The Young Buglers by G. A. Henty
Chapter VI. Portugal.
The boys were delighted with the appearance of the Tagus, covered as it now was with a fleet of transports and merchantmen. As they were looking at it, the officer commanding the marines on board, who had talked a good deal to them upon the preceding day, came up to them. "I thought that you would be in a fix about clothes, my lads," he said. "You could not very well join in these midshipman's uniforms, so I set the tailor yesterday to cut down a couple of spare suits of my corps. The buttons will not be right, but you can easily alter that when you join. You had better go below at once and see if the things fit pretty well. I have told the tailor to take them to the cock-pit and if they do not fit they can alter them at once."
Thanking the officer very much for his thoughtful kindness, and much relieved in mind--for they had already been wondering what they should do--the boys ran below, and found that the tailor had guessed their sizes pretty correctly, aided as he had been by the trousers they had worn when they came on board. A few alterations were necessary, and these he promised to get finished in a couple of hours. They had scarcely gone on deck again when the anchor was let fall, and a boat was lowered, in order that the captain might proceed to shore with the despatches of which he was the bearer.
Just as he was upon the point of leaving the deck, his eye fell upon the boys. "I shall be back again in an hour or two," he said; "do not leave until I return. I will find out where your regiment is, and if it has marched I will give you a certificate of how I picked you up, otherwise you may be stopped on the way, and get into a scrape as two boys who have strayed away from their regiment."
So saying, the captain got into his boat and rowed to shore. It was one o'clock before he returned. The boys had dinner with the gunroom officers, then changed their dress, and had now the appearance of buglers in the marines.
The captain at once sent for them. "Your regiment went on yesterday with the rest of the division. It halts to-day ten miles out of the town. There is the certificate I spoke of. Mr. Armstrong is just going off with two boats' crew to assist in unloading stores; I have asked him to hand you over to the charge of some officer going up with a convoy. And now good-bye, lads. I wish you every luck, and hope that some day or other you may win your epaulets."
With renewed thanks for his kindness, the boys went up on deck. There they shook hands and said good-bye to all the officers and midshipmen. As they were waiting while the boats were being lowered, two of the sailors went aft to the captain, who had come up from below and was walking alone on the quarter-deck, and, with a touch of the hat, the spokesman said, "Your honor, we're come to ax as how, if your honor has no objection, we might just give a parting cheer to those 'ere youngsters."
"Well, Jones," the captain said, smiling, "it's rather an unusual thing for the crew of one of His Majesty's ships to cheer two young soldiers."
"It is unusual, your honor, mighty unusual, because soldiers ain't in general of much account at sea; but you see, your honor, this ain't a usual circumstance, nohow. These here boys, which ain't much more than babbies, have done what there ain't many men, not even of those who are born and bred to the sea, would have done; and we should just like to give them a bit of a cheer for good luck."
"Very well, Jones, tell the men they can do as they like."
Accordingly, as the boys took their seats in the boat they were surprised at seeing the crew clustering to the side of the ship, while some of the men ran up the rigging.
"What can the men be up to?" Tom asked Mr. Armstrong in surprise.
The lieutenant smiled, for he knew what was coming.
"Sheer off, men," he said, and as he did so the boatswain of the ship gave the word, "Now, lads, three cheers for them boys; may they have the luck they deserve."
Three thundering cheers burst from the whole crew, the men in the boats tossing their oars in the naval fashion of acknowledgment of the salute. Tom and Peter, astonished and affected, stood up, took off their caps, and waved their hands in thanks to the crowd of faces looking down upon them, and then sat down again and wiped their eyes.
"Row on," the lieutenant said, and the oars fell in the water with a splash; one more cheer arose, and then the boats rowed for the landing-place. The boys were too much affected to look up or speak, until they reached the shore, nor did they notice a boat which rowed past them upon its way to the vessel they had left, just after they had started. It contained an officer in a general's uniform. The boat steered to the ship's side, and the officer ascended the ladder. The captain was on deck. "Ah, Craufurd," he said, "this is an unexpected pleasure."
"I have just come back from my division for a few hours, Merivale; there are a lot of stores which are essential, and some of my artillery is not landed, so I thought I could hurry things up a bit. My spare charger, and most of the chargers of my staff, are being landed, too; the ship they came in was a day or two late; and as I had to confer with the Portuguese Minister of War, I am killing a good many birds with one stone. I heard you had just come in, and as I was on board the "Clio" about my charger, I thought it would not be much out of my way to run round and shake hands with you."
"I am very glad you did. Come into my cabin; you can spare time to take some lunch, I hope."
While they were at lunch General Craufurd remarked, "So you have just lost one of your officers, I see; promoted to another ship, eh?"
"Lost an officer!" Captain Merivale said in surprise. "No, not that I have heard of. What makes you think so?"
"I thought so by the cheering the ship's crew gave that boat that left the ship just before I came up. There was only a naval lieutenant in her, and I supposed that he had just got his ship, and I thought by the heartiness of the cheering what a good fellow he must be."
"But it was not the lieutenant the men were cheering," Captain Merivale said with a smile.
"No!" General Craufurd said, surprised. "Why, there was no one else in the boat. I looked attentively as I passed. There was only a lieutenant, a midshipman who was steering, the men rowing, and two little marine buglers, who had their handkerchiefs up to their faces. So you see I took a very minute survey."
"You did indeed," Captain Merivale said, laughing. "Well, it was just these little buglers that the crew of the ship were cheering."
General Craufurd looked up incredulously. "You're joking, Merivale. The crew of His Majesty's frigate 'Latona' cheer two buglers of marines! No, no, that won't do."
"It is a fact, though, Craufurd, unlikely as it seems, except that the buglers belong to the Norfolk Rangers, and not to the Marines."
"The Rangers! They are in Hill's division. What is it all about? There must be something very strange about it."
"There is indeed," Captain Merivale said, "very strange." And he then related the whole story to his visitor.
"They are trumps indeed," the general said when the narrative was ended, "and I am very glad that I happened to hear it. I will speak to Hill about it, and will keep my eye upon them. Be assured they shall have their epaulets as soon as possible--that is, if their conduct is at all equal to their pluck. It is the least we can do when, as you say, they have refused midshipmen's berths to stick to us. And now I must be off."
The boat landed General Craufurd at the same landing-place at which Tom and Peter had disembarked half an hour before. Lieutenant Armstrong had spoken a few words to the officer who was superintending the landing of stores and horses, and he, being far too busy to stop to talk, briefly said that the boys could go up to join their regiment with a convoy of stores which would start that night.
After saying good-bye to their friend the lieutenant, the boys sat down upon some bales, and were watching with much amusement and interest the busy scene before them. As General Craufurd passed they rose and saluted.
"You are the boys from the 'Latona,' are you not?"
"Yes, sir," the boys answered in surprise.
"Can you ride?"
"Follow me, then."
Much surprised, the boys followed the general until he made his way through the confusion to a group of newly landed horses. Near them were a couple of mounted Hussars, who, at the sight of the general, rode forward with his charger. He made a sign to them to wait a moment, and walked up to the men who were holding the newly landed horses.
"Which of you have got charge of two horses?"
Several of the men answered at once.
"Which of you are servants of officers on my staff?"
Three of those who had answered before replied now.
"Very well; just put saddles on to two of them. These lads will ride them; they are going out with me at once; they will hand them over to your masters."
In another five minutes Tom and Peter, to their surprise and delight, were clattering along through the streets of Lisbon upon two first-rate horses in company with the two Hussars, while, twenty lengths ahead, trotted General Craufurd with two officers who had been down to Lisbon upon duty similar to his own. Once outside the town, the general put his horse into a gallop, and his followers of course did the same. Once or twice General Craufurd glanced back to see how the boys rode, for a doubt had crossed his mind as to whether he had been wise in putting them upon such valuable horses, but when he saw that they were evidently accustomed to the work, he paid no further attention to them.
The officers riding beside him, however, looked back several times.
"What luck we have, to be sure, Tom," Peter said, "and I can't understand this a bit. How could the general know that we came from the 'Latona'; as he evidently did, and by the way these officers have looked back twice, I can't help thinking that he is talking about us."
Tom was as puzzled as Peter, but they soon forgot the subject, and engaged in an animated conversation with the Hussars as to the situation and position of the army, and the supposed strength and locality of the French, concerning which they were, of course, in complete ignorance. An hour and a half's sharp riding took them to Torres Vedras, a small town which afterwards became celebrated for the tremendous lines which Wellington erected there. The troops were encamped in its vicinity, the general having his quarters at the house of the Alcalde, or Mayor.
"Your regiment is a mile and a half distant, lads," General Craufurd said as they drew up at his quarters; "you will have difficulty in finding it this evening. Sergeant, take these lads round to the house where my orderlies are quartered, and give them some supper. They can join their regiment in the morning. I have heard of you, lads, from Captain Merivale, and shall mention your conduct to General Hill, and be assured I will keep my eye upon you."
The boys were soon asleep upon a heap of straw, and at six next morning were upon the road, having already had some coffee and bread for breakfast. They had no difficulty in finding their way, for orderlies were already galloping about, and the bugle calls came sharp upon their ears. The division was to march at seven. The Rangers happened to be the first in advance, so that they passed through the other regiments to arrive at theirs.
The tents were down when they arrived, and packed in readiness for the bullock carts which stood by. The boys paused a little distance off, and looked on with delight at the busy scene. At a note on the bugle the tents and other baggage were stowed in the carts, and then the men hitched on their knapsacks, unpiled arms, and began to fall into rank.
No one noticed the boys as they passed between the groups and approached the band, who were mustering by the colors, which were as usual placed in front of the guard tent.
"There's Sambo," Tom said; "I am glad they got him safe on board."
The negro was the first to perceive the boys as they came close up to him. As he saw them he gave a sudden start, his eyes opened wider and wider until the whites showed all round, his teeth chattered, the shiny black of his face turned to a sort of dirty gray, and he threw up his hands with a loud cry, "oh, golly, here's dose boys' spirits!"
He stepped back, heedless that the big drum was behind him, and the next moment went back with a crash into it, and remained there with his knees doubled up and his face looking out between them, too frightened and horror-struck to make the least movement to extricate himself.
For a moment no one noticed him, for at his cry they had all turned to the boys, and stood as if petrified at seeing those whom they believed had been drowned before their eyes a week before. The silence did not last long, the boys bursting into a shout of laughter at Sam's appearance.
"Spirits! Sam," Tom said; "not by a long way yet, man. How are you all? Come, get out of that, Sam and shake hands." And as the band with a shout crowded round them, the boys helped Sam, who was trembling all over from the shock and fright, from the drum.
For a moment the boys were quite confused and bewildered, for as they hauled Sam to his feet their comrades of the band pressed round them cheering, every one trying to shake them by the hand.
The news spread like wildfire among the troops, and there was at once a general rush to the spot. The boys were seized in an instant, and each raised on the shoulders of two of the grenadiers, and as they made their appearance above the heads of the crowd a tremendous cheer broke from the whole regiment.
"What can be the matter?" was the general exclamation of the colonel and officers, who were just finishing their breakfasts in a cottage which stood close behind the spot where their tents had been pitched in the rear of the regiment. "What can be the matter?"--and as the cheering continued there was a general rush to the door. There they stood astonished at seeing the whole of the men clustered in one spot, shouting and waving their caps.
"What can be the matter?" the colonel said again; "the whole regiment seems to have gone mad."
"We shall know in a minute," Captain Manley said; "they are coming in this direction."
"Look at that fellow Sambo," exclaimed Carruthers; "he looks madder than all the rest."
In spite of the intense surprise which all were feeling, there was a general laugh, for the black was performing antics like one possessed; his cap was gone, he jumped, he yelled, he waved his arms, with a drumstick in each hand, wildly over his head, he twisted round and round; he seemed really out of his mind. Suddenly he left the crowd, and rushed on ahead at full speed towards the group of officers, still leaping and yelling and waving his drumsticks.
The officers instinctively drew together as he approached, for they thought that the gigantic negro was really out of his mind. He stopped suddenly as he came up to them, and tried to fall into his usual attitude of attention.
"Oh, Massa Colonel," he said in hoarse, sobbing tones, "only to think, only to think. Scuse Sam, sar, but Sam feel he's going to bust right up wid joy, massa. Dat no matter, but only to think. Bress de Almighty, sar! only to think!"
None of the officers spoke for a minute in answer to these disjointed exclamations. They were affected at the man's great emotion. His black skin was still strangely pale, his eyes were distended, his lips quivered, tears were rolling down his cheeks, and his huge frame was shaken with sobs.
"Calm yourself, Sam--be calm, my man," the colonel said kindly. "Try and tell us what has happened. What are the men so excited about? What is the matter with them?"
"Oh, Massa Colonel," Sam said, "me try tell you all 'boat it. Only to think, sar, dose boys cum back again; dose boys, sar, bress dem, dat jumped into de water and got drowned just to save dis poor niggar, sar. Dey cum back again; only tink ob dat!"
The officers looked at one another in surprise.
"I do believe he means the Scudamores! colonel," Captain Manley exclaimed; "but no, it is impossible, no one could have lived five minutes in that sea, and we know that they could not have been picked up, for we were the last ship in the fleet."
"Yes, yes, sar, dat's dem, dey cum back sure enuff," Sam said.
Then Carruthers exclaimed, "I do believe it is so; there are a couple of boys on the shoulders of the men in the middle of the crowd. Yes, and, by Jove, it is the Scudamores. Hurrah! I am glad."
There was a general exclamation of pleasure from the whole group, for the regret for the boys, who had, as was believed, perished in the performance of such a gallant action, had been general and sincere, and Captain Manley lifted his cap and said reverently, "Thank God, these gallant lads are saved;" and those around, although some of them were but little addicted to prayer, repeated the words and imitated the action.
Carruthers would have stepped forward in his eagerness to greet his former school-fellows, but Captain Manley laid his hand quietly on his shoulder and said in a low tone, "Wait, Carruthers, let the colonel welcome them."
And now the crowd came up to the cottage, those in front falling back as they approached, so as to let the grenadiers come forward with their burden. The boys were lowered to the ground, and stood at once at attention; their faces were both flushed with excitement, and their eyes swollen with tears, so much were they both moved by the welcome which had greeted them.
There was a dead silence for a moment, and then Colonel Tritton said in a loud, clear voice, which was heard all over the throng of men, "I am glad, lads, to see you back again. I never expected to have seen you again after we caught a glimpse of you as the sea washed you away. You have seen how the men have welcomed you, and I can assure you that the pleasure of the officers that two such gallant young fellows should have been saved is no less than that of your comrades. A braver act than that which you performed was never done. I shake hands with you, and congratulate you in the name of the whole regiment." And, suiting the action to the words, Colonel Tritton stepped forward and shook the boys warmly by the hand, amidst a great cheer upon the part of the whole regiment. Then he held up his hand for silence again. "Bugler, sound the assembly; fall in, my lads, or we shall be late. Come in here, boys; you can get something to eat, and tell us in a few words how you were saved, for, even now that I see you it seems almost impossible."