THE YOUNG BUGLERS
by G.A. Henty
To my Young Readers.
I remember that, as a boy, I regarded any attempt to mix instruction with amusement as being as objectionable a practice as the administration of powder in jam; but I think that this feeling arose from the fact that in those days books contained a very small share of amusement and a very large share of instruction. I have endeavored to avoid this, and I hope that the accounts of battles and sieges, illustrated as they are by maps, will be found as interesting as the lighter parts of the story. As in my tale, "The Young Franc-Tireurs," I gave the outline of the Franco-German war, so I have now endeavored to give the salient features of the great Peninsular struggle. The military facts, with the names of generals and regiments, the dates and places, are all strictly accurate, and any one who has read with care the story of "The Young Buglers" could pass an examination as to the leading events of the Peninsular war.
CHAPTER I. A Coaching Adventure
CHAPTER II. The Young Pickles
CHAPTER III. Enlisted
CHAPTER IV. A Tough Customer
CHAPTER V. Overboard
CHAPTER VI. Portugal
CHAPTER VII. The Passage of the Douro—Talavera
CHAPTER VIII. A Pause in Operations
CHAPTER IX. "With the Guerillas"
CHAPTER X. Madrid
CHAPTER XI. The Fight on the Coa
CHAPTER XII. Busaco and Torres Vedras
CHAPTER XIII. Albuera
CHAPTER XIV. Invalided Home
CHAPTER XV. Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajos
CHAPTER XVI. Salamanca
CHAPTER XVII. Caught in a Trap
CHAPTER XVIII. Just in Time
CHAPTER XIX. Vittoria
CHAPTER XX. Toulouse
THE YOUNG BUGLERS.
A COACHING ADVENTURE.
Had any of the boys in the lower forms of Eton in the year 1808, been asked who were the most popular boys of their own age, they would have been almost sure to have answered, without the slightest hesitation, Tom and Peter Scudamore, and yet it is probable that no two boys were more often in disgrace. It was not that they were idle, upon the contrary, both were fairly up in their respective forms, but they were constantly getting into mischief of one sort or another; yet even with the masters they were favorites, there was never anything low, disgraceful, or ungentlemanly in their escapades, and they could be trusted never to attempt to screen themselves from the consequences by prevarication, much less by lying. If the masters heard that a party of youngsters had been seen far out of bounds, they were pretty sure that the Scudamores were among them; a farmer came in from a distance to complain that his favorite tree had been stripped of its apples—for in those days apples were looked upon by boys as fair objects of sport,—if the head-master's favorite white poodle appeared dyed a deep blue, if Mr. Jones, the most unpopular master in the school, upon coming out of his door trod upon a quantity of tallow smeared all over the doorstep, and was laid up for a week in consequence, there was generally a strong suspicion that Tom and Peter Scudamore were concerned in the matter. One of their tricks actually came to the ears of the Provost himself, and caused quite a sensation in the place, but in this case, fortunately for them, they escaped undetected.
One fine summer afternoon they were out on the water with two or three other boys of their own age, when a barge was seen ahead at some short distance from the shore. She was apparently floating down with the stream, and the fact that a horse was proceeding along the towing-path a little way ahead was not noticed, as the rope was slack and was trailing under water. The boys, therefore, as they were rowing against stream, steered their boat to pass inside of her. Just as they came abreast of the horse a man on the barge suddenly shouted to the rider of the horse to go on. He did so, the rope tightened, rose from the water just under the bow of the boat, and in another minute the boys were struggling in the water. All were good swimmers, and would have cared little for the ducking had it occurred accidentally, but the roars of laughter of the bargeman, and the chaff with which he assailed them as they scrambled up the bank, showed clearly enough that they had been upset maliciously. The boys were furious, and one or two proposed that they should report the case, but Tom Scudamore pointed out that the bargeman would of course declare that it was a pure accident, and that the boys were themselves in fault in not looking out whether the barge was being towed, before going inside her, and so nothing would come of reporting.
The boat was dragged ashore and emptied, and in a few minutes they were rowing back towards the town. The distance was but short, and they did not repass the barge before they reached their boat-house. The brothers had exchanged a few words in a low voice on the way, and instead of following the example of the others, and starting at a run for the house where they boarded to change their clothes, they walked down by the river and saw that the barge had moored up against the bank, at a short distance below the bridge. They watched for a time, and saw the bargeman fasten up the hatch of the little cabin and go ashore.
That night two boys lowered themselves with a rope from the window of one of the dames-houses, and walked rapidly down to the river. There were a few flickering oil lamps burning, and the one or two old watchmen were soundly asleep in their boxes. They did not meet a soul moving upon their way to the object of the expedition, the barge that had run them down. Very quietly they slipped on board, satisfied themselves by listening at the half-open hatch to the snoring within that their enemy was there, then loosened the moorings so that they could be thrown off at a moment's notice.
"Now, Peter," the elder brother said, "open our lantern. The night is quite still. You hold your hand behind it, so that the light will not fall on our faces, and I will look whether he is only wrapped up in a blanket or has a regular bed; we must not risk setting the place on fire. Get the crackers ready."
A dark lantern was now taken out from under Tom's jacket, and was found to be still alight, an important matter, for striking a light with flint and steel was in those days a long and tedious business, and then opening it Tom threw the light into the cabin. It was a tiny place, and upon a bench, wrapped up in a blanket, the bargeman was lying. As the light fell on his eyes, he moved, and a moment afterwards started up with an oath, and demanded who was there.
No answer came in words, but half a dozen lighted crackers were thrown into the cabin, when they began to explode with a tremendous uproar. In an instant the hatch was shut down and fastened outside. The rope was cast off, and in another minute she was floating down stream with the crackers still exploding inside her, but with their noise almost deadened by the tremendous outcry of shouts and howls, and by a continued and furious banging at the hatch.
"There is no fear of his being choked, Tom, I hope?"
"No, I expect he's all right," Tom said, "it will be pretty stifling for a bit no doubt, but there's a chimney hole and the smoke will find its way out presently. The barge will drift down to the weir before it brings up, there is not enough stream out for there to be any risk of her upsetting, else we daren't have turned her adrift."
The next day the whole town was talking of the affair, and in the afternoon the bargeman went up to the head-master and accused one of the boys of an attempt to murder him.
Greatly surprised, the Provost demanded what reason the man had for suspecting the boys, and the bargeman acknowledged that he had that afternoon upset a boat with four or five boys in her. "They would not bear you malice on that account," the Provost said; "they don't think much of a swim such weather as this, unless indeed you did it on purpose."
The man hesitated in his answer, and the Provost continued, "You evidently did do it on purpose, and in that case, although it was carried too far, for I hear you had a very narrow escape of being stifled, still you brought it upon yourself, and I hope it will be a lesson to you not to risk the lives of Eton boys for your amusement. I know nothing about this affair, but if you can point out the boys you suspect I will of course inquire into it."
The bargeman departed, grumbling that he did not know one of the young imps from another, but if he did find them, he'd wring their necks for them to a certainty. The Provost had some inquiries made as to the boys who had been upset, and whether they had all been in at lock-up time; finding that they had all answered to their names, he made no further investigation.
This affair had taken place in the summer before this story begins, on the 15th of October, 1808. On that day a holiday was granted in consequence of the head-master's birthday, and the boys set off, some to football, some for long walks in the country.
The Scudamores, with several of their friends, strolled down the towing-path for some miles, and walked back by the road. As they entered their dames-house on their return, Tom Scudamore said for the twentieth time, "Well, I would give anything to be a soldier, instead of having to go in and settle down as a banker—it's disgusting!"
As they entered a boy came up. "Oh, Scudamore, Jackson's been asking for you both. It's something particular, for he has been out three or four times, and he wanted to send after you, but no one knew where you had gone."
The boys at once went into the master's study, where they remained all the afternoon. A short time after they went in, Mr. Jackson came out and said a word or two to one of the senior boys, and the word was quickly passed round, that there was to be no row, for the Scudamores had just heard of the sudden death of their father. That evening, Mr. Jackson had beds made up for them in his study, so that they might not have the pain of having to talk with the other boys. The housekeeper packed up their things, and next morning early they started by the coach for London.
Mr. Scudamore, the father of the young Etonians, was a banker. He was the elder of two brothers, and had inherited his father's business, while his brother had gone into the army. The banker had married the daughter of a landowner in the neighborhood, and had lived happily and prosperously until her death, seven years before this story begins. She had borne him three children, the two boys, now fifteen and fourteen years old respectively, and a girl, Rhoda, two years younger than Peter. The loss of his wife afflicted him greatly, and he received another shock five years later by the death of his brother, Colonel Scudamore, to whom he was much attached. From the time of his wife's death he had greatly relaxed in his attention to his business, and after his brother's death he left the management almost entirely in the hands of his cashier, in whom he had unlimited confidence. This confidence was wholly misplaced. For years the cashier had been carrying on speculation upon his own account with the monies of the bank. Gradually and without exciting the least suspicion he had realized the various securities held by the bank, and at last gathering all the available cash he, one Saturday afternoon, locked up the bank and fled.
On Monday it was found that he was missing; Mr. Scudamore went down to the bank, and had the books taken into his parlor for examination. Some hours afterwards a clerk went in and found his master lying back in his chair insensible. A doctor on arriving pronounced it to be apoplexy. He never rallied, and a few hours afterwards the news spread through the country that Scudamore, the banker, was dead, and that the bank had stopped payment.
People could believe the former item of news, but were incredulous as to the latter. Scudamore's bank was looked upon in Lincolnshire as at least as safe as the Bank of England itself. But the sad truth was soon clear to all, and for awhile there was great distress of mind among the people, for many miles round, for most of them had entrusted all their savings of years to the Scudamores' bank. When affairs were wound up, however, it was found that things were not quite so bad as had been feared. Mr. Scudamore had a considerable capital employed in the bank, and the sale of his handsome house and estate realized a large sum, so that eventually every one received back the money they had entrusted to the bank; but the whole of the capital and the profits of years of successful enterprise had vanished, and it was calculated by the executors that the swindler must have appropriated at least 80,000l.
For the first month after their father's death the boys stayed with the doctor who had long attended the family and had treated all their ailments since they were born. In the great loss of their father the loss of their fortune affected them but little, except that they were sorry to be obliged to leave Eton; for the interest of the little fortune which their mother had brought at her marriage, and which was all that now remained to them, would not have been sufficient to pay for their expenses there, and indeed such an education would have been out of place for two boys who had to make their own way in life. At the end of this month it was arranged that they were to go to their only existing relative, an elder sister of Mr. Scudamore. The boys had never seen her, for she had not for many years been friends with her brother.
The letter which she had written to the doctor, announcing her willingness to receive them, made the boys laugh, although it did not hold out prospects of a very pleasant future. "I am, of course," she said, "prepared to do my duty. No one can say that I have ever failed in my duty. My poor brother quarreled with me. It was his duty to apologize. He did not do so. Had it been my duty to apologize I should have done so. As I was right, and he was wrong, it was clearly not my duty. I shall now do my duty to my niece and nephews. Yet I may be allowed to say that I regret much that they are not all nieces. I do not like boys. They are always noisy, and not always clean. They do not wipe their shoes, they are always breaking things, they go about with all sorts of rubbish and dirt in their pockets, their hair is always rough, they are fond of worrying cats, and other cruel games. Altogether they are objectionable. Had my brother made up his mind to leave his children in my charge, it was clearly his duty to have had girls instead of boys. However, it is not because other people fail in their duty that I should fail in mine. Therefore, let them come to me this day fortnight. By that time I shall have got some strong and suitable furniture in the room that my nephews will occupy, and shall have time to make other arrangements. This letter will, if all goes well, reach you, I believe, in three days after the date of posting, and they will take the same time coming here. Assure them that I am prepared to do my duty, and that I hope that they will make a serious effort at doing theirs. Ask my nephews, upon the occasion of their first arrival, to make as little noise as they can, because my cat, Minnie, is very shy, and if she is scared at the first meeting, she will take a very long time to get accustomed to them. I also particularly beg that they do not, as they come up to the house, throw stones at any of the pigeons who may be resting upon the roof, for the slates were all set right a few weeks ago, and I am sure I do not wish to have the slater here again; they were hanging about for ten days the last time they came. I do not know that I have anything else to say."
The boys received the reading of this singular epistle with shouts of laughter.
"Poor aunt," Tom said. "What does she think of us that she can suppose that, upon our very first arrival, we should come in like wild Indians, throwing stones at her pigeons, and frightening her Minnie into fits. Did you ever hear such an extraordinary idea, Doctor Jarvis?"
"At any rate, boys," the doctor said, when the laughter had ceased, "you may find your aunt a little peculiar, but she is evidently determined to do her duty to you, and you must do yours to her, and not play more pranks than you can help. As to you, Rhoda, you will evidently be in high favor, and as you are fortunately a quiet little lady, you will, I have no doubt, get on with her very well."
"I hope so," Rhoda said, smiling, "you see she means to be kind, though she does write funny letters, and, at any rate, there are Minnie and the pigeons; it sounds nice, you know. Do you know what aunt's place is like, Dr. Jarvis, and how to get there from here."
"No, my dear, I never was in that part of England. It is close to Marlborough that she lives, a very pretty country, I believe. There is, of course, no way to go across from here. You must go up to London by coach from here, and then to Marlborough by the western coach. I will write to my brother James in town, where you stopped at night as you came through, boys, and I know that he will take you all in for the night, and see that you go off right in the morning."
"You're very kind, indeed, Doctor Jarvis. I do not know how to thank you for all you have done for us," Tom said earnestly, and the others cordially echoed the sentiment.
The day before starting the doctor had a long talk with the boys. He pointed out to them that their future now depended upon themselves alone. They must expect to find many unpleasantnesses in their way, but they must take their little trials pleasantly, and make the best of everything. "I have no fear as to Rhoda," their kind friend said. "She has that happy, amiable, and quiet disposition that is sure to adapt itself to all circumstances. I have no doubt she will become a favorite with your aunt. Try to keep out of scrapes, boys. You know you are rather fond of mischief, and your aunt will not be able to understand it. If you get into any serious difficulty write to me, you can rely upon always finding a friend in me."
The journey to London was no novelty to the boys, but Rhoda enjoyed it immensely. Her place had been taken inside, but most of the journey she rode outside with her brothers. She was greatly amazed at the bustle and noise of London, and was quite confused at the shouting and crowd at the place where the coach drew up, for two or three other coaches had just arrived from other directions. Mr. Jarvis had sent his man-servant to meet them, their luggage was sent direct to the booking-office from which the coach started for Marlborough, and the servant carried a small bag containing their night things. It was evening when they got in, and Rhoda could scarcely keep her eyes open long enough to have tea, for the coach had been two days and nights upon the road. The next day they stayed in town, and Mrs. Jarvis took them out to see the sights of London—the Tower and St. Paul's, and Westminster Abbey, and the beasts at Exeter Change. The boys had twice before spent a whole day in London, their father having, upon two occasions, made his visits to town to fit in with their going up to school, but to Rhoda it was all new, and very, very wonderful.
The next day the coach started early for Marlborough. It was to take rather over twenty-four hours on the way. As before, Rhoda rode outside with her brothers until the evening, but then, instead of going inside, where there were five passengers already, she said, as the night was so fine and warm, she would rather remain with them. They were sitting behind the coachman, there were two male passengers upon the same seat with them, and another in the box seat by the coachman. The conversation turned, as in those days it was pretty sure to turn, upon highwaymen. Several coaches had been lately stopped by three highwaymen, who worked together, and were reported to be more reckless than the generality of their sort. They had shot a coachman who refused to stop, the week before on Hounslow Heath, they had killed a guard on the great north road, and they had shot two passengers who resisted, near Exeter.
Tom and Peter were greatly amused by observing that the passenger who sat next to them, and who, at the commencement of the conversation, showed a brace of heavy pistols with which he was provided, with much boasting as to what he should do if the coach were attacked, when he heard of the fate of the passengers who had resisted, became very quiet indeed, and presently took an opportunity, when he thought that he was not observed, of slipping his pistols under the tarpaulin behind him.
"I hope those dreadful men won't stop our coach," Rhoda said.
"They won't hurt you if they do, Rhoda," Tom said assuringly. "I think it would be rather a lark. I say, Peter," he went on in a whisper, "I think we might astonish them with those pistols that coward next to you has hid behind him."
"I should just think so," Peter said; "the bargee at Eton would be nothing to it."
The hours went slowly on. Rhoda and the boys dozed uncomfortably against each other and the baggage behind them, until they were suddenly roused by a shout in the road beside them: "Stand for your lives!"
The moon was up, and they could see that there were three horsemen. One galloped to the horses' heads, and seized the rein of one of the leaders, the others rode by the coach.
The first answer to the challenge was a discharge from the blunderbuss of the guard, which brought one of the highwaymen from his horse.
The other, riding up to the side of the coach, fired at the guard, and a loud cry told that the shot had taken effect. In another moment the fellow was by the side of the coachman.
"Hold up!" he said, "or I will blow your brains out!"
The coachman did as he was ordered, and indeed the man at the leader's head had almost succeeded in stopping them. The passenger next to the boys had, at the first challenge, again seized his pistols, and the boys thought that he was going to fire after all.
"Lie down at our feet, Rhoda, quick!" Tom said, "and don't move till I tell you." The fate of the guard evidently frightened away the short-lived courage of the passenger, for, as the coachman again pulled up, he hastily thrust the pistols in behind him.
"Get down, every one of you," the highwayman shouted.
"Lie still, Rhoda," Tom whispered. "Now, Peter, get in underneath the tarpaulin."
This was done as the passengers descended. The luggage was not so heavily piled as usual, and the boys found plenty of room beneath the tarpaulin.
"Now, Peter, you take one of these pistols and give me the other. Now peep out. The moon is hidden, which is a good thing; now, look here, you shall shoot that fellow standing down below, who is swearing at the ladies inside for not getting out quicker. I'll take a shot at that fellow standing in front of the horse's heads."
"Do you think you can hit him, Tom?"
"I have not the least idea, but I can try; and if you hit the other one, the chances are he'll bolt, whether I hit him or not. Open the tarpaulin at the side so as to see well, and rest the pistol upon something. You must take a good shot, Peter, for if you miss him we shall be in a mess."
"All right," Peter said, in a whisper, "I can almost touch him with the pistol."
In loud and brutal tones the highwayman now began to order the frightened ladies to give up their watches and rings, enforcing his commands with terrible curses. When suddenly a pistol flashed out just behind him, and he fell off his horse with a ball through his shoulder.
Tom's shot, though equally well intended, was not so truly aimed. The highwayman had dismounted, and was standing just in front of the leaders, so that Tom had a fair view of him between them. The boys had both occasionally fired their father's pistols, for, in those days, each householder in the country always kept loaded pistols in his room, but his skill was not sufficient to make sure of a man at that distance. The bullet flew past at two feet to the left of his head. But its effect was scarcely less startling than if it had actually hit him, for, in its passage, it passed through the ear of the off leader. The horse made a start at the sudden pain, and then dashed forward. The rest of the team, already alarmed by the shot, followed her lead; before the startled highwayman could get out of the way they were upon him, in another instant he was under their heels, and the coach gave a sudden lurch as it passed over his body.
"Lie still, Rhoda, a little longer; it's all right, but the horses have run away," Tom exclaimed, as he scrambled forward, and caught hold of the reins, which the coachman had tied to the rail of the seat as he got down. "Catch hold of the reins, Peter, and help me pull."
Peter did so; but the united strength of the boys was wholly unequal to arresting the headlong flight of the horses.
Fortunately the highwaymen had chosen a low bottom between two hills, to arrest the coach, consequently the road was up a hill of moderate steepness. The boys hoped that the horses would stop when they got to the top; but they went on with redoubled speed.
"This is something like going it," Peter said.
"Isn't it, Peter? They know their way, and we ain't lively to meet anything in the road. They will stop at their stable. At any rate, it's no use trying to steer them. Here, Rhoda dear, get up; are you very much frightened?"
Rhoda still lay quite still, and Peter, holding on with difficulty, for the coach quite rocked with the speed at which they were going, climbed over to her, and stooped, down. "Shall I help you up, Rhoda?"
"No, please, I would rather stop here till it's all over."
Fortunately the hill, up to the Tillage where they made the change, was a steep one, and the horses broke into a trot before they reached the top, and, in another minute drew up at the door of the inn. The astonishment of the ostlers at seeing the horses covered with lather, and coachbox tenanted only by two boys, behind whom a little white face now peered out, was extreme, and they were unable to get beyond an ejaculation of hallo! expressive of a depth of incredulous astonishment impossible to be rendered by words.
"Look here," Tom said, with all the composure, and much of the impudence, which then, as now, characterized the young Etonian, "don't be staring like a pack of stuck pigs. You had better get the fresh horses in, and drive back to the bottom, about four miles from here. There has been regular row with some fellows, and I expect two or three are killed. Now, just put up the ladder; I want to get my sister down."
Almost mechanically the men put the ladder up to the coach, and the boys and Rhoda got down.
"Do you say the coach has been attacked by highwaymen in Burnet bottom?"
"I don't know anything about Burnet bottom," Tom said. "It was a bottom about four miles off. There were three of them. The guard shot one of them, and the others shot the guard. Then we were stopped by them, and every one had to get down. Then the horses ran away, and here we are."
"Then there are two of those highwayman chaps with the passengers," one of the men said.
"You need not be afraid of them," Tom said carelessly; "one got shot, and I don't know about the other, but the wheel of the coach went over him, so I do not suppose he will be much trouble. Now, if I were you, I should not stand staring any more, but should make haste and take the coach back."
"Hullo, look at this grey," one of the men exclaimed, as, at last understanding what had taken place, they began to bustle about to change horses. "He's got blood all over the side of his head. One of those scoundrels has shot him through the ear."
Tom burst out laughing. "I am the scoundrel!" he said. "Peter, that explains why we went off so suddenly. I missed the fellow, and hit the leader in the ear. However, it comes to the same thing. By the way, we may as well take the pistols."
So saying, he ran up the ladder and brought down the pistols. By this time the fresh horses were in.
"I can't make nought of it," one of the ostlers said, climbing up into the coachman's seat. "Jump up, Bill and Harry. It's the rummiest go I ever heard of in coaching."
"Landlady, can you get us some tea at once, please," Tom said, going up to the landlady, who was looking on from the door of the house with an astonishment equal to that of the men at the whole affair; "as quickly as you can, for my sister looks regularly done up with fatigue, and then, please let her lie down till the coach is ready to start again. It will be three quarters of an hour before it is back, and then, I daresay, there will be a lot of talking before they go on. I should think they will be wanting breakfast. At any rate, an hour's rest will do you good, Rhoda."
Rhoda was too worn out with the over-excitement even to answer. Fortunately there was hot water in order to make hot grog for the outriders of the coach, some tea was quickly made, and in ten minutes Rhoda was fast asleep on the landlady's bed.
Tom and Peter expressed their desire for something substantial in the way of eating, for the morning had now fairly broken. The landlady brought in some cold meat, upon which the boys made a vigorous attack, and then, taking possession of two benches, they dozed off until the coach arrived.
It had but three horses, for one had been sent off to carry Bill, the ostler, at full speed to the town at which they had last changed horses, to fetch a doctor and the constable. The other two men had remained with the guard, who was shot in the hip, and the highwayman, whose collar-bone was broken by Peter's shot. The fellow shot by the guard, and the other one, whom the coach wheels had passed over, were both dead.
"There's the coach, Tom."
"What a nuisance, Peter, they'll all be wanting to talk now, and I am just so comfortably off. Well, I suppose it's no use trying to get any more sleep."
So saying, they roused themselves, and went out to the door just as the coach drew up.
There was a general shout of greeting from the passengers, which was stopped, however, by a peremptory order from the coachman.
He was a large, stout man, with a face red from the effects of wind and exposure. "Jack," he said, to a man who was standing near, for the news of the attack upon the coach had quickly spread, and all the villagers were astir to see it come in. "Jack, hold the leader's head. Thomas, open the door, and let the insides out. Gents," he said solemnly, when this was done, "I'm going to do what isn't a usual thing by no means, in fact, I ain't no precedence for doing it; but then, I do not know any precedence for this here business altogether. I never did hear of a coachman standing up on his box to give a cheer, no, not to King George himself; but, then, King George never polished off two highwaymen all to himself, leastway, not as I've heard tell of. Now, these two young gents have done this. They have saved my coach and my passengers from getting robbed, and so I'm going to give 'em three cheers. I'll trouble you to help me up into the box seat, gentlemen."
Assisted by the other passengers, the driver now gravely climbed up into the box seat, steadied himself there by placing one hand upon the shoulder of the passenger next him, took off his low-crowned hat, and said. "Follow me, gents, with three cheers for those young gents standing there; better plucked ones I never came across, and I've traveled a good many miles in my day."
So saying, he gave three stentorian cheers, which were echoed by all the passengers and villagers.
Then there was a momentary silence, and Tom, who, with his brother, had been feeling very uncomfortable, although rather inclined to laugh, seeing that he was expected to say something, said, "Thank you all very much; but we'd much rather you hadn't done it."
Then there was a general laugh and movement, and a general pressing forward of the passengers to shake the boys by the hand. The driver was assisted down from his elevated position, and got off the coach and came up to them. "That's the first speech I ever made, young gentlemen, and, if I know myself, it will be the last; but, you see, I was druv to it. You're a good sort, that's certain. What will you drink?"
The boys declared for beer, and drank solemnly with the driver, imitating him in finishing their mugs at a draught, and turning them topsy-turvy. There was now a great deal of talking, and many questions were asked. Tom and Peter modestly said that there was really nothing to tell. They saw that the gentleman next to them intended to use his pistols; but, not seeing a good opportunity, put them down behind the tarpaulin, and the thought occurred to them that, by slipping behind it, they would get a good chance of a certain shot. Accordingly, they had fired, and then the horse had run away; and there was an end of it. There was nothing extraordinary in the whole matter.
"At any rate, my boys, you have saved me from a loss of a couple of hundred pounds which I had got hid in my boots, but which those fellows would have been sure to have have discovered," one of the passengers said.
There was a general chorus of satisfaction at many watches and trinkets saved, and then the first passenger went on,—
"I propose, gentlemen and ladies, that when we get to the end of our journey we make a subscription, according to the amount we have saved, and that we get each of these young gentlemen a brace of the very best pistols that can be bought. If they go on as they have begun, they will find them useful."
There was a general exclamation of approval, and one of the ladies, who had been an inside passenger, said, "And I think we ought to give a handsome ring to their sister as a memorial through life. Of course, she had not so much to do as her brothers, but she had the courage to keep still, and she had to run the risk, both of being shot, and of being upset by the coach just as they did."
This also was unanimously approved, and, after doing full justice to the breakfast set before them, the party again took their places. Rhoda being carried down asleep, by the landlady, and placed in the coach, one of the inside passengers getting out to make room for her, and she was laid, curled up, on the seat, with her head in a lady's lap, and slept quietly, until, to her astonishment, she was woke up, and told that she was in Marlborough.
TWO YOUNG PICKLES.
An old-fashioned open carriage, drawn by a stiff, old-fashioned horse, and driven by a stiff, old-fashioned man, was in waiting at the inn at which the coach drew up at Marlborough. Into this the young Scudamores were soon transferred, and, after a hearty good-bye from their fellow-passengers, and an impressive one from the coachman, they started upon the concluding part of their journey.
"How far is it to aunt's?" Tom asked.
"About six miles, young sir," the driver said gravely.
The young Scudamores had great difficulty to restrain their laughter at Tom's new title; in fact, Peter nearly choked himself in his desperate efforts to do so, and no further questions were asked for some time.
The ride was a pleasant one, and Rhoda, who had never been out of Lincolnshire before, was delighted with the beautiful country through which they were passing. The journey, long as it was—for the road was a very bad one, and the horse had no idea of going beyond a slow trot—passed quickly to them all; but they were glad when the driver pointed to a quaint old-fashioned house standing back from the road, and said that they were home.
"There are the pigeons, Rhoda, and there is Minnie asleep on that open window-sill."
Very many times had the young Scudamores talked about their aunt, and had pictured to themselves what she would be like; and their ideas of her so nearly approached the truth, that she almost seemed to be an old acquaintance as she came to the door as the carriage stopped. She was a tall, upright, elderly lady, with a kind, but very decided face, and a certain prim look about her manner and dress.
"Well, niece Rhoda and nephews, I am glad to see that you have arrived safely," she said in a clear, distinct voice. "Welcome to the Yews. I hope that we shall get on very well together. Joseph, I hope that you have not driven Daisy too fast, and that you did not allow my nephews to use the whip. You know I gave you very distinct instructions not to let them do so."
"No, my lady, they never so much as asked."
"That is right," Miss Scudamore said, turning round and shaking hands with the boys, who had now got out of the carriage and had helped Rhoda down. "I am glad to hear what Joseph tells me, for I know that boys are generally fond of furious driving and like lashing horses until they put them into a gallop. And now, how are you, niece Rhoda! Give me a kiss. That is right. You look pale and tired, child; you must have something to eat, and then go to bed. Girls can't stand racketing about as boys can. You look quiet and nice, child, and I have no doubt we shall suit very well. It is very creditable to you that you have not been spoilt by your brothers. Boys generally make their sisters almost as noisy and rude as they are themselves."
"I don't think we are noisy and rude, aunt," Tom said, with a smile.
"Oh, you don't, nephew?" Miss Scudamore said, looking at him sharply, and then shaking her head decidedly two or three times. "If your looks do not belie you both sadly, you are about as hair-brained a couple of lads as my worst enemies could wish to see sent to plague me; but," she added to herself, as she turned to lead the way indoors, "I must do my duty, and must make allowances; boys will be boys, boys will be boys, so they say at least, though why they should be is more than I can make out. Now, Rhoda, I will take you up with me. Your bedroom leads out of mine, dear. Hester," she said to a prim-looking servant who had come out after her to the door; "will you show my nephews to their room? Dinner will be ready at two; it is just a quarter to the hour now. I see that you have got watches, so that you will be able to be punctual; and I must request you, when you have done washing, not to throw the water out of the window, because my flower-beds are underneath."
Tom had great difficulty in keeping his countenance, while he assured his aunt that his brother and himself never did empty their basins out of the window.
"That is right," Miss Scudamore said doubtfully; "but I have heard that boys do such things."
Once fairly in their room and the door shut, the boys had a great laugh over their aunt's ideas as to boys.
"There is one comfort," Tom said at last; "whatever we do we shall never surprise her."
"I think we shall get on very well with her," Peter said. "She means to be kind, I am sure. This is a jolly room, Tom."
It was a low wainscoted room, with a very wide window divided into three by mullions, and fitted with latticed panes. They were open, and a delicious scent of flowers came in from the garden. The furniture was all new and very strong, of dark stained wood, which harmonized well with the paneling. There were no window curtains, but a valance of white dimity hung above the window. There was a piece of carpet between the beds; the rest of the floor was bare, but the boards were of old oak, and looked as well without it. Several rows of pegs had been put upon the walls, and there was a small chest of drawers by each bed.
"This is very jolly, Peter; but it is a pity that there are bars to the window."
When they came down to dinner they found that Rhoda, quite done up with her journey, had gone to bed.
"You like your room, I hope, nephews," Miss Scudamore said, after they had taken their seats.
"Yes, aunt, very much. There is only one drawback to it."
"What is that, Thomas?"
"Oh, please, aunt, don't call me Thomas; it is a dreadful name; it is almost as bad as Tommy. Please call me Tom. I am always called Tom by every one."
"I am not fond of these nicknames," Miss Scudamore said. "There is a flippancy about them of which I do not approve."
"Yes, aunt, in nicknames; but Tom is not a nickname; it is only a short way of speaking. We never hear of a man being called Thomas, unless he is a footman or an archbishop, or something of that sort."
"What do you mean by archbishop?" Miss Scudamore asked severely.
"Well, aunt, I was going to say footman, and then I thought of Thomas a Becket; and there was Thomas the Rhymer. I have heard of him, but I never read any of his rhymes. I wonder why they did not call them poems. But I expect even Thomas a Becket was called Tom in his own family."
Miss Scudamore looked sharply at Tom, but he had a perfect command of his face, and could talk the greatest nonsense with the most serious face. He went on unmoved with her scrutiny.
"I have often wondered why I was not christened Tom, It would have been much more sensible. For instance, Rhoda is christened Rhoda and not Rhododendron."
"Rhododendron?" Miss Scudamore said, mystified.
"Yes, aunt, it is an American plant, I believe. We had one in the green-house at home; it was sent poor papa by some friend who went out there, I don't see anything else Rhoda could come from."
"You are speaking very ignorantly, nephew," Miss Scudamore said severely. "I don't know anything about the plant you speak of, but the name of Rhoda existed before America was ever heard of. It is a very old name."
"I expect," Peter said, "it must have meant originally a woman of Rhodes. You see Crusaders and Templars were always having to do with Rhodes, and they no doubt brought the name home, and so it got settled here."
"The name is mentioned in Scripture," Miss Scudamore said severely.
"Yes, aunt, and that makes it still more likely that it meant a woman of Rhodes; you see Rhodes was a great place then."
Miss Scudamore was silent for some time. Then she went back to the subject with which the conversation had commenced. "What is the objection you spoke of to the room?"
"Oh! it is the bars to the window, aunt."
"I have just had them put up," Miss Scudamore said calmly.
"Just put up, aunt!" Tom repeated in surprise, "what for?"
"To prevent you getting out at night."
The boys could not help laughing this time, and then Peter said, "But why should we want to get out at night, aunt?"
"Why should boys always want to do the things they ought not?" Miss Scudamore said. "I've heard of boys being let down by ropes to go and buy things. I dare say you have both done it yourselves."
"Well, aunt," Tom said, "perhaps we have; but then, you see, that was at school."
"I do not see any difference, nephew. If you will get out at one window, you will get out at another. There is mischief to be done in the country as well as in towns; and so long as there is mischief to do, so long will boys go out of their way to do it. And now I will tell you the rules of this house, to which you will be expected to adhere. It is well to understand things at once, as it prevents mistakes. We breakfast at eight, dine at two, have tea at half-past six, and you will go to bed at half-past eight. These hours will be strictly observed. I shall expect your hands and faces to be washed, and your hairs brushed previous to each meal. When you come indoors you will always take off your boots and put on your shoes in the little room behind this. And now, if you have done dinner I think that you had better go and lie down on your bed, and get two or three hours' sleep. Take your boots off before you get into the bed."
"She means well, Peter," the elder brother said, as they went upstairs, "but I am afraid she will fidget our lives out."
For two or three days the boys wandered about enjoying the beautiful walks, and surprising and pleasing their aunt by the punctuality with which they were in to their meals. Then she told them that she had arranged for them to go to a tutor, who lived at Warley, a large village a mile distant, and who had some eight or ten pupils. The very first day's experience at the school disgusted them. The boys were of an entirely different class to those with whom they had hitherto associated, and the master was violent and passionate.
"How do you like Mr. Jones, nephews?" Miss Scudamore asked upon their return after their first day at school.
"We do not like him at all, aunt. In the first place, he is a good deal too handy with that cane of his."
"'He who spares the rod—'"
"Yes, we know that, aunt, 'spoils the child,'" broke in Tom, "but we would not mind so much if the fellow were a gentleman."
"I don't know what you may call a gentleman," Miss Scudamore said severely. "He stands very high here a schoolmaster, while he visits the vicar, and is well looked up to everywhere."
"He's not a gentleman for all that," Tom muttered; "he wouldn't be if he visited the Queen. One does not mind being trashed by a gentleman; one is used to that at Eton; but to be knocked about by a fellow like that! Well, we shall see."
For a week the boys put up with the cruelty of their tutor, who at once took an immense dislike to them on finding that they did not, like the other boys, cringe before him, and that no trashing could extract a cry from them.
It must not be supposed that they did not meditate vengeance, but they could hit upon no plan which could be carried out without causing suspicion that it was the act of one of the boys; and in that case they knew that he would question them all round, and they would not tell a lie to screen themselves.
Twice they appealed to their aunt, but she would not listen to them, saying that the other boys did not complain, and that if their master was more severe with them than with others, it could only be because they behaved worse. It was too evident that they were boys of very violent dispositions, and although she was sorry that their master found it necessary to punish them, it was clearly her duty not to interfere.
The remark about violence arose from Miss Scudamore having read in the little paper which was published once a week at Marlborough an account of the incident of the stopping of the coach, about which the boys had agreed to say nothing to her. The paper had described the conduct of her nephews in the highest terms, but Miss Scudamore was terribly shocked. "The idea", she said, "that she should have to associate with boys who had take a fellow-creature's life was terrible to her, and their conduct in resisting, when grown-up men had given up the idea as hopeless, showed a violent spirit, which, in boys so young, was shocking."
A few days after this, as the boys were coming from school, they passed the carrier's cart, coming in from Marlborough.
"Be you the young gentlemen at Miss Scudamore's?" the man asked. "Because, if you be, I have got a parcel for you."
Tom answered him that they were, and he then handed them over a heavy square parcel. Opening it after the cart had gone on, the boys, to their great delight, found that it consisted of two cases, each containing a brace of very handsome pistols.
"This is luck, Peter," Tom said. "If the parcel had been sent to the house, aunt would never have let us have them; now we can take them in quietly, get some powder and balls, and practice shooting every day in some quiet place. That will be capital. Do you know I have thought of a plan which will enrage old Jones horribly, and he will never suspect us?"
"No; have you, Tom? What is that?"
"Look here, Peter. I can carry you easily standing on my shoulders. If you get a very long cloak, so as to fall well down on me, no one would suspect in the dark that there were two of us; we should look like one tremendously tall man. Well, you know, he goes every evening to Dunstable's to sing with Miss Dunstable. They say he's making love to her. We can waylay him in the narrow lane, and make him give up that new watch he has just bought, that he's so proud of. I heard him say he had given thirty guineas for it. Of course, we don't want to keep it, but we would smash it up between a couple of big stones, and send him all the pieces."
"Capital, Tom; but where should we get the cloak?"
"There is that long wadded silk cloak of aunt's that she uses when she goes out driving. It always hangs up in the closet in the hall."
"But how are we to get in again, Tom? I expect that he does not come back till half-past nine or ten. We can slip out easily enough after we are supposed to have gone to bed; but how are we to get back?"
"The only plan, Peter, is to get in through Rhoda's window. She is very angry at that brute Jones treating us so badly, and if I take her into the secret I feel sure she will agree."
Rhoda was appealed to, and although at first she said it was quite, quite impossible, she finally agreed, although with much fear and trembling, to assist them. First, the boys were to buy some rope and make a rope ladder, which Rhoda was to take up to her room; she was to open the window wide when she went to bed, but to pull the blind down as usual, so that if her aunt came in she would not notice it. Then, when she heard her aunt come tip to bed at half-past nine, she was to get up very quietly, drop the rope ladder out, fastening it as they instructed her, and then get into bed again, and go to sleep if she could, as the boys would not try to come in until after Miss Scudamore was asleep.
Two nights after this the schoolmaster was returning from his usual visit to Mr. Dunstable, when, to his horror, he saw a gigantic figure advance from under a tree which overshadowed the lawn, and heard a deep voice say, "Your money or your life!"
Like all bullies, the schoolmaster was a coward, and no sooner did he see this terrible figure, and his ears caught the ominous click of a pistol which accompanied the words, than his teeth chattered, his whole figure trembled with fear, and he fell on his knees, crying, "Spare my life!—take all that I have, but spare my life!"
"You miserable coward!" the giant said, "I do not want to take your wretched life. What money have you?"
"I have only two shillings," he exclaimed; "I swear to you that I have only two shillings."
"What is the use of two shillings to me?—give them to the first beggar you see."
"Yes, sir," the schoolmaster said; "I swear to you that I will."
"Give me your watch."
The schoolmaster took out his watch, and, getting upon his feet, handed it to the giant.
"There now, you can go; but see," he added, as the schoolmaster turned with great alacrity to leave—"look here."
"Look here, and mark my words well. Don't you go to that house where you have been to-night, or it will be the worse for you. You are a wretch, and I won't see that poor little girl marry you and be made miserable. Swear to me you will give her up."
The schoolmaster hesitated, but there was again the ominous click of the pistol.
"Yes, yes, I swear it," he said hastily. "I will give her up altogether."
"You had better keep your oath," the giant said, "for if you break it, if I hear you go there any more—I shall be sure to hear of it—I will put an ounce of lead in you, if I have to do it in the middle of your school. Do you hear me? Now you may go."
Only too glad to escape, the schoolmaster walked quickly off, and in a moment his steps could be heard as he ran at the top of his speed down the lane.
In a moment the giant appeared to break in two, and two small figures stood where the large one had been.
"Capital, Peter. Now, I'll take the cloak, and you keep the pistol, and now for a run home—not that I'm afraid of that coward getting up a pursuit. He'll be only too glad to get his head under the bedclothes."
Rhoda had carried out her brother's instructions with great exactness, and was in a great fright when her aunt came in to see her in bed, lest she should notice that the window was open. However, the night was a quiet one, and the curtains fell partly across the blind, so that Miss Scudamore suspected nothing, but Rhoda felt great relief when she said good-night, took the candle, and left the room. She had had hard work to keep herself awake until she heard her aunt come up to bed; and then, finding that she did not again come into the room, she got up, fastened one end of the rope ladder to a thick stick long enough to cross two of the mullions, let the other end down very quietly, and then slipped into bed again. She did not awake until Hester knocked at her door and told her it was time to get up. She awoke with a great start, and in a, fright at once ran to the window. Everything looked as usual. The rope ladder was gone, the window was closed, and Rhoda knew that her brothers must have come in safely.
Great was the excitement in Warley next day, when it became known that the schoolmaster had been robbed of his watch by a giant fully eight feet high. This height of the robber was, indeed, received with much doubt, as people thought that he might have been a tall man, but that the eight feet must have been exaggerated by the fear of the schoolmaster.
Two or three days afterwards the surprise rose even higher, when a party of friends who had assembled at Mr. Jones' to condole with him upon his misfortune, were startled by the smashing of one of the windows by a small packet, which fell upon the floor in their midst.
There was a rush to the door, but the night was a dark one, and no one was to be seen; then they returned to the sitting-room, and the little packet was opened, and found to contain some watchworks bent and broken, some pulverized glass, and a battered piece of metal, which, after some trouble, the schoolmaster recognized as the case of his watch. The head-constable was sent for, and after examining the relics of the case, he came to the same conclusion at which the rest had already arrived, namely, that the watch could not have been stolen by an ordinary footpad, but by some personal enemy of the schoolmaster's, whose object was not plunder, but annoyance and injury.
To the population of Warley this solution was a very agreeable one. The fact of a gigantic footpad being in the neighborhood was alarming for all, and nervous people were already having great bolts and bars placed upon their shutters and doors. The discovery, therefore, that the object of this giant was not plunder, but only to gratify a spite against the master, was a relief to the whole place. Every one was, of course, anxious to know who this secret foe could be, and what crime Mr. Jones could have committed to bring such a tremendous enemy upon him. The boys at the school assumed a fresh importance in the eyes of the whole place, and being encouraged now to tell all they knew of him, they gave such a picture of the life that they had led at school, that a general feeling of disgust was aroused against him.
The parents of one or two of the boys gave notice to take their sons away, but the rest of the boys were boarders, and were no better off than before.
Miss Scudamore was unshaken in her faith in Mr. Jones and considered the rumor current about him to be due simply to the vindictive nature of boys.
"Well, aunt," Tom said one day, after a lecture of this sort from her, "I know you mean to be kind to us, but Peter and I have stood it on that account, but we can't stand it much longer, and we shall run away before long."
"And where would you run to, nephew?" Miss Scudamore said calmly.
"That is our affair," Tom said quite as coolly, "only I don't like to do it without giving you warning. You mean kindly, I know, aunt, but the way you are always going on at us from morning to night whenever we are at home, and the way in which you allow us to be treated by that tyrannical brute, is too much altogether."
Miss Scudamore looked steadily at them.
"I am doing, nephew, what I consider to be for your good. You are willful, and violent, and headstrong. It is my duty to cure you, and although it is all very painful to me, at my time of life, to have such a charge thrust upon me, still, whatever it costs, it must be done."
For the next month Mr. Jones' life was rendered a burden to him. The chimney-pots were shut up with sods placed on them, and the fireplaces poured volumes of smoke into the rooms and nearly choked him. Night after night the windows of his bedroom were smashed; cats were let down the chimney; his water-butts were found filled with mud, and the cord of the bucket of his well was cut time after time; the flowers in his garden were dug up and put in topsy-turvy. He himself could not stir out after dark without being tripped up by strings fastened a few inches above the path; and once, coming out of his door, a string fastened from scraper to scraper brought him down the steps with such violence that the bridge of his nose, which came on the edge of a step, was broken, and he was confined to his bed for three or four days. In vain he tried every means to discover and punish the authors of these provocations. A savage dog, the terror of the neighborhood, was borrowed and chained up in the garden, but was found poisoned next morning.
Watchmen were hired, but refused to stay for more than one night, for they were so harassed and wearied out that they came to the conclusion that they were haunted. If they were on one side of the house a voice would be heard on the other. After the first few attempts, they no longer dared venture to run, for between each round strings were tied in every direction, and they had several heavy falls, while as they were carefully picking their way with their lanterns, stones struck them from all quarters. If one ventured for a moment from the other's side his lantern was knocked out, and his feet were struck from under him with a sharp and unexpected blow from a heavy cudgel; and they were once appalled by seeing a gigantic figure stalk across the grass, and vanish in a little bush.
At the commencement of these trials the schoolmaster had questioned the boys, one by one, if they had any hand in the proceeding.
All denied it. When it came to Tom Scudamore's turn, he said. "You never do believe me, Mr. Jones, so it is of no use my saying that I didn't do it; but if you ask Miss Scudamore, she will bear witness that we were in bed hours before, and that there are bars on our windows through which a cat could hardly get."
The boys had never used Rhoda's room after the first night's expedition, making their escape now by waiting until the house was quiet, and then slipping along the passage to the spare room, and thence by the window, returning in the same way.
Under this continued worry, annoyance, and alarm, the schoolmaster grew thin and worn, his school fell off more and more; for many of the boys, whose rest was disturbed by all this racket, encouraged by the example of the boys of the place who had already been taken away, wrote privately to their friends.
The result was that the parents of two or three more wrote to say that their boys would not return after the holidays, and no one was surprised when it became known that Mr. Jones was about to close his school and leave the neighborhood.
The excitement of the pranks that they had been playing had enabled the boys to support the almost perpetual scoldings and complaints of their aunt; but school once over, and their enemy driven from the place, they made up their minds that they could no longer stand it.
One day, therefore, when Rhoda had, as an extraordinary concession, been allowed to go for a walk with them, they told her that they intended to run away.
Poor Rhoda was greatly distressed.
"You see, Rhoda dear," Tom said, "although we don't like leaving you, you will really be happier when we are gone. It is a perpetual worry to you to hear aunt going on, on, on—nagging, nagging, nagging for ever and ever at us. She is fond of you and kind to you, and you would get on quietly enough without us, while now she is in a fidget whenever you are with us, and is constantly at you not to learn mischief and bad ways from us. Besides you are always in a fright now, lest we should get into some awful scrape, as I expect we should if we stopped here. If it weren't for you, we should not let her off as easily as we do. No, no, Rhoda, it is better for us all that we should go."
Poor Rhoda, though she cried bitterly at the thought of losing her brothers, yet could not but allow to herself that in many respects she should be more happy when she was freed from anxiety, lest they should get into some scrape, and when her aunt would not be kept in a state of continued irritation and scolding. She felt too that, although she herself could get on well enough in her changed life, that it was very hard indeed for the boys, accustomed as they had been to the jolly and independent life of a public school, and to be their own master during the holidays, with their ponies, amusements, and their freedom to come and go when they chose. Rhoda was a thoughtful child, and felt that nothing that they could go through could do them more harm or make them more unhappy than they now were. She had thought it all over day after day, for she was sure that the boys would, sooner or later come to it, and she had convinced herself that it was better for them. Still it was with a very sad heart that she found that the time had come.
For some time she cried in silence, and then, drying her eyes, she said, trying to speak bravely, though her lips quivered.
"I shall miss you dreadfully, boys; but I will not say a word to keep you here, for I am sure it is very, very bad for you. What do you mean to do? Do you mean to go to sea?"
"No, Rhoda; you see uncle was in the army, and used to talk to us about that; and, as we have never seen the sea, we don't care for it as some boys do. No, we shall try and go as soldiers."
"But my dear Tom, they will never take you as soldiers; you are too little."
"Yes, we are not old enough to enlist at present," Tom said; "but we might go in as buglers. We have thought it all over, and have been paying old Wetherley, who was once in the band of a regiment, to teach us the bugle, and he says we can sound all the calls now as well as any bugler going. We did not like to tell you till we had made up our minds to go; but we have gone regularly to him every day since the first week we came here."
"Then you won't have to fight, Tom," Rhoda said joyfully.
"No," Tom said, in a rather dejected tone; "I am afraid they won't let us fight; still we shall see fighting, which is the next best thing."
"I heard in Warley yesterday that there will be a movement of the army in Spain soon, and that some more troops will be sent out, and we shall try and get into a regiment that is going."
They talked very long and earnestly on their plans, and were so engrossed that they quite forgot how time went, and got in late for tea, and were terribly scolded in consequence. For once none of them cared for the storm; the boys exulted over the thought that it would be the last scolding they would have to suffer; and Rhoda had difficulty in gasping down her tears at the thought that it was the last meal that she would take with them, for they had settled that they would start that very night.
It was a bright moonlight night when the boys, after a sad farewell from Rhoda, let themselves down from the window, and started upon their journey. Each carried a bundle on a stick; each bundle contained a suit of clothes, a few shirts and stockings, a pair of shoes, and a pistol. The other pistols were carried loaded inside their jackets, for there was no saying whom they might meet upon the road. They had put on the oldest suit of clothes they possessed, so as to attract as little attention as possible by the way. After they had once recovered from their parting with Rhoda their spirits rose, and they tramped along lightly and cheerfully. It was eleven o'clock when they started, and through the night they did not meet a single person. Towards morning they got under a haystack near the road, and slept for some hours; then they walked steadily on until they had done twenty miles since their start. They went into a small inn, and had some breakfast, and then purchasing some bread and cold ham, went on through the town, and leaving the London road, followed that leading to Portsmouth, and after a mile or two again took up their quarters until evening, in a haystack.
It is not necessary to give the details of the journey to Portsmouth. After the first two days' tramp, having no longer any fear of the pursuit, which, no doubt, had been made for them when first missed, they walked by day, and slept at night in sheds, or under haystacks, as they were afraid of being questioned and perhaps stopped at inns. They walked only short distances now, for the first night's long journey had galled their feet, and, as Tom said, they were not pressed for time, and did not want to arrive at Portsmouth like two limping tramps. Walking, therefore, only twelve miles a day after the first two days, they arrived at Portsmouth fresh and in high spirits. They had met with no adventures upon the road, except that upon one occasion two tramps had attempted to seize their bundles, but the production of the pistols, and the evident determination of the boys to use them if necessary, made the men abandon their intention and make off, with much bad language and many threats, at which the boys laughed disdainfully.
Arrived at Portsmouth, their first care was to find a quiet little inn, where they could put up. This they had little difficulty in doing, for Portsmouth abounded with public-houses, and people were so much accustomed to young fellows tramping in with their bundles, to join their ships, that their appearance excited no curiosity whatever. Tom looked older than he really was, although not tall for his age, while Peter, if anything, overtopped his brother, but was slighter, and looked fully two years younger. Refreshed by a long night's sleep between sheets, they started out after breakfast to see the town, and were greatly impressed and delighted by the bustle of the streets, full of soldiers and sailors, and still more by the fortifications and the numerous ships of war lying in the harbor, or out at Spithead. A large fleet of merchantmen was lying off at anchor, waiting for a convoy, and a perfect fleet of little wherries was plying backwards and forwards between the vessels and the shore.
"It makes one almost wish to be a sailor," Peter said, as they sat upon the Southsea beach, and looked out at the animated ocean.
"It does, Peter; and if it had been ten years back, instead of at present, I should have been ready enough to change our plans. But what is the use of going to sea now? The French and Spanish navies skulk in harbor, and the first time our fellows get them out they will he sure to smash them altogether, and then there is an end to all fighting. No, Peter, it looks tempting, I grant, but we shall see ten times as much with the army. We must go and settle the thing to-morrow. There is no time to be lost if the expedition starts in a fortnight or three weeks."
Returning into the town, the boys were greatly amused at seeing a sailor's wedding. Four carriages and pair drove along; inside were women, while four sailors sat on each roof, waving their hats to the passers-by, and refreshing themselves by repeated pulls at some black bottles, with which they were well supplied. Making inquiries, the boys found that the men belonged to a fine frigate which had come in a day or two before, with several prizes.
The next morning they went down to the barracks. Several non-commissioned officers, with bunches of gay ribbons in their caps, were standing about. Outside the gates were some boards, with notices, "Active young fellows required. Good pay, plenty of prize-money, and chances, of promotion!"
The boys read several of these notices, which differed only from each other in the name of the regiment; and then Tom gave an exclamation of satisfaction as he glanced at a note at the foot of one of them, "Two or three active lads wanted as buglers."
"There we are, Peter; and, oh, what luck! it is Uncle Peter's regiment! Look here, Peter," he said, after a pause, "we won't say anything about being his nephews, unless there is no other way of getting taken; for if we do it won't be nice. We shall be taken notice of, and not treated like other fellows, and that will cause all sorts of ill-feeling and jealousy, and rows. It will be quite time to say who we are when we have done something to show that we shan't do discredit to him. You see it isn't much in our favor that we are here as two runaway boys. If we were older we could go as volunteers, but of course we are too young for that."
It should be mentioned that in those days it was by no means unusual for young men who had not sufficient interest to get commissions to obtain permission to accompany a regiment as volunteers. They paid their own expenses, and lived with the officers, but did duty as private soldiers. If they distinguished themselves, they obtained commissions to fill up vacancies caused in action.
"There is our sergeant, Tom; let's get it over at once."
"If you please," Tom said, as they went up to the sergeant, "are you the recruiting sergeant of the Norfolk Rangers?"
"By Jove, Summers, you are in luck to-day," laughed one of the other sergeants; "here are two valuable recruits for the Rangers. The Mounseers will have no chance with the regiment with such giants as those in it. Come, my fine fellows, let me persuade you to join the 15th. Such little bantams as you are would be thrown away upon the Rangers."
There was a shout of laughter from the other non-commissioned officers.
Tom was too much accustomed to chaffing bargees at Eton to be put out of countenance.
"We may be bantams," he said, "but I have seen a bantam lick a big dunghill cock many a time. Fine feathers don't always make fine birds, my man."
"Well answered, young one," the sergeant of the Rangers said, while there was a general laugh among the others, for the sergeant of the 15th was not a favorite.
"You think yourself sharp, youngster," he said angrily. "You want a licking, you do; and if you were in the 15th, you'd get it pretty quickly."
"Oh! I beg your pardon," Tom said gravely; "I did not know that the 15th were famous for thrashing boys. Thank you; when I enlist it shall be in a regiment where men hit fellows their own size."
There was a shout of laughter, and the sergeant, enraged, stepped forward, and gave Tom a swinging box on the ear.
There was a cry of "shame" from the others; but before any of them could interfere, Tom suddenly stooped, caught the sergeant by the bottom of the trousers, and in an instant he fell on his back with a crash.
For a moment he was slightly stunned, and then, regaining his feet, he was about to rush at Tom, when the others threw themselves in between them, and said he should not touch the boy. He struck him first, and the boy had only given him what served him right.
The sergeant was furious, and an angry quarrel was going on, when an officer of the Rangers came suddenly out of barrack.
"Hullo, Summers, what is all this about? I am surprised at you. A lot of non-commissioned officers, just in front of the barrack gates, quarreling like drunken sailors in a pothouse. What does it all mean?"
"The fact is this, Captain Manley," the sergeant said, saluting, "these two lads came up to speak to me, when Sergeant Billow chaffed them. The lad gave the sergeant as good as he got, and the sergeant lost his temper, and hit him a box on the ear, and in a moment the young one tripped him up, and pretty nigh stunned him; when he got up he was going at the boy, and, of course, we wouldn't have it."
"Quite right," Captain Manley said. "Sergeant Billow, I shall forward a report to your regiment. Chaffing people in the street, and then losing your temper, striking a boy, and causing a disturbance. Now, sergeant," he went on, as the others moved away, "do you know those boys?"
"No, sir; they are strangers to me."
"Do you want to see the sergeant privately, lads, or on something connected with the regiment?"
"I see that you have vacancies for buglers, sir," Tom said, "and my brother and myself want to enlist if you will take us."
Captain Manley smiled. "You young scamps, you have got 'runaway from home' as plainly on your faces as if it was printed there. If we were to enlist you, we should be having your friends here after you to-morrow, and get into a scrape for taking you."
"We have no friends who will interfere with us, sir, I can give you my word of honor as a gentleman." Captain Manley laughed. "I mean," Tom said confused, "my word of honor, as—as an intending bugler."
"Indeed we have no one to interfere with us in any way, sir," Peter put in earnestly. "We wouldn't tell a lie even to enlist in the Rangers."
Captain Manley was struck by the earnestness of the boys' faces, and after a pause he said to the sergeant,—
"That will do, Summers; I will take these lads up to my quarters and speak to them."
Then, motioning to the boys to follow him, he re-entered the barracks, and led the way up to his quarters.
"Sit down," he said, when they had entered his room. "Now, boys, this is a foolish freak upon your part, which you will regret some day. Of course you have run away from school."
"No, sir, we have run away from home," Tom said.
"So much the worse," Captain Manley said gravely. "Tell me frankly, why did you do so? No unkindness at home can excuse boys from running away from their parents."
"We have none, sir," Tom said. "We have lost them both—our mother many years ago, our father six months. Our only living relation, except a younger sister, is an aunt, who considers us as nuisances, and who, although meaning to do her duty, simply drives us out of our minds."
Captain Manley could not resist a smile. "Do you not go to school?"
"We did go to a school near, but unfortunately it is broken up."
Captain Manley caught a little look of amusement between the boys. "I should not be surprised if you had something to do with its breaking up," he said with a laugh. "But to return to your coming here. There is certainly less reason against your joining than I thought at first, but you are too young."
"We are both strong, and are good walkers," Tom said.
"But you cannot be much over fifteen," Captain Manley said, "and your brother is younger."
"We are accustomed to strong exercise, sir, and can thrash most fellows of our own size."
"Very likely," Captain Manley said, "but we can't take that into consideration. You are certainly young for buglers for service work; however, I will go across with you to the orderly-room, and hear what the colonel says."
Crossing the barrack-yard, they found the colonel was in and disengaged.
"Colonel Tritton," Captain Manley said, "these lads want to enlist as buglers."
The colonel looked up and smiled. "They look regular young pickles," he said. "I suppose they have run away from school."
"Not from school, colonel. They have lost both parents, and live with an aunt, with whom they don't get on well. There does not seem to be much chance of their being claimed."
"You are full young," the colonel said, "and I think you will be sorry, boys, for the step you want to take."
"I don't think so, sir," Tom said.
"Of course, you don't at present," the colonel said. "However, that is your business. Mind, you will have a rough time of it; you will have to fight your way, you know."
"I'll back them to hold their own," Captain Manley said, laughing. "When I went out at the barrack-gate just now there was a row among a lot of recruiting sergeants, and when I went up to put a stop to it, I found that a fellow of the 15th had chaffed these boys when they went up to speak to Summers, and that they had got the best of it in that line; and the fellow having lost his temper and struck one of them, he found himself on his back on the pavement. The boy had tripped him up in an instant."
The colonel laughed, and then said suddenly and sharply to Peter, "Where did you learn that trick, youngster?"
"At Eton," Peter answered promptly, and then colored up hotly at his brother's reproachful glance.
"Oh, ho! At Eton, young gentlemen, eh!" the colonel said. "That alters the matter. If you were at Eton your family must be people of property, and I can't let you do such a foolish thing as enlist as buglers."
"Our father lost all his money suddenly, owing to a blackguard he trusted cheating him. He found it out, and it killed him," Tom said quietly.
The colonel saw he was speaking the truth. "Well, well," he said kindly, "we must see what we can do for you, boys. They are young, Manley, but that will improve, and by the time that they have been a year at the depot—"
"Oh, if you please, colonel," Tom said, "we want to go on foreign service, and it's knowing that your regiment was under orders for foreign service we came to it."
"Impossible!" the colonel said shortly.
"I am very sorry for that, sir," Tom said respectfully, "for we would rather belong to this regiment than any in the service; but if you will not let us go with it we must try another."
"Why would you rather belong to us than to any other?" the colonel asked, as the boys turned to leave the room.
"I had rather not say, sir," Tom said. "We have a reason, and a very good one, but it is not one we should like to tell."
The colonel was silent for a minute. He was struck with the boys' appearance and manner, and was sorry at the thought of losing them, partly from interest in themselves, partly because the sea service was generally so much more attractive to boys, that it was not easy to get them to enlist as buglers and drummers.
"You see, lads, I should really like to take you, but we shall be starting in a fortnight, and it would be altogether impossible for you to learn to sound the bugle, to say nothing of learning the calls, by that time."
"We can't play well, sir," Tom answered, his spirits rising again, "but we have practiced for some time, and know a good many of the calls."
"Oh, indeed!" the colonel said, pleased; "that alters the case. Well, lads, I should like to take you with the regiment, for you look straightforward, sharp young fellows. So I will enlist you. Work hard for the next fortnight, and if I hear a favorable report of you by that time, you shall go."
"Thank you very much," the boys said warmly, delighted to find their hopes realized.
"What are your names?" the colonel asked.
"Tom and Peter," Tom answered.
"Tom and Peter what?" the colonel said.
The boys looked at each other. The fact that they would of course be asked their names had never occurred to them, and they not had therefore consulted whether to give their own or another name.
"Come, boys," Colonel Tritton said good-temperedly, "never be ashamed of your names; don't sail under false colors, lads. I am sure you will do nothing to disgrace your names."
Tom looked at Peter, and saw that he agreed to give their real names, so he said, "Tom and Peter Scudamore."
"Peter Scudamore! Why, Manley, these boys must be relations of the dear old colonel. That explains why they chose the regiment. Now, boys, what relation was he of yours?"
"I do not admit that he was a relation at all, colonel," Tom said gravely, "and I hope that you will not ask the question. Supposing that he had been a relation of ours, we should not wish it to be known. In the first place, it would not be altogether creditable to his memory that relations of his should be serving as buglers in his old regiment; and in the second place, it might be that, from a kindness towards him, some of the officers might, perhaps, treat us differently to other boys, which would make our position more difficult by exciting jealousy among others. Should there be any relation between him and us, it will be time enough for us to claim it when we have shown ourselves worthy of it."
"Well said, boys," the officers both exclaimed. "You are quite right," the colonel went on, "and I respect your motive for keeping silence. What you say about jealousy which might arise is very sensible and true. At the same time, I will promise you that I will keep my eye upon you, and that if an opportunity should occur in which I can give you a chance of showing that there is more in you than in other boys, be sure you shall have the chance."
"Thank you very much indeed, colonel," both boys exclaimed.
"Now, Manley, I shall be obliged if you will take them to the adjutant, and tell him to swear them in and attest them in regular form; the surgeon will, of course, examine them. Please tell the quartermaster to get their uniforms made without loss of time; and give a hint to the bugle-major that I should be pleased if he will pay extra attention to them, and push them on as fast as possible."
Captain Manley carried out these instructions, the boys were duly examined by the surgeon and passed, and in half an hour became His Majesty's servants.
"Now, boys," Captain Manley said as he crossed with them to the quarters of the bandmaster, "you will have rather a difficult course to steer, but I have no doubt you will get through it with credit. This is something like a school, and you will have to fight before you find your place. Don't be in a hurry to begin; take all good-natured chaff good-naturedly; resent any attempt at bullying. I have no doubt you will be popular, and it is well that you should be so, for then there will be no jealousy if your luck seems better than that of others. They will, of course, know that you are differently born and educated to themselves, but they will not like you any the worse for that, if they find that you do not try to keep aloof from them or give yourselves airs. And look here, boys, play any tricks you like with the men, but don't do it with the non-commissioned officers. There is nothing they hate so much as impudence from the boys, and they have it in their power to do you a great deal of good or of harm. You will not have much to do with the bandmaster. Only a portion of the band accompanies us, and even that will be broken up when we once enter upon active campaigning. Several of the company buglers have either left lately, or have got their stripes and given up their bugles, and I do not fancy that their places will be filled up before we get out there. Now, your great object will be to get two of these vacancies. I am afraid you are too young, still there will be plenty more vacancies after we are once in the field, for a bullet has no respect for buglers; and you see the better you behave the better your chance of being chosen."