Chapter 15 | Juan's Revenge | !Tention

Chapter Fifteen.

“Oh, you have come back again, then,” grumbled Punch, as Pen met his weary eyes and the dismal face that was turned sideways to watch the door of the hut. “Thought you had gone for good and forgotten all about a poor fellow.”

“No, you didn’t, Punch,” said Pen, slowly standing his rifle up in a corner close at hand, as he sank utterly exhausted upon the foot of the bed.

“Yes, I did. I expected that you had come across some place where there was plenty to eat, and some one was giving you bottles of Spanish wine, and that you had forgotten all about your poor comrade lying here.”

“There, I am too tired to argue with you, Punch,” said Pen with a sigh. “You have drunk all the water, then?”

“Course I have, hours ago, and eat the last of the bread, and I should have eat that bit of hard, dry cheese, only I let it slip out of my fingers and it bounced like a bit of wood under the bed. Well, whatcher brought for us to eat?”

“Nothing, I am sorry to say.”

“Well, but what are we going to do? We can’t starve.”

“I am afraid we can, Punch, if things are going on like this.”

“But they ain’t to go on like this. I won’t lie here and starve. Nice thing for a poor fellow tied up here so bad that he couldn’t pick up a bit of wittles again as had tumbled down, and you gone off roaming about where you liked, leaving your poor wounded comrade to die! Oh, I do call it a shame!” cried the lad piteously.

“Yes, it does seem a shame, Punch,” said Pen gently; “but I can fetch some water. Are you very thirsty?”

“Thirsty? Course I am! Burnt up! It has been like an oven here all day.”

Pen caught up the wooden seau and hurried out through the wood, to return in a few minutes with the vessel brimful of cold, clear water, which he set down ready, and then after carefully raising the poor boy into a sitting position he lifted the well-filled drinking-cup to his lips and replenished it again twice before the poor fellow would give up.

“Ah!” he sighed, “that’s better! Which way did you go this time?”

“Out there to the west, where the sun goes down, Punch.”

“Well, didn’t you find no farmhouses nor cottages where they’d give you a bit of something to eat?”

“Not one; only rough mountain-land, with a goat here and there.”

“Well, why didn’t you catch one, or drive your bayonet into it? If we couldn’t cook it we could have eaten it raw.”

“I tried to, Punch, but the two or three I saw had been hunted by the enemy till they were perfectly wild, and I never got near one.”

“But you didn’t see no enemy this time, did you?”

“Yes; they are dotted about everywhere, and I have been crawling about all day through the woods so as not to be seen. It’s worse there than in any direction I have been this week. The French are holding the country wherever I have been.”

“Oh, I do call this a nice game,” groaned the wounded boy. “Here, give us another cup of water. It does fill one up, and I have been feeling as hollow as a drum.”

Pen handed him the cup once more, and Punch drank with as much avidity as if it were his first.

“Yes,” he sighed, “I do call it a nice game! I say, though, comrade, don’t you think if you’d waited till it was dark, and then tried, you could have got through their lines to some place and have begged a bit of bread?”

“Perhaps, Punch, if I had not been taken.”

“Well, then, why didn’t you try?”

“Well, we have had that over times enough,” said Pen quietly, “and I think you know.”

“Course I do,” said the boy, changing his tone; “only this wound, and being so hungry, do make me such a beast. If it had been you going on like this, lying wounded here, and it was me waiting on you, and feeding you, and tying you up, I should have been sick of it a week ago, and left you to take your chance.”

“No, you wouldn’t, Punch, old chap; it isn’t in you,” said Pen, “so we won’t argue about that. I only want you to feel that I have done everything I could.”

“’Cept cutting off and leaving me to take my chance. You haven’t done that.”

“No, I haven’t done that, Punch.”

“And I suppose you ain’t going to,” said the boy, “and I ought to tell you you are a fool for your pains.”

“But you are not going to do that, Punch.”

“No, I suppose not; and I wish I wasn’t such a beast—such an ungrateful brute. It is all that sore place; and it don’t get no better. But, I say, why don’t you go out straight and find the first lot of Frenchies you can, and say to them like a man, ‘Here, I give myself up as a prisoner’?”

“I told you, Punch, what I believe,” replied Pen.

“Yes; you said you were afraid that they wouldn’t have me carried away on account of my wound.”

“Well, that’s what I do believe, Punch. I don’t want to be hard on the French, but they are a very rough lot here in this wild mountain-land, and I don’t believe they would burden themselves with wounded.”

“Well, it wouldn’t matter,” said the boy dismally.

“Of course they wouldn’t carry me about; but they would put me out of my misery, and a good job too.”

Pen said nothing, but his face wrinkled up with lines which made him look ten years older, as he laid his hand upon his comrade’s fevered brow.

“Ha!” sighed Punch, “that does a fellow good. I don’t believe any poor chap ever had such a comrade as you are; and I lie here sometimes wondering how you can do so much for such an—”

“Will you be quiet, Punch?” cried Pen, snatching away his hand.

“Yes, yes—please don’t take it away.”

“Then be quiet. You know how I hate you to talk like this.”

“Yes, all right; I have done. But, I say, do you think it’s likely that gal will come again? She must know that what she brought wouldn’t last.”

“I think, poor lass, she must have got into such trouble with her people that she daren’t come again.”

“Her people!” cried the boy. “It’s that ugly black-looking nigger of a sweetheart of hers. You had a good sight of him that night when you took aim with your rifle. Why didn’t you pull the trigger? A chap like that’s no good in the world.”

“Just the same as you would if you had had hold of the rifle yourself, Punch—eh?”

“There you go again,” said the boy sulkily. “What a chap you are! You are always pitching it at me like that. Why, of course I should have shot him like a man.”

“Would you?” said Pen, smiling.

“Oh, well, I don’t know. Perhaps I shouldn’t. Such a chap as that makes you feel as you couldn’t be too hard on him. But it wouldn’t be quite the right thing, I suppose. There, don’t bother. It makes my sore place ache. But, oh, shouldn’t I like to tell him what I think of him! I say, don’t you think she may come to-night?”

“No, Punch; I have almost ceased to hope. Besides, I don’t want to depend on people’s charity, though I like to see it I want to be able to do something for ourselves. No, I don’t think she will come any more.”

“I do,” said the boy confidently. “I am beginning to think that she will come after all. She is sure to. She must know how jolly hungry I should be. She looked so kind. A gal like that wouldn’t leave us to starve. She is a nice, soft-hearted one, she is, though she is Spanish. I wouldn’t take no notice, but I see the tears come in her eyes, and one of them dropped on my hand when she leaned over me and looked so sorry because I was in pain. It’s a pity she ain’t English and lived somewhere at home where one might expect to see her again. It is very sad and shocking to have to live in a country like this.”

“Do you feel so hungry now, Punch?”

“Yes, horrid. Give us a bit of that cheese to nibble. Then I must have another drink, and try and go to sleep. Feel as though I could now you have come back. I was afraid I was never going to see you again.”

“I don’t believe you thought I had forsaken you, Punch.”

“Not me! You couldn’t have done it. ’Tain’t in you, comrade, I know. But I tell you what I did think: that the Frenchies had got hold of you and made you prisoner. Then I lay here feeling that I could not move myself, and trying to work it out as to what you’d do—whether you would try and make them come and fetch me to be a prisoner too, or whether you would think it wouldn’t be safe, and you would be afraid to speak for fear they should come and bayonet me. And so I went on. Oh, I say, comrade, it does make a chap feel queer to lie here without being able to help hisself. I got to think at last that I wished I was dead and out of my misery.”

“Yes, Punch, lad, I know. It was very hard to bear, but I couldn’t help being so long. I was working for you—for both of us—all the time.”

“Course you was, comrade! I know. And now you’ve come back, and it’s all right again. Give us another drink of water. It’s better than nothing—ever so much better, because there’s plenty of it—and I shall go to sleep and do as I did last night when I was so hungry—get dreaming away about there being plenty of good things to eat. I seemed to see a regular feast—roast-meat and fruit and beautiful white bread; only it was as rum as rum. I kept on eating all the time, only nothing seemed to have any taste in it. And, hooray! What did I say! There she is! But,” the boy added, his eager tones of delight seeming to die away in despair, “she ain’t brought no basket!”

For, eager and panting with her exertions, her eyes bright with excitement, the peasant-girl suddenly dashed in through the open door, caught Pen by the breast with one hand, and pointed with the other in the direction from which she had come, as she whispered excitedly, “Los Francéses!”

Then, loosening her grasp, she turned quickly to the boy and passed one hand beneath his neck, signing to Pen to help her raise the wounded lad from the bed, while Pen hurried to the door to look out.

“Yes,” he whispered quickly, as he turned back, “she means the enemy are coming, and wants me to carry you to a place of safety.—All right, my lass; I understand.—Here, Punch, I won’t hurt you more than I can help. Clasp your hands round my neck, and I will carry you.—Here, girl, take my rifle!”

He held out the piece, and the girl caught it in her hand, while Pen drew his companion into a sitting position, stooped down, and turned his back to the bed.

“All right; I won’t squeak, comrade. Up with me. For’ard!”

But the boy could not control his muscles, the contractions in his face showing plainly enough the agony he felt as with one quick movement Pen raised himself, pressing the clinging hands to his breast, and swung the poor fellow upon his back.

The girl nodded sharply, as, rifle in hand, she made for the door, beckoning to Pen to follow quickly; and then, with a look of despair, she stopped short, her actions showing plainly enough what she must be saying, for there was a quick rush among the trees outside, and the young Spaniard dashed to the front of the hut, made a snatch at the rifle the girl was bearing, and tore it from her grasp as he drove her back into the hut and barred the way, uttering a loud hail the while.

“Too late! We are too late, Punch,” said Pen bitterly. “Here they are! Prisoners, my lad. I can do no more.”

For, as he spoke, about a dozen of the enemy doubled up to the front of the hut, and the young Spaniard who had betrayed the two lads stood before Pen, showing his white teeth in a malignant grin of triumph, as he held the girl by the wrist.