The Young Buglers by G. A. Henty
Chapter XIV. Invalided Home.
Two days after the battle of Albuera, Lord Wellington himself arrived, and from the officers of his staff Tom heard the details of the battle of Fuentes d'Onoro, which had been fought a few days previously, and which had been nearly as hardly contested as had Albuera itself, both sides claiming the victory.
The next day, the bulk of Beresford's army returned to the neighborhood of Badajos, which they again invested, while a long convoy of wounded started for Lisbon. The Scudamores accompanied it as far as Campo Major, where a large hospital had been prepared for those too ill to bear the journey. Peter was still unconscious. Fever had set in upon the day after the battle, and for three weeks he lay between life and death. Tom's arm was mending very slowly, and he would have had hard work indeed in nursing Peter had it not been for the arrival of unexpected assistance. A large villa had been taken close to the main hospital for the use of officers, and one of the rooms was allotted to the Scudamores.
Upon the evening of the second day after their arrival, Tom was sitting by Peter's bedside, when, after a preliminary tap, the door opened, and to Tom's perfect amazement Sambo entered. The negro hurried forward, threw himself on his knees, seized Tom's hand and kissed it passionately, and then looking at the thin and fever-flushed face of Peter, he hid his face in his hands and sobbed unrestrainedly.
"Hush, Sam, hush," Tom said soothingly. "My poor fellow, why, where have you come from? I thought you were a prisoner with the French."
"I knew how it would be, Massa Tom," the black said, paying no attention to the questions. "First thing Sam said to himself when he got among French fellows, 'Dere, dose young gentlemen dey get into all sorts of danger widout Sam, sartin sure dey get hurt widout Sam to look after dem.' Dat idea troubled Sam berry much, took away Sam's sleep altogether."
"Well it turned out so, as you see, Sam," Tom said with a smile, "but tell me how did you get away? But first give me some lemonade out of that jug, then you can tell me all about it."
"Why, Massa Tom," Sam said, when he had complied with the request, "you didn't think dat dis chile was going to stop prisoner with dose French chaps; Sam not such a fool as dat, nohow. When dat cussed mule--I tell you fair, Massa Tom, dis chile conclude dat riding not such a berry easy ting after all--when dat cussed mule ran into French camp, de soldiers dey catch him, and dey take Sam off, and den dey jabber and laugh for all de world like great lots of monkeys. Well, for some time Sam he didn't say nothing, all de wind shook out of his body. Besides which he couldn't understand what dey say. Den all of a sudden, to Sam's surprise, up came a colored soldier, and he speak to Sam in de English tongue. 'Holla, broder, how you come here?" I ask. 'I been cook on board English merchant ship,' he say. 'Ship she taken by French privateer. When dey come to port dey say to me, "You not Englishman, you hab choice, you go to prison, or you be French soldier." Natural, I not want go prison, so I conclude be French soldier. I daresay dey gib you choice too.' Well, massa, a wink as good as a nod to blind hoss. So dey take me to tent, put me under guard, and next day a French officer come dat speak English. He ask me all sorts ob questions, and at last he ask me why I list English soldier. So you see I had got a little lie all ready, and me tell him, me one poor Melican negro man, cook on board Melican ship. Ship taken by English man-ob-war. Put Sam in prison and give him choice to go as soldier. "Den you not care about English,' de officer say, and Sam draw hisself up and pat his chest and say, 'Me Melican citizen, me no Britisher's slave, some day me go back States, go on board Melican man-ob-war, me pay out dese Britishers for make Sam slave.' Den de officer laugh, and say dat if I like I could fight dem now; and if I prefer French uniform to French prison, me could have him. Ob course I accep' offer, and harp an hour after me in French uniform. French officer try to make joke ob Sam, and ask whether I like cavalry or foot soldier. Sam say he had enuff of quadruples at present. Me remain French soldier three weeks, den cum great battle, dey call him Fuentes donory. Sam's regiment fight. Sam not like fire at red coats, so break bullet off catridge, neber put him in gun. We charge right into middle of village full of English soldiers, de bullets fly all about. Sam not see de point ob getting kill by mistake, so he tumble down, pretend to be dead. Presently French beaten back; when English soldier wid doctor cum look at wounded, dey turn Sam ober, and dey say, 'Hullo, here dead nigger.' 'Nigger yourself, John Atkins,' I say for sure enuff it's de ole regiment--'you say dat once again me knock your head off;' me jump up, and all de world call out, 'Hullo, why it's Sam.' Den me splain matter, and all berry glad, cept John Atkins, and next morning me gib him licking he member all his life, me pound him most to a squash. Four days ago colonel send for Sam, say, 'Sam, berry bad job, bofe Massas wounded bad, send you to nurse dem;' so dis chile come. Dat all, Massa Tom. Here letter for you from colonel, now you read dis letter, den you get in bed, you sleep all night, Sam watch Massa Peter."
Greatly relieved to have his faithful servant again, and to know that Peter would be well cared for, instead of being left in charge of the Spanish hospital orderly, whenever weakness and pain obliged him to lie down, Tom abandoned his place by the bedside, and prepared for a tranquil night's rest, first reading the colonel's letter.
"We are all grieved, my dear Scudamore, at hearing that you are both wounded, and that your brother is at present in a serious state. We trust, however, that he will pull through. I hear that Beresford has praised you both most highly in despatches, and that your names are sent home for companies. I heartily congratulate you. We have had some tough work at Fuentes d'Onoro, although nothing to what yours must have been at Albuera, still it was hot enough in all conscience, and we had over a hundred casualties in the regiment. Carruthers and Manley were both slightly wounded. Jones, Anstruther, Palmer, and Chambers were killed, and several of the others hit more or less hard. Sam has leave to remain with you until you rejoin, which will not, I fear, be for some little time. Every one sends kind messages. Yours truly, J. Tritton."
Nothing could exceed the care and devotion with which Sam nursed his two masters, and Tom had the greatest difficulty in persuading him to lie down and get a short sleep each day while he sat by Peter's bed. At the end of three weeks Peter took a favorable turn. His fever abated, and he awoke to consciousness. Another fortnight and he was sufficiently convalescent to be moved, and accordingly they started to travel by very easy stages to Lisbon, there to take ship for England, as the doctor ordered Tom as well as his brother to go home for a while to recruit. Tom was the less reluctant to do so, as it was evident that with the force at his command Wellington would not be able to undertake any great operation, and that the siege and capture of Badajoz was the utmost likely to be accomplished in that season's campaign. The mails in due course had brought out the Gazette, and in it Tom and Peter Scudamore were promoted to be captains, unattached.
Colonel Tritton, upon being applied to, readily gave leave for Sam to accompany his masters. It was a long journey to Lisbon, but the jolting of the country cart was made bearable by a layer of hay, two feet deep, upon which the mattresses were laid, Sam seeing that at each night's halt the hay was taken out, well shaken, and then returned to the cart, so as to preserve it light and elastic. A thick canopy of boughs kept off the heat of the sun, and under it, within reach of the invalids hung a gourd of fresh water, and a basket of fruit. Several other cart-loads of wounded officers accompanied them, and at night they would draw up by a grove of trees where water was handy, those who could walk would get out, the others would be lifted out on their mattresses, a great fire made, and round it the beds laid in a circle, and then the evening would be spent in pleasant chat, with many an anecdote and an occasional song, until the fire burnt low, the talk died away, and each, covered in his blankets to keep off the night dew, fell asleep. Pleasant as was the journey, however, it was with a thrill of delight that they caught their first sight of Lisbon, with its broad river, and the blue line of the sea beyond. A few days later, and they embarked on board a transport, which seven days afterwards, after a calm passage, arrived at Spithead.
Peter was by this time gaining strength fast, but his back was so stiff and sore that he was unable to move it, and was obliged to swing himself along on crutches. The next day the coach took them to London, and they started the morning after for Marlborough. This time they had to go inside the coach, two gentlemen, who had previously secured the seats, kindly giving them up in favor of the wounded young officers, while Sam took his place on the roof, and amused his fellow-passengers with wonderful accounts of his adventures at the war. At the inn at which they took dinner, they alighted, and Tom recognized in the driver the same coachman who had driven them upon the memorable occasion of their being stopped by highwaymen three years before. "You don't remember us, coachman, do you?"
"No, gentlemen, I can't say as how,--but eh! no, why you're the werry boys as shot the highwaymen. Well, I am glad to see you again, though you do look white and bad, both of you. I heard as how there were two wounded officers inside, and that black soldier has been telling all sorts of tales of the wonderful things as his masters had done, but not knowing as how it was you, I didn't much believe all he was telling. Now I quite see as how it was true; and how are you both?"
"Getting on all right," Tom said, returning the warm shake of the coachman's hand, "and do you know, those pistols have saved our lives more than once."
"Have they now," the coachman said, in high admiration, "but there, we most be moving, we are three minutes after time as it is; I shall see you again next time we stop, gentlemen."
During the next stage the coachman and guard recounted to the outside passengers the affair of the stopping the coach, and Sam's black face shone with delight at the tale. Then he had his say, and related the story of his falling overboard and being rescued, and in consequence the lads were quite embarrassed when they next halted, by the attention of their fellow-travelers, who could scarcely understand how it was possible that two mere boys should have performed such feats of bravery.
Arrived at Marlborough they looked round in vain for the one-horsed vehicle which had before met them. "I expect that aunt has not got our letter, Peter," Tom said. "It would probably go up to town in the coach with us, and is likely enough in the letter-bag in the boot. Well, we must have a post-chaise. Won't aunt and Rhoda be surprised; but they must be expecting us, because they will have had our letter from Lisbon."
The horses were soon in, Sam took his seat in the rumble, and in a few minutes they were bounding over the road at a very different pace to that at which they had before traversed it. "There's the house among the trees," Peter said at last, "with aunt's pigeons on the roof as usual, and there's Minnie asleep on the window-sill, and there! yes, there's Rhoda."
As he spoke a girl, who was sitting reading under a tree, leapt to her feet, on hearing a carriage stop, and then, catching sight of Peter waving his hat, while Tom made frantic efforts to open the door, gave a scream of delight, and rushed towards them, threw her arms round Tom's neck as he jumped out, and then leapt into the chaise and hugged and cried over Peter. He was soon helped out, and as they turned to go towards the house they saw their aunt coming out to meet them.
Tom ran forward and throwing his arms round her neck kissed her heartily, and before she could recover from her surprise, Peter was alongside. "Please, aunt, you must kiss me," he said, "for I want my arms for my crutches." His aunt leaned forward and kissed him, and then wiped the tears from her eyes.
"I am glad to see you back, my dear nephews," she said. "We did not understand each other very well before, but we shan't make any more mistakes. This is your black servant, I suppose," she said, as Sam came along, with a trunk in each hand. "Dear! dear! what a dreadfully ugly man."
"How do you do, Sam?" Rhoda said, when he came up. "We have heard so much of you, and how kindly you nursed my brothers."
"Sam quite well, tank you, little missy," Sam said, grinning all over his face and showing his white teeth.
Miss Scudamore shrank towards Tom as Sam passed on, "Dear me, what sharp-looking teeth he has, Tom. They don't eat curious things, these black men, do they?"
"What sort of curious things, aunt?"
"Well, my dear, I know that these outlandish people do eat strange things, and I have heard the Chinese eat dogs and cats. Now, if he has a fancy for cats, I daresay I could buy him some in the village, only he will have to cook them himself, I could never ask Hannah to cook cats; but please ask him not to touch Minnie."
Peter had to stop in his walk and grasp his crutches tightly, not to burst into a scream of laughter, while Tom answered with great gravity, "My dear aunt, do not alarm yourself, I will answer for the safety of Minnie as far as Sam is concerned."
When they reached the house, Miss Scudamore said--
"I think you young people will enjoy yourselves more if you go and sit under the shade of the elm there, you will have a deal to say to each other, and had better be alone." They were all glad at the suggestion, as they were longing to be alone together.
Sam, by Miss Scudamore's directions, carried out a great easy chair, of which Peter took possession. Rhoda sat on the grass at his feet, and Tom threw himself down at full length. They were all too happy to speak much for a time, and could only look fondly at each other. "You have grown a great deal, Rhoda, but I do not think that you are altered a bit otherwise."
"You are neither of you altered so much as I expected," Rhoda said. "I had made up my mind that you would be changed a great deal. It sounds so grand--Captains, indeed! I expected to have curtsey to you and treat you with great respect; instead of that you look regular boys, both of you. Of course you are big, and Peter looks very tall; how tall are you, Peter?"
"Just over six feet," Peter said.
"Yes," Rhoda said, "you are tall enough, and Tom is broad enough for men, but somehow you look regular boys still."
"This is very disrespectful Rhoda, to two Captains in His Majesty's service."
"It seems ridiculous, doesn't it," Rhoda said.
"It does," Tom said heartily, and the three went off into a shout of laughter.
"It isn't really ridiculous you know," Rhoda said, when they had recovered their gravity. "To think of all the dangers you have gone through. Aunt was as proud as could be when she saw your names over and over again in despatches, and I have been like a little peacock. Your doings have been the talk of every one round here, and I am sure that if they had known you had been coming, the village would have put up a triumphal arch, and presented you with an address."
"Thank goodness, they did not know it then," Tom said, "for it would have been a deal worse to stand than the fire of a French battery. Well, Rhoda, and now as to yourself; so you have really been always very happy with aunt?"
"Very happy," Rhoda said; "she is most kind and indulgent, and so that I attend to her little fancies, I can do just as I like. I have had lessons regularly from the rector's eldest daughter, who has been educated for a governess; and in every respect, aunt is all that is kind. Fancy her being afraid of Sam eating Minnie."
After chatting for upwards of an hour, they went into the house, and the rest of the day was spent in talking over all that had happened since they left. Sam was in the kitchen where he made himself very much at home, and although Hannah and the cook were at first rather awed by his size, his black face and rolling eyes, they were soon pacified by his good humor and readiness to make himself useful, and were wonderfully interested by his long stories about what "Massas" had done in the war.
Miss Scudamore, who was a little uneasy as to how things would go on in the kitchen, made some excuse for going in once or twice in the course of the evening. She found things going on much better that she had expected, indeed so much better, that after Rhoda had gone up to bed, where Peter had two hours before betaken himself, she said to Tom as he was lighting his candle, "One minute, nephew; I could not speak before Rhoda, but I wanted to say something to you about your negro. I have heard that all soldiers are very much given to make love, and we know from Shakespeare, that Othello, who was black too, you will remember, nephew, made love to Desdemona, which shows that color does not make so much difference as one would think. Now I do hope your man will not make love to Hannah, I don't think she would like it, my dear, and yet you know she might; one never knows what women will do; they are always making fools of themselves," she added angrily, thinking at the moment how a young girl she had trained up as a cook had, after being with her three years, left a few weeks before to marry the village blacksmith, "and I should be sorry to lose Hannah. She has been with us more than twenty years. If he must fall in love with one, my dear, let it be the cook."
Tom had a great command of his countenance, but he had great difficulty in steadying his muscles. After a moment or two he said, "I will give Sam a hint, aunt, if it becomes necessary, but I do not think you need fear. I do not fancy Sam is matrimonially inclined at present, and he wouldn't leave us even to marry Desdemona herself. Good night, aunt."
So saying, Tom went upstairs, where he repeated to Peter, who was still awake, his conversation with his aunt, and the two went into shouts of laughter over the idea of Sam making love to the prim Hannah.
The next six months passed over quietly and happily. The boys were made a great deal of by the whole county, and Miss Scudamore was greatly gratified at the name and credit they had gained for themselves. She no longer worried about them, but as Rhoda declared, quite spoiled them, and as Sam made no attempt to win the love of the faithful Hannah, there was no cloud to mar the pleasure of the holiday.