Chapter 23 | The Use of Latin | !Tention

Chapter Twenty Three.

“There! Ahoy!” shouted Punch, and the black figure slowly raised his head and began to look round till he was gazing in quite the opposite direction to where the boy was hurrying towards him, and Punch had a full view of the stranger’s back and a ruddy-brown roll of fat flesh which seemed to be supporting a curious old hat, looking like a rusty old stove-pipe, perched horizontally upon the wearer’s head.

“Hi! Not that way! Look this!” cried Punch as he closed up. “Here, I say, where’s the nearest village?”

The stove-pipe turned slowly round, and Punch found himself face to face with a plump-looking little man who slowly closed the book he carried and tucked it inside his shabby gown.

“Morning!” said Punch.

The little man bowed slowly and with some show of dignity, and then gazed sternly in the boy’s face and waited.

“I said good-morning, sir,” said the boy; and then to himself, “what a rum-looking little chap!—Can you tell me—”

Punch got no further, for the little stranger shook his head, frowned more sternly, and shrugged his shoulders as he made as if to take out his book again.

“I ain’t a beggar, sir,” cried the boy. “I only want you to— Oh, he can’t understand me!” he groaned. “Look here, can you understand this?” And he commenced in dumb motions to give the stranger a difficult problem to solve.

But it proved to be not too difficult, for the little man smiled, nodded his head, and imitated Punch’s suggestive pantomime of eating and drinking. Then, laying one hand upon the boy’s shoulder, he pointed with the other down the slope and tried to guide him in that direction.

“All right,” said Punch, nodding, “I understand. That’s where you live; but not yet. Come this way.” And, catching the little stranger by the arm, Punch pointed towards the forest and tried to draw his companion in that direction.

The plump little man shook his head and suggested that they should go in the other direction.

“Oh, a mercy me!” cried Punch excitedly. “Why, don’t you understand? Look here, sir, I can see what you are. You are a priest. I have seen folks like you more than once. Now, just look here.”

The little man shrugged his shoulders again, shook his head, and then looked compassionately at the boy.

“That’s better,” said Punch. “Now, sir, do try and understand, there’s a good fellow. Just look here!”

The boy tapped him on the shoulder now, and pointed towards the wood.

“Now, look here, sir; it’s like this.”

Punch made-believe to present a musket, after giving a sharp click, click with his tongue in imitation of the cocking of the piece, cried Bang! and then gave a jump, clapped his hand to his right leg, staggered, threw himself down, and then struggled up into a sitting position, to sit up nursing his leg, which he made-believe to bind up with a bandage. Then, holding out his hand to the little priest, he caught hold of him, dragged himself up, but let himself fall back, rolled over, and lay looking at him helplessly.

“Understand that?” he cried, as he sprang to his feet again. “You must be jolly stupid if you can’t. Now then, look here, sir,” he continued, pointing and gesticulating with great energy, “my poor comrade is lying over yonder under a tree, wounded and starving. Come and help me to fetch him, there’s a good old chap.”

The priest looked at him fixedly, and then, taking his cue from the boy, he pointed in the direction Punch had indicated, nodded, clapped the boy on the shoulder, and began to walk by his side.

“There, I thought I could make you understand,” cried Punch eagerly. “But you might say something. Ain’t deaf and dumb, are you?”

The little priest shook his head, muttered to himself, and then, bending down, he tapped his own leg, and looking questioningly in his would-be guide’s face, he began to limp.

“Yes, yes, yes!” cried Punch excitedly. And, imitating his companion, he bent down, tapped his own leg, then limped as if walking with the greatest of difficulty and made-believe to sink down helplessly.

“Good! I understand,” said the little priest in Spanish. “Wounded. Lead on.”

Punch held out his hand, which the little stranger took, and suffered himself to be led in the direction of the great chestnut, shaking his head and looking questioningly more than once at the boy, as Punch hesitated and seemed to be in doubt, and ran here and there trying to make out his bearings, successfully as it happened, for he caught sight at last of the object of his search, hurried back to the little priest’s side, to stand panting and faint, passing his hand over his dripping face, utterly exhausted.

“Can’t help it, sir,” he said piteously. “I have been wounded. Just let me get my breath, and then we will go on again. I am sure now. Oh, I do wish I could make you understand better!” added the boy piteously. “There’s my poor comrade yonder, perhaps dying by this time, and me turning like this!”

For just then he reeled and would have fallen if the little priest had not caught him by the arms and lowered him slowly down.

“Thank you, sir,” said Punch, with a sob half-choking his utterance. “It’s all on account of my wound, sir. There, I’m better now. Come on.”

He tried to struggle up, but the little priest shook his head and pressed him back.

“Thank you, sir. It’s very good of you; but I want to get on. He’s getting tired of waiting, you know.” And Punch pointed excitedly in the direction of the tree.

The journey was continued soon after, with Punch’s arm locked in that of his new-found friend; and in due time Punch staggered through the trees to where Pen lay, now meeting his gaze with a wild look of misery and despair.

“It’s all right, comrade,” cried Punch. “I have found somebody at last. He must live somewhere near here, but I can’t make him understand anything, only that you were lying wounded. Did you think I had forgotten you?”

“No,” said Pen faintly, “I never thought that.”

“Look here,” said Punch, “say something to him in French. Tell him I want to get you to a cottage, and say we are starving.”

Pen obeyed, and faintly muttered a few words in French; but the priest shook his head.

Francés?” he said.

“No, no,” replied Pen. “Inglés.”

“Ah, Inglés!” said the priest, smiling; and he went down on one knee to softly touch the rough bandage that was about the wounded leg.

Then, to the surprise of both boys, he carefully raised Pen into a sitting position, signed to Punch to hold him up, and then taking off his curiously fashioned hat and hanging it upon a broken branch of the tree, the boys saw that Nature had furnished him with the tonsure of the priest without the barber’s aid, and they had the opportunity now of seeing that it was a pleasantly wrinkled rosy face, with a pair of good-humoured-looking eyes that gazed up in theirs.

“What’s he going to do?” said Punch in a whisper.

He comprehended the next minute, and eagerly lent his aid, for the little priest, twisting up his gown and securing it round his waist, began to prove himself a worthy descendant of the Good Samaritan, though wanting in the ability to set the wounded traveller upon his own ass.

Going down, though, upon one knee, he took hold of first one hand and then the other, and, with Punch’s assistance to his own natural strength, he got Pen upon his back, hitching him up a little, and then a little more, till he had drawn the wounded lad’s arms across his chest.

This done, he knelt there on one knee, panting, before drawing a deep breath prior to rising with his burden. Then he tried to stand up, but without success.

He waited, then tried again; but once more without success, for the weight was greater than he had anticipated.

“Can’t you manage it, sir?” said Punch. “Here, let me try.”

The little priest shook his head, but released one of Pen’s hands and caught hold of Punch by the shoulder.

“Yes, I know, sir,” cried Punch, and after waiting till their new friend was ready, the boy brought his strength to bear as well, and the little priest stood up, gave his load a hitch or two to balance it well upon his shoulders, and then looked sharply at Punch and then at his hat.

“Carry your hat, sir?” cried Punch excitedly, “of course I will. It will be all right.”

The priest shook his head.

“What? Oh, you mean stick it on, sir? All right, sir; I understand. What, is that wrong? Oh, t’other side first! There you are, then, sir. Will that do?”

The priest shook his head, bent a little forward so as to well balance his load, and then, setting one hand at liberty, he put his hat on correctly, grasped both Pen’s hands once more, and then began to march out of the forest.

“I’m blessed!” muttered Punch. “Didn’t know they carried pickaback in Spain. The little chap’s as strong as a horse—pony, I mean.—Does it hurt you much, comrade?”

“Not much, Punch. Don’t talk to me, though; only, thank goodness that we have found a friend!” The little priest trudged sturdily on with his load, taking a direction along the edge of the forest, which Punch noted was different from any that he had traversed during his search, while at the same time it became plain to him that their new friend was finding his load rather hard work to carry, for first a little dew began to appear; this dew gradually grew into tiny beads, the tiny beads ran into drops, and the drops gathered together till they began to trickle and run.

At this point the little priest stopped short by the side of a rugged, gnarled tree, and, bending a little lower, rested his hands upon a horizontal branch.

“Look here, sir,” said Punch, “let me have a try now. I ain’t up to it much, but it would give you a rest.”

The priest shook his head, drew a deep breath, and trudged on again, proving his strength to be greater than could have been imagined to exist in such a little, plump, almost dwarf-like form, for with an occasional rest he tramped on for the best part of an hour, till at last he paused just at the edge of a deep slope, and struck off a little way to his left to where a beaten track led to a good-sized cottage.

“Why couldn’t I find all this?” thought Punch, as he gazed down into a valley dotted with huts, evidently a village fairly well inhabited. “Why, it was as easy as easy, only I didn’t know the way.”

“Ah!” ejaculated the priest, as he thrust open the door, stepped into a very humbly furnished room, crossed at once to a rough pallet, and gently lowered his burden upon the simple bed. “The saints be praised!” he said in Latin; and the words and the new position had such a reviving effect upon the wounded rifleman that he caught at one of the priest’s hands and held to it firmly.

“God bless you for this!” he said, for unconsciously the priest’s words had been the opening of the door of communication between him and those he had brought to his home; for though the words possessed a pronunciation that was unfamiliar, the old Latin tongue recalled to Pen years of study in the past, and he snatched at the opportunity of saying a few words that the old man could understand.

A pleasant smile beamed on the utterly wearied out old fellow’s countenance as he bent over Pen and patted him gently on the shoulder.

“Good, good!” he said in Latin; and he set himself about the task of supplying them with food.

This was simple enough, consisting as it did of bread and herbs—just such a repast as might have been expected from some ascetic holy man dwelling in the mountains; but the herbs in this case were silvery-brown skinned Spanish onions with salt.

Then taking up a small earthen jar, he passed out of the dark room into the sunshine; and as soon as the boys were alone Punch turned eagerly to his companion.

“Not worse, are you, comrade?” he said anxiously.

“No, Punch, not worse. But has he gone to fetch water?”

“Yes, I think so. But just you tell me: does your leg hurt you much?”

“Quite enough,” replied Pen, breaking off a portion of the bread and placing a few fragments between his lips. “But don’t talk to me now. I am starving.”

“Yes, I know that,” cried Punch; “and call this ’ere bread! It’s all solid crust, when it ought to be crumb for a chap like you. Look here, you could eat one of these onions, couldn’t you?”

“No, no; not now. Go on; never mind me.”

“But I do mind you,” cried the boy. “And how can I go on eating without you? I say, though, what a chap you are! What was that you said to him?”

“Bless you for this!”

“Yes, I guessed that was it; but how did you say it so as to make him understand? I talked to him enough, but he couldn’t make out a word of what I said. Was that there Spanish?”

“No, Punch; Latin.”

“Ah, you seem to know everything.”

At that moment a shadow fell athwart the door, and the speaker made a dash at one of the muskets he had stood up against the wall on entering the priest’s cottage.

“Oh, I beg your pardon, sir!” he cried hastily. “I didn’t know it was you.”

The old man smiled, and entered with the dripping jar which he had just filled from a neighbouring spring, and held it towards the boy.

“Me drink, sir? Thank ye, sir,” cried Punch; and, taking the jar, he was raising it towards his parched mouth, but before it was half-way there he recollected himself, and carried it to the priest’s pallet, where he went down on his knees and held it to Pen’s lips, so that the poor fellow, who was burning with feverish pain, was able to drink long and deeply.

Pen was still drinking when Punch started and spilt a few drops of the water as he turned hastily to look up at their host, who had laid a soft brown hand upon his head, and was looking down at him with a pleasant smile.

“What did he do that for, comrade?”

“I don’t know,” said Pen, drawing a deep breath, as he withdrew his lips from the water. “Yes, I do,” he added quickly. “He meant that he was pleased because you let me drink first.”

“Course I did. I don’t see anything to be pleased about in that. But have a drop more, comrade. Quick, look sharp, before I go mad and snatches it away from you, for I never felt like this before.”

“Go on then now, Punch.”


“Go on then now; I can wait.”

“Ah, then!” ejaculated the boy, with a deep sigh that was almost a groan; and with trembling hands he held the jar to his lips and drank, and recovered his breath and drank again as if it was impossible to satisfy his burning thirst.

Then recovering himself, he held the jar against Pen’s lips.

“Talk about wine,” he said; “why, it ain’t in it! I don’t wonder that he looks so fat and happy, though he is dressed up like an old scarecrow. Fancy living here with a pump of water like this close at hand!—Had enough now?—That’s right. Now you go on breaking off bits of that bread and dipping it in the water while I cuts up one of these.”

He took his knife from his pocket and began to peel one of the onions, when their host placed the little vessel of salt close to his hand.

“Thank you, sir,” cried Punch. “You are a real gentleman.”

The priest smiled and nodded, and watched the two lads as Pen took an earthenware bowl that their host placed close to his hand after half-filling it with water so that he could steep the bread, while Punch deftly peeled one of the onions, not scrupling about littering the floor, and then proceeded to quarter it and then divide the segments again, dipping one in the salt and placing it between his wounded companion’s lips.

“Good! good!” said the priest again, smiling with satisfaction, and laying his hand once more upon Punch’s head. “Bonum! bonum!”

“Bone ’em!” said Punch. “Why, he give it to me!”

“He means it was good, Punch,” said Pen, smiling.

“Good! Yes,” cried the boy, crunching up one of the savoury pieces of vegetable. “That’s what he means, is it? Thought he meant I had stolen it.—Bonum, eh, sir? I should just think it is! Wants a bit more salt; but my word, it’s fine! Have a bit more, comrade. You eat while there’s a chance. Never mind me. I can keep both of us going. Talk about a dinner or a supper; I could keep on till dark! Only wish, though, I’d got one of their Spanish shillings to pay for it; but those French beggars took care of them for me. I can give him my knife, though; and I will too, as soon as I have done with it. How do you feel now, comrade?”

“Better, Punch, better,” replied Pen. “Thank you,” he continued, as his companion broke off more bread for him and then began to peel another onion. “But you are paying more attention to me than you are to yourself.”

“Course I am, comrade. Didn’t you pay more attention to me when I was wounded?”

Then turning to the priest, he pointed to the bread with his knife, and then tapped the onion he had begun to quarter with the blade.

“Splendid, sir,” he said, smiling. “Bonum! bonum!”

The priest nodded, and then rose from where he had been seated watching the boys and walked through the open door, to stand just outside sweeping the scattered houses of the little village with his eyes, and remaining there, so as to leave his two guests to themselves.

“You are beginning to get a bit better, comrade?” asked Punch anxiously.

“Yes, Punch, yes,” was the reply.

“So am I. Feel as if I am growing as strong as a horse again. Why, comrade, it was worth getting as hungry, thirsty, and tired as that, so as to enjoy such a meal. I don’t mean speaking for you, because I know you must be feeling that gnaw, gnaw, grinding pain in your wound. But do go on eating, and when you have had enough you shut-up shop and go off to sleep. Then I will ask that old chap to give me a bit of rag and let me wash and tie up your wound. I say, comrade, I hope he didn’t see me laugh at him. Did you?”

“See you laugh at him? No. Did you?”

“Yes; couldn’t help it, when he was carrying you, bent down like he was, with that queer shako of his. When I was behind he looked something like a bear, and I couldn’t help having a good grin. Mum, though; here he comes.”

The old priest now came slowly in and stood watching the two lads, who hurriedly finished their meal.

“Stand up, Punch,” said Pen.

“What for? I was just going to clear away.”

“Stand up, I tell you!”

“All right;” and the boy rose immediately, staring hard at his companion, as Pen, with a quiver of emotion in his utterance, laid his hand over the remains of the black-bread, and said, gazing hard at the old priest the while, “Benedictus, benedicat. Amen.”

“Ah!” said the priest, with a long-drawn breath of satisfaction; “Benedictus, benedicat Amen.”

Then, taking a step towards them, he laid his hand upon the heads of his two guests in turn and said a few words in an undertone. Next, pointing to the rough pallet-bed, he signed to Punch that he should lie down beside his companion.

“What, take a snooze there, sir?” said Punch. “Thank you, sir. But not yet.—You tell him in your Latin stuff, comrade, that I want to do a bit of doctoring first.”

“I’ll try,” said Pen wearily, already half-asleep; when, to the surprise of both, the old man went outside and returned with a little wooden tub of water which he brought to the bedside, and then, in spite of a half-hearted protestation on the part of Punch, he proceeded to carefully attend to the wound.

“Well, it’s very good of you, sir,” said the boy at last, after doing his best to help, “and I wish I could make you understand what I say. But you have done it a deal better than I could have done, and I am sure if my comrade could have kept himself awake he would be ready enough to say something in Latin that would mean you are a trump, and he’s very much obliged. But, you see, all I know, sir, about Latin—”

“Latin!” said the old priest, beaming upon him with wondering eyes.

“Yes, sir—Latin, sir, as I learnt of him;” and then, pointing to the carefully bandaged limb, “bonum, sir; bonum!”

The priest nodded, as he pointed to the pallet, where there was room for Punch to lie down by his sleeping companion; but the boy shook his head.

“No, sir,” he said, “that’s your roost; I do know that,” And, before his host could interfere, the boy placed one musket within reach of Pen’s hand, the other beside the door, across which he stretched himself.

It was now nearly dark, and after placing his little home in something like order, the old man turned to where Punch had been resting upon one arm a few minutes before, watching his movements, but was now prone upon the beaten-earth floor fast asleep, with a look of restfulness upon his young, sunburnt countenance.

The old man stepped carefully across him, to stand outside peering through the evening gloom down into the silent village before, satisfied and content, he turned back into the hut, closing the door carefully after him, placing across it a heavy oaken bar, before stepping back across Punch, to stand in the middle of the floor deep in thought.

Then his hand began to move, from force of habit, searching for and bringing out from beneath his gown a little, worn snuff-box, which squeaked faintly as he turned the lid and refreshed himself with two pinches of its brown contents.

This was done very slowly and deliberately in the semi-darkness, and finally the box was replaced and a few grains of the dust flicked away.

“Ah!” ejaculated the old man with a long-drawn sigh, as he looked from one to the other of his guests. “English,” he muttered. “Soldiers, but friends and defenders against the French. English—heretics! But,” he added softly, as if recalling something that had passed, “Benedictus, benedicat. Amen!”

Then, crossing softly to one corner of the room, he drew open what seemed to be the door of a cupboard; but it was too dark to show that in place of staircase there was a broad step-ladder.

This the old man ascended, and directly after the ill-fitting boards which formed the ceiling of his humble living-room creaked as he stepped upon them, and then there was a faint rustling as if he were removing leaves and stems of the Indian corn that was laid in company with other stores in what was undoubtedly a little loft, whose air was heavy with various odours suggesting the presence of vegetables and fruit.

The oaken boards creaked once more as if the old man was stretching himself upon them with a sigh of weariness and satisfaction.

“Amen!” he said softly, and directly after a ray of light shot across the place, coming through the wooden bars in the gable of the sloping roof, for the moon had just risen over the shoulder of the mountain to light up the valley beneath, where the priest’s hut clung to its rocky wall; to light up, too, the little loft and its contents, and, above all, the features of the sleeping man, gentle-looking in their repose. And could the lads he had befriended have gazed upon him then they would have seen nothing that appeared grotesque.