Chapter 21 | Hide-and-Seek | !Tention

Chapter Twenty One.

“Oh, I say,” whispered Punch, in a half-suffocated tone, “my word! Talk about near as a toucher! It’s all right, comrade; but if I had held my breath half a jiffy longer I should have gone off pop. Don’t you call this a game? Hide-and-seek and whoop is nothing to it! Garn with you, you thick-headed old frog-soup eaters! Wait till I get my breath. I want to laugh.—Can’t hear ’em now; can you?”

“No,” said Pen faintly. “Will they come back?”

“Not they,” replied Punch chuckling. “Couldn’t find the way again if they tried. But we shall have to stay here now till it’s dark. It don’t matter. I want to cool down and get my wind. I say, though, catch your foot on a stone?”

“No,” replied Pen, breathing hard.

“Thought you did. You did go down—quelch! What you breathing like that for? You did get out of breath! Turn over on your back. There’s nobody to see us now. I say, isn’t it nice and shady! Talk about a hiding-place! Look at the beautiful great, long green leaves. Hooray! Chestnuts. We have dropped just into the right place for foraging. Wait a bit and we will creep right into the forest and make a little fire, and have a roast. What? Oh, it’s all right. They have gone straight on and can’t hear me. Here! I say: why, comrade, you did hurt yourself when you went down. Here, what is it? Oh, I am sorry! Ain’t broke anything, have you?”

“My leg, Punch—my leg,” said Pen faintly.

“Broke your leg, comrade?” cried the boy.

“No, no,” said Pen faintly; “not so bad as that. One of the bullets, I think, scraped my leg when they fired.”

“Shot!” cried Punch in an excited voice full of agony. “Oh, comrade, not you! Don’t say that!”

The lad talked fast, but he was acting all the time. Leaving his musket amongst the leaves, he had crept to Pen’s side, and was eagerly examining his comrade’s now helpless leg.

“Can’t help it,” he whispered, as he searched for and drew out his knife. “I will rip it down the seam, and we will sew it up again some time.” And then muttering to himself, “Scraped! It’s a bad wound! We must get the bullet out. No—no bullet here.” And then, making use of the little knowledge he had picked up, Punch tore off strips of cotton from his own and his companion’s garments, and tightly bandaged the bleeding wound.

“It’s a bad job, comrade,” he said cheerily; “but it might have been worse if the Frenchies could shoot. There’s no bones broke, and you are not going to grumble; but I’d have given anything if it hadn’t been your turn now. Hurt much.”

“Quite enough, Punch,” said Pen with a rather piteous smile. “It’s quite right; my turn now; but don’t stop. You’ve stopped the bleeding, so get on.”

“What say?”

“Go on now,” said Pen, “while there’s a chance to escape. Those fellows will be sure to come back this way, and you will lose your opportunity if you wait.”

“Poor chap!” said Punch, as if speaking to himself, and he laid a hand on Pen’s wet forehead. “Look at that now! I have made a nasty mark; but I couldn’t help it, for there was no water here for a wash. But, poor chap, he won’t know. He’s worse than I thought, though; talking like that—quite off his head.”

“I am not, Punch, but you will send me off it if you go on like that. Do as I tell you, boy. Escape while there’s a chance.”

“He’s quite queer,” said Punch, “and getting worse; but I suppose I can’t do anything more.”

“No; you can do no more, so don’t waste your chance of escape. It will be horrible for you to be made prisoner again, so off with you while the coast’s clear. Do you hear me?”

“Hear you! Yes, you needn’t shout and tell the Johnnies that we are hiding here.”

“No, no, of course not; it was very foolish, but the pain of the wound and your obstinacy made me excited. Now then, shake hands, and, there’s a good fellow, go.”

“Likely!” said Punch, wiping the pain-drops from Pen’s face.

“What do you mean by that?” said Pen angrily.

“What do I mean by what? You are a bit cracked like, or else you wouldn’t talk like this.”

“Not tell you to run while there’s a chance?”

“Not tell me to run like this when there’s a chance!” replied Punch. “Jigger the chance! So you just hold your tongue and lie quiet. Sha’n’t go! There.”

“But, Punch, don’t be foolish, there’s a good fellow.”

“No, I won’t; and don’t you be foolish. Pst! Hear that? They are coming back.”

“There’s time still,” said Pen, lowering his voice.

“Oh, is there? You just look here. Here they are, coming nearer and nearer. Do you want them to come and take us both?”

“No, no, no,” whispered Pen.

“Then just you hold your tongue,” said Punch, nestling down close to his comrade’s side, for the rustle and tramp of many feet began to grow nearer again; and as Punch lay upon his back with his eyes turned in the direction of the approaching sound he soon after caught a glimpse or two of sunlight flashed from the barrels of muskets far down the forest aisles, as their bearers seemed to be coming right for where they lay.

“Look here,” said Punch softly, “they look as if they are coming straight here; but there’s a chance for us yet, so let’s take it, and if they don’t find us— Mind, I didn’t want you to be hit; but as you are, and I suppose was to be, I am jolly glad of it, for it gives a fellow a chance. And what’s the good of me talking?” said the boy to himself now. “He’s gone right off, swoonded, as they call it. Poor old chap! It does seem queer. But it might have been worse, as I said before. Wanted me to run away, did you? Likely, wasn’t it? Why, if I had run it would have served me jolly well right if somebody had shot me down again. Not likely, comrade! I mayn’t be a man, but my father was a British soldier, and that’s what’s the matter with me.”

Punch lay talking to himself, but not loudly enough to startle a bird which came flitting from tree to tree in advance of the approaching soldiers, and checked its flight in one of the low branches of a great overhanging chestnut, and then kept on changing its position as it peered down at the two recumbent figures, its movements startling the bugler, who now began in a whisper to address the bird.

“Here,” he said, “what game do you call that? You don’t mean to say you have come here like this to show the Johnny Crapauds where we are, so that they may take us prisoners? No, I thought not. It wouldn’t be fair, and I don’t suppose they have even seen you; but it did look like it. Here they come, though, and in another minute they will see us, and— Oh, poor Gray! It will be bad for him, poor chap; and— No, they don’t. They are wheeling off to the left; but if they look this way they must see us, and if they had been English lads that’s just what they would have done. Why, they couldn’t help seeing us—a set of bat-eyed bull-frogs; that’s what I call them. Yah! Go on home! I don’t think much of you. Now then, they are not coming here, and I don’t care where they go as long as they don’t find us. Now, what’s next to be done? What I want is another goat-herd’s hut, so as I can carry my poor old comrade into shelter. Now, where is it to be found? I don’t know, but it’s got to be done; and ain’t it rum that my poor old mate here should have his dose, and me have to play the nurse twice over!”