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Chapter 4 A TOUGH CUSTOMER.

  • Like most boys who are fond of play, Tom and Peter Scudamore were capable o_ard work at a pinch, and during the three weeks that they spent at Portsmout_hey 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 perseveranc_hat quite won the heart of Corporal Skinner, and enabled him to look upo_aptain Manley's two guineas as good as earned. But even with the best wil_nd the strongest lungs possible, boys can only blow a bugle a certain numbe_f hours a day. For an hour before breakfast, for two hours before dinner, an_or an hour and a half in the evening they practiced, the evening work bein_xtra, alone with their instructor. There remained the whole afternoon t_hemselves. Their employment of those hours had been undertaken at Peter'_uggestion.
  • "Look here, Tom," he said, at the end of the first day's work, "from what th_orporal says, we shall have from one till about five to ourselves. Now, w_re 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 hav_ot four pounds each left, and I don't think that we could lay it out bette_han in getting a Spanish master and some books, and in setting to in earnes_t it. If we work with all our might for four hours a day with a master, w_hall have made some progress, and shall pick up the pronunciation a little. _are say we shall be another ten days or a fortnight on the voyage, and shal_ave lots of time on our hands. It will make it so much easier to pick it u_hen 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 t_ind a master here."
  • There was no difficulty upon that score, for there were a large number o_panish in England at the time; men who had left the country rather tha_emain under the French yoke, and among them were many who were glad to ge_heir living by teaching their native language. There were two or three i_his condition in Portsmouth, and to one of these the boys applied. He wa_ather surprised at the application from the two young buglers—for th_niforms were finished twenty-four hours after their arrival—but at onc_greed to devote his whole afternoons to them. Having a strong motive fo_heir work, and a determination to succeed in it, the boys made a progres_hat astonished both themselves and their teacher, and they now found th_dvantage of their grounding in Latin at Eton. Absorbed in their work, the_aw 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 nearl_ighteen, made some sneering remark about boys who thought themselves abov_thers, and gave themselves airs. Tom saw at once that this allusion was mean_or them, and took the matter up.
  • "I suppose you mean us, Mitcham. You are quite mistaken; neither my brothe_or myself think ourselves better than any one, nor have we any idea of givin_urselves airs. The fact is—and I am not surprised that you should think u_nsociable—we are taking lessons in Spanish. If we go with the regiment i_ill be very useful, and I have heard it said that any one who lands in _oreign country, and who knows a little of the grammar and pronunciation, wil_earn it in half the time that he would were he altogether ignorant of both. _m sorry that I did not mention it before, because I can understand that i_ust 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 an_ne. You see we are altogether behindhand with our work now, and have got t_ork 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-comer_ere 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 boy_oluntarily taking lessons in Spanish. Mitcham, however, who was a surly- tempered young fellow, and who was jealous of the progress which the boys wer_aking, 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 aske_uietly.
  • "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 Skinne_aid: but his speech was cut short by Tom's putting one hand on the barrac_able, 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 hi_ fellow here, you must fight him. That's the rule, and you can't figh_itcham; 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 a_ig, if he called me a liar."
  • "Nonsense, young 'un!" another said, "it's not possible. He was wrong, and i_ou had not struck him I would have licked him myself; but as you have don_o, 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; _are say I shall; but it won't be all on one side. Look here, Mitcham, we wil_ave it out to-morrow, on the ramparts behind the barracks. But, if you wil_pologize 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 yo_ver had in your life, my young cock."
  • "Oh, all right," Tom said cheerfully. "We will see all about it when the tim_omes."
  • As it was evident now that there was no way out of it, no one interfere_urther in the matter. Quarrels in the army are always settled by a fai_ight, as at school; but several of the older men questioned among themselve_hether they ought to let this go on, considering that Tom Scudamore was onl_etween fifteen and sixteen, while his opponent was two years older, and wa_o much heavier and stronger. However, as it was plain that Tom would not tak_ thrashing for the blow he had struck, and there did not seem an_atisfactory way out of it, nothing was done, except that two or three of the_ent up to Mitcham, and strongly urged him to shake hands with Tom, an_onfess that he had done wrong in giving him the lie. This Mitcham would no_ear of, and there was nothing further to be done.
  • "I am afraid, Tom, you have no chance with that fellow." Peter said, as the_ere undressing.
  • "No chance in the world, Peter; but I can box fairly, you know, and am prett_ard. I shall be able to punish him a bit, and you may be sure I shall neve_ive in. It's no great odds getting a licking, and I suppose that they wil_top it before I am killed. Don't bother about it. I had rather get knocke_bout in a fight than get flogged at Eton any day. I would rather you did no_ome to see it, Peter, if you don't mind. When you fought Evans it hurt me te_imes as much as if I had been fighting, and, although you licked him, it mad_e feel like a girl. I can stand twice the punishment if I don't feel that an_low is hitting you as well as myself."
  • Tom's prediction about the fight turned out to be nearly correct. He was mor_ctive, and a vastly better boxer than his antagonist, and although he wa_onstantly 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 hi_econd begged him to give in, but he would not hear of it. Breathless an_xhausted, but always cool and smiling, he faced his heavy antagonist, eludin_is furious rushes, and managing to strike a few straight blows at his eye_efore being knocked down. By the time that they had fought a quarter of a_our half the regiment was assembled, and loud were the cheers which greete_om each time he came up, very pale and bleeding, but confident, against hi_ntagonist.
  • At last an old sergeant came forward. "Come," he said, "there has been enoug_f 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 stan_hat, and he can hardly see out of his eyes now. He won't see a bit by tha_ime."
  • The sergeant hesitated, but a glance at Tom's antagonist convinced him tha_hat he said was correct. Mitcham had at all times a round and rather puff_ace, 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 wa_apidly getting blind, rushed with fury upon him, trying to end the fight. To_ad 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 th_ush. He felt himself getting weak, and could hardly get up from his second'_nee upon the call of time. He was not afraid of being made to give in, but h_as 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, o_etting up from his second's knee, Mitcham cried in a hoarse voice, "Where i_e? 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 ca_ive in, well because—because I am a gentleman, you because you are bigge_han 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 goo_ellow, Scudamore, and there's my hand; but you have licked me fairly. I can'_ome 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 hi_nees tottered, as, with the ringing cheers of the men in his ears, he fainte_nto his second's arms.
  • "What a row the men are making!" the major said, as the sound of cheering cam_hrough the open window of the mess-room, at which the officers were sittin_t 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 th_en coming down in a stream. They look very excited over it. I wonder who i_as been. Stokes," he said, turning to one of the mess servants, "go out, an_ind 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 cal_im."
  • "I guessed as much," Captain Manley laughed; "I knew they would not be lon_ere without a fight. Who was the other?"
  • "Well, sir, I almost thought it must be a mistake when they told me, seein_hey are so unequally matched, but they all say so, so in course it's true—th_ther was Mitcham, the bugler of No. 3 Company."
  • "What a shame!" was the general exclamation, while Captain Manley got up an_alled for his cap.
  • "A brutal shame, I call it," he said hotly. "Mitcham's nearly a man. It ough_ot to have been allowed. I will go and inquire after the boy. I will bet fiv_ounds he was pretty nearly killed before he gave in."
  • "He didn't give in, Captain Manley," the servant said. "He won the fight. The_ought till Mitcham couldn't see, and then young Scudamore went up and offere_o draw it, but Mitcham acknowledged he was fairly licked. It was a clos_hing, for the boy fainted right off; but he's come round now, and says he'_ll right."
  • "Hurrah for Eton!" Carruthers shouted enthusiastically. "Hurrah! By Jove, h_s game, and no mistake. He won a hard fight or two at Eton, but nothing lik_his. I call it splendid."
  • "The boy might have been killed," the major said gravely; while the younge_fficers joined in Carruthers's exclamation at Tom's pluck. "It is shamefu_hat it was allowed. I suppose the quarrel began in their quarters. Sergean_owden is in charge of the room, and ought to have stopped it at once. Ever_on-commissioned officer ought to have stopped it. I will have Howden u_efore 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 mus_ave won the hearts of all the regiment by his pluck, and if he is no_eriously hurt, it is the very best thing, as it has turned out, that coul_ave happened. If any one gets into a scrape about it, it might lessen th_ffect of the victory. I think if you call Howden up, and give him a quie_igging, 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 bee_illed. However, I won't do more than give Howden a hearty wigging, and wil_hen learn how the affair begun. I think, Dr. Stathers, that it would be a_ell if you went round and saw both of them. You had better, I think, orde_hem into hospital for the night, and then the boy can go to bed at once, an_ome out again to-morrow, if he has, as I hope, nothing worse than a fe_ruises. Please come back, and tell us how you find them."
  • The report was favorable, and the next morning Tom came out of hospital, an_ook his place as usual, with the party upon the ramparts—pale, and a goo_eal marked, but not much the worse for his battle; but it was some day_efore the swelling of his adversary's face subsided sufficiently for him t_eturn to duty.
  • Tom's victory—as Captain Manley had predicted—quite won the hearts of th_hole regiment, and the nicknames of "Sir Tom," and "Sir Peter"—which had bee_iven to them in jest after Tom's speech about Sir Arthur Wellesley—were no_enerally applied to them. The conversation in the mess-room had got about, and the old soldiers who had served under Colonel Scudamore would have don_nything for the lads, although, as yet, they were hardly known personall_xcept to the band, as their devotion to work kept them quite apart from th_en.
  • It was just three weeks after they had joined before the order came fo_mbarkation, and a thrill of pleasure and excitement ran through the regimen_hen it was known that they were to go on board in four days. Not the leas_elighted were Tom and Peter. It had already been formally settled that the_ere to accompany the regiment, and it was a proof of the popularity that the_ad gained, that every one looked upon their going as a matter of course, an_hat no comment was excited even among those who were left behind. Three day_efore starting they had met Captain Manley in the barrack-yard, and afte_aluting, 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 bag_arried 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 hav_ach 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 doub_he colonel will overlook any little breach of strict uniformity in you_ases, as it is evident you can't carry muskets. You can use your pistols, _ope," 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-size_pple 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 wer_hinking of asking you, sir, if you would like to carry a brace of the_hrough the campaign. They are splendid weapons; and we shall only carry on_ach. They would get rusty and spoil, if we left them behind, and we should b_ery pleased to think they might be useful to you, after your great kindnes_o us."
  • "It is not a very regular thing, boys," Captain Manley said, "for a captain t_e borrowing a brace of pistols from two of his buglers; but you ar_xceptional 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 wit_hanks, with the understanding that I will carry the pistols, and you shal_ave them again if anything happens to yours. But how about the knapsacks?"
  • "We were thinking of having two made of the regimental pattern, sir, bu_maller 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 no_esitate if you do. I can let you have five pounds, and you can pay me," h_aid 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 th_istols 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 sol_heir watches, which were large, handsome, and of gold, and had been given t_hem by their father when they went to Eton. They were very sorry to part wit_hem, but they agreed that it would be folly to keep gold watches when th_wenty pounds which they obtained for them would buy two stout and usefu_ilver watches and would leave them twelve pounds in money. They then returne_o barracks, took out a brace of their pistols, carefully cleaned them, an_emoved the silver plates upon the handles, and then walked across to Captai_anley's quarters.
  • Rather to their surprise and confusion they found five or six other officer_here, for Captain Manley had mentioned at lunch to the amusement of hi_riends 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 hi_uarters, as they wanted to see the boys of whom they had spoken so muc_uring the last fortnight. Tom and Peter drew themselves up and salute_tiffly.
  • "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 m_oing as I like here."
  • The boys flushed with pleasure at Captain Manley's kind address, and as h_inished 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 n_isters at Eton. This is a change, isn't it? Better than grinding away a_reek by a long way. Well, I congratulate you on your fight. You showed ther_as some good in dear old Eton still. I wish you had let me know it was comin_ff. I would have given anything to have seen it—from a distance, you know. I_t 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 th_oys. They were quiet and respectful in their manners, and fully confirmed th_avorable 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 n_ase, 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, o_ourse, they are not."
  • "They are new, sir," Tom said; "we have only had them six months, and the_ere new then."
  • "Indeed," Captain Manley said surprised; "I thought, of course, they wer_amily pistols. Why, how on earth, if it is not an impertinent question, di_ou boys get hold of two brace of such pistols as these? I have no right t_sk the question, boys. I see there has been a plate on the handles. But yo_aid 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 som_eople we traveled with once; we took the plates off because they made a grea_uss 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 sai_indly; "come, let me see the plates."
  • The boys took the little silver plates from their pockets and handed the_ilently to Captain Manley, who read aloud, to the surprise of those aroun_im,—"'To Tom' and 'Peter,' they are alike except the names. 'To To_cudamore, presented by the passengers in the Highflyer coach on the 4th o_ugust, 1808, as a testimony of their appreciation of his gallant conduct, b_hich their property was saved from plunder.' Why, what is this, you youn_ickles, 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 an_ere stopped by highwaymen. One of the passengers had pistols, but was afrai_o use them, and hid them among the boxes. So when the passengers were ordere_o get down to be searched, we hid ourselves, and when the highwaymen wer_ollecting their watches, Peter shot one, and I drove the coach over another.
  • The matter was very simple indeed; but the passengers saved their money, s_ade a great fuss about it."
  • There was much laughter over Tom's statement, and then he had to give _etailed account of the whole affair, which elicited many expressions o_pproval.
  • "It does you credit, boys," Captain Manley said, "and shows that you are coo_s well as plucky. One quality is as valuable as the other. There is ever_ope that you will do the regiment credit, boys, and you may be sure that w_hall give you every chance. And now good-bye for the present."
  • "Good-bye, sir," Tom and Peter again drew themselves up, gave the militar_alute, and went off to their comrades.
  • For when the order came to prepare for the embarkation, both Spanish an_ugling were given up, and the boys entered into the pleasure of the holida_ith immense zest. They had no regimental duties to perform beyond bein_resent at parade. They had no packing to do, and fewer purchases to make. _all or two of stout string, for, as Peter said, string is always handy, and _arge 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 th_aist. They had, therefore, nothing to do but to amuse themselves, and thi_hey did with a heartiness which astonished the other boys, and prove_onclusively that they did not want to be unsociable. They hired a boat for _ail and took five or six other boys across to Ryde, only just returning i_ime for tattoo, and they played such a number of small practical jokes, suc_s putting a handful of peas into the bugles and other wind instruments, tha_he band-master declared that he thought that they were all bewitched, and h_hreatened to thrash the boys all round, because he could not find out who ha_one it.
  • Especially angry was the man who played the big drum. This was a giganti_egro, named Sam, a kind-hearted fellow, constantly smiling, except when th_hought 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 h_as apt to get into a passion if any jokes were attempted upon him, and of al_ffences the greatest was to call him Sambo. Now none of the men ventured upo_his, for when he first joined, Sam had fought two or three desperate battle_n this ground, and his great strength and the insensibility of his head t_lows had invariably given him the victory. But, treated with what h_onceived proper respect, Sam was one of the best-tempered and best-nature_ellows in the regiment; and he himself, when he once cooled down, wa_erfectly ready to join in the laugh against himself, even after he had bee_ost put out by a joke.
  • The day before the regiment was to embark, the officers gave a lawn party; _arge number of ladies were present, and the band was, of course, to play. Th_iece which the bandmaster had selected for the commencement began with fou_istinct beats of the big drum. Just before it began, Captain Manley saw To_nd Peter, who with some of the other boys had brought the music-stands int_he 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, an_atch Sam's face when he begins, you will be amused, I think."
  • "Those are regular young pickles," Captain Manley said to the lady he wa_alking with; "they are Etonians who have run away from home, and are up t_ll kinds of mischief, but are the pluckiest and most straightforwar_oungsters imaginable. I have no doubt that they are up to some trick with ou_lack drummer."
  • On their way to where the band was preparing to play, Captain Manley said _ord or two to several of the other officers, consequently there was quite _ittle party standing watching the band when their leader lifted his baton fo_he overture to begin.
  • There was nothing that Sam liked better than for the big drum to commence, an_ith his head thrown well back and an air of extreme importance, he lifted hi_rm and brought it down with what should have been a sounding blow upon th_rum. To his astonishment and to the surprise of all the band, no deep boo_as heard, only a low muffled sound. Mechanically Sam raised his other arm an_et it fall with a similar result. Sam looked a picture of utter astonishmen_nd dismay, with his eyes opened to their fullest, and he gave vent to a lou_ry, which completed the effect produced by his face, and set most of thos_ooking on, and even the band themselves, into a roar of laughter. Sam no_xamined his sticks, they appeared all right to the eye, but directly he fel_hem his astonishment was turned into rage. They were perfectly soft. Takin_ut his knife he cut them open, and found that the balls were merely fille_ith a wad of soft cotton, the necessary weight being given by pieces of lea_astened 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 _lack 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 o_is being the only person present with a serious face, "run to the band-roo_nd 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 wen_n as usual; Sam played with a sulky fury. His dignity was injured, and h_eclared over and over again that if he could "find de rascal who did it, b_ingo, I pound him to squash!" and there was no doubt from his look that h_horoughly meant what he said. However, no inquiries could bring to light th_uthor of the trick.