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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCaptain Mugford: Our Salt And Fresh Water Tutors - Chapter 6. Dissensions In Camp
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Captain Mugford: Our Salt And Fresh Water Tutors - Chapter 6. Dissensions In Camp Post by :nogodiggydie Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :723

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Captain Mugford: Our Salt And Fresh Water Tutors - Chapter 6. Dissensions In Camp


For every afternoon of those beautiful June and July days we rowed for two hours, from five to seven. Our studies were not relaxed in the morning, and our hours for swimming were regularly enjoyed, but the absorbing topic of thought and conversation was the approaching boat-race. Twice on Saturday afternoons we had seen Captain Mugford and Mr Clare pulling in their boat. They did not condescend to practise oftener, but we noticed that they worked in earnest when they did row. With the confidence of youth we feared not, feeling sanguine that we must beat them.

There was a vein of discord, however, in our little colony. Alfred Higginson and my brother Drake, who only differed by a few months in age, in other respects differed greatly, and had never been able, since our first acquaintance, to get along together. Alfred Higginson was of a nervous, sensitive disposition, quick in temper, and easily provoked. His tastes were fastidious. He was an excellent scholar, (much better than my brother Drake), and very fond of reading. He entered fully into all our sports, but preferred fishing, sailing, and swimming to our rougher harder amusements. He drew excellently, landscape and marine views and figures. He was a healthy, active boy, and could beat us all in running. I have said his was a quick temper, but it was a forgiving one. If he laughed not as loud and often as many of us, he caused us to laugh oftener than any, for he had a quick dry humour and witty tongue. When it came to chaffing, he was always conqueror.

My brother Drake was entirely unlike Alfred Higginson. He was a hardy, rough, jolly boy, overflowing with fun and animal life, what is called a "regular boy." Never quiet--laughing, singing, whistling all the time, heels over head in everything, pitching into his studies as irrepressibly as into his games, but with more success in the latter, though he was a fair student; better in his mathematics and other English studies than in the languages. The only reading he cared for was that of travel and adventure, voyages of whalemen and discoveries, histories of pirates, Indian scenes, hunting stories, war histories, Walter Scott's novels, "Gulliver's Travels," and the unequalled "Robinson Crusoe." Everything he could find about the Crusaders he revelled in, and even went at Latin with a rush when, Caesar and Nepos being put aside, the dramatic narrative of Virgil opened to him, and the adventures of the Trojan heroes became his daily lesson. But that he had to feed his interest, crumb by crumb, painfully gathered by dictionary and grammar, made him chafe. He enjoyed it, though, with all of us, when, after each day's recitation--after we boys had marred and blurred the elegance and spirit of Virgil's eloquence with all sorts of laboured, limping translations, that made Mr Clare fairly writhe in his chair--our tutor would drop a word of commendation for Walter's better rendering of the poem, and then read the lesson himself, and go over in advance the one for the next day. Then the ribs and decks of our schoolroom in the wrecked brig melted away as the scenes of the Aeneid surrounded us. The dash of the waves we heard was on the Trojan shore, or the coast of Latium, as we wandered with storm-tossed Aeneas. Or we walked the splendid court of Dido, or were contending in battle with the warlike Turnus for our settlement in Latium. Turnus and the fierce Mezentius were Drake's favourites. He never liked Aeneas, who was always Alfred Higginson's hero. Those readings were often disturbed by Drake's exclamations. His overflowing, outspoken disposition could not be restrained when his interest was powerfully enlisted; and as Mr Clare read, in his clear, impassioned manner, some exciting passage, Drake would shout out an exclamation of encouragement or satisfaction with a favourite warrior, and bring down his fist on the desk, as another favourite was discomfited or came to grief. I remember very well how often Drake was reproved for such unseasonable enthusiasm, which always caused an after sarcasm or witticism from Alfred Higginson; and I distinctly recall how, notwithstanding the formality of school-hours, when we came to the single combat between Aeneas and Turnus, and the death of the latter, Drake flung his book from the table, and shouted out in an angry voice, "I'll bet anything Virgil tells fibs!"

Those readings were treats to all of us. Drake having told Captain Mugford of them, and discussed the incidents that vexed him with the Captain, got him so interested that he asked Mr Clare to allow him to come in at the close of our recitations. Of course that favour was readily granted, and after that time the Captain always made one of the auditors. He used to laugh and shake over Drake's excitement, and yet entered into it himself, and I have seen salt drops running down his cheeks and Mr Clare's, as the latter rendered in a voice slightly trembling some of the pathetic passages in which Virgil is so exquisitely beautiful.

I am glad to write of those lessons in the old brig's carcass, for they are remembered so pleasantly. Moreover, it came naturally in drawing my dear brother Drake's character, and the effect of those heroical classics influenced, in a manner very quixotic, the crisis of the continued quarrel between Drake and Alfred Higginson, to which we are coming. The great dissimilarity in the characters of the two was a reason for their want of sympathy and agreement, one with the other, but the causes of the open warfare which existed between them were the faults of each--the irritability, slight conceit, and stinging tongue of Alfred Higginson; the teasing practices, want of toleration for the feelings and peculiarities of others, and a certain recklessness of Drake's. And yet they were both noble boys, with nothing false or ungenerous or underhanded about either of them.

Ever since we had come to the cape, their skirmishes of words and disagreement had been continual, and several more tangible collisions, where blows had been exchanged between them, were nipped in the bud by Walter and the others of us, and once by the Captain, who, wrought up by their quarrelsomeness, separated them pretty fiercely, and, holding each at arm's length, told them that, if there was any fighting to be done among his crew, he must have a hand in it. Then he laughed one of his bars of rollicking "ha-has," and dropped the boys with the injunction that if they had another "mill," he should certainly let their fathers know. "Now, boys, try if you cannot get along better, and when you have a quarrel again, bring it to Mr Clare or to me, and we will settle it better than your blows and frowns can do."

You remember how Drake knocked Alfred from the footboard of his bed on the occasion of our night meeting to get up the boat-race. That was a good example of Drake's reckless rudeness, proceeding merely from his boisterous disposition, but somehow those outbreaks were always directed to Alfred, just as the rough points of Alfred's disposition were sure to be turned to Drake. That fall had hurt Alfred, and from the date of the commencement of our boat-practice, the war between the two had waxed hotter and hotter. The contest seemed only to amuse Harry Higginson, but Walter--our mentor, my conscientious, tender-hearted brother, who led us all in games as well as in lessons--worried over it, and each day he exhorted the two to govern their tempers, and, with great tact and decision, whenever he saw a storm brewing, managed to throw oil upon the waters. However, his influence did not heal up the difference, and in about a fortnight, a few days before the intended race, there occurred during our afternoon boat-practice a little row between the two antagonists, which proved a final skirmish before the severe but ludicrous battle which crowned the civil war.

We were rowing in Bath Bay as usual, Walter pulling the stroke oar, and Harry Higginson the bow, whilst Drake and Alfred held the intermediate positions, Drake sitting behind Alfred--that is, nearer the bow. I had my place at the tiller.

Alfred Higginson had made a very ridiculous blunder in a French translation that morning. Such a thing was unusual for him, and was such a comical one that it set the others of the class in a roar of laughter. Drake was so extravagantly affected by Alf's blunder that Mr Clare had to stop his laughter, which was half genuine and half pretence, by ordering him out of the room. Even then we heard him ha-ha-ing outside. Poor Alfred was terribly mortified, and did not recover his composure even when the school-hours were over, and the first greeting he received, on emerging from the house, was from Drake, who immediately mimicked Alfred's mistake, and performed a variety of antics supposed to proceed from convulsions of mirth. On the way to the boat, Drake continued to tease Alfred. Walter reproved him continually, and even took hold of him once to compel him to stop; but he was in one of his most boisterous moods, and was so very funny that he kept every one but Alfred in shouts of laughter. But Alfred lashed him with the bitterest satire, and, as they say, sometimes "made him laugh on the other side of his mouth," until by the time we had reached the bay Drake had subsided into silence, and the tight closing of his lips, and quick walk, proved that Alfred's sharp wit was more fatal than Drake's broad fun. Both of the boys rowed sullenly, and we all felt that a storm was brewing. In the final round, when we made the course at our best and timed the performance, so as to notice what improvement we were making, Alfred caught a crab with his oar, in consequence of which the head of Drake's oar hit him sharply in the back. The mortification of a miss stroke is enough to anger a boatman, but coming as it did after the morning's blunder in class, and made, too, a pain of the flesh by Drake's blow, it was too much for Alfred's temper, and as Drake increased the irritation by calling him an "awkward lout," and then mimicking the blunder of translation with the accompaniment of a shout of laughter, Alfred turned quickly, and hit his opponent a stinging blow in the face.

In a moment the two boys grappled each other, and in a shorter period than it takes my pen to write it, the boat was upset, and we were all in the water. The combatants still clung to one another, and disappeared together. The adage, however, that "discretion is the better part of valour," enforced by such a deep, cold plunge, bore proof; for the irate youths came to the surface apart, and we all struck out for the rocks, distant about eighty yards. We climbed like half-drowned rats up the shore, where the fight was not resumed. Its very strange continuation was postponed until the Saturday after the boat-race, which must be reserved for another chapter. We, however, read then, in the faces of the discomfited antagonists, as plainly as you read here--

"To be continued."

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