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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharley Laurel: A Story Of Adventure By Sea And Land - Chapter 18. On Stilts
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Charley Laurel: A Story Of Adventure By Sea And Land - Chapter 18. On Stilts Post by :Nice81 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2536

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Charley Laurel: A Story Of Adventure By Sea And Land - Chapter 18. On Stilts

Chapter Eighteen. On Stilts

I felt very sorry at the thought of leaving Miss Kitty, and would gladly have remained with her and Mr and Mrs Newton, but Dick would not hear of my doing so; and Captain Renton insisted that I should return home with him, and go to school and obtain that instruction which I certainly greatly required.

"We will take good care of the young lady, Charley," said Mr Newton; "and should you meet with Mr Falconer, tell him that she is still as well cared for as at first."

Once more the _Phoebe was at sea. Captain Renton gave me a berth in his cabin, and took so much pains to instruct me, that before the voyage was over I had made good progress in various branches of knowledge.

"Why, Charley," said Dick, who was proud of the information I displayed, "you have become quite a scholar. Should not be surprised to hear of your bearing up to be a judge, or a bishop, or a big-wig of some sort."

"No, no, Dick," I answered; "my only wish is to be a sailor, though I own I should like to be a captain some day or other, though, of course, I must study to become that."

"No fear of you, if you go on as you have begun," remarked Dick, gazing approvingly at me.

We were about the latitude of Madeira, when one morning we sighted a ship standing to the south'ard. As the day drew on, just as we were close to her, it fell calm, and she made a signal that she would send letters on board us to carry home. A boat put off from her, and came alongside. The second mate of the ship came on deck with the letters.

"Captain Falconer, of the _Harmony_, begs that you will post these on your arrival in England," he said, presenting them to Captain Renton, by whose side I was standing.

"Captain Falconer!" I exclaimed, turning eagerly to my captain. "May I go on board and see him, sir? I cannot help thinking that he was the mate of the _Dolphin_, who saved that young lady from the savages."

Captain Renton at once ordered a boat to be lowered, to carry me on board the _Harmony_, letting Dick accompany me. Dick, who pulled the stroke-oar, gave way with a will, for he felt as eager as I was about the matter. We were soon alongside, and without waiting for the mate, who commanded the boat, I scrambled on board, followed by Dick. There, to my great delight, I saw Mr Falconer. He did not recognise me, as without ceremony I hurried aft, but when he saw Dick, he started, and then looked inquiringly at me.

"What, are you Dick Driver?" he exclaimed, as Dick, not forgetting his manners, touched his hat to him.

"Yes, sir. I am myself, and I am right glad to see you alive and well; and this is Charley Laurel, who, may be, you remember."

"Indeed I do," said Mr Falconer, shaking me warmly by the hand, and inviting us down in his cabin. "I feared that you had been both killed by the savages."

I briefly narrated how we had escaped, and when I told him that we had visited Mr Newton, and left Miss Kitty well, only a few months before, I judged by the agitation and interest he showed that she had not misplaced her confidence in him.

"I am bound out to the South Seas, where I have hitherto in vain attempted to go," he observed. "As soon as I reached England, I obtained a berth on board a ship bound for the Pacific, but she was unhappily wrecked not far from Cape Horn. I, with some of the crew who had reached the land, was taken off by a homeward-bound ship, in which I returned to England. I should immediately have again sailed, but hearing that my father was ill, I went to visit him. I had the happiness of being reconciled to him before he died, when I found myself the possessor of a small fortune. It is not, however, sufficient to enable me to live without a profession, and through the recommendation of the late captain of the _Harmony_, which her owners were about to send again to the Pacific, I obtained command of her, and trust before long of again having the happiness of seeing Miss Raglan."

"I am sure, sir, she will be very glad to see you," I could not help saying; and I told him that none of his letters had been received.

Captain Falconer kept me on board all day, and nearly the whole time was spent by him in asking me questions, and hearing all I could tell him about Miss Kitty. In the evening, he sent me and Dick back to the _Phoebe in one of the _Harmony's boats.

Next morning a westerly breeze sprang up, and the two ships stood on their respective courses.

After this we had a quick run to England, and, arriving in the Thames, Captain Renton took me with him to the owners, Messrs. Dear and Ashe, to whom he gave an account of my adventures. Mr Dear, the head of the firm, was a mild-looking pleasant old gentleman. He called me into his room, and asked me a number of questions, and then desired Captain Renton to send Dick Driver next day up to the office.

"If you can spare the lad, I will take him home with me, as Mrs Dear will like to see him," he observed.

"I intended to have taken you to my house, Charley," said Captain Renton, as he wished me good-bye, "but I am sure it will be to your advantage to accept Mr Dear's invitation."

In the afternoon, I drove out with Mr Dear to his country house, in the neighbourhood of London. It appeared to me a perfect palace. I had never before since I could recollect been in any house larger than Mr Newton's cottage.

Mrs Dear, a very kind lady, soon made me feel perfectly at home.

"We are much interested in you, Charley," she said, "and Mr Dear will do his best to discover your relations in the West Indies. In the mean time we think you will benefit by going to school."

I was very sorry to leave Captain Renton, but said I was ready to do whatever she and Mr Dear thought best.

The next evening, when Mr Dear returned, he said that he could not ascertain from Dick Driver the name of the island from which I had been taken away. At the same time he observed: "I conclude that I shall be able to learn at the Admiralty what place it was the _Laurel and her consorts attacked."

I spent a couple of weeks with my new friends before they found a school to which I could be sent. Captain Renton, accompanied by Dick, came out to see me. Dick had agreed to sail again in the _Phoebe_, and promised that, on his return, he would not fail to pay me a visit. He looked very downcast.

"We have been together for the best part of ten years, Charley," he said, as he wrung my hand, "and if I did not know it was for your good, I could not bear the thoughts of parting from you; but you are in kind hands, and I know it's better for you to remain on shore, and I am not one to stand in your way--I love you too well for that."

The next day Mr Dear drove me down to a large school at Hammersmith. I was introduced to the master, Mr Rushton, a tall gentleman with white hair, who looked very well able to keep a number of boys in order, and Mr Dear gave him a brief account of my history.

"The lad will do very well," he said, patting me on the head. "I have boys from all parts of the world, and he will soon find himself at home among them."

As soon as Mr Dear had gone, Mr Rushton, taking me by the hand, led me into the playground, where upwards of a hundred boys were rushing about, engaged in all sorts of games. He shouted "Fenwick," and a boy of my own age came up. He told the boy that he wished him to look after me, and teach me the ways of the school. Having done this, he re-entered the house.

As soon as the master was gone, I found myself surrounded by a number of boys, who, having examined me from head to foot, began asking me questions.

Though I was ignorant of all their games, and had scarcely heard of cricket and football, yet I knew a number of things which they did not.

"Who is your father?" asked one fellow.

"I don't know," I replied.

"Who is your mother?" inquired another.

I gave the same answer, whereon there was a general laugh.

"Have you many brothers and sisters?"

"I don't know," I again said.

"Where were you born?"

"That's more than I can tell you," I answered, quite quietly, and so I went on.

"I don't think you have got much out of me," I said, at last. "And now I want to know who among you can box the compass? Can any of you put a ship about? Can some one describe the Marquesas? or tell me where Tahiti and the Sandwich Islands are to be found?"

To none of these or similar questions did I receive any replies.

"Now I find that I have not got much out of you, either," I observed, "so we are pretty equal. Now, you might have answered my questions, though no one, as far as I know, could have answered those you put to me."

"The young fellow has got his wits about him," observed one of the big boys; and the others at once seemed inclined to treat me with far more respect than at first.

"Now," said I, gaining courage, "I have spent most of my life at sea, where we don't play the games you have on shore, but if any of you will teach me, I shall be very glad to learn them; and perhaps I may show you how to do a number of things you know nothing about."

From that day forward I was never bothered by having questions put to me. I soon managed to get hold of a piece of rope, which had lashed up one of the boy's boxes, and began to initiate several who wished to learn into the mysteries of knotting and splicing. Before long a carpenter came to do some work, and I got him to make me a pair of stilts. Several of the bigger boys ordered others. I would not use mine till the rest came home. Many then tried to walk about on them.

"Who are going to try their stilts?" I asked.

"We want to see you, Laurel, walk on yours," was the answer.

"No, no; you mount on yours first," I said; and most of them tried to get up, each with the help of two or three fellows who stood round to support them. I then brought out mine.

"Shall we help you?" inquired three or four of the boys, who by this time were my chief friends and supporters.

"Thank you," I said, laughing; while the others who were looking on expected to see me bungle as the rest had been doing. My friends collected round me and prepared to help me up. I did not undeceive them, but suddenly jumping on one side I sprang into my stilts.

"Who's for a race?" I cried out. "Come along; let us start fair."

We were at one end of the playground, and I began to move backwards and forwards, and in and out among the other fellows. They seemed satisfied that I was not going to do much better than they were. Several who had by this time managed to balance themselves, now formed a line.

"Away you go," cried one of the big boys, who expected to see me and the rest tumble down on our noses.

Off we started. In an instant I felt as much at home as I had been when making my escape from Motakee's village, and, as might be supposed, away I went. First one of the boys tumbled down, then another, and another, while I kept ahead, and, reaching the end of the playground, turned back again, to find all my competitors rubbing their arms and knees, only two or three having the courage to make an attempt to stand up again on their stilts.

"I don't want to laugh at you," I said, as I came back and stalked in and out among them, looking down with a complacent air from my lofty elevation. "I ought to have told you, perhaps, that I have had some experience in walking on stilts, though, as I had not used them for many months, I did not wish to boast beforehand. You will do as well as I can in time."

"I should think you must have had experience," cried out two or three of the big fellows; "and probably you can do a good many more things. We shall be on the watch not to be taken in again."

Stilt-walking soon became the rage, though I continued to be far superior to all my companions. They looked up to me in consequence with even greater respect than before, and I found my position in the school as satisfactory as I could desire. I was able, consequently, to take the part of many of the weaker or less courageous boys who were bullied by the rest. Among others, there was a delicate boy called Henri de Villereine, and who, because he spoke with a foreign accent, was nicknamed Frenchy. Though a year or two my senior, he was not nearly so strong, and was ill able to defend himself against much smaller boys. He seemed a gentle, well-disposed boy, and when others, on my first going to school, had attacked me, he had always stood aloof. Though I had not had much conversation with him, I could not bear to see him bullied.

One day, when two or three fellows had set upon him, I rushed up to his assistance, and, without saying a word, knocked over his assailants one after the other. He gratefully thanked me, and said he was afraid that, as soon as my back was turned, the fellows would set on him again.

After this no one ventured to attack Henri de Villereine, and I was the means of rendering his life at school far pleasanter, poor fellow! than it had been before. He showed his gratitude by every means in his power, and as I liked him for his many amiable qualities, we became fast friends.

However, I have not space to give an account of my schoolboy days. I applied myself diligently to my studies, and while I believe that I was liked by the boys, I gained credit with the masters, and rose rapidly towards the head of the school.

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