Chapter 14 | Punch Will Talk | !Tention

Chapter Fourteen.

“Yes, I suppose you are right, Punch,” said Pen, frowning. “Thick-headed idiot. I have quite taken the skin off my knuckles. Poor girl,” he continued, “she has been cruelly punished for doing a womanly action.”

“Yes; but he’s got it too, and serve him right. Oh, didn’t I want to help! But, my word, he will never forget what a British fist is. Yours will soon be all right. Oh, I wish she wouldn’t go on crying like that! Do say something to her and tell her we are very sorry she got into a scrape.”

“No, you say something,” said Pen quietly. But there was no need, for the girl suddenly sprang up, hurriedly dashing away her tears, her eyes flashing as if she were ashamed of being seen crying; and, looking sharply from one to the other, she frowned, stamped her little foot upon the earthen floor, and pointed through the open door.

Juan malo!” she cried, and, springing to where the knife lay, she caught it up, ran outside, and sent it flying in amongst the trees. Then coming back, she approached Pen.

Juan malo!” she cried. “Malomalo!”

Mal—bad,” said Pen, smiling. “That’s Latin as well as Spanish. Si,” he continued, to the girl, “Juan malmalo.”

The girl nodded quickly and pointed to his hand. “Navajo?” she said.

“What does that mean?” said Pen. “Knife?” And he shook his head. “No, no, no, no,” he said, and to give effect to his words he energetically struck the injured hand into its fellow-palm, and then held up the knuckles, which had begun to bleed again.

The girl smiled and nodded, and she made again to take the handkerchief from her neck to bind it up.

“No, no, no!” cried Pen, laughing and shaking his head.

The girl looked a little annoyed, and smiled again, and pointed to the provisions she had brought.

Queso, pano,” she said. “Las uvas;” and she caught up one of the bunches of grapes, picked off a few, and placed them in Punch’s hand. Then turning quickly to the door, she stopped to look round. “Juan malo!” she cried; and the next minute she was out of sight.

“Ah!” said Punch with a sigh, “wish I was a Spaniel and could tell her what a good little lass she is, or that I was a scholar like you are; I’d know how you do it. Why, you quite began to talk her lingo at once. Think that chap’s waiting to begin bullying her again?”

“I hope not, Punch.”

“So do I. Perhaps he won’t for fear that she should tell you, and him have to run up against your fist again.”

“It’s a bad job, Punch, and I want to go down to the stream to bathe my hand. I dare say I should see him if he were hanging about, for the girl came from that way.”

“But you needn’t say it’s a bad job,” said Punch. “There’s nothing to mind.”

“I hope not,” said Pen thoughtfully. “Perhaps there’s nothing to mind. It would have been a deal worse if the French had found out that we were here.”

“Yes, ever so much,” said Punch. “Here, have some of these grapes; they are fine. Do you know, that bit of a spurt did me good. I feel better now as long as I lie quite still. Just as if I had been shamming, and ought to get up, and—and—oh, no I don’t,” said the poor fellow softly, as he made an effort to change his position, the slight movement bringing forth an ejaculation of pain. “Just like a red-hot bayonet.”

“Poor old chap!” said Pen, gently altering the injured lad’s position. “You must be careful, and wait.”

“But I don’t want to wait,” cried the boy peevishly. “It has made me feel as weak as a great gal. I don’t believe that one would have made so much fuss as I do.”

“There, there, don’t worry about it. Go on eating the grapes.”

“No,” said the boy piteously. “Don’t feel to want them now. The shoot that went through me turned me quite sick. I say, comrade, I sha’n’t want to get up and go on to-morrow. I suppose I must wait another day.”

“Yes, Punch,” said Pen, laying his uninjured hand upon the boy’s forehead, which felt cold and dank with the perspiration produced by the pain.

“But, I say, do have some of these grapes.”

“Yes, if you will,” said Pen, picking up the little bunch that the wounded boy had let fall upon the bed. “Try. They will take off the feeling of sickness. Can you eat some of the bread too?”

“No,” said Punch, shaking his head; but he did, and by degrees the pain died out, and he began to chat about the encounter, and how eager he felt to get out into the open country again.

“I say, comrade,” he said at last, “I never liked to tell you before, but when it’s been dark I have been an awful coward and lain coming out wet with scare, thinking I was going to die and that you would have to scrape a hole for me somewhere and cover me up with stones. I didn’t like to tell you before, because I knew you would laugh at me and tell me it was all nonsense for being such a coward. D’ye see, that bullet made a hole in my back and let all the pluck out of me. But your set-to with that chap seemed to tell me that it hadn’t all gone, for I felt ready for anything again, and that there was nothing the matter with me, only being as weak as a rat.”

“To be sure!” cried Pen, laying his hand upon the boy’s shoulder. “That is all that’s the matter with you. You have got to wait till your strength comes back again, and then, Punch, you and I are going to see if we can’t join the regiment again.”

“That’s right,” cried the boy, with his dull eyes brightening; “and if we don’t find them we will go on our travels till we do. Why, it will be fine, won’t it, as soon as I get over being such a cripple. We shall have ’ventures, sha’n’t we?”

“To be sure,” replied Pen; “and you want to get strong, don’t you?”

“Oh, don’t I just! I should just like to be strong enough to meet that brown Spaniel chap and chuck my cap at him.”

“What for?”

“What for? Set his monkey up and make him come at me. I should just like it. I have licked chaps as big as he is before now—our chaps, and one of the Noughty-fourths who was always bragging about and crowing over me. I don’t mind telling you now, I was a bit afraid of him till one day when he gave me one on the nose and made it bleed. That made me so savage I forgot all about his being big and stronger, and I went in at him hot and strong, and the next thing I knew was Corporal Grady was patting me on the back, and there was quite a crowd of our chaps standing laughing, and the corporal says, ‘Bedad, Punchard, boy, ye licked him foine! Yes, foine,’ he said, just like that. ‘Now, go and wash your face, and be proud of it,’ just like that. And then I remember—”

“Yes, but remember that another time,” said Pen quietly. “You are talking too much,” And he laid his hand on the boy’s forehead again.

“Oh, but I just want to tell you this.”

“Tell me to-morrow, Punch. You are growing excited and feverish.”

“How do you know? You ain’t a doctor.”

“No; but I know that your forehead was cold and wet a few minutes ago, and that it is hot and burning now.”

“Well, that only means that it’s getting dry.”

“No; it means doing yourself harm when you want to get well.”

“Well, I must talk,” pleaded the boy.

“Yes, a little.”

“What am I to do? I can’t be always going to sleep.”

“No; but go as much as you can, and you will get well the quicker.”

“All right,” said Punch sadly. “’Bey orders; so here goes. But I do wish that the chap as gave me this bullet had got it hisself. I say, comrade,” added the boy, after lying silent for a few minutes.

“What is it? What do you want?”

“Just unhook that there cord and hang my bugle on that other peg. Ah, that’s better; I can see it now. Stop a minute—give us hold.”

The boy’s eyes brightened as Pen handed him the instrument, and he looked at it with pride, while directly after, obeying the impulse that seized him, he placed the mouthpiece to his lips, drew a deep breath, and with expanding cheeks was about to give forth a blast when Pen snatched it from his hands.

“Whatcher doing of?” cried the boy angrily. “Stopping you from bringing the French down upon us,” cried Pen sharply. “What were you thinking about?”

“I wasn’t thinking at all,” said the boy slowly, as his brow wrinkled up in a puzzled way. “Well, I was a fool! Got a sort of idea in my head that some of our fellows might hear it and come down and find us.”

“I wish they would,” said Pen sadly; “but I don’t think there’s a doubt of it, Punch, we are surrounded by the French. There, I’m sorry I was so rough with you, only you were going to make a mistake.”

“Sarve me jolly well right,” said the boy. “I must have been quite off my chump. There, hang it up. I won’t do it again.”

It was quite dark now, and in the silence Pen soon after heard a low, deep breathing which told him that his wounded companion had once more sunk asleep, while on his part a busy brain and a smarting hand tended to reproduce the evening scene, and with it a series of mental questions as to what would be the result; and so startling were some of the suggestions that came to trouble the watcher that he placed himself by the side of the bed farthest from the door and laid his rifle across the foot ready to hand, as he half-expected to see the dim, oblong square of the open doorway darkened by an approaching enemy stealing upon them, knife-armed and silent, ready to take revenge for the blow, urged thereto by a feeling of jealous hatred against one who had never meant him the slightest harm.

That night Pen never closed his eyes, and it was with a sigh of relief that he saw the first pale light of day stealing down into the rocky vale.