Chapter 10 | Talking in His Sleep | !Tention

Chapter Ten.

“No, no! Pray, pray, stop!” cried Pen, dashing out after his strange visitor, who was making for the edge of the nearest patch of wood.

The imploring tone of his words had its effect, though the tongue was foreign that fell upon the girl’s ears, and she stopped slowly, to look back at him; and, then as it seemed to dawn upon her what her pursuer was, she slowly raised her hands imploringly towards him, the gesture seeming to speak of itself, and say, “Don’t hurt me! I am only a helpless girl.”

Then she looked up at him in wonder, for Pen raised his in turn, as he exclaimed, “Don’t run away. I want your help.”

The girl shook her head.


Si, si, Inglés, Inglés. Don’t go. I won’t hurt you.”

Si, si, Inglés,” said the girl with some animation now.

“Ah, she understands that!” thought Pen; and then aloud, “Help! Wounded!” and he pointed at the open door.

The girl looked at him, then at the door, and then shook her head.

“Can you understand French?” cried Pen eagerly; and the girl shook her head again.

“How stupid to ask like that!” muttered Pen; and then aloud, “Help! Wounded.”

The girl shook her head once more, and then started and struggled slightly as Pen caught her by the arm.

“Don’t fight,” he cried. “Help! help!” And he gesticulated towards the hut as he pointed through the door at the dimly seen bed, while the girl held back at arm’s-length, gazing at him wildly, until a happy thought struck him, for he recalled the words that he had more than once heard used by the villagers while he and his fellows were foraging.

El pano,” he cried; “el pano—bread, bread!” And he pointed to the dimly seen boy and then to his own mouth.

Si, el pano!” cried the girl, ceasing her faint struggle.

Si, si!” cried Pen again, and he joined his hands together for a moment before slowly beckoning their visitor to follow him into the cottage.

He stepped in, and then turned to look back, but only to find that the girl still held aloof, and then turned to look round again as if in search of help. As she once more glanced in his direction with eyes that were full of doubt, Pen walked round to the back of the rough pallet, placing the bed between them, and then beckoned to the girl to come nearer as he pointed downward at his sleeping patient.

Their visitor still held aloof, till Pen raised his hands towards her, joining them imploringly, and his heart leaped with satisfaction as she began slowly and cautiously to approach.

And now for his part he sank upon his knees, and as she watched him, looking ready to dart away at any moment, he placed one finger upon his lips and raised his left hand as if to ask for silence, while he uttered softly the one word, “Hush!”

To his great satisfaction the girl now approached till her shadow fell across the bed, and, supporting herself by one hand, she peered in.

“I’d give something if I could speak Spanish now,” thought Pen. “What can I do to make her understand that he is wounded? She ought to be able to see. Ah, I know!”

He pointed quickly to his rifle, which was leaning against the bed, and then downward at where the last-applied bandage displayed one end. Then, pointing to poor Punch’s face, he looked at the girl sadly and shook his head.

It was growing quite dusk inside the hut, but Pen was able to see the girl’s face light up as, without a moment’s hesitation now she stepped quickly through the rough portal and bent down so that she could lightly touch the sleeper’s hand, which she took in hers as she bent lower and then rose slowly, to meet Pen’s inquiring look; and as she shook her head at him sadly he saw that her eyes were filling with tears.

“Sick,” he whispered; “dying. El pano, el pano;” and his next movement was telling though grotesque, for he opened his mouth and made signs of eating, before pointing downward at the boy.

Si, si,” cried the girl quickly, and, turning to the door again, she passed through, signing to him to follow, but only to turn back, point to the little pail that stood upon the floor by the bed’s head, and indicate that she wanted it.

Pen grasped her meaning, caught up the pail, handed it to her, and quite simply and naturally sank upon one knee and bent over to lightly kiss the girl’s extended hand, which closed upon the edge of the little vessel.

She shrank quickly, and a look of half-dread, half-annoyance came upon her countenance; but, as Pen drew back, her face smoothed and she nodded quickly, pointed in the direction of the big fall, made two or three significant gestures that might or might not have meant, “I’ll soon be back,” and then whispered, “El pano, el pano;” and ran off over the rugged stones as swiftly as one of her own mountain goats.

“Ha!” said Pen softly, as he sighed with satisfaction, “el pano means bread, plain enough, and she must have understood that. Gone,” he added, as the girl disappeared. “Then there must be another cottage somewhere in that direction, and I am going to hope that she will come back soon with something to eat. Who could have thought it?—But suppose she has gone to join some of the French who are about here, and comes back with a party to take us prisoners!—Oh, she wouldn’t be so treacherous; she can’t look upon us as enemies. We are not fighting against her people. But I don’t know; they must look upon us as made up of enemies. No, no, she was only frightened, and no wonder, to find us in her hut, for it must be hers or her people’s. Else she wouldn’t have come here. No, a girl like that, a simple country girl, would only think of helping two poor lads in distress, and she will come back and bring us some bread.”

As Pen stood watching the place where the girl had disappeared his hand went involuntarily to his pocket, where he jingled a few pesetas that he had left; and then, as he canvassed to himself the possibility of the girl’s return before long, he went slowly back into the hut and stood looking down at the sleeper.

“Bread and milk,” he said softly. “It will be like life to him. But how queer it seems that I should be worrying myself nearly to death, giving up my clothes to make him comfortable, playing doctor and nurse, and nearly starving myself, for a boy for whom I never cared a bit. I couldn’t have done any more for him if he had been my brother. Why, when I used to hear him speak it jarred upon me, he seemed so coarse and common. It’s human nature, I suppose, and I’m not going to doubt that poor girl again. She looks common and simple too—a Spanish peasant, I suppose, who had come to milk and see to the goats after perhaps being frightened away by the firing. A girl of seventeen or eighteen, I should say. Well, Spanish girls would be just as tender-hearted as ours at home. Of course; and she did just the same as one of them would have done. She looked sorry for poor Punch, and I saw one tear trickle over and fall down.—There, Punch, boy; we shall be all right now if the French don’t come.”

Pen stepped out in the open and seated himself upon a piece of mossy rock where he could gaze in the direction where he had last seen his visitor. But it was all dull and misty now. There was the distant murmur of the great fall, the sharp, sibilant chirrup of crickets. The great planet which had seemed like a friend to him before had risen from behind the distant mountain, and there was a peculiar sweet, warm perfume in the air that made him feel drowsy and content.

“Ah,” he sighed, “they say that when things are at their worst they begin to mend. They are mending now, and this valley never felt, never looked, so beautiful before. How one seems to breathe in the sweet, soft, dewy night-air! It’s lovely. I don’t think I ever felt so truly happy. There, it’s of no use for me to watch that patch of wood, for I could not see our visitor unless she was coming with a lantern; and perhaps she has had miles to go. Well, watching the spot is doing no good, and if she’s coming she will find her way, and she is more likely not to lose heart if I’m in the hut, for I might scare her away. Here, let’s go in and see how poor old Punch is getting on! But I never thought—I never could have imagined—when I was getting up my ‘lessons for to-morrow morning’ that the time would come when I should be waiting and watching in a Spanish peasant’s hut for some one to come and bring me in for a wounded comrade a cake of black-bread to keep us both alive.”

Pen Gray walked softly in the direction of the dimly seen hut through heathery brush, rustling at every step and seeming to have the effect of making him walk on tiptoe for fear he should break the silence of the soft southern evening.

The lad stopped and listened eagerly, for there was a distant shout that suggested the hailing of a French soldier who had lost his way in the forest. Then it was repeated, “Ahoy-y-hoy-hoy-y-y!” and answered from far away, and it brought up a suggestion of watchful enemies searching for others in the darkened woods.

Then came another shout, and an ejaculation of impatience from the listener.

“I ought to have known it was an owl. Hallo! What’s that? Has she come back by some other way?”

For the sound of a voice came to him from inside the rough hut, making him hurry over the short distance that separated him from the door, where he stood for a moment or two listening, and he heard distinctly, “Not me! I mean to make a big fight for it out of spite. Shoot me down—a boy—for obeying orders! Cowards! How would they like it themselves?”

“Why, Punch, lad,” said Pen, stepping to the bedside and leaning over his comrade, “what’s the matter? Talking in your sleep?”

There was no reply, but the muttering voice ceased, and Pen laid his hand upon the boy’s forehead, as he said to himself, “Poor fellow! A good mess of bread-and-milk would save his life. I wonder how long she will be!”