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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCaptain Mugford: Our Salt And Fresh Water Tutors - Chapter 7. Before The Boat-Race--Clump's Story
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Captain Mugford: Our Salt And Fresh Water Tutors - Chapter 7. Before The Boat-Race--Clump's Story Post by :nogodiggydie Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :794

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Captain Mugford: Our Salt And Fresh Water Tutors - Chapter 7. Before The Boat-Race--Clump's Story


The _day before the eighteenth was a Monday. In consideration of beginning a week's study to have it broken off again on Tuesday, and because of the many preparations there were to make for the great day, Mr Clare gave us the two holidays. We had our swim and boat-practice on Monday morning, and then set to work to make arrangements for the next day, every one taking a part with real zest. First the boat was carefully hauled up on the shore, and turned over on a way of joists we had prepared for her. The bottom was then carefully washed, and, after that, thoroughly rubbed with the sand-paper--about an hour's work, at which we all had a hand. Having got the sides and keel beautifully smooth in that way, Clump brought a kettle of pure grease, which was placed over a little fire of driftwood, and when the grease had become liquid, Walter, with a large fine paint-brush, anointed the entire boat's bottom in a most painstaking manner. We boys stood by, entering into the operation, which was supposed to prove wonderfully efficacious in increasing our boat's speed, with great interest, and Clump bent over the kettle, stirring the oil, and puffing at the short stern of his pipe eagerly.

Grouped with such absorbing concern about the body of the boat, Walter moving slowly from stem to stern, and stern to stem, laying on the magic oil, (unctuous of victory to our noses), with steady sweeps, and the bent figure of black old Clump beside the caldron, from which rose a curling smoke, we must have made a tableau of heathen offering sacrifice, or some other savage mystery.

The all-important job was at length completed, and we left our ark of many hopes to rest until the exciting hour of the morrow.

Clump was a sharer in our great expectations. His heart was set upon our success. He had to fill his pipe again before we left the boat, and pulled at it nervously and wrinkled his black skin into countless puckers as he walked beside us, thinking of the vast interests at stake and listening to our excited conversation. As we left him to go over to the town for a small cannon we had borrowed to fire the signals, he touched Walter on the sleeve, and said in the most slow and earnest manner, as he drew the pipe from his mouth and knocked its ashes on the ground--

"An I'se to be judge an' udder ting you'se talk of, Massa Walter, eh? An I'se to fire de gun, eh? W-a-all, I'se an ole nigger, an my heart ees shree-veled up like, I s'pose, but my gorry, young massas, ef you don't beat, old Clump will jist loaden up do musket again an'--an'--an' _but 'is 'ed agin de rock! Yah, fur sure!"

Having delivered himself of that tragical decision in a manner mixed of sadness and frenzy, he hobbled off, amidst our laughter and assurances that we should never allow him to injure the rock in that way, to consult with Juno, and probably load his pipe again.

No noble lord, with his thousands of pounds wagered on the Derby or Saint Leger, or perhaps, rather, I should say on some of the crack yachts of the day, was ever half so excited as was this good old darky about our boat-race.

Under the escort of Walter, Harry, Alfred, and Drake, the cannon arrived in the afternoon, and, by their united efforts and the assistance of the Captain, was mounted before sundown on a heavy piece of timber in the _Clear the Track's bow.

By night the flags, ammunition, and many other necessaries for the morrow's undertaking were in order and readiness for service.

After the day's work, and filled with anticipations of the eventful morrow, we felt no desire for our usual outdoor games that evening, but found seats on the great boulder beside our house, where Mr Clare was resting, and the Captain was enjoying his smoke. Old Clump, too, having finished his tea and swept out Juno's kitchen, loitered toward us with his comforter--the pipe--and edged up respectfully within hearing of our conversation. So we boys leaned on our elbows, looking out at the dimly defined water, sometimes lighted in streaks by gleams of phosphorescence where shoals of fish were jumping; or, stretched on our backs, we watched the shooting-stars hurrying with speed quick as thought from one part of the immeasurable blue to another; while our tutors talked earnestly of former times, and we heard the shrill calls of gulls and other sea birds, the occasional tender bleating of the lambs in the distant sheepfold, and the soft regular splash of a summer sea on the rocks, until the delicate young crescent had dozed slowly down to its bed in the ocean,--and we, profiting by example, sought slumber in the old dreamful attic.

Harry Higginson was the first one up in the morning. He shook us to our senses, and whispered to get out of the house quietly, that we might call our tutors with the cannon's voice. That was an acceptable proposition, and we were soon stealing down the creaking stairs, shoes in hand. Having put those on, seated by the door-stone, we started on a run for the _Clear the Track_. It was just light, the soft dawn of a warm summer's day--not yet half-past four. Walter said he would bet old Sol had already fired a gun in honour of the glorious battle won that day by England and her Allies, but so far off we could not hear it.

We got on board the wreck as carefully as we had quitted the house, and I, being delegated to descend to the Captain's cabin and steal one of the flannel powder cartridges, was soon creeping by the snoring Captain with my booty secured. It took but a moment to ram home the charge and pack it over with pockets full of wadding; and then Harry, our gunner, touched it off. As the old brig shook with the report, Alfred jumped to the bell, and the way that clanged was splendid.

"Boys," said Drake, who was shaking with the fun, "can't you see old topgallant sail down below springing up in his berth with a lurch and cracking his head against the beams, and our dignified fresh tute jerking those long, thin legs out of bed, and wondering what's about to happen this fine morning, and old Clump and Juno groaning out 'O de Lord!' and knocking their black pates together as they both try to get out of bed at the same instant. How jolly!"

An immense red bandanna handkerchief at that moment popped above the companionway--then a hearty, weather-marked face we well knew--then a portion of an ample East Indian nightshirt, which threw up a pair of arms and fired off a couple of boarding-pistols. The discharge was followed by a stentorian "Three cheers for the great and glorious battle won this day!--hip! hip! hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!" in which we fellows joined with a yell.

"Ah! you young rascals have got before me this morning, but this afternoon it will be my turn--mine and Mr Clare's, you roystering middies!" and the Captain popped down again to finish his toilet.

We were soon joined by the Captain, and a little while after by Mr Clare, who was in the best of spirits, complimented us on our display of zeal and patriotism, and touched off the old gun once himself--"for practice," he said.

"But," continued the jolly old Captain, having taken Mr Clare's arm, "suppose we visit Ethiopia and see if a hot breakfast is not waiting for us there. These boys would rather stay here and load this cannon."

"No sir, no sir!" replied Harry, "we must load our own personal guns, for we mean to make our _report this afternoon."

Laughing over that threat to our tutors, we went with them to breakfast, which we found ready as soon as our morning prayers were read. Clump brought in the dishes--Clump in uniform--and I never saw a funnier figure in my life. The coat was once my grandfather's--a colonel of West India Militia, I believe. Now my grandfather had been a rather short man, but very broad and stout, particularly round the stomach. Old Clump was tall and thin as a spectre, so the epaulettes fell over his shoulders, the waist flapped loosely eight inches above his trousers, and the short swallow-tails did not sufficiently cover the spot which the venerable darky usually placed on the chair to hide a patch, the bigness of a frying-pan and of a different material from the breeches themselves, that Juno's affectionate care had strengthened her liege lord's garments with--which garments, far more pastoral than military, and forced by suspenders as near the coat as Clump's anatomy otherwise would allow, failed by three inches of woollen stocking to meet his shoes. When you think how comical the excellent, old, white-woolled darky appeared, remember, too, that he was perfectly unconscious, until our laughter startled him, that he was not becomingly attired.

As our irrepressible appreciation of the fun was shouted out, Clump did not realise at first that he was its cause, but when he did all the pride and alacrity died from his face in an instant. In a bewildered, palsied way he put down the dish he carried, and, heaving a sad sigh, drew himself up until the rheumatic spine must have twinged, and, fixing his eyes on some point far above our head, stood in motionless dignity.

Even Mr Clare had laughed, but, recovering equanimity immediately that he saw how deeply Clump was wounded, he said:

"Boys, stop that laughing." He might have addressed his reproof to the Captain, too, for he was in paroxysms, and had his face buried in the countless flags of that great red silk bandanna of his. "Is it so very funny to see Clump doing honour to a day once so big with the fate of England and the world? Had the Allies been beaten at Waterloo, what might not have become of our beloved country? Instead of Napoleon being an exile in Saint Helena, he might have carried out his darling project of invading and humbling England to the dust. Though he cares no more for the Pope of Rome than does the Sultan of Turkey or the Shah of Persia, he would probably have established Popery with all its horrors and impositions, for the sake of more completely bringing our country into subjection to his will; and, once established, it would have been a hard matter to throw off its iron shackles. Boys, you do not sufficiently value your privileges as Englishmen and Protestants--or rather, I should say, as inhabitants of this free and favoured island of Great Britain. We are free to read our Bibles; we are free to worship God as we think fit; we are free to go and come as we list; we have a good constitution and good laws; we may think freely, speak freely, and act freely."

"Yes, Massa Clare; you may tell de young gemmen dey may laff freely too," broke in Clump. "I laff freely, I know, when I first set foot on de English land. I no longer slave, I free man, and so dey may laff as much as dey likes at ole Clump, perwided dey laffs wid him. I know one ting, dey would not have laff if dey had been in deir grandfather's coat when dis hole was made right through it into his arm." Clump held up his right arm and showed the bullet-hole in the coat, and what he declared to be the stain of blood still on it; and he then continued in a triumphant strain--

"Dis ole man Clump was 'is body-sarvant: but Clump was not ole den, and he follow his massa to de war--dat was long, long before dose young gemmen was born--afore dey was tinked of--and Massa Tregellin deir fader was young gemmen like dose, but more politer. We was sent wid de seamen to take de island of Martinique; and so we landed and looked bery fierce, and de Frenchmen thought we had come to eat dem; so dey say, no use fighting; and so, after firing a great many shot at us; but doing no harm, dey say when we land, 'We give in, we no fight more.' So we take de island, and no one hurt except one man scratch anoder's nose wid his bagonet, and make blood come. When de generals and de admirals see we done so well, dey say we go and take anoder island; so we all sets sail for to take Guadeloupe. Some of de ships got in one day, some anoder, and anchored in Grozier Bay. Ah, de enemy thought we come to eat him up, but dis time he stop. Dere was de frigate _Winchelsea_, of which Lord Garlies was de cap'en. He tun in, and bring his guns to bear on de shore, and under deir cover de soldiers and de bluejackets landed. Dere was a high hill, wid de fort full of French soldiers on de top of it. 'Dere, my brave fellow, we have to go up dere,' said de Kunnel. De seamen was commanded by Cap'en Robert Faulkner. He bery brave man. I could just tall you how many brave tings he did; how he lash de bowsprit of de enemy to his own mainmast, and neber let her go till he took her, and den was shot through de heart in de hour of victory. Well, de gen'ral say to us--'Now, boys, we don't want firing, but just let de enemy feel de cold steel. Dey don't like dat. Soldiers, use bagonets. Bluejackets, use your pikes and cutlashes.' 'Ay, ay, sir,' we shout; and den up de hill we go--up! up! De faster we go de better for us, for de French bullets come down peppering pretty sharp. We just near de top, and de enemy begin to look bery blue, when I see de Kunnel's right arm drop--he was only a cap'en den--his sword fell from his hand, but he seize it wid de oder hand, and wave it above his head, shouting, 'On, boys, on.' We reach de fort: de Frenchmen fire wid de guns, and poke at us wid de pikes, and swear at us wid deir mouds, and grapeshot and musket-balls come rattling down about our heads; but dat no stop us; and on we went till we got into de fort, and trou de gates, and den de Frenchmen, who had fought bery well, but could fight no more, rushed away. Just den I see de Kunnel look bery pale, just like one nigger when he frightened, and he goed round and round, and would hab fallen, but Clump caught him in de arms, and den Clump put him on de ground, and shouted for de doctor, and ran and got some water, and de doctors came and splashed water in de Kunnel's face, and he oped his eyes, and he say, 'Tank you, Clump.' Yes, de Kunnel, dis ole nigger's massa, tank him on de field of battle. When de dear Massa got better, he one day take de coat and say to me, 'Here, Clump, you and I went up dat hill, and it's a mercy we eber came down again. It's my belief if you hadn't got de water dat day to throw in my face, I should never have come round again; and so, Clump, here, take dis coat, I'll gub tur you to r'member dis fite.' And now dese gemmen laff at deir gran'pa's coat! but black Clump, ole nigger, _lub it! Yaas, he'll lub it till he's 'posited in de bowels ob de arth."

The remembrance of my grandfather and that proud day for Clump, the keenness with which he had felt our rudeness, and the excitement of recital were, all together, too much for our good old castellan. The erectness of his figure gave way as he concluded, the enthusiasm in his features faded into dejection, and, as he turned from the table to leave the room, I saw a big drop, that had trickled down his wrinkled face, fall on his extended hand.

The cruelty of boys is an idiosyncrasy in their otherwise generous character. Of course there are mean boys, hard-hearted boys, cowardly boys; but Boyhood is more generous, open, tender-hearted, daring, than Manhood, yet its cruelty stands out a distinguishing trait. An old French teacher, loving children, wanting in dignity, broken in English, irritable in disposition; a sensitive young stranger, fresh from home, charming in innocence, sad with thoughts of a dear mother; a poor, frightened kitten, are all objects for boys' cruelty to gloat over.

And so, too, on the oddities of that dear old Clump, that excellent, noble-hearted old black man, who loved us with surpassing pride and tenderness, we delighted to prey on as vultures on a carcass, and yet, I am sure, we were neither vicious nor hard-hearted, but simply and entirely--Boys.

All this time, since our Saturday afternoon, when the fight overset our boat, Alfred Higginson and Drake had not spoken to one another. This eighteenth of June, even, Drake did not wake Alfred, but left others of us to do so. Thrown together so intimately every minute of the day, and so often on the point of speaking--often almost necessitated to do so by circumstances, and frequently through forgetfulness--their unfortunate difficulty and enmity stole the freshness from their sports, and acted as a check and damper on the spirits of all our little company. However, the _finale was not far-distant, but it was postponed until after the boat-race.

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