. You had better stop."

"Will he say he was sorry he called me a liar?" Tom asked.

"No, I won't," Mitcham answered.

The sergeant was about to use his authority to stop it, when Tom said to him, in a low voice:

"Look, sergeant! please let us go on another five minutes. I think I can stand that, and he can hardly see out of his eyes now. He won't see a bit by that time."

The sergeant hesitated, but a glance at Tom's antagonist convinced him that what he said was correct. Mitcham had at all times a round and rather puffy face, and his cheeks were now so swollen with the effect of Tom's straight, steady hitting, that he could with difficulty see.

It was a hard five minutes for Tom, for his antagonist, finding that he was rapidly getting blind, rushed with fury upon him, trying to end the fight. Tom had less difficulty in guarding the blows, given wildly and almost at random, but he was knocked down time after time by the mere force and weight of the rush. He felt himself getting weak, and could hardly get up from his second's knee upon the call of time. He was not afraid of being made to give in, but he was afraid of fainting, and of so being unable to come up to time.

"Stick a knife into me; do anything!" he said to his second, "if I go off, only bring me up to time. He can't hold out much longer."

Nor could he. His hitting became more and more at random, until at last, on getting up from his second's knee, Mitcham cried in a hoarse voice, "Where is he? I can't see him!"

Then Tom went forward with his hands down. "Look here, Mitcham, you can't see, and I can hardly stand. I think we have both done enough. We neither of us can give in, well because—because I am a gentleman, you because you are bigger than I am; so let's shake hands, and say no more about it."

Mitcham hesitated an instant, and then held out his hand. "You are a good fellow, Scudamore, and there's my hand; but you have licked me fairly. I can't come up to time, and you can. There, I am sorry I called you a liar."

Tom took the hand, and shook it, and then a mist came over his eyes, and his knees tottered, as, with the ringing cheers of the men in his ears, he fainted into his second's arms.

"What a row the men are making!" the major said, as the sound of cheering came through the open window of the mess-room, at which the officers were sitting at lunch. "It's a fight of course, and a good one, judging by the cheering. Does any one know who it is between?"

No one had heard.

"It's over now," the adjutant said, looking out of the window, "Here are the men coming down in a stream. They look very excited over it. I wonder who it has been. Stokes," he said, turning to one of the mess servants, "go out, and find out who has been fighting, and all about it."

In a minute or two the man returned. "It's two of the band boys, sir."

"Oh, only two boys! I wonder they made such a fuss over that. Who are they?"

"One was one of the boys who have just joined, sir. Tom Scudamore, they call him."

"I guessed as much," Captain Manley laughed; "I knew they would not be long here without a fight. Who was the other?"

"Well, sir, I almost thought it must be a mistake when they told me, seeing they are so unequally matched, but they all say so, so in course it's true—the other was Mitcham, the bugler of No. 3 Company."

"What a shame!" was the general exclamation, while Captain Manley got up and called for his cap.

"A brutal shame, I call it," he said hotly. "Mitcham's nearly a man. It ought not to have been allowed. I will go and inquire after the boy. I will bet five pounds he was pretty nearly killed before he gave in."

"He didn't give in, Captain Manley," the servant said. "He won the fight. They fought till Mitcham couldn't see, and then young Scudamore went up and offered to draw it, but Mitcham acknowledged he was fairly licked. It was a close thing, for the boy fainted right off; but he's come round now, and says he's all right."

"Hurrah for Eton!" Carruthers shouted enthusiastically. "Hurrah! By Jove, he is game, and no mistake. He won a hard fight or two at Eton, but nothing like this. I call it splendid."

"The boy might have been killed," the major said gravely; while the younger officers joined in Carruthers's exclamation at Tom's pluck. "It is shameful that it was allowed. I suppose the quarrel began in their quarters. Sergeant Howden is in charge of the room, and ought to have stopped it at once. Every non-commissioned officer ought to have stopped it. I will have Howden up before the colonel to-morrow."

"I think, major," Captain Manley said, "if you will excuse me, the best plan, as far as the boy is concerned, is to take no notice of it. As it is, he must have won the hearts of all the regiment by his pluck, and if he is not seriously hurt, it is the very best thing, as it has turned out, that could have happened. If any one gets into a scrape about it, it might lessen the effect of the victory. I think if you call Howden up, and give him a quiet wigging, it will do as well, and won't injure the boys. What do you think?"

"Yes, you are right, Manley, as it has turned out; but the boy might have been killed. However, I won't do more than give Howden a hearty wigging, and will then learn how the affair begun. I think, Dr. Stathers, that it would be as well if you went round and saw both of them. You had better, I think, order them into hospital for the night, and then the boy can go to bed at once, and come out again to-morrow, if he has, as I hope, nothing worse than a few bruises. Please come back, and tell us how you find them."

The report was favorable, and the next morning Tom came out of hospital, and took his place as usual, with the party upon the ramparts—pale, and a good deal marked, but not much the worse for his battle; but it was some days before the swelling of his adversary's face subsided sufficiently for him to return to duty.

Tom's victory—as Captain Manley had predicted—quite won the hearts of the whole regiment, and the nicknames of "Sir Tom," and "Sir Peter"—which had been given to them in jest after Tom's speech about Sir Arthur Wellesley—were now generally applied to them. The conversation in the mess-room had got about, and the old soldiers who had served under Colonel Scudamore would have done anything for the lads, although, as yet, they were hardly known personally except to the band, as their devotion to work kept them quite apart from the men.

It was just three weeks after they had joined before the order came for embarkation, and a thrill of pleasure and excitement ran through the regiment when it was known that they were to go on board in four days. Not the least delighted were Tom and Peter. It had already been formally settled that they were to accompany the regiment, and it was a proof of the popularity that they had gained, that every one looked upon their going as a matter of course, and that no comment was excited even among those who were left behind. Three days before starting they had met Captain Manley in the barrack-yard, and after saluting, Tom said, "If you please, sir, we wanted to ask you a question."

"What is that, lads?"

"If you please, sir, we understand that the boys of the band have their bags carried for them, but the company buglers carry knapsacks, like the men?"

"Yes, boys; the company buglers carry knapsacks and muskets."

"I am afraid we could not carry muskets and do much marching, sir, but we have each a brace of pistols."

Captain Manley smiled. "Pistols would not look the thing on a parade-ground, boys; but in a campaign people are not very particular, and I have no doubt the colonel will overlook any little breach of strict uniformity in your cases, as it is evident you can't carry muskets. You can use your pistols, I hope," he said with a smile. "Hit a penny every time at twenty paces!"

"No, sir, we can't do that," Tom said seriously. "We can hit a good-sized apple nineteen times out of twenty."

"The deuce you can!" Captain Manley said. "How did you learn to do that?"

"We have practiced twelve shots a day for the last six months, sir. We were thinking of asking you, sir, if you would like to carry a brace of them through the campaign. They are splendid weapons; and we shall only carry one each. They would get rusty and spoil, if we left them behind, and we should be very pleased to think they might be useful to you, after your great kindness to us."

"It is not a very regular thing, boys," Captain Manley said, "for a captain to be borrowing a brace of pistols from two of his buglers; but you are exceptional buglers, and there is something in what you say about rusting. Besides, it is possible you may lose yours, so I will accept your offer with thanks, with the understanding that I will carry the pistols, and you shall have them again if anything happens to yours. But how about the knapsacks?"

"We were thinking of having two made of the regimental pattern, sir, but smaller and lighter, if you think that it would be allowed."

"Well, I think, boys, if you are allowed to carry pistols instead of muskets, no great objection will be made as to the exact size of the knapsacks. Yes, you can get them made, and I will speak to the colonel about it."

"Perhaps," he hesitated, "you may be in want of a little money; do not hesitate if you do. I can let you have five pounds, and you can pay me," he said with a laugh, "out of your share of our first prize-money."

The boys colored hotly.

"No, thank you, Captain Manley; we have plenty of money. Shall we bring the pistols to your quarters?"

"Do, lads, I am going in to lunch now, and will be in in half an hour."

The boys at once went out and ordered their knapsacks. They had just sold their watches, which were large, handsome, and of gold, and had been given to them by their father when they went to Eton. They were very sorry to part with them, but they agreed that it would be folly to keep gold watches when the twenty pounds which they obtained for them would buy two stout and useful silver watches and would leave them twelve pounds in money. They then returned to barracks, took out a brace of their pistols, carefully cleaned them, and removed the silver plates upon the handles, and then walked across to Captain Manley's quarters.

Rather to their surprise and confusion they found five or six other officers there, for Captain Manley had mentioned at lunch to the amusement of his friends that he was going to be unexpectedly provided with a brace of pistols, and several of them at once said that they would go up with him to his quarters, as they wanted to see the boys of whom they had spoken so much during the last fortnight. Tom and Peter drew themselves up and saluted stiffly.

"You need not be buglers here, boys," Captain Manley said. "This is my room, we are all gentlemen, and though I could not, according to the regulations, walk down the street with you, the strictest disciplinarian would excuse my doing as I like here."

The boys flushed with pleasure at Captain Manley's kind address, and as he finished Carruthers stepped forward and shook them warmly by the hand.

"How are you both?" he said. "You have not forgotten me, I hope."

"I had not seen you before. I did not know you were in the regiment, Carruthers," the boys said warmly, pleased to find a face they had known before; and then breaking off:—"I beg your pardon—Mr. Carruthers."

"There are no misters here as far as I am concerned, Scudamore. There were no misters at Eton. This is a change, isn't it? Better than grinding away at Greek by a long way. Well, I congratulate you on your fight. You showed there was some good in dear old Eton still. I wish you had let me know it was coming off. I would have given anything to have seen it—from a distance, you know. If it had been the right thing, I would have come and been your backer."

There was a general laugh, and then the officers all began to talk to the boys. They were quiet and respectful in their manners, and fully confirmed the favorable report which Captain Manley had given of them.

"Where are the pistols, boys?" their friend asked presently.

"Here, sir," and the boys produced them from under their jackets. "We have no case, sir; we were obliged to leave it behind us when we—"

"Ran away," one of the officers said, laughing.

"They are a splendid pair of pistols," Captain Manley said, examining them; "beautifully finished, and rifled. They look quite new, too, though, of course, they are not."

"They are new, sir," Tom said; "we have only had them six months, and they were new then."

"Indeed," Captain Manley said surprised; "I thought, of course, they were family pistols. Why, how on earth, if it is not an impertinent question, did you boys get hold of two brace of such pistols as these? I have no right to ask the question, boys. I see there has been a plate on the handles. But you said you had no relations, and I was surprised into asking."

The boys colored.

"The question was quite natural, sir; the pistols were presented to us by some people we traveled with once; we took the plates off because they made a great fuss about nothing, and we thought that it would look cockey."

There was a laugh among the officers at the boys' confusion.

"No one would suspect you of being cockey, Scudamore," Captain Manley said kindly; "come, let me see the plates."

The boys took the little silver plates from their pockets and handed them silently to Captain Manley, who read aloud, to the surprise of those around him,—"'To Tom' and 'Peter,' they are alike except the names. 'To Tom Scudamore, presented by the passengers in the Highflyer coach on the 4th of August, 1808, as a testimony of their appreciation of his gallant conduct, by which their property was saved from plunder.' Why, what is this, you young pickles, what were you up to on the 4th of August last year?"

"There was nothing in it at all, sir," Tom said; "we were on the coach and were stopped by highwaymen. One of the passengers had pistols, but was afraid to use them, and hid them among the boxes. So when the passengers were ordered to get down to be searched, we hid ourselves, and when the highwaymen were collecting their watches, Peter shot one, and I drove the coach over another. The matter was very simple indeed; but the passengers saved their money, so made a great fuss about it."

There was much laughter over Tom's statement, and then he had to give a detailed account of the whole affair, which elicited many expressions of approval.

"It does you credit, boys," Captain Manley said, "and shows that you are cool as well as plucky. One quality is as valuable as the other. There is every hope that you will do the regiment credit, boys, and you may be sure that we shall give you every chance. And now good-bye for the present."

"Good-bye, sir," Tom and Peter again drew themselves up, gave the military salute, and went off to their comrades.

For when the order came to prepare for the embarkation, both Spanish and bugling were given up, and the boys entered into the pleasure of the holiday with immense zest. They had no regimental duties to perform beyond being present at parade. They had no packing to do, and fewer purchases to make. A ball or two of stout string, for, as Peter said, string is always handy, and a large pocket-knife, each with a variety of blades, were the principal items. They had a ring put to the knives, so that they could sling them round the waist. They had, therefore, nothing to do but to amuse themselves, and this they did with a heartiness which astonished the other boys, and proved conclusively that they did not want to be unsociable. They hired a boat for a sail and took five or six other boys across to Ryde, only just returning in time for tattoo, and they played such a number of small practical jokes, such as putting a handful of peas into the bugles and other wind instruments, that the band-master declared that he thought that they were all bewitched, and he threatened to thrash the boys all round, because he could not find out who had done it.

Especially angry was the man who played the big drum. This was a gigantic negro, named Sam, a kind-hearted fellow, constantly smiling, except when the thought of his own importance made him assume a particularly grave appearance. He was a general favorite, although the boys were rather afraid of him, for he was apt to get into a passion if any jokes were attempted upon him, and of all offences the greatest was to call him Sambo. Now none of the men ventured upon this, for when he first joined, Sam had fought two or three desperate battles on this ground, and his great strength and the insensibility of his head to blows had invariably given him the victory. But, treated with what he conceived proper respect, Sam was one of the best-tempered and best-natured fellows in the regiment; and he himself, when he once cooled down, was perfectly ready to join in the laugh against himself, even after he had been most put out by a joke.

The day before the regiment was to embark, the officers gave a lawn party; a large number of ladies were present, and the band was, of course, to play. The piece which the bandmaster had selected for the commencement began with four distinct beats of the big drum. Just before it began, Captain Manley saw Tom and Peter, who with some of the other boys had brought the music-stands into the ground, with their faces bright with anticipated fun.

"What is the joke, boys?" he asked good-humoredly, as he passed them.

"I can't tell you, sir," Tom said; "but if you walk up close to the band, and watch Sam's face when he begins, you will be amused, I think."

"Those are regular young pickles," Captain Manley said to the lady he was walking with; "they are Etonians who have run away from home, and are up to all kinds of mischief, but are the pluckiest and most straightforward youngsters imaginable. I have no doubt that they are up to some trick with our black drummer."

On their way to where the band was preparing to play, Captain Manley said a word or two to several of the other officers, consequently there was quite a little party standing watching the band when their leader lifted his baton for the overture to begin.

There was nothing that Sam liked better than for the big drum to commence, and with his head thrown well back and an air of extreme importance, he lifted his arm and brought it down with what should have been a sounding blow upon the drum. To his astonishment and to the surprise of all the band, no deep boom was heard, only a low muffled sound. Mechanically Sam raised his other arm and let it fall with a similar result. Sam looked a picture of utter astonishment and dismay, with his eyes opened to their fullest, and he gave vent to a loud cry, which completed the effect produced by his face, and set most of those looking on, and even the band themselves, into a roar of laughter. Sam now examined his sticks, they appeared all right to the eye, but directly he felt them his astonishment was turned into rage. They were perfectly soft. Taking out his knife he cut them open, and found that the balls were merely filled with a wad of soft cotton, the necessary weight being given by pieces of lead fastened round the end of the stick inside the ball with waxed thread.

Sam was too enraged to say more than his usual exclamation of astonishment, "Golly!" and he held out his drumsticks to be examined with the face of a black statue of surprise.

Even the band-master was obliged to laugh as he took the sticks from Sam's hand to examine them.

"These are not your sticks at all, Sam," he said, looking closely at them. "Here, boy," he called to Tom, who might have been detected from the fact of his being the only person present with a serious face, "run to the band-room and see if you can find the sticks."

In a few minutes Tom returned with the real drumsticks, which, he said truly, he had found on the shelf where they were usually kept. After that things went on as usual; Sam played with a sulky fury. His dignity was injured, and he declared over and over again that if he could "find de rascal who did it, by jingo, I pound him to squash!" and there was no doubt from his look that he thoroughly meant what he said. However, no inquiries could bring to light the author of the trick.



CHAPTER V.

OVERBOARD.

There were no lighter hearts than those of Tom and Peter Scudamore on board the transport "Nancy," as, among the hearty cheers of the troops on board, and the waving of hats and handkerchiefs from friends who had come out in small boats to say good-bye for the last time, she weighed anchor, and set sail in company with some ten or twelve other transports, and under convoy of two ships of war. It would be difficult to imagine a prettier scene. The guns fired, the bands of the various regiments played, and the white sails opened out bright in the sun as the sailors swarmed into the rigging, anxious to outvie each other. Even the soldiers pulled and hauled at the ropes, and ran round with the capstan bars to get the anchors apeak. Tom and Peter, of course, had, like the other boys, got very much in the way in their desire to assist, and, having been once or twice knocked over by the rush of men coming along with ropes, they wisely gave it up, and leaned over the side to enjoy the scene.

"This is splendid, Tom, isn't it?"

"Glorious, Peter; but it's blowing pretty strong. I am afraid that we sha'n't find it quite so glorious when we get out of the shelter of the island."

Peter laughed. "No; I suppose we sha'n't all look as jolly as we do now by night-time. However, the wind is nor'-westerly, which will help us along nicely, if, as I heard one of the sailors say just now, it does not go round to the south."

"Bugler, sound companies one, two, and three to breakfast."

The order interrupted the conversation, and, for the next hour, the boys had little time for talk. Half the regiment was on board the "Nancy," and, after breakfast, the men were divided into three watches, of which one was always to be on deck, for the ship was very crowded, and there was scarcely room for all the men to be below together. The boys were in the same watch, for the day previous to starting Tom had been appointed bugler to the 2d Company, Peter to the 3d. The 1st Company, or Grenadiers, were in the watch with the band, the 2d and 3d Companies were together, and the 4th and 5th.

Tom was very ill for the first two days of the voyage, while Peter did not feel the slightest effects from the motion. Upon the third day the wind dropped suddenly, and the vessels rolled heavily in the swell, with their sails flapping against the masts. Tom came up that morning upon deck feeling quite well again, and the boys were immensely amused at seeing the attempts of the soldiers to move about, the sudden rushes, and the heavy falls. A parade had been ordered to take place; but as no one could have stood steady without holding on, it was abandoned as impossible. The men sat about under the bulwarks, and a few amused themselves and the rest by trying to play various games, such as laying a penny on the deck, and seeing which would pitch another to lay nearest to it, from a distance of five yards. The difficulty of balancing oneself in a heavily rolling vessel, and of pitching a penny with any degree of accuracy, is great, and the manner in which the coins, instead of coming down flat and remaining there, rolled away into the scuppers, the throwers not unfrequently following them, produced fits of laughter.

Tom was still feeling weak from his two days' illness, and was not disposed actively to enter into the fun; but Peter enjoyed the heavy rolling, and was all over the ship. Presently he saw Sam, the black drummer, sitting in a dark corner below quietly asleep; his cap was beside him, and the idea at once occurred to Peter that here was a great opportunity for a joke. He made his way to the caboose, and begged the cook to give him a handful of flour. The cook at first refused, but was presently coaxed into doing so, and Peter stole to where Sam was asleep, and put the flour into his cap, relying that, in the darkness, Sam would put it on without noticing it. Then, going up to the deck above, Peter put his head down the hatchway, and shouted loudly, "Sam!"

The negro woke at the sound of his name. "What is it?" he asked. Receiving no reply, he got on to his feet, muttering, "Some one call Sam, that for certain, can't do without Sam, always want here, want there. I go up and see."

So saying, he put on his cap, and made his way up to the upper deck. As he stood at the hatchway and looked round, there was, first a titter, and then a roar of laughter from the men sitting or standing along by the bulwarks. In putting on his cap some of the flour had fallen out, and had streaked his face with white. Sam was utterly unconscious that he was the object of the laughter, and said to one of the men nearest to him, "Who call Sam?"

The man could not reply, but Tom, who was sitting close by, said, "It was no one here, Sam, it must have been the bandmaster; there he is, close to the quarter-deck."

Sam made his way along towards the point indicated, and as he did so some of the officers upon the quarter-deck caught sight of him. "Just look at Sambo," Carruthers exclaimed, "somebody has been larking with him again. Look how all the men are laughing, and he evidently has no suspicion of the figure he is."

The sergeant, who, the bandmaster having remained at the depot, was now acting as chief of the band, did not see Sam until the latter was close to him. "You want me, sergeant?"

Sergeant Wilson looked up, and was astonished.

"What on earth have you been doing to yourself, Sam?" he asked.

"Me been having little nap down below," Sam said.

"Yes; but your face, man. What have you been doing to your face?"

Sam, in his turn, looked astonished. "Nothing whatsomeber, sargeant."

"Take off your cap, man, and look inside it." Sam did as ordered; and as he removed the cap, and the powder fell from it all over his face and shoulders, there was a perfect shout of laughter from the soldiers and crew, who had been looking on, and the officers, looking down from the rail of the quarter-deck, retired to laugh unnoticed.

The astonishment and rage of Sam were unbounded, and he gave a perfect yell of surprise and fury. He stamped wildly for a minute or two, and then, with a sudden movement rushed up on to the quarter-deck with his cap in his hand. The colonel, who was holding on by the shrouds, and talking with the major, in ignorance of what was going on, was perfectly astounded at this sudden vision of the irate negro, and neither he nor the major could restrain their laughter.

"Scuse me, colonel, sah, for de liberty," Sam burst out; "but look at me, sah; is dis right, sah, is it right to make joke like dis on de man dat play de big drum of de regiment?"

"No, no, Sam; not at all right," the colonel said, with difficulty. "If you report who has played the trick upon you, I shall speak to him very seriously; but, Sam, I should have thought that you were quite big enough to take the matter in your own hands."

"Me big enough, Massah Colonel, me plenty big; but me not able to find him."

"Well, Sam, it is carrying a joke too far; still, it is only a trick off duty, and I am afraid that it is beyond my power to interfere."

Sam thought for a moment, and, having by this time cooled down from his first paroxysm of rage, he said, "Beg pardon, massa, you quite right, no business of any one but Sam; but Sam too angry to 'top to think. Scuse liberty, colonel," and Sam retired from the quarter-deck, and made a bolt below down the nearest hatchway, when he plunged his head into a bucket of water, and soon restored it to its usual ebony hue.

Then he went to the cook and tried to find out to whom he had given flour, but the cook replied at once, "Lor, I've given flour to the men of each mess to make puddings of, about thirty of them," and Sam felt as far off as ever.

Presently, however, a big sailor began to make fun of him, and Sam retorted by knocking him down, after which there was a regular fight, which was carried on under the greatest difficulty, owing to the rolling of the ship. At last Sambo got the best of it, and this restored him so thoroughly to a good temper that he was able to join in the laugh at himself, reserving, however, his right to "knock de rascal who did it into a squash."

The following day the weather changed, a wind sprang up nearly from the north, which increased rapidly, until toward afternoon it was blowing half a gale, before which the whole fleet, with their main and topsails set, ran southward at great speed. A heavy cross sea was running, the wares raised by the gale clashing with the heavy swell previously rolling in from the westward, and so violent and sudden were the lurches and rolls of the "Nancy" that the master feared that her masts would go.

"How tremendously she rolls, Tom."

"Tremendously; the deck seems almost upright, and the water right under our feet each time she goes over. She feels as if she were going to turn topsy-turvy each roll. It's bad enough on deck; but it will be worse down below."

"A great deal worse, Peter, it's nearly dark already; it will strike eight bells in a minute or two, and then we shall have to go down. There's no danger, of course, of the ship turning over, but it won't be pleasant down below. Look out, Peter!"

The exclamation was caused by an awful crash. The ship had given a tremendous lurch, when the long-boat, which was stowed amidships, suddenly tore away from its fastenings and came crashing down. It passed within three feet of where the boys were sitting, and completely tore away the bulwark, leaving a great gap in the side, where it had passed through. "Look, Tom, Sam's overboard!" Peter exclaimed.

Sam had been sitting on the bulwark, a few feet from them, holding on by a shroud, when the boat came down upon him; with a cry he had let go of the shroud and started back, falling into the water just as the boat struck the bulwark. "There he is, Tom," Peter said, as he saw the black only a few yards from the side. "He is hurt, come on," catching up the end of a long rope coiled up on the deck close to their feet, the boys jumped overboard together. A dozen strokes took them up to Sam; but the black hull of the ship had already glanced past them. They could hear loud shouts, but could not distinguish a word.

"Quick, round him, Peter!" and, in a moment, the boys twisted the rope round the body of the black, and knotted it just as the drag of the ship tightened it. Thus Sam's safety was secured, but the strain was so tremendous as they tore through the water, that it was impossible for the boys to hold on, and, in a moment, they were torn from their hold.

"All right, Peter," Tom said cheerily, as they dashed the water from their eyes, "there is the boat."

The remains of the boat were not ten yards distant, and in a few strokes they had gained it. It was stove in and broken, but still held together, floating on a level with the water's edge. With some trouble the boys got inside her, and sat down on the bottom, so that their heads were just out of water.

Then they had time to look round. The ship was already disappearing in the gathering darkness.

"This boat will soon go to pieces, Tom," was Peter's first remark.

"I expect it will, Peter; but we must stick to its pieces. We had better get off our boots. The water is pretty warm, that's one comfort."

"Do you think the ship will come back for us, Tom?"

"I don't think she can, Peter; at any rate, it is certain she can't find us, it would take a long time to bring her round, and then, you see, she could not sail straight back against the wind."

"Look here, Tom, I remember when I climbed up to look into the boats yesterday that there were some little casks lashed under the seats, and a sailor told me they were always kept full of water in case the boats were wanted suddenly. If they are still there we might empty them out, and they could keep us afloat any time."

"Hurrah! Peter, capital, let's see."

To their great delight the boys found four small water-kegs fastened under the seats. Three of these they emptied, and fastening one of them to that which they had left full, and then each taking hold of one of the slings which were fastened to the kegs for convenience of carriage, they waited quietly. In less than ten minutes from the time when they first gained their frail refuge, a great wave broke just upon them, and completely smashed up the remains of the boat. They had cut off some rope from the mast, which they found with its sail furled ready for use in the boat, and now roughly lashed themselves together, face to face, so that they had a keg on each side. They had also fastened a long piece of rope to the other kegs, so that they would float near them.

It was a long and terrible night for them, generally their heads and chests were well above the water, but at times a wave would break with its white crest, and, for a time, the foam would be over their heads. Fortunately the water was warm, and the wind fell a good deal. The boys talked occasionally to each other, and kept up each other's courage. Once or twice, in spite of the heavy sea, they were so much overcome with exhaustion that they dozed uneasily for a while, with their heads upon each other's shoulders, and great was their feeling of relief and pleasure when morning began to break.

"It is going to be a splendid day, Peter, and the wind is dropping fast."

"Look, Tom," Peter said, "there are some of the planks of the boat jammed in with the kegs."

It was as Peter said; the two kegs, one empty and the other full, were floating about ten yards off, at the length of the rope by which they were attached to the boys, while with them was a confused mass of wreckage of the boat.

"That is capital, Peter, we will see if we can't make a raft presently."

As the sun rose and warmed the air, the boys strength and spirits revived, and in a few hours they were so refreshed that they determined to set about their raft. The wind had now entirely dropped, the waves were still very high, but they came in long, smooth, regular swells, over which they rose and fell almost imperceptibly.

"They must be rolling a good deal more in the 'Nancy' than we are here, Peter. Now, the first thing is to have a drink. What a blessing it is we have water." With their knives they soon got the bung out of the water-keg, and each took a long drink, and then carefully closed it up again.

"There, Peter, we have drunk as much as we wanted this time; but we must be careful, there is no saying how long we may be before we are picked up. Hurrah, Peter, here are the masts and sails, so we shall have plenty of cord."

It took the boys nearly three hours to complete their task to their satisfaction. When it was concluded they had the three empty kegs lashed in a triangle about five feet apart, while two planks crossing the triangle, assisted to keep all firm and tight; floating in the center of the triangle was the keg of water. "There, I don't think we can improve that, Peter," Tom said at last, "now, let us get on and try it." They did so, and, to their great delight, found that it floated a few inches above water. "We may as well get the masts on board, Peter, and let the sails tow alongside. They may come in useful; and now the first thing is to dry ourselves and our clothes."

The clothes were soon spread out to dry, and the boys luxuriated in the warmth of the sun.

"What great, smooth waves these are, Tom, sometimes we are down in a valley which runs miles long, and then we are up on a hill."

"Here we lay, all the day, in the bay of Biscay, oh!" Tom laughed. "I only hope that the wished-for morrow may bring the sail in sight, Peter. However, we can hold on for a few days, I suppose. That is a four-gallon keg, so that we have got a quart of water each for eight days, and hunger isn't so bad to bear as thirst. We have pretty well done for our uniforms, our bugles are the only things that have not suffered."

For the boys' companies being on deck at the time of the accident, they both had their bugles on when they jumped overboard.

"Our last upset was when that bargee canted us over at Eton, rather a different business that, Peter."

"My shirt is not dry yet, Tom; but I shall put it on again, for the sun is too hot to be pleasant."

Tom followed Peter's example.

"Do you think, Tom, that we had better try to get up a sort of sail and make for land, or remain where we are?"

"Remain where we are, Peter, I should say. I suppose we must be a hundred miles from the French coast, and even if the wind blew fair we should be a long time getting there, and with the certainty of a prison when we arrived. Still, if there were a strong west wind, I suppose it would be our best way; as it is we have nothing to do but to wait quietly, and hope for a ship. We are in the right line, and there must be lots of vessels on their way, besides those which sailed with us, for Portsmouth. So we must keep watch and watch. Now, Peter, you lie down on that plank, it is just about long enough, you shall have two hours' sleep, and then I'll have two, after that we will have four hours each."

"How are we to count time?" Peter said laughing.

"I never thought of that," Tom said, looking at his watch. "Of course it has stopped. We must guess as near as we can; at any rate, you go to sleep first, and, when I am too sleepy to keep watch any longer, I will wake you up."

So passed that day and the next night. A light breeze sprung up from the southwest, and the sun again shone out brightly.

"I feel as if I wanted breakfast horribly," Peter said, with an attempt at a smile. "Do you think that there is any possibility of catching anything?"

"We have nothing to make hooks with, Peter, and nothing to bait them with if we had."

"There are lots of tiny fish swimming all about, Tom, if we could but catch them."

Tom was silent for awhile; then he said, "Look here, Peter. Let us cut a piece off the sail about five feet long, and say three feet wide, double it longways, and sew up the ends so as to make a bag; we can unravel some string, and make holes with our knives. Then we can sink it down two or three feet, and watch it; and when we see that some little fish have got in it, we can draw it up very gently, and, by raising it gradually from the sea, the water will run out, and we shall catch the fish."

Peter agreed that at any rate it was worth trying; for, even if it did not succeed, it was better for them to be doing something than sitting idle. The sail and the floating wreckage were pulled alongside, and the boys set to work. In three hours a large and shallow bag was made, with some improvements upon Tom's original plan. The mouth was kept open by two crossed pieces of wood, and four cords from the corners were attached to the end of the oar which formed their fishing-rod. At last it was finished, and the bag lowered.

To the horror of the boys, it was discovered that it would not sink. They were ready to cry with vexation, for the want of food had made them feel faint and weak.

"What have we got that is heavy?" Tom asked in despair.

"I have got fourpence in halfpence, Tom, and there are our knives and watches."

Their pockets were ransacked, and the halfpence, knives, and watches were placed in the bottom of the bag and lowered. Still the wood-work kept afloat.

"There are the bugles, Tom," Peter cried in delight. These had been fastened to the raft, and were now hastily untied and placed in the canvas bag.

It sank now, and the boys lowered it five or six feet, so that they could partly see into it. "There are lots of little fish swimming about, Tom," Peter said in a whisper. "Some are almost as long as one's hand. Do you think that they will go in, Tom?"

"I hope the glitter of the bugles and watches will attract them, Peter."

"There, Tom, there—I saw a whole swarm of little ones go in."

"Wait a minute or two, Peter, to let them get well down, and then draw up as quietly as possible."

Very cautiously the boys raised the point of their rod until the top of the square-mouthed bag was level with the surface; then they brought it close to them and looked in, and as they did so gave a simultaneous cheer. There, in the bottom of the canvas, two feet below them, were a number of little fish moving about. Raising the rod still higher, they gradually lifted the net out of the sea, the water running quickly off as they did so, and then they proceeded to examine their prize.

"We will take out one and one, Peter; give them a nip as you take them up, that will kill them." There were two fish of about three inches long, another three or four of two inches, and some thirty or forty the size of minnows. It was scarcely more than a mouthful each, but it was a stay for a moment to their stomachs, and no one ever said a thanksgiving with deeper feeling and heartiness than did the boys when they had emptied their canvas net.

"We need not be anxious about food now, Peter; if we can catch these in five minutes, we can get enough each day to satisfy us. They quench the thirst too. We must limit ourselves to half a pint of water a day, and we can hold on for a fortnight. We are safe to be picked up before that."

All the afternoon and evening the boys continued to let down and draw up their net, sometimes bringing in only a few tiny fish, sometimes getting half a dozen of the larger kind. By nightfall they had satisfied the cravings of hunger, and felt stronger and better. One or two sails had been seen during the day, but always at such distances that it was evident at once that they could not pass within hail. That night, fatigued with their exertions, both laid down and went to sleep until morning, and slept more comfortably than before; for they had fastened a piece of the sail tightly on the top of the raft, and lay softly suspended in that, instead of being balanced upon a narrow and uncomfortable plank. They felt new creatures when they woke, pulled up their net, had a mouthful of raw fish, took off their clothes, and had a swim, and then set to earnestly to fish. The sun was brighter, and the fish in consequence kept deeper than upon the preceding day; still by evening they had caught enough to take the edge off, if not to satisfy, their hunger. The fishing, however, during the last hours of daylight was altogether neglected, for behind them they could see a sail, which appeared as if it might possibly come close enough to observe them. There was still the long, steady swell coming in from the Atlantic, and a light breeze was blowing from the north. The boys had been so intent upon their fishing, that they had not noticed her until she was within nine or ten miles of them. "She will not be up for an hour and a half, Peter," Tom said, "and the sun will be down long before that. I fear that the chance of their seeing us is very small indeed. However, we will try. Let us get the net out of the water, and hold it and the oar up. It is possible that some one may see the canvas with a telescope before the sun goes down. Take the things out of the net."

The oar with the canvas bag was elevated, and the boys anxiously watched the course of the vessel. She was a large ship, but they could only see her when they rose upon the top of the long smooth waves. "I should think that she will pass within a mile of us, Peter," Tom said, after half an hour's watching, "but I fear that she will not be much closer. How unfortunate she had not come along an hour earlier. She would have been sure to see us if it had been daylight. I don't think that there is much chance now, for there is no moon. However, thank God, we can hold on very well now, and next time we may have better luck."

The sun had set more than half an hour before the ship came abreast of them. They had evidently not been seen.

"Now, Peter," Tom said, "let us both hallo together; the wind is very light, and it is just possible they may hear us."

Again and again the boys shouted, but the ship sailed steadily on. Peter dashed the tears aside, and Tom said, with a quiver in his voice, "Never mind, Peter; better luck next time, old boy. God has been so good to us, that I feel quite confident we shall be saved."

"So do I, Tom," Peter said. "It was only a disappointment for a minute. We may as well put the oar down, for my arm and back ache holding it."

"Mind how you do it, Peter. If we let the end go through the canvas, we shall lose our watches and bugles, and then we shall not be able to fish."

"Oh, Tom, the bugles!"

"What, Peter?" Tom said, astonished.

"We can make them hear, Tom, don't you see?"

"Hurrah, Peter! so we can. What a fool I was to forget it!"

In a moment the bugles rang out the assembly across the water. Again and again the sharp, clear sound rose on the quiet evening air.

"Look, Peter, there are men going up the rigging to look round. Sound again!"

Again and again they sounded the call, and then they saw the ship's head come round, and her bow put towards them, and then they fell on their knees and thanked God that they were saved.

In ten minutes the ship was close to them, thrown up into the wind, a boat was lowered, and in another minute or two was alongside.

"Hallo!" the officer in charge exclaimed, "two boys, all alone. Here, help them in, lads—that's it; now pull for the ship. Here, boys, take a little brandy from this flask. How long have you been on that raft?"

"It is three days since we went overboard, sir; but we were in the water for about eighteen hours before we made the raft."

Tom and Peter drank a little brandy, and felt better for it; but they were weaker than they thought, for they had to be helped up the side of the ship. A number of officers were grouped round the gangway, and the boys saw that they were on board a vessel of war.

"Only these boys?" asked the captain in surprise of the officer who had brought them on board.

"That is all, sir."

"Doctor, you had better see to them," the captain said. "If they are strong enough to talk, after they have had some soup, let them come to my cabin; if not, let them turn in in the sick bay, and I will see them in the morning. One question though, boys. Are there any others about—any one for me to look for or pick up?"

"No one else, sir," Tom said, and then followed the doctor aft. A basin of soup and a glass of sherry did wonders for the boys, and in an hour they proceeded to the captain's cabin, dressed in clothes which the doctor had borrowed from two of the midshipmen for them, for their own could never be worn again; indeed, they had not brought their jackets from the raft, those garments having shrunk so from the water, that the boys had not been able to put them on again, after first taking them off to dry.

The doctor accompanied them, and in the captain's cabin they found the first lieutenant, who had been in charge of the boat which picked them up.

"I am glad to see you looking so much better," the captain said as they entered. "Sit down. Do you know," he went on with a smile, "I do not think that any of us would have slept had you not recovered sufficiently to tell your story to-night. We have been puzzling over it in vain. How you two boys came to be adrift alone on a raft, made up of three water-kegs, as Mr. Armstrong tells me, and how you came to have two bugles with you on the raft, is altogether beyond us."

"The last matter is easily explained, sir," Tom said. "My brother and myself are buglers in H.M.'s Regiment of Norfolk Rangers, and as we were on duty when we went overboard, we had our bugles slung over our shoulders."

"Buglers!" the captain said in surprise. "Why from your appearance and mode of expressing yourselves, I take you to be gentlemen's sons."

"So we are, sir," Tom said quietly, "and I hope gentlemen—at any rate we have been Etonians. But we have lost our father, and are now buglers in the Rangers."

"Well, lads," the captain said after a pause, "and now tell us how you came upon this little raft?"

Tom related modestly the story of their going overboard from the "Nancy," of the formation of the raft, and of their after proceedings. Their hearers were greatly astonished at the story; and the captain said, "Young gentlemen, you have done a very gallant action, and have behaved with a coolness and bravery which would have done credit to old sailors. Had your father been alive he might have been proud indeed of you. I should be proud had you been my sons. If you are disposed to change services I will write directly we reach the Tagus to obtain your discharge, and will give you midshipmen's berths on board this ship. Don't answer now; you can think it over by the time we reach Portugal. I will not detain you now; a night's rest will set you up. Mr. Armstrong will introduce you to the midshipmen to-morrow; you are passengers here now, and will mess with them. Good-night."

It was not many minutes before the boys were asleep in their hammocks. If people's ears really tingle when they are being spoken about, Tom and Peter would have had but little sleep that night. The first lieutenant related the circumstances to the other lieutenants; the second lieutenant, whose watch it was, told the gunner, who related it to the petty officers; the doctor told his mates, who retailed the story to the midshipmen; and so gradually it went over the whole ship, and officers and men agreed that it was one of the pluckiest and coolest things ever done.

The boys slept until nearly breakfast time, and were just dressed when Mr. Armstrong came for them and took them to the midshipmen's berth, where they were received with a warmth and heartiness which quite surprised them. The midshipmen and mates pressed forward to shake hands with them, and the stiflingly close little cock-pit was the scene of an ovation. The boys were quite glad when the handshaking was over, and they sat down to the rough meal which was then usual among midshipmen. As the vessel had only left England four days before, the fare was better than it would have been a week later, for there was butter, cold ham and tongue upon the table. After breakfast they were asked to tell the story over again, and this they did with great modesty. Many questions were asked, and it was generally regretted that they were not sailors. Upon going up on deck there was quite an excitement among the sailors to get a look at them, and the gunner and other petty officers came up and shook hands with them heartily, and the boys wished from the depths of their hearts that people would not make such a fuss about nothing; for, as Tom said to Peter, "Of course we should not have jumped overboard if we had thought that we could not have kept hold of the rope."

That day they dined in the cabin with the captain, who, after the officers present had withdrawn, asked them if they would tell him about their past lives. This the boys did frankly, and took the opportunity of explaining that they had chosen the army because the enemies' fleet having been destroyed, there was less chance of active service in the navy than with the army just starting for Lisbon, and that their uncle having commanded the regiment that they were in, they had entered it, and had received so much kindness that they had fair reason to hope that they would eventually obtain commissions. Hence, while thanking him most warmly for his offer, they had decided to go on in the path that they had chosen.

The captain remarked that, after what they had said, although he should have been glad to have them with him, he thought that they had decided rightly.

The next morning, when the boys woke, they were surprised at the absence of any motion of the vessel, and upon going on deck they found that they were running up the Tagus, and that Lisbon was in sight.



CHAPTER VI.

PORTUGAL.

The boys were delighted with the appearance of the Tagus, covered as it now was with a fleet of transports and merchantmen. As they were looking at it, the officer commanding the marines on board, who had talked a good deal to them upon the preceding day, came up to them. "I thought that you would be in a fix about clothes, my lads," he said. "You could not very well join in these midshipman's uniforms, so I set the tailor yesterday to cut down a couple of spare suits of my corps. The buttons will not be right, but you can easily alter that when you join. You had better go below at once and see if the things fit pretty well. I have told the tailor to take them to the cock-pit and if they do not fit they can alter them at once."

Thanking the officer very much for his thoughtful kindness, and much relieved in mind—for they had already been wondering what they should do—the boys ran below, and found that the tailor had guessed their sizes pretty correctly, aided as he had been by the trousers they had worn when they came on board. A few alterations were necessary, and these he promised to get finished in a couple of hours. They had scarcely gone on deck again when the anchor was let fall, and a boat was lowered, in order that the captain might proceed to shore with the despatches of which he was the bearer.

Just as he was upon the point of leaving the deck, his eye fell upon the boys. "I shall be back again in an hour or two," he said; "do not leave until I return. I will find out where your regiment is, and if it has marched I will give you a certificate of how I picked you up, otherwise you may be stopped on the way, and get into a scrape as two boys who have strayed away from their regiment."

So saying, the captain got into his boat and rowed to shore. It was one o'clock before he returned. The boys had dinner with the gunroom officers, then changed their dress, and had now the appearance of buglers in the marines.

The captain at once sent for them. "Your regiment went on yesterday with the rest of the division. It halts to-day ten miles out of the town. There is the certificate I spoke of. Mr. Armstrong is just going off with two boats' crew to assist in unloading stores; I have asked him to hand you over to the charge of some officer going up with a convoy. And now good-bye, lads. I wish you every luck, and hope that some day or other you may win your epaulets."

With renewed thanks for his kindness, the boys went up on deck. There they shook hands and said good-bye to all the officers and midshipmen. As they were waiting while the boats were being lowered, two of the sailors went aft to the captain, who had come up from below and was walking alone on the quarter-deck, and, with a touch of the hat, the spokesman said, "Your honor, we're come to ax as how, if your honor has no objection, we might just give a parting cheer to those 'ere youngsters."

"Well, Jones," the captain said, smiling, "it's rather an unusual thing for the crew of one of His Majesty's ships to cheer two young soldiers."

"It is unusual, your honor, mighty unusual, because soldiers ain't in general of much account at sea; but you see, your honor, this ain't a usual circumstance, nohow. These here boys, which ain't much more than babbies, have done what there ain't many men, not even of those who are born and bred to the sea, would have done; and we should just like to give them a bit of a cheer for good luck."

"Very well, Jones, tell the men they can do as they like."

Accordingly, as the boys took their seats in the boat they were surprised at seeing the crew clustering to the side of the ship, while some of the men ran up the rigging.

"What can the men be up to?" Tom asked Mr. Armstrong in surprise.

The lieutenant smiled, for he knew what was coming.

"Sheer off, men," he said, and as he did so the boatswain of the ship gave the word, "Now, lads, three cheers for them boys; may they have the luck they deserve."

Three thundering cheers burst from the whole crew, the men in the boats tossing their oars in the naval fashion of acknowledgment of the salute. Tom and Peter, astonished and affected, stood up, took off their caps, and waved their hands in thanks to the crowd of faces looking down upon them, and then sat down again and wiped their eyes.

"Row on," the lieutenant said, and the oars fell in the water with a splash; one more cheer arose, and then the boats rowed for the landing-place. The boys were too much affected to look up or speak, until they reached the shore, nor did they notice a boat which rowed past them upon its way to the vessel they had left, just after they had started. It contained an officer in a general's uniform. The boat steered to the ship's side, and the officer ascended the ladder. The captain was on deck. "Ah, Craufurd," he said, "this is an unexpected pleasure."

"I have just come back from my division for a few hours, Merivale; there are a lot of stores which are essential, and some of my artillery is not landed, so I thought I could hurry things up a bit. My spare charger, and most of the chargers of my staff, are being landed, too; the ship they came in was a day or two late; and as I had to confer with the Portuguese Minister of War, I am killing a good many birds with one stone. I heard you had just come in, and as I was on board the "Clio" about my charger, I thought it would not be much out of my way to run round and shake hands with you."

"I am very glad you did. Come into my cabin; you can spare time to take some lunch, I hope."

While they were at lunch General Craufurd remarked, "So you have just lost one of your officers, I see; promoted to another ship, eh?"

"Lost an officer!" Captain Merivale said in surprise. "No, not that I have heard of. What makes you think so?"

"I thought so by the cheering the ship's crew gave that boat that left the ship just before I came up. There was only a naval lieutenant in her, and I supposed that he had just got his ship, and I thought by the heartiness of the cheering what a good fellow he must be."

"But it was not the lieutenant the men were cheering," Captain Merivale said with a smile.

"No!" General Craufurd said, surprised. "Why, there was no one else in the boat. I looked attentively as I passed. There was only a lieutenant, a midshipman who was steering, the men rowing, and two little marine buglers, who had their handkerchiefs up to their faces. So you see I took a very minute survey."

"You did indeed," Captain Merivale said, laughing. "Well, it was just these little buglers that the crew of the ship were cheering."

General Craufurd looked up incredulously. "You're joking, Merivale. The crew of His Majesty's frigate 'Latona' cheer two buglers of marines! No, no, that won't do."

"It is a fact, though, Craufurd, unlikely as it seems, except that the buglers belong to the Norfolk Rangers, and not to the Marines."

"The Rangers! They are in Hill's division. What is it all about? There must be something very strange about it."

"There is indeed," Captain Merivale said, "very strange." And he then related the whole story to his visitor.

"They are trumps indeed," the general said when the narrative was ended, "and I am very glad that I happened to hear it. I will speak to Hill about it, and will keep my eye upon them. Be assured they shall have their epaulets as soon as possible—that is, if their conduct is at all equal to their pluck. It is the least we can do when, as you say, they have refused midshipmen's berths to stick to us. And now I must be off."

The boat landed General Craufurd at the same landing-place at which Tom and Peter had disembarked half an hour before. Lieutenant Armstrong had spoken a few words to the officer who was superintending the landing of stores and horses, and he, being far too busy to stop to talk, briefly said that the boys could go up to join their regiment with a convoy of stores which would start that night.

After saying good-bye to their friend the lieutenant, the boys sat down upon some bales, and were watching with much amusement and interest the busy scene before them. As General Craufurd passed they rose and saluted.

"You are the boys from the 'Latona,' are you not?"

"Yes, sir," the boys answered in surprise.

"Can you ride?"

"Yes, sir."

"Follow me, then."

Much surprised, the boys followed the general until he made his way through the confusion to a group of newly landed horses. Near them were a couple of mounted Hussars, who, at the sight of the general, rode forward with his charger. He made a sign to them to wait a moment, and walked up to the men who were holding the newly landed horses.

"Which of you have got charge of two horses?"

Several of the men answered at once.

"Which of you are servants of officers on my staff?"

Three of those who had answered before replied now.

"Very well; just put saddles on to two of them. These lads will ride them; they are going out with me at once; they will hand them over to your masters."

In another five minutes Tom and Peter, to their surprise and delight, were clattering along through the streets of Lisbon upon two first-rate horses in company with the two Hussars, while, twenty lengths ahead, trotted General Craufurd with two officers who had been down to Lisbon upon duty similar to his own. Once outside the town, the general put his horse into a gallop, and his followers of course did the same. Once or twice General Craufurd glanced back to see how the boys rode, for a doubt had crossed his mind as to whether he had been wise in putting them upon such valuable horses, but when he saw that they were evidently accustomed to the work, he paid no further attention to them.

The officers riding beside him, however, looked back several times.

"What luck we have, to be sure, Tom," Peter said, "and I can't understand this a bit. How could the general know that we came from the 'Latona'; as he evidently did, and by the way these officers have looked back twice, I can't help thinking that he is talking about us."

Tom was as puzzled as Peter, but they soon forgot the subject, and engaged in an animated conversation with the Hussars as to the situation and position of the army, and the supposed strength and locality of the French, concerning which they were, of course, in complete ignorance. An hour and a half's sharp riding took them to Torres Vedras, a small town which afterwards became celebrated for the tremendous lines which Wellington erected there. The troops were encamped in its vicinity, the general having his quarters at the house of the Alcalde, or Mayor.

"Your regiment is a mile and a half distant, lads," General Craufurd said as they drew up at his quarters; "you will have difficulty in finding it this evening. Sergeant, take these lads round to the house where my orderlies are quartered, and give them some supper. They can join their regiment in the morning. I have heard of you, lads, from Captain Merivale, and shall mention your conduct to General Hill, and be assured I will keep my eye upon you."

The boys were soon asleep upon a heap of straw, and at six next morning were upon the road, having already had some coffee and bread for breakfast. They had no difficulty in finding their way, for orderlies were already galloping about, and the bugle calls came sharp upon their ears. The division was to march at seven. The Rangers happened to be the first in advance, so that they passed through the other regiments to arrive at theirs.

The tents were down when they arrived, and packed in readiness for the bullock carts which stood by. The boys paused a little distance off, and looked on with delight at the busy scene. At a note on the bugle the tents and other baggage were stowed in the carts, and then the men hitched on their knapsacks, unpiled arms, and began to fall into rank.

No one noticed the boys as they passed between the groups and approached the band, who were mustering by the colors, which were as usual placed in front of the guard tent.

"There's Sambo," Tom said; "I am glad they got him safe on board."

The negro was the first to perceive the boys as they came close up to him. As he saw them he gave a sudden start, his eyes opened wider and wider until the whites showed all round, his teeth chattered, the shiny black of his face turned to a sort of dirty gray, and he threw up his hands with a loud cry, "oh, golly, here's dose boys' spirits!"

He stepped back, heedless that the big drum was behind him, and the next moment went back with a crash into it, and remained there with his knees doubled up and his face looking out between them, too frightened and horror-struck to make the least movement to extricate himself.

For a moment no one noticed him, for at his cry they had all turned to the boys, and stood as if petrified at seeing those whom they believed had been drowned before their eyes a week before. The silence did not last long, the boys bursting into a shout of laughter at Sam's appearance.

"Spirits! Sam," Tom said; "not by a long way yet, man. How are you all? Come, get out of that, Sam and shake hands." And as the band with a shout crowded round them, the boys helped Sam, who was trembling all over from the shock and fright, from the drum.

For a moment the boys were quite confused and bewildered, for as they hauled Sam to his feet their comrades of the band pressed round them cheering, every one trying to shake them by the hand.

The news spread like wildfire among the troops, and there was at once a general rush to the spot. The boys were seized in an instant, and each raised on the shoulders of two of the grenadiers, and as they made their appearance above the heads of the crowd a tremendous cheer broke from the whole regiment.

"What can be the matter?" was the general exclamation of the colonel and officers, who were just finishing their breakfasts in a cottage which stood close behind the spot where their tents had been pitched in the rear of the regiment. "What can be the matter?"—and as the cheering continued there was a general rush to the door. There they stood astonished at seeing the whole of the men clustered in one spot, shouting and waving their caps.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse