Chapter IV. A Tough Customer.
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one had heard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What is that, lads?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The boys colored hotly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The boys colored.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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