Chapter 17 | In Misery | !Tention

Chapter Seventeen.

“I say, Pen, are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here. What do you want?”

“Want you to turn me round so as I can look out of the door. What made you put me like this?”

“It wasn’t my doing. You were put so that you might be more comfortable.”

“But I am not more comfortable, and it’s so jolly dark. I like to be able to look out of the door if I wake in the night.”

“Hush! Don’t talk so loudly.”

“Why not? There’s nobody to hear. But just turn me over first.”

“Hush! There are three or four other people to hear,” whispered Pen. “You are half-asleep yet. Don’t you understand, Punch?”

“Understand—understand what?” said the poor fellow, subduing his voice in obedience to his companion’s words.

“I must tell you, I suppose.”

“Tell me? Why, of course! Oh, I begin to understand now. Have I been off my head a bit?”

“Yes; you were very much upset when the French officer was with us, and fainted away.”

“Phee-ew!” whistled the boy softly. “Oh, it’s all coming back now. The French came, and knocked over that Spanish chap, and I thought that they were going to take me away and shoot me. Why, they didn’t, then! That’s all right. Yes, I remember now. My head was all in a muddledum. I got thinking I was never going to see you any more. When was it—just now?”

“No, Punch, it was two nights ago, and the doctor thought—”

“The doctor? Why, you have been my doctor. I say—”

“Don’t get excited. Lie quite still, and I will tell you.”

“Ah, do. I am all in a muddle still; only you might turn me round, so that I can look straight out of the door, and I could breathe the fresh air then. I am being quite stuffercated like this.”

“Yes, the hut is dreadfully hot,” said Pen with a sigh. “There are six other poor wounded fellows lying here.”

“Six other wounded fellows lying here! Whatcher talking about?”

“Only this, Punch,” said Pen, with his lips close to the boy’s ear. “You were carried to the little camp where those French came from that made us prisoners, and there you were put in an ambulance wagon with six more poor fellows, and the mules dragged us right away to a village where a detachment of the French army was in occupation. Do you understand?”

“I think so. But you said something about doctors.”

“Yes. There are several surgeons in this village, and wounded men in every hut. There has been fighting going on, and a good many more wounded men were brought in yesterday.”

“Halt!” said Punch in a quick, short whisper. “Steady! Did we win?”

“I don’t know, but I think not. I’ve seen nothing but wounded men and the doctors and the French orderlies. The French officer was very nice, and let me stay with you in the ambulance; and when we came to a halt and I helped to carry you and the other wounded into this hut, one of the doctors ordered me to stop and help, so that I have been able to attend to you as well as the others.”

“Good chap! That was lucky. Then this ain’t our hut at all?”


“What’s become of that gal, then?”

“She escaped somewhere in the darkness,” replied Pen.

“And what about that Spanish beggar? Ah, I recollect that now. He brought the French to take us prisoners.”

“I haven’t seen any more of him, Punch, since they led him away.”

“Serve him right! And so I’ve been lying here in this hut ever since?”

“Yes, quite insensible, and I don’t think you even knew when the French surgeon dressed your wound and took out a ragged bit of the cartridge.”

“Took out what?”

“A piece of the wad that was driven in, and kept the wound from healing.”

“Well, you have been carrying on nice games without me knowing of it!” said the boy. “And it hasn’t done me a bit of good.”

“The doctor says it has. He told me yesterday evening that you would soon get right now.”

“And shall I?”

“Yes, I hope so.”

“So do I. But it does seem rum that all this should be done without my knowing of it.”

“Well, you have been quite insensible.”

“I suppose so. But where are we now, then?”

“I don’t know, Punch, except that this is a little Spanish village which the French have been occupying as a sort of hospital.”

“But where’s all the fighting?”

“I don’t know, Punch, much more than you do. There was some firing last night. I heard a good deal of tramping close at hand, as if some more men were marching in, and then more and more came through the night, and I heard firing again about a couple of hours ago; but it seemed to be miles away.”

“And you don’t know who’s beat?”

“I know nothing, I tell you, only that everything has been very quiet for the last hour or so.”

“Perhaps because you have been asleep,” said Punch.

“No; I have been quite awake, fetching water from a mountain-stream here for the poor fellows who keep asking for more and more.”

“Do they know we are English?”

“I don’t think so. Poor fellows! their wounds keep them from thinking about such a thing as that; and, besides, I am just able to understand what they say, and to say a few words when they ask for drink or to be moved a little.”

“Oh,” said Punch, “that comes of being able to talk French. Wish I could. Here, I say, you said the doctor had been doing up my wound again. Think I could walk now?”

“I am sure you couldn’t.”

“I ain’t,” said the boy. “Perhaps I could if I tried.”

“But why do you ask?” said Pen. “Because it’s so jolly nice and dark; and, besides, it’s all so quiet. Couldn’t we slip off and find the way to our troops?”

“That’s what I’ve been thinking, Punch, ever since you have been lying here.”

“Of course you would,” said the boy in an eager whisper. “And why not? I think I could manage it, and I’m game.”

“You must wait, Punch, and with me think ourselves lucky that we are still together. Wait and get strong enough, and then we will try.”

“Oh, all right. I shall do what you tell me. But I say, what’s become of your rifle and belt?”

“I don’t know. I saw them once. They were with some muskets and bayonets laid in the mule-wagon under the straw on one side. But I haven’t seen them since.”

“That’s a pity,” sighed the boy faintly; and soon after Pen found, when he whispered to him, that he was breathing softly and regularly, while his head felt fairly cool in spite of the stifling air of the crowded hut.

Punch did not stir till long after sunrise, and when he did it was to see that, utterly exhausted, his companion had sunk into a deep sleep, for the rest of that terrible night had been spent in trying to assuage the agony of first one and then another of the most badly wounded who were lying around. Every now and then there had been a piteous appeal for water to slake the burning thirst, and twice over the lad had to pass through the terrible experience of holding the hand of some poor fellow who in the darkness had whispered his last few words as he passed away.

Later on a couple more wounded men had been borne in by the light of a lantern, by whose aid a place was found for them in the already too crowded hut, and it became Pen’s duty to hold the dim open lantern and cast the light so that a busy surgeon, who was already exhausted by his long and terrible duties, could do his best to bandage and stop some wound.

It was just at daylight, in the midst of the terrible silence which had now fallen around, that Pen’s head had sunk slowly down till it rested upon Punch’s shoulder; and when the sun rose at last its horizontal rays lit up the dismal scene, with the elder lad’s pallid and besmirched face, consequent upon the help he had been called upon to render, giving him the appearance of being one of the wounded men.